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I’m an Atlanta native, so typically when I talk about going to Walt Disney World, I’m planning to drive. In most situations, it’s cheaper and easier for me to drive down and then use my car to shuttle between parks while I’m at the resort. From time to time, however, I’ll catch a special fare, and that makes it easy to fly down, but it makes me reliant on Disney transportation. This past weekend proved to me again why driving was a better option.
At Disney, the vast array of transportation options seems like a convenience that is unrivaled in major resorts. And in many cases that is true; however, in my most recent visit for the opening of Star Wars Weekends, I was paying close attention to how long it took Disney to shuttle me from place to place. I timed every trip to see how long I was on the bus/boat/monorail/flying swan to get from place to place. Here’s what I found:
Disney’s Magical Express – This was the best of the services Disney offered, and a big reason why I was comfortable flying and not renting a car. As soon as we landed, my wife and I were able to head straight down to Terminal B, Ground Floor, and hop onto the bus. There was no waiting, no mess, and we were on the road to Disney in no time. We landed at 8:15 p.m. and were checked into our room at Disney’s Pop Century Resort by 9:10 p.m. That’s less than an hour from deplaning to having a room key. That’s about as good as it gets.
Returning to the airport was no different. Our pick up time was scheduled for 10:45 a.m, and we headed out to the bus stop in front of the resort around 10:30. We were on the bus and pulled out by 10:50, making it to Orlando International Airport by 11:30. The exact time was 39 minutes from the time we left until we were walking into the terminal. Again, very good, considering how far away the airport is from Disney.
Disney Buses – Here is where the center of the Disney system falls apart. Disney sells to its guests that they don’t need a car because the wildly efficient bus system will get people from their hotels to the theme parks or Downtown Disney without any issues. On my honeymoon 15 years ago, that was certainly true.
On my last two trips that relied on Disney buses to get me to the parks, though, it has been a poor experience. Our first bus trip was from Pop Century to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the opening of Star Wars Weekends. We left early so we could get there for rope drop. From standing at the bus stop at 7:12 to arriving at the Studios at 7:35, it was a very manageable 23 minutes door to door, including wait time at the bus stop. That would be the last decent time on our trip.
The next morning, we woke up late and decided to go to the Magic Kingdom to have a nice breakfast at Main Street Bakery then check out Storybook Circus. We lined up for the bus along with about 75 other like-minded people at 8:47. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom bus depot at 9:35. If you do the math, that is 48 minutes, including only 5 minutes of wait time at the bus stop. I could have easily driven, taken the monorail and arrived quicker than that. I know that because I have made it from my front door at Pop Century to the Magic Kingdom in less than 30 minutes.
Our final bus ride of the trip was when we left the Magic Kingdom to make it over to the Studios for more Star Wars Weekends. The word nightmare comes to mind. First of all, to get a bus to the Studios, you must take the monorail over to the Ticket and Transportation Center. Considering that there is a bus depot right outside the Magic Kingdom, that’s insane. But we did it, which took us only 10 minutes, from 11:43 to 11:53. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.
It was 12:19 before a bus came to the Ticket and Transportation Center to pick us up. That’s not quite 30 minutes, but it’s darn close. Then, the bus trip itself, which should take no more than 15 minutes, took from 12:19 to 12:53. That’s 34 minutes on the bus. I don’t know if you’ve been on a lot of Disney buses, but they aren’t exactly built for long term comfort. To be fair to Disney, the crowds for Star Wars Weekends were extremely intense that day, to the point that the Studios parking lot was closed. So even driving that day would have been tough, but again, that’s back on Disney to figure out better ways to handle the crowds, isn’t it?
Boats – I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things to do at Disney is to take a boat from Epcot to the Studios or vice versa. It’s relaxing, easy to do, and forces you to slow down. So, on our first day of this past trip, we decided to take a boat from the Studios to World Showcase, where we had planned to spend our evening. We walked out of the Studios around 2:11, waited for the boat as it loaded, and were on our way.
As I said, we knew the boat would be slower, and that was perfectly alright. It took a while to get from the Studios boat dock to the Swan and Dolphin, longer still to the Yacht and Beach Club and a short hop across Crescent Lake to make it to Boardwalk. It was at that point that the captain of the boat informed us that because of lightning in the area, we would be forced to wait on the boat or get out in order to make it to Epcot. We chose the latter.
Our boat trip had taken us 31 minutes to get to BoardWalk. Again, we wanted to take our time, so this wasn’t a problem. It took another 11 minutes to walk from Boardwalk to the International Gateway, so it took 42 minutes in all to make the trip from the Studios to Epcot. Not a bad way to go, since it was easy to maneuver and the boat was a relaxing way to go. Sure, it took longer, but it was for good reason.
Taxi – I know what you’re saying…that’s not Disney transportation! What gives? Well, when Disney doesn’t give you the option, you have to take a cab. After our afternoon at World Showcase, we spent the evening at Disney’s BoardWalk, grabbing a drink at the Belle Vue Lounge then dancing the night away at Atlantic Dance Hall. The only problem? There’s no way for Disney transportation to get us from Boardwalk back to Pop Century.
That in itself is an issue. We got a cab from the valet at BoardWalk, and were back at Pop in 8 minutes. Easy travel time, no problems except the cabbie had issues taking my credit card. But once that was resolved, it was easy enough. With tip the total fare was $10, and we made it in plenty of time to get rested up for the next day.
So what’s the final verdict? Is staying on property without a car worth it? Well, in my opinion, the answer is no. My room rate at Pop Century was $115 a night after taxes. I could have stayed off property in a nicer room and rented a car for about $5 less than that a night. The time spent on the trip from the Magic Kingdom to the Studios alone was extensive, not to mention we would not have had to take a cab if we had driven or rented a car. So I paid a grand total of $35 extra for the Disney bus system. That’s not a lot of money, but it did give me pause, because I think I would have rather rented a car and not given up so much control of my schedule. While the Magical Express buses and the boat were actually quite nice, the inconvenience of the bus system and the lack of adequate stations at the Magic Kingdom or Boardwalk were very poor.
What about you? What’s been your experience with Disney transportation? Would you have rented a car in my case?