Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 2: Spending The Least Amount of Time In Transit

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Last week I spewed a lot of crazy talk about resort choice decision making. To briefly recap, in order to decide where to stay, you must first choose which resort characteristic you value the most. There is no right answer. Depending on your needs, you might decide to prioritize low price, good view, variety of dining options, or any of a number of other possibilities.

Can where you stay influence how much time you can spend in the parks?

Here I’ll be discussing how to decide which resort is right for you if your number one priority (or value criterion) is reducing time spent in transit. In other words, where should you stay if you want to spend the least amount of time in a bus/boat/monorail/car during your precious vacation?

Defining Terms

Lucky for me, wacky Uncle Len Testa has already provided a handy-dandy analysis of Walt Disney World travel times on pages 388-389 of the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Thanks Len!

In performing my analysis, I’ll be running the numbers twice: the UG’s AVERAGE travel time using Disney’s free transportation, and the UG’s AVERAGE travel time driving yourself in a car. Yes, those are just averages; your actual experience may be slightly better or worse, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

To evaluate which resort necessitates the least amount of travel time, you must determine to where you’ll be traveling. Thus, your first step will be to create a trip itinerary. Let’s take my hypothetical Smith family. These imaginary guests will be at Walt Disney World for a seven day visit with Park Hopper tickets. Because they’re sensible souls, they often heed the common-sense rule to take a mid-day nap/swim break. Their imaginary travels will take them to each of the four theme parks at least once, Downtown Disney, a water park, and two evening meals at resorts. In other words, a typically busy Disney visit.

Here’s their sample itinerary:

  • Day 1: Arrive at WDW mid-day. To Magic Kingdom. To Chef Mickey’s for dinner. Back to resort.
    • 3 transportation moves: Resort to MK, MK to Contemporary, Contemporary to Resort.
  • Day 2: Resort to Epcot. Back to Resort for nap. To Magic Kingdom for fireworks. Back to Resort.
    • 4 transportation moves: Resort to Epcot, Epcot to Resort, Resort to MK, MK to Resort.
  • Day 3: Resort to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. DHS to Resort for nap. Back to DHS for Fantasmic. Back to Resort.
    • 4 transportation moves: Resort to DHS, DHS to Resort, Resort to DHS, DHS to Resort.
  • Day 4: To Blizzard Beach. Back to Resort for nap. To Downtown Disney for dinner/shopping. Back to Resort.
    • 4 transportation moves: Resort to BB, BB to Resort, Resort to DD, DD to Resort.
  • Day 5: To Animal Kingdom. Back to Resort for nap. To Epcot for Illuminations and dinner. Back to Resort.
    • 4 transportation moves: Resort to AK, AK to Resort, Resort to Epcot, Epcot to Resort.
  • Day 6: To Downtown Disney (forgot to buy a gift for grandma). To Magic Kingdom. To Hoop Dee Doo Revue for Dinner. Back to Resort.
    • Variable transportation moves: Resort to DD, DD to MK, MK to FW, FW to Resort.
      This is the trickiest day. There is no direct free Disney transportation from DD the theme parks. Therefore, in order for the Smiths to get from DD to the MK using Disney transport, they’ll need to make a transfer. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the first logical bus that arrives at DD is heading to the Grand Floridian. The Smiths will take the bus from DD to the GF and then transfer to the monorail to get to the MK. At the end of the day, the trip back to the resort may have more than one leg depending on the hotel we’re considering. This is noted on the spreadsheet footnotes.
  • Day 7: To Disney’s Hollywood Studios for another spin on Toy Story. Back to Resort. Depart.
    • 2 transportation moves: Resort to DHS. DHS to Resort.

Obviously this is exactly not what your family’s itinerary will look like, but my guess is that will be similarly messy, with pockets of sanity (scheduling the Hoop Dee Doo on a Magic Kingdom day) and pockets of insanity (was that extra trip to Downtown Disney really necessary?).

How much time will you really save by renting a car?

And just so we get this out of the way, I’m also assuming that the Smiths are relatively new to Disney travel and are in “see it all” mode. A frequent Disney visitor might be able to optimize the travel time factor by concentrating their touring based on attraction proximity to resort. For example, personally, when I’m staying at the Contemporary, I spend most of my time at the nearby Magic Kingdom, and when I stay at the Beach Club, I spend the bulk of my time at nearby Epcot. The Smiths are more conventional guests.

Crunching the Numbers

With all their transportation moves in place, I’ve created spreadsheets of the Smiths’ time spent in transit during their vacation depending on where they stay. The first analysis looks at vacation travel time assuming that the Smiths decided not to rent a car and are using only Disney’s free transportation.

Vacation Time Spent in Transit During Sample Vacation, Using Free Disney Transportation

When I looked at the results, I was shocked. Like many Disney veterans, I’ve had firmly rooted opinions about the transportation situation. There were some hotels that I was 100% were the “good” hotels with the best transportation, and others that I’ve avoided because of perceived transportation insufficiencies. My preconceived notions were wrong.

Looking at the “Using Disney Transportation Only” chart, you’ll see that the time spent on internal Disney transportation, given this sample itinerary, ranges from a high of 14.8 hours to a low of 7.6 hours. That’s a difference of 7.2 hours – nearly an entire day’s worth of park time you’ll forfeit in travel depending on where you stay.

The transportation situation here isn't obvious.

The “loser” was Fort Wilderness where, given this sample itinerary, the hypothetical Smiths will spend 14.8 hours on transportation getting from place to place. Not far behind was the Wilderness Lodge, with an average of 14.4 hours spent in transit.

The Wilderness Lodge is my DVC home resort. I’ve stayed there many times. Never in a million years would have said it was one of the worst for transportation. It’s in the Magic Kingdom area; it’s got to be good. Right?

Um, sorry, not right at all. Clearly, when you’re measuring time spent in transit, there is a significant difference between boat and monorail access to the Magic Kingdom. For example, the Contemporary clocked in with about 4 hours less time spent in transit than the Wilderness Lodge. When following a good touring plan, that could mean you’ll have time to see as many as a dozen fewer attractions if you stay at the Wilderness Lodge instead of the Contemporary.

And who was the big transportation time winner? That’s a resort that I would never have guessed – Saratoga Springs. On the sample itinerary, the Smiths would spend only 7.6 hours of their vacation time getting from place to place. I, for one, am going to take a much closer look at Saratoga Springs when I make my next Disney travel plans.

On average, the majority of the other resorts clocked in somewhere between 9.5 and 11.5 hours of travel time per vacation. Depending on what your issues are, that may or may not be enough time to influence your choice of resort. Is a sacrifice or gain of two hours worth compromising on based on other resort advantages or disadvantages?

Let’s See if the Transportation Picture Changes if You’re Renting a Car

Vacation Time Spent in Transit During Sample Vacation, Using A Car

With access to a vehicle, the three monorail resorts come out as clear winners. Guests at the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian can take advantage of the quick monorail access to the Magic Kingdom and can also use their cars for efficient access to the other parks. Of monorail hotels, the Polynesian comes out the winner by a nose, with the guests on our sample itinerary spending just 6.6 hours in transit during their vacation.

On the high end, guests with a car would spend the most time in transit at the Pop Century and the similarly-located, soon-to-be-opened Art of Animation resorts. My big takeaway from the with-car analysis is that having a vehicle is the great equalizer in terms of time spent in transit. While there was more than a seven hour difference between the high and low resorts for guests using only Disney transportation, there was just over a three hour difference for guests with a car. If you have a car, transportation time is more of a non-factor.

Making Your Decision If Reducing Travel Time is Your #1 Priority

Based on the sample itinerary and analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that my previous assumptions about travel time were not valid. If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said that the Polynesian has a much better transportation situation than the Pop Century. The numbers show that if you’re only using Disney transport, you may be better off at the Pop, from a transportation time standpoint. It would take some real creative thinking to justify the significantly higher cost of the Poly over the Pop based on a Disney transportation argument. (Remember that the Poly has other advantages – view, dining, room size, etc. We’re only talking transportation here.)

These numbers have also made me revisit the ever-popular no-car/car topic. With this itinerary, guests will save, on average, about two hours of travel time if they rent a car versus if they don’t, no matter where they stay. You can change the argument if you dine off site or visit other area attractions, but if you’re not going off-campus, you’ll have to do some real thinking about whether a possible savings of two hours is worth however many hundreds of dollars the rental car will cost. The answer will vary from guest to guest.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the Saratoga Springs anomaly again. This was the only resort where, using this itinerary, the guest was better off using only Disney transportation rather than making use of a car. I’ll leave it to a braver soul than I to run more sample vacation schedules to see if this holds true with other itineraries. Let me know how it goes if you choose to run your own numbers.

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Posted on February 15, 2012

34 Responses to “Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 2: Spending The Least Amount of Time In Transit”

  • The nerd in me (I do research for a living) LOVED this article and I really appreciate your taking the time to break everything down!

    We stayed at Saratoga Springs on our trip a few weeks ago as it was the only DVC property available during our stay and we were using a friend’s points. At first I was dreading how long to take to get from Point A to B given the location but in was floored at how quickly we got to the various Parks from the Resort (yes, I times each trip much to my husband’s annoyance). We were so impressed with the Resort overall that we are actually planning to stay there on our trip in late May rather than the Boardwalk as originally planned.

    One trick that really helped us out is that we realized early on during our stay that the first stop on the bus route was the Grandstand and the last was the Springs. The time it took to do the loop through the resort (I believe it’s three additional stops)is about 7 minutes. By walking 2-3 minutes from our villa we were able to hop on the bus at the Springs when heading to the Parks and then hop off at the Grandstand when returning, making our overall commuting time a little shorter. Also, there is a walking path from the Carriage House area to the Westside of Downtown Disney so we were able to walk from the Grandstand to that section in less than 15 minutes.

    Hope this helps someone out there! Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for the feedback and tips about optimizing the SS bus routes. Those little things can make a big difference.

      • The front desk was really great about explaining it to us. When they told us we were the first stop on the route my immediate reply was “I’m a New Yorker – how far do I have to walk to get to the last stop” – ha ha. We were pretty happy to learn it was a quick walk so actually just got into the habit of grabbing breakfast at the Artist’s Pallette and then stepping outside to the last bus stop to head to the Parks. You are right though, it is the little things like that which can make or break a trip!

    • I haven’t stayed at SS since 2008 and the main reason was the bus transportation. I can’t say if it’s gotten better, I haven’t been back since. When we were there we caught the bus at the Springs and several times we had to wait for several buses because they were full. One day I believe we had to catch the 3rd bus to the MK because that’s the first one we could get on. I guess it depends on what time of year you go and what time of day you go to the parks.

      Our last few trips I’ve come to love the Beach Club and Boardwalk, nothing beats being able to walk to Epcot and HS, plus you have access to the monorail. The rear entrance to Epcot is usually less crowded as well.

      • That’s a good point about when you go. We stayed at SS in January so the crowds were really low and we always left early enough to get to the Parks for Rope Drop. To head to the Parks we never waited longer than 7-8 minutes for a bus and the longest wait to return to the Resort was about 15 minutes at AK. The only time the bus was full was coming back to SS from the MK right at closing one night. Other than that there were usually just a few other people on the bus with us. It will be interesting to see how that changes on our May trip.

  • Apologies for the typos in my previous post. ;-)

  • Since I’m a huge fan of Fort Wilderness, I’d just thought I’d mention that I don’t think the Forts times are correct (particularly to Epcot). Using average travel times located on this site (http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/hotels/fort-wilderness-resort-cabins) they don’t match up. 48 avg minutes to Epcot? I think not! Don’t give my favorite resort such a bad rep please. :)

    • I was using the average travel time as listed in the 2012 Unofficial Guide. I’ve got absolutely nothing against the Fort, but I have to think that the times listed on your link are the ones that are wrong. There’s absolutely no way it takes only 9 minutes to get from the Fort to Epcot. The monorail ride from the TTC to Epcot is longer than that. I’m going to check in with Len about the numbers. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Just wondering if the time spent in the car includes getting from the parking lot to the entrance since the buses usually drop you close to the entrance.

    • From a footnote in the Unofficial Guide: Driving times include time in your car, stops to pay tolls, time to park, and transfers on Disney trams and monorails where applicable. I read that as, yes, it includes time getting from the parking lot to entrance. Again, I’ll double check with Len.

  • Erin, I love your articles on how to decide where to stay! These are all things I’ve thought about and looked at when determining where to stay for our trip in October. I’m glad I’m not the only one who looks at these different statistics and uses them to determine where to stay.

  • I love it! Not only is it great information, it gives me a great example to tell my kids when I talk about the real world value of mathematics! Thanks, Erin!

  • I was wondering if your transit times took waiting at the bus stop into account? For instance, on my last visit, I found that AKL buses run much more frequently than Coronado Springs buses. I’d see two or even three AKL destined buses go by while waiting for one to CS.

    • Yes. Bus wait times were figured into the counts. Remember, these were the averages of what the UG researchers tracked. Your conditions may have been better or worse depending on circumstances.

  • I recommend the Transportation Wizard app that helps you to decide your transportation options including estimated times. This app came in handy during my planning to make our time more efficient. You select a start point and then an end point and it tells you all of your options from monorail to boat to bus and then car along with the estimated travel time.

  • This is awesome! I’m sooo glad I’m not alone in the toils of choosing the right resort. I was so caught up in your writing and thought to myself that you reminded me of the MOM who gave me my first advice years ago when we started regularly traveling to WDW. On a whim, I clicked on your name…and it WAS YOU! Erin! You were my favorite MOM on the WDWMP! Thanks so much for this post and I look forward to Part 3. It’s so refreshing to see that I’m not the only one with a travel planning mind that works like this. Thanks so much!!

    • You just made my week. Thanks for the kind words.

      I’m wearing a bunch of Disney hats these days. In addition to writing for Touring Plans, I’m still answering questions over on the Moms Panel and also contribute to DisneyFoodBlog.

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • We stayed at SSR for the first time in February 2010, and decided we weren’t going to stay there again because of the bus wait times. So I’m really surprised by your findings (does it include time waiting for a bus?) We eventually had to laugh about it, taking bets, etc. so it wouldn’t ruin our trip. On evening we timed it — 45 minutes for a bus to arrive. Ugh.

    • In the past three years I’ve stayed at Pop, Coronado and AKV – Jambo House and have experienced rediculous wait times at all three. On average, I would guess my wait time per trip was ~15 minutes but the range was very large. I tend to think that those long wait time outliers are caused more by inefficiencies in the bus dispatch system and the loading/unloading process for wheel chairs or mobility scooters than with resort location. Sometimes you just get burned with a long wait but I’m not surprised to see that, with large sample sizes, the averages used here are less extreme.

  • I am a stat nut so this is amazing stuff – thank you! Now (I know you were expecting this) I am wondering about the difference in disney transportation between the Yacht and Beach clubs. 2 hrs more between them Im not understanding. Thanks for the great post and looking forward to testing some of this next week,

  • AWESOME post. I’m feeling good about our choice to rent a car whil we stay at the Poly in April. One followup question – what would you say is the best way to get to the Hoop De Doo from the Poly? Two boat rides or One monorail and one boat ride? I was thinkging of driving but I guess the internal FW bus must be slower than the other options..?

  • I hope the tranporation time for the Poly has been fixed in the latest version of the guide. The 37/52 time (in last years version)to get to Epcot from the Poly (when you walk to the TTC per the footnote) is way out of line. That would assume that It takes 12 minutes longer to walk to the TTC from the Poly than to ride the monorail from the GF to the TTC.

    I think your gut was right and the data is off!

  • I love the for this series, and both of your posts so far! These spreadsheets have to take hours, thanks for your dedication. I couldn’t help but notice that in the “Using your own car” spreadsheet, it anticipates it taking only 1 minute to get from the Poly to Epcot. I assume it’s just a typo, but it gets Poly a little closer to the other monorail resorts’ times.

  • Just got back from six days at WL using Dis transportation only. It was awesome. Really did not wait for any bus more than 10 minutes. Yes we shared some routes with Gfloridian and Fort Wilderness but it was better than my experience of Pop 2 years ago. I love your chart but I think circumstances play a huge role. We spent less time on transportation from WL than at Pop.

  • This article just got some play on some other sites. Great spreadsheeting!! But I have to point out on the car/no car debate: Car travel is highly dependent on YOU the driver. If you are agressive, know the short cuts and your way around and some parking lot tricks, driving is very quick. Also, when driving, DVC resorts SSR and OKW provide great car access with parking right there. Also, fort wilderness cabins and campgrounds give a parking spot right there where you sleep. This is GREAT for doing less walking as well as having less time. Bottom line: when staying at fort wilderness (cabin or campground), having a car and golf cart greatly save time but can add big costs.

    As for pop century: that place is a transportation nightmare. Best option there: use a cab!! You’ve saved a bunch of money by staying there. Use a cab and you’ll get all kinds of places quickly. Cabs within disney don’t cost that much and typically are less than car rental (used sparingly) yet are quicker because it’s door to door service (no parking hassles).

    Best way to get to hoop de doo from poly: possibly driving to wilderness lodge and taking a bus from there to hoop-dee-do. I can’t remember if there’s a bus that goes in that direction. But I know there’s one on the way back. Taking the boat from wilderness lodge one stop over to ft wilderness would work too but may be longer than just driving to ft wilderness parking lot and taking the ft wilderness internal bus. You can drive around in ft wilderness but you can’t actually park back there so a cab is actually the quickest way. I think a cab is allowed to drive you all the back to the hoop dee do area.

  • Can you put the table in a form that can be cut/pasted into excel? That would be really helpful!

    I do think your model is somewhat skewed. The choice of resort if travel time is important is really more dependent on what one wants to do.

    For instance, if one has no interest in water parks or DowntownD, wants to do 2 days at MK & Epcot, 1 day at MGM, it would seem that Poly is the place to be if one is using Disney’s system, especially if one is taking mid-day breaks.

    Nevertheless, a well-written & informative article, which is quite helpful for numbers-cruncher types like me.

    -EJ

  • Hi, I just came across this now a few months late. I too am surprised by SSR winning out when using Disney transportation. Like others, I am skeptical of your numbers for estimated travel times. I am not sure where your numbers are coming from. I have the 2012 Unofficial Guide “with kids,” and I am looking at the chart on p. 102-104. I think this is a chart for driving times, not Disney transit times. In any case, it claims that, e.g., SSR to DHS takes 14:30. You have on your spreadsheets SSR to DHS is 11 minutes by Disney transport and 20 minutes by car. There are other discrepancies. What gives?

  • Shhhh. Quit telling everyone about Saratoga Springs.
    I think that the hours gained by driving are lost to the miles of walking from parking space to gate.

  • We used a taxi instead of renting a car for transports that were not time efficient, like resort to resort for a dinner. It costs about $22 to go from one end of Disney to the other.

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