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Driving From Buffalo to Disney World: Road Trip to Orlando With Children

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about pet care, science, travel, and gardening.

A long drive, but SO worth it!

A long drive, but SO worth it!

Buffalo to Orlando Drive to Disney World

For people living in Canada or the Western NY region, it is possible to drive to Disney World. While the majority of people will choose to fly from this region, driving can be a more economical option.

Driving to Disney World from Buffalo will take almost 20 hours. While some families will drive through the night to reach their destination, it is safer to break to trip into two separate days of driving. If time is a factor, it is probably better to fly to Disney World, as driving will take four days away from the vacation. On the other hand, driving affords flexibility: the driver can proceed for as long as desired, and stop for a break as needed.

Some pros and cons of driving to Disney World are presented below:

Snacking on the road

Snacking on the road

Pros and Cons of Driving to Disney World

PRO: No need for a rental car. Those who drive to Disney World have their own car, and do not need to rent a vehicle. It is possible to fly to Disney World and avoid a rental car if a person is going to stay on property and use the Disney Transportation system. The on-property hotels are often pricier than the off-property hotels, however, so having the use of a car widens the options for a hotel. In addition, travel to off-property restaurants or other theme parks (such as Universal Studios or Sea World) is easier with a vehicle.

PRO: It is (Generally) Cheaper to Travel By Car. Most of the time, it is cheaper to travel by car. This is not always true (if cheap plane tickets can be found), but flights are generally more expensive than a car trip. Flying will cost at least $120 per person, and this does not factor in the cost of a rental car and expensive baggage fees. The current cost of gasoline must be considered carefully and weighed against the cost of airline tickets. Driving results in bigger savings for larger families: a tank of gas transports everyone in the family for one low fee while airline tickets charge by the person. An overnight hotel can be found on a hotel-booking website like Hotwire or Priceline for around $40.

CON: Driving Takes Longer. A twenty-hour drive is quite a trip, especially for those with young children. Even if the trip is broken up into two days, there will still be two long days of driving on freeways. Children under the age of four will have a harder time entertaining themselves, so driving may become a very difficult task. There are many tips and tricks for helping kids alleviate boredom on long road trips, but most of them are geared toward elementary school-aged children. See the section below for ideas on entertaining children on long road trips.

PRO: Driving Has Better Scenery. One benefit of driving to Disney World is the opportunity to see the landscape change as the vehicle heads south. The route travels through New York, Pennsylvania, the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina (palm trees!), Georgia, and Florida. Bridges, rivers, tunnels, forests, and mountains are along the path. This gives kids the ability to see the country at a slower pace.

CON: Driving is Difficult in the Winter. For snowbirds heading to Disney World in the depth of winter, it is good to consider the potential problems associated with a blizzard on the road. The route from Buffalo-Erie and again through the mountains of West Virginia is particularly troublesome. An all-wheel-drive vehicle will be useless if the entire road is shut down - this is a rare event, but winter drivers should be prepared for unexpected delays.

PRO: Driving is More Flexible. Flying to Disney World has its own set of pros and cons. A big con is that there is no way to take a break from the airplane. If a child is restless on a plane, the best a parent can do is try to distract them and grin and bear it until the flight is over. Driving offers a lot of flexibility: if a child is extremely distraught, the family can stop at a rest stop for a bit of a break. In addition, driving allows the family to adjust the length of the daily trip: if everyone is happy, the driver can press on a bit farther.

Disney World Road Trip: Emergency Supplies

The following supplies are highly recommended for a Disney World road trip:

  • Jumper cables
  • Fix-a-Flat
  • Water
  • Medications (including anti-diarrheal medications, ibuprofen, and anti-motion sickness tablets)
  • Toll money
  • Warming blankets and food (for winter travel)

Buffalo to Disney World: The Basic Route

The fastest way to get to Disney World from the Buffalo, NY area is to drive down the I-90 (West) toward Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Just south of Pittsburgh, the I-90 will merge with the I-79 (South). Drivers will continue on the I-79 until it merges with the I-77 (South) in West Virginia. The I-77 (South) will take drivers into South Carolina, where they will merge with the I-95 (South). The I-95 (South) goes through South Carolina, Georgia, and into Florida until the driver merges with the I-4 (West), which heads into the heart of Orlando (Disney World exits are marked).

The large cities encountered on the drive should be considered carefully: plan driving times to avoid traffic jams! The large cities are:

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Erie, PA

Pittsburgh, PA

Charlotte, NC

Columbia, SC

Savannah, GA

Jacksonville, FL

Stopping for the Night: Halfway Points from Buffalo to Disney World

Good Stopping PlaceHours from BuffaloBenefits

Charlotte, NC

10 Hours, 47 Minutes

Half-Way Point

Columbia, SC

12 Hours, 16 Minutes

Cheaper Hotels

Savannah, GA

14 Hours, 44 Minutes

Second Day Travel is Short

A hot and tired child is not a happy child: take breaks as needed!

A hot and tired child is not a happy child: take breaks as needed!

Driving With Kids: Surviving the Drive to the World

Taking small children on a two-day journey to Disney World is not for the feint-of-heart. A lot of planning and preparation is necessary. The following things will make children unhappy:

  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Boredom
  • Sitting too long
  • Exhaustion

If the kids aren't happy, the road trip could turn out to be a disaster. Since the entire point of going on vacation is to have fun, there are several things to consider prior to hitting the road.

Electronic Entertainment

For very young children, nothing can beat a portable DVD player in the car. A two year old is not going to play "hunt the license plate" or "roadside BINGO." Bringing a DVD player is a winning proposition on more than one level: the child is kept entertained, and can also be exposed to various Disney films prior to entering the Disney Parks. Watching Peter Pan and Dumbo may make the rides more meaningful.

Preschoolers will enjoy a hand-held video game device, like a Leapfrog Leapster or a V-Tech Mobigo. Both gaming systems offer age-appropriate (and educational) games, and the systems are easy-to-use. These gaming systems are also fairly robust: a must for kids that drop things often! A variety of games can be purchased, and these systems can keep kids entertained for quite some time.

Elementary school-aged children (and older) love the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. These come with many games and applications. An iPod or other MP3 player is also appreciated by the older set: they can listen to their own music and podcasts while the parents listen to NPR on the radio.

A cheap digital camera can also be a wonderful travel "toy." Kids can take pictures of the changing scenery from the car: digital cameras even come packaged for use by preschoolers. As an added bonus, the pictures can be used for the dreaded "What I Did On Vacation" report when they get back to school!

Books on tape are another fun option and can be obtained through the local library for free. The Cracker Barrel restaurant chain also offers an option to pick up books on tape, and then deposit "used" ones at the next restaurant for a minimal charge. The Cracker Barrel program works as follows: the driver purchases the CD (approximately a $20 charge), then deposits the used CD at another Cracker Barrel location. The cost of the CD is then returned to the driver, minus a $3 rental fee.

The Best Snacks for a Road Trip

Avoid bananas and granola mixes: they are messy and bananas will make the car smell strongly after a very short period of time. Likewise, avoid fruit that will be hard to cut and peel on the road. It is a good idea to invest in a cooler which can plug into the car via an AC adapter. Great road trip snacks include:

  • Yo-Gos (yogurt covered fruit snacks)
  • Raisins
  • Yogurt covered raisins
  • Red Vines (or other red licorice)
  • Apple chips
  • Fruit snacks
  • Fruit roll-ups
  • String cheese (in a cooler)
  • Apples, oranges, and other easy-to-eat fruit

Road Trip Games and Activities

The following games can be entertaining to kids in the Kindergarten-and-up age category:

Scavenger Hunt: Create a list (with pictures for younger kids) and have them check off items as they spot them on the side of the road. For a road trip from Buffalo-Disney World, items can include things such as red-winged blackbirds, bridges, tunnels, rivers, "South of the Border" billboards, State Line signs, etc. Be creative: kids can either check off their finds or use stickers to mark their progress. The first person to find all the items on their list wins a prize (think Dollar Store toy).

License Plate Race: Make a list of license plates from all 50 states. Have kids mark off plates as they see them on the road: the person to find the most at the end of the trip wins.

Find Pizza Boxes: Stop by a local pizza joint prior to your trip to Disney World, and obtain some unused pizza boxes. These make excellent travel desks, as the cardboard is stiff enough for support. Markers and paper can be stored inside the box to keep the car tidy. The best benefit? The box can be recycled at the end of the trip, so there are fewer items to store in the car or hotel room!

Counting Cows: Each child counts cows on their side of the car - the child with the most cows at the end of a specified time period is the winner. If the car passes a cemetery, the child on the other side of the car can shout: "Your cows are buried!" The other player loses all of his or her cows and must start counting again. The game continues until a winner is declared (this game works best when traveling through farmland).

Rest Stop Mania: Bring an inflatable beach ball and some bubbles for rest stops. Younger children can chase bubbles and run after the ball to get some wiggles out before getting into the car again. An inflatable beach ball deflates for storage in the car.

Dollar Store Presents: Stop by a local dollar store and stock up on cheap "gifts." A new "gift" can be awarded after each hour in the car - kids will look forward to the little surprises each hour. In addition, dollar store activities can be placed into a travel bag for each child: items like pipe cleaners, stamp pads, etc. can be used for many in-car crafting challenges (e.g. everyone can try to make a crazy hat out of pipe cleaners).

Invest in Travel Toys: Some travel games and toys are worth their weight in gold. The Hungry, Hungry Hippo travel game is a big hit with 2 to 3-year-old children, and the pieces cannot get lost. Crocodile Dentist is another favorite of the preschool set. The Color Wonder Color Explosion packets are invaluable for in-car use: there is no mess, and no crayons to melt in the hot sun!

Trip Diary: Older kids can journal their adventures in a diary. Younger children can draw pictures of what they see on the side of the road and use "glue dots" to include pictures from rest-stop brochures. Make sure to stop at the Welcome Center in Northern Florida, where Disney brochures are plentiful (and free orange juice is available)!

Closing Thoughts

Driving to Disney World from the Buffalo, NY area will take more time than flying, but will save money and allow the entire family to see beautiful countryside along the route. With the proper planning and preparation, a road trip can be a fun and adventurous way to get to Disney World!

Questions & Answers

Question: How were the road conditions on I-79 for your trip? (i.e. Potholes, bumpy) I was told not to take I79 due to the road being so unkempt.

Answer: We didn't have many issues with I-79 due to potholes or bumps. The biggest negative to I-79 (in my opinion) are the hills along the route. While the Appalachian Mountains are gorgeous, the up-and-down route can be tiring, and our cruise control can have difficulty with the ride. There are also a few speed traps in West Virginia, so be careful with your speed through the towns where the speed limit drops.

Question: I am driving down to Disney World in April from Niagara Falls, Ontario. I will stop in Charlotte, which is about an 11-hour drive or so, and stay overnight. What would be a good place to stop overnight at on the way back home?

Answer: If you would like to have a similar driving pattern on the way back home to your drive down, then stopping in Fayetteville, West Virginia would be a fantastic choice. This is approximately 11 hours from Disney World and 7 hours from Niagara Falls, ON. Fayetteville is in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia and has a very long and tall bridge, gorgeous waterfalls and hiking trails, and a free bridge visitor center with a small museum to explore and stretch your legs as an evening activity. There are several great restaurants in the downtown Fayetteville area, too - including Dirty Ernie's Rib Pit, Pies and Pints, and The Station. I highly recommend a stop here!

Question: I am driving from Buffalo, New York to Disney World. Will the E-Z Pass Basic Plan from NY be helpful for the tolls? Thanks in advance!

Answer: The toll roads in West Virginia are E-Z Pass roads, so your E-Z Pass from NY will be extremely helpful on these roads! In addition to the roads in West Virginia, the Central Florida toll roads also accept E-Z pass as a form payment, as the toll booths are compatible. Have a fun and safe drive to Disney World!

Question: I am driving to florida in 18 days. How will I survive?

Answer: Your question made me laugh. The road trip to Florida from Western NY (or from Toronto, Canada) is a very long drive! We listen to podcasts, bring snacks, and always stop for meals to get out of the car. We also typically break up the trip into two days, as driving straight through is just too difficult for our family. It is approximately 18 hours from our house (without stopping for gas or meals), so the best way to survive the drive is to make the trip over two successive days.

© 2011 Leah Lefler

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