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Walt Disney World is the most magical place on earth. But it takes more than magic to get yourself around the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom parks. Here are tips on the various forms of transportation you can use to get to, from and around Disney World.
In any vacation, how to get to and from your destination is always a big consideration in planning. When you’re going to Disney World, getting around the property itself is worthy of your pre-trip attention. Disney World is roughly the size of San Francisco, so how you’re going to get around once you’re there is something best considered before you go.
If it’s your first trip to Disney, listen up: I’m talking to you. Not understanding the ins and outs of Disney transportation can turn what is supposed to be a fun and magical trip into a frustrating one…but don’t worry! That’s why you have me. I’m giving you the ins and outs of Disney transportation. If it gets you to, from, or around Disney and it moves, I’ve got the info.
Getting to and From Disney World
Whether to drive or fly is always going to be one of your major vacation planning decisions. I recommend making this decision as soon as possible after you’ve decided you’re going to Disney World. After all, this decision will impact how you plan the rest of your Disney transportation and your trip. Not to mention your budget.
Lots of things are going to factor in to whether you drive or fly to Disney World: where you’re starting from, how many people are in your family, and how much time you have. Then there’s the all-important question, how much you’re willing to pay?
We live in San Antonio, Texas, and we always fly to Orlando. My husband has limited vacation days and the two full days of driving (each way) is the main reason we fly. Plus, the idea of two full days of driving on either end of a very busy vacation is not my idea of fun. Disney is magical, but I generally don’t find it to be restful.
It’s historically been pretty easy to find direct, reasonably priced flights on Southwest Airlines from San Antonio to Orlando, so that’s always been our choice. Someday if we have more time to enjoy the journey, we may consider driving.
Flying to Disney World
Orlando International Airport
If you decide to fly, you’ll most likely fly into Orlando International Airport, airport code MCO. Flying into Orlando will definitely get you pumped up for that Disney vacation. There’s a Disney Store in the terminal and lots of Disney signs, so you get that early dose of “Mickey” as soon as you get off the plane. It’s really fun for kids. (Not to mention a woman in her fifties. Ahem.)
I think MCO is a pretty easy airport to navigate. You have to take a tram from the terminal to the baggage claim area. Then you’ll take the elevator or escalator down to level one to catch Disney’s Magical Express. (More on that in a minute.)
I’ve been through MCO so many times I could probably make my way from the plane to the bus with my eyes closed. But the signs are easy to follow and the airport definitely caters to Disney visitors.
Orlando Sanford Airport and Others
You can also fly into Orlando Sanford Airport. This is a smaller airport, used mostly by charter flights and TUI, an international carrier. However, Allegiant does fly into Orlando Sanford from select cities and their prices are fairly low.
TravelingMom Tip: The Magical Express doesn’t go to Sanford and taxis are reported to be limited. One of our TravelingMoms reported rental car rates were higher at Sanford versus MCO, so do your homework before signing up for that “really good deal.”
If you are willing to rent a car and find a really great price on airfare into Tampa or Daytona beach, both of those airports are less than 100 miles from Orlando. Personally, the savings in airfare would have to be pretty significant to make the drive worth it for me. But if you’re planning Florida travel outside of Disney World, this might be an option.
Driving to Disney World
Obviously the specifics of your Disney road trip are going to be entirely driven (see what I did there?) on your starting point. Things to take into consideration are how many stops you’ll need to make and the cost of lodging for your overnight stops, the cost of parking at your hotel, and how tired everyone will be when you arrive.
Tally up the cost of hotels along the way, gas, meals, and how much it will cost to park your car at your hotel. The days of free parking at hotels are just about over, I’m sad to say. Disney Resort hotels charge between $13 – $33 per night for parking. The difference in price will match whether your resort hotel is considered to be value, moderate, or deluxe.
The partner hotels in the Disney Springs area charge approximately $20 per night to park. Please check before you book for the exact amount. Disney Vacation Club members staying in a Deluxe Villa using their DVC points are not charged a parking fee.
Size (of Your Family) Matters
If you have a larger family, driving is probably going to be cheaper, but our biggest reason for flying (besides the driving days eating into to our vacation time) is arriving tired. We’re looking at two full driving days just to get there. Unless we had a do-nothing pool day as our first Disney day, the road fatigue would impact my enjoyment of the parks. You know what they say…if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.
If you live a a few hours from Orlando, the decision to drive is probably a no-brainer. It all depends on where you start from.
Disney’s Magical Express – And Yes, This Disney Transportation Really is Magical
If you’re flying in to MCO and have a reservation at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, Disney provides complimentary transportation from the airport to your resort hotel. The Magical Express is located on the very bottom floor in Terminal B. There will be signs, but if you’re not sure if you’re going the right way, just ask someone where the “Disney buses” are.
If you’re an on-the-ball vacation planner and your flight gets in before 10 p.m., you got those magical yellow bag tags in the mail before your departure. This means that you can bypass the baggage claim entirely. Just let Disney get your bags and deliver them to your resort hotel. If you didn’t take advantage of this or if you’re arriving late, you’ll have to go to the baggage claim and take your bags on the bus.
The check-in process to get on the Magical Express is pretty simple, and always busy. If you’ve got your Magic Bands on, you can use those to scan in. Otherwise, you’ll need something confirming you’re staying in a WDW hotel on the day you’re using the Magical Express. Make sure you have this, because they will check.
Expect to wait about 30 minutes before your bus departs. Your drive time will be around one hour, depending on traffic and where you’re staying. There are TV screens on your bus that show what’s going on in the parks (just in case you aren’t already pumped) as well as Disney trivia and cartoon clips.
Off Property Options
If you’re not staying on the Disney property, you won’t be able to use the Magical Express. If you’re not renting a car, you can take a taxi, use a ride share service, or take a private shuttle. I highly recommend Mears. They’re a very established Orlando transportation company with the lowest rates I’ve been able to find. Make a reservation in advance, though!
Once You’re There, Understanding Disney World Transportation
If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World, I am so glad you’re reading this now because getting around takes some planning and patience – and sometimes, some money. With the exception of a few hotels, you can’t walk to the parks from your hotel. At least, you probably won’t want to. All other resorts are going to require you to use some form of transportation, so I’m breaking it down.
One of the carrots Disney will use to get you to book this magical vacation experience is the lure of free transportation around the Disney property. And, while the transportation is free (as well as safe and clean with friendly drivers) it can be crowded. You’ll need to factor in wait time. If you have the illusion you can just effortlessly breeze from one park to another, wake up. The reality is you might wait 30 minutes or more for a bus and be on the bus for 30 minutes or more to get from one park to the next. If you’re have dining or FastPass+ reservations, be forewarned. Plan on 90 minutes to get from one park to wherever you’re supposed to be in the next park.
If you’re staying in a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, you’ll have bus service to the parks (including the two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) and Disney Springs. During runDisney events, you’ll have free transport to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to attend the race expo and packet pickup. The bus stops will be located conveniently near your hotel lobby and should arrive every 20 minutes or so.
This works the same in reverse when you want to return home and for when you want to go from park to park. The bus bays outside each park are quite extensive; there will be signs to tell you where to line up. Each bus will also have a sign letting you know what park or resort it is going to. Make sure you are on the right bus!
The Dreaded End of Night Lines
The end of the night lines for buses are the worst. I don’t know why, but the buses going to the parks always seem to arrive on time. But the buses taking you home (or to another park) always seem to take forever. Or maybe that’s just me.
If you want to watch the fireworks and milk every ounce of Disney joy out of your day, that’s wonderful. Just know there will be lots of other people who have the same plans. That end of the night wait when you’re tired and your kids are whining can be painful, especially if you’re not prepared for it.
Also know each bus can accommodate up to two mobility scooters. Scooters take up seat space, and guests with disabilities normally board before other guests, regardless of their place in line. This can impact your wait time. If you use a scooter or have mobility issues, you can check out this post from the Disney Parks.
The Monorail – The Most Iconic of All Disney Transport
The Monorail is an above-ground train offering transportation to and from select resort hotels and to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. One of the things I hear most often from people who are planning their first trip to Disney World is that they want to stay at one of the Monorail Resorts (Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort). But you’re going to have to get on a bus or in a car to get to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom or Disney Springs anyway, so I wouldn’t let being near the Monorail completely drive your decision on where to stay. Although I do think it is pretty darn cool that the Monorail runs directly through the Contemporary. I think everyone should stay there at least once.
The Monorail has three lines: The Magic Kingdom Line, the Epcot Line, and the Resort Line. The Resort Line runs around Bay Lake and stops at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and the Contemporary, as well as Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC.) The Epcot Line runs from the TTC to Epcot and back and the Express Line runs from the TTC to Magic Kingdom.
Take the Monorail, Even if You Don’t Need To
Even if you’re not staying in a Monorail Resort and don’t need to use this mode of transportation, I encourage you to do it, just for fun. My kids think of the Monorail as another ride. Plus, they’re air-conditioned and I can sit and relax. Wins all the way around. One of our favorite things to do is have breakfast at one of the resorts on the monorail line (so many options to choose from there) and then hop on the monorail to visit one of the parks. That’s a great way to start your Disney day.
If you’re staying off property and your hotel doesn’t offer transportation to the parks, one of the easiest things to do is to hop into an Uber or Lyft and go to the TTC. You have some options from the TTC. We recently stayed in an area hotel that did offer limited transportation to the park, but the departure and arrival hours of their shuttle didn’t mesh with our plans. Ubering to the TTC and taking the monorail or ferry from there worked great.
Disney Water Transportation
There are several boat transportation options at Disney World, depending on where you are and where you’re headed. If you’re trying to get to The Magic Kingdom from the TTC, there’s another option besides the Monorail – the ferry. While the Monorail is a faster option, there’s just something fun about getting to the park by water. Again, your kids may count this as a ride. If they do, absolutely don’t argue with them.
There are other boats that run to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios from various points around the property. I’ve heard them referred to as both water taxis and friendship boats.
You can access Epcot and Hollywood Studios by boat from the BoardWalk resorts, including Swan and Dolphin. You can access Magic Kingdom from the Grand Floridian and the Villas at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and the Boulder Ridge Villas at, and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
If you want to visit Disney Springs by water, you can catch a boat from Port Orleans (both French Quarter and Riverside). You can also take it from Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort.
Taking the water taxis to or from a resort is a great way to explore the resorts, even if you’re not staying there. They all have their own special charm and great places to eat or have a drink…or to just look for hidden Mickeys in the lobbies. The deluxe level resorts especially have so much theming going on and back stories behind the decor. They are super fun places to check out.
The newest mode of Disney transportation is the much-anticipated Skyliner. Designed to give guests easy access to BoardWalk, the Skyliner serves as a mode of transportation between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Skyliner will also stop at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s BoardWalk Inn.
Perhaps more importantly, Skyliner serves guests staying at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Pop Century Resort, Caribbean Beach Resort, and the soon-to-open Disney’s Riviera Resort. This gives guests staying in the value resorts (Pop Century and Art of Animation) another option besides the crowded buses.
Minnie Vans, Lyft and Uber
If you’re a fan of ride sharing, you can use both Lyft and Uber at Disney World. It sort of defeats the purpose of the free transportation, but if there are times when you don’t feel like waiting in line for the buses, know that this is an option.
The Minnie Vans are operated by Lyft. When you open your Lyft app from anywhere on the Walt Disney World property, you should see the option to select a Minnie Van. If you don’t, ask a Disney Cast Member for help.
Minnie Vans are Chevy Traverses operated by Disney Cast Members. They also carry two car seats and the driver/Cast Member is trained in how to install them. The Minnie Vans can also go to places a regular Lyft or Uber can’t go. There’s a designated ride share drop off location at each of the parks and it’s a bit of a hike from the entrance. If you use a Minnie Van, you’ll be dropped off or picked up in the same general area the buses drop off, which means less steps. Minnie Vans are a $25 flat rate per trip, which is more expensive than regular Lyft. But maybe that level of cute is worth the price. You have to try it at least once – it’s very Instagrammable.
We’ve used Minnie Vans and have had an awesome experience each time. We usually opt to use regular Lyft, though, because of the cheaper price. We did have one negative experience. A Lyft driver dropped us off a 10-minute walk from where we needed to be because “that was where the app told her to go.” If you use a Minnie Van, your driver will be familiar enough with all the Disney things for that not to happen.
One of our best Disney transportation hacks is to take the Monorail to the nearest resort at the end of a long night at Magic Kingdom. Then call an Uber or Lyft from there. That way, we don’t wait in a long bus line or hoof it to the ride share pickup point. Yes, we’re paying for something when there’s free transportation. But when you’ve been Disneying it up all day long, waiting for the bus isn’t appealing.
Taxis are also an option. I’ve never taken a taxi at Disney World but I see them parked outside the parks all the time.
Driving yourself to the parks
If you drive your car or use a rental, you can drive yourself to the parks each day. The pros are controlling your arrival and departure and not having to be at the mercy of a schedule.
The cons are dealing with the busy Orlando traffic and the cost. If you’re staying at any of the Walt Disney World Resorts, you can park at any of the parks for free. However, if you’re staying off property, you’ll pay a $25 per day parking fee (valid for the day if you travel between the four parks). You can pay a higher rate for preferred parking. It gets you into a lot closer to the entrance, but costs almost twice as much.
If you’re staying at one of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels, not a big deal. But if you’re staying somewhere else, you’re paying to park at the theme parks as well as at your hotel. This adds up over a five day stay, which is about the average.
The Most Important Thing to Know about Disney Transportation?
You have options. Learn what they are before you go. I know a lot of people don’t like to over-plan on vacation. But Disney is one vacation where you need to get over that mindset. If you plan to do two parks in one day, know ahead of time how to get from point A to point B. Or at least know what your options are.
Bottom line, if you use the free Disney transportation, bring your patience and allow yourself plenty of time to get from one place to another. Make sure you download Uber and Lyft apps on your phone, even if you think you won’t use them. That end of the night bus line might convince you that $25 Minnie Van ride is worth the splurge.