Is there any free parking left at Disneyland and Walt Disney World?

October 22, 2009, 9:38 AM · With the recent increase in parking fees at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts (form $12 a day to $14), I thought it time to review a couple strategies that folks have used to get around paying those fees.

Entrance to Walt Disney World
The tollbooths are coming! The tollbooths are coming! (At Walt Disney World)

At the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, if you park in the Downtown Disney lot, your first three hours are free. You can get an additional two hours free if you get a validation stamp from the movie theater or one of the table service restaurants. The parking rate is $6 an hour after that.

(Note: Anaheim's Downtown Disney is located within easy walking distance of Disneyland and California Adventure. If you are a Walt Disney World veteran and haven't been to the Disneyland Resort recently, the layout there is much like the layout at Universal Orlando - a parking garage, a central shopping area and two theme parks at the end of the shopping area.)

Given that you'll pay $14 to park in the Mickey and Friends garage at the Disneyland Resort, you're money ahead by parking in Downtown Disney if...

I know of some annual passholders who have opted not to pay the extra $79 for the "free" parking option on their annual passes, opting instead to use the Downtown Disney lots for short visits. [Update: Forgot to mention that there's no extra charge for parking on the $429 Premium Annual Pass.]

At Walt Disney World, Disney's eliminated most of the loopholes in the system that allowed folks who aren't staying on site to park at the resort's hotels or Downtown Disney and use Disney shuttles to get into the theme parks without paying for parking.

But one loophole remains, or, at least, it did last time I was at WDW. It's a "back door" way into the Magic Kingdom parking lot, accessed from Vista Blvd. You can get to Vista Blvd. by one of two ways:

  1. Take State Road 535 (Apopka Vineland Rd) north from I-4. Turn left on Winter Garden Vineland Rd (also SR 535), then continue northeast to Vista Blvd.
  2. From Buena Vista Drive, turn north on Bonnet Creek Parkway (like you are going to Port Orleans), continue on Bonnet Creek north to Vista Blvd, and turn left.

Once on Vista Blvd., continue until it merges onto northbound World Drive. You'll see the parking lots on your left. Turn left at Seven Seas Drive (the first intersection). This will take you past the TTC and the Polynesian. That road will dead end into Floridian Way, on the other side of the parking lots. Stay in the far left lane and proceed south on Floridian Way, past the parking lots and the "Mickyard" speedway, until you come to the "Parking Return" sign, just before passing the tollbooths, which will be immediately ahead on the left. Make that hard left turn and blend into the traffic heading into the parking lots.

People staying at any of Walt Disney World's on-site hotels get free parking at the theme parks, but now have to pay $10 a day if they choose to use the valet parking option at their hotel.

My plan? Whenever I visit Orlando, my family stays with Grandma and Grandpa, who live in Celebration. So we just get them to drop us off at the parks, if they won't be joining us. :-) All of the Walt Disney World theme parks have free guest drop-off and pick-up zones, for which no parking fee is required.

What's your strategy for parking at a Disney theme park?

Replies (36)

October 22, 2009 at 10:01 AM · Agh! Don't give out the local's secrets!
October 22, 2009 at 10:13 AM · WOW. Although my family and I ALWAYS stay on site that is truly a GREAT idea. Please keep ALL ur money saving ideas coming.


October 22, 2009 at 10:22 AM · If you go to the Magic Kingdom early enough. Met friends for breakfast at the Polynesian, there was no one at the toll booths to collect funds.
October 22, 2009 at 10:31 AM · I went with a friend who was a cast member so it was free parking and free admission all around! I'm gonna take them up on their free birthday admission this year and probably keep one of these parking loopholes in mind (Getting to Florida from Ohio isn't cheap, so I'm allowed to be stingy.)
October 22, 2009 at 10:36 AM · We like to go to the character breakfast at either the Poly or Grand Floridian and then hop a monorail to MK afterwards. At the end of the day, you return on a generally less-crowded monorail to the hotel, rather than the TTC.
October 22, 2009 at 10:40 AM · Or, here's an idea - you could pay the parking fee like you're supposed to rather than "stealing" parking. Because that's what you're essentially instructing people to do - steal parking from the company. Theme Parks charge a parking fee to offset costs - the cost of maintain the lot, the cost of staffing the booths and parking areas, the cost of security cameras and patrols to keep your vehicle safer than it would be without those measures, and the cost of operating shuttles and trams to and from the park's entrance. Parking fees also help keep people from using the parks as a local hang out. They keep people from parking just to hang out at the entrance for a free glimpse of the fireworks, or to just use the lot as a skateboard park or meeting place.

There are legitimate ways to avoid paying the parking fee on a per-visit basis - upgrades to season or annual passes and on-site hotel stays to name a few - but the parks are perfectly entitled to charge what they wish for parking. Theme Parks are not a necessary commodity. You can choose not to visit if parking costs too much for you. Doing so will send a message to the parks that their parking rates are too high. You can choose to take advantage of free parking offered legitimately (onsite hotels, etc.). But encouraging theme park visitors to "steal" parking is no better than encouraging them to avoid paying the high cost of admission by jumping the fence, or the high cost of souvenirs by shoplifting a t-shirt out of the gift shops.

I have to say, I'm really surprised that this of all blogs would stoop to that level. I expect it from some, but not from TPI.

October 22, 2009 at 11:35 AM · OK, so yet another reason for me not to go to Disney or any of the Orlando parks. The economy stinks and you are trying every way possible to make it less affordable for people to throw their money at you. I will just stay local and support my local theme park another year. Hate that business in general are all about greed and taking as much as they can from a small group instead of being fair in pricing and allowing more to purchase their products.
October 22, 2009 at 11:35 AM · My strategy? A lot of walking.
October 22, 2009 at 12:10 PM · They have a right to charge money for parking. If you're too cheap to stay on property (which grants you free parking and transportation), expect Disney to try and recoup the lost revenue somehow.

Oh, and to those cheapskates who park in the cast parking lot, shame on you. It really started my day off poorly when I see a family pulling up in a rented mini-van and having 12 people slide out, stealing a cast parking space. I really felt like asking when their shift began. And it happened almost every single day. We're here to bring you magical memories, and you're here to steal some of our very meager parking?

Have you no shame?

October 22, 2009 at 1:32 PM · I know several ways to get around WDW without paying a dime for parking.
October 22, 2009 at 1:57 PM · Parking in a cast lot is definitely not cool. (When I worked there, a security agent checked for cast IDs before allowing you into the park or on the bus to the park, so I'm having a hard time seeing how a guest could use the cast parking areas anyway.)

And I'd never lie to a toll booth operator to get into a parking lot free. If I don't have business at a hotel, then I'm not going to use its lot as a free parking place for another location. Frankly, paying the parking fee is a worthwhile convenience for me.

That said, using the Downtown Disney lot for short trips to Disneyland and California Adventure is perfectly legitimate. You're patronizing Disney and not getting charged a different rate than someone going to Downtown Disney. And if you don't get out in time, you'll pay more than if you parked in Mickey and Friends. To me, that's perfectly fair.

The Disney World back door is, well, a loophole. So long as Disney keeps it open, I say that folks shouldn't feel bad about using it. (Frankly, I'd rather pay and park at Epcot, then take the monorail over to the MK, but that's me.)

October 22, 2009 at 2:06 PM · In another thread, I mentioned that when my grandson Zachary and I stay off Disney property, I always choose a hotel that offers free bus transportation to the theme parks. From what our bus driver told us this year, Disney now allows them to drop off their passangers at Epcot bus parking lot and then transfer over to a Disney bus to their destination if it's other that Epcot. Other years, we were dropped off at the theme park of our choice, but now you have to transfer. Still, you don't have to drive or pay for parking.
October 22, 2009 at 2:34 PM · In response to the rant above:

Somehow I don't think that disney will think that if park attendance is down, it OBVIOUSLY is from people refusing to pay $14 to park.

Actually I think they are more apt to lower parking from reports of people so-called "stealing" it. But I also think they would block the entrances if they were that upset about it.

If it bothers you, don't do it.

As for cast lots, the MK lot isn't even connected to the park. And the other 3 cast lots are past the parking booths. You have to flash your pass several different times to get into the cast lots. I don't know how this would even be possible.

October 22, 2009 at 2:53 PM · Whether or not you can park in a cast lot or not either way you are stealing from the company. "Parking in a cast lot is definitely not cool." Really parking in the cast lost isn't cool but denying a park the money that helps them build a better experience for YOU is cool?

If you don't like the parking fees don't go! I don't like the parking rates either however if I was going I would either stay in a on-site hotel or a hotel that provides a shuttle. But providing readers with ways to steal or take advantage of the industry you are here to support is very ironic to me.

October 22, 2009 at 3:23 PM · We go to disney World every year when we go toour timeshare in Kissemme. We have always parked at the Polynesion Resort or the Boardwalk Resort. The guard at the gate at both resports asks if we are visiting or staying there. We just say we are visiting and the guard gives us a 3 hour pass. We have always left our car parked there while we were in the parks and there has never been a problem (I do not leave the 3 hour pass in sight). It sounds like we won't be able to do that anymore.
October 22, 2009 at 4:42 PM · I don't think they should charge for parking at all. Parking should be complimentary, especially when you consider the high prices of the tickets
October 22, 2009 at 4:55 PM · The path you mentioned is intended for Cast Members and other Disney property vehicles. There are signs that point that out.
October 22, 2009 at 7:24 PM · I wonder how long before Disney closes up the loophole for getting into the parking lot for free. It'll be interesting for someone there to watch for it- that will also let Robert know how closely Disney mgmt. follows TPI.
October 22, 2009 at 9:19 PM · Back in march and April of this year. Disneyland had free parking over at the Anaheim gardenwalk mall. This was something they were testing out. They offered a shuttle but it was also just a 15 minute walk. My assumption for this testing was because they are getting ready to lose the lion king parking areas for the cars land expansion of ca adventure.

Also most restaurants over there offer at least a 10% discount on food.

October 22, 2009 at 10:11 PM · We fit our entire family into one car, and then we split the cost.
October 23, 2009 at 5:13 AM · I was responsible for the "rant" but was at a computer where I couldn't log in. I'm sorry, but "if you don't like it, don't do it" isn't a viable answer when we're talking about theft of service, and we ARE talking about theft of service. Disney (and other parks) charge what they think they can collect and what they think they need to charge to cover expenses for things like parking. They are entitled to do so. Using a loophole or outright lying by claiming to be at a resort for dining or whatever is theft of that service. You didn't pay for it, nor did you utilize one of the many legitimate ways to avoid daily parking fees like staying on property or purchasing a pass that includes it.

I agree with a few of the posters above who commented that Disney will probably close that loophole soon. I suspect they knew about it but figured it was only known by a handful of savvy locals. Now that it's gone public it will probably go the way of other loopholes Disney closed once they became more widely known about. That "loophole" is/was a cast member entrance and back door to the MK Resorts, and it used to have a security booth. It wasn't built with a "shrug, oh well, so a few people will sneak in this way" attitude. It was built as a secured entrance for cast and guests of Fort and Wilderness that required an ID check to use. When staffing was cut, so was the ID check guard booth.

I will say it again - attending a theme park is NOT a necessity in life. You won't freeze to death or lose your job or die of infection if you don't go to a theme park. If you can't afford the $14, don't go. It's really that simple. If you do plan on going, budget that in as a necessary expense.

Consumers don't get to protest high prices by stealing the items. They can protest, as I said, by not making the purchase (or making the purchase for less elsewhere) but stealing the item is theft and is against the law.

Oh, and one more comment about the other loopholes (Downtown Disney, the resorts). Those locations have limited parking that is set aside for guests who are using those facilities. Parking in DTD, even for a "few hours" takes spaces that are already severely limited away from people who are legitimately shopping or eating there. And resort parking is only a few hours for a "visit" because that's the average amount of time one needs to eat at that resort's restaurant and look around the grounds. Parking there and agreeing to visit for 3 hours, then staying all day, is still stealing. Sorry, but it is. And be careful where you do it, too. Disney has and will tow cars that are there longer than the limit. I've seen them do it!

I really agree about cast parking too. I hated it when I was driving up and down aisles over and over, worrying that I'd be late for work, only to see a family pulling a stroller out of the trunk of their car in a cast spot or a whole gang of people in shorts and Ts heading not toward the cast locker room entrance but the park gate. Most of those folks actually are cast members, not heading to work but in to play, and not wanting to be bothered with guest parking lots. Problem is, cast parking is limited, and there often weren't enough spaces for those who actually were working, let alone for all those playing on their day off too. Add a few lost tourists who wandered in accidentally (many of the cast lots are attached to the guest lot in some way) and you had no place to park for your shift.

Anyway, I stand by my rant (both the previous anonymous one and this one). I also find advocating exploitation of an obvious loophole and theft of service a rather odd choice for a blog/blogger who claims to be a journalist. As I said before, I expect it from some of those forums where line jumping and other forms of rule breaking exploitation are passed from person to person all over the place, but not from a blog like TPI or a blogger like Robert. Sorry, Robert, but you were wrong to post that as a journalist. Advocating theft is never good reporting.

October 23, 2009 at 5:48 AM · Here is an idea – Park at Typhoon lagoon where there is no parking fee and then use the Disney bus system…
And stop all the crying about saving a few bucks you bunch of babies…

The mark up alone on anything you buy in Disney will offset the cost of you using their buses and by using a bus instead of your car you will be helping the environment.. You folks think a bottle of water cost $2.50 or a $5 turkey leg is not profitable. Hahahaha

October 23, 2009 at 6:19 AM · Someone in an earlier post sort of gave me this idea and I'd like to find out what you think Robert and the others? Why not make the parking complimentary? You could off set the cost by adding say $3-$5 per ticket. That way everyone pays something, children included. Two tickets= $8. four tickets= $16 and so on. I know the more tickets you buy, the higher the price you pay and some would complain. But at least everyone would be paying man,woman and child. Just an idea Robert.
October 23, 2009 at 6:48 AM · If you are really that desperate for free parking at WDW. You can park at DD for free, take a bus to any resort, then from any resort to any park.

It could cost you as much as 2 hours! So, probably not worth it unless you want to go to DD too.

We didn't drive our last visit in Aug, but for fun we had several multi-mode trips. Internal WDW travel includes Monorail, buses and boats (well, the monorail and boats are fun anyway...)

October 23, 2009 at 6:57 AM · BTW, a loophole is a loophole. IT IS NOT THEFT OF SERVICE. WDW doesn't like it? Close the hole.

I speak with authority as the son of a CPA! Peace!

October 23, 2009 at 9:05 AM · BTW, Holiday World in Indiana - parking is FREE (so are soft drinks and sunscreen). Attendance is UP for 2009.

I am not saying WDW should follow suit. I am saying that WDW is NOT making multi-million $ improvements to their parking services nor is the cost of operation of these services up from 09 to 2010 by >10%.

Again, it's their right to make money, but let's call it what it is, it's an increase to their bottom line. And, I will pay it...

October 23, 2009 at 8:50 AM · ^While Holiday World does have great amenities there a vast differences between parks obtaining 1.03 million in attendance and having a park with 15 million in attendance. Yes Disney prices are probably to high but giving out free parking, soda, sunscreen would not be as rewarding for them or you. Holiday World is not adding $10-$100 million additions each year. Actually I'm thinking there largest was Voyage at under $8 million. Having "free" items are still going to cost! Its like when the government increases taxes on business all the business does is raise the price of their service/good to compensate for what they are now paying.
October 23, 2009 at 9:16 AM · I am a Florida Resident and a Senior. I love Disney World and go as often as I can. Usually stay on-property, but few times we "the other" theme parks and still needed a Disney "fix" We REALLY did do a dining reservation and left the car in their lot........Was it more than 3 hours of course it was , as I said we needed the "Disney Fix".........with the amount of money spent dining, gifts , etc, I think they will forgive me the extra "free' hours.I love Disney, but I have to agree the parking prices are too too high.
October 23, 2009 at 9:17 AM · The parking fee doesn't bother me too much. It's the price of the ticket that I would like to learn how to save on.

We are thinking of making a quick/spotaneous trip to Florida in the spring. Tickets for our family of 5 for 7 days at Universal would only be $500. It would cost us $400 for 1 day at Magic Kingdom. We would like to spend 2-3 days at Universal and 1 (maybe 2) at WDW.

October 23, 2009 at 11:12 AM · Parking fees tick me off, although, moreso for hotels or resorts than theme parks. (For example, having to pay a parking fee while staying at the Universal onsite resort Royal Pacifc - THAT was wrong.)

That said however, being able to navigate a path that avoids the toll booths for parking fees is not a loophole. I can easily avoid the check out registers at my grocery store and make it out the door if I wanted to, but I don't think they'd accept the explanation of "loophole" for not paying.

So what we're saying here is, since Disney isn't specifically stopping people from being dishonest, it's okay for them to be? Nice.

October 23, 2009 at 3:46 PM · Here is a tip. Say if the MK is open late one day (till 12 or 1am), if you drive into the MK around past 8:30, they will not charge for parking, nor let alone check to see if you have a pass. I done this plenty of times.
October 23, 2009 at 7:17 PM · Thanks, Robert, on behalf of that poor cast member who will now be stationed at the "Parking Return" lane to check for parking passes/daily parking receipts...
October 23, 2009 at 8:09 PM · Just another thought as well...Parking fees are a control method as well. If parking was always free than there would be a greater chance of running out, so maybe the fee does help encourage "carpooling". LOL. Of course then there is the extra $6-$10 you can pay not to ride a tram. I am amazed that my home park, BGW, constantly sells out of the preferred parking!
October 23, 2009 at 8:17 PM · All this talk about excessive parking fees is a moot point. Why does Disney charge so much? Because they can. Try and tell me again how much it costs Disney to maintain the parking lots - they're all poured asphalt and concrete with an average 30 to 40-yr-life; tell me how much Disney has to pay for the operational costs of the trams and the employees running same - the driver and attendant each make a little over minimum wage, so how many cars have to pay $14 each to equal 2 employees operating 1 tram working an 8-hr shift for maybe $8/hr without benefits?; and tell me about how much the security cameras cost - they have been amortized over and over - maybe 500-1,000 times their original costs to Disney. Please do not proselytize about poor Disney being ripped-off by someone using their parking lots - what a crock. WDW is a cash-cow - always has been, always will be - stop drinking the Kool-aid and wake up - anytime someone buys a $70+ ticket and then has to leave the park early due to weather/illnes/etc, do they get a refund? Come, on, man! Do you feel sorry for the IRS? Is it your 'patriotic duty' to pay more and more taxes because the Democrats want to take your hard-earned money and give it to illegal aliens and people who refuse to work themselves and thus do not pay any taxes? Get a life.
October 24, 2009 at 5:23 PM · I flat out refuse to pay that much for parking. I now park at the waterparks and take the bus. When that is no longer free, I will find somewhere else.
October 24, 2009 at 8:28 PM · ^Actually if you believe in true Capitalism you would think that Disney charging what they do is no problem. It is supply and demand if there is demand at this price capitalist will charge it. Disney is just doing what America is built on.

But again Disney California Adventures opened in 2001 and are currently going through a $1 billion renovation/construction period so that is A LOT of parking fees and admission tickets to achieve what people want, "Disney quality." If you want the quality pay the prices. Personally I don't need "Disney quality" to be happy with a theme park so I don't go to Disney very much because of there prices. But it is still supply and demand, they have the majority of the top ten visited parks, its all capitalism.

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