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Sue Holland

Traveling Within Walt Disney World

Transportation Options Around the Resort

Friday, August 8, 2003
Text and photos by Sue Holland, staff writer

A visit to Walt Disney World (WDW) requires the use of some form of transportation to travel among the various destinations within the resort.

Bringing your own vehicle (either personal or rental) is generally the most convenient, but it may not be the practical thing to do for every family. A multi-day drive at the beginning and end of your vacation can be miserable, yet the cost of a rental car could seem like a waste of money if the vacation budget is already pretty tight. Some people argue that Disney transportation is included in the cost of your park passes and Disney resort rooms, and it would be silly to not make use of the amenity you are paying for!

This article will not discuss whether anyone should or should not use Disney transportation, but will present the different methods of transportation available. When checking in, a WDW Transportation Guide Map will be one of the many documents presented. Most of the time the information in this guide will provide for the most efficient transportation, except when traveling from one resort to another.

Disney buses

The most common form of transportation is the fleet of Disney buses. Generally buses reach each stop every 20 minutes, or more frequently depending on the time of day. There are more than 260 buses in the Disney fleet, and during the past few years they have started switching to a new style.


The exterior of an older Disney bus.

The new buses accommodate more passengers, but the drawback is fewer seats. Standing passengers take up less space than seated passengers do and, during a good portion of the day, the buses are not at standing-room-only capacity. Here you can see the difference in the two styles.


The interior of an older Disney bus.

By now, most of the older buses that cannot accommodate wheelchairs have been retired. On those buses the driver had to operate a lift from the back stairs. The passenger would position his wheelchair on the lift, and be lifted up onto the bus, where the driver would strap the person and the wheelchair into one of two designated spots. When someone in a wheelchair is not on the bus, that spot has a fold-down seat for three ambulatory passengers.

The new buses are a big improvement for people who use wheelchairs. In my fairly limited experience with a friend who uses a wheelchair we had a fairly high number of occasions where the lift did not operate at all, or malfunctioned. When this happens, the person in the wheelchair cannot get on the bus unless he can get up and walk up the steps! Another bus will be coming along, but it can be 20 or 30 minutes away.


The exterior of a new Disney bus.

The new buses eliminate the need for the lift. These buses lean toward the curb and a ramp extends to allow the wheelchair user to roll right onto the bus. Once there, the driver secures the necessary seatbelts on the person and the wheelchair. Each bus can accommodate two passengers in wheelchairs.


The interior of a new Disney bus.

Seat belts and special seating for babies or children are not required and not provided. The seats are hard, but comfortable enough for the short trips made on Disney property. Holding a small child on your lap not only can keep the child from sliding into the back of the seat in front of them during any sudden stops, it also provides more available seating for someone who might otherwise have to stand.

The seats at the very front are designated for seniors or anyone who requires special assistance, but what I've seen is more of a “first come, first served” situation. However, once in a while someone sitting there will get up and move back when someone boards who appears to need that seat.

The bus drivers are not permitted to stop to board or discharge passengers except in the designated bus stops. So, if you try to wave a driver down and he does not stop, please don't complain that he was rude. This rule is for the safety of the cast members and especially the guests. Some drivers talk while driving — giving information on park hours and events, telling jokes or even getting the passengers to sing a song. Finding one of those drivers at the wheel makes for a much more enjoyable ride.

For whatever reason, the buses have a big appeal to toddlers and preschool-age children. When my son was 2 years old, he enjoyed riding the Disney buses as much as any attraction in the theme parks, and I have seen many others report the same thing. I would imagine they are especially appealing to tots who have never experienced buses before, but who knows? Many people view the buses as the least favorite way to travel within WDW, but for toddlers they might be the highlight of the trip (along with the resort swimming pool).


Monorail passing through Epcot.

Monorails

The most unique method of transportation is Disney's monorail system. There are three separate loops, with two going to the Magic Kingdom and one to Epcot. Two of the loops are side by side, with the monorails operating in opposite directions. One stops only at the Magic Kingdom and Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC), while the other stops there and at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary resorts. The third loop travels between the TTC and Epcot, and makes a loop through the Future World portion of Epcot before stopping to allow passengers to disembark.

The different monorail trains are identified by the color of the strip along the side of the vehicle, and each can travel both forward and in reverse. The speed of each train is monitored along the track, and if the driver ignores the warning beep or a malfunction lets the train go too fast it can be shut down for safety reasons.

Up to four passengers at a time can ride up front with the driver, which is a pretty cool experience. If you want to do this, simply ask the cast member working at the station as soon as you arrive. If there are people already waiting for this privilege, you can ask to wait for a subsequent monorail. As with the buses, they arrive every 20 minutes.


Ferry transports visitors to the Magic Kingdom from the Ticket & Transportation Center.

Ferryboats

Since 1971, a group of large ferryboats has transported visitors from the main parking lot at the TTC to the dock at the Magic Kingdom. These boats hold many more people than a bus or monorail, and are a good choice when the line for the monorail is backed up. The standing-only trip takes just five minutes. Families with strollers are able to simply wheel the child right onto the ferry, which is especially nice at the end of the day when the rider might be sleeping. These boats do not turn around, but since both ends have ramps, passengers board at one end and exit from the other.


One of several “Friend”ships. Photo by Alex Stroup

“Friend”ships

Visitors staying at the Epcot resorts have the option of using air-conditioned “Friend”ships to travel from their resorts to Epcot and the MGM Studios. These boats can be frustratingly slow, and it is generally faster to walk, but riding can be more restful on tired feet. Strollers can be wheeled onto these boats, as well. A limited number of seats are available outdoors in the rear of the boat, while the majority of the seats are indoors.

During cooler weather the windows may be open, but during hot weather they are closed and the air conditioning provides welcome relief!Epcot also uses “Friend”ships to transport guests among the various countries in World Showcase, and a variation on these boats takes people from the Fort Wilderness Campground and Wilderness Lodge to the Magic Kingdom.


Smaller boat in use at Magic Kingdom resorts.

Smaller boats

Smaller boats are used to travel among the Magic Kingdom resorts. These are open air, and feel more like a ride in a pleasure boat compared to the larger vessels. It can be chilly during cold weather, but on a nice day the view and breeze can be delightful. These boats take people from the Polynesian and Grand Floridian to the Magic Kingdom, and provide a means to travel from the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness to the Contemporary Resort.

Three of the Downtown Disney area resorts have their own limited boat transportation. The Sassagoula Express transports guests from either Port Orleans French Quarter or Port Orleans Riverside to the Marketplace dock in Downtown Disney. During the late afternoon and evening another of these boats takes visitors between the Marketplace and the Downtown Disney West Side.


Transportation within Downtown Disney and to the Port Orleans resorts.

Structurally, these boats are large pontoon-style vessels. Two rows of wooden benches line either side, and a section is set aside for people traveling in wheelchairs. They might not be the most comfortable boats, but the ride is scenic and only lasts approximately 15 minutes. It can be frustratingly difficult in the early evening to ride from Port Orleans French Quarter to Downtown Disney, because the boats tend to fill up at Port Orleans Riverside first. Eventually, Disney dispatches a boat to start at French Quarter, but only after people have been left standing at the dock.


Comfortable pontoon boats travel from Old Key West to Downtown Disney.

The most comfortable method of transportation is the Trumbo Ferry — a cushioned pontoon boat ride from Old Key West to the Marketplace in Downtown Disney. A welcome relief from crowded buses, each boat carries not more than 12 guests at a time. Children are required to wear life jackets, and everyone enjoys a scenic cruise down the Trumbo Canal, past the Treehouse Villas and into Downtown Disney. Hours are somewhat limited, and the ferry does not operate in inclement weather.

Traveling from one resort to another

I mentioned earlier that the official Disney Transportation Guide Map was not necessarily efficient when recommending travel methods between two resorts. The guide recommends taking a bus from your starting resort to Downtown Disney and then transferring to another bus to your ending resort.

While this will get you where you're going, it may cost you a lot of extra time. It is more expeditious to take some form of transportation from your starting resort to an open theme park near your starting or ending point. Once there, transfer to the most logical method of transportation to your final destination.

For example, suppose you were staying at one of the All-Star resorts and wanted to go to Coronado Springs. Coronado Springs is less than half way from the All-Stars to Downtown Disney, so transferring there results in a lot of wasted time on the road. Instead, take the All-Star bus to MGM Studios or Epcot, and then hop on the Coronado Springs bus from that park. It should get you there much faster than going through Downtown Disney.

Getting to the Magic Kingdom

There is one situation where Disney transportation is more efficient than driving your own car, and that is when going to the Magic Kingdom. If you drive, you will have to park at the TTC and wait in line for the monorail or ferry with the thousands of off-site visitors arriving each day. Using Disney transportation you will be dropped off right at the park, near the turnstiles.

Whatever your plans may be while in WDW, take advantage of the available transportation options that meet your needs. You just might surprise yourself and find traveling within WDW to be one of the most enjoyable parts of your vacation experience!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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