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!