Having a hire car is the best way for being mobile in Florida, and it is pretty much essential if you are staying at a vacation home or private villa, as transportation is limited to taxis and hired shuttles outside the main tourist area. But if you are in relatively close proximity to the theme parks your public transport options increase. A car can be an expensive item once you add in all the necessary insurance extras and taxes, and there are cheaper alternatives if you don’t mind doing a bit more work on your holiday. Very possibly the best compromise in terms of your holiday transportation is to book a hire car for only part of your holiday. It is usually possible to take advantage of the cheap or free options for at least half the time, and then you can cut your hire car costs down by almost half. Many people overlook this possibility, but there are numerous car hire offices around Orlando that won't leave you without a car should you decide you need one without notice.
If you are considering not hiring a car, you should definitely think about staying at a Disney resort, particularly if you plan to spend most of your time at either of the Disney parks. Staying on a Disney resort entitles you to free transport to all the Disney parks and resorts free of charge. However, if you plan to go to Universal or SeaWorld and Co, you will have to arrange your own travel, which will naturally incur costs. A two centre holiday with a week at a Disney hotel and a week on International Drive could possibly give you the best of both worlds.
Shuttles and I-Ride Transport
International Drive is a great base for access to Universal and SeaWorld as it is easy to travel up and down, either by the cheap-to-use I-Ride Trolley or with the free shuttles that many hotels here offer. When choosing your hotel it is worth looking to see if they provide a free shuttle to the nearest parks; many do and while there are only a handful which provide free transport to all the parks, these make for exceptional good value as you can easily consider not hiring a car at all. The Nickelodeon Hotel & Suites in Lake Buena Vista offers a particularly effective service of this kind.
Alternatively, work out which of the parks will demand most of your time, choose your hotel in that area (e.g. Lake Buena Vista for Disney, I-Drive for SeaWorld and Universal), and use one of the paid-for shuttle services to the other parks, like Mears Transportation, who charge a set fee per person for a round-trip.
Public Transport - Lynx Bus System
If you don’t mind spending a little longer travelling to and from the parks, the Lynx bus system is a great way to save. Lynx fares are all $2 a ride $4.50 daily or $16 for a weekly pass (children 6 and under go free with a full-fare passenger; limit three). The service is every 30 minutes in the main areas, every 15 minutes from 6-9am and 3.30-6.30pm, but try to have the right change. Lynx bus stops are marked by pink paw-print signs and all buses are wheelchair accessible. There can be long queues for the Lynx buses leaving Walt Disney World at park closing time, and it is often more worthwhile getting the (free) Disney transport to Downtown Disney and taking a taxi back to your hotel from there. A cab from there to International Drive is usually around $20-25.
For a full map of the Lynx system click here.
General Public Transport
Of the other transportation services, Mears offers the most comprehensive services, both for airport transfers and for getting to and from the theme parks from the various hotels. Quick Transportation also provide some excellent and well-priced regular and tailor-made services. From hotels in the Highway 192 area of Kissimmee, you can also try Maingate Transportation, who are competitively priced for Disney, Universal and SeaWorld shuttles, with round-trips priced around $11-15/person.
Additionally, several shopping malls have their own shuttle or pick-up service. Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores collects guests free on a daily basis from more than 40 hotels in the Orlando and Kissimmee areas (check your hotel for details, or call 407 238 9301). Orlando Premium Outlets (407 390 0000) provides a hotel shuttle with Maingate Transportation at $11 round trip from the Lake Buena Vista area and Kissimmee hotels.