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Disney World has quite a few options when it comes to getting around the enormous property! However, navigating these waters can be a bit tricky. Thus, here is my ultimate guide to Walt Disney World transportation!
Magical Express (Being Discontinued on 1/1/22)
We’ll start with the Magical Express since it will be the first mode of transportation you encounter right at the Orlando International (MCO) airport! This complimentary motorcoach takes guests staying at a Disney resort to and from the airport. What is very nice about this service is that they will magically deliver your luggage straight to your resort room (domestic flights only). No need to carry it with you through the busy airport!
You must reserve a space on the Magical Express when you book your trip to Walt Disney World. To reserve this, tell your travel agent, add the option when booking through Disney online, or call Disney directly [(407) 939-1936 (US & Canada) or 0800 16 90 730 (UK)]. Once your transportation is reserved, you will receive luggage tags and further instructions 2-3 weeks prior to arrival. The custom luggage tags will need to be securely affixed to your suitcase and will be specific to your Disney resort. If your flight will arrive overnight (10:00PM to 5:00AM EST), you will need to retrieve your own luggage as luggage service is not available during these hours.
Upon arrival to MCO, follow signs to the Magical Express section of the airport. There you will check in and be escorted to the bus that will head to your Disney resort. Depending upon which resort you are staying at, you may need to share the ride with guests of other resorts. For instance, when staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, guests staying at Pop Century were also on board. Don’t worry, as it is very clear which stop will be yours!
Pro Tip: Pack all of your theme park necessities (don’t forget those MagicBands!) in a carry-on so you can head to the parks as soon as you arrive at your Disney resort.
Your resort will provide departure information the day before you leave. The time and place for your Tragical Depressed (I mean, Magical Express) ride will be specified. Disney will leave you with enough time to make it to the airport, pass through security screenings, and proceed to your gate.
If you are flying on one of the participating airlines, you will be able to check-in to your flight right at your Disney resort! You will receive your boarding pass and can check your luggage at the resort, thus bypassing airport check-in completely. Guests who reserve the Magical Express will automatically be signed-up for this service. Easy peasy!
Ferries/ Water Taxis
Now that we covered Disney-provided transportation to and from, let’s discuss how to get around The World once on property.
There are several bodies of water in Disney World that are used for guest transportation. Disney has a fleet of water taxis and ferries that set sail to and from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Disney Springs. They depart every 15-30 minutes. However, rider be warned because this mode of transportation can take a while as some routes are not direct. For instance, my husband and I decided to ride a water taxi from the Swan and Dolphin to Epcot for date night. Since we stopped at Beach Club and BoardWalk before Epcot, it took us 45 minutes when we could have walked it in 20! The Magic Kingdom ferries, on the other hand, are direct from the TTC. We’ve timed them during past trips and it is equivalent to riding the monorail (at least in our experience).
If you are traveling with kids, please note that strollers must be folded and stowed in designated areas on the water taxis (not the large Magic Kingdom ferries).
Here are the various boat launch locations on Disney World property:
Magic Kingdom Launches
- Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Polynesian Village Resort
- Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
- Wilderness Lodge
Large Ferryboats also connect Magic Kingdom to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC)
Epcot & Hollywood Studios Shared Launches
- BoardWalk Inn
- Beach Club Resort
- Yacht Club Resort
- Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel
- Port Orleans Resort- French Quarter
- Port Orleans Resort- Riverside
- Old Key West Resort
- Saratoga Spring Resort & Spa
Now on to everyone’s favorite mode of Walt Disney World transportation, the monorail! Otherwise known as the “highway in the sky”, Disney’s monorail system connects 2 theme parks with 3 of the Deluxe resorts. There are 3 monorail loops in total. They are:
Magic Kingdom Resort Loop
This path connects the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Village Resort, and Grand Floridian Resort & Spa with the Transportation & Ticket Center and Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom Express Loop
The Express Loop begins at the Transportation & Ticket Center and travels directly to the Magic Kingdom.
Like the Express Loop, the Epcot Loop begins at the Transportation & Ticket Centers and travels directly to Epcot.
Now, the monorail may seem like the best mode of transportation, but the fleet is on the older side and can experience difficulties that delay your travels. Rumor has it Disney is working on upgrading them to the latest and greatest, so stay tuned!
If you are traveling with kids, a perk of the monorail system is that you do not have to fold up the stroller when boarding. Simply wheel it on and enjoy the ride!
Of all the modes of Disney transportation, the buses have the worst reputation. There always seem to be delays, but when they are frequent and on time, they are an efficient means to your destination. The bus stops are now equipped with digital message boards that update estimated arrival times. They seem to be very accurate and can help you in your travels!
Buses begin operating from the Disney resorts 45 minutes prior to park opening and end 1 hour before park closing. Return service to the resorts ends 2 hours after park closing. The buses should arrive in 20 minute intervals (but this is not always the case, leading to understandable guest frustration).
If your destination is Disney Springs, buses run from the Disney resorts 45 minutes prior to it opening and continue until 1:00 AM EST. Return service from Disney Springs to the resorts ends at 2:00 AM. Buses begin operating between the Disney parks and Disney Springs at 4:00 PM and end 2 hours after park closing (around 11:00 PM).
Another thing you must consider is that your Disney resort may share the bus route with a neighboring resort. For instance, the 3 All-Star Value Resorts (Sports, Music, and Movies) sometimes share 1 bus line. Thus, wait times for the buses at these resorts can be long. Trust me, I know from experience! This will eat into your vacation time.
Navigating the bus system can be tricky, so I’m going to recommend you plan your route before going on vacation. This is especially important if you are trying to make a dining reservation time!
Final note, if you are traveling with a stroller, it must be folded and stowed away out of the bus aisles.
The Minnie Van fleet was introduced in the last couple of years and expanded rapidly since it is a reliable and convenient means of Disney transportation. However, this is the first mode of transportation that you must pay for! More on that later…
This personal ride service will whisk you anywhere on Disney World property (6:30-12:30 AM EST) as well as to and from the Orlando International airport (MCO). You request a Minnie Van directly through the Lyft app. You can even track your ride as it travels toward your location! Each van is equipped with 2 Graco 4Ever Convertible Car Seats. The Minnie Van drivers are all trained on how to use them and can install them rear or forward facing or as a booster, depending upon your child’s age. Accessible vehicles are also available. Just call (407) 828-3500 to request one.
The Minnie Vans are very convenient and the drivers are exceptional. I highly recommend using one to travel to and from Magic Kingdom, especially if you have younger kids in your family. If you have a dining reservation, this would be a great option to make sure you arrive on time. This service just makes the trip so much more enjoyable! They even play the theme park music in the car!
However, all of this convenience does come at a price! Disney will charge you an initial flat fee of $15 USD and then add a per distance charge on top of that. Thus, the farther your destination, the more you will pay. For example, a trip from The BoardWalk to Magic Kingdom was a little over $30 USD, not including tip. It is currently $150 USD to travel to or from the MCO airport.
Be sure to read the latest Sunday Snippet on the new enhancements coming to the Minnie Van service soon!
Pro Tip: Order the Minnie Van early! You can actually reserve a ride 45-60 minutes in advance! Due to popularity, we experienced major delays trying to reserve one to Magic Kingdom. We ended up forgoing the Minnie Van and using an alternate mode of transportation!
The Disney Skyliner service, opened Fall 2019 with a major hiccup just a week into operation. However, since investigating the incident and retraining Cast Members, this newest mode of transportation is proven easy and efficient!
This state-of-the-art aerial gondola system connects 4 of the Disney resorts with 2 of its theme parks. Art of Animation and Pop Century share a terminal that runs directly to Caribbean Beach Resort. Once there, guests can either transfer to travel to Hollywood Studios or continue on to the Riviera Resort (a new Disney Vacation Club resort that opened Dec 2019). The Riviera connects directly to the Epcot terminal. Here, you can access Epcot through the International Gateway or walk a short way to the BoardWalk area.
Disney advertises the Skyliner system as being a very convenient way to travel for guests staying at resorts on or near the gondola terminals. The cabs are absolutely adorable with the characters adorning the outside! One thing that I hesitate on is that each gondola cab is not equipped with air conditioning! Guests say the cabs are comfortable, however, the system has yet to operate during the peak summer season. We shall see what the general consensus is soon!
Here’s a great video:
Having a Car
If you drive to Disney World (like we do) or opt to rent a car, having a vehicle on Disney property can be a great way to get around. I’ve done this enough times to know the pros and cons, so here they are!
There are a few pros to having a car on property and I, personally, love it. They include:
- Saving time. No need to sit around and wait on those unreliable Disney buses. Just get in your car and go!
- Having your luggage with you. You won’t have to wait on the Magical Express’ luggage service.
- Ability to drive off property. You now have access to cheaper necessities or food options. This especially came in handy when we needed to see a doctor for antibiotics. You can also easily get to neighboring theme parks, such as Universal Studios.
- Personal travel time that is not shared with other guests. So if your toddler has an epic meltdown, at least it isn’t in front of a busload of people.
- Waived parking fees. Although there are parking fees (see below in “The Bad”), there are several instances where these fees are waived. If you are a Disney Vacation Club Member, then parking is complimentary when staying at a Deluxe Resort. Standard theme park parking is included for guests with an Annual Pass (another reason why I love it so much!) and waived for guests staying at a Disney Resort. Parking is complimentary for all water park, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and Disney Springs guests.
There are also a few negatives to having your own ride at Disney World:
- Disney parking fees. Disney charges guests to park their cars overnight at the resorts. This nightly fee depends upon the type of resort you’re staying at (view resort parking fees here). You may also need to pay for parking at the theme parks. This will run you $25 USD per day for standard car or motorcycle parking or $45-50 USD for preferred parking. Larger vehicles, such as an RV, will need to pay $30 per day.
- Paying for the car and/or gas. If you are renting a vehicle, you’ll have to pay for that. If you rent or bring your own, chances are you will need to fill-up!
- Having your luggage with you. You’ll have to carry those suitcases around.
- Orlando traffic and tolls. I feel like there is always traffic in Orlando and those pesky tolls do add up.
I, personally, find it is way easier to have your own car on property rather than relying completely on Disney World transportation. You just never know if an emergency will come up, like when we needed to see a doctor. Plus, vacation plans can change, so having a car means you will be prepared to get anywhere, anytime! Having that Annual Pass saves on some of those parking fees and I really don’t mind luging that luggage around. Hey, it’s great cardio! 😉
Parking at the Disney Theme Parks
There is 1 thing I want to discuss before moving on and that is parking at the Disney Parks themselves. Once you park, Disney does have courtesy tram services. These trams will bring you near the park entrance, if visiting Epcot, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom parking lot trams will bring you to the Transportation & Ticket Center, where you will then need to take a ferry, monorail, or bus (if available) to the main park entrance.
Tips & Tricks
Although traveling around property can be challenging, here are a few of my tips & tricks for Disney World transportation!
- LEAVE EARLY! I cannot emphasize this one enough. The last thing you want is to become stressed trying to get to your destination on time.
- Plan ahead. Sometimes the most efficient route may involve a combination of bus, monorail, and water taxi transportation! I recommend planning your routes before you even leave for vacation.
- Use multiple modes of transportation. Don’t rely just on the buses or monorail. Mix things up! For instance, we could not secure a Minnie Van to Magic Kingdom. Instead we walked through Epcot, rode the monorail to the Transportation & Ticket Center, then hopped on the ferry to get to Magic Kingdom!
- Be prepared for a delay. If you go into the vacation expecting transportation delays, then you will not be surprised or stressed out when they do happen. Instead, take the time to relax or connect with your family while you wait 🙂
That’s it folks! I hope my ultimate guide to Disney World transportation helps you navigate your vacation! If you need some additional advice for planning specific routes, comment below or contact me directly.