Uber v. Rental Cars at Disney World

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Considering using Uber or Lyft at Walt Disney World instead of renting a car? This post covers my recent experience of ditching the rental car and instead relying on ride sharing services for transportation to Universal, from the airport, and to the Magic Kingdom and other parks.

For those unfamiliar with Uber and Lyft, they are relatively new “ride sharing” services that are essentially nicer alternatives to taxis that allow users to request rides via robust mobile apps. These apps show drivers in your vicinity, anticipated pick-up time, and have a host of other features. Why they are called ride sharing is beyond me, as you pay for the rides, and the driver is doing this as their full or part time job. They have both exploded in popularity in the last couple of years and have proven to be market disrupters that have wrecked havoc for taxi companies and have been politically controversial in some areas. (This will be relevant later in the post.)

This was actually a bit of a last minute idea, inspired by a commenter in my recent Tips for Renting a Car at Walt Disney World post who suggested the idea. I’ve never been overly keen on renting a car at Walt Disney World, as I enjoy the “escapist” experience of simply relying on Disney transportation (especially the “cool” transportation…I’m not looking at you, articulated buses), so I immediately jumped at the idea.

I already had a quote in with AutoSlash, and they had scored me a $151 rate on an economy car for the duration of my trip, which was a pretty good price, all things considered. I wasn’t sure if I could beat this by using Uber, but I figured if it was in the same ballpark, I would rather go with Uber (or Lyft…but I never ended up using the latter) so I didn’t have to bother with driving. With my rental car reservation cancelled, I was off to MCO with both apps loaded in my phone…and READY FOR ADVENTURE! Dun dun dun! 

Wondering whether this might be an economical or convenient alternative to renting a car or solely utilizing Disney transportation? Let’s take a look!

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The start to my experiment was a rocky one. Before the trip, I had used a third party website to calculate the cost of some fares to make sure I wasn’t going to lose my shirt on this plan, and one of the routes I checked was the airport to my Downtown Disney hotel.

It turns out Orlando is one of the hotbeds for ride sharing battles, with Uber and Mears having a very public clash. Mears makes Comcast look like an exemplary pillar of customer service, so it’s no surprise that they are making effort$ to keep Lyft and Uber out. In Mears’ defense, what fun is transportation in Orlando if you don’t pay exorbitant fees while receiving awful service?

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When I landed at the airport and opened Uber, I received a message that they couldn’t do airport pickups at Orlando International Airport. I was anxious about this that message first, knowing that a cab from the airport to Walt Disney World could cost $60 or more thanks to the virtual Mearsopoly. With the prospect of going to the parks on the table, I quickly jumped into MacGruber mode, and found a way to deactivate this ticking bomb by taking an off-site parking shuttle to some random spot outside the airport. From there, I had an Uber within 5 minutes.

For those of you who don’t want to go the parking shuttle route, my driver informed me that you can also drop your pin outside the airport, request a driver, and then immediately call and let them know you’re actually at the airport. If you go this route, the best method is to do a pickup at the departures drop-off area. From what I understand, most drivers will do this, although some won’t. YMMV.

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My driver picked me up and got me to my hotel in 18 minutes for a total cost (including one toll) of $16.01. Not bad for a 14.6 mile drive from the airport, and even with the parking shuttle my total time spent on this was around 35 minutes, making it faster than a normal Disney’s Magical Express ride and comparable to getting a rental car at the airport.  (Note that it would have taken about 25 minutes had I dropped the pin outside the airport and called.)

My plan for the trip was to use a hybrid approach of relying on Uber and Disney transportation depending upon the circumstances, and I employed this strategy pretty successfully. Basically, whenever it was a midday hour, which is when I feel Disney transportation is most unpredictable and least efficient or at various other strategic times when it made sense, I’d use Uber.

For these random trips, I used Uber 4 times for a grand total of $38.03. This included getting from Caribbean Beach Resort to the Contemporary at 7:30 a.m. one morning (cost of $12.57 that included the dreaded “surge pricing”) to be early for our 8 a.m. Be Our Guest breakfast ADR. I figure this one is worth mentioning specifically because several readers have asked about the best way to get to early morning ADRs: Uber is your new answer. (Just make sure to specify the Contemporary unless you want to go through the Ticket & Transportation Center.) Other rides were more mundane, in ordinary circumstances where it felt like the bus would be a hassle.

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One thing I learned over the course of these random tips is that it’s always a good practice to call your driver and let them know exactly where you are. Our time at Caribbean Beach Resort illustrates why this is important for a few reasons. Maps can be wonky sometimes, and the driver’s map might take them to the wrong place. Even if there is no issue with the route, it might be difficult for them to tell the specific spot at the resort where you’re located unless you call and tell them. Since Uber and Lyft are relatively new to the Orlando market, there are some drivers who don’t know the ins and outs of Walt Disney World’s transportation grid. This was not an issue for us as our drivers always called us if there was any potential confusion, but you might want to be proactive so they arrive as quickly as possible.

I used Uber less than once per day, and actually played it a bit conservative. I was right across the street from the Downtown Disney bus stops, and actually had great luck walking over there and quickly grabbing a bus on a couple of occasions when heading to Epcot (choosing the first bus to show of the Crescent Lake Resorts). I also tend to stay in the parks until after they have closed for the day (the shops on Main Street are open until about an hour after park closing), which means the buses are parked there waiting for me at the end of the night. I also took Disney’s Magical Express back to the airport (my 3:10 a.m. pickup had no one else on the bus!), so I only had one airport charge.

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In these regards, I’m a bit of outlier because my use of Disney’s transportation in these situations isn’t exactly what the average guest will encounter. Just for the sake of discussion, let’s say an average guest would have used Uber 4 more times for a total cost of $40 more.

If you are an average guest trying to determine how much you might spend on Uber, another thing to consider is surge pricing. This is when pricing increases by a multiplier (1.5 to 2x in my experience at Walt Disney World) when demand is high to get more drivers on the road. Demand is highest at Walt Disney World right before park opening, at rush hour, and right as the parks close. If these are the primary travel times, plan to pay surge pricing on occasion. Still cheaper than a Mears taxi.

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Without question, the greatest case for Uber or Lyft was in traveling from Walt Disney World to Universal Orlando Resort. Much like the early morning ADR question, this is one we get a lot. In the past, the best option we’ve found for those who don’t have rental cars the duration of their trips is either renting a car on-site for the day, or taking a pricey shuttle. Neither is cost-effective or all that appealing, especially when you add on that $17 parking fee.

The cost for Uber from Caribbean Beach Resort to Universal Orlando Resort’s guest drop-off zone in the morning was $14.31. The cost on the way back (during rush hour) heading directly to Epcot was $15.92. The trips were 19 and 26 minutes, respectively. For the two of us, it was ~$30, and it would have easily cost $50-$100 for a 1-day rental car (including parking) or shuttle, plus either alternative would have taken longer. For those who aren’t renting a car for the duration of their trip, Uber or Lyft are the unquestionable best options for getting from Walt Disney World to Universal.

All told, I spent $84.27 on Uber, and had my best experience with transportation at Walt Disney World in ages. Even removing my special circumstances from the equation and spending another $40-60, a normal guest still would have come out ahead by using Uber rather than a rental car, and that’s before factoring in things such as gas, tolls, and parking (as applicable) to the cost of the rental car.

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The additional upside for me was efficiency and convenience, as Uber beat both a rental car (no parking!) and bus transportation (sometimes it feels like taking a swan pedal boat might be faster than Disney buses) in those regards. In terms of service, Uber was characteristically impeccable. Since drivers depend upon positive ratings to remain with Uber and Lyft, they go the extra mile to make the experience positive for riders. This is a stark contrast to taxis I’ve encountered, some of whom grumble when you try to pay with credit card instead of cash.

Overall, there is no one size fits all answer in terms of the “best” means of transportation around Walt Disney World. For me, utilizing Uber and Lyft to supplement Disney transportation, or replace a rental car is a pretty ideal option (that is, until Launchpad invites me to fly on his private plane). It allowed me to save on the cost of a rental car and not worry about driving. Even though that still meant dealing with Disney transportation some of the time, my issues and delays were minimal to non-existent. The added upside was that I never had to worry about getting lost, finding a parking spot, or driving at the end of a long day, which I definitely considered a win.

If you’re new to the Uber or Lyft scene, you can get a free ride up to $20 by signing up via this link for Uber (or use code tomb3417 if the link doesn’t work) or a free ride up to $20 on Lyft via this link (or code tom291882). You lose whatever portion of the great you don’t use on your first ride, so it’s a good option for a long ride, such as that voyage from the airport to Walt Disney Word. Don’t use it to get from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian. (Walk between the two, you bum!)

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Planning a Walt Disney World trip? If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!

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Your Thoughts…

Could you see yourself using Uber and Lyft at Walt Disney World instead of renting a car, or are you unpersuaded, still preferring the freedom of a rental car? Would you pay ~$9 in some cases to avoid a long wait at a hot bus stop? Do you have any other tips for using Uber and/or Lyft at Walt Disney World? We love to hear from readers, so if you have any thoughts or questions, post them in the comments!

208 Responses to “Uber v. Rental Cars at Disney World”
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