These tips will help you save time navigating Walt Disney World’s extensive transportation system. 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).
Ready to cut some time off of your commutes at Walt Disney World? Let’s get started…
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, read our Disney’s Magical Express Tips & FAQ.
Rather than taking Disney’s Magical Express to your hotel, you may instead elect to rent a car. We have an entire post titled Tips for Renting a Car at Walt Disney World that covers the ins and outs of renting a car, plus some of my thoughts on why or why not it might be a good idea. Suffice to say, 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.
New services that I’ve found are great alternatives to renting a car at Walt Disney World are Uber and Lyft. On a recent trip, I cancelled my rental car reservation at the last minute and used Uber for transportation. At the end of the trip, I totaled how much I spent…and I ended up saving a lot of money. You can read some of my tips for using Uber (updated for 2016) and other ride-sharing services in the post Uber at Walt Disney World Tips. Plus, if you’re new to using Uber or Lyft, you can get a free ride up to $15 by signing up via this link for Uber or a free ride up to $20 on Lyft via this link.
Let’s assume you don’t want to rent a car, nor do you want to use Uber. Once you arrive at your resort hotel, you can rely upon Disney transportation. Transportation to the theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs (formerly 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).
Best Hotel for Transportation?
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:
- Whether the hotel has non-bus transportation to a park
- Distance from the hotel to each park (with weight given to the parks you’ll be visiting most)
- Whether the hotel has an internal bus system
- Whether the hotel shares buses with another hotel
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. 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. The downside is that this shuttle is exponentially more expensive than using Uber.
- There is no parking at the Magic Kingdom. Instead, you park at the Ticket & Transportation Center lot, catching a tram to the Ticket & Transportation Center, and then take a monorail or ferry to the Magic Kingdom (this was done, among other reasons, so the Magic Kingdom has a “magical” introduction to guests).
- Because of this, even guests who rent their own cars may be better off taking a bus to the Magic Kingdom, as the Disney buses drop-off guests directly at the front entrance to the Magic Kingdom, bypassing all of the intermediate steps.
- If you’re leaving one of the parks right around closing, or after fireworks or a evening parade, consider waiting. Buses are especially bad at this time of night, and the park’s gift shops are open for a short time after the parks official closing time. Do your shopping then, instead of during the day, and leave a little later. Chances are, you’ll still get back to your resort around the same time, and you won’t wait in line so long for a bus, monorail, or ferry in the process!
- You can walk from Disney’s Contemporary Resort to the Magic Kingdom via a sidewalk. This walk takes about 5 minutes, and is much faster than taking the monorail.
- If trying to take a taxi to the Magic Kingdom, instead of the Magic Kingdom, request a drop off at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and take the 5 minute walk to the Magic Kingdom. A taxi “to the Magic Kingdom” will actually drop you off at the Ticket & Transportation Center.
- You can walk from Disney’s Polynesian Resort to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort or Shades of Green Resort via a sidewalk (and vice-a-versa).
- You can walk from Disney’s Polynesian Resort to the Ticket & Transportation Center via a sidewalk. It’s about a 5 minute walk, and will save you time over taking the monorail.
- A bridge connects Pop Century to Art of Animation Resort. This provides quick access to the highly regarded Landscape of Flavors food court at Art of Animation. This easy access also means you can take whichever of the two buses arrives first when leaving the parks, if you don’t mind a little walking.
- You can walk from Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa to Disney Springs via a new pedestrian bridge. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Saratoga Springs, depending upon your location.
- You can walk between any of the All-Star Resorts, but it’s not always a ‘simple’ path. Still, might be useful if buses are slow (and not shared) and one quickly arrives at a park for an All-Star Resort besides the one where you’re staying.
- You can walk from All Star Sports to Coronado Springs Resort via a walking path. Along this path, you can access Blizzard Beach and McDonald’s. All Star Sports to Coronado is about 30 minutes; it takes around 5 minutes to get to McDonald’s from All Star Sports, and about 15-20 to get to Blizzard Beach.
- You can walk from Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Yacht & Beach Club, and Swan & Dolphin resorts to Epcot’s International Gateway (World Showcase) entrance, but you cannot walk from the front entrance of Epcot to any of these resorts, without going through the park.
- A ferry travels from Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, and Swan & Dolphin resorts to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The boat stops in this order – Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Swan & Dolphin, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Swan/Dolphin, Yacht Club, Boardwalk and Epcot. If you’re staying at or visiting Boardwalk, it’s much quicker to exit the ferry at the Swan & Dolphin and make the 5 minute walk to the Boardwalk if returning from Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and vice-a-versa when the boat stops at BoardWalk first and you’re staying at the Swan or Dolphin).
- Ferry transportation is available from Old Key West Resort, Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, Port Orleans Riverside, and Port Orleans French Quarter to Disney Springs.
- Buses don’t travel between Disney Springs and the theme parks. Instead, you’ll have to take a bus to a hotel, then a bus to a park if your ultimate destination is a park. By looking at other tips here (such as walking from the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom or walking from Disney Springs to Saratoga Springs), you can easily circumvent this and save time.
- Buses make multiple stops at Disney Springs. If the parks are closed and you want to visit another resort from your resort, your only option via Disney transportation is Your resort>Disney Springs>other resort. This will take you at least one hour, and more likely closer to two. Take a taxi instead!
- You can save money by parking your car at Disney Springs (free) and taking a bus to a resort that is close to the park you’re intending to visit, and then walk or take another bus from there, but this is a colossal waste of time and, to some, morally reprehensible (I disagree from the moral perspective–I just think it’s an idiotic idea). If your time has any value to you, suck it up and pay for parking at the park you’re visiting.
- Complimentary parking is available at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Resort for those who have dining reservations. These two resorts are convenient places to park when visiting the Magic Kingdom.
- The fastest way to get from Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the World Showcase via bus is taking a bus to BoardWalk or the Yacht & Beach Club and walking, due to the bus route being more efficient that way than from Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the front of Epcot.
- Bus service isn’t offered from resorts to parks when the resort offers alternative means of transportation (via the monorail or ferry).
- When the All-Star Resorts share a bus, it stops at All Star Sports first, and often will fill completely there. It is thus the best All Star Resort during these times of year.
- There are a lot of other “secret” time-saving tips and tricks to Disney transportation, many of which I’m probably forgetting here. Please share your tips in the comments.
Walt Disney World Transportation Review
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. On the recent visit mentioned above, I used Uber, the new(ish) ride-sharing service and found an average ride within Walt Disney World was around $10, making it a better alternative to taxis.
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 we 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).
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!
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!