During Walt Disney World’s phased reopening, not all transportation will run as normal. This info post covers monorails, boats, buses, and the Skyliner gondola operations. We also provide tips for efficient transit between the resort hotels and theme parks, including what we recommend using and avoiding. (Updated October 25, 2020.)
Before even arriving at Walt Disney World, you’ll need to take some form of transportation just to get to Florida. One common question is whether you should fly or drive if visiting from out of state. Initially, we were skeptical of flying. However, this ‘epidemiological investigation’, plus this commentary by a Harvard public health professor, plus this research showing the low odds of in-flight transmission, and this recent report on the efficacy of face masks on planes has changed our perspective.
We’d now fly rather than drive. The safety of air travel is predicated on the in-flight experience itself. In particular, the plane’s filtration system and air replacement rate. Mask policies also help, as do the policies on some airlines to block off middle seats. The longer a flight, connections, whether in-flight meals are served, and individual risk factors impact those odds. Your mileage may vary, in a quite literal sense…
If you do opt to fly to Walt Disney World, you’ll have three transportation options upon arrival at Orlando International Airport (MCO): rental car, Uber/Lyft, or Disney’s Magical Express. Our top recommendation would renting a car, followed by using Uber or Lyft. This is our advice both on the basis of health safety and convenience. The first part of that should be obvious, given that it’s shared transportation in a confined, indoor space with minimal ventilation.
Equally as important is convenience. During Walt Disney World’s phased reopening, transportation capacity has been reduced. At present, only 6-8 parties are allowed per bus, which has resulted in long lines and wait times for bus transportation at peak travel times. If you’re trying to take a bus to one of the parks at opening or closing, you could wait 30+ minutes for a bus. (Off-hour waits are much more bearable.)
Accordingly, we recommend saving yourself the headache and renting a car at Orlando International Airport (ideally in-terminal). The upsides to this are total control–in addition to not having to hassle with WDW transportation, you can also dine off-site after the parks close, get groceries, etc. The biggest downsides to this is the cost of renting a car at the airport, and parking fees at Walt Disney World resort hotels.
Consequently, you might save money and headache by using ride share services for rope drop or other strategic times when you see long lines at the bus stops. Our Tips for Using Uber & Lyft at Walt Disney Worldoffer strategic advice to help you bypass the worst transportation woes at WDW.
If you do choose to use Disney’s Magical Express for airport transportation right now, it’s worth noting that luggage delivery is not currently offered for those arriving at and departing from the airport.
If using Disney’s Magical Express, you will be responsible for picking up your own checked luggage from the airport’s baggage claim area and having it loaded onto the bus to your hotel. Otherwise, Disney’s Magical Express is operating as normal.
Next, some general changes to transportation at Walt Disney World. Physical distancing measures are in place across all forms of transportation, including in the load zones and queues, as well as aboard buses, monorails, and watercraft boats.
Additionally, Walt Disney World has added physical barriers in select places where it is difficult to maintain strict physical distancing guidelines, such as partitions inside buses and monorails.
No such barriers have been added to the Skyliner. Instead, Walt Disney World is currently loading only one party per gondola. This has resulted in significantly longer lines for those (see below), but the “private” gondola is nice.
Now, let’s take a look at the current and future operating status of the monorails, buses, boats, and Disney Skyliner gondolas…
Known as Walt Disney World’s Highway in the Sky, the monorail has partially resumed service. At present, the Magic Kingdom monorails–both the Express and Resort beams–are operating.
Due to upcoming refurbishment work at the Great Ceremonial House, monorail service to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort will be temporarily suspended beginning November 2, 2020. However, it’s actually fastest to walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and take the monorail to Magic Kingdom from there.
The Epcot monorail line has not yet reopened, and does not presently have an opening date as far out as the released schedule goes. (Our expectation is that the Epcot monorail line won’t reopen until Park Hopping resumes–likely sometime around Spring 2021.) Guests staying at Magic Kingdom monorail loop resorts will need to utilize bus transportation for getting to Epcot.
Dubbed the Most Magical Flight on Earth, the Skyliner services two Walt Disney World theme parks (Hollywood Studios and Epcot) plus four resorts (Art of Animation & Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, plus Caribbean Beach (again) & Riviera Resort) via 5 stations. Art of Animation is the last of these resorts to reopen, and it will do so on November 1, 2020.
It’s worth noting here that the Skyliner to DHS or EPCOT connects via the hub station at Caribbean Beach Resort. See our recent Caribbean BeachTransportation Report for our experiences with that. Long lines at both the Pop Century station and the Caribbean Beach Resort hub are occurring with regularity for rope drop. Since Pop Century and Art of Animation share a station, the latter reopening is only going to exacerbate that problem.
We’ll monitor the situation, but there’s no logical reason to expect improvement absent the Skyliner operating earlier. Without that, it’ll only worsen in the coming months, especially with occupancy rates ticking up for the holiday season. Accordingly, our strong rope drop recommendation is using a car—whether that be your own, a rental, or Uber/Lyft—to get to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s also recommended for EPCOT, but not as strongly.
The good news is that aside from around park opening and closing times, the Skyliner gondola service is the most convenient and efficient form of transportation. Midday lines are virtually non-existent, with great views and a smooth flight to the parks.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, plus Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness have resumed boat transportation to and from Magic Kingdom. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort no longer offers boat service, presumably due to the refurbishment project taking place through Summer 2021 that’s also resulting in the temporary closure of the monorail station.
Other boat routes are also non-operational, including those between and among various Walt Disney World resorts. Additionally, the Sassagoula River Cruise, which goes to and from Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside from the Disney Springs Marketplace Dock, is not in service. As neither Port Orleans Resort has a reopening date, this should be unsurprising.
Finally, FriendShip boats will resume service among the Crescent Lake Resorts, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on November 1, 2020. This one also makes sense. The DVC Villas at Beach Club and BoardWalk have been open for months, and Disney’s Yacht Club Resort plus the Swan & Dolphin Resorts have more recently reopened.
As always, guests staying at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort or Beach Club Villas are best off walking from their respective resorts to Epcot’s International Gateway. From BoardWalk, it’s fastest to walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. From Beach Club Villas, it’s likely fastest (and easiest) to take the Epcot Skyliner to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
All bus service is operating as normal (albeit with reduced frequency between the parks and resorts), with one exception. There is no bus service from Skyliner resorts to Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios (except when the Skyliner is down).
You might recall that early this year (which feels like a decade ago), Walt Disney World reduced bus service from Skyliner resorts to these parks. It now appears to be discontinued entirely, at least on a temporary basis. It’s worth noting here that bus service to the parks from Skyliner resorts was/is considerably less efficient, but was offered as a courtesy for guests with fears of heights.
Finally, trams from areas of the parking lot to the front entrance of the theme parks are not operating at the start of Walt Disney World’s phased reopening. This also means that guests parking their cars at the Transportation & Ticket Center must walk from the parking lot to take the Monorail or Ferryboat to reach Magic Kingdom.
With the parks operating at significantly reduced capacity, this should not be a major problem. On a normal day, it’s just as fast to walk as to take the tram. With parking lots at ~50% of their normal capacity, that should remain true for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, this is actually more transportation operating during the phased reopening at Walt Disney World than we anticipated. This is particularly true of the boat launches to Magic Kingdom, which we figured would not be in use. Honestly, we are slightly to see the monorails in use. With incredibly low occupancy rates, those resorts probably could’ve gotten away with just offering boat and/or bus service.
Speaking of monorails, it’s actually a bit unfortunate that Walt Disney World didn’t pull the trigger on a new monorail order (like Tokyo Disney Resort did) and work on installing that during the downtime. The next several months would be the best possible time for the monorail to go down for upgrades. Unfortunately, present circumstances being what they are, it instead seems more likely that the current monorails will hobble along for another decade-plus.
What do you think about these Walt Disney World transportation changes? Pleased by the amount of non-bus options available, or disappointed that the Epcot monorail and some boats won’t operate? Do you have plans to visit Walt Disney World this summer or fall, or have you cancelled? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? 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!