So you’ve made the decision to drive to Disney World! Fantastic!
Now, how are you going to make this drive as stress-free as possible?
We are life-long roadtrippers and always drive to Disney World, so I’ve compiled a few tips to make your Disney road trip a success. We are east coasters, traveling from North Carolina, so I’ll be veering towards the I-95 corridor when route tips get specific, but you can still apply these tips no matter where you’re driving from.
Ready? Set? Let’s drive to Disney World!
1. Know Your Route
I’m old school and never rely solely on the GPS. The quickest route isn’t always the best option so map your route and plan your options ahead of time.
We prefer to avoid driving through cities and will use a bypass whenever possible. If you’re traveling south on I-95, the drive is delightfully city-free south of Virginia. The only other large cities that I-95 will travel through between Richmond and Disney World is Jacksonville and Orlando.
Jacksonville can be easily bypassed using I-295 East. This toll-free bypass is nearly the same distance as remaining on I-95 and driving straight through the city.
Orlando doesn’t have a free or faster bypass, but we’ve enjoyed the SR 429 Central Florida Expressway just to avoid downtown traffic drama. Know that downtown Orlando is a perpetual construction zone for miles and miles, and traffic can be horrendous at rush hour and any time of day! Using route 429 will cost a few dollars (have quarters ready!) and may not save time, but will undoubtedly be less stressful!
Have a traffic app like Waze running at all times to avoid unexpected traffic tie-ups and the GasBuddy app for the cheapest gasoline.
Also, be prepared to ignore tempting tourist trap roadside ads! DO NOT stop at South of the Border! Ignore Pedro! If you’ve never driven on I-95 in North Carolina or South Carolina … well, you’ll understand what you do!
SR 429 Central Florida Expressway, a much less stressful route around Orlando than driving I-4 straight through the city!
2. Bring Quarters!
Make sure you have toll money with you.
If traveling from the west via I-75, you’ll take Florida’s Turnpike on that final stretch to Disney World.
From the east, you’ll also hit toll roads if bypassing Orlando to the north and west on SR 429 or the south and east on the 417 Central Florida GreeneWay.
In Florida, some exits require SunPass or exact change – no bills – so make sure you have a stack of quarters just in case! The EZ Pass you may use at home will not work with Florida’s SunPass.
3. Plan Rest Stops
You’ll want to stop occasionally to rest your eyes from the monotony of the road ahead, stretch your legs, fill the gas tank, and break out the snacks. However, some locations along your route may be better for this than others.
On I-95, South Carolina is a pretty desolate 3-hour stretch that doesn’t pass by many towns. Most exits are just a gas station or two and a fast food joint here or there. Note rest areas that would be the best options for a short break.
We aim for state welcome centers as they typically have the most bathroom stalls, outdoor picnic tables, and a room full of travel brochures to browse. The kids always love to pick a few (though you might want to designate a limit before entering!).
Not all welcome centers are created equal, though. The Florida welcome center when driving southbound on I-95 is a magnet for tourists. A free cup of OJ or grapefruit juice beckons along with that prized photo in front of the “Welcome to Florida” sign for the ‘gram. However, the Florida welcome center is crowded, the parking lot is always full, and we’ve found the bathrooms to be less than desirable. Plan on stopping a little earlier in Georgia or later in Florida at rest areas where fewer cars stop.
Welcome centers done right? Look no further than the southbound I-95 Georgia and northbound I-95 South Carolina welcome centers. These are both nearly new, huge, clean, and fantastic stops on your journey to and from the Sunshine State.
Have more time and want to do a little sight-seeing along the way? Historic downtown Savannah, Georgia is a stone’s throw off I-95. Take an hour or more to stretch your legs and walk around this beautiful city.
4. Pack These in the Car
A few necessities will make any car trip more enjoyable.
Always have trash bags ready. We’re never 50 miles away from our house before someone has something to discard already!
Paper towels are a good idea to clean up unexpected messes and serve as placemats.
Pack plenty of drinking water. We always have several gallons in the trunk as well as refillable water bottles for everyone. Then, we refill when we stop for breaks so everyone is always hydrated.
Always have spare car key. You never know when you might unexpectedly lock the keys in the car somewhere in Georgia!
Currently, it’s always a good idea to travel with hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, and Clorox wipes.
Include a basic first aid kit for those unexpected cuts and scrapes, and make sure the car is prepared for mishaps with jumper cables, extra fluids, and other basics.
5. How to Entertain the kids … and yourself!
We always have a variety of activities to keep the kids occupied in the back seat. This includes favorite books, spiral notebooks or a clipboard case with paper and pencils for drawing, and small lego sets … if your kids are old enough to keep all the pieces from falling on the floor!
Here are a few more ideas …
6. Podcasts and Music You Must Listen To!
We don’t bring iPads or tablets on our trips. We just don’t want the trouble of concealing these devices whenever we get out of the car for a brief rest break or once we arrive at the hotel. We DO, however, have lots of music and podcasts lined up for the trip.
Favorite Disney podcasts include the Imagineer Podcast and Connecting With Walt, but we actually listen to more general podcasts most of the drive. Our favorites are Car Talk, 99 Percent Invisible, and Ted Radio Hour.
When we cross the Florida-Georgia state line, we always switch over to my Disney World Apple Music playlist. This playlist contains songs heard throughout the parks and is all we listen to the entire time we’re in Florida!
What’s your best tip for making the drive to Disney World?