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!