Even if you’ve been to Disney World dozens of times, Disney transportation can be confusing, but for a newbie it can be downright overwhelming. If you’ve ever found yourself standing in front of a Disney bus queue wondering why you can’t get there from here, this post is for you.

The good news: It’s virtually impossible to get lost on Disney property.

If you’re driving, you’ll be happy to know there are signs everywhere, and they’re not those ubiquitous green road signs you see in the real world. Instead, they’re purple and bright pink,have Mouse ears on top, and mark just about everything on property.  If there’s not a sign for it, they probably don’t want you to go there.

Know your “resort area.”

One way to keep from getting lost is to know your resort area.  Your resort area is the neareast park or major landmark (such as Downtown Disney) nearest to your resort. For example, the All Star Resorts are counted as Animal Kingdom area reasorts. Similarly, while it’s not on the Magic Kingdom monorail, the Wilderness Lodge is considered Magic Kingdom Area Resort due to its proximity to that park.  Knowing your resort area will keep you headed in the right direction. As you get closer to your resort area, you’ll see signs specifically pointing the way toward your resort.

Anyone can use Disney transportation.

You don’t need to be a resort guest or even be holding a valid park ticket to use Disney transportation. This holds true for all modes of transportation, including the “resort” monorail on the Magic Kingdom loop. The Mouse wants guests to come on property to shop and eat, so feel free to take the boats, bus and monorail to your heart’s content.

There is no resort to resort transportation.

This issue leads to a lot of confusion for guests.  Say you’re staying at the All Star Sports but you have a dining reservation at Ohana. You’ll need to either get on the Polynesian bus from the park you’re in at that time (excluding the Magic Kingdom) or, if you’re coming directly from your resort,go to the Magic Kingdom and take the monorail or boat to the Poly. You could also take a bus from your resort to Downtown Disney and then take the Poly bus from there.

It’s helpful to think of Downtown Disney, the Ticket and Transportation Center, and the parks as transportation hubs similar to those on city bus or metro systems.  You’ll generally go to the nearest one and then take a resort bus from there. Again, you don’t need to be a guest of that resort to use their bus (or boat).

Get Park Wise:  Disney usually advises guests allow 90 minutes to travel to their destinations. This may sound like a lot, but in cases where you’re changing buses, it’s completely appropriate.

The quickest way to get from your resort to the Magic Kingdom is by bus.

Unless you’re staying at a monorail resort, a bus is your best option for getting to the Magic Kingdom. There’s actually a fun, if not slightly frustrating, reason for this. When the Magic Kingdom was designed, Imagineers wanted to create a sense of drama as you got closer, so they built the parking lot across from the park so that you would have to go through quite a few steps before you even get a glimpse of the park across the Seven Seas Lagoon.   Riding the bus takes away this sense of anticipation, but it also means you’re getting there a lot faster since you’re going directly there from your resort.

Conversely, if you go to the Magic Kingdom by car, you’ll actually use up to three modes of transportation:  Car, tram, and finally, boat or monorail. All that parking, waiting, and riding can really add time to your trip and at the end of the day, it can also be pretty exhausting.

Which is the fastest way from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom?

It depends. Take a situation where all three ferry boats are running. Each boat holds 600 guests and takes about 20 minutes to reach the Magic Kingdom from star to finish. That’s 5400 guests per hour, but at full capacity, the monorail can transport up to 7000 guests per hour and is a slightly faster trip, by about 5 minutes.

The answer seems pretty straight-forward–take the monorail. Well, except for one thing: Most people are going to think that way too, which means there will be longer lines for the monorail. So even though the monorail is, on a good day, moving about 20% more people per hour, lines are often shorter for the ferry boats.  The best advice is that if the line for the monorail is down the ramp, take the ferry boat. Chances are your wait will be shorter.

Get Park Wise:  While the Express monorail will get you to the Magic Kingdom faster than the Resort monorail, the line for the Express is always longer. If the Resort line looks shorter, take it.

Of course, many people take the ferry boats for just on reason: The spectacular view of the castle that you just don’t get from the monorail. It’s a great way to start a trip.

Have an early dining reservation? Consider a cab.

Officially, Disney buses run a full hour before park opening. Unofficially, they run earlier than that for guests with early-morning reservations. You may want to notify the front desk the night before, but generally this isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, these schedules can be sporadic and if you’re changing buses to get to a resort, you may wait a long time. Your best bet? Take a cab. There are always cabs in front of the resorts and since they operate due by Disney’s good graces, you driver should be pretty honest about the fare. Make sure you ask what the full fare will be prior to getting in, just in case. Expect to pay around $15 – $25 depending on your destination.

You can’t take a park bus from Downtown Disney.

There’s a pretty obvious reason for this: Disney would prefer that guests not park at Downtown Disney (for free) and take a bus directly to the parks. Guests who decide to park for free at Downtown Disney will pay handsomely for their time, as they’ll need to take a resort bus to the nearest park and then take a park bus tot he resort.  Since time is money at Disney World, do yourself a favor and pay the $14 parking fee (for off site guests only). You’ll be grateful for it at midnight when you’re walking back to your car.

Easily remember where you’ve parked.

We’ve all done it: Forgotten where we’ve parked and ended up walking around for a half hour trying to find our rental using the car alarm.  Next time when you park your car, take a picture of your location, say Rapunzel 42. Bonus points: Email it to your friends back home with the subject line “Neener Neener, I’m here and you’re not.”

Getting from any of the other three parks to the Magic Kingdom requires two stops.

It’s one of those pesky facts of Disney life: Unless you’re coming directly from your resort, you can’t get to the Magic Kingdom directly.  So while you can take a bus from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios, you can’t take a bus from either of those parks to the Magic Kingdom, at least not directly.  It boggles the mind, right? There’s this nice,massive parking lot for buses, but sadly, those are for the resorts only. If you’re coming from Hollywood Studios, Epcot (either by bus or by monorail) or Animal Kingdom, you’ll need to transfer at the Ticket and Transportation Center and chose either a bus or a monorail.

Got a stroller?

If you’ve ever maneuvered through a Disney park with a stroller, you know that impatient look that other guests give you as you take your child out of the stroller, fold the stroller, and climb onto the bus with your 34 pound City “Mini,” all the while hoping that your child doesn’t dart into the busy bus lane. It can be pretty stressful.  If you want to avoid the hassle of taking your kid out of the stroller, use the monorail or boats as often as possible. While the smaller resort launches will require you to remove your child from the stroller and then collapse it, the Magic Kingdom ferry and the Friendships that run between Epcot and Hollywood Studios allow your child to remain in the stroller.

Get Park Wise:  Parking lot trams are almost impossible to board if you have a double stroller since the seats are narrow and there’s little room for you, let alone all your gear. I tend to avoid the trams when I have anything larger than an umbrella stroller.

The “magic” that is Magical Express.

I know some people believe that Magical Express is cleverly designed plan to get you to spend your entire trip, and therefore all your money, on Disney property. Sure, if you don’t have a car you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay on site after that shiny Magical Express bus drops you off at your resort. And you know what? I don’t care.  Few things in this world work as well as Magical Express, the free shuttle that takes you from the Orlando International Airport to your resort and back to the airport again at the end of your trip.

Just provide Disney with your flight information and your resort confirmation number and you can get on the bus any time, 24-hours a day. When it’s time to leave you’ll be given a departure time three hours prior to your flight. If it were just that, Magical Express would be a fantastic idea, but there’s more. Add the little yellow tags to your bag when you check them at your home airport and it cues airport personnel to send your bags via a delivery service right to your resort room. Even better, most airlines participate in Disney’s “curbside” check-in at your resort. You’ll turn in your bags and you won’t have to bother with them until you get to your home airport.  When you get to the airport, just proceed to the gate (well, after you browse through the EarPort first,of course).

If you know a few tips, getting around Disney property can be easy. What about you? Do you have any you’d like to share? How about warnings you’d like to give to Mice Chat’s readers?

Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.

You can find Chris at Everything Walt Disney World.

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If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!

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  • maguiref2001

    Excellent article. It cleared alot up for me. One thing I learned is that if you are going to the water parks at Disney, the parking is free! My family seems to like the ferry from the TTC because it’s fun. If you stay at the Polynesian there is a boat service to the Magic Kingdom. They also like the boat service that is available on the back end of Epcot that goes over to Hollywood Studios, especially if you are staying at the Beach Club or the Swan/Dolphin Hotels. Thanks for the great information.

    • Chris Wood

      Thank you! I forgot about the free water park parking.

      Thanks for reading.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    I recall that one way to get from Animal Kingdom to the Magic Kingdom quickly was to catch a bus to the Contemporary, and walk from there. Epcot has enough hotels nearby one could get there quickly in similair fashion, from another park or from Downtown Disney.

    • Chris Wood

      Yes, BCDisneyGeek, you can do that. The only downside is that those buses are often full and you sometimes have to wait a bit to get on one. But you probably would save a little bit of time just by bypassing the TTC.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • sinatra12

    My aunt timed it once and she found it it takes about 30 minutes to get from the TTC to the MK

    • Chris Wood

      Awesome. I’m agreeing with your aunt. And I have to say, that’s the longest 30 minutes of your trip when you REALLY want to be in the Magic Kingdom.

  • SpectroMan

    What if you are staying as a guest in someone else’s WDW resort room – would you still be able to take advantage of Magical Express without a confirmation number?

    • Queen Of Hearts

      Your host should add your information to the reservation so that you will have a Key To The World card. You’ll need it to access the room, use the pools, and use Disney Transportation. Once you have your flight information, your host can add you to Magical Express, or ask them for the reservation number and you can add it yourself.

      • Chris Wood

        Yes, ME is a great option. You can even just walk up to the counter and as long as you have a reservation, you can use it.

        Thanks for the comment.

    • Chris Wood

      Yes, as long as you are on the reservation. Otherwise, they won’t let you board.

  • Gregg Condon

    Great article and I agree with pretty much everything you said.

    While we always rent a car when we go to WDW (we like the resort hop a lot) I agree that getting to MK is generally better by bus than by car.

    There is one exception to this we’ve found though, during after-hours parties and for Extra Magic Hours. Typically a significant number of people attending MNNSHP, Xmas party, etc are resort guests which means the lines for the buses are huge.

    Conversely, when it comes to EMH all the guests are resort guests and we’ve waited upwards of 60 minutes to board a bus after EMH ended. By having a car it’s quite easy to hop a monorail or boat back to the TTC or Poly and then back to your car.

    Also, as a resort guest you can park at any hotel for free so you can park at the Poly, Grand FL or Contemporary and take a boat/monorail back to that hotel and your car.

    One other thing we noticed last time, you can still use Magical Express for your bags even if you aren’t taking the bus.

    • Chris Wood

      Hi Greg. Thanks for your comments. We always appreciate hearing about the experiences others have at DL and WDW. Good points about EMH and about leaving the park in general at night. I usually avoid this by staying in the park. You can actually hang out for about 90 minutes after closing, so I like to find a seat and watch the castle lights change color, maybe even catch the “kiss goodnight” and then I do a little shopping. I love walking down an almost empty Main Street.

      One thing is that Disney has cracked down quite a bit regarding parking at MK area resorts. Particularly with the Contemporary, you won’t usually be able to park there unless you have a dining reservation. They’ve even been turning people down for valet parking. 🙁

  • KENfromOC

    We were last there in 2005 (my 8th trip) and used the excellent Magical Express system (flying in from Orange County to Orlando). But what about if you want to visit Universal, Sea World or another destination for the day? Does WDW have outside tours and transportation to these places as they did many years ago?

    • Chris Wood

      Hi, Ken. Thanks for your comment. For Universal, you have a couple of options: Rent a car for the day from one of several sites on property (they’ll even pick you up and drop you off), take a cap (very expensive), or buy a ticket that includes a one-day two park hopper and transportation to and from your resort. For Sea World, you have the same options except the direct transportation with the ticket. You could also, if you have the time, take the city bus system (Lynx) but it can be a bit difficult to master.

      Of all the options, I prefer the one day rental. I believe, but I’m not sure, that you can only purchase the Universal transportation/ticket option from a travel agent–the folks at Fairygodmothers would be able to tell you more about that.

  • There are lots of things I love about WDW transportation: The Monorails, Boats, Magical Express, not needing to rent a car . . .

    But there is just one thing that I can’t stand, the HORRIBLE bus transportation on property. There is nothing magical about getting stuck standing on a lurching bus for half an hour on your way back to the hotel at the end of a long hot day in the parks. For all the times when you get lucky and an empty bus shows up with little wait, there will be an equal number of times that a bus shows up packed to the gills after having waited for what seems like forever.

    A company with the money and skill of Disney could surely expand Monorail and boat services and add light rail and other reliable and modern transportation systems so guest aren’t forced into those buses.

    There’s a reason why the original 3 hotels on property were all connected to the Magic Kingdom with Monorails and boats and not buses. It would be wise for Disney to shake off the MBA mindset which besieges the resort and reexamine truly magical and vacation worthy transportation options.

    Thank you Chris. I LOVE your columns!!!

    • Chris Wood

      Thanks, Dusty. I appreciate it. I don’t like the buses either, but I am also very impatient in the parks because I want to be there the entire time. My ideal would be a monorail everywhere on property but sadly, that won’t happen.

  • Quentin

    I absolutely loved the free busses. I am used to taking public transit so the complaints like crowded busses are irrelevant to me. I don’t understand how people have a hard time figuring it out. It is really simple, everything is labeled and you just simply get on the bus that is going where you need to.

    • Chris Wood

      My husband is like you–LOVES the buses. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  • DisneyMama11

    One INCREDIBLY important tidbit of information that I can’t believe I never read before our most recent trip:
    Downtown Disney is NOT the place to go when you have early morning reservations! They will not transport to other resorts until after 11am!!!

    This almost ruined our breakfast at ‘Ohana because we felt it was in our best interest to follow the information we had researched extensively and use DD as a hub to get to the Polynesian instead of waiting for a third MK bus to roll around so we could board at our resort (it was a “red” day at MK). We were disappointed to learn that we had to then travel to Saratoga Springs and board for MK anyways, then taking the Monorail to the Polynesian. It was not a very magical morning, that is for sure!

    If I can save at least one family’s breakfast plans by spreading the word on here, then my job is done! Thanks for the article, it is great to have so much info in one place.

  • HungerGamesfan1

    So what would be the best way to get to Wilderness Lodge Resort for breakfast at 7:30am if I am staying at Beach Club Resort?

    • iillini24

      I think you should go to MK and take the boat to Wilderness Lodge in the morning.

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