Travel & Tourism

Should you fly or drive from the Coast to Disney World? An investigation.

Should you fly or drive to Disney World?

Take a glance at the pros and cons of driving or flying to Walt Disney World from Gulfport for your next family vacation.
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Take a glance at the pros and cons of driving or flying to Walt Disney World from Gulfport for your next family vacation.

Now that South Mississippi has low-cost, direct flights to Orlando, many families may be wondering whether it’s cheaper to fly or drive to a Disney or Universal Studios vacation.

More people are choosing to fly after Allegiant Airlines began last fall offering nonstop flights on Wednesday and Saturday to Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Since then, the number of riders has increased each month, said Clay Williams, executive director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

Non-stop flights are advertised as low as $30, but after fees to reserve seats and space for carry-ons or checked bags, the cheapest round-trip cost sits at around $120.

But price isn’t the only factor.

It all depends on how many people are going on the trip, how much luggage you’re taking, whether you plan to stop at a hotel each way and how well your kids or grandkids do on a long car trip.

Short on time?

If time is the deciding factor, flying gets you there and back in half the time.

Flights are 90 minutes each way, or three hours total. Add the hour before your flight to clear security, an hour at the end to pick up bags, and the 45-minute drive from the airport to and from Disney World and you’re up to 10 hours round trip.

It likely will take that long just to drive the 571 miles from Gulfport to Orlando, figuring in the 8 hours of driving time and two hours for stops and a meal, or 20 hours round trip.

On a budget?

If cost is the deciding factor, it’s less expensive to drive.

Although $30 is the base rate for the flight in March, the airline charges different fees depending what seat you choose — it varies between $10 and $24 by how close you are to the front of the plane, whether you choose an aisle, middle or window seat, and whether you want extra leg room or an “economy” seat.

It’s also $18 for both carry-ons and checked bags if you pay the luggage fee up front — it’s more if you wait until the day of departure. And there’s an additional fee to guarantee being able to sit together.

For a couple’s getaway to Disney the flight from Gulfport would be just $240 with minimum fees in March.

For a family of four, round-trip airfare in March would be around $480 if you chose the minimum fees.

Add about $10 a day to park at the Gulfport airport, or you could take an Uber, Lyft or tax ride.

To drive, the cost of gas would be around $103 for a vehicle that gets 23 miles per gallon, depending on the cost of gas. Add the cost of meals during stops and possible vehicle maintenance before you leave.

Not the main airport

It’s important to know the Orlando Sanford International Airport is about an hour drive from Disney World and Universal Studios.

Compare that to the Orlando International Airport, which is about a 30 to 40 minute drive. Those who stay at a Disney hotel can ride for free on Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando International — but that service isn’t provided at the Sanford airport.

Bloggers says there are advantages to flying into the Sanford airport. It’s much easier to get through security, they say, than at Orlando International, which is known for its very long lines. The Magical Express leaves for the airport three or four hours before your flight because of those lines, cutting into vacation time.

Other flights to Orlando connect through Atlanta and take hours longer and cost considerably more — about 4 hours including the layover and general $300 to $600 per ticket.

Once in Orlando, you could rent a car, which costs about $200 for a week, or pay for taxi, shuttle, Uber or Lyft rides.

“There are numerous ground transportation options from the Orlando-Sanford Airport,” said Williams, and some shuttle operators provide rides from $60 each way for up to four people.

Planning your trip

Christen Goff of Gautier took four trips to Orlando last year and helped plan getaways for many other families through Magically Fun Vacations.

“I have four kids of my own,” she said. “We’re all annual pass holders.”

Tickets to Disney World and Universal studios are expensive — just over $100 for a one-day pass to either park — so planning is essential if you want to make the most of your trip, she said.

Most of her clients have never been to Disney and don’t know where to start planning a vacation, she said, or have been there and realize they need help to avoid stress.

“Most of my clients actually drive,” she said, although she said Allegiant Airlines is affordable for families.

“I have about half of my clients who will do what is called split stay,” she said, spending half their time at with Mickey and the Disney parks and half with Harry Potter at Universal Studios.

Whether you save time and fly or save money and drive, this is a great year to visit Orlando, she said. Many Coast families head to Disney the day school gets out, but you may want to wait until after the summer debut of Toy Story Land at Disney Hollywood Studios.

Use it or lose it

Allegiant Airlines has a one-year agreement to fly from Gulfport to Orlando and typically flies a 166-seat MD-80 or a 177-seat Airbus 320.

“We need for the service to continue to grow so that the airline will remain in the market,” Williams said. “Low cost carriers are highly sought after by communities across the country.”

The Gulfport airport hadn’t had a regular-service, low-cost carrier since Air Tran left the market in 2009, he said.

How to get to Disney World

Based on 2 adults, 2 kids

Fly from Gulfport

Drive from Gulfport

Time

1.5 hour flight, 1 hour for security, 1 hour for baggage claim, 45 min. drive

8 hour drive

Total round-trip

10 hours

20 hours

Cost

$120 in March

$103 for gas (with a 23 mpg vehicle)

Extras

fees for baggage, seat assignment, priority boarding, ground transportation, airport parking

meals on the road, auto service before trip

Total round-trip

$240

$206

Got more Disney tips?

Send them to Mary Perez at meperez@sunherald.com

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