Bay Lake Tower

I know for so many, one of the most stressful aspects of a Disney World vacation is simply the transportation. For many, getting to the parks and booking flights and ultimately the action of actually flying to Walt Disney World can be the most daunting aspect of any trip. However, if you know what to expect and how to truly make the most of everything available both at the airports and with what is offered up to resort guests through the Magical Express, it doesn’t have to be a stressful process.

Flying to Disney World

If you’re traveling with kids, I hope this lists help you in some way but I can’t entirely speak to the “traveling with kids” side of things as I simply do not have kids at this point in time. In all reality, many of these tips span any age range so they should still help you out along the way!

Is it Cheaper to Fly to Orlando? Is it Better to Fly to Orlando?

In the big picture, flying anywhere has its ups and downs. Obviously it’s typically a far more efficient use of your time, but perhaps more importantly it saves you time that can be better utilized enjoying your vacation rather than simply driving to your destination. As the old saying goes, time is money. However, that’s ulimtately a heavily relative question based upon where you live. For me, after I pay for gas, a nights stay in a hotel (if I don’t drive the 14 hours straight), and pay for food along the way 99 times out of 100 the difference in cost is very minimal and sadly just part of the journey.

What Airport do You Fly Into For Disney World?

This is a surprisingly common question but the answer is quite simple. MCO (Orlando International) is your best bet when flying into Orlando. Why? It’s super close to Disney World and less than 20-30 minutes to the parks. It’s a decent airport and unless you fly into Sanford on Allegiant or a smaller airline, MCO is far better than Tampa unless you come across an absurdly cheap flight for one reason or another.

I know I may be the exception rather than the rule but I really don’t mind flying. To me the hustle and bustle of airports brings a new experience and something to enjoy seeing and exploring. However, one thing does bother me and that’s the transportation after you arrive at your destination. Uber and Lyft are excellent options but ultimately Disney offers up an alternative service that should be on your radar and that I’ll touch on soon in this article.

As I was doing some research for this post, I quickly began to realize that there are very few articles based on this particular topic floating around the internet (which is great for me, but not so great for anyone trying to find good tips). It was a little surprising to be quite honest, so I figured why not share a few thoughts here that could ultimately improve your travel experience and in a round about way still help you make the most of your Disney experience! Let’s dive right in!

Use First and Last Days Before/After Flights for “Non-Park” Days

Any time I travel I always try and arrive early on in the day and depart late in the day. Ideally, it sounds like the perfect plan and if all goes well it’s the best possible solution to your travel needs. If you take that early morning flight to WDW, you leave yourself with a long day of Disney World entertainment rather than spending your day sitting around in an airport. On the other end of your journey, leaving late can afford you a morning to enjoy Disney Springs and have a little last minute activity to look forward to before heading to the airport.

I know it’s hard to set aside your arrival days for non-park days but if you can fight the desire to be in the parks as soon as you arrive, it’s often a better utilization of your time to use arrival and departure partial days as resort hopping days or even as Disney Springs days. Plus you won’t have to buy a ticket for those days.

Disney Springs Night - Flying to Disney World

On the flip side of this recommendation, if you are an annual passholder, it’s not going to cost you a dime extra to head to the parks on your first and last day, so why not make the most of your time in the parks!

Something else to consider is that late day return flights tend to be the first flights to get delayed as backups occur earlier in the day. On our last trip we got delayed nearly 3 hours after a connecting flight earlier in the day got pushed back due to mechanical issues. It’s vastly unpredictable to say the least but still more than worth leaving late in the day to squeeze a few extra minutes out of your WDW vacation!

Magical Express Works With Basically Any Airline When Flying to Disney World

For some reason the Magical Express tends to raise a lot of questions for first time and even many seasoned WDW guests. First and foremost, if you are flying and wish to use this resort transportation service, realize that you do have to be staying at a Disney World owned and operated Resort. If you are, you are set to use this service but there are a few things you need to be aware of which I hope to cover in this section and in the sections below.

Flying to Dinsey World - A Look at Wilderness Lodge

If you choose to use this service, it’s important to note that it works with basically any airline as long as that airline flies into MCO (Orlando International Airport). I do believe there are a select few exceptions to that general rule but if you’re flying a major airline, you shouldn’t have any problems utilizing the Magical Express.

It is also worth noting that not everyone in your party needs to be flying on the same airline to utilize the service and get on the same bus. If the other members of your group are flying in at a similar time and going to the same resort, they will most likely be on the same bus.

Be Aware of Magical Express Luggage Drop Off At Your WDW Resort

If you do end up utilizing the optional Magical Express service, you will be sent sticker style tags in the mail to tag your luggage so that you don’t have to deal with baggage claim. Instead, your bags will be flagged and delivered to your resort room.

However, and perhaps the most important thing to note, is that your bags will not arrive at your resort for up to 4 hours after you land. Ultimately, this means anything you will actually need when you arrive at your resort must be with you or in your carry-on bag or personal item. Perhaps the most overlooked item for most guests are their Magic Bands. If you leave them in a checked bag, it makes the Magical Express process, room check-in process, and ultimately the park entrance process far more difficult when you arrive at your destination.

Bay Lake Tower

Also, there is a little known secret that you can actually request a time for your bags to be delivered if you arrive at an odd time of day. For example, if you arrive on a late flight or one that gets delayed and gets in at 10pm, Disney states that they won’t guarantee luggage pickup and drop off after certain times.

In reality, from my personal experience, they’ll knock on your door at 2am and drop off the luggage anyway! Sometimes that’s a good thing and the ideal circumstance but other times you don’t want someone knocking on your door at 2am. If you want to avoid this simply request that your luggage be delivered at another time and they will do just that! It’s a simple fix but something to certainly be aware of.

You Do Need a Magical Express “Reservation”

For some reason, this is the part of the Magical Express that confuses guests time and time again and I’ve heard so many stories about it over the last year in particular. Disney does not do the best job publicizing the process of booking your Magical Express reservation but it is something you have to have in order to get picked up at the airport.

It’s a very simple process but if you choose not to book your airport transportation at check out when booking your WDW resort reservation online, the best way to add in the service is to call the Disney reservations number and get it added to your reservation. In order to book the transportation, Disney will request your flight information in order to track your flight and assure you a ride once you arrive in Orlando.

As long as you book the transportation, they take care of the rest and it does not cost you an extra dime!

Use the Luggage Hold Service at Your Resort

Building off of the last point, if you arrive at your resort early on in the day and your resort room is not ready, head to the front desk of your resort and request a luggage hold so that you don’t have to roll it around your resort or keep it with you wherever you decide to go. The last thing you want to do is show up at a park with a suitcase… which they probably wouldn’t let you do anyway.

Cinderella Castle

It’s a free service at every resort and I’ve never had any issues with lost or broken items and that is a huge selling point for me (even though it’s free) because I do tend to travel with at least one computer and a fair amount of pricey camera gear that is both delicate and difficult to replace.

Don’t Worry About Budget Airlines

I know so many people have qualms with budget airlines, but genuinely do not underestimate the value of some budget airlines. For the most part, you’re going to be flying on planes that are very similar to other airlines and the experience varies very little.

The only thing to really be aware of is hidden fees. It’s rare that an advertised $80 flight actually ends up being $80 after you add in taxes, bag fees, and other required costs. Budget airlines aren’t always the most budget friendly in all honesty. In my opinion, the best balance between cost and service is Southwest Airlines if it flies in your area. It’s not perfect but the people are usually quite nice and the experience isn’t full of nickel and dime expenses like you often find on Allegiant and Frontier.

If you’re flying with few bags, I highly recommend Allegiant from a cost standpoint. If you fly with a lot of stuff (like my sister) or camera gear (like me) Southwest is hard to beat offering up two free check bags to every guest, a carry on, and a personal item free of charge! I don’t consider Southwest a budget airline anymore but it is typically a great value for your money.

Hollywood Studios - Flying to WDW

Fly Direct When You Can

It’s no big secret that direct flights tend to be the best option when they are available of you’re flying to Disney World. They tend to minimize costs and ultimately make the whole experience far simpler than it otherwise would be.

If you are flying on the east coast, be aware that the vast majority of Delta flights connect in Atlanta. It’s not ideal to fly through there, but if you can’t avoid it, make sure you have at least an hour (preferably more) of time to switch planes.

“How Far in Advance Should I Book a Disney World Flight?”

This is another surprisingly common question for so many reasons! Shockingly, my answer is rather simple. In most cases, the earlier you book the better rate you’re going to get on flights to WDW. Holiday flights area always going to be more expensive but flying to the tourist capital of the world is always going to be somewhat pricey in certain situations. However, the volume of flights also works in your favor. Long story made short, I don’t worry about booking months in advance and the reasoning is simple.

A lot of airlines don’t offer free cancelation (Southwest does) and if you have to move your dates for any reason you may face issues and penalties. So, to answer the questions, I will typically buy my flight tickets 2-3 months in advance at most. For me, that’s the tipping point for when the risk is worth the reward and availability is still fairly prevalent for flights to Disney World.

Consider a Points System When Booking WDW Flights

If you have a preferred airline when flying to Disney World or elsewhere, try and sign up for their rewards program and stick with that airline if you can to earn perks over time.

If you fly very frequently, I would highly recommend looking into a SkyMiles card with Delta backed by American Express. It’s not the perfect card, but the rewards are better than most in the long run and Delta flies just about anywhere (I’m not affiliated with Delta or any other airline mentioned in this post).

Be Aware of Other Airports (Listed as Orlando)

As I was looking through flights recently I noticed that Allegiant in particular has started listing their flights as flying to “Orlando” rather Sanford on certain platforms. I’m not sure they are doing it on purpose but it is important to note that the vast majority of Allegiant flights (if not all of them) fly into Sanford airport rather than MCO and it is a much further drive to WDW from that airport. Also worth noting is that the Magical Express does *not* pick up at Sanford.

Always Fly Into MCO When Flying to Disney World

Unless the price is simply too good to beat, always try and fly into MCO rather than other airports in the area. It may be a large airport and a fairly complicated one, but at the same time it has a lot of benefits. Obviously you have the Magical Express but in a worst case scenario you have a hotel on site, plenty of above average airport food, and an abundance of flights to pick from and reroute with if yours happens to get canceled.

Jungle Cruise WDW

Understand that MCO Security Wait Times Vary Drastically When Leaving Orlando

MCO has some of the strangest security practices of any airport I’ve ever flown through. Every time you go through there the procedure seems to change. Sometimes you leave your shoes on, sometimes you take food out of your bag, sometimes there’s a dog sniffing people (like legitimately), and sometimes you leave electronics in your bag. You never know what to expect and on top of that it is incredibly unpredictable in regards to wait times at the TSA.

If you want to avoid as much of it as possible, TSA pre-check is a good option but doesn’t work perfectly for everyone. The only real trick to the airport is to arrive early in anticipation that the line could be very long, and at worst you end up sitting around for few extra minutes once you get through security. I’d rather be early and at my gate when the plane boards than stuck at a TSA checkpoint.

In the big picture, Flying to Disney World is a huge topic for so many guests looking to tour the parks and hopefully these flight tips really can help you improve your Disney World vacation experience. Travel is a huge part of the planning equation and hopefully now flying might just be a little less stressful part of the journey.

Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s here and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

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Ready to Plan?

Last but certainly not least, if you’re starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin!

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Flying to Disney World in 2019
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