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What to Know Before Driving to Disney World

driving to disney world

For many families ­– or in our case, a group of eight – flying from New York to Orlando, Fla., is simply unaffordable. Most families have to visit when school is out, and a roundtrip ticket during the Easter vacation costs a minimum of $500 per person, plus tax. We were looking at $4,000 in expenses before the hotel, meals, park tickets and mouse ear headbands!

Our Honda Odyssey easily fits eight travelers and plenty of luggage, so the decision to take a road trip via Interstate 95 was a no-brainer. We decided on one layover and two drivers to share the work. Once we set our dates, we made hotel reservations for both the out- and inbound trips.

For the outbound trip, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Savannah I-95 South. The hotel offers free full breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking; the indoor pool is definitively a bonus. On the way home, we booked the Hampton Inn in Petersburg, Va., which offers the same amenities. Both offer deals for AAA members.

Getting Ready for the Big Adventure

AAA’s Car Doctor, John Paul, recommends taking your car to a repair shop for a quick checkup before the trip. If your vehicle is new, he suggests checking on all the vital fluids – like oil, transmission, power steering and brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid and coolant – before you leave. If you’re not sure how to add them, take a look at the owners manual to learn the basics.

The day before leaving, make sure all your luggage is packed, including a few overnight bags with sets of fresh clothes, sleepwear and toiletries. Don’t forget your meds, glasses and contact lens solution. Pack the overnight bags so they’re within easy reach when you arrive at the hotel for your overnight stay.

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Put together a selection of books, movies, audiobooks and playing cards, and pack them in the seat pockets of the car. Don’t forget earphones! For young children, I love the little Lego suitcase that holds the plastic bricks; magnetic travel games; and coloring books with “magic” pens that show color on the drawings in the book and not on clothing or car seats. The magnetic doodles are always fun, and what child doesn’t love activity and sticker books?

Fuel up the car, and visit the bank for cash and a roll of quarters for the toll booths in the Sunshine State; many places in Florida don’t use the E-ZPass system you may have. Pack the car in the evening, leaving space for a small cooler. Prepare sandwiches, snacks, fruits and drinks for the road; put them in the cooler the next morning when you’re ready to leave. Go to bed early.

driving to disney world
Ready to roll! (Photo: Sandra Ortiz)

On the Road: Day One

Plan to hit the road at 5 a.m., and don’t forget the cooler! Plan to do this first day in four driving segments, covering a bit over 200 miles per section, which will have you in Savannah, Ga., by 6 p.m. for a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep.

For the first several hours on the road, most of your passengers will be sleeping. Take a breakfast stop early. Don’t sit down for a meal, but eat what you prepared in a nice rest area that has fuel and restrooms. Even if you are not out of gas, top off the tank. Keep stops to a 30-minute max. This is no time for souvenir shopping.

During the next few hours, all non-drivers can enjoy books, games or music. then, it’s lunch time. Unless you also brought lunch along, purchase takeout or sandwiches at a rest station. Use the stop to stretch and use the restroom. This is also a good time to switch drivers.

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AAA recommends stopping every two hours or 100 miles, even if it’s just to stretch your legs. And if you find yourself getting tired, the only answer is sleep, said Paul.

“A quick 20-minute nap can really help,” he said, “at least for a short time.”

The next stretch is perfect for all to listen to a good audiobook or for small kids to watch a movie, and then hopefully take a nap.

The final hours usually pass quickly, as everybody is ready for a nice dinner or even a jump in the pool. Before exiting the highway, make sure to refuel so you are ready to continue to Orlando the next morning. Check into your hotel and take your overnight bags and valuables into your room.

If your group isn’t too tired, take a stroll through Savannah’s Historic District. There are many great restaurants in Savannah, if you want to splurge a little; after all, you were on the road all day. Check out the delectable Southern menu at Alligator Soul. Families with young children should skip the sightseeing and opt for an eatery nearby, such as Cracker Barrel or Applebee’s. Lights out by 11 p.m.!

Almost There: Day Two

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, pick up some fruits or pastries from the buffet and try to be on the road by 8 a.m. After putting in two hours, make a short bathroom stop and refuel. You should reach Orlando in time for lunch. If you don’t have park tickets for arrival day, I suggest exploring Disney Springs and eating lunch there.

The Drive Back

Refuel your car the night before and be packed and ready to go after grabbing breakfast at any fast food restaurant before leaving Disney at the latest by 7 a.m.

Try to put in a long day of driving, so you reach Petersburg, Va. (about 730 miles) in the evening. Stop every two hours for bathroom breaks, swapping drivers, snacks, lunch – you know the drill. Consider a sit-down dinner around 5 p.m., followed by a short drive of two more hours till you reach your hotel. There are plenty of restaurants just off Interstate 95, such as Ruby Tuesday and Cracker Barrel. Try to reach your hotel by 9 p.m., refuel the car, and get a good night’s rest.

Enjoy breakfast by 7 a.m., and try to get on the road by 8. You should hit the D.C. beltway after morning traffic. Stop and refuel, preferably at the first or second service area after the beltway. Grab some lunch for the road, switch drivers, and go for the homestretch. New York is only five hours away.

What do you think about driving to Disney World? Have you ever done it? Would you ever do it? Tell us in the comments! 

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3 Thoughts on “What to Know Before Driving to Disney World

  1. Driving to Savannah in 13 hours is a bit ambitious. We drive from Hilton Head Island, SC to Long Island (Nassau County) which is 840 miles. It takes us 15-16 hours including about 2 hours of stops for meals, gas and bathroom breaks. Perhaps you’re driving really fast!

    1. You must be a slow driver, lol. We do a 1265 mile trip to West Palm in 18 1/2 hours from Northern NJ.

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