Tips for First-time Disney World Visitors: Arriving in Orlando
Written by: Mark Plante Published On: June 14, 2021
OK, your plane has now landed (I am assuming at Orlando International Airport), so what do you do next? One tip is to find the restrooms when you get off of your flight because it may be a little while before you are able to have a minute or two to relieve yourself or even splash a little water on your face. Once that is done, there are a some restaurants to grab a bite, or you can wait until you get to the main terminal.
The First Ride in Orlando
You will want to make your way to the MCO People Mover that will take you to the main terminal. The People Movers are automated shuttles that ferry passengers from the main terminal to the satellite terminals and visa-versa.
Once you have arrived at the main terminal, you will be on level 3. Here you are able to visit stores from Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and NASA. There are also several photo opportunities in this area. There is also a greater variety of restaurants and shops in the food court and mall area. There is also a hotel in the main lobby of the 3rd level. We have stayed there and it is excellent if you have a very early morning flight.
Once you have made your way through the main terminal, you will want to take the escalators down to level 2 the baggage claim. At MCO, depending on which airline you have used, it will take approximately 30 minutes for your bags to get from the plane to the baggage carousel. This area can be a mad house if several planes come in at the same time. I usually go up to the carousel and stake my claim to an area and wait for my bags to come to me. I also make sure to rent a baggage cart before I go to the carousel, they are worth their weight in gold if you have several heavy bags and just got off of a long flight. Again, this area can get quite busy and everyone just got off of a plane, so I would advise that you take a deep breath and your bags should be out soon.
Now that you have your luggage you’re going to need to get to Walt Disney World or your hotel. All transportation is on level 1 of the terminal. You will want to make your way to the elevators and head down. If you have opted to take Disney’s Magical Express, follow the signage and there will be a Disney Castmember to check you in. Car Rentals are toward the other side of level one. Be prepared to wait! No matter how many times I have rented a car at MCO it amazes me how the rental agencies know when there will be an influx of people coming off of a flight, yet, they NEVER have enough agents ready to handle the lines. If you have pre-paid for your rental, you may be able to skip this step and go right across the street to pick up your rental. If you did not rent a vehicle or are not staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, taxis and shuttle services are right outside the doors.
Picking Up the Rental Car
Make sure that you are alert when picking up your rental car. Some Rental Agencies, not all, but some are very sneaky and there could be quite a few hidden fees that you may not be aware of until you receive your credit card statement after you’ve returned from your trip. Be aware that one of the biggest scams that they pull at MCO is that when you return your rental, you have to show them a receipt from a gas station that is within 5 miles of where you return the vehicle. There is only one station that I’ve found to be that close and they conveniently charge over $5/gallon. If you do not fill up the vehicle within this range or if you do not have a receipt, all agencies will charge you for a FULL tank of gas at THEIR rate. This is even if the vehicle is showing the tank to be full on the gauge.
Before you drive out of the parking garage with your rental, make sure to go over the vehicle with a fine tooth comb. Take pictures and/or video of any scratches, dents or damage anywhere on the vehicle (body, tires, glass, etc.) and make sure that your report them to the agent BEFORE you leave the garage. Once you leave the garage, YOU are responsible for the damage on the vehicle if you did not report it.
Heading to the Disney World Resorts
Once you have your vehicle and have loaded all your bags and have buckled everyone in (In Florida you MUST wear a seatbelt) you are now ready to head to your hotel.
There are two exits to Orlando International Airport, North and South.
If you take the North Exit, you will want to get on the Martin Anderson Beachway Express, west-bound (SR-528) to Interstate 4 South to the Disney World exits. Keep in mind, I-4 is the main highway for ALL of the theme parks and the Metro Orlando area. This highway is very busy and will have constant backups and delays.
If you take the South Exit (I find this to be shorter and MUCH less traffic) You will want to take Jeff Fuqua Blvd South to the Central Florida Greenway West-bound (SR-417) to either World Center Dr or West Osceola Pkwy, depending on which resort you are staying at.
Whichever route you take, be aware of the toll-boths. Florida was very sneaky the way that they designed the toll plazas. If you purchased tolls with your car rental, you really don’t have to worry about this. But if you didn’t, as I don’t, the plazas are tricky. If you are paying cash for the tolls, be aware that for all cash tolls you will need to go to the far right of the plaza. This area almost looks like a highway offramp. If you get confused and stay on the main highway, a picture of your license plate will be taken and you will be charged by the rental agency for renting the ez-pass system for your entire rental (usually $20+), plus any tolls that should have been paid. This can get quite expensive, very quickly.
Also, be aware that during overnight hours, many of the toll booths are unmanned. So if you do not have exact change, you will also be charged by the rental agency.
Arriving at Your Disney World Resort
So you have finally made it to your resort hotel. If you are able to check in (Normal check-in time is 3PM, but you can usually check-in earlier.) you can head to your resort. Each resort has a guard shack that you will need to stop and give your driver’s license or government issued ID to so they can verify that you are actually checking into the resort.
Once past security, if you have done online check-in, you may head directly to your hotel room (if it is ready). If you did not use online check-in or if there are any problems, you will need to go to the main lobby of your resort and go the Guest Relations desk.
Once any problems are taken care of, you will want to move your vehicle as close to your room as you can.
Checking Out the Room
Once you are in your room, make sure to check that you have enough towels and that the room is clean. Although it rarely happens, you will want to take care of this right away. If you need extra towels, pillows or anything from Mousekeeping, you may want to do this as soon as you get into your room. Mousekeeping does an excellent job and I have never had a problem, but mistakes do happen.
Once all of my bags have been unloaded and everything is OK with my room, I will usually head out to the nearest Walmart or Target to get some supplies. As you must already know, Disney is VERY expensive. A bottle of soda from the resort is over $4 and the snacks are even more. If you go out to one of the local stores, prices are AT LEAST a THIRD of what you would pay on the resort. Picking up snacks such as cookies, crackers, peanut butter, etc will save you quite a bit of money.
Beyond the snacks, the local superstores all carry Disney Souvenirs at much cheaper prices than the parks. Mickey and Minnie ears, Autograph Books and pens, shirts and some even carry trading pins at half the cost in the Disney Parks.
Getting Some Rest
Usually, the day that I arrive in Orlando I do not go to the parks. I think that it is a waste of a $100+ ticket to not spend the entire day inside the park.
So once I get back to the Resort Hotel that I am staying at, I will either explore to see what the resort has to offer, or I will drive or take a Disney Bus over to Disney Springs and spend a couple of hours there.
Once done with Disney Springs, I will head back to the Resort and maybe go for a swim in the pool if there is time. If not, I will head to bed early so that I can hit the ground running early the next day at my first park.
I hope that this post was able give you some ideas and/or information about arriving at Orlando International Airport, all the way through checking into your Disney World Resort room. Check out my next post on the ways to save some money on park mornings and how to quickly navigate Disney Property and Transportation so that you can make the most of your day at a Disney World Theme Park.