The biggest decision a family makes when traveling is to drive or fly. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are no exceptions. Each has their own benefits, and will work for all different types of families. This is the tale of two road trips: Jenn drove to Walt Disney World, and Sara drove to Disneyland.
Jenn: We have driven now to Disney World 3 times and it has worked out great for our family. Here are some of the tips and tricks we have found work best for us. We left this past time around dinner time, drove for 4 hours, took a break, then drove through the night. We arrived at the resort around 10 am. Naptime for Daddy and pool time for the kids once we checked in.
Benefits of Driving
Driving can dramatically change the cost of traveling to any destination. For my family, driving is more cost efficient. As a family of 5, a flight to Disney can cost my family around $1000. Driving this time cost our family, just gas, around $279. It could take us longer to drive than to fly, but we don’t have to deal with any flight delays or cancelations.
We get to leave on our time and arrive on our time. If we want to stop and sight see, we can. This time we left at 6 pm and drove through the night. We arrived at our resort around 10 am. We had the entire day to relax at our resort and rest up for the parks. And we had our car the whole time throughout the vacation, if we wanted to drive to the theme parks, or leave to pick up groceries or other necessities.
We get to pack what we want. We are not limited to suitcases. This trip, we went shopping for snacks, breakfast, and lunches before we left. We also go to take an entire cooler for some food cost savings while in the parks. My kids got to bring their blankets and pillows for comfort.
Items we brought with us for our drive:
Pillows and blankets
USA map for coloring in license plates as we drive
Not having to lug bags and kids through busy airports is worth the long drive of 15 hours for us. Getting to pack what we want without having to worry about space is a big plus. Road tripping is fun when you are prepared and let everyone know what is expected. Yes there are meltdowns and someone crying. Honestly, it was a great experience.
Sara: For me, time is money, especially on vacation. Mainly, spend more money to get more vacation time! I recently drove with my family from Denver to Anaheim- about a 15 hour trip. We left the first night, drove a few hours, stayed overnight in a hotel, drove about 7 hours the next day, spent another night in a hotel, and drove the last little portion of the trip the last morning. While we did stop for some sightseeing on the way, I still prefer hopping a direct flight.
Drawbacks of driving:
Traffic was a nightmare on two separate legs of our drive, adding hours onto our travel time. Now, yes, I realize delays and cancellations happen frequently when flying as well, but it is very frustrating to be stuck on a highway in standstill traffic. Not to mention needing to find a rest area! At least on a plane, I know where I can find a restroom.
Worse than “Are we there yet?” is knowing that this 15 hour drive could have been a 2-hour flight. Even with the trip to the airport and waiting to board, the flight time would have been a fraction of the time we spent in the car. To me, worth it to just get there and start vacation sooner!
3. Too much stuff!
Oh boy, did we pack too much for our road trip! There is something simplifying about limiting everyone to their one suitcase. Just the essentials, please. But when we packed the car, we brought so much extra stuff, “just in case”!
It wasn’t all bad, though, We got to see the World’s Largest Thermometer, and spend a night in Las Vegas- things I would have missed if we flew. Here are a couple of tips that made the trip more pleasant for us:
-We packed snacks in a cooler- including proteins like drinkable yogurts, fresh fruit and even veggies like cucumbers for refreshing snacks. We brought a whole case of bottled water, too. Always having something to eat and drink made the unexpected delays a lot easier. And I had some candy on hand, as well- just in case!
-I picked up a few surprises for my daughters from the Dollar Tree and Target before we left, and hid them in the front seat with me in a bag. Every few hours, I pulled out a new coloring book or activity, and once the sun went down, we even had some glow sticks and mini flashlights. The kids looked forward to the surprises throughout the trip, and they helped keep the kids busy.
Overall, it was a fun and memorable experience, but we left with the intention of taking our time getting there- and getting home! In the future, if we’re heading straight to Disneyland, I will just pay the extra money for the flights to get us there quicker! I’d rather spend the time in the parks than sitting in the car!
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About the Authors
Sara Mahjoub is a founding member of the Middle of the Magic Travel Parent Panel. She has 2 princesses, 6 & 5 years old, who have been visiting Disney since before they were born.
Jenn Gehly is a founding member of the Middle of the Magic Travel Parent Panel. She is a mom of 3, 10, 8 & 2 year olds, and their favorite place is Walt Disney World.