How overwhelming it is to drive to Disney World depends on how far you have to travel. Obviously, a cross-country trip is a different animal from the trip that Mike and I make from New York. And that’s a separate experience from people who live closer to Florida, like in the Carolinas, but still have a 10-hour drive ahead of them.

The New York to Florida trip that we’ve made twice (and that I’ve done with my family when I was a teenager) is 17 hours. In theory. It’s usually no less than 20 hours, and that’s if we book it, risking our health, sanity and car along the way. (Legs, brains and car engines need breaks every now and then!)

During our first trip, we took 24 hours to go from New York to Florida without stopping for the night because we got caught in a slippery snow storm, which turned into sheets of rain as we continued to head south to warmer weather.

Take a road trip, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

A long drive like that can be riddled with problems, ranging from mild (cabin fever, too much junk food) to serious (weather conditions that leave you stranded, falling asleep behind the wheel).

It also has a lot of perks, and having your own car during your whole Disney World vacation is one of them.

Let’s dive in!

Expenses to Consider When Driving to Disney World

Here’s what you should prepare to spend money on when driving to Disney World:

  • Car maintenance pre-trip
  • Gas for the road trip and to get around Florida
  • Tolls (having an E-ZPass makes life much easier)
  • Snacks and drinks
  • Overnight(s) at a hotel
  • Hotel parking (if you’re staying somewhere that charges)
  • Parking at Disney parks

Here’s a little more detail about some of these:

Car Maintenance

Whether or not you need a lot of car maintenance can have a big impact on the price of driving to Disney World. Most of the time, driving costs less than flying. But if your car needs work to be safe for the drive (I had to replace my tires pre-trip once), it can end up costing a lot more than taking a flight.

Tolls

Aside from paying tolls on the way to Florida, we got stuck a few times having to pay a toll right around where we were staying. You can probably avoid toll roads when you’re settled in Florida, but having an E-ZPass makes the unexpected toll booth much easier to handle. I ended up crawling to the back of our SUV to scrounge for cash on our last trip, which threw my back out. Save yourself the trouble and come prepared.

Hotel Parking

We’ve stayed off property a few times and we’ve never had to pay parking fees, but every hotel is different, so it pays to check.

If you’re staying at a Disney resort, overnight self-parking is free for guests. You may have heard that Disney charged resort guests for parking, but they did away with that at the beginning of 2023.

Valet parking is available at Disney Deluxe Resorts and costs $33 per night.

Parking at Disney Parks

The cost for parking at Disney parks can add up because pricing starts at $25 per day for standard parking. You only pay once per day, though. Your pass is good for the whole day at any of the Disney theme parks.

Parking is free at Disney water parks and Disney Springs.

Pros of Driving to Disney World

  • Travel costs are lower when compared to flying and/or renting a car
  • You can pack whatever you want, including liquids
  • More room for souvenirs
  • You’ll have your own car instead of a rental
  • You don’t have to rely on Disney or public transportation in Florida
  • Zero too-close contact with strangers

Here are a few thoughts on some of these perks of driving to Disney World:

Packing Whatever You Want is Awesome

Luggage in the trunk of a car for a road trip to Disney World.
Source: Swansway Motor Group via Unsplash

If you want to take 15 small bags, you can. If you want to take two huge pieces of luggage, you can. If you want to pack your car a week early, take along your pillows and favorite comforter, or dedicate one suitcase to your must-have morning regime, complete with a facial steamer and a fancy French press, you can.

When you drive to Disney World, you’re only limited by what your car can hold. Since there are going to be just two of you, that leaves at least the backseat and trunk to pack with whatever you consider essential or comfort items.

Plus, since you’re taking your car, you’re already familiar with exactly how much it can fit. That’ll come in handy when you decide you need to buy an entire Disney product line and have to somehow squeeze it in your car to get it home. Been there.

Also, being able to pack liquids, from drinks to toiletries, is a big deal.

I’m always nervous about loading up my checked luggage with toiletries that could leak or burst. I end up buying some toiletries on the day we arrive, which gets expensive, and it’s also wasteful if they have to get thrown out before flying back home.

Your 10-step skin care routine doesn’t have to suffer just because you’re going on a Disney vacation. Pack it all up and look like your normal glowing self at The Most Magical Place on Earth.

You’ll Have Your Own Car Instead of a Rental

You don’t know what the customer before you did in the rental car, and that sticky stuff on the door handle or the crumbs on the backseat may gross you out. We checked out no less than eight rentals during our last trip before we found one that was large enough, didn’t smell weird and had actually been cleaned.

Also, you’re much more familiar with your own car — how it handles, the sounds it makes, etc. Plus, it’s really nice at the end of a long Disney day to be in your car.

You Can Come and Go As You Please

One of the best things about staying on Disney property is having access to their transportation. After you drive to Florida, you’ll probably be happy to let someone else take the wheel as you go to and from the parks.

The monorail at Disney.
Source: Christian Lambert via Unsplash

But it’s also convenient to have a car available when you want to spend the night at Disney Springs or run to a grocery store.

Of course, if you’re not staying on Disney property, you’re going to need your own transportation anyway. Problem solved.

Stranger-Free Mental Space

Even the most dedicated, ears-wearing, Dole Whip-eating Disney fan will have their fill of other people at the end of a Disney day. Or in the middle of a Disney day. Maybe even at the start of a Disney day.

There’s no escaping loud, shoving, coughing masses of people at Disney World. They’re everywhere, including in front of you, behind you, next to you and sometimes on top of you if you’re squeezed next to them in a ride vehicle.

The last thing I want to do after hours and hours of that is sit on a bus or monorail with any of them. Having your own car means that once you leave the gates (or the Transportation and Ticket Center, if you’re coming from the Magic Kingdom) it’s just the two of you and your gloriously quiet, other-people-free car.

Cons of Driving to Disney World

  • Weather conditions may alter your plans to or from Florida
  • The drive can become a real slog
  • The actual time spent driving is going to be longer than the projected time it’ll take
  • It’s terrifying to nod off behind the wheel
  • So. Many. Rest stops.
  • Other drivers. Enough said.
  • You could get stuck with car trouble when you’re far from home

Most of these are self-explanatory, but I wanted to go a bit in-depth about the expected drive time versus the actual drive time:

Actual Time Driving is Greater Than Expected Driving Time

If a car leaves New York at 6 a.m. on a Thursday and is traveling at 60 miles per hour, when will it reach its destination 1,150 miles away?

Answer: Whenever is 7 hours after they’re supposed to arrive.

You may get lucky and make it to Florida when your GPS says you will. What we’ve found, though, is that rest stops, Starbucks stops, traffic and unpredictable weather can add 3 or more hours to your travel time.

If you made a dinner reservation for the day you arrive (we always eat at Disney Springs or a Disney resort that first night), make it for later than you think. By the time you get to your hotel, check in, freshen up and, you know, breathe, you’ll be rushing to the restaurant.

We Still Really Love Driving to Disney World

Despite a cons list that’s longer than a pros list, we prefer to drive to Disney World. Being able to pack whatever we want and have our own transportation in Florida usually outweighs our desire to get there in under 3 hours on a flight. Plus, when you consider how often flights are canceled or changed, it’s even more enticing to be on our own schedule from the moment we walk out our door.

Have you ever made a road trip to Disney World? Tell me about it in the comments!