Disney World Transportation Report: Record Airport Crowds, Bus Waits & More

The average visitor to Walt Disney World will spend 27.8% of their waking hours on or in line for some form of transportation. I just made that number up, but it certainly feels true if you’ve felt the frustration of waiting for a Magic Kingdom bus while 5 passed for EPCOT, or been late to an ADR because transit took way longer than expected.

This Walt Disney World transportation update offers news and on-the-ground reporting about the good, bad, and ugly of my recent spring break experiences traveling between resorts and parks, plus Orlando International Airport and the Walt Disney World area. It covers the monorail, buses, boats, and Skyliner gondolas, with insight about issues during one of the peak weeks of the year. With more such busy times on the horizon, this is relevant to those visiting for Easter, summer, and beyond.

Let’s start with Orlando International Airport stats thus far for 2023, as reported by the airport itself. Orlando International Airport (MCO) saw an 86% increase in international traffic, and domestic traffic climbed by nearly 27% in January. Orlando International Airport’s impressive growth rates continued in February, with a 16.6% increase in domestic traffic and an 80.1% increase in international traffic for an overall increase of 21.4%.

Spring Break 2023 at Orlando International has already six passenger traffic records, and those are just the days for which data has been released so far (we’re still awaiting April numbers). On March 11, MCO recorded 95,282 departures, breaking the old single day record of 90,808 set in March 2019. The following Saturday, March 18, was the second busiest in airport history with 93,801 departures, while Sunday was the third busiest with 93,662.

I’m no aviation expert, but I would’ve expected March 10/11 and March 18/19 to be the busiest days. Not only is there the normal tourist traffic for those dates, but also locals leaving town due to local spring breaks. Following that, it seems like the weekend before and of Easter (so April 1, 2, 8, 9) would be next busiest.

Note that MCO has only released data through last week, and some of the new records may fall. Orlando International Airport originally projected this past weekend to be the busiest of the Spring Break 2023 season, which runs from March 4 until April 18, 2023 for MCO.

During the first half of Spring Break 2023, an estimated 2.7 million passengers traveled through MCO. That’s a staggering number, and one that exceeded internal projections by 159,000 passengers according to MCO. When all is said and done, 9 of the top 10 busiest days in MCO history will likely have occurred in March or April 2023.

This is partially attributable to the aforementioned resumption of and rise in international traffic. It’s also almost certainly a matter of capacity constraints, or reduction thereof. Terminal C is now operating, so the daily ceiling in departures is higher than it was on those same days in 2019 when many of the prior records were set. Not to diminish the records, but they probably were not possible in prior years even if demand was there.

In looking at nationwide TSA checkpoint numbers, it’s a similar–albeit less pronounced–story around the United States during Spring Break 2023. Pent-up demand has been the story of the last two years, but 2023 is the year that travel is finally back on track and surpassing 2019 volume.

TSA reports that January was the first month of 2023 when volume exceeded 2019, and that number has only grown since. Thus far, the strong majority of days in March 2023 have seen visitor volumes that are higher than March 2019. According to TSA, travelers can expect elevated airport screening times through April 21, 2023. All of this is great news for the travel comeback, although perhaps not so much for airlines and airports that are still short-staffed.

On a related note, Southwest just released its Action Plan for Travel Disruptions following its New Year’s meltdown. I’m glad to see they’re finally taking steps to remedy past problems, but I’ll believe it when I see it. This wasn’t the first or second time Southwest had such issues–just the first time it happened during peak holiday travel with by far the worst outcomes, and tons of national media attention.

I flew through Orlando International Airport on two of the busiest days this year (and ever), and holy cow was it evident that the airport was doing gangbuster numbers. The scene in virtually every regard–ground traffic, parking, TSA lines, terminal crowds, Starbucks lines–was worse than I’d ever seen and rivaled the busiest airports in the country.

Without a doubt, this was the “ugly” of transportation on my trip to Walt Disney World for Spring Break. The airport was absolutely overwhelming, packed with people to the point that it was difficult to move or find a place to sit. If I were an inexperienced traveler, this might’ve started the trip off on the wrong foot or ended it on a sour note.

We did LAX last Thanksgiving Eve, and MCO at Spring Break put that to shame! This type of chaos and crowding is precisely why we recommend Disneyland first-timers avoid LAX and instead use SNA. Speaking of which, MCO was also quite the contrast to John Wayne, the airport on the other end of the trip, which took me under 5 minutes from curb to gate. The word that best describes SNA is “sleepy,” and going from that to MCO was quite the wakeup call.

In terms of actionable advice, the first thing is to travel during the middle of the week. This probably isn’t helpful or realistic for most of you who are constrained by school schedules, but both MCO and TSA show significantly lower volume on Mondays through Wednesdays. Of course, if you have the freedom to travel on random weekdays, you might as well go during a time when school breaks are not happening and overall volume is much lower every single day.

Second, ground transportation from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World (or wherever) in advance. Normally, we are about 50/50 on using Lyft/Uber or the shuttle services from the airport, depending upon the season, time of arrival, and whether it’s both of us or just me. Thankfully, I anticipated high volume and demand, and made reservations with Mears Connect rather than relying on Uber or Lyft upon arrival. Here were the prices for Lyft from MCO to All Star Sports:

Beyond astronomical demand, this was probably driven by the gridlocked traffic into and out of MCO. That’s been another common occurrence during spring break and other peak seasons for travel, as has limited parking (see this page for status updates).

To that point, you should plan accordingly and give yourself a buffer if leaving on a busy travel day and time. Everything will take longer: driving to the airport, returning rental cars, dropping off checked bags, getting through security, etc. TSA aims to keep wait times under 30 minutes, but that number can be higher from time to time. As can just getting to and through the airport.

To be sure, you don’t need to leave Walt Disney World 4 hours in advance, but you also shouldn’t expect to leave 90 minutes before your flight and still breeze through the process. We’ve found that everything takes about an hour longer during peak season than it would during the off-season.

As for my experience with Mears Connect, it was interesting leaving the airport. There were huge crowds and long lines waiting on shuttles to leave…and not a single bus in sight. Reps reported that the buses were stuck in traffic and would be arriving very soon. For some reason, my line and one other short one were pulled aside and put on the van pictured above and departed almost immediately.

While we were pulling away, bus after bus arrived (it had to have been about a half dozen, but I didn’t count). Throughout my stay at Walt Disney World, I routinely saw both Sunshine Flyer and Mears Connect buses. My shuttle back to the airport was only about 25% full and was totally uneventful–efficient and fast.

All in all my personal experience with Mears Connect was very positive, but I’m guessing many others arriving into MCO around the same time as me might have very different and much worse tales to tell. But that’s about par for the course with airport shuttle buses: some okay-to-good experiences, and some horror stories.

For more insight and info about ground transportation, see our posts about Mears Connect and the Sunshine Flyer. For a broad overview of alternatives, see our Airport Transportation Guide to Walt Disney World.

As for the on-the-ground Spring 2023 Walt Disney World transportation update, it’s also mostly good. However, I should preface this (as always) by conceding that inconsistency is also the name of the game with ground transportation. You could visit during the slowest week of the year in September and have a terrible time. You could go the week between Christmas and New Year’s and have a great one.

Two parties staying at the same resort for the same dates could have dramatically different perceptions simply by virtue of luck. That has always been the case and probably always will be. It’s always possible to have a negative experience that dramatically differs from what’s covered here. Extremes are common with Walt Disney World’s transportation network, and no longer even phase us.

Walt Disney World transportation is a lot like Disney IT: we’ve had the full range of negatives over the years, some downright unbelievable. As a result, I never doubt any story I hear. Even if it comes at a time when my personal experiences skew positive, I know firsthand that the unbelievably bad is possible!

Let’s start on a positive note: buses. Yep, buses. Walt Disney World is still contracting with third parties to provide relief to its bus driver shortage, albeit to what seems like a far more limited extent. (Entirely anecdotal, but I’ve seen far fewer third party buses and many more Disney-wrapped ones.)

Between this and the Skyliner relieving strain from the bus system, past transportation woes have been relieved in a big way. This is something I’ve mentioned in several consecutive transportation updates, but it’s worth reiterating. First, because it still holds true. Second, because bus service has been a historic problem point dating back over a decade, so it being an ongoing bright spot is still newsworthy.

In general and almost across the board, our bus rides have been very, very positive in the last year or so (minus Coronado Springs, but I didn’t step foot there this time, so I can’t speak to that). For all of the things Walt Disney World is currently doing wrong, bus transportation is not one of them.

We’ve used buses at the crack of dawn for Early Entry, during the middle of the day, for evening arrivals to the parks, and late at the end of the night. With only a few exceptions, we’ve had resounding success with the buses at Walt Disney World in the last year-plus.

This time, my average wait time for a bus to arrive was around 10 minutes. This was pretty consistent, with no major outliers–I don’t recall waiting over 15 minutes at all. There were many times when buses were standing room-only, and I seldom had a seat when heading to the parks in the morning.

There was one time when I left EPCOT too early at the end of the night and had to wait for a second bus after one filled in front of me, but that arrived immediately. Interestingly, this was also the only time I encountered shared bus service for the All Stars; I assume it was done for the sake of efficiency. (All Star Sports was the first stop, so this didn’t bother me.)

With all of that said, we’ve also ‘optimized’ our visits to minimize transportation headaches. Our standard approach is heading to the parks very early in the morning with the goal of arriving at least 30 minutes before the start of Early Entry, and leaving the parks at least 30 minutes after park closing. Obviously, a normal tourist–especially a family with small children–will not be able to burn the candle at both ends.

But neither do we, at least not every single day. We often take midday breaks and naps, returning to the resort between 11 am (often having an entire bus to ourselves) and heading back out to the parks around 2 pm. I did precisely this on many days of this particular trip, and it was always smooth sailing.

In any case, you should try to avoid leaving your resort within an hour of official park opening. Similarly, do not leave the parks immediately after nighttime spectaculars or park closing. Lines are longer, buses are packed, and it’s just generally less pleasant. You might as well wait out the crowds from inside the parks at closing, which is a more enjoyable experience. You’ll often end up back at your resort around the same time as those who race for the exits after the fireworks.

No issues to report whatsoever with watercraft, monorails, or Skyliner gondolas.

I really only used these transportation options when park or resort hopping (which was surprisingly often), but all worked as efficiently and with the expected frequency. I hesitate to say anything positive about the monorail for fear of jinxing myself, but it’s been a long time since I’ve dealt with any notable stoppages. We’re talking pre-closure, in fact.

The biggest downtime issues with the Skyliner usually occur during storm season, which is still a few months away. There were thus no issues to report with that, and I usually had a gondola all to myself when bouncing between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or the connected resorts); I appreciate that the Cast Members make a concerted effort to do this during slower times of the day.

With that said, if you are visiting this summer or fall, become familiar with the radar in your favorite weather app, and plan accordingly with regard to transportation. Getting stranded right as the gondolas go down can be frustrating; Walt Disney World doesn’t have a streamlined way of notifying resort guests when the Skyliner is down and deploying alternative transportation after ~ 3 years. The backup buses can be frustratingly inefficient.

Ultimately, a very positive report on ground transportation within Walt Disney World given the spring break crowds and presumably high occupancy levels at the resorts. Spring break is one of the biggest ‘stress tests’ on a variety of components of the tourist experience at Walt Disney World, and the bus service passed with flying colors. Same goes with the monorail, boats, and Skyliner–although that’s not nearly as surprising.

The bigger issues were with Orlando International Airport, and even those were not necessarily bad. Just reflective of the reality of flying through one of the busiest airports in the United States–and one that primarily services leisure travelers–during peak season and at a time when demand has more than fully rebounded but staffing has not. All in all, no major complaints from this spring break week–but hopefully this report provided you with some insight and advice so you can avoid pitfalls if you’re visiting during a busy time of year at Walt Disney World!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, 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 clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Have you used transportation at Walt Disney World recently? What has been the good, bad, or ugly for you? Traveled through MCO at all in 2023? What about with Uber, Lyft, rental cars, Sunshine Flyer or Mears Connect? Have you used Walt Disney World buses between the parks and resorts the last several months? Any experiences of your own to share with regard to Walt Disney World transportation? (If so, please share your dates, resort, and typical travel times.) 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!

27 Responses to “Disney World Transportation Report: Record Airport Crowds, Bus Waits & More”
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