International Drive vs Lake Buena Vista – Which Orlando Area Is Best?

International Drive and Lake Buena Vista are two of the most popular areas that visitors look to stay in during a trip to Orlando.

Lake Buena Vista is the home of Disney and therefore perfect for those looking to spend the majority of their time at the Walt Disney World Resort. Meanwhile, International Drive is best suited to budget travellers since it has a wide variety of affordable accommodation and restaurant options.

Each location has its benefits and drawbacks, but generally speaking, International Drive is more diverse while Lake Buena Vista is firmly centred around Mickey Mouse.

International Drive

Unlike Lake Buena Vista, International Drive is not a city but instead is the main route through Orlando that cuts by all the major attractions, including Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, and more.

This is the main tourist strip for visitors to Orlando, and as such, you’ll find an extensive range of accommodation, entertainment, restaurants and stores.

Location

International Drive is in a fantastic location, with the entrance to Walt Disney World less than a 10-minute drive away and the entrance to Universal Studios less than 30 minutes away.

The distance from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to International Drive depends on where you’re staying specifically.

However, in most cases, you’ll be looking at between 15 and 20 miles with the journey taking between 25 and 40 minutes depending on traffic.

Being that International Drive is the major thoroughfare for Orlando, it’s the perfect choice if you’re not planning on hiring a car during your trip and would instead like to walk or take public transport.

The LYNX bus service has multiple stops along International Drive but also goes into Downtown Orlando, Walt Disney World and even Orlando International Airport.

There’s also the I-Ride trolley system for more casual routes, which operates from 8am until 10.30pm daily.

The trolley service runs along International Drive and Universal Boulevard, and with single fares at $2 and fourteen-day passes available for just $18, it’s easy to see why those on a budget favour international Drive.

Accommodation

The majority of accommodation options on International Drive are hotels and resorts with a range of room types to suit all types of travellers and budgets.

Some of our favourite accommodation options on International Drive include;

Rosen Inn – A great choice if you’re visiting Universal Studios
Best Western Orlando Gateway – Offers a shuttle bus to major theme parks
Days Inn by Wyndham – Fantastic for families on a budget

Amenities

Along the 11-mile long International Drive, you’ll find everything from luxury goods to everyday essentials, plus an incredible number of restaurants, bars, cafés and independent attractions.

While Orlando’s major attractions are often the main reason for staying on International Drive, some of the lesser-known attractions we recommend checking out include;

The World’s Largest McDonalds – A McDonalds the size of Walmart!
Madame Tussauds – Take photos with wax figures of significant icons
Lost Caverns Adventure Golf – Orlando’s newest adventure golf attraction

Lake Buena Vista

Lake Buena Vista is actually a city owned by Walt Disney World and only home to an estimated ten permanent residents. However, each year millions of tourists head to Lake Buena Vista to enjoy the Walt Disney World parks.

Despite the city being owned and managed by Walt Disney World, there’s still plenty outside of the Disney ecosystem to see and do here, including a vast range of shops, restaurants, golf clubs, nightclubs and theatre shows.

Location 

Lake Buena Vista is situated just 20 miles from Orlando International Airport (MCO), which means you can get from the airport to your hotel, villa or resort in under 30 minutes in good traffic.

However, this city is also in a prime location for the incredible Orlando theme parks.

As Walt Disney World owns the region, it should come as no surprise that these parks are the closest, with the entrance to the resort being within three miles of the city’s border.

This means that you can be at the park entrance to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT or Hollywood Studios in under 20 minutes from anywhere within the city.

However, the likes of Universal Studios Orlando is still only a 20 to 30-minute drive, and SeaWorld is less than 15 minutes in good traffic.

Accommodation

The hotels within Lake Buena Vista are predominantly made up of those on-site at Walt Disney World. However, there are a small handful of alternatives outside of the resort’s boundaries.

Some of our favourites include;

Rosen Inn Lake Buena Vista – A three-star budget hotel option.
Holiday Inn Orlando – Located in the Disney Springs area of the city.
Four Seasons Resort Orlando – A luxury option with an incredible lazy river.

If you choose to stay outside of the Walt Disney World resort yet inside of the city of Lake Buena Vista, you’ll want to consider the time it takes you to travel to the parks and the cost you’ll incur by doing so.

That’s because, in some cases, it can be more cost-effective and convenient to pay more upfront to stay on-site at a Walt Disney World hotel once you’ve added in the cost of hiring a car, parking, and the time involved with travelling.

However, all this assumes that you’re planning on visiting Walt Disney World during your stay in Orlando.

At this point, you’ve probably realised that if you’re not planning on visiting any of the Walt Disney World parks during your trip, then Lake Buena Vista may be a little too Disney-focused, and an alternative city may better suit your needs.

Amenities

The vast majority of stores, restaurants and bars within Lake Buena Vista are located either inside Disney Springs or within another resort in the city.

As a result, the stores you’ll find in Lake Buena Vista are either on the pricier side or are very product-specific.

Therefore, if you’re looking for a Target or a Walmart, you’ll need to travel 10 to 15 minutes outside of the city, either to the likes of Kissimmee.

The same applies to restaurants and bars. The majority are either inside Disney Springs or inside of one of the resorts, whether that be within Walt Disney World or Lake Buena Vista as a whole.

Despite this, you’ll still find relatively budget-friendly options such as Blaze Pizzas alongside your higher-end sit-down eateries such as The Boathouse.

However, if you’re looking to dine at a chain restaurant such as Bahama Breeze, Olive Garden, and LongHorn Steakhouse, then much like the stores, you’ll need to head out to the International Drive or Kissimmee instead.

What’s The Difference Between International Drive & Lake Buena Vista?

By this point, you’ve likely realised that the most significant differences between International Drive and Lake Buena Vista are the costs, level of accommodation and the connection to amenities outside of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Lake Buena Vista is perfect for a Disney-centric holiday, however, without a car or taxi, you’re limited to what else you can experience here.

Meanwhile, International Drive is centrally located with a wide range of public transport options and offers budget-friendly accommodations and amenities.

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