Every day at the Disney World Resort, there are large numbers of guests who are visiting for the very first time. Even the most avid Disney fanatic knows that there is always something new to learn about the parks, the resorts, or the way that Disney operates. And many of us can remember our first visit and how confusing some things were and how awkward we felt in trying to navigate our way through them. This applies in particular to navigating our way when getting around the Disney Resort. Disney believes that “Getting There is Part of the Fun” and they do their best to make sure you agree. Here are some of the basic things you should know about traveling in and around the Disney Resort:
1. Disney’s Magical Express is… Magical
Anyone who plans to travel by air to Disney World should know about Disney’s Magical Express, Disney’s complimentary bus transportation from Orlando International Airport to the Disney Resort. It is a convenient, hassle-free way to start your vacation. Approximately two to three weeks before your travel date, Disney will send you special tags for your luggage that allow you to step off the plane in Orlando and onto the Disney Magical Express bus without stopping at the baggage claim. Disney not only collects your bags, they deliver them directly to your resort room for you! You don’t even need to be in your room to receive them. It truly kicks off your vacation with a magical touch, because it eliminates two of the more irksome parts of your trip – dealing with your suitcases and getting from the airport to the resort.
One thing to remember is that your luggage can arrive up to three hours after you do, so be sure to carry anything with you that you’ll need right away – like those magic bands! International arrivals will have to clear customs but have the option of carrying their luggage to the Magical Express bus or returning it to the baggage carousel for Disney to pick up.
Also, you may not be aware that if you are starting your Florida vacation at Disney World but then traveling elsewhere in Florida, you can still use Disney’s Magical Express for the arrival portion of your trip. Likewise, if you are finishing your Florida vacation at Disney World, you can take the Magical Express to the airport for your departure.
2. Non-Magical Express is… Less Magical
If you are flying into an airport other than Orlando International Airport, your travel to Disney World may be somewhat less magical. And there are a few things you should know about. The next closest airport to Disney World is Sanford International which is approximately one hour way from the resort but serves discount airlines that provide more economical travel from a number of U.S. cities, as well as the U.K. and Canada. However, you then have to arrange transportation to the Disney Resort. Some people are starting to try ride-sharing apps, but the two most common ways to travel would be by shuttle/taxi or by car rental. A fare estimator for the trip from Sanford International Airport put the cost of a shuttle at over $120 one-way, so rental cars appear to be the most cost-effective option. Just be aware that while you can do a one-way rental to Disney World with some car rental companies, you will pay a high premium for the privilege of dropping your vehicle there. It is usually far more cost effective to do a round-trip car rental from the airport.
3. DIY Travel
If you are going to be driving to Disney World, bear in mind that there is a $20 per day charge to park at Disney’s theme parks, and more for larger vehicles like campers, RVs, or buses. However, Disney’s resort guests get complimentary parking at their resort as well as at all of the theme parks, so factor that in when comparing the cost of staying off property versus staying at a Disney resort hotel. You only have to pay once per day, so hold on to that parking pass if you have park hopper tickets to get into another park.
And while Disney offers transportation from their resorts to all of the theme parks, bear in mind that it can sometimes be quicker to take your car or rental vehicle instead of riding one of their buses or other forms of transportation. It depends on where your resort is and which theme park you are visiting. The exception is the Magic Kingdom, where driving your own vehicle will leave you a tram ride and a monorail or ferry trip short of the park, so Disney transportation is best. And finally, always be sure to take a quick picture of the row you parked on with your phone so you can easily find your way back at the end of the day!
4. Hop on the Bus, Gus
Disney provides easy and convenient transportation from the resort hotels to the theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs, and the most common form of travel is the Disney Bus. The buses officially run from 45 minutes prior to theme park opening until one hour after the park closes, though you will frequently find that they begin operating a little earlier and stay open later. All you have to do is wait at one of your resort’s bus stops, and hop onto the bus that is going to your destination. Some of the resorts have multiple bus stops while others have only one central bus stop. Bear in mind that during the busiest parts of the day, there can be a long line of guests waiting for the bus, so plan accordingly. And if you are staying at one of the monorail resorts – the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian resorts – bus service is not offered to the Magic Kingdom. Likewise, there is no bus service from Fort Wilderness Campground to the Magic Kingdom so a boat is your best option.
5. Highway in the Sky
If there is one mode of transportation that is most associated with Disney World, it’s the iconic monorail. There are three round-trip monorail lines serving guests of the Disney Resort. The Express monorail runs between the Magic Kingdom and the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), where the main parking lot is located. The Resort monorail serves the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian resorts and stops at the Magic Kingdom and the TTC as well. The Epcot line runs from the TTC to Epcot. The time that the monorails begin operations varies according to the hours that the theme parks are open. Disney lists the official hours of operation for the monorails as starting 30 minutes prior to the earliest theme park opening time and ending one hour after the latest theme park closing time. In practice however, you’ll find that the Resort monorails open even earlier, often by 7 AM. And the Express monorail will continue operating as long as there are guests in the Magic Kingdom, sometimes an hour and a half or even two hours after the official closing time. Even if you don’t need to ride the monorail at some point during your vacation, you owe it to yourself to ride this classic attraction at least once around the Seven Seas Lagoon. And remember, “Please stand clear of the doors”.
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6. Don’t Forget the Boats
There are some guests who aren’t aware that Disney has offered transportation by boat ever since the Magic Kingdom’s opening day. While the monorail gets most of the attention, the boats offer a way to travel that is often more relaxing and leisurely than anything else offered by Disney. And sometimes, they’re even faster than other modes of transportation. Disney provides ferry boats that travel from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom to serve guests who arrive in the main parking lot. They begin operating 30 minutes prior to park opening and finish their day an hour and a half after park closing. There are also cruisers and launches that serve the Magic Kingdom resort area, providing transportation to the park. Guests staying at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resorts, BoardWalk resorts, or the Swan & Dolphin hotels have the option of traveling by boat to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And guests who stay at either of the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West Resort, or Saratoga Springs have the option of taking a boat to Disney Springs. Hours can vary according to park opening and closing times, as well as the weather.
7. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
If you want to make it to the theme parks in time for rope drop, you need to plan ahead and start out early. Since there can often be significant wait times for Disney transportation, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time as a buffer. For dining reservations, Disney will generally suggest starting out an hour ahead of time. But even this might not be enough time depending on your plans. Guests attending the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground would do well to give themselves closer to an hour and a half, unless they are already in the Magic Kingdom resort area. The reason is that it takes multiple forms of transportation to get there. After spending the money required for this dinner show, the last thing you want to do is miss any of it. It is always far more preferable to have to wait a few minutes for your reservation after you arrive at the restaurant than to be late and possibly miss it.
These are just a few basic hints for making the best of Disney’s transportation system. What is your best transportation advice for other first-time Disney guests?
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