Walt Disney World is a massive resort, encompassing four theme parks, two water parks and dozens of hotels. When Walt Disney first decided to begin construction on a second theme park destination, he praised Florida for its “blessing of size”, which is something he didn’t have at Disneyland. While all of this space is wonderful, it makes getting to and from any individual place on property quite challenging. We’re going to discuss all things related to transportation here.
Your transportation issues begin immediately if you are flying, as you need to get from the airport to wherever you are staying. This problem isn’t unique to Walt Disney World, of course. But until this year, Disney had its own unique solution to this problem – Disney’s Magical Express. If you were staying on property, this would take you directly from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to your hotel. This was a “free” service, in that it was a perk included with your resort stay. In fact, up until the Covid-related closure, you didn’t even need to claim your bags – you would tag them with special Magical Express tags, go immediately to the waiting area and go, while your bags would travel separately and arrive in your room later. That was certainly magical!
Unfortunately, this particular perk with the bags was discontinued, and as of 12/31/21, the Magical Express as a whole is now also being ended. One of the benefits of this service was that it put you inside the “Disney bubble” immediately and was like the start to your vacation. This is no longer the case. The company that was contracted to run the Magical Express was Mears, and as their partnership with Disney no longer exists, Mears now offers their own direct service from MCO to your hotel, Mears Connect. This is no longer an included service, however, and comes with a price.
While I loved the Magical Express, it had its own drawbacks. One of those was that the wait times could be substantial. The last trip we took using this service, the line extended way down the concourse at MCO. Once we checked in and were prepared to board, we had JUST missed the bus to our resort and had to wait a long time for the next one. We were tired and quite hungry by the time we actually arrived – not as magical of an experience as we had envisioned. The other drawback, of course, is that this service was only offered if you were staying on Disney property. Now that it no longer exists, both on and off property guests have to find their own way from the airport.
My personal recommendation would be to use a ride sharing service like Uber or Lyft. We used them extensively on our last trip to Universal and WDW, and had a generally positive experience. In particular, the ride from the airport to our hotel could not have been easier. Many drivers circle the airport waiting for people to need a ride – our driver showed up two minutes after we had called him. We were at the hotel so early, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves! One thing to note – if you are a party of four or more, plus luggage, you’ll likely need a bigger car (Uber XL or Lyft XL) so keep that in mind while booking. While this is obviously not a free service, you’ll likely do better using a ride share than any shuttle or bus service.
Once you’re at your hotel, how do you get from there to the parks? Again, that depends on where you’re staying. If you’re off property, check to see if your hotel has shuttle service to the parks. They often do, as they want to be an attractive place to stay in the area. But the service might only run every so often so be sure to check ahead of time. You can also utilize ride sharing here again, but if you’re doing it every day for a week, that can add up. You can also always rent a car, though you’re then subject to parking fees.
If you’re on property, your choices are more robust and often more fun. First things first – transportation between Disney resort hotels, theme parks and Disney Springs is free for everyone. And I don’t even mean “free” in quotes like I usually do – literally anyone can use these services. Of course, it’s much more convenient to be staying on property to take advantage of these, but if you can get to the Transportation and Ticket Center, for example, you can spend the entire day riding the monorail and it wouldn’t cost a dime. They will never ask to see your park ticket or resort reservation before letting you on Disney transportation.
So what are the options for on property guests? There are basically four different modes of transportation – bus, monorail, boat and Skyliner (gondola). Let’s take a look at each of these.
The bus is the most basic way of getting around Walt Disney World property. Every resort hotel offers this service to all of the four theme parks as well as Disney Springs. There are no direct resort to resort buses; you can always take a bus to a park, then transfer there to a different resort bus, but that can eat up a lot of time. Often ride sharing services are your best bet there. But if you’re going to the parks (as most of us are if we’re staying on property), the bus is a convenient way to do it.
Buses come regularly, particularly in the mornings and at park closings. Some hotels are so large, they have multiple bus stops. A good trick here is to find out which stop the bus hits first, and make your way over to that one in the morning. That will save you from squeezing into a cramped bus, or being told there’s no more room and to have to wait for the next one. Often preferred rooms will be located near the main bus stop, so that’s often an upgrade worth getting if you’re using the bus a lot.
The monorail is the classic and iconic form of transportation at Walt Disney World. There are only three resorts that are “monorail resorts”, and they are the ones around the Seven Seas Lagoon near Magic Kingdom – Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. These are, of course, all deluxe resorts. The monorail also stops at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) near the Polynesian; in fact, if you are driving or being let out of a ride share, this is where you will go, not the front gates of the Magic Kingdom.
There are two monorail lines – one to Magic Kingdom and one to Epcot. The Magic Kingdom line is really two different lines in one – the resort monorail, which makes a loop around all of the resorts listed above as well as the TTC, and the express monorail, which runs directly from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom. The Epcot line only runs back and forth from the TTC to Epcot. If you are staying at the Polynesian, a good tip is to walk to the TTC rather than the Polynesian monorail station. Depending on where your room is located, this can actually be closer, and even if it’s not, it allows you to bypass the other resorts and just take a direct line to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. This can be a good time saver, especially if you’re trying to rope drop. Also of note – the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian are walkable to Magic Kingdom (technically the Polynesian is as well, but that one will be a MUCH longer walk). This is a convenient option that eliminates any of the hassle associated with the transportation system.
There are some resorts that offer boat service to the various parks as well as Disney Springs. You can get water taxi service to Magic Kingdom from the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, as well as Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. There’s also a ferryboat that goes between the TTC and Magic Kingdom (when you’re at the TTC, you will have the option of going towards the ferry or the monorail). There is also watercraft service to Epcot and Hollywood Studios from Disney’s Boardwalk Villas, Disney’s Beach Club Villas, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. And finally, there is watercraft service to Disney Springs from Disney’s Old Key West Resort, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, and Disney’s Port Orleans Resort (both Riverside and French Quarter).
One thing to note here – all of the resorts above are once again deluxe resorts (with the exception of the Swan and Dolphin, which are technically not Disney owned properties, but get the benefit of most on property perks). The Epcot area resorts listed above are also all walkable to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Much like the Magic Kingdom area hotels listed above, this can be a great time saver and put you on your own schedule without having to wait for transportation to arrive.
The Disney Skyliner (or gondola) system is the newest form of transportation on Disney property, debuting in 2019. The Skyliner connects Epcot and Hollywood Studios to some of the area resorts – Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (considered the hub of this system), Disney’s POP Century Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. The gondolas are constantly in motion, meaning the lines to get on move continually, rather than waiting for a vehicle to arrive and let on a large group at once. The Caribbean is the main station here, and the most transfers will happen here (for example, you can’t go directly between Epcot and Hollywood Studios without changing gondolas).
The most notable aspect of the Skyliner is that, besides the Riviera, the resorts that it services are NOT deluxe resorts! This marks the first time a value or moderate resort is serviced by a transportation option that’s not a bus. The Caribbean in particular was always a nice resort for its price and location, which becomes even more valuable given its Skyliner access.
There are plenty of transportation options to get around Walt Disney World. This can be confusing but hopefully this broke down how and where to use them. If you have any other questions related to this, please drop me a line!