Posts Tagged ‘transportation’
by Seth Kubersky
on February 25, 2013
All photos by Seth Kubersky
Owing to its expansiveness and isolation, most visitors to Walt Disney World in Florida basically have their options for arriving at the attraction dictated by where they are sleeping: on-site guests get to use WDW’s Byzantine system of busses, boats, and monorails, while those staying off-site drive their rental cars into the theme park parking lots.
Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort, on the other hand, offers more entry options by virtue of its more accessible design. While there are advantages to staying in one of Disneyland’s three Mouse-owned hotels (early entry to DCA’s Cars Land being chief among them), many off-site properties are nearly as close (or closer) to the Happiest Place On Earth than the official accommodations.
On my recent trip to California I tested three methods for getting into the Disneyland Resort, and I hope my experience will help you in planning your next trip. So, with deepest apologies to The Muppets, let’s look at whether to “[hitch]hike, bus, or yellow cab it.”
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by Erin Foster
on February 15, 2012
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?
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.
by Erin Foster
on October 17, 2011
Let’s face it, a trip to Walt Disney World can be an expensive undertaking. The good news is that there are plenty ways to conserve funds and still have a magical vacation. I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a budget for your trip, and suggest some areas of potential savings. What you should know right off the bat is that planning an accurate and economical trip budget is going to involve some math, some research, and possibly some hard decisions. As a first step, download the TouringPlans Budget Planning Worksheet.
You’ll see that there are seven main areas in which you’ll spend money on your vacation:
- Theme Park Tickets
Let’s go through these one by one to see where you can find information on obvious costs and hidden costs, as well as where you can find information on ways to save money.
The main options here are flying vs. driving. In some cases, the choice will be clear; if you’re coming from Tampa then you’re driving, if you’re coming from the UK then chances are you’re going to fly (or get very wet ). However, for most of the rest of us, the decision may not be so easy.
Your ultimate choice must be based on real numbers – not only the cost of plane tickets vs. gas, but also factoring in all related expenses. For example, if you’re flying, you’ll need to get on the phone or search the airline website for hidden fees such as baggage or onboard snack charges (yep, AirTran recently charged me for crackers). Fliers should also consider the cost of parking or taking a taxi to the airport, tipping for baggage handlers, and other related expenses. Even if you are using frequent flier miles, many of these ancillary charges will apply. You may also want to consider the opportunity cost of using frequent flier miles. Would using your miles for this trip impede your ability to take a more expensive trip later on?
Drivers must consider not only the cost of gas, but also meals on the road, wear and tear on the car, and possibly more on-the-road entertainment. Longer drives may even include a night in a hotel along the way depending on the length of the drive and the number of drivers in your party. For a good rough estimate of gas cost on your trip, try consulting AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator.
Additionally, your fly/drive decision will impact transportation charges once you’re in Orlando. For example, if you’re flying and staying at a Disney resort hotel, you have the option to use Disney’s free Magical Express bus service to get you to your hotel. If you’re flying and staying off-site, you’ll need to pay for a car service or rent a car to get to your hotel. If you’re driving and staying off-site, you will need to pay for parking at the theme parks (unless you are a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder) and possibly also at your hotel. If you need to work while on vacation, or just want to upload your digital photos at night, budget for in-room internet charges if your resort does not include them (usually around $10/day when there’s a charge). Be sure to factor all of these stealth charges into your budget.
When looking at the cost of flying, there are now dozens of online tools and apps that can help you locate the most cost effective flight. Popular choices include Kayak, Google Flight (new), Trip Advisor, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These tools make it easy to experiment with your flights to find the best deal. Try playing with departure dates or number of connections. Sometimes a Saturday night stay or a brief stopover can save you hundreds of dollars.
If you decide to fly to Orlando, many of the sites above also offer discounted rental car opportunities. When renting a car, be sure to check your personal auto insurance policy and your credit card benefits. These often make the purchase of insurance on a rental car redundant. Declining insurance on the rental can also provide big savings.
As a starting point, log on to disneyworld.com and get a price for your preferred hotel during your travel dates. This will tell you the standard “rack rate” for the room. A little sleuthing can often uncover discounted prices on the exact same room. Twice this year I have saved about $20 per night at the Pop Century simply by booking through Expedia rather than through Disney directly. I had no loss of Disney benefits, I still got Magical Express service, Extra Magic Hours, and the like, I just paid less for them.
If you’re looking for room discounts, try asking a travel agent or using one of the online services listed in the transportation section. Additional discounts might be available for Disney annual pass holders or AAA members. You may even want to tinker with the timing of your reservation as a cost variable.
Another rule-of-thumb is that if cost is your primary concern, then staying at an off-site hotel can be a big money saver. While this often the case, be aware that some off-site hotels tack on additional fees not represented in the room rate. For example, the non-Disney-owned Swan and Dolphin hotels add resort fees and charge guests to park at the hotel. These add-ons can add up fast. Before you settle on an off-site stay, pick up the phone and ask what additional fees you might expect.
THEME PARK TICKETS
The best place to start for park ticket pricing is the TouringPlans.com Ticket Calculator. The Ticket Calculator makes it easy play around with variables and see the real price differences between several choices. For example, a few clicks will show you that once you’re visiting for several days, the price of adding another park day has minimal impact on your admission ticket price.
While you’re figuring out how much park tickets will cost, don’t forget to consider the price of the popular evening parties at the Magic Kingdom if you’ll be traveling during the fall or winter. You’ll also want to consider the price of admission to other nearby attractions if you’ll be venturing off campus to see the Wizarding World at Universal Studios.
Planning your food budget takes some serious number crunching. Some Disney guests swear by the Disney Dining Plan (available to guests staying at the Walt Disney World resort hotels), but by no means does the Dining Plan make sense for everyone. To see if the plan is right for you, take a few minutes to look at the detailed menus and pricing for Disney restaurants available at DisneyWorld.com or AllEars.net. Ask yourself some questions and map out a few days of sample eating for your family. Will we eat full breakfast or will a muffin and coffee do? Will we eat dessert with lunch and/or dinner? Can our children share a meal? Do we eat appetizers? … and so on. By really pricing out several days of eating, you can extrapolate your actual food budget needs.
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of snacks you bring from home or buy at a local grocery, as well as the price of tips and alcoholic beverages, which are not included on the Dining Plan. Be aware that many Disney restaurants tack on a surcharge during peak seasons such as the winter holidays.
On the cost savings side, many restaurants offer discounts to Disney Vacation Club members, Disney annual pass holders, Disney Visa holders, and other affiliations. I ALWAYS ask my server what discounts are available.
One cost savings measure might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I’m talking about “Free Dining,” a promotion that Disney has run each of the last several autumns. I’m going to leave it up to the extremely capable Tom Bricker, who explains the pros and cons of free dining HERE.
While there is certainly plenty to do at Walt Disney World with just your theme park tickets, there are also many ways to enhance your experience with activities and entertainment. And, no surprise, many of these items cost money. For example, strolling through Downtown Disney is free. But then your child sees the oh-so-enticing-and-not-so-free Characters in Flight balloon and begs for a ride. For my family of five with older children, that 10-minute ride is $90 proposition.
Of course the best way to economize on these activity extras is to simply say “no,” but you may want to indulge a bit with that balloon ride, a visit to the spa, or a round of golf. Pricing for these items is readily available online or with a call to 407-W-DISNEY. Factor them into your budget if you’re planning to partake.
The purchase of souvenirs is another area where saying “no” is your biggest budgeting tool. However, as I discussed in a previous post, coming home with absolutely no souvenirs is unrealistic. Use the advice in the post found HERE, to help create realistic souvenir expectations for your family.
While you’ll likely not get away without souvenirs for your kids, you can often skip souvenirs for friends at home. Does your dog walker really want a Mickey sweatshirt? Do you absolutely have to bring a mug back for your child’s teacher? You may be able to easily trim these items from your budget.
This is where everything else settles: stroller rentals, PhotoPass purchases, shipping fees, kennels, and so on. Not all of them will apply to all guests. As with nearly everything else in your budget, it pays to shop around for these miscellaneous items. For example, there are several ways to save money over renting a stroller from the Disney parks. You can save money on airline baggage fees by doing some laundry while on vacation, but then you’ll need to factor the cost of washing into you budget. Again, play around with numbers to see what works for you.
So what’s your budgeting process? Where have you found ways to cut corners? What do you spend money on that I forgot to include? Let us know in the comments below.