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Walt Disney World resumes limited theme park bus service from Downtown Disney

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Published: September 17, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Once again, but only for a limited time, you can park your car at Downtown Disney and ride a bus to a Walt Disney World theme park. Disney publicly confirmed today that it has resumed bus service between Disney's Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney.

Disney stopped running buses between Downtown Disney and the parks in order to clear spaces at the shopping and dining area, by preventing visitors using those lots as free parking alternatives to the pay-per-day theme park lots. Disney's calling the bus service to DAK "experimental," and said that the service will run until October 31.

Animal Kingdom parking lot
You can avoid the Animal Kingdom parking lot by taking the bus from Downtown Disney instead. But only for the next six weeks.

Could this experiment clear the way for a resumption of bus service to all the Disney theme parks? The timing is curious, as Disney's begun the transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, which involves the closure of some of Downtown Disney's sometimes-crowded lots. As today's Disney Parks Blog post notes, Animal Kingdom closes much earlier than the other Disney parks, so visitors using the Downtown Disney lots for a visit to Animal Kingdom likely would clear out before the evening rush to Downtown Disney's restaurants, freeing spaces for those visitors.

But don't forget the flip side. Ultimately, if parking's scarce at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs, it makes sense for Disney to try to take pressure off those parking facilities by encouraging people to leave their cars at the theme park lots. Disney's running the DAK/DD route until 1am each day, long after Animal Kingdom's closing time, which varies from 6-8pm. That implies that Disney intends for Animal Kingdom visitors to leave their cars at the park while they visit Downtown Disney for the evening.

Of course, free parking at Downtown Disney versus $15 to park at Animal Kingdom affects visitors' parking decisions. Disney Springs will include parking garages in addition to surface lots, and some fans have wondered if Disney will attempt to impose a parking fee in those garages in an effort to influence parking demand. For what it's worth, Disney charges people who park at Downtown Disney in Anaheim for more than three hours (five hours with validation from certain retailers). Universal Orlando offers reduced price parking in its garages after 6pm to encourage evening visitors to CityWalk, but it still charges. (Visitors to CityWalk and the Universal Orlando theme parks use the same parking facilities.)

Perhaps Walt Disney World is using this experiment to collect usage data that might eventually help it determine a price point and policies for Disney Springs parking? How much does Disney need to charge to discourage people from parking at Disney Springs to visit the theme parks, while still providing bus transportation that enable people to leave their cars at the parks when spending the evening at Disney Springs? Knowing how many people will use those buses each way with the current $15 price difference for parking might help Disney begin to answer that question.

Will you be using this bus service, if you're visiting the resort in the next six weeks? Would you use it in the future?

Readers' Opinions

From David Eggert on September 17, 2013 at 2:25 PM
Maybe I'm reading the Disney Parks blog too literally, but to me it seems to say that you will only be able to ride FROM Animal Kingdom TO Downtown Disney.

"Direct service from Disney’s Animal Kingdom to Downtown Disney West Side is now happening daily."

"...guests shared feedback asking for direct bus transportation from Disney Parks to Downtown Disney."

Offering buses one way from DAK to DTD would still prevent park guests from getting free parking at DTD, while also encouraging more guests to check out (and spend money at) DTD after their day at DAK was done, even though it would make it difficult for them to return to their cars at the and of the day.

From Chad H on September 17, 2013 at 2:33 PM
Not disney specific, but Parking, and shuttlebusses to theme parks from nearby transport hubs, strike me as nothing more than simple price gouging.

If you're going to spend a day at a theme park, you're going to have to get there somehow. Either you park, or you take some other transport option. If the park is charging for both, they are simply adding a hidden cost to the ticket price.

If anything, disney should be charging for parking for the free facility users, whilst offering free parking to paying park guests.

From Dave Stroem on September 17, 2013 at 2:35 PM
They could also only run the buses later in the day from DD to AK. Thus avoid having people use this lot for the early morning rush.
From 72.202.142.199 on September 17, 2013 at 4:25 PM
As someone who uses a day at Animal Kingdom as the day I also visit Downtown Disney (since AK is basically a half-day park for me) I love this idea. I don't stay on the Disney property so being able to go straight from AK to DTD without having to take a bus to a hotel is awesome for me. And luckily, I'll be there in 3 weeks and be able to take advantage of it. :)
From N B on September 17, 2013 at 5:05 PM
Doesn't nearly every hotel in the area (except for Universal's) have bus service to the various Disney parks?
From Robert Niles on September 17, 2013 at 8:07 PM
David, I wondered that, too, but Disney would have to offer return service to Downtown Disney from DAK to allow people parked at DAK to retrieve their cars, right? So the service would have to be two-way.
From Oak A on September 17, 2013 at 8:20 PM
I noticed these buses were offered when I visited AK just a few days ago. I couldn't help but think about the Downtown Disney rebranding, and how there is a general dearth of parking (I speak from experience). It also seems that this transport service is continuous and filled just as the other routes are, as opposed to something cursory. I think that this service will be offered until Disney Springs is dedicated. Its only logical.
From Tony Duda on September 17, 2013 at 8:53 PM
You forgot the most important part...

BUSES WILL START AT 3 PM !!!!!!!!!!

This means no DTD parking and taking a bus to AK for a day at the park. This is only good for guest who park at AK and want to bus commute to DTD and back for the evening OR the resort guest who wants to go from the hotel to AK to DTD and return to the hotel without the intermediate trip from AK to the hotel then to DTD.

From 184.90.150.22 on September 17, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Parking at Universal Orlando's parking garage is free for FL residents after 6pm (when a valid FL ID is shown).
From TH Creative on September 18, 2013 at 4:49 AM
I have NO DOUBT that the arrival of the garages at Disney Springs will result in a charge for parking.
From 97.100.100.121 on September 18, 2013 at 9:16 AM
Oh Please! Disney is not ALWAYS trying rip you off! This appears to be a simple solution to the lack of parking at Downtown Disney. The Animal Kingdom lots sit vacant every day from park closing (quite early) until the next morning. People arrive at Animal Kingdom early and leave early. By 3:00pm they usually only need one parking booth attendant.

My bet is that if you arrive at Animal Kingdom's parking lot after 3:00pm and say you are going to Downtown Disney they will not charge you for parking.

From Michael Smith on September 21, 2013 at 2:14 PM
They just changed the return service to end 3hrs after AK closes. Must not have had enough people making the trip back to AK.

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