The first time my family depended solely on Walt Disney World transportation to get us to and around the resort didn't start out with much confidence. Before then, we had stayed off property and rented a car to get from place to place.
I am a notorious planner for our Disney trips. When we first stayed on property in February 2013, I had many concerns about letting go of control. Without a car, I worried how long it would take us to get from place to place and if we would feel trapped “within the resort walls.” It didn’t help that I had heard horror stories about irregular bus schedules, shut down monorails, long waits at the end of the day and buses filled like sardine cans.
Not exactly glowing endorsements.
That did not deter me from giving it a try, though.
Our experience taught us some valuable lessons about how to get around Walt Disney World effectively.
Lesson #1 – We learned we loved skipping the rental car counter in favor of climbing aboard Disney’s Magical Express. There is something about leaving the driving to Disney that made our trip feel more like a vacation. We didn’t have to worry about our checked bags, waiting in long lines at the rental counter or finding our way to the resort. We could sit back and relax. It can take luggage services a few hours to get your checked bags to your room, so you have two options. You can pick up your checked luggage at the terminal, if you wish. Or, you can pack what you will need (bathing suit, change of clothes) in one of your carry ons. We decided on the second option and were at our hotel and in the pool within 2 hours of landing at the airport–and we didn’t have to lug all of our bags. Win-win!
Lesson #2 – Get to the bus stop early in the morning – This wasn’t a huge deal for us in the mornings, because we are rope-droppers and like to be at the parks before they open. Disney buses start running about 90 minutes before park opening. Most days, we were at the stop about an hour before park opening and the buses weren’t full. The bus schedules were consistent at between 10-20 minutes between pickups. We found earlier in the morning, there were actually more buses coming through than later in the day.
Lesson #3 – Skipping the parking lots – This is a nice little perk provided by Disney transportation. When traveling to the Magic Kingdom, the buses take guests past the Transportation and Ticket Center and directly to the main gates! No waiting for the monorail or ferry boat! At Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the bus stops are just to the side of the entrance–less than a 5 minute walk from the gates. We didn’t miss waiting in line for the parking trams and then walking around to find our car after a long day.
Lesson #4 – Patience is a virtue – While we never experienced the bus delays many complain about except at the end of the day, the crowds leave en masse and head to the buses. Typically, this is after the last parade or fireworks show. This can mean long waits at the bus stop, which can be a bummer after a long day. The one time we did wait, we started at the end of the queue and only waited about 20-25 minutes because they were moving the buses in so quickly. After that, we decided on a different strategy for the next day: hang around the park. We waited in the park after the final fireworks and watched as the crowds made their way to the exits. We did a little window shopping, took pictures or just sat and enjoyed the view. This is now one of my favorite times in the park. Then, within 30 minutes or so, the crowds were much lighter and the bus lines were much shorter.
Lesson #4a – There is always going to be another bus. This is related to the previous rule, but worthy of its own mention. I also learned to wait until the next bus if I saw it was jam-packed. My legs and feet ache at the end of the day and standing up the whole ride home is not something I enjoy. We decided to wait until the next bus to get a seat. It was worth it, because we rarely waited longer than 5-10 minutes.
Lesson #5 – Leave enough time to get from place to place – Delays can happen and planning for this is important. Whenever we were heading to the park for a dining reservation or a time-sensitive event (fireworks, FastPasses, etc.) we left plenty of time to get from one place to another. Most times, we allowed 60-70 minutes to get to and from the parks. I’d say 90% of the time we had time to spare once we arrived, but it’s better to have extra time than be late and miss something important. Bottom line: don’t expect to get somewhere on the buses at the last minute to make an appointment. You’re setting yourself up for failure. This is especially true for your return to the airport on the Magical Express. They ask guests to board the bus about three hours before the flight’s departure time. It seems like a long time, but the bus can make multiple stops, there can be traffic and security lines can be long. Yes, I’d like a little more time to enjoy the Disney magic, but transportation services know what they’re doing. Listen to them and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary stress.
The takeaway lesson in all of this: using Disney transportation to get you from your hotel to other locations around the resort is like any other part of your trip: a little planning before you head out for the day goes a long way to help your enjoyment of the service!
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Enjoying the Magic is where a mom living far from Fantasyland shares the joys, frustrations and thrills of her favorite place - Walt Disney World, and her day-to-day life.