Monday, April 6, 2009

For Your Orlando Vacation Package - Which Airport Is Best?

So you're planning to take the family on that dream Orlando vacation to sample the delights of Disney World, Sea World, Universal and all of the other joys that Central Florida can offer. And you're flying down, so you want to know whether you have any choice in which airport to use.

If so, which is the best match for your ideal Orlando vacation package?

Well, you have several choices, two of them in Orlando itself:

Orlando International Airport is the main hub for Orlando and it is located to the south of the city, very convenient for theme park travelers.

It handled more than thirty six million passengers is 2007, making it the busiest in Florida, and it has a wide variety of carriers that use it. Southwest Airlines is the largest single carrier (one fifth of all passenger traffic there in 2006) but Delta, Jet Blue and Air Tran also have a big focus there. It is the third busiest international airport in Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami are larger internationally) with direct flights from the UK (British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Germany and others.

Major airports have an international three-letter identification code and Orlando's is MCO - which is humorously said by some people to stand for "Mickey's Corporate Office (in reality, MCO comes from the airport's former name, McCoy Air Force Base). From a passenger's perspective, the airport is modern, light and user-friendly. It has a good food court and a wide variety of car hire places (some on-airport and the smaller ones off-airport).

It is also the closest one to the Disney attractions and other theme parks, so if your objective is to get to your accommodation the quickest after you land, this is the one to use. In fact the Disney empire operates a bus service to its hotels, so that tells you how intertwined the two places are!

Orlando Sanford International Airport is north of the city so getting to your hotel or rental home (if you're staying close to the theme parks) will take a little longer.

But because it's a little smaller and self-contained than Orlando International Airport, some travelers find that disembarking and getting on the road can be quicker, which offsets at least some of the disadvantage. And because toll roads are now open to the west and the east of the city (the 429 and the 417), the problem of trying to navigate the traffic jams along Interstate 4 as it goes through Orlando can be avoided.

The main domestic carriers are Allegiant Air and Direct Air so if you're from Grand Rapids, Roanoke, Spartanburg or a host of other places in the USA, Sanford might be an option for you.

The major part of Sanford's business comes from UK package tour companies such as Thomas Cook, Monarch and Thomson - they operate flights from regional UK airports such as Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester and Newcastle. So when you arrive at Sanford in peak traffic times you see a lot of tour company representatives working hard to collect various groups of weary families and allocate them to shuttle buses and car hire companies - practice makes perfect and the operation generally works well. In fact, some UK travelers prefer the smaller size and slightly more personal approach of Sanford.

But what about other Florida locations, in case neither of these first two options works for you because of flight schedules or ticket prices, or if you're looking at vacation packages that take you elsewhere in Florida - how good are they?
  • Tampa International Airport is about two hours from the Disney parks, depending on how long it takes to navigate from the west of Tampa, along I275 and then I4. The airport itself is efficient, modern and clean.
  • Miami International Airport is a four-hour journey along the Florida Turnpike - not a problem if you've had, say, a two hour flight down from Washington DC but a big hurdle if you're coming off a nine hour transatlantic trip. And a word of warning; Miami is big, brash and busy and the area surrounding the airport is not one to spend too much time in!
  • Other Florida east coast options: Melbourne (about one to two hours from Disney), Daytona (one and a half to two hours) and even Jacksonville (three hours or more) are not impractical.
There's almost too many choices! So match your budget, price and convenience preferences to all that's on offer and pick the one that matches your Orlando vacation package planning the best.

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