The first topic I wanted to cover in this series on driving to Walt Disney World is the choice of driving straight through vs. stopping overnight. Depending on where you live, you may need to consider stopping but you may not. I live in Texas so we have stopped along the way and we have driven straight through. Doing this, it takes us 16 hours to get there, including stopping for meals, restroom breaks, gas stops and stretching.
When budgeting for gas expenses, I always use the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator. Each trip it has proven to be extremely accurate and an invaluable tool. All one has to do is enter the make, model and year of the vehicle along with the starting and ending points and it calculates how much one will spend on gas. Here is a link to the site: http://www.fuelcostcalculator.com. I hope you will take advantage of this handy tool.Let’s look at cost comparisons a little more closely!
For my vehicle, gas from Houston, TX to Orlando, FL at the prices TODAY would cost me $191.55 (roundtrip = $383.10). I have included food costs for my family of 5 at $100 for food on the way (roundtrip = $200). So the gas and food would cost me approximately $583.10.
Flights from Houston to Orlando TODAY would cost me at least $1663.00 for my family of 5. So, driving saves us approximately $1000+. Even if we decided to stay at a hotel on the way back, that would only add about $150, still saving $850.00 just on transportation alone. If you plan on eating anything at the airport or when you arrive in Orlando, that would be even more savings added to this amount as well, as I did not allow for that in this scenario.
So, it is easy to see how much we would save by driving vs. flying. But what about driving straight through compared to stopping overnight? When driving straight through, one would go straight to their Disney resort. For our family, in many cases that is the Port Orleans – Riverside. The cost for the first night would be approximately $149.00. Stopping along the way at a hotel can sometimes cost less, maybe even $50 less or so. If you don’t spend anything else that night, like game room or other things to keep your kids entertained, then you may save $50.
In my opinion, driving straight through or stopping along the way really becomes a personal choice based on your own individual family and preferences. Some of the things that will have a bearing on your decision are the ages of your children, how well they travel, the number of available drivers, the stamina of the main driver, etc. We used to stop at a hotel on the way, then finish up the trip the second day. This kept us from paying the cost of a Disney resort room for our first night and shortened our driving time. A few years ago, however, we decided to drive the whole distance in one day. After that, we decided we liked waking up on our first day ready to head to the park. Now, we always drive straight through.
Since our children have grown up on these road trips, they are used to the amount of time it takes to get there. For new travelers, one great tip we have learned from experience when driving all the way in one day is to leave in the middle of the night, if possible. We like to drive in little or no traffic, so we leave at 3:00 a.m. and drive in the dark for several hours. This assures us very little traffic and the kids usually sleep until just in time to stop for breakfast. Be sure to bring plenty of pillows and blankets; children are more likely to sleep in the car if they are comfortable.
Whether you stop along the way or not, there are some additional tips that can help you to have a more enjoyable car trip. When the kids were little, I packed little surprise gifts to give to them when we got ready to leave: coloring books, crayons, toys they collected, etc. It took all the strength I had not to give them the treats ahead of time but it was a nice surprise for the trip and was worth the wait as it helped to keep them entertained and made the trip not seem so long.
I also used to check out lots of Disney movies from my local library for the children to watch on the way. I still check out some movies and there is also a great selection of audio books to choose from now that they are older. Don’t forget to bring the car chargers.
I have each child pack his or her backpack with the activities they want to do during the ride. Gallon-size ziptop bags are great for holding pencils, pens, markers, cast iron cars, and any other small items. They pack their ipods and other electronic devices in there also.
Researching some car games before you leave can be a great way to entertain the kids and play together along the way. My kids still play some of their favorites. One is the alphabet game where they begin at A and try to find each letter of the alphabet in order on street signs and billboards. We all join in on spotting the letters. Another is the license plate game, using a list of the 50 states. We try to find a license plate from each state during our journey. Also, when we get to the resort, the first one to find another Texas license plate gets a reward.
You should definitely do whatever is best for your own family. Most of all, enjoy being able to spend this time together. Join me next time for some tips on what to think about if stopping overnight. Until then, travel safely!
Brenda is a native Texan born and raised on the Gulf Coast. She visited Disney World twice as a teenager and always dreamed of growing her family Disney. She took her first-timer husband and their three children to Disney World in 2000 and they now spend every Thanksgiving there. Brenda writes with a comedic twist on various Disney topics. She will be sharing tips she has learned during her travels and also hopes to enlighten people on little-known freebies that Disney has to offer. She wishes she could have met Walt Disney and considers herself to be a student of Walt. In parallel to his dream it is her wish that everyone would take at least one trip to Disney World in order to share in its magic with their families.