Orlando-Melbourne’s tiny, perfect airport: a more relaxed way to fly to central Florida

“The first time I went to the area a friend showed me Sebastian’s Inlet. It was so pretty. And then there was a quiet, almost private beach with manatees.”

“I fell in love.”

Lori Booker is communications director for the Orlando-Melbourne International Airport, a growing facility that’s becoming a popular way for Canadians to fly to central Florida. Porter Airlines flies to Orlando-Melbourne on a seasonal basis from Toronto, as well as from Windsor and Ottawa.

“It’s a wonderful way to fly,” Booker told me on a visit to Toronto last week. “You get great service and wide, leather seats and free wine and beer on the Porter flights. You almost don’t want the plane to land.”

Better yet is that you land in a small, friendly airport that’s easy to navigate, and one that gets you on your way quickly.

“You can get to Disney World in about the same time as you do if you fly into Orlando (MCO),” Booker said. Orlando’s airport is a huge facility that requires a monorail ride to the main terminal. You then have to navigate a huge baggage claim area and a busy car rental operation, she noted. And then a drive through town to the Lake Buena Vista area.

Booker said folks who arrive on Porter flights are met with volunteers directing the way and also by a steel drum band and fresh orange juice. Nice.

For Orlando-Melbourne (airport code MLB, a great one for a former baseball writer like me) you’ve got roughly a drive of 81 minutes according to Mapquest.com. But you’ll probably get your bags and rental car a lot faster. And, hey, you’re a five-minute drive from the beach so you might just want to skip Disney or Universal that first day and let your kids play in the sand. Or take your significant other for a romantic drink by the water.

The Melbourne area and Cocoa Beach are sometimes billed as “Orlando’s beach.” You’ve also got the Kennedy Space Center and other attractions in the region, Booker pointed out.

“We don’t mind being called a secondary airport,” she said. “It’s a beautiful flight in over the ocean and the intracoastal waterway, and when you land you can smell the ocean. It’s been rated one of the top 10 airport approaches in the world.”

Porter flies to Orlando-Melbourne in season from Toronto, as well as from Windsor and Ottawa.

“You see folks arriving with big winter coats and they’ve got their bathing suits on underneath, and flip-flops.”

I haven’t spent much time in the Melbourne area but I was in Vero Beach a year ago and loved it. There are wonderful resorts such as Gloria Estefan’s Costa d’Este, as well as casual places on the beach and charming, old motels. I stayed at a very nice Holiday Inn and Suites right on the beach and had a nice, casual meal steps from the water at Mulligan’s Beach House.

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