So, you’ve decided on a Disney vacation. You know that you can’t control the weather or how crowded the parks are. You can’t know if anyone will get sick or if you’ll all hate it and wish you’d gone to the beach instead. There are a 100 little things to do to get ready for what is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, but one thing should be simple: The car rental. Unfortunately, as we found out on a recent trip to Disney, it’s far from simple. This is my experience. Yours may differ.
There were three adults and three children on our trip, so I needed to rent a minivan or two smaller cars and after comparing the prices, I found that the prices were pretty comparable. Since we were staying off site and wouldn’t be able to take a bus from our resort to the parks, I needed some flexibility that would allow my best friend, husband and older child stay at the parks while I took my younger children back for naps, so I rented two smaller cars. All the major car rental companies are represented at Orlando International, in case you found yourself with a burning curiousity of such things, but there’s a catch: You see, only six car rental companies are right in the airport. These include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, L&M and National. If you read reviews on this sort of thing, and I do because I’m sort of nerdy, you’ll find that they all come in pretty equal in terms of satisfaction except L&M, which isn’t rated very high. The on-site location means that you literally grab your bags at the baggage claim, go over to the rental desk, and walk right outside to your car. This avoids the wait for a shuttle bus, loading all your stuff onto the bus, and then the, presumably short, ride to the rental car company, unloading again, and well, you get the picture. The other companies are off-site, and when I say off-site, well, pack a lunch. It could be a long ride.
Since this was a budget trip (aren’t they all?), I shopped around for a car quite a bit more than I usually do. This is probably one of the few areas you are guaranteed to save money on a Disney trip and, if you’re obsessed with planning Disney vacations, a little bit of a Disney fix. Since it appeared that on-site rentals were about 10 to 15 percent higher than off-site, we went with the off-site rental. We also found a coupon from Hertz that further reduced the price. I verified that the coupon was valid twice before we left because I needed to speak to Hertz customer service for some other issues anyway, and I was worried that I’d get to Orlando and find out the coupon wasn’t valid.
Orlando is a pretty efficient airport; you take a shuttle that’s a lot like a monorail to the baggage claim area and the car rental offices are right there, as are the rental car company shuttles. After loading all our bags and kids, which isn’t as much fun as it sounds, we went out to catch the shuttle and as luck would have it, our shuttle was right there. And we were the only only waiting for it! Yay! Hey, why weren’t there more people waiting for Hertz? Hmmm. Well, nevermind. The driver kindly helped us load our bags, even allowing us to keep our double stroller open so we didn’t have to empty its contents. We got on the bus. And proceeded to ride. And ride.
As noted above, at MCO, the car rental places that are off-site are way off-site. Like a good 15-20 minute drive on roads that are, at times, bumpy. So when you add waiting for the shuttle, loading your bags, the ride, wrestling with kids who are not strapped down and having a great time running all over the place, unloading yourself, your bouncing children, and your stuff, looking for a cart for your stuff, and then going inside to check-in, well, you’ve got about a 90 minute ordeal from the baggage claim to getting in your car. And that’s during the slower times of the year.
But who cares? We’re in Orlando! And, as we soon found, the Hertz rental place was clean and without a doubt nicer than any rental car place I’ve ever been in. And empty! What luck. It took a few minutes for the two clerks to stop having their very compelling conversation to notice me and waive me over, but no matter. And that, my friends, is when my experience in the clean but not so efficient and certainly not Disney-friendly Hertz rental office goes downhill. Because it turns out that the coupon, the one I verified not once but twice, the one that I found on a site where Hertz advertises its services, is absolutely no good and even with my USAA “discount,” I’m still going to pay over $700 for two cars, two carseats, and one GPS (for the husband’s car, since he doesn’t know Orlando very well). Maybe for a busy week this wouldn’t have been such a huge deal, but this was a four day rental during one of the slowest weeks of the year!
I attempted to whip out my lawyer negotiating skills, feebly explaining that since Hertz advertises on the website where I found the coupon and that I called twice about the coupon and had two different employees told me it was valid, I thought they should honor it regardless. When this failed, I asked to speak to the supervisor, who came out about 15 minutes later. Unfortunately, she’d heard it all before and her not-so-thinly veiled lack of caring told me pretty quickly that any negotiations with this woman were pointless. Ultimately, she refused to honor the coupon. When I politely asked her why she would rather that two cars go unused this weekend, a weekend when park attendance was at its lowest and she had a full lot of cars and no customers, she shrugged and proceeded to walk away.
Hertz really has it made in this situation, particularly given the location and the type of travellers they’re most likely dealing with: Tourists anxious to get to their desination, probably Disney or Universal Studios, with excited kids. They don’t know the area very well and their wallets are still full or they’ve already spent so much they’ve stopped caring and gone completely numb in the wallet, a feeling most Disney travellers come to recognize very quickly. Plus, they probably won’t be back to Orlando for years, if ever, so what’s the point in building a relationship by offering good customer service? The prospect of gathering up your kids, loading one’s luggage back onto the shuttle bus, going back to the airport and renting another car, which in itself is an unknown since you never know what kind of deal you’ll get at the last minute, is pretty unappealing. I’m sure most people would have paid the extra $300 or so and chalked it up to bad luck. I might have done so as well, if the Hertz manager hadn’t been so unprofessional and unfriendly.
So we went back and waited for another shuttle to take us to the airport. I was so rattled at this point that the only company I could think of was Enterprise, a company I’ve used many times, so that’s the one I called. Within minutes the very polite man on the phone got me the exact same deal that Hertz originally “offered” with the coupon: Two cars, two carseats, and one GPS for $375. Once on the shuttle I met a very nice man who gave up his seat for me who told me that he’d just finished a family vacation and that he always uses Hertz for business, but was treated so badly by them this trip (when he arrived he found out his rental would cost $175 more than he was originally quoted), that when he got back to work that Monday, he was going to cancel his Gold membership and start using another company.
Enterprise is also located off-site and the bus was packed. At this point, I was taking a crowded bus as a good sign. The Enterprise location at MCO is . . . interesting. Imagine, if you will, that the Disney Imagineers were told to design a bus station. In a third world country. It was filthy and crowded, the kind of place where my friend Kristina, upon leaving the bathroom, immediately came to warn us to stay clear. But the employees were friendly and despite the crowd, we were in our very clean cars pretty quickly.
What did I learn here? Well, never rent from an off-site rental company in Orlando, although if I had to do it, I’d rent from Enterprise. For me, my vacation time and my sanity are just too precious. When I got back I realized that with a valid coupon, I could have found a cheaper rental right at the airport. Regardless of what you choose, be aware that rental companies at MCO will tell you that they have an airport location, because they technically do, but only those six companies I mentioned above are actually right in the airport. It’s not the biggest hassle if it’s just you to ride the shuttle to the rental place, but if you have a large party or even one child with you, save your sanity and rent from the ones directly in the airport.