International Drive or Lake Buena Vista – Which is Better?

As you begin to plan your trip to Orlando you’ll likely come across accommodation options in both Lake Buena Vista and on International Drive.

While there are roughly just 10 miles between these two locations, the one you choose will still greatly impact the type of vacation you have and the amount of time you spend travelling to and from your accommodation to nearby tourist attractions.

Having visited Orlando more than ten times in the past decade, we recommend staying in Lake Buena Vista if you plan to spend the majority of your time at Walt Disney World or International Drive if you’re on a budget and want a more diverse range of accommodation options and nearby things to do.

The major problem with staying at Lake Buena Vista is that the city is actually owned and operated by Walt Disney World. As such, the majority of the accommodation here is on-site at the Walt Disney World Resort or a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel.

In contrast, International Drive (I-Drive) is an 11.1-mile thoroughfare and the ‘main strip’ in Orlando. Subsequently, you’ll find a broad range of accommodations, restaurants, stores and entertainment options here that are typically better suited to those on a budget, or those who plan to experience more than just Walt Disney World while on vacation.

Location

International Drive (also known as I-Drive) is an 11.1-mile thoroughfare and the ‘main strip’ in Orlando. Along this route, you’ll find a variety of accommodation options from budget resorts to large, luxury hotels.

Between hotels, you’ll find a range of chain and independent restaurants including Mcdonald’s, IHOP and Red Lobster as well as several major attractions including SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica and ICON Park.

The distance from the middle of International Drive to nearby attractions and facilities is;

  • Magic Kingdom Ticket & Transportation Center: 10.8 miles
  • EPCOT: 8.9 miles
  • Animal Kingdom: 11.1 miles
  • Hollywood Studios: 8.1 miles
  • Universal Orlando: 6.5 miles
  • Orlando International Airport: 13.2 miles
  • Sanford International Airport: 40.3 miles
  • Nearest Target: 2.6 miles (Daryl Carter Pkwy)
  • Nearest Walmart: 3 miles (Turkey Lake Rd)

Keep in mind that International Drive is an 11.1-mile road and therefore the exact distance to any of the attractions and facilities above will vary depending on exactly where in the city you are staying or travelling from.

Given that International Drive is a major thoroughfare, it’s ideal for those who don’t want to hire a car while in Orlando and instead would like to walk or take public transport.

Many hotels on International Drive have a shuttle to popular theme parks including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. Meanwhile, the LYNX Bus and the I-Ride Trolley are great for travelling along International Drive and even into Downtown Orlando.

Alternatively, Lake Buena Vista is located just off the I-4 and is home to Disney Springs, Typhoon Lagoon, several Walt Disney World hotels and several Disney Good Neighbor Hotels.

While Lake Buena Vista is owned and operated by Walt Disney World, the resort’s theme parks are actually located in the adjacent Bay Lake.

If you’re based in the UK I recommend AttractionTix for Walt Disney World tickets. They have the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.

If you’re based in the US or Canada I recommend Klook for your Walt Disney World tickets. They have the most competitive prices and a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.

However, given the consistent Disney theming along the roads here, you’d be forgiven for assuming that they are very much the same place. The distance from Lake Buena Vista to nearby attractions and facilities is;

  • Magic Kingdom Ticket & Transportation Center: 5.2 miles
  • EPCOT: 2.9 miles
  • Animal Kingdom: 6.7 miles
  • Hollywood Studios: 4.9 miles
  • Universal Orlando: 11.6 miles
  • Orlando International Airport: 20.3 miles
  • Sanford International Airport: 45.3 miles
  • Nearest Target: 6.6 miles (Flamingo Crossings)
  • Nearest Walmart: 6.3 miles (N Old Lake Wilson Rd)

Keep in mind that while Lake Buena Vista is relatively small, the exact distance to any of the attractions and facilities above will vary depending on exactly where in the city you are staying or travelling from.

Given the distance between the four Walt Disney World theme parks and Lake Buena Vista, it’s easy to see why I recommend staying here if you’re planning to spend the majority of your vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort.

However, if you are not planning on visiting Walt Disney World during your trip or if the Walt Disney World theme parks don’t make up a large portion of your vacation then I would not recommend staying in Lake Buena Vista.

Accommodation

With more than 125 hotels and resorts to choose from, you’ll find the accommodation you need on International Drive. Home to some of the most family-friendly hotels in Orlando, there’s everything from budget motels to five-star luxury resorts available here.

In fact, with so many fantastic options to choose from it can often feel somewhat overwhelming to decide which hotel on International Drive might be right for you. To combat this I recommend filtering your search by price point or amenities.

best resort on international drive

Floridays Resort Orlando

This is one of the most fun hotels for kids in Florida and has several suites that measure 1,306 sq. ft. which can sleep up to eight guests.

For example, you may want to stay in a hotel that has a shuttle to Universal Orlando, a hotel that has a separate living and sleeping area, or even in a hotel with a lazy river.

When it comes to filtering your options by price it’s important to remember that there could potentially be value in selected amenities.

For example, many hotels offer free breakfast and a shuttle to Walt Disney World. Even if you grab breakfast at one of Orlando’s cheap restaurants, you’re still going to be looking at around $10 per person.

This means if you’re a family of four, spending anything less than an extra $40 a night on a hotel with a free breakfast is going to save you money in the long run.

The same goes for hotels with a free shuttle to Universal and Walt Disney World. If that means you don’t have to spend money getting a hire car or an Uber then it’s worth an extra $25 – $40 a night since you’d be easily spending that otherwise.

In contrast, there are just a handful of Lake Buena Vista hotels available and all of them are either Walt Disney World owned and operated or Disney Good Neighbour Hotels.

The Walt Disney World on-site hotels in Lake Buena Vista include DVC properties such as Old Key West, Saratoga Springs and Port Orleans.

All of these Disney properties have suites with separate living and sleeping areas making them great for large families looking to spend the majority of their vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort.

However, being both owned and operated by Walt Disney World, these hotels also come at a higher price point when compared to the nearby Disney Good Neighbour Hotels.

All Disney Good Neighbour Hotels have a free shuttle to the Disney theme parks and typically come with many of the similar perks you’d get when staying in a Disney property such as Extra Magic Hours.

best hotel in lake buena vista

Hilton Orlando
Buena Vista Palace

This official Walt Disney World four-star hotel is just a five-minute walk from Disney Springs and has a pool area complete with a lazy river and cabanas.

In my opinion, you pay a premium for staying in Lake Buena Vista given how close the hotels are to Disney. Therefore if that’s a perk you don’t need, you’re going to find better value-for-money hotels along International Drive.

If you do choose to stay in Lake Buena Vista and the Walt Disney World Resort makes up the vast majority of your vacation then I would not recommend getting a hire car unless you plan to take a day trip to attractions such as the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex or one of the beaches close to Orlando.

Even then, I’d only recommend hiring the car for a day or two. You can then use rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft should you want to go to any of the nearby shopping malls, stores or the likes of Universal Orlando and SeaWorld as it will likely work out significantly cheaper.

It’s not necessarily the cost of the hire car that’s expensive, but more the cost of parking at both your hotel and the theme park / attraction.

Things To Do

Given that International Drive is a larger area and doesn’t have to meet the high Disney standards you’ll find several familiar fast-food chains and independent restaurants here that make dining out more affordable. These include;

  • Dennys
  • Waffle House
  • IHOP
  • Chick-fil-A
  • McDonald’s
  • Red Lobster

International Drive is also home to several of the best attractions in Orlando for adults and kids alike including;

With the end of International Drive joining Universal Blvd and the Universal Orlando Resort as well as the Orlando Premium Outlets. All of which makes International Drive an incredibly convenient location for an Orlando vacation.

Aside from hotels, the vast majority of things to do in Lake Buena Vista are at Disney Springs, a free-to-enter entertainment district that features a range of stores and attractions and is home to some of the best family restaurants in Orlando.

Several Lake Buena Vista hotels are within walking distance of Disney Springs. Since Lake Buena Vista typically isn’t as walkable as International Drive, staying in one of these hotels provides you with a sense of freedom that you otherwise may not find when staying in this area.

We typically visit Disney Springs as a family on an evening, as it’s a great place to relax and explore. However, you can also find plenty of indoor things to do here if you’re looking to keep the kids entertained on a rainy day.

Some of my favourite things to do at Disney Springs include;

  • Bowling at Splitsville
  • Tasting flavours of the world at the Coca-Cola Store
  • Building models at the Lego Store
  • Watching a film at the AMC cinema

Meanwhile, just south of Lake Buena Vista, you’ll find Celebration, a master-planned community and census-designated place that was originally developed by The Walt Disney Company.

Much like accommodation, the cost of dining and activities in Lake Buena Vista is higher. As such if you’re looking for cheap things to do in Orlando, you’re more likely to find them on International Drive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have you still got questions about whether Lake Buena Vista or International Drive is right for you? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions first-time visitors have.

Is Lake Buena Vista A Good Place To Stay?

Lake Buena Vista is a great place to stay, especially if the majority of your Orlando vacation is going to be spent at the Walt Disney World Resort.

How Far Is Lake Buena Vista From International Drive?

There are roughly 10 miles between Lake Buena Vista and International Drive.

However, since International Drive is an 11.1-mile road and Lake Buena Vista is a city the exact distance and journey time from Lake Buena Vista to International Drive will vary depending on the specific locations you’re travelling to / from.

How Far Is Lake Buena Vista From Disney World?

Lake Buena Vista is Disney World. Despite visitors and locals alike using Orlando when referencing Walt Disney World, the resort is actually situated across Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake.

Subsequently, the distance from Lake Buena Vista to the four Walt Disney World theme parks is;

  • Magic Kingdom Ticket & Transportation Center: 5.2 miles
  • EPCOT: 2.9 miles
  • Animal Kingdom: 6.7 miles
  • Hollywood Studios: 4.9 miles

How Far Is Lake Buena Vista From Universal Studios?

There are 11.6 miles between Universal Studios and Lake Buena Vista with the journey taking around 20 minutes in a car.

How Far Is Lake Buena Vista From Orlando?

There are 19 miles between Lake Buena Vista and Orlando Downtown with the journey taking around 30 minutes in a car.

How Far Is Lake Buena Vista From Orlando Airport?

There are 20.3 miles between Lake Buena Vista and Orlando International Airport (MCO) with the journey taking around 40 minutes in a car.

I typically recommend arriving at Orlando International Airport two hours before a domestic flight or three hours before an international flight.

Subsequently, you’d want to be leaving Lake Buena Vista roughly three hours before a domestic flight or four hours before an international flight when flying from MCO.

What Is International Drive?

International Drive is a major thoroughfare in Orlando. Given the number of hotels, restaurants and attractions along International Drive it’s seen by many tourists as the ‘main strip’.

How Long Is International Drive?

International Drive (also known as I-Drive) is 11.1 miles long and runs from the southern city limits of Orlando through to the south of the unincorporated Orange County.

How Far Is International Drive From Disney World?

International Drive is roughly 10 miles from Walt Disney World although the exact distance will vary depending on the theme park you’re visiting and where on International Drive you’re travelling from.

How To Get To Disney From International Drive?

The best way to get from International Drive to the Walt Disney World Resort is either in a hire car or by using a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft.

However, selected hotels on International Drive may also offer a shuttle to the Walt Disney World Resort and other nearby theme parks which can be a great way to save money on your Orlando vacation.

Orlando Travel Planning Guide

🏥 Should I Buy Travel Insurance for a Trip to Orlando?

If you’re travelling to Orlando for vacation, then travel insurance is recommended. Basic travel insurance coverage with Safety Wing averages between $5 – $10 per day and offers peace of mind.

However, if a trip to Orlando isn’t part of a vacation. For example, you live locally. Then travel insurance isn’t likely to be necessary.

🚘 Do I Need to Rent a Car for a Trip to Orlando?

You don’t need to rent a car for a trip to Orlando (you can use rideshare services instead). However, a hire car will make your trip to Orlando significantly more convenient.

I personally use Discover Cars to find the best car rental deals when visiting Orlando. Discover Cars allows you to compare different companies and cars to find the best prices.

🏨 Where to Stay in Orlando?

Deciding where to stay in Orlando can be incredibly overwhelming. Having visited Orlando several times over the past decade, I’m going to try and make it as simple as possible.

When booking accommodation in Orlando, I use either Booking.com or Hotels.com. However, for large families and groups, VRBO is my number one choice.

🎟️ Where To Buy Orlando Theme Park Tickets?

If you are visiting a theme park in Orlando, then you’ll need to purchase theme park tickets. If you’re based in the US or Canada, I recommend Klook for your Orlando theme park tickets.

Klook consistently has the most competitive prices. There’s also a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.

Meanwhile, if you’re based in the United Kingdom. Then I recommend buying your Orlando theme park tickets from AttractionTix.

I personally use AttractionTix when purchasing theme park tickets. That’s because AttractionTix has the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.

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