What is the best way to get around the Walt Disney World Resort?

July 19, 2017, 11:57 AM · Select Walt Disney World visitors this month will have another way to navigate the resort, with the debut of Disney's new "Minnie Vans" service.

These Minnie Mouse-themed minivans soon will be shuttling guests from Disney's Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Club resorts around property, for an extra fee. Disney eventually will expand the service to others, but hasn't yet announced details or a schedule. The Minnie Vans give Disney World visitors another option for getting to one point from another in the expansive resort, which spans 40 square miles - larger than some major US cities.

So what is the right choice to get around the resort, for you and your family? Let's look at the options.

Bring a car: This works only if you live within driving distance of the resort and will be using your car to get to Disney. You will have to pay $20 a day to park in Disney's four theme park parking lots, but after you pay that, you've got in and out privileges for all four lots for the remainder of that day. (*Update: That's only if you are not staying on site. See comments below.) Parking at hotels, water parks, and the Disney Springs shopping and dining area is free. Keep in mind that if you arrive at a lot in the middle of the day, you could end up facing a long walk or tram ride to get to and from your car from the park gate. That can be a big pain at the end of the day, when the tram lines are long and the wait to get out of the crowded parking lots can be even longer. You can get a space at the front of the lot by paying an extra $20 to get the $40 preferred parking option.

Rent a car: It's just like bringing your own car, expect that you have to pay for the rental, which could include upcharges for car seats and insurance, if you don't bring your own to the deal. Renting a car is the preferred option for people who want the control of driving, but who flew into Orlando. Driving a rental (or your own car) provides you complete freedom to go wherever you want in the area at no extra charge — beyond gas and time spent in Orlando's notorious traffic, of course. Want to go to Universal, or the grocery store? Hop in and drive.

Use Disney's buses, boats, and monorails: The cheapest option for a Walt Disney World visitor — Disney will pick you up and take you back to the airport via its free Disney's Magical Express bus service if you are staying at an on-property hotel. Once on site, Disney's network of buses, boats, and monorails can move you between parks, hotels, and other sites on property at no charge, even though that can require long waits and connections, depending where you want to go and when. (You cannot go directly from Disney Springs to a theme park via Disney transportation, for example. That's how Disney prevents people from using the Disney Springs garages as free theme park parking.)

Ultimately, even though it's free, you get what you pay for with Disney transportation. Staying at a pricey monorail resort near the Magic Kingdom? It's brisk trip over to the MK, and a relatively quick connection to Epcot. Staying at the also-often-expensive Boardwalk or Yacht or Beach Club? You can walk to Epcot or the Studios or take a quick boat ride to those parks. Staying at one of the less expensive All-Star or other Value resorts? Get ready for long waits and long bus rides to anywhere.

Use Disney's Express Transportation: A relatively new option, Express Transportation is a paid bus service that Disney operates between its four theme parks. The bus stops are located behind the security checkpoints at each park, so you do not have to wait in a front gate line or go through security again when you arrive at the next park. A single-day ticket for unlimited rides costs $19, but a seven-day pass is just $29. This service is of no use if you don't have the Park Hopper option on your tickets, but if you are an experienced park hopper visiting at a busy period, the Express Transportation option can be a great value to get around on a week-long trip.

Use taxis and private shuttles: This was the failsafe for visitors without cars who needed to get somewhere in a hurry before the Uber era. And they remain popular options for people flying into Orlando who are staying offsite. You don't need a smartphone app to use them, but you do need cash or a credit card, and these options might end up cost you more than Uber or Lyft, depending upon where you are and where you are going. But if you find a taxi stand with waiting cars, there's no waiting to go as there usually is with ride share services. And you don't need to pay to park when you are riding in someone else's vehicle.

Use ride sharing: Uber and Lyft are readily available throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, though you will need to walk to designated pick-up areas at each park to use them. But that's often a shorter walk than heading off to the back of the lot at the end of the day. Like taxis and shuttles, ride share cars can take you anywhere in Orlando, so you are not limited to staying on-site as you are with Disney Transportation. When I was covering the concurrent press events for Pandora and Volcano Bay in Orlando in May, I used Lyft to shuttle between Disney and Universal with no problem, for about $20 a ride - which is what it would have cost me to park at each resort.

Use Minnie Vans: Disney's newest transportation option provides you the flexibility of Uber or Lyft... so long as you stay on site. (We've heard $20 a ride in the seven-passenger vans.) But each van comes equipped with child car seats, which can be a hassle and an upcharge to arrange with ride share services. If you've got a family with little kids, the Minnie Vans can be a cuter — and more convenient option — than Uber or Lyft in getting you to that dinner reservation across the resort without having to sacrifice all the time you'd lose waiting for traditional Disney buses.

What's your favorite way to get around the resort when you visit Disney?

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Replies (20)

July 19, 2017 at 12:11 PM · Prediction: Disney's Minnie Van service will be successful and they will expand it.
July 19, 2017 at 12:13 PM · We had a cab driver try to stick us up for parking to be dropped at Epcot for dinner. He said taxis had to pay once per day. We had him drop us at Swan/Dolphin and took the boat to Epcot.
July 19, 2017 at 12:14 PM · My family generally stays at a Disney resort and I do love their transport. The buses are fun to be on with good timing and help you get around. Also, the Epcot resorts are good with boats (or even walking) to get to Epcot and Studios and can't beat the monorail convenience for those hotels.

Few times we're off-property, those places have good shuttles but easier to just take rental car to the parks and handle things from there. Still, WDW has always had a great transport system, one of their best features.

July 19, 2017 at 12:38 PM · You don't necessarily need to live within "driving distance" to bring your car to WDW. Amtrak's AutoTrain service allows you to put your personal vehicle on the train, and ride without having to bear I-95 between Washington DC and Orlando. Many families in the Northeast have been traveling to WDW on the AutoTrain for decades (while many others like us still do the overnight drive down I-95, including the picturesque stop at South of the Border - Pedro demands it).

I'd also note that if you're staying at a WDW resort, you do not need to pay the $20/day parking fee at the theme parks. All you have to do is flash your resort parking pass at the toll booths, and you're in. We always calculate the cost of parking when comparing on-site and off-site hotel options when visiting WDW.

I wouldn't be able to stand getting "trapped" at WDW without a car, however, we rarely make trips to Orlando solely to visit the Disney parks. I can see the appeal of Disney's Magical Express, but it's definitely not a service for us unless we have a WDW-only itinerary or have a rental car planned for the non-Disney portion of our stay. We once won a trip to Universal Orlando, and piggy-backed it with days at WDW and Sea World. We started at UO, and when we got our included ground transportation back to MCO, we rented a car at the airport to finish the rest of our trip. It was a bit annoying having to go back to the airport to rent a car (Disney does have an on-site rental car facility, though it's more expensive to rent there than at MCO), but I like to have the freedom to go off-site for a meal, or somewhere else not connected to the resort's transportation network.

In our experience, Disney Bus Transportation gets a bad rep. Perhaps I'm compassionate towards buses because I used to work for the University of Maryland Shuttle-UM bus system, but I think Disney does a pretty good job moving hoards of people around the sprawling resort. The key to using any Disney transportation (including monorails and boats) is to make sure you calculate extra time into your trip. Sure, you can drive from Pop Century to EPCOT in about 5-10 minutes, but you have to add the time to wait and load the bus (a bus is not departing the resort/park every 2 minutes no matter how many people are standing there), so figuring 20-30 minutes to make that trip is more realistic. Just like riding an attraction in the parks, you spend more time in line and waiting to ride than actually on the ride.

The one major advantage the resort buses have that's not mentioned here is that the buses drop guests just outside the Magic Kingdom gates, meaning you don't have to ride the Monorail or boats from the Ticketing and Transportation Center. On even slow days, that can save 15-20 minutes (30-45 minutes on busy days) getting to the MK gates. So while we normally would still drive our car to the parks while staying on-site, on Magic Kingdom days, we would absolutely take the bus to avoid TTC. It's also nice to have the buses there for days where you might plan on drinking, which is a good perk for us, because we frequently visit during the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, as we will again this fall.

I'm curious to see as the Minnie Vans start rolling across the resort if Disney makes Uber and Lyft pickup locations more restrictive and remote.

July 19, 2017 at 1:34 PM · Minnie-vans serves a purpose like you have a dining reservation at the resorts, or you shopped at Disney Springs and you want a direct trip to your room. I assume $20 per trip means everyone in your party is covered. No per person charges. It's too expensive to take you to the theme parks. I assume you can charge on MagicBands.

Not a good idea to rely on shuttles or taxis if you intend to visit outside of the Disney bubble. Then you should rent a car. However, you must pay $20 a day parking at any theme park and that's a lot.

July 19, 2017 at 2:05 PM · "However, you must pay $20 a day parking at any theme park and that's a lot."

Again, you only pay the $20 to park at the theme parks if you're NOT staying at a WDW resort. So, even if you want to go outside the "Disney bubble" while staying at an on-site resort, you can rent a car to get off site (you can rent from companies right on Disney property), and still drive to the theme parks without having to pay for parking.

July 19, 2017 at 2:13 PM · It used to be there was a cheat folks used: Drive to a Disney hotel, park there and then use the Disney transport so they don't pay for parking. I'm pretty sure Disney clamped down on that which they should but I recall it was an issue for a while.
July 19, 2017 at 2:13 PM · It used to be there was a cheat folks used: Drive to a Disney hotel, park there and then use the Disney transport so they don't pay for parking. I'm pretty sure Disney clamped down on that which they should but I recall it was an issue for a while.
July 20, 2017 at 2:36 AM · The list of options encapsulates one of the biggest reasons we don't go to Disney anymore. We are from NYC, and felt like we spent more time on city buses than we did at the parks. My biggest concern with expansion at Universal is that it will start feeling the same way there in the future. We got a small taste of that when we went to Volcano Bay last month, but thankfully the shuttle buses were always available immediately and weren't crowded. There were many times on our last Disney trip that we had to wait half an hour for a bus that could accommodate us and then had to stand because all of the seats were filled.
July 20, 2017 at 8:09 AM · We've stayed onsite at WDW for trips of 7-11 days, 15 times in the past 10 years. In that time, we've stayed at several DVC resorts, but also POP Century on 3 occasions and Coronado Springs. We use the busses, boats and monorails daily (park hopping) during every trip. Two things I've noticed, because I've been curious, and have consciously been paying attention. First, there is no correlation between the resort category (value, moderate, deluxe, DVC deluxe villa), and bus wait time. Secondly, many people have no concept of time or exaggerate how long they have waited. In those 500-600 trips to the bus stop from the resort, park or Disney Springs, we've waited for more than 20 minutes maybe a dozen times. Sometimes we walk on as we arrive, sometimes one pulls away and we wait close to 20 minutes (which is what Disney advertises), but I'd say the mean wait time has been 10 min. And, I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people complain they've been waiting 20 or 25 min., and it's been less than 15 min.
July 20, 2017 at 8:21 AM · I concur with thedrumman. I think a lot of people exaggerate their wait times because they're anxious to get where they want to go. It can also be overwhelming to see a line of 100 people in queue to board, but during rush hours (between 1 hour before and 1 hour after park openings and closings) Disney Transportation has additional buses to handle the crowds that dissipate faster than people waiting in the heat will give them credit for.

I would point out that some resort buses do have more direct routes between certain parks and resorts. So while the time you spend waiting for a bus to arrive/depart might not vary dramatically from cheaper or more expensive resorts, the actual door to door trip may take longer depending upon the route taken.

July 20, 2017 at 8:46 AM · I do give Disney a lot of credit for their skills at moving people. We stayed until after the Fireworks show at MK and there were so many folks leaving at once. Thousands of folks heading to the exists.

I could not believe it only took us about 30 minutes to get to the car after seeing all of the masses leaving at once... I was thinking 1.5 hours but I was wrong, was fast and efficient.

July 20, 2017 at 10:57 AM · My family and I have only been to WDW 3 times and have always stayed off site, we fly in and rent a vehicle. I have only had trouble getting around once as I was not smart enough to ensure that the charger for my GPS was were I put and hadn't been moved by a child so he could get his DS into the case. The only Disney transportation that we use are the monorail or the boats at the MK and the trams, I must agree with Brian Disney is very fast and efficient at getting guests in and out of the parks.
July 20, 2017 at 1:08 PM · Russell Meyer's comment about long lines reminded me that during our last visit (March 2017 at POP Century), the Magic Kingdom stop was often serviced by those articulated busses. I hadn't been on them until that week. Man, one of those can sure absorb a long queue. In fact, I asked a bus driver how many guests they could hold, and he said 120 to 130, or so. We had our entire group of 37 get on one even though about 75 ppl were in line in front of us, so that seems realistic. Wow. :-)
July 20, 2017 at 1:13 PM · @AntonM Please learn about Disney parking before posting about Disney parking.
July 20, 2017 at 1:53 PM · Imperial Troop Transport but you will be charged the same as an RV -$22.
July 20, 2017 at 8:37 PM · I like the concept but I think charging for it where Disney is going to fall down. The rumored $20 a pop is just too much, especially since Uber and Lyft are permitted to operate on property for significantly less.

Universal has run car service between their hotels for years and *doesn't* charge. You can easily get from Cabana Bay to your dining at Hard Rock with just 30 minutes notice to the front desk.

July 20, 2017 at 8:51 PM · Cabana Bay to the Hard Rock? I can walk that in less than 30 minutes. (That's actually what I like most about UOR > WDW. The walkability. I can't imagine using a car service there. But I am an avid walker. Hauling toddlers or grandma/grandpa, and I can see the need.)
July 21, 2017 at 12:25 PM · We actually stopped going to WDW, and now favor Disneyland, because even if you stay at one of the monorail resorts, getting out of the Magic Kingdom at night is a nightmare. We've waiting 30 mins+ for the monorail, even longer for the boat. After a long day at the park with little kids, that wait is abominable, and can go a long ways toward spoiling a wonderful day.

At Disneyland, we stay in the park hotels, and no matter where we are in the parks, we're never more than a 10 minute walk back to the room. It makes life SO much simpler, and more fun.

July 25, 2017 at 7:43 AM · My favorite way to get around is in a rental car, parking at each theme park and moving the car if we move parks. Disney's transportation is time consuming, unreliable, and aggravating.

I think the aerial ropeways (Gondolas) offer promise of some reliable transportation.

If you're going to be park hopping, the best trick is to pay for the park-to-park bus service. It's a great deal.

To the users who commented about cheating…well you can still do so, but you'll waste a lot of time to save a measly $20. Are you really that cheap? Disney knows that most of their guests have integrity and will pay $20 to avoid the hassle.

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