Disney has a huge transportation fleet, which makes getting around Walt Disney World easy if you follow these tips. If you don’t know the tricks and transportation “shortcuts,” things can be difficult and take extra time. Disney’s fleet consists of buses, boats, monorails, submarines, spaceships–all sorts of things (okay, maybe the last couple are attractions and not actual transportation, but you get the idea)–and this Walt Disney World Transportation Guide will share the ins and outs of the methods of transportation and provide you with quick tips for saving time throughout your visit to Walt Disney World.
Disney claims that approximately every 20 minutes transportation departs the resort hotels to take guests to the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot making getting around easy–in theory. However, Disney also plays fast and loose with the word “approximately,” as you will read below. To avoid waiting around, you’ll want to follow the tips below (and even then, some amount of waiting is going to happen if you don’t have a rental car).
Given the abundance of transportation, it’s actually possible to have a Disney vacation, from start to finish, without ever paying for transportation. To do so, you must stay in a Disney-owned resort hotel, utilize Disney transportation during your stay, and book Disney’s Magical Express to take you from the Orlando airport to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel. Disney’s Magical Express is complimentary motor-coach transportation that, you guessed it, takes you from the airport to your resort hotel, and back again! To find more out about it, visit Disney’s official page on the service.
Rather than taking Disney’s Magical Express to your hotel, you may instead elect to rent a car. If you don’t like waiting at all, like to be in control, and don’t mind driving while on vacation, renting a car is probably for you (this is doubly true if you ever want to leave Walt Disney World property–then a rental car becomes almost essential). While we regularly rent cars when traveling elsewhere, we have never rented a car at Walt Disney World. We typically use Hotwire for car rentals and book one of their “blind” Hot Rates. Renting a car can lead to longer waits and commute times, but we’ve found that not renting works better for us. Consider your circumstances and decide whether you might want a rental car.
Once you arrive at your resort hotel, you can rely upon Disney transportation. Transportation to the theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney begins approximately 2 hours prior to that park’s opening time and all transportation runs until approximately 1 hour after the parks close (if you’re still in the park one hour and 5 minutes after the park close, worry not, as Disney won’t leave you stranded at a park). Sometimes it’s closer to 2 hours after the parks close. All forms of Disney transportation have unload and load zones very close to the park entrance, making them more accessible than the parking lots for each of the parks.
If you’re planning to rely on Walt Disney World Resort transportation rather than renting your own car or utilizing a taxi, be sure to give yourself at least 1 full hour of transport time to get where ever you wish to go. Typically, it won’t take this long, but on occasion it can (it has taken us over an hour and nearly two hours on multiple occasions).
If you won’t have a car at Walt Disney World, the first time you should think about transportation is before you book a hotel. There is no one “best” hotel for transportation to all of the Walt Disney World parks, but here are a few factors that you should consider in your booking decision:
Non-Bus Transportation - Hotels with non-bus transportation to the parks earn bonus points because buses are, generally, less efficient (and cooler) than non-bus transportation. Monorails provide transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot; boats provide transportation to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Disney’s Animal Kingdom is accessible only via bus. Hotels on the monorail loop are Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Each of those hotels also has boat service to the Magic Kingdom, as do Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. Boat service to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is available to and from Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort, and the Swan & Dolphin (non-Disney) Hotels.
Distance – Hotels that offer non-bus transportation do so because they’re closest to the parks to which they offer the transportation, so that gives you an idea of where those hotels are located. For other hotels, refer to this Google Maps view of Walt Disney World to determine actual distances from hotels to the parks or this stylized (easier to read) Walt Disney World map to eyeball approximate distances from hotels to the parks. The Value Resorts and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort are located the furthest from every park except Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Walt Disney World is a large place, and this difference in distance is not negligible.
Internal Bus Systems – Internal transportation is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to take a bus from near your room to the lobby or food court, especially at the spread-out resort-hotels. On the other hand, if you’re going to a park, that means either waiting for two buses or making multiple stops on your way to the park. In general we find transportation to take longer when there’s an internal system. Hotels with internal systems are Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort Riverside, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, Disney’s Old Key West Resort, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Shared Buses – Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer here. Whether buses are shared depends upon how busy Walt Disney World is. The less busy, the more likely shared transportation will be used. As a general rule, none of the hotels above that have internal bus systems (except Fort Wilderness) have shared buses, but every other hotel can at times, with the exception of Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. And those two hotels were originally meant to be two halves of the same resort-hotel (meaning they’re close together), so it seems like only a matter of time before they share, too.
Due to personal preferences, there’s no one-size-fits-all “best” resort-hotel at Walt Disney World for transportation. It all depends upon which parks you’ll visit most, whether you’ll have a rental car, and your tolerance to walking. For example, from a transportation perspective, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is my least favorite hotel, because it’s really far from everything (except Animal Kingdom, which we rarely visit) and it has two stops. To someone who visits Animal Kingdom a lot, it might be the best hotel! So know which parks you want to visit most on your trip, figure out which hotel will work best for your circumstances, and book accordingly.
While Disney attempts to make its internal transportation from resort hotels to the theme parks reasonably convenient, the same is not true with regard to using Disney transportation to get from resort hotel to resort hotel. Instead, you will need to go from your resort hotel to a park and then catch transportation to the resort hotel you’re intending to visit. This can make dinner reservations at resort hotels that are not your own especially difficult. For this reason, many people only dine at the resort hotels on the monorail loop (as visiting them for dinner can be a nice change of pace from a busy day in the Magic Kingdom) or in Epcot’s Resort Area on Crescent Lake (as visiting them is a short walk from the International Gateway entrance to Epcot, and can likewise make a nice change of pace from a busy day at Epcot).
If you are planning on dining at any other resort hotel and are leaving from your resort hotel or returning to your resort hotel afterward, you may want to consider utilizing a taxi for transportation. Taxis are readily available (and if not, the resort can call one for you) at Disney resort hotels, and usually cost around $15-25 one way within the Walt Disney World Resort (obviously, the price varies based upon distance).
When relying on Disney transportation to go from one hotel to another hotel via at least one bus, you will want to give yourself at least 1.5 hours for transportation times. Usually, it’ll take around an hour. Unfortunately, quite often it takes the full hour and a half. So don’t ignore the recommended transportation times Disney provides to you when you make those Advance Dining Reservations!
In addition to taxis, rental cars, and Disney transportation, Mears Shuttle will accept reservations to those other major theme parks in the Orlando area, if you want to visit another park and don’t have a rental.
I like Disney bus transportation. I like it because it allows me to kick back and relax, without worrying about renting a car, navigating on foreign roadways, or breaking the “Disney bubble” and transporting me back to reality. This Disney bubble is an important thing for us. Really important. Because of it, we are unlikely to ever rent a car. On the negative side, there are too few buses, they are inefficient, especially for getting from resort to resort, they aren’t exactly the paramount of futuristic or cutting edge transportation methods, and have poor and too few routes.
There have been occasions where we’ve waited 45 minutes to an hour for a bus to show up at our resort heading to a particular park, and in the meantime, 4 showed up for a different park. There have been other times where lines have been so long in the morning that it has taken three separate buses to consume the line in front of us. Other times still, we take multiple buses to get from hotel to hotel for a meal. In circumstances such as these latter two, we now immediately head to the taxi area and save ourselves the headache. Our time on vacation is too valuable to us to wait an hour for a bus, especially when a taxi ride typically costs $20. This usually only happens once per trip, so spending the $20 once is still much cheaper than renting a car.
For those who shrug off inefficiencies and delays in Walt Disney World transportation because the transportation is supposedly free and is a “nice gesture” from Disney–it’s not. The bus system, much like Disney’s Magical Express, is Disney’s way of having a captive audience stuck on Disney property. It keeps people spending money at Disney. Disney would not offer it if it didn’t have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line (and the costs are at least partially rolled into hotel rates–so you’re paying for it one way or another). Hey Disney, here’s some free advice: make the system more efficient so guests don’t stand in line for buses for an hour (time they could be spending in gift shops in the parks!), and arrive to the parks cranky after standing in the hot line for so long!
Even if Sarah and I were willing to break the Disney bubble and rent a car, we’ve realized this is actually less efficient for us than taking a taxi when lines are busy and taking a bus the rest of the time. We stay late at the parks each night, and never have an issue catching a bus with minimal wait at these times. Instead, we have determined that even if we had to take a taxi each and every morning (which is rarely the case), using a combination of Disney transportation and taxis is still cheaper than even a heavily discounted rental car. Plus, taking a rental car to the Magic Kingdom is a bigger headache than taking Disney transportation there, so we’d be relying upon Disney transportation or a taxi on Magic Kingdom days, anyway. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but you might have your own reasons for preferring Disney transportation to renting a car (or vice-a-versa).
For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
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What are your Walt Disney World transportation tips? Have a “hack” that can save considerable time off the norm? Share your thoughts in the comments!