Walt Disney World has reduced bus transportation between the Skyliner gondola hotels, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. In this post, we’ll cover the new policy, share results of our ‘field testing’ the buses, and recommendations for how this might impact your vacation.
Effective immediately, buses for Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will pick-up guests approximately once per hour at the hotels with Skyliner gondola stations. This means Disney’s Riviera Resort, Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, and Pop Century all now have reduced bus service.
Prior to the Disney Skyliner gondola system beginning operations for the day or if it’s experiencing downtime, bus service will be increased to approximately once every 20 minutes. These changes apply to both pickup from the hotels and pickup from Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios…
This news broke over the weekend, but aside from a sign at Pop Century notifying guests of the new policy, there were scant details about how this would work. Rather than rushing to share the incomplete story, we decided to head out to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and spend an afternoon seeing what, exactly, “approximately once per hour” means.
Sitting around a bus stop for hours might not sound exciting, but with construction now wrapped up at Caribbean Beach, Riviera Resort, and on the Skyliner stations, we have to find some way to fill our time there this year. 😉
Our first goal was to see whether the buses were operating on any sort of schedule. It seems, to us at least, that this would be fairly easy to accomplish at Disney’s Riviera Resort, Pop Century, and Art of Animation, since each of these only have one bus stop. (Due to the internal loop, it’d be more difficult at Caribbean Beach Resort.)
If buses now departed at the top of each hour or on a consistent schedule, this could actually be an improvement. Guests could plan around departure times and get to the bus stop when necessary. This would save Disney money, and improve predictability for guests. Win-win.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. What we found is that bus pick-up times are totally random, sometimes slightly less than an hour apart, sometimes slightly more. Never did the buses come on the top or bottom of the hour, and clearly that’s not the intent.
It’s unclear to us why this isn’t possible, but it’d be a huge improvement over what’s currently happening. Instead, our experience with the buses was unpredictable and frustrating.
The big problem aside from buses operating on an unpredictable schedule is that the wait time boards (and by extension, times in the My Disney Experience app) are unreliable. At Caribbean Beach’s Jamaica bus stop, times for the Epcot bus never displayed, and the bus just showed up unannounced.
This is actually an experience we’ve been having more and more of late. The entire time we were at Disney’s Riviera Resort, the bus wait times didn’t work in the app or on the signs. At the time, we assumed it was an opening week snafu, but we’ve had similar issues at other resorts in the last several months. (We were staying at Saratoga Springs while doing this test, so we didn’t have access to MDX wait times for the Skyliner resorts.)
If you’re concerned that the reduced bus schedule means longer lines for the Skyliner, don’t be. We took a divide and conquer approach to this testing, and while Sarah did most of the less glamorous bus stop stalking, I was flying the friendly skies. Never once did I encounter any line, let alone a long one.
Aside from park closing time (and to a lesser extent, park opening), the wait times for the Skyliner are rarely above 5 minutes. I often ride solo, and the unofficial midday policy seems to be to give each party their own cabin if the line is reasonably short. (We haven’t been grouped with another party at all in the last month.)
If you’re thinking this results in more crowded buses, that’s also not the case–which probably also helps explain the reduced bus service.
Again, this was midday and all of the buses (except Disney Springs) were departing less than half-full, but far and away the least-crowded buses were those bound for Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If this continues to be the case, I could see Walt Disney World discontinuing bus service from the Skyliner resorts to DHS and Epcot entirely within the next year.
For us, this policy change comes as no surprise. Readers who won’t use the Skyliner have been optimistic that more guests using the gondola should reduce crowds on the buses–we’ve constantly been cautioning them that it’ll probably simply end up reducing buses.
Walt Disney World didn’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new transportation system only to run the same number of buses as before. Every decision is always about revenue and costs.
On that note, if you’re not going to use the Disney Skyliner gondolas for whatever reason, we’d strongly encourage you to stay at a non-Skyliner resort. Walt Disney World fans love to praise the “free” perks like Disney’s Magical Express, Extra Magic Hours, and the resort-to-park transportation.
None of this is actually free. All of it is built into the nightly resort room rate.
The monorail is one of the main reasons the hotels on that loop cost over $500 per night. Take a hard look at Disney’s Contemporary Resort…do you really think that hotel would fetch those prices if it didn’t have a monorail running through it?! Same goes for Crescent Lake Resorts and being within walking distance of Epcot.
The same is also now true of Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, and Pop Century. (Heck, even if you like Disney’s Riviera Resort, does anyone honestly think it could command its high rates without that Skyliner station?) Between last year and this year, this trio of existing resorts saw price increases disproportionate to Walt Disney World hotels, as a whole. We’ve contended that these price increases are surprisingly reasonable for the value-add of the Skyliner, but that’s only true if you use the Skyliner!
In short, the bus service is now virtually unusable between the Skyliner resorts, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a result of this change due to unpredictability and the longer wait. If you are afraid of the Skyliner, you really should stay at other resorts. If that ship has sailed, we’d highly recommend getting to the bus stop before the Skyliner begins daily operations when bus service is still consistent.
Walt Disney World could turn this into a positive for all parties with a published bus pick-up schedule from the Skyliner resorts (even if this required only offering bus service from Old Port Royale, it’d be a net gain). However, we don’t view that as likely given the lack of bus utilization we observed. More likely, regular bus service will be further reduced or eliminated entirely from these resorts. Even if the buses were operating as before and you had perfect luck, the Skyliner is still the most efficient route to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot from the gondola hotels.
What do you think of Walt Disney World reducing bus service at the Skyliner resorts? Will this cause you to book elsewhere, or do you not care since the Skyliner is so much more efficient? Does this surprise or disappoint you? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!