Inconsistent Bus Wait Times at Disney World
We have a love-hate relationship with Walt Disney World transportation. When it’s firing on all cylinders, the system of monorails, boats, gondolas, and even buses is unparalleled–the best exemplar of mass transit of any major “city” in the United States. In the past, we’ve gone entire trips with only great experiences from start to finish, enjoying efficiency and, frankly, fun transportation.
Other times, Walt Disney World’s transit has been the exact opposite. Consecutive days waiting 45 minutes for a bus to Magic Kingdom while 4 empty ones pass for EPCOT. (I’ve lost count of how many times this type of scenario has played out, a continuing issue despite supposed “improvements” to the way Disney dispatches buses.) Monorails that break down while you’re on or waiting for them. Long lines for the Skyliner.
Our trip-length experiences with Walt Disney World transportation feel like they’re always one or the other: perfection or disaster. That’s probably not the case–mostly short waits help gloss over a couple of long ones, and vice versa–but it sure seems like it. We’re probably not the only ones, as reader feedback suggests many Walt Disney World guests experience similar extremes–excellent or awful. In the last week or so, we’ve received more reports of the latter…
Since reopening, we’ve advised in our “Temporary Abnormal” Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and other transportation posts to rent a car upon arrival at Orlando International Airport. 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. 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 45+ minutes for a bus, depending upon your resort. (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 World offer advice to help you bypass the worst transportation woes at Walt Disney World.
That has been our advice since last July. Even though it’ll cost you more money to rent a car (both in direct costs and parking fees) or use an Uber or Lyft, it’s worth it. If you’re on a budget, you can always stay off-site to cheaper accommodations–right now there’s little benefit to staying on-site, anyway.
Nevertheless, many readers have opted to rely on Walt Disney World transportation and have reported positive experiences during the phased reopening. These good reviews typically coincide with the off-season, and rarely peak travel dates. As noted above, we’ve received more concerning reports in the last week or so as spring break crowds have descended upon Walt Disney World.
We want to preface this by conceding that it’s difficult to assess complaints about Walt Disney World bus service. It’s not that some reports aren’t credible–no sane person is going to lie about transportation woes. Rather, two parties staying at the same resort for the same dates could have dramatically different experiences simply by virtue of luck. That has always been the case and probably always will be.
The challenge is thus developing a consensus from sometimes disparate or conflicting reports and also determining what’s normal inconsistency and what’s physical distancing-induced issues. Usually, we do the homework on our own–we’ve spent way too much time sitting at bus stops for the sake of research–but this is a scenario where crowdsourcing is more beneficial and immediately feasible. To that end, we inquired about recent experiences with buses at Walt Disney World on our Facebook page, receiving 95 comments thus far.
There were a lot of conflicting reports, which is unsurprising–it’s simply the nature of this inconsistent beast. However, some clear trends did emerge, which we’ve distilled from all of the reports. (Thank you so much to everyone who replied there–hopefully the comments on this blog post will garner many more firsthand accounts from recent visitors!)
First, all of this applies primarily to pre-park opening and around park closing. That’s when demand for buses between the hotels and parks peaks, and most issues arise. This isn’t to say you won’t have issues midday, but they’re more of the random and inconsistent variety. That’s when you might wait 45 minutes for a bus to Hollywood Studios while 3 pass for Animal Kingdom. (This might seem like hyperbole to you first timers, but it’s not. Almost every Walt Disney World fan who visits regularly and has relied on buses has at least one such story. It’s pretty much a rite of passage–like accidentally seeing the Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along or eating at the Italy booth.)
Second, sprawling resorts with multiple bus stops are the biggest source of problems and frustration right now.
Caribbean Beach Resort was the “most mentioned” with overwhelmingly negative feedback. Historically, Caribbean Beach Resort has been the biggest source of bus complaints that we’ve seen, but its reimagining (and consolidation) had improved things in recent years. Apparently it’s a problem again.
Coronado Springs Resort also had its share of complaints. The route here is temporarily altered due to the NBA G League taking over a portion of the resort, but that doesn’t appear to be the source of the frustrations.
Back when Gran Destino first opened, we reported significant headaches with Coronado Springs bus service, noting that it seemed like Walt Disney World failed to account for the addition of a tall tower (and the guests staying in it) when allocating buses.
This sounds like a redux of that, with Disney failing to scale up bus service as occupancy rates have risen from winter off-season lows to more healthy numbers at Coronado Springs. It also probably does not help that Coronado Springs requires buses to access every park.
Old Key West and Saratoga Springs Resorts had some negative feedback, but not as much. Really, this was more mixed than anything.
We suspect this is at least partially attributable to both being Disney Vacation Club resorts. Members are more likely to drive or have rental cars, in part because of the nature of their vacations and in-part because they don’t pay a separate charge for parking (it’s built into annual dues).
Of the single stop resorts, Pop Century garnered the most feedback by far. Again, this one was mixed. Everyone indicated that bus lines were long, zig-zagging around the front lobby before rope drop.
One recent Walt Disney World visitor said that, despite appearances, these lines moved quickly as buses were staged in the parking lot and dispatched one after the other. However, we did receive some reports from the last two weeks of 10-15 minute waits between buses, which, coupled with the long line, resulted in long waits.
Art of Animation surprisingly did not have nearly as many complaints as Pop Century. There were actually more positive reports than negative ones, and even the bad were nothing scathing. It’s difficult to reconcile this since the two sister properties are very similar; our best guess is that occupancy is lower at Art of Animation.
Unrelated to buses, but we want to reiterate (again) that Skyliner lines in the morning are long and can take a lot of time due to the one-part per gondola physical distancing rule. We didn’t ask about the Skyliner, but received a lot of feedback about it anyway. We should do another Skyliner rope drop report soon, but for now, refer to this from our last stay at Caribbean Beach Resort. (Note that since then, Art of Animation has reopened and lines have worsened.)
There were scattered reports from other resorts, but nothing that sounded like anything more than typical Walt Disney World bus inconsistency. In particular, Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Animal Kingdom Lodge all sound fairly good–that’s probably a byproduct of low occupancy.
If you have the time and inclination, it might be worth reading the full thread on our Facebook page. A lot of people took the time to post their experiences, which might be helpful if you have an upcoming trip and are on the fence about renting a car v. relying on Disney transportation. (Again, thank you to everyone who commented there–and anyone who shares their reports in the comments here!)
Ultimately, we just wanted to bring these potential problems with buses to the attention of those visiting Walt Disney World this spring or summer. As long as physical distancing limits the number of parties per bus, this will likely be an issue during times of high occupancy at the resorts.
Renting a car is going to be the easiest way to avoid all of this, but it might be overkill and overly expensive. Uber and Lyft will be the more cost-effective approach, and can be wonderful when used in conjunction with Disney buses. Simply use whichever the situation calls for–buses during off hours when demand is low and rideshare when you’re trying to rope drop a park or want to bypass long waits at park closing. Walt Disney World transportation can still be great, especially when strategically leveraged and avoided as the circumstances warrant.
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 Walt Disney World buses between the parks and resorts in March 2021? What about earlier during the phased reopening of Walt Disney World? Have any experiences of your own to share with regard to Walt Disney World bus service? (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!
Last day of my trip this week Disney Transportation may have ruined the entire Disney experience for me. Hollywood Studios staying at Carribean Beach Resort. Skyliner was shut down due to weather. Zero busses were dispatched to the Carribean Beach stop. We watched for close to 2 hours as bus after bus went picked up other guests. There were over 100 in line. Called, nothing. Online chat nothing. Driver after driver told us one would be here in 5 min. Nothing. After 2 hours we caught an Uber just to be able to barely make it to the Magic Express reservation
I was always a fan of staying on property, until now. There is NO advantage of paying double what one would normally pay staying in the area. Convenience, small perks, and great service is what I pay extra for. It’s not there, blame COVID, I call it cost cutting and what people will tolerate for more profit.
I get it.
Staying at Coronado Springs, bus wait times consistently had 45-60 min wait for all parks to and coming back.
Food choice shortages, extra wait lines, and constant barrage of masks. If you have plans for Disney Trip, cancel and hold off till this craziness is over. You will be happy you did and you get more Experience for the money.
Right now, stay OFF property and Uber if you are going to go.
Still a Disney fan, but won’t come back until this COVID stuff is over and won’t stay on property again until the perks and convenience returns.
Just finished a week at Wilderness Lodge and the buses have been great, but heard from 3 separate bus drivers that they have a new bus scheduling system that is not working well. It was sold as a way to improve efficiency, but just doesn’t work for a theme park. Maybe they will work out the kinks, but for now expect problems.
Adam, you made my day! Hopefully Disney will continue to improve. Now keep up the mail to get more stops at CBR before everyone asks for Aruba so they can walk to another hotel stop and the prices at Aruba go up! I never thought there would be so many tales and laughs over transportation! Disney please take note. To start and end the day coming and going to the parks is part of the experience.
The problem with bus delays at the Caribbean Resort is caused by having too many bus stops served by a single bus. This can easily be solved by breaking the Caribbean Resort into two or more separate bus routes.
From what I can tell by researching online, the Caribbean Resort currently has six bus stops. Each bus heading to and from the four parks stops at each of the six bus stops before leaving the Caribbean Resort.
If the Caribbean Resort were to be broken into two separate bus routes, the buses would only have to make three stops before leaving instead of six.
This would save time and reduce the problem of buses filling up to capacity before reaching all of the bus stops.
I don’t understand why Disney insists on having all six stops being served by the same bus.
I’m here at EPCOT right now in the middle of a firestorm. We have had pretty bad luck with busses to and from Coronado Springs for 4 days but leaving EPCOT we were abandoned for over an hour tonight. The crowd built. The complaining started. Loud analogies of all the problems started to spew as the sun sank low. Dozens of busses for other parks, resorts and locales came and went. With each passing bus the fury of the crowd grew.
Two gentlemen took separate leaps over the guardrail to plead with passing drivers to radio the home base for a rescue.
The murmur of the crowd grew to a rumble with some unsavory choice words. The clientele of CSR may not be quite as civilized as advertised.
Enter an official looking woman with a walk-in talkie desperate to help. Upon her proclamation of sending multiple busses, she was peppered with rude retorts. The disdain is palpable.
A gentleman in a scooter implored the woman not to hold up the busses for him, “Go on without me!!”
A uniformed driver speed walked out of the drivers hut with a paper in his hands. His new assignment to proudly rescue the mob. He waved his paper, smiled and yelled “I GOT YOU GUYS!!!!” Instead of cheers he got scoffs.
On the first bus to CSR a male Karen (Kevin?) raised quite a stink because his stop (normally last) needs to be first because he had to catch some sort of shuttle off property. Co-pilot caved and said yes. This achieved two things: 1. The other passengers heckled Kevin and his family mercilessly for getting special treatment. 2. The second bus actually passed the first bus and got the middle of the line home before the front of the line.
The most important part is that all the participants banded together and pledged to write strongly worded emails. Watch out, Disney. These people may have spell check so the messages might be partially comprehendible
Kudos for taking this in stride (or at least appearing to) and turning it into an amusing, tongue in cheek anecdote.
While I certainly wouldn’t have taken my frustration out on frontline Cast Members, I’m not so sure I’d be in as good of spirits. I’d probably be among your cohorts writing partially comprehensible emails. 😉
Bus Saga: Act II.
24 hours after leaving EPCOT in a chaotic quasi apocalyptic scene we were greeted with a quite different adventure. The first bus leaving Animal Kingdom was a coach. Not a rickety, plastic seated Disney mobile but a reclining seated, 2×2 actual coach. TVs. A/c on full blast. Tunes rocking. Zero safety barriers, no mask warnings. Seats 50 easily.
Every bus departure stop at AK was manned by some type of leader with a clipboard, clearly going all extra miles for guest satisfaction.
The email brigade worked!
Hark! Let today go down in history. The transportation crisis is solved! The peasants were heard! The soulless overlords have been brought to their knees, serving their humble guests. Once again happiness shall rule this land.
Returning from Hollywood Studios for a mid day nap and……drum roll…… the next bus arrival times were listed on the TVs at stop 4.
We haven’t seen those at all on our trip yet. We would welcome that change.
How early are parking lots opening for parks and can you line up there to drive in when they open? (Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom especially)
These days we always seem to rent a car even if it is for part of the trip as we start or end at Universal. Last trip we started at Universal, stopped for groceries on our way to Disney (DVC). The first morning we drove to Animal Kingdom so we could rope drop FOP then dropped the car off at the Hilton in the afternoon and walked over to Disney Springs and took the bus back to the hotel.
This trip due to COVID we didn’t even think about it. We decided to keep the car and use it to do things like go to Disney Springs and Animal Kingdom and possibly Magic Kingdom.
So want to find out about driving to those parks.
Oh boy do I have a lot to say on this topic. We just returned from WDW (3/4/21 – 3/11/21) and stayed in the Aruba building at CBR. We had a ton of good luck with transportation this trip- with only the last experience being frustrating. The trick with staying at CBR is to ask to say in the 400 or 500s (500 was Aruba) and just walk to the Riviera to use their bus transportation. We are 2 adults, so this may not be as practical with young children; but we found it worked really well for us on all occasions except the last.
The Skyliner lines were longer in the morning at open and in the evening hours at Epcot going back (even though it wasn’t even “closing” time we still had to wait 15 minutes going back from Epcot) but it honestly didn’t bother us as we were constantly moving in the line and not just standing stationary waiting for a bus like we would’ve otherwise been.
I want to warn of 2 things: renting a card and trying to user Uber/Lyft to get to MK via walking to the Contemporary.
Regarding the car rental situation, we arrived at MCO around 5pm on a Thursday and witnessed hundreds of people waiting in line to get their car (they only have car rentals running in 1 terminal right now, not 2). The lines weren’t socially distanced. I’d imagine it was taking hours to get a car in those lines we witnessed. Maybe it was an anomaly but it wasn’t just one car rental, it was all of them.
Second, we learned the hard way that security at Contemporary is impossible and we could not get dropped off there to walk to MK. We had been waiting for a MK bus back at the Riviera and it wasn’t scheduled to arrive for 20 minutes and there were so many people in front of us so we Uber’d. Even though we said we were going to the Contemporary to walk-in to The Wave, they wouldn’t let us in. So we were dropped at T&TC and had long lines to wait for Ferry (Monorail looked even worse). This was probably a 45 minute mistake.
Other than that, excellent luck and walking to the Riv was a great option if staying at CBR.
Instead of walking from Contemporary Resort try the new walkway from the Floridian. The walk is pleasant and very few even know about this.
We typically have not rented a car on our visits, but our last time we did. It was a CRAZY experience at the airport. The line for Budget was soooo long. We stood in line for about 20-30 minutes and probably moved 20 feet. My estimate is that it would have taken well over 2+ hours to get through the line. My fear was that by the time we got to the front, they would be out of cars, even though we had a reservation (cue Seinfeld flashbacks). So we ditched the line and grabbed one from another counter that had no line. I’m sure it cost more money, but there was no way our family with 2 little ones could have stuck in line for that long.
I’m curious if others (I know Tom probably has not rented from MCO recently), have had a similar experience. It definitely makes me think twice about using Budget at MCO, regardless of the “savings.”
Thanks Tom. Reading this makes that 17 – 19 hour drive down a little less painful. Next time I will ask my wife to read it out loud every 5 hours.
We always rent a car since the hubs hates the buses or at least the pre-COVID packed liked sardines buses. I wait too long to pack and inevitably forget something we have to run to Target for and we are also UOAP holders so it makes sense for us. But the rental car prices are insane for our May trip! And that’s includes through Costco which has always given pretty great prices. I will keep checking but with rental fleet downsizing I’m thinking they will not go down much.
We have 2 nights at All-Star Movies then move to BCV for 4 nights and then to VGF for the final 4 nights. Other than the first couple of nights and Animal Kingdom we shouldn’t need the buses too often. The exception being to Disney Springs. I don’t like to take Lyft there because the drop off is so far from the places we frequent. We usually spend a few nights there each trip so I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and hope for some pixie dust on those rides.
We were there last week and had a nice time. We will be back this summer and at Christmas too but are hoping that many of the current Covid policies are loosened or altogether abandoned. These policies are in fact the cause of long waits, delays and frustration. We used a mix of Disney, Uber/Lyft and Mears Taxis. Disney transportation was fine for less busy times but do not use a bus at open and closing. Check both Lyft and Uber because the price and wait times can be drastic depending on driver availability. For a day trip from the Dolphin to Universal it was $65 for Uber and $29 on Lyft. There were some mornings and nights where it was cheaper and faster to have the resort porter hail a Mears taxi instead of Uber. One morning it was an 18 minute wait for Uber and a $24 charge to get from the Dolphin to Contemporary (so we could walk to the MK). It’s was no wait and $15 for Mears. While we had a nice time, I think the boiling point is coming in terms of the Covid policies in place. Some of them are just “theatre” or actually appear to negate what they are trying to prevent. Example long lines with hundreds of people packed close together for an hour or more while waiting for busses that can have 40+ only seat 10—15 now, a gondola that can seat 10 but only putting 2 in, or a pirate boat that they only put 5 people in when it seats 15 to 20. These substantially reduced seating causes long waits and long lines with people together which is what they are supposed to prevent in the first place. Other questionable policies is having only a few restaurants open so people congregate at them instead of spread out. Then there are the cheap plexiglass panels zip tied all over the place and requirement of cheap masks to be worn outdoors on the MK path to the GF when nobody else is in sight. The constant barrage of messages telling you to wear a mask. Ugh.
I am curious about you taking a car service to contemporary. We have thought of doing that but have heard you get turned away.
Any you still get stopped for temperature check walking over.
We are staying at Boardwalk partially so we can walk to Studios and Epcot.
We will drive to Animal Kingdom
What I struggle with is Magic Kingdom. We could drive but I hate the transportation center during normal times.
we stayed at the coronado in december, not march like you wanted reference. Honestly I will not be staying in a disney hotel any time soon after that. The hotel room was ok but the beds were horrible and the pillows were discusting……..Luckily we brought blankets in our car and used them as pillows……… The walk to the bus stop was very long, then got to the park and the walk in was not short . Usually we drive to the parks but then again the walk from the parking lots with no trams is long.. I have a pedometer and from our car to the temperature station at ttc was 1700 steps, ( almost 3/4 mile) then its walking to the monorail and into the park b4 your “FUN” begins. We havent been in a couple weeks, we are locals, and we always went 2-3 times a week….The wait at the rides is getting to be very long too. So no trams, no parades except those little things, some stores and lots of rides not working, no fireworks and the long waits, I wouldnt pay to travel here right now.
At OKW now. Received a voicemail in our room today regarding bus issues. Basically it recommended that you drive to the parks, as “parking is complementary with your resort stay”. It also advised not arriving at the bus stop more than 45 minutes prior to park opening. I have always liked to drive to the parks when I have a car, with the exception being MK. 3/7 I went to MK, my husband dropped me off near the TTC. When I left the park just after closing, the wait for the bus was greater than 45 minutes. I wish I would have had my car, as I’m sure I would have been back to my room much earlier. 3/12 I took a bus from MK to Epcot at about 7:30pm, minimal wait for the bus, and no wait when I left Epcot 5 minutes after closing. Very minimal park time this week. I have visited the parks intermittently since early December, and while I don’t like the walk from the car to the entrance to the parks most trips, with the mostly low crowds it’s been manageable.
I wonder what others thoughts are about using the estimated arrival times from the app? You can only see buses from your current resort and only the bus that is next expected to arrive at the resort. We have had some success figuring out when a bus might arrive to the park we were leaving to get back to the resort. For example, we were leaving Animal Kingdom to get back to Grand Floridian at 4:50 and checking the app see the next bus is expected to arrive at GF 5:01, then arrive at AK 5:21. Assuming there are two buses between GF and AK, I guess that the second bus is on its way from GF. Worst case is that there is only the one bus that will arrive at 5:21. Checking the app again at 5:05, it now says next bus to arrive at GF 5:30, so that means the 5:01 bus has come and gone from GF and sure enough our bus arrives at AK around 5:10 and we get to GF 5:30.
That probably doesn’t work all of the time, but gave me something to do while waiting.