The Major Airlines -- There are more than 50 scheduled airlines and several more charter companies serving roughly 35 million passengers who land in Orlando each year. Southwest (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwest.com) continues to maintain the top spot, claiming just under 24% of the flights in and out of the Orlando International Airport (MCO). Second place goes to AirTran Airways (tel. 800/247-8726; www.airtran.com), at just over 12.4% (the merger of AirTran and Southwest in 2011 assuring that they will continue to retain the lion's share of flights in and out of MCO), while Delta (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) and JetBlue (tel. 800/538-2583; www.jetblue.com) tie for third, each with slightly more than 11% of the flights (after the Delta/Northwest merger back in 2010, flights now operate solely under the Delta name).
Several so-called no-frills airlines (those offering lower fares but providing few or no amenities) fly to Orlando, including Spirit Airlines (tel. 800/772-7117; www.spiritair.com).
For Visitors to the U.S. from Abroad -- Some major airlines offer transatlantic or transpacific passengers special discount tickets under the name Visit USA, which allows mostly one-way travel from one U.S. destination to another at very low prices. Unavailable in the U.S., these discount tickets must be purchased abroad in conjunction with your international fare. This system is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to see the country. Inquire with your air carrier.
Orlando's Airports -- Orlando International Airport (MCO; tel. 407/825-2001; www.orlandoairports.net) offers direct or nonstop service from 81 U.S. cities and more than two dozen international destinations. Rated one of the top airports in the country, it's a thoroughly modern and user-friendly facility with tons of restaurants, shops, a 445-room on-premises Hyatt Regency hotel, and centrally located information kiosks. All major car-rental companies are located at or near the airport.
Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB; tel. 407/585-4000; www.orlandosanfordairport.com) is much smaller than the main airport, but has grown a bit in recent years, thanks mainly to a small fleet of carriers that serve it, including Allegiant Air, Direct Air, Monarch, and Thomson Airways. Sanford has on-site Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty rental-car desks. It is also served by Mears Transportation shuttles .
Getting into Town from the Airport
Orlando International Airport is 25 miles east of Walt Disney World and 20 miles south of downtown. At rush hour (7-9am and 4-6pm), the drive can be torture and take up to an hour or more; at other times, it's about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your exact destination. Orlando Sanford International Airport is roughly 35 miles northeast of Walt Disney World and about 18 miles northeast of downtown.
Mears Transportation Group (tel. 407/423-5566; www.mearstransportation.com) has vans that shuttle passengers from Orlando International (catch them at ground level) to the Disney resorts and official hotels, as well as most other Orlando properties. These air-conditioned vehicles operate around the clock, departing every 15 to 25 minutes in either direction. Rates vary by destination. From Orlando International, round-trip fares run $30 for adults ($24 for kids 4-11) to International Drive, $46 ($37 kids) to Walt Disney World/Lake Buena Vista or West U.S. 192. Children 3 and under ride free. From Sanford International, Mears offers transportation via luxury van (seating up to 8) or town car (seating up to 4). Fares run $120 each way (or $240 round-trip) whether your destination is International Drive, Walt Disney World, or West U.S. 192.
Quicksilver Tours and Transportation (tel. 888/468-6939 or 407/299-1434; www.quicksilver-tours.com) is a bit more personal. Its folks greet you at baggage claim with a sign bearing your name -- they'll even help with your luggage. The bonus is a 30-minute grocery stop and free phone call included in the price. While a bit more expensive than Mears, they're coming for you. And they're only going to your resort. This is a good option for four or more people. Rates run from $125 (up to 10 people, round-trip) to I-Drive, $130 to Universal Studios, and $130 to $135 for the Disney empire.
Tiffany Towncar (tel. 888/838-2161 or 407/370-2196; www.tiffanytowncar.com) offers a $125 round-trip rate for up to seven people ($135 for 8-10 people) from Orlando International to I-Drive, Universal, Disney, and U.S. 192. Drivers will meet you right at baggage claim, and a free 30-minute grocery stop is included. Booster and car seats are available upon request (at no charge).
If you're renting a car, to get from Orlando International to the attractions, take the north exit out of the airport to Hwy. 528 W. Follow signs to I-4; it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to get to Walt Disney World if the traffic isn't too heavy (however, double that if it's rush hour or if there's been an accident). When you get to I-4, follow the signs west toward the attractions. From Sanford International, exit onto Lake Mary Road and follow the roadway to the I-4 interchange and follow signs west toward the attractions. Another option would be to take S.R. 417 south (though a toll road, it's a bit more direct if your destination is Walt Disney World); then follow signs to the attractions. Most Orlando car-rental agencies (regardless of location) will provide you with maps that will show how to get to your hotel; be sure and ask for one at the rental counter.
Note: It's always a good idea when you make reservations to ask about transportation options between the airport and your hotel. Also be sure to ask how far you have to travel to pick up and drop off a rental car. Some lots are miles from the airport, and you could potentially spend lots of time waiting in line and catching shuttles before you actually get to the airport on your day of departure.
While not the most efficient or cost-effective form of transportation (especially when traveling from more than just a few hours away), Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222 in the U.S.; 001/214/849-8100 outside the U.S. with toll-free access; www.greyhound.com) is the sole nationwide bus line. International visitors can obtain information about the Greyhound North American Discovery Pass, which offers unlimited travel and stopovers in the U.S. and Canada. This pass can be obtained outside the U.S. from travel agents or through www.discoverypass.com.
If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you may want to consider obtaining an international driver's license.
Also be advised that many rental agencies in Florida will rent only to drivers 21 and older, and that drivers younger than age 25 may have to pay a young renter's fee of up to $25 a day.
All of the major car-rental companies are represented in Orlando and maintain desks at or near each of the airports. Note: Disney has an Alamo car-rental desk (tel. 800/327-2996) right on property, so if you're interested in renting for only a few days instead of your entire vacation, this may be a good option for you.
Many agencies provide discount coupons in publications targeted at tourists, though you should keep in mind that AAA discounts and online offers are often better. You may also want to ask your travel agent if he or she has a recommendation, or whether a discount is included in any vacation package. Also, it never hurts to ask about specials.
International visitors should note that insurance and taxes are almost never included in quoted car rates in the U.S. Be sure to ask your rental agency about additional fees for these -- they can add a significant cost to your car rental.
Universal Orlando is a half-mile north of I-4 exit 75B, Kirkman Road/Highway 435. There may be construction in the area, so follow the signs directing you to the parks.
Parking -- If you park in the multilevel garages, write down the theme and row in your area to help you find your car later. Parking costs $15 for cars, light trucks, and vans; spots closest to the entranceway cost $20. Valet parking is $25. Universal's garages are connected to its parks and have moving sidewalks, but it's still a long walk.
Trains operated by Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) pull into stations at 1400 Sligh Blvd., in downtown Orlando (23 miles from Walt Disney World), and 111 Dakin Ave., in Kissimmee (15 miles from WDW). There are also stops in Winter Park, 10 miles north of downtown Orlando at 150 W. Morse Blvd.; and in Sanford, 23 miles northeast of downtown Orlando, at 800 Persimmon Ave., which is also the end terminal for the Auto Train .
International visitors can buy a USA Rail Pass, good for 15, 30, or 45 days ($389-$749) of unlimited travel on Amtrak. The pass is available online or through many overseas travel agents. See Amtrak's website for the cost of travel within the western, eastern, or northwestern United States. Reservations are generally required and should be made as early as possible. Regional rail passes are also available.
Amtrak's Auto Train -- This option offers the convenience of bringing your car to Florida without having to drive it all the way. It begins in Lorton, Virginia -- about a 4-hour drive from New York, 2 hours from Philadelphia -- and ends at Sanford, 23 miles northeast of Orlando. (There are no stops in between.) Reserve early for the lowest prices. Round-trip fares average $1,200 ($2,000 with a berth) for two passengers and an auto. Call tel. 800/872-7245 for details.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.