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For many families, a Walt Disney World vacation starts at the Orlando Airport. Here’s a complete guide to getting around the terminals, including where to find the Magical Express.
Complete Guide to Orlando International Airport (MCO)
If you are coming to central Florida to see Mickey and friends, chances are you will be flying into Orlando International Airport. It is the closest and largest international airport – approximately a 30-minute drive – to Walt Disney World, as well as the other theme parks and resorts in the area and Downtown Orlando. It is also the most convenient place to fly into if you are staying at Walt Disney World Resort because they offer complimentary transportation on their Magical Express.
One of the busiest airports in the United States, it can be a bit confusing to navigate both on arrival and for departures. But having previously lived in Orlando, and as a visitor to Orlando a couple of times a year to visit family and Mickey Mouse, I can help you find your way around Orlando Airport so you’ll get your keys to the Kingdom in no time.
TravelingMom Tip: Check out these fun things to do in Orlando with kids.
Orlando International Airport Overview
The best way to think about Orlando International Airport and its main terminal is like a rectangle. The top of the main terminal is the A-side. The bottom of the main terminal is the B-side. Both the terminal A and B sides have ground transportation (level 1), baggage claim (level 2), and ticketing (level 3).
On level 3 (the ticketing level), once you are checked in, there are security gates on both the right side and the left side of the rectangle. In the center of the main terminal is a large food court and two hallways aligned with shops (like a shopping mall).
Departures to Airside
The four corners of the main terminal are the four departure gate areas to the airside. Each one has its own tram connecting the main terminal to the airside gate areas. There are two airside gate areas on the terminal A-side and two airside gate areas on the terminal B-side.
- On the left side of the rectangle – Gate Area 1 (A-side): Airside Gates 1-29
- Gate Area 2 (B-Side): Airside Gates 100 – 129 (on the right side of the rectangle)
- On the left side of the rectangle – Gate Area 3 (A-side): Airside Gates 30-59
- Gate Area 4 (B-side): Airside Gates 70-99 (on the right side of the rectangle)
**Note there are no airside gates 60-69!
Now you can see why Orlando airport is confusing! But if you get to the wrong gate area or the wrong airside, don’t worry.
Security airport officials usually stop you before you go through because each “gate airside” has certain gates and each terminal (A and B) have airlines assigned to it. By looking at your boarding pass, they can quickly tell you if you are in the wrong place (speaking from personal experience!). If you know which airline you are flying, and which gate, you will know exactly where you should be going. If you are unsure, be sure to check the monitors for your specific flight.
Orlando International Airport is currently constructing a C terminal, where more gates will be added. But the latest update from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is that it won’t be open until 2021.
Airlines On The A-side:
- Air Transat
- Virgin Atlantic
- Aer Lingus
- Southwest Airlines
Airlines On The B-side:
- Silver Airways
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Air Canada
- Sun Country
- Bahamas Air
When you arrive in Orlando, you will first board a tram to get from the airside to the main terminal. As I mentioned, this airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States, and that includes arrivals.
On my most recent visit, there was a long line just to get on the tram from the airside to the main terminal to collect your bags. Just put your patience ears on and remember, you are coming to Walt Disney World!
Need to know:
- What side you come in on (A or B) depends on the airline you are flying.
- You will get off the tram in the main terminal on level 3 (same level as ticketing/checkin) and will go down to level 2 for the baggage claim.
- Usually, if you are being picked up by a car service like Black Lane or a driver with a sign, he or she will meet you as you come down to level 2. All other ground transportation is on level 1.
- After you collect your bags, you will head to level 1 to get to your ground transportation, including Disney’s Magical Express. But note – it is on Level 1 B SIDE. That means if you arrive on the A side, you need to get your bags and head over to Level 1 B SIDE. You will head outside of level 1 B SIDE to catch it.
Ground Transportation To Walt Disney World, Theme Parks, and Downtown Orlando
If you are going to take Disney’s Magical Express, you will find it on level 1 B side, so descend on the escalators or the elevator right next to the baggage claim.
Level 1 is also where you will find the car rental counters. There are a large number of car rental companies available, including all of the major companies. It is a great option if you want to have flexibility on your central Florida vacation.
If you are staying at Universal Studios, you will find the Universal Orlando SuperStar Shuttle on Level 1 B Side as well.
Choices Beyond Disney’s Magical Express
Not planning to use Disney’s Magical Express? Disney’s Minnie Van Service is also available for pickups. Cost is currently $155 (not including gratuity) and vans must be reserved by calling 407-WDW-PLAY (unlike using Minnie Van service on property, which is done through the Lyft app.) You will need to have your flight information handy.
If you want to get to Walt Disney World your own way or are not staying on Disney property, you can also book a Mears shuttle (the yellow one), a taxi, an Uber or a Lyft service. These will also be found outside on Level 1.
Both terminal A and terminal B have their own baggage claims and their own pickup areas. Where you are directed will depend on your airline. Be sure to tell the Disney’s Magical Express, Mears Shuttle, Uber or Lyft driver which airline you are arriving on.
TravelingMom tip: If you have a friend picking you up at Orlando’s International Airport, an easy pickup tip is to meet them on level 3 near the departures (same level as ticketing/check-in.) Walk to either end of the sidewalk, so they can easily pull in, pick you up, and pull out. This will save the time of them having to park and come in or getting caught in the arrivals traffic around the ground transportation area.
When you are dropped off at the Orlando International Airport, you will be on level 3 at the check-in desks. It is important to know which side your airline is departing, so you are sure to be dropped off near the check desk in the correct area. Remember, different airlines are on the terminal A and terminal B side, so you want to be sure you are delivered to the right place!
Because Orlando International Airport is very busy, I highly recommend you plan arriving to the airport at least two hours ahead of time. Actually, I suggest you arrive three hours ahead of time. Yes, that early!
This ensures you get through check-in lines, have a bit of time for shopping (trust me, you will want to do some shopping!) and dining. Most importantly, it assures that you get through security lines in enough time to catch your flight. There is also free wi-fi at the airport and lounge areas for you to wait if you have extra time.
Shopping and Restaurants
If you forgot a last-minute souvenir, don’t worry! After you check-in, you will enter in the big shopping and dining area before security. Remember the rectangle of the main terminal? On both the right and left sides of the rectangle, you will find Disney, Universal Harry Potter, Sea World shops, luxury shops, and much more.
The connecting hallways is where you find an assortment of sit down restaurants, like a brewpub, and a variety of shopping. In the center of the rectangle is a food court with a variety of quick-service restaurants, from pizza to Mexican to sandwiches to burgers. There are also some seating areas. There are some shops and dining options on the airside but not nearly as much as in the main terminal.
TravelingMom Tip: There is a Hyatt Regency on Level 4 on the right side of the main terminal (close to the security for airside gates 2 and 4). If you arrive really early to the airport and have time, you can go up to the lobby of the Hyatt Regency for a quieter restaurant or pub and wait there until it is time to go through security.
Security Lines and US Customs
In my experience, the security lines at Orlando International Airport are very long. I advise leaving a good amount of time to go through them. If you have TSA Precheck, Global Entry, the CLEAR program (the CLEAR Enrollment Center is near the Security Checkpoint for Gates 70-129), or Mobile Passport Control. All of these options are available to help expedite you through security and US Customs.
Need To Know:
Both the right and left sides of Orlando’s International Airport’s main terminal look very similar. They even have some of the same shops on both sides, including some of the same theme park shops, like the Sea World gift shop and Walt Disney World shop, in almost the same locations.
It is really easy to get turned around. It isn’t a far walk to get from one side to the next, but if you are traveling with children, keep an eye on them, so they don’t get lost.
Getting To The Airside Gates
Once you make it through security, you will board the tram to get to the gated area. If you entered through security through the correct gate area, you will board the correct tram, as each of the four areas have their own trams.
Sanford International Airport
There is another international airport servicing Central Florida in Sanford, about 45 minutes from Walt Disney World. It is only serviced by a few airlines, but it may be a more budget-friendly alternative if the airlines work for you. Airlines that fly into and out of Sanford:
- TUI Netherlands
- TUI UK
- Sun Country Airlines
- Surinam Airlines.
You would have to find your own transportation to Walt Disney World via rental car, Uber, Lyft, local taxis, or a prearranged car service. If you are traveling to Universal Orlando, there is a shuttle called Attraction Express you can book online.
Tampa International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport (Ft. Meyers) are additional options. From Tampa to Walt Disney World is about an hour to an hour and a half drive. From Ft. Meyers to Walt Disney World is about a two hour and forty-five-minute drive. If you are feeling very adventurous, Miami International Airport is about a three and a half to four-hour drive to Walt Disney World.
For any of these options, you would have to find your own way to Walt Disney World or the theme parks. Unless you are flying into one of these airports for a considerably better price on flights or are planning to spend some time in one of these areas, I wouldn’t recommend using these airports because of the cost and drive getting from them to Walt Disney World. But, they are at least options nearby.
Now that you know how to navigate Orlando’s International Airport (MCO), you are ready for planning a Disney World vacation. You can also discover more details on Disney World transportation, and discover the ways to get to Disney World from MCO.
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