1. Road to MagicRuby: Getting Here

    I’ve heard from a few people who’d really like to make it to MagicRuby, but think that even though the conference is free, the travel might be killer. I traveled a lot to Orlando before moving here and travel to and fro quite a bit now, so I thought it’d be a great idea to put together a little guide for those who’d like to come join us in February.

    TLDR: You can do it affordably.

    This post is about getting here, the next one is about what to do when you’re here, and the last will be about things near-but-not-in Orlando that are cool if you have a few extra days.

    Traveling to Orlando

    If you’re not driving, there are a few ways to get to Orlando (some you may not have thought of…).

    Fly

    Obviously, you can fly. But what’s the best deal? Without question, if you can, catch one of these airlines domestically (ranked by usual price from lowest to highest):

    AirTran is usually the cheapest by far; I believe that Orlando is a fairly large hub for them, so they tend to have a lot of routes for really cheap. I recommend if you do fly AirTran, that you spend the extra $20 and get an exit row seat. If you’re planning on business class, they don’t typically fill it up, so if you wait until about 24 hours before and check-in online you can usually bag a biz class seat for about $50 rather than the $300 they want to add on if you purchase it with your ticket.

    If you’re international, Orlando actually has a ton of good airlines to choose from. For the UK, Virgin Atlantic has a route here, as do Aer Lingus and British Airways. We also have routes from AirCanada, AeroMexico, AirFrance, and a few more. You can check out the whole list of airlines (major ones; there are more smaller routes that aren’t listed there if I recall correctly), on this page.

    Catch a bus

    Not feeling the whole scan your junk/TSA Grope of Doomâ„¢ scenario? No problem. You have a few other options.

    Catching a bus is one option. Of course, Greyhound probably goes from your city, but those tend to be sort of grimy and unpleasant to travel on (even if they are cheap). If you don’t mind the possibility of urination, crazy drunken homeless men attempting to grope you, arguments about smoking around babies, and other tomfoolery (these are all incidents my wife or I have experience, by the way), then grab a Greyhound. They will be much cheaper than other bus lines. If that doesn’t sound like a wild party to you (and trust me, it is), there are a lot of other options, but you’ll have to search for your city. I know NYC has service via GotoBus, but I don’t know who else has buses. Many of these smaller bus lines are actually quite nice; my brother-in-law recently took a trip from NYC to D.C. to meet me during a conference via Megabus (who unfortunately does not go to Orlando) and claimed it was really clean and cushy. Your mileage may vary, though.

    Take a train

    My preferred way to travel sans aeroplane is definitely the train (AmTrak being the only option). Orlando has a nice train station and Amtrak offers robust service here. You have two options:

    Both lines offer full rooming services, which is highly recommended. If you can sleep in the coach area, by all means go for it. But it’s not too much more for a roomette or bedroom and you get a nice bed, a private restroom (no shower in the roomette), and, best of all, your meals are included. If you elect to eat a steak every meal as I do when traveling by train, then you actually save money by getting the room (depending on the length of your route).

    Staying in Orlando

    So once you’re here, where should you stay?

    The conference hotel

    Of course I’d prefer you stay at the conference hotel. A lot of attendees will be there as it is. It’s ridiculously cheap for the hotel (like 55% off or something), crazy nice (one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in and I stay in a lot of hotels), and will be really convenient for you while you’re at the conference. It’s also extremely close to the Magic Kingdom. How close? Check out this map; the conference hotel is that resort in the middle right (The Contemporary) and the Magic Kingdom is obviously in the middle left. It’s so close that I actually often park at The Contemporary and walk over to the Magic Kingdom because its parking lot is closer to the park than the one dedicated to the Magic Kingdom. You can get rooms that overlook the park so that you can relax in the comfort of your room during the fireworks show for instance and get a killer view.

    It’s only $189 a night and you would be doing me a giant favor by booking a room so I don’t have to pay for it. We’re currently still pretty far away from our room commitment, but we have until January 3rd, 2011 to hit it, so I’m pretty sure we’ll make it happen.

    Cheaper on-property options

    If that’s still too much of a stretch for you, Disney offers some more affordable options. Given the urban sprawl-y nature of Orlando (they built the city to be that way so it could accommodate the crazy amounts of tourists guaranteed by the presence of the Disney parks), I highly suggest you stay somewhere within Disney World. Otherwise you’ll just be asking for a world of bus/taxi/transportation induced pain (unless you rent a car, but then you aren’t saving much money are you? :)). So what’s available?

    Most of the conference and surrounding time is in the “value season” so room rates should be rather affordable. The only catch with these resorts is that you don’t have Monorail access, which is sort of a bummer. With the Monorail (which runs through tbe main concourse/lobby of the conference hotel…so cool!) you can just hop on and go to Magic Kingdom and Epcot really easily. The buses from the other resorts aren’t too big of a hassle really (only about a 10-15 minute wait max and travel times aren’t terribly bad), but you can easily get spoiled by the easy access of the Monorail.

    Off-Disney options

    If you stay off-property, you have a ton of options. There are star ratings etc. to look for, but if you want to know what’s really good and really close to Disney World, you only need to look for one thing: The Disney Good Neighbor Hotel rating. This tells you a few important things:

    I would suggest picking one of these hotels if you go off-property. I know that the Doubletree and Hilton in Lake Buena Vista are nice, as is the Radisson near Downtown Disney. Outside of those, you’re on your own to discern what’s good from TripAdvisor and Yelp.

    Soooo…

    When are you booking? :) Get your conference ticket now!

    If you have any more questions about travel, please do ping me via e-mail or Twitter. I’d be glad to answer anything (or find someone who can).

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