Driving in Orlando for the first time? Here’s a survival guide. It won’t replace a map or GPS system, but if you get lost, there’s a 95% chance you’ll hit one of these major roads. This advice can at least get you close to home or theme park.
Interstate 4 (or I-4)
I-4 is the lifeblood of downtown Orlando and the primary connection to theme parks. If Disney World is Oz, I-4 is the yellow brick road. Disney and Universal property abuts I-4, and Sea World comes close.
I-4 starts at Daytona Beach on Florida’s East Coast (Atlantic Ocean) and ends at Tampa on the West Coast (Gulf of Mexico). Here’s a confusing part: As I-4 winds its way across Florida and through the heart of Orlando, it sometimes runs east-west, sometimes north-south, and sometimes between the two. When checking direction, however, the road signs say “West I-4” even if you think you want to go south. On the flip side, use “East I-4” if you plan to head north.
Rule of thumb: If you’re anywhere in Orlando and want to get to Walt Disney World, take West I-4. If you’re at Disney and want to head to any other Orlando attraction, take East I-4. If you’re at Universal or Sea World and want to go somewhere, check a map.
General guidance for those who never ask directions: If you get lost, look for “I-4 this way” signs. If you reach I-4 and see tons of hotels and shopping centers, you’re somewhere between north Orlando and Disney World, which is actually south of the city. Outside that territory, I-4 covers mainly farmland.
East-West Expressway (408) and Beachline Expressway (528)
Both the East-West and Beachline run almost due east and west. The East-West (confusing, huh?) connects with I-4 in the heart of downtown Orlando. The Beachline is south of the East-West and connects Disney World to the Orlando airport and, farther east, to the beaches. Cocoa Beach is a direct line, while Kennedy Space Center a bit north once you get close to the beach.
I-4 is free; the East-West and Beachline are not. Many Floridians have transponders that allow them to buzz through toll plazas, but guests paying cash are directed to a side road where they pay the toll and merge back onto the main road.
The Greeneway (417)
Yet another toll road, the Greeneway will eventually circle Orlando – a beltway around the city – but is now mainly a route that circles the east side of Orlando and avoids downtown traffic. It costs more and is longer but less stressful. In general, I-4 is a better bet if traveling north because the distance is significantly less and it’s free, though the Greeneway is a good option for some destinations.
Other roads worthy of note
I-95: Another interstate, I-95 covers the entire East Coast of the U.S. If you head to the beach, you cross it about 20 minutes before seeing the ocean. If heading to Miami and Florida Keys to the south or Maine to the north, it’s the major route.
I-75: Yet another interstate, I-75 runs along Florida’s Gulf Coast and connects to points in the middle of America (take a right) as well as southwest Florida (take a left).
The Florida Turnpike: Another toll road, the Florida Turnpike connects to South Florida as I-95 does, but it offers a slightly more direct route and generally less traffic in exchange for paying tolls. (I-95 is free.) If you head north on the Florida Turnpike from the theme park areas, it also provides a faster connection to I-75.
For more info and an online map, search “Orlando, Florida” at: http://www.mapquest.com