When you visit Walt Disney World, you probably don’t expect it to change the way you travel. But that’s exactly how I ended up being a more eco-friendly traveler.
We’re going to Disney!
My parents are refugees from California. Before I was born, they escaped the traffic of the big city, and settled down far away enough to be isolated, yet close enough to “get home” in a day. Every summer, for most of my young life, we did just that. I will never forget the long hours of pitch black, crossing the Mojave Desert in the back seat of a Buick Special listening to CBS Radio Mystery Theater on AM radio.
While my parents made the annual pilgrimage to catch up with family and friends, any visit to Los Angeles had only one purpose for me and my sister: Disneyland! The “grown-ups,” however, were never so keen to visit. After all, dad had just driven all night long to get to LA; the last thing he wanted to do was drive IN the city. Then there’s the whole parking situation, the long walk between the parking lot and the entry gates, and the hours queueing to get out. From the grown-up perspective, Disneyland was anything but an enchanted kingdom.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m the grown-up taking my clan to Disney World for the first time. We lived several states away, so a road trip was not our chosen option. We bit the bullet and went full-on Disney, flying to Orlando and staying on property. This, I discovered, is the way to go. It was a different experience from other family vacations, not just because it was Disney World, but because “the grown-ups” got to relax and enjoy. And come to terms with being the grown-ups at Disney. (Honestly, we’re still grappling with that concept.)
Our Travel Life…without wheels!
This trip was different from the moment we landed. Instead of our usual trek from baggage claim to the rental car counter, we headed straight for a waiting area in Orlando International Airport, where we were greeted by ever-cheerful Disney cast members. We decided to take advantage of Mickey’s Magical Express, meaning that our luggage went straight from the airplane to our hotel (Disney’s Polynesian Resort) while we enjoyed a comfortable motorcoach ride.
No car means no parking, but also no driving off to wherever, whenever. At Disney World, that’s not an issue thanks to the fleets of buses and boats, and the futuristic monorail. We traveled freely between parks and hotels to take advantage of everything Disney World offers, from brunch at the Grand Floridian to shopping in Downtown Disney, and Extra Hours at each park. (Another great perk of staying on property!) Taxis (and later, Uber) took us on trips off property, quickly and affordably, and that comfy motorcoach dropped us, sadly, back at the airport. In the end, we had a great family vacation with no wheels of our own. We talked about this while riding the Monorail to dinner at the Contemporary, and wondered why “real life” cities weren’t like this.
Then we realized, they are. Minus the Mickey ears.
Our next trip was to Philadelphia and Washington, DC, where we relied on trains, subways, and Uber. Atlanta. Miami Beach. Paris. San Francisco. Barcelona. Rome. Our list of car-free city trips was growing. In fact, the only recent trips that included a car were specifically road trips. Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway or up in the mountains of New Hampshire just doesn’t happen without private wheels.
The Pros of Public Transport
- In a way, it’s liberating. No car to weigh you down!
- Getting in and out of ports is quicker.
- No parking hassles or costs.
- Being car-less encourages (or requires) a little exercise, since the bus stop or subway station never seems to be exactly where you were going.
- I have always saved over renting a car, but your mileage may vary. (See what I did there?)
The Cons of Being Carless
- You do have to plan a bit more carefully when relying on public transport.
- You may have occasional wait time, so allow more than just ‘drive time’.
- Particularly on busses, fares often require exact change in the local currency. Buy a transport card when available to make this easier.
- Yes, public transportation can be crowded / smelly / yucky. (It can also be sleek, modern, and sparkly clean!)
- Local regulations may restrict access to ride-share (and sometimes even taxi) services in some places.
- Public transportation, by nature, generally only gets you close to where you’re going. You may have to (gasp) walk a little bit. (See related Pro.)
It’s true, I tend to be a bit hippie sometimes. I would love to say that we decided to travel without a car to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, or lessen the impact of a billion automobiles. None of that actually came to mind. It was simply more convenient. Though, to be sure, I appreciate all of the altruistic benefits.
So, what took me so long? For many, public transportation and ride sharing (including taxis) are a simple way of life. Having grown up in a largely rural area, walking anywhere was just not practical for the younger me. Living now in a city known as one of the largest metropolitan areas without regional transportation, driving is still a necessity. By default, that extended to my vacation mindset as well. It seemed like the most convenient answer, but Disney’s seamless simplicity helped me realize a better way to go.
For many Americans, going car-free is a challenge. I get that, but it is one of the best changes we have made to our travel style. We walk more, we spend less, and the time spent waiting for a pick-up versus sitting in traffic is, at least, more enjoyable.
What about you? Have you – or would you – ditch the car? Let us know your thoughts and experiences with a Comment!
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