If you stand beside Interstate 4, you swear everyone drives to Orlando. If you stand in the middle of Orlando International Airport, you swear everyone flies. If you stand in front of the Auto-train station, you swear everyone arrives by rail – and that they’re 70-years old.
But at least you’ve got options. If coming from outside the U.S. or Canada, flying is a no-brainer. Here are your North American options:
- Car. The majority of Orlando visitors drive. They have a car while they’re here, they can bring tons of crap, they can head out when they wish, and they generally save money. Orlando sits at the crossroads of Interstate 4 (I-4, locally) and the Florida Turnpike, making it a painless commute from most cities east of the Mississippi River.
- Plane. Orlando has three airports. Orlando International Airport (OIA) is the big one. It’s less than a half-hour from Disney and even closer to the other parks. Most people use this one. No one uses an executive airport downtown except for private pilots, but info about that one can be found at the same website. A cheaper alternative for some is Orlando-Sanford Airport. (They stuck the “Orlando” part into the name because no one knew where Sanford was, so no one wanted to fly there.) Good deals can be found connecting to Orlando-Sanford, however, if it serves your market. It already does a thriving business with a handful of European cities. It’s about an hour from Disney.
- Train. Orlando has a train station near downtown, though riding the rails in America is not a generally preferred mode of transportation. However, Orlando is served by one unique car-passenger service, which makes the trip more pleasant, albeit more expensive, for commuters from areas north of Washington, D.C. Amtrak’s Auto Train loads just south of Washington, D.C., in Lorton, Va., and makes a beeline to Sanford, Fla. It loads every afternoon in both cities. The trains leave around 5 p.m., and they cross paths somewhere in the middle of the night. The trains arrive at their destinations the next morning around 9 a.m.
The seats are a lot bigger than plane seats, though sleeping with the chug-chug-chug sound isn’t as relaxing as you’d expect, and the occasional lights can be annoying. If you sleep near a door, the sound of an open-shut can be jarring. If booking, request a car toward the rear or the front to cut down on foot traffic, though they tend to reserve those for adults traveling without kids. Sleeping cars, for an additional fee, are available.
The Auto Train benefits: 1) You can pack your car to the gills and ignore it. 2) Your dinner and snacks are included in the Auto Train booking price. 3) Wine is free with dinner. (You pay extra at the bar.) If you can drink cheap wine fast enough, they’ll refill your carafe, and you don’t even have to drive home, though staggering on a train provides its own unique challenges.
In addition, Amtrak often offers kid deals in the summer ($19 with a full-paying adults as I write this).
Also see: Using a travel agent