As you can probably deduce from my introduction, most resorts rely on buses to transport guests. Once you know the basics, you will be able to navigate the bus system like a pro. The first bus many visitors encounter is the Magical Express, a free shuttle that transports guests from the Orlando Airport to their Disney resort. Unlike other buses at Disney World, this one requires a reservation. Once you deplane, head to the Magical Express location, check in, hop on a bus, check in at your hotel, and hit the parks. Don't worry about your luggage, Disney will collect it for you and deliver it to you room in a few hours. Magical Express is one of the best deals around...check back for a more in depth post on the topic.
After you get settled in, there is likely another bus in your future. (Yes, there are exceptions to the rule that I will cover in a minute!) Head to your resorts bus depot and stand in the appropriate line. As each bus pulls into the depot the destination will be clearly marked on the front of the bus. If it is headed where you want to go, climb aboard in a in a nice orderly fashion and find a seat if you can. Be aware you may not immediately head to your final destination. You may have a few more stops to make at your resort or even another resort before you get where you are going. Now I know there is much debate on this topic, but I am a healthy, able bodied, grown woman and I believe in good manners. I will always offer to stand and let a child, parent carrying a child, elderly person, pregnant lady, sick, injured or otherwise infirm person have my seat. Yes, the seats are first come, first served, and no, you don't have to give up your seat...it is just the polite thing to do. Lecture over.
Disney bus system has a "Hub and Spoke" design. The hubs include the four major theme parks, Downtown Disney, and the Ticketing and Transportation Center (TTC). From each hub, you can travel to any Disney resort and back again. The buses begin operations early in the morning by delivering breakfast guests to the parks. Bus service begins 2 hours prior to park opening, so there is no excuse for you not to make the park opening! For the stragglers and the late diners, buses continue to run 2-3 hours after the park closes.
What? You want to eat dinner...where? Moving between resort hotels is quite easy, it just takes a bit of planning and some extra time. Since there is not direct transportation between hotels (unless they happen to be on the same route) you will need to first travel to a hub, and then transfer to your desired resort. It helps to know the general areas of the hotels...you do not want to go from the Beach Club to the Contemporary via Animal Kingdom!
I know, I know...you cannot go to WDW and not take the monorail. If you are lucky enough to be staying at a Monorail Resort (Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian) or if you want to travel from the TTC/Magic Kingdom to Epcot then the monorail is the way to go!
- The TTC is the hub of the monorail system.
- You can ride the Express Monorail from the TTC to Magic Kingdom and back.
- The Epcot Monorail connects the TTC to Epcot.
- Finally, the Resort Monorail makes a giant loop starting at TTC and moving to the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Magic Kingdom, and the Contemporary in that order.
Finally, WDW has an extensive fleet of boats used to cart guest around. I have seen one factoid claiming Disney has the ninth largest boat fleet in the world. Who knows if that is fact or fiction, but it is true that Disney has boats. A lot of them. And I love them. To me, there is nothing more relaxing than bobbing up and down as you cruise the waterways. If you have perfect timing, you can even watch wishes from the water without booking a fireworks cruise.
- You can boat to Downtown Disney if you are staying at one of the Port Orleans Resorts, Old Key West, or Saratoga Springs.
- You can arrive in the Magic Kingdom in style from the TTC, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian.
- Finally, you can boat between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It is a relaxing (read: slow) ride and stops at the Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club and Swan and Dolphin Resorts. In fact, boat is the only way to get from those resorts to Epcot or the Studios, unless you are willing to hoof it!
- All modes of transportation are packed in the half hour to forty-five minutes prior to park opening. If you want to make rope drop, plan accordingly.
- Avoid leaving the parks during peak times (after fireworks, at closing, etc). Lines are unnecessarily long.
- Everyone is as hot, tired, and possibly smelly as you are. Try to be patient and mind your manners.
- Allow at least an hour if you have a reservation and are using Disney transportation to get to a theme park.
- Allow even more time if you are traveling from one hotel to another for a reservation.
- Disney transportation gives teens a nice way to get around on their own, while remaining in the "Disney bubble"
- Disney transportation is especially beneficial for those drinking around the world, drinking around the monorail, or just enjoying a cocktail with dinner.
- Not only should you figure out transportation options before you go, you should figure it out before you book!
- If you have a late reservation at a resort, make sure you transfer back to your home via a park that is open late. You do not want to arrive at the park only to find the last bus has already left.
- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has a great chart with average and worst case travel times from each resort to the hub. Study it!