Planes, trains, and automobiles? At Walt Disney World, the old transportation adage works a little differently. How about monorails and Magical Express? Or perhaps ridesharing and rental cars? Shuttles and skyliners? Ok, I’ll stop.
Walt Disney World is a pretty enormous place. In fact, it’s basically a major city, with a transit network to match. Transportation is an essential part of the Disney vacation experience. Most new visitors are completely overwhelmed by the choices and the learning curve. How can you best make use of Disney transportation with a minimum of waits and wasted time? Don’t worry – that’s what this guide is for!
From buses to rental cars to monorails and more, there is a myriad of choices. Here is everything you need to know to master Disney World transportation and transit, both on and off-property. And with 2020 and 2021 bringing unique challenges that affect transportation, I’ve included a discussion of modifications Disney has made and whether you should adjust your own strategies accordingly.
(Trips With Tykes uses affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase through links in this post. See our full disclosure policy linked in the menu at the top of this site.)
Airport Transportation to Disney World: Disney’s Magical Express & More
First things first – getting to Disney World! While for many travelers that is as simple as a road trip, many others need to fly to Orlando to start a Disney World vacation. For guests flying into Orlando International Airport (MCO), that’s where the Disney transportation experience will start for you.
Disney offers the Magical Express for all guests staying in a Disney resort hotel. The Magical Express is a free motorcoach transfer from the airport to all official Disney hotels, whether you are staying in deluxe, moderate, or value accommodations. It’s easy to use, but you’ll need to let Disney know your flight arrival times either online or over the phone in order to pre-book the Magical Express.
In normal times, Disney also offers a free bag service that allows Magical Express guests to skip picking up their checked bags and go straight to the buses. Disney delivers those bags directly to your Disney hotel room, usually several hours later.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Disney’s Magical Express is only offered to guests arriving into MCO. If you fly into Orlando Sanford (served by Allegiant Airlines), you’ll need to find your own transportation. Check those airport codes!
If you aren’t staying in a Disney resort hotel that would make you eligible for Magical Express, you’ll have to find your own way from the airport to your hotel. Taxis and shuttles are available, as are rental cars.
After years of being banned, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft now can operate at MCO too. Uber and Lyft usually offer substantial savings over taxi rates (about $50 to the Disney World area in a standard car vs. approximately $80 for cab fare).
Current 2020/2021 Differences: Magical Express baggage delivery service is not currently being offered, so that means all guests must wait for and retrieve their checked luggage before heading towards the Magical Express buses. Masks are required of everyone 2 years and up (as is Disney policy everywhere on-property). Additionally, buses are operating at substantially reduced capacity. Your waits for the Magical Express may be longer. Renting a car or taking a ridesharing service may save you time and present less risk.
Walt Disney World On-Property Transportation
Once you are on Disney World property, Disney offers a number of different transportation options. The Disney transportation system covers over two dozen hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, the Disney Springs area, and more.
The most common form of transportation is buses. Ferries, the well-known monorails, and the brand new Skyliner serve quite a few locations as well. The system is entirely free to use, whether you are staying at a Disney resort hotel or off-property.
Trips With Tykes Tip: If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, think carefully about your stroller and transit. You must fold your stroller before boarding buses and ferries (but not usually monorails and not the Skyliner). Can you do that while juggling a young child and whatever bags you have with you? Make sure to choose one of these best strollers for Disney to make your life easier!
Disney’s Shuttle Buses
The network of buses at Walt Disney World is so extensive that new visitors are best served to study a map to understand it all. A convenient shorthand to know is that buses run from most Disney resort hotels to each of the four parks at least.
The major exceptions are for hotels on the monorail loop (you can reach the Magic Kingdom via monorail instead) or on the new Skyliner (you can reach Hollywood Studios or Epcot via the Skyliner instead). Buses also run regularly between and among all the parks.
Shuttle buses also run from most Disney hotels to Disney Springs. But if you want to go from Disney Springs to a theme park, you’ll need to make a connection at a hotel first. There are no buses that will take you directly to the four theme parks.
Buses to the two water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon – also may require a connection. Not every hotel has direct bus service to these water parks. Be prepared to make a connection, usually at a theme park.
Current 2020/2021 Differences: To create distancing between guests, Disney’s shuttle buses are running at reduced capacity. The buses have plastic dividers to break up groups from one another. Standing room has been discontinued and masks are of course required. Waits may be longer at certain times of day, especially at park opening and closing.
Monorails at Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World has two monorail systems. One runs through the hotels on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It also goes to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC).
Note that there are actually two types of monorails that run along this line of tracks. One is the Resort loop that stops at every hotel. The other is the Express loop that takes guests directly to and from the Magic Kingdom and the TTC, skipping the hotel stops. Watch the signs to make sure you are boarding the right one!
The second monorail connects the Transportation and Ticket Center and the front entrance of Epcot by Future World.
Current 2020/2021 Differences: The TTC-Epcot monorail is not currently running at all. Guests staying on monorail loop resorts should use buses to reach Epcot instead. On the monorails that are operating, plexiglass has been installed between seating segments and only one group is allowed to board per segment. Masks are required. The monorail station at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is also closed during an ongoing renovation.
The newest addition to the Disney World transportation system is the Disney Skyliner, an ambitious choice launched in September 2019. This gondola system connects Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot (at the International Gateway entrance by World Showcase) to Caribbean Beach Resort, Art of Animation Resort, Pop Century, and the new Disney’s Riviera Resort. The World Showcase station also serves Disney Yacht & Beach Club and Boardwalk, all of which are just a few minutes’ walk away.
The Skyliner had a pretty public breakdown less than a week after its grand opening, making some guests a bit nervous about riding it. To be sure, if you have a legitimate fear of heights, this might not be the transportation system for you. But the convenience can’t be argued with. It’s been a pretty overwhelming success in the past year it has been fully operational.
Since its opening, demand has sometimes exceeded supply, especially in the early morning hours for guests trying to make rope drop. If you plan to use the Skyliner for early morning park access, make sure you fully research what time it starts running on the days of your visit. Plan to arrive well in advance of that time to be at the front of the line.
Current 2020/2021 Differences: Only one traveling group is currently loaded on each gondola. Lines to ride the Skyliner have been even longer than usual in the morning right now. In fact, it is currently a pretty unreliable transportation choice for guests looking to arrive very early to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to rope drop Slinky Dog Dash or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. (Note that due to a recent change in procedure, you no longer need to arrive to Hollywood Studios early in the morning to get a boarding pass for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – find out why here!)
Ferries & Boats at Disney World
Disney’s fairly extensive water transportation system is occasionally overlooked. But ferries and boats can be a smart transit choice too. They offer a peaceful and often less crowded transportation method.
The Disney boats and ferries to know about include:
- Epcot to Hollywood Studios, with stops in-between and Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club, Disney’s Boardwalk, and Disney’s Swan & Dolphin (aka, the FriendShip Boats)
- Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom
- Grand Floridian and Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom
- Wilderness Lodge to the Magic Kingdom
- Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom
- Between Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, and Contemporary Resort
- Disney Springs to Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter
- Disney Springs to Old Key West
- Disney Springs to Saratoga Springs
Current 2020/2021 Differences: Not all of the water transportation is running right now. While the FriendShip boats on Crescent Lake recently resumed service, all of the water transportation options from Disney resorts to Disney Springs are closed. And the ferries from the Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom are also closed during the Poly’s renovation.
Walking at Disney World
Sometimes the best transportation at Disney is no transportation at all! Even though Walt Disney World is large, certain parks and hotels are nevertheless very much within walking distance of one another. When transportation lines are long and the weather isn’t too hot, it might be quicker and more pleasant to walk to your destination.
A few common walking-distance connections to make:
- Contemporary Resort to the Magic Kingdom
- COMING SOON: Grand Floridian to the Magic Kingdom (Disney is currently constructing a brand new walking path)
- Grand Floridian to the Polynesian
- Disney’s Beach & Yacht Club or Boardwalk to Epcot’s World Showcase entrance
- Swan & Dolphin or Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios
- Polynesian to the Transportation and Ticket Center (to catch the direct Epcot monorail without making a connection)
Renting a Car at Walt Disney World (Or Driving Your Own)
Disney’s transportation system has fairly robust coverage, but many visitors nevertheless prefer the convenience of a car. In 2020 and well into 2021, so many more guests may opt for the additional safety that private transportation can bring, even as safe as Disney’s current protocols are.
For families with young kids, also never underestimate the importance of being able to leave and arrive when your child’s schedule dictates. Nothing ruins a Disney day like a tantruming toddler waiting on a Disney bus that just isn’t coming speedily! Plus, having your own car can really be advantageous for families because it makes transporting strollers easier.
Many visitors of course road trip to Disney World and will have a car with them anyway. If you are flying to Orlando, MCO has some of the cheapest rental car rates in the country. For travelers with young kids, you can add a car seat rental on to a rental car for an extra fee (or rent from Hertz with your AAA membership to get it for free!). Or, bring your own car seat from home on the plane for the extra peace of mind of a known seat.
So what are the downsides of driving your own car or renting one? Although parking used to be free to guests at Walt Disney World resort hotels, Disney began charging for parking in 2018. Guests now must budget for hotel parking costs (although they will not have to pay an additional fee to park at the theme parks at least).
The 2020 hotel parking fees are as follows:
- Value Resorts: $15 per night.
- Moderate Resorts: $20 per night.
- Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts: $25 per night.
Off-property visitors should also be sure to plan for parking fees at the theme parks. As of November 2020, parking at the four theme parks is $25 a day (preferred parking is also available for $45-50 depending on the season). Parking at Disney Springs and the Disney water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) is free for everyone. Parking is also free if you drive to a Disney hotel to dine.
Current 2020/2021 Differences: If you rent a car and plan to park at the parks, note that the trams that take guests from the depths of the parking lots to the park entrances are currently not running.
Ridesharing Around Disney Property
For the convenience of a car without the cost or parking hassles, consider letting someone else do the driving at Disney. Taxis have long been ubiquitous on Disney property, but ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft have taken Orlando by storm the past few years. Get the apps on your smartphone and add your credit card before your trip.
If you have a young child of car seat age, families can still use ride-sharing services safely in Orlando – even when venturing off-property. Uber began offering its Uber Car Seat service in Orlando in early 2016. This option provides one convertible car seat rental with your car for a small extra fee (approximately $10). The seat types vary but are usually most appropriate for toddlers. Availability isn’t always guaranteed so be sure to leave extra time if you want to use this service at peak times or very late at night or early morning.
Guests who have visited Walt Disney World might be familiar with Disney’s Minnie Van service which operated on the Lyft app but was driven by Disney cast members. Sadly, Minnie Vans have been retired permanently in 2020.
Current 2020/2021 Differences: Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft require masks of all passengers and drivers can refuse service to anyone who does not comply. Many drivers will keep windows down to improve safety and airflow.
Off-Property Disney Transportation Options
Guests from hundreds of different off-property hotels need transit options too. While off-property visitors can use the Disney transportation systems, getting to the parks at the start of the day requires a car or shuttle ride.
There are quite a few hotels that offer their own shuttle systems. The Disney Springs area hotels, for example, all share a shuttle system. The Four Seasons Orlando also has a set of dedicated buses to the parks.
Before booking an off-property hotel promising park shuttles, do your research first. How often do the shuttles run? Do they cost extra? Do they go to all the theme parks or just the Transportation and Ticket Center? Are there modifications in place for 2020 and 2021 you need to know about?
Book a Disney World Vacation at a Discount
No matter where you are staying or what transportation you plan to use, consider booking all your Walt Disney World vacations with Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. Get Away Today offers discounts on Walt Disney World tickets and deals on both on and off-property hotel stays. Get Away Today also has a special free concierge service to help you with dining reservations, Fastpass+ bookings, and more. Request a vacation package quote from Get Away Today here or book tickets only directly here.