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.
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
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
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
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
Monorail passing through Epcot.
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
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
One of several Friendships. Photo by Alex Stroup
Visitors staying at the Epcot resorts have the option of using air-conditioned
Friendships 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 Friendships 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
Smaller boat in use at Magic Kingdom resorts.
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
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
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
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
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!