It’s not uncommon to bring family or friends to an ALA meeting (or to add a few days of sightseeing to your convention stay). This is especially true for a tourist destination such as Orlando. If you are thinking about doing this in Orlando, know that Orlando is a very different animal from other ALA meeting locations (such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and New Orleans). These cities all have a central “there” and generally have good public transportation. Even Anaheim (which many attendees felt had nothing to offer except for Disneyland) at least had Disneyland within a short walk or shuttle ride and conference attendees had the option of purchasing discounted twilight tickets to enjoy the theme parks after they were finished with meetings.
In Orlando, the primary tourist destinations (Walt Disney World, Universal, Seaworld) are miles away from the convention center and conference hotels. Planning is critical to have an enjoyable family/group experience in Orlando so if you think you can go off to your daytime meetings and leave your family to their own devices (without advance planning), think again!
As you can see from this map nothing is walking distance and (like Las Vegas), the hotels spread along International Drive are farther apart than one might think. One alternative to ALA shuttles is the I-Ride Trolley (which can at least get you to Sea World from International Drive). Public transportation does exist in Orlando but don’t expect it to easily get you to Universal Orlando from an International Drive hotel (as the two routes that serve Universal run along Turkey Lake Road (#21) and Universal Boulevard (#37)) or to Walt Disney World as the #50 is an express bus that bypasses most of International Drive.
So your transportation options between International Drive and the theme parks are:
- taxi (~$20 to Universal, ~$35 to Walt Disney World)
- hotel shuttle
- charter shuttle (will vary by company, type of car and number of passengers but typically comparable to taxis)
- rental car (Universal and Walt Disney World theme park parking is $20/day plus your hotel may charge for parking; hotel parking at Universal and Walt Disney World is complimentary)
Many hotels offer shuttle services to various tourist destinations. If you’re thinking about using a hotel shuttle, ask the hotel directly:
- Is the hotel shuttle complimentary or is there a fee?
- What destinations does the shuttle serve?
- What is the shuttle schedule?
- Are additional shuttles added during peak times?
- For Walt Disney World, where specifically does the shuttle pick up/drop off?
The last question is particularly important. Walt Disney World is 43 square miles (twice the size of Manhattan or about the same size as the city of San Francisco). Because it’s soooo big, it’s important to know where specifically a shuttle willl take you. Most likely shuttles will go to:
- The Ticketing & Transportation Center (also known as the TTC). From here, you need to take additional transportation (complimentary monorail, boat or bus) which will take you an additional 15-30 minutes to arrive at theme park gates
- Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney). This retail area is a destination unto itself BUT know that there is no direct Disney transportation between Disney Springs and any of the theme parks. Disney does provides transportation between Disney Springs and all the Disney resort hotels so to get to a theme park from Disney Springs, you will need to take a bus (or boat) to a Disney resort hotel and then transfer to theme park transportation.
- The theme parks directly. This is the ideal service but you should still ask whether the shuttle goes to only one theme park (requiring you to transfer to Disney transportation to go to a different theme park), multiple theme parks directly, or multiple theme parks in a loop.
Disney does provide complimentary transportation between All Disney properties (theme parks, water parks, resort hotels and Disney Springs). On average, Disney buses run every 20 minutes and are generally a good way to get around the resort.
Both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World have affordable hotel options that may make it worth moving to a resort hotel before or after your conference experience. Walt Disney World has 28 resort hotels, five of which are categorized as value resorts: Pop Century, Art of Animation, All-Star Music, All-Star Sports, All-Star Movies. The benefits of staying at any Walt Disney World resort hotel include:
- Early Access to FastPass+ Reservations
- Extended Theme Park Hours Exclusively for Resort Hotel Guests
- Complimentary Resort Transportation & Parking
- Complimentary Magic Bands
- Complimentary Airport Transportation
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Complimentary Delivery of Purchases To Your Hotel Rooom
- Highly-themed and Immersive Environment
With its two theme parks and four (soon to be five) resort hotels, Universal Orlando is a smaller operation. The recently opened Cabana Bay resort is the most affordable option. Guest benefits vary from hotel to hotel but can include:
- Complimentary Skip The Regular Lines Service
- Priority Restaurant Seating
- Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Complimentary Transportation to Theme Parks and CityWalk
- Complimentary Transportation to Wet ‘n Wild, Sea World and Aquatic
With proper planning, a visit to any of the Orlando theme parks can be a great addition to your conference experience. As a Disney certified travel agent (and as a librarian who has attended many ALA conferences), I can provide you with the advice and information you’ll need to get the most out of your stay in Orlando. My complimentary services that are included in a resort ticket or vacation package include:
- Itinerary planning
- Research and booking of park passes and/or resort vacation
- Monitoring your resort vacation until date of travel for additional applicable promotions
- Managing you dining reservations, spa, golf, and other appointments
- Setting up My Disney Experience, including FastPasses
- Managing your Disney’s Magical Express airport transfers
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org (toll free 888-415-8397). Or if you happen to see this guy in Boston:
feel free to talk to me about your plans for Orlando. Hope to see you in either Boston or Orlando!