Tips + Trends

Car Essentials: What You Need to Know About Driving in Orlando

Knowing where to find secret parking in Orlando can save you big bucks. (Photo: Vanbeets/Thinkstock)

If you’re unfamiliar with the area, getting around Orlando by car is challenging, to say the least. With the metro area encompassing over 100 square miles, saving money and finding alternate routes for busy roads is a must if you’re a local — below are some tips to do just that.

Find Secret Parking Spots

Parking can cost an arm and a leg in Orlando, but there are ways to avoid it. It’s a bit complicated, but if you want to avoid the hefty $17 daily parking fee at all the Disney parks, you can park for free at Downtown Disney, and then take a Disney bus (also free) to one of the on-property resorts.

From there, you can hop another bus or the monorail to your park of choice, where you can spend that $17 on a Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bar. Just don’t tell them we told you.

Navigate the Back Roads

I-4 cuts right through central Orlando, but that convenience comes with a price — come rush hour (or any random time, really), the town’s main thoroughfare turns into a parking lot.

And things are going to get worse before they get better thanks to the gigantic I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project.

If the Interstate is backed up, never fear: It’s easier to get around town than you think. If you’re staying in the International Drive (I-Drive) area and you want to go downtown, take John Young Parkway (SR 423).

Want to get out to Disney without traversing I-4? Take South Apopka Vineland Road (SR 435) to Buena Vista Drive if you’re coming from I-Drive or the Dr. Phillips area; if you’re coming from west of the park, hop on toll road SR 429, which hooks up with Western Way.

Take the Tolls

Orlando is crisscrossed with toll roads, often with far less traffic the Interstate. If you’re renting a car, make sure the agency offers the option of including tolls with your vehicle. If you’re driving your own car, pick up a Sunpass at any local CVS Pharmacy, Publix or Walgreens, or have one mailed to you before your trip (which will save you considerable time and money).

You’ll use the Beachline Expressway (SR 528) if you’re headed to Cocoa Beach; SR 408 if you want to cut right through the middle of town; and Florida’s Turnpike if you decide to head north to Gainesville or south to Miami.

Use Those Shuttle Buses (and Trolleys)

Finally, if your hotel offers the option of a shuttle bus to the attractions (and we’re betting it does), we strongly recommend you leave the car in the hotel lot and make use of the provided transit — what you lose in time, you’ll more than make up for with the money you save and the hassle you avoid.

If you’re staying on or near I-Drive, use the I-Ride Trolley, which runs daily from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

The service traverses the entire length of the road from the Orlando International Premium outlets in the north to the Orlando Vineland Premium outlets in the south, with stops at Wet ‘n’ Wild and SeaWorld. Single cash fare is $2 per ride; an unlimited ride pass for the day will set you back a mere $5.