Getting Around Walt Disney Worldby Steve Russo, staff writer
Here’s a quiz:
You’ve just ridden a train into New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. You need to make your way to an address on the Upper East Side—Lexington Avenue and 93rd Street to be precise. Here are your options:
- Take the 1 train to 86th Street, hop on the 86th Street Cross-town bus, exit at Lexington Avenue and walk 7 blocks to your destination;
- Walk out of Penn Station and hop on the 34th Street Cross-town bus to Lexington Avenue, get on the 6 train, take it to 96th Street, walk down three blocks to your destination;
- From Penn Station, walk to the blue A, C, E line, hop on the E train and get off at 51st Street, transfer to the 6 train and get off at 96th Street, walk three blocks to your destination;
- Take a taxi from Penn Station to your destination.
It’s so nice to have options, isn’t it? Which did you choose? Which is correct? The answer, as it is for so many questions about travel, is “it depends." Is it rush hour? Is it raining or a particularly hot or cold day? Are you nursing a bad ankle?
I should note here that someone who lives or works in Manhattan could probably add a few other options to that list. My point here is that the “best” method of getting to a destination may vary based upon circumstances. What does this have to do with Walt Disney World? Everything.
I know that many of you either drive to Walt Disney World or are die-hard advocates of the rental vehicle. You wouldn’t be caught dead taking Disney transportation to a park, resort or Downtown Disney and trust me…I understand. I would offer you, as a group, one piece of advice: it’s still easier to bus from your resort to the Magic Kingdom. I know you’d like the control of having your own car, but the best you’ll do is park at the Transportation and Ticket Center and then take a ferry or monorail to the park. A bus from your resort will drop you off at the park entrance—much more convenient, in my opinion.
Let’s get back to the issue of using Disney’s transportation to navigate around Walt Disney World. Disney World is similar to the island of Manhattan in size and it can present similar travel scenarios. The above quiz was based on our real world experience in the couple of years our daughter lived in New York. Here’s another real world quiz for you: I once was staying at the Boardwalk Villas and had dinner reservations at Boma, a restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. During this particular trip I did have a rental car so our transportation alternatives included:
- Drive the rental car;
- Bus from the Boardwalk to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and switch to a bus that would take us to the Animal Kingdom Lodge;
- Walk to Epcot via the International Gateway, then walk through Epcot, exiting at the front of the park and catch a bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge;
- Walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and catch a bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge;
- Bus from the Boardwalk to Downtown Disney and switch to a bus that would take us to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Which would you choose? I ruled out the rental car (#1) because I planned to have cocktails before and with dinner. I also ruled out the bus to Downtown Disney (#5) because these buses seem to be on a schedule less frequent than all others (I can’t prove this scientifically but I’ll bet you a Mickey Premium bar it’s true.) We ended up walking to the Studios (#4) essentially because we felt like walking. There is very little difference between the walk through Epcot (#3) and to the Studios (#4). You could just toss a coin.
On a previous visit, we made this same trip by taking the bus to Animal Kingdom (#2) and I truly believe this is the best, most efficient option. Why didn’t we use it this time? The Animal Kingdom had closed at 5:00 PM this day and our dinner reservation was for 7:30 PM. I didn’t think the buses to the Animal Kingdom would still be running. You should also note that in most official Disney literature, they would advocate using option #5. They seem to view Downtown Disney as the ideal transfer point between buses to and from different resorts. That may be because it’s open consistently later than the parks and should be available for longer periods each day. In my experience, transferring at Downtown Disney should only be your primary option when it’s so late that the parks are near closing or have already closed.
When you check into a Disney resort, one of the items in your information packet will have a breakdown of suggested travel between two locations. While it’s helpful, it’s not always right, and at times does not represent the most efficient means. I once checked the Disney transportation guide for the best means of traveling from the Boardwalk to the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, held in Pioneer Hall in Fort Wilderness. The guide said to bus to Downtown Disney (again, the accepted transfer point), transfer to a bus to the Transportation and Ticket Center, then to a bus for transportation to Fort Wilderness. Using our own ingenuity, we rode a bus to the Magic Kingdom and switched to a boat to Fort Wilderness that dropped us at a dock very close to Pioneer Hall. The total elapsed time was 30 minutes—but we did have a very short wait for the bus and the boat was essentially waiting for us at the Magic Kingdom dock.
Similar to a native New Yorker making his way around Manhattan, nothing will replace experience in navigating your way around Walt Disney World. You will always have options and alternatives, and to be perfectly honest, I consider navigating the World to be part of the fun (your mileage may vary.) If you’ve visited Walt Disney World multiple times, you may know the transportation systems like the back of your hand. If you’re a relative newbie, it can be overwhelming. Consider your options:
Most locations at Walt Disney World are accessible by bus although you may need to transfer from one bus to another to reach certain destimations.
I have no way to substantiate this but I once heard that, based on the sheer numbers of watercraft, Walt Disney World has the third largest navy in the world. In any event, there are many boats.
The Magic Kingdom is accessible by water taxis from the three monorail resorts (the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian) as well as from the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.
Ferryboats are available to and from the Magic Kingdom theme park and the Transportation and Ticket Center.
Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios are serviced by a fleet of Friendship boats. The boats travel between these two parks and service the Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan and Dolphin.
The Downtown Disney area is accessible by ferryboat from the Port Orleans resorts (French Quarter and Riverside), Old Key West and Saratoga Springs.
I could argue that the Monorail is as much an attraction as a means of transportation. For me, no trip is complete without at least one spin on the Monorail, preferably a trip into Epcot after dark. The Walt Disney World Monorail System has three separate loops through the Resort:
- The Resort Monorail connects the Magic Kingdom park with the three monorail resorts (the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian) and the Transportation and Ticket Center;
- The Express Monorail runs essentially the same loop, but on a different beam. It connects the Magic Kingdom with the Transportation and Ticket Center but makes no resort stops;
- The third loop offers round-trip service to Epcot from the Transportation and Ticket Center.
So what does all this mean? When you need to get somewhere at Walt Disney World, you will often have several options available to you. Determining the best alternative, unfortunately, requires a level of experience with the Resort and the different transportation systems. That’s what I refer to as my Disney “street cred." If you simply rely on Disney’s Transportation Guide you will likely be routed for convenience—theirs, not yours.
To illustrate, let’s try another scenario. Let’s assume you’re at your resort—in this case we’ll use All Star Movies—and you need to get to the Polynesian for a dinner reservation at ‘Ohana. How would you do it?
A look at the Disney-supplied Transportation Guide would tell us to:
- Board a bus marked Downtown Disney;
- At Pleasure Island, exit and board a bus to the Transportation and Ticket Center;
- Board the Monorail and exit at the Polynesian.
Whew! As an alternative, the Guide offers boarding a bus at Pleasure Island directly to the resort, in this case the Polynesian.
How would I handle this issue? A taxi from the All Star Movies would be the easiest and most direct means of travel but let’s assume we’d like to do this without additional cost. It would seem that a bus from All Stars to a theme park would be the way to begin. You could simply hop the first bus that came to your stop and then, from the theme park or Downtown Disney, transfer to a Polynesian bus. Personally, I’d opt for a bus to the Magic Kingdom then choose either a boat or the monorail to the Polynesian—making that decision on what looked to be the quickest method once I arrived. That’s not a clear winner but I like the flexibility of taking the boat or Monorail, and from experience, recognize that the Monorail is probably the fastest way to get there. Let’s also not lose sight that you might want to take the Monorail (or the boat) just because it’s fun.
If you’re a Disney World veteran, you probably haven’t learned anything new reading this column, but hopefully you might have had some fun with some of the scenarios presented… or you might want to take issue with some of my claims. That’s fine, too.
If you’re less experienced, I hope this advice will help you better navigate your way around the World on your next trip. I’ll leave you with some advice; some words of wisdom regarding Disney World’s transportation options:
- DON’T ask a cast member for guidance. I believe too many of them rarely use Disney transportation and I’ve been steered wrong on more than a few occasions;
- DON’T trust Disney literature or Transportation Guides. While they may work, they won’t offer the most efficient means. For example, they won’t take weather or time of day into consideration;
- DO ask bus drivers for advice. They all drive multiple routes and are familiar with the roadways, theme parks and resorts. They can also be enlightening on special circumstances involving weather, park closings, etc.
Those are a few more opinions, so have at them…and, as always, thanks for reading.