When I first moved to Orlando from South Carolina 13 years ago, I quickly discovered the importance of having a reliable vehicle to get around the city. Luckily I had a car when I arrived, but I spent a lot more time in it than I expected.
Because Orlando is sprawling at approximately 110 square miles, public transportation is limited, and most areas are accessible only by car, getting around by car is the only practical way to get around the city. I highly recommend renting one if you’re in town for a few days and plan on venturing from place to place. However, if you’re only here for a night or two, or plan to spend most of your time in one area — say, downtown — using a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft is a reasonable option.
However, if you plan to land at the airport and head straight to a theme park resort, check with your hotel and inquire about shuttle services. Almost all major theme park hotels offer free transportation between the airport and the parks.
Orlando International Airport
Most visitors arrive via the freeway or via Orlando International Airport, or MCO, which is a busy transportation hub and one of the busiest airports in the world. It is served by more than 30 airlines at three terminals. As a frequent MCO traveler, I recommend following the usual standard and arriving two hours earlier for domestic flights and three hours earlier for international flights.
The MCO was designed with the “getaway” vacationer in mind, with tropical decor that reminds visitors why Florida is called the Sunshine State. Depending on which gate your plane arrives at, you might land to see intricate mosaic murals, airy atriums adorned with fountains and palm trees, or awe-inspiring art installations. There’s a nice mix of restaurants and souvenir shops so you can enjoy a drink and a bite to eat, and even snag a coveted pair of Mickey Mouse ears if you wish, before heading into town.
If you are visiting Orlando for more than a day or two, I think renting a car is a good choice to make getting around more convenient. Fortunately, Orlando has a large rental car market, giving visitors many options. There are 10 on-site car rental companies right at the airport — including Alamo, Budget, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and more — plus a few dozen additional options that offer free shuttle transportation to their off-site locations.
Pro tip: If you’re returning your rental at MCO, plan ahead and fill up the tank a few miles away. The gas stations near the airport are notorious for above-average pump prices.
Also note that there are many toll roads in Orlando. So you must purchase a pre-paid SunPass toll device online prior to your trip or in person upon arrival.
ride hailing services
Ride-hailing services are plentiful in the city, and both residents and visitors rely on Uber and Lyft for quick — and often late-night — rides around the city. As everywhere, prices can vary widely depending on factors such as the weather, number of drivers available and time of day. In my experience, a trip from the airport to downtown and to the theme parks typically costs around $35 and $50, respectively.
The LYNX bus system
The LYNX bus system travels through Central Florida with day passes for just $4.50 and weekly passes for $16. The bus is the cheapest option for budget travelers, but it’s also notorious for inconvenient routes and too few stops, so I generally avoid it whenever possible and drive instead.
Introduced in 2014, the SunRail is a weekday commuter train that operates Monday through Friday and connects Osceola County south of Orlando with Volusia County north of Orlando. It runs right through the city center and offers free onboard WiFi, power outlets and restrooms. I don’t ride the SunRail very often, but occasionally I enjoy taking it out of town for day trips with friends. The train allows us to avoid the traffic of I-4 and the hassle of finding on-street parking near our destinations.
One of my favorite weekday trips is to take the SunRail from downtown Church Street Station to the cute little town of Sanford and then take the free trolley to the River Walk in historic downtown Sanford. I also recommend the Winter Park stop, which has many restaurants and shops within walking distance of the station.
Check out the comprehensive insider’s guide to visiting Orlando, Florida.