Friday, May 09, 2008

More car rental perspectives

My recent article on rental car prices at OIA spurred this email:

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Great column again this week. We have not used the Magic Express bus yet and hope we never have to. Our last two trips to WDW in Sept. 2005 and Sept. 2006 (we could not make it in 2007 ) as well as all our previous trips we always rent a car. In fact a couple of times we have rented a car in DC and driven it down to Orlando (13 hour drive or so, not too bad).

Generally in Sept. we get great rental deals: $100-120 for something "nice" like National's Emerald Aisle. We make use of every discount we have to get those rates. I always tell anyone staying at WDW to rent a car. Even if it costs $150 it is worth it. Here are the benefits of using the rental car:

1. Faster trip into and out of the airport. With the Emerald Aisle or Alamo Quicksilver there is no line, just grab baggage, go to National's section of the parking garage, take car, checkout at gate, and drive to WDW. Same thing going back: I can drop the wife and child at the departure level with the bags, then drop the car off (it's fast) and meet them 10 minutes later. With the bus service you may waste as much as 1-2 hours getting to WDW and 3 hours leaving WDW and returning to the airport.

2. With the car you can not only leave WDW to visit SuperTarget to buy groceries, beer, soda, bottled water, sunglasses, etc. you can also visit one of the three Character Warehouse outlets to buy souvenirs. There are also a few off-site restaurants that are worthwhile. God help me but I like that Boston Lobster Feast place, and I really want to try the "catfish camp" style restaurant in St. Cloud.

3. I live in the Washington DC area and in comparison Orlando is a dream to drive in (except Int'l Drive). It is enjoyable to be on vacation somewhere where the traffic is light, and the drivers polite.

4. With the car you can bookend your stay at cheaper hotels. I did this on one trip: flew down Monday evening, stayed at Fairfield Marriott Village and that night bought all our groceries, etc. Next morning at 7:30am I drove to Coronado Springs, checked in, went back to my hotel, checked out, met my wife and 2-year-old son at the airport (they flew down on Tuesday) then we went to WDW and got our room and enjoyed the rest of the day (I think we had not bought admission for the first day so we did the Downtown Disney and AK Lodge instead of seeing a park). At the end of the trip we did the same thing: these park in the morning, checked out of Coronado Springs at noon, more theme parks in the afternoon, then checked into the Fairfield Inn ($55 night including free breakfast) that night.

5. At one time I calculated that each waking hour at WDW cost $20 for each family member (it might be $25 today!). So saving even 5 hours of our time is worth the $100 rental. We save a lot of time driving: from Coronado Springs it is almost always faster to drive to the theme parks. With the Magic Kingdom driving might be a wash but we tend to book meals at the Grand Floridian and park there instead of the big lot. We have the AAA parking pass each time which also helps to park near each park entrance.

6. Valet parking is also a huge time saver, especially at places with faraway lots like Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian, etc.

7. Rental car makes it much easier to have meals in places harder to get to like the Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge or even the Beach Club. For the most part we only like sit-down meals in the theme parks at EPCOT only, although we always have breakfast at the Crystal Palace.

8. I really do like the Magical Express buses for other people, because they leave a lot more space for me to park at my hotel (Coronado Springs) and they also mean lots like the Beach Club are pretty empty so I can park there too (with permission).

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