You’re going a Disney Cruise AND you’re going to Walt Disney World – lucky you!
Land/sea combination Disney vacations are quite common; They’re a nice way to balance the frenetic excitement of a theme park visit and the mellow relaxation of a cruise. Here are some things to think about as you plan how to get from Part A to Part B of your vacation.
Should I take my cruise first or visit Walt Disney World first?
In the Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line, we recommend that guests experience the land (WDW) portion of their land/sea trip first. A visit to the parks is typically more tiring than a cruise (thus, the common refrain “I need a vacation after that vacation”). Most guest enjoy having the rest and recovery time that a cruise provides.
If you’re going from Orlando International to a Walt Disney World resort hotel, use Disney’s free Magical Express service.
From Disney’s perspective, there’s no difference in transportation procedure between a Disney World vacation and a land/sea vacation starting at Disney World. At this point, use Magical Express and pretend that the Disney Cruise Line (DCL) portion of your trip does not exist. This is particularly important to heed when you’re getting your luggage ready for transportation. If you’d like to have your bags transported by Disney from the airport to the hotel, then use the yellow Magical Express luggage tags. DO NOT put the DCL tags on your bag now.
Is there a charge to get from the airport to my Disney World hotel?
No. As with all WDW hotel vacation stays, the Magical Express service is free.
I’m finished with the WDW component of my vacation. How do I get from my Disney hotel to the ship?
There are a number of ways to do this. You can rent a car. You can take a car service or other hired vehicle. You can use Disney’s transfer service.
What is Disney’s transfer service? Is it like Magical Express?
Sort of, but not exactly.
The main similarity is that both Magical Express (ME) and the DCL port transfers take place on a coach bus. These have plush seats, seat belts, and an experienced driver who knows the route. During your trip, you’ll see videos about vacation activities. On both the ME and DCL buses there is also a small, but functional, restroom on the bus, making this a good option for guests with newly potty-trained preschoolers in the “when you have to go, you have to go” stage.
The main difference between Magical Express and a Disney Cruise Line transfer is cost. While ME is free to Disney resort guests, the DCL transfer is not.
How much does a DCL transfer cost?
Prices can change, but currently the cost for a DCL transfer from a WDW hotel to Port Canaveral is $35 per person. Kids under age three ride free; there is no price break for older children. If you have just one or two people going on the cruise, this may be your best option from a financial perspective.
How do I arrange to have Disney transport me from my WDW hotel to the port?
If you’ve booked your cruise with a travel agent, ask your agent to arrange this for you. If you’ve booked the trip on your own, you can make a port transfer booking online at DisneyCruiseLine.com, in the Planning Center area (you’ll need your cruise reservation number), or over the phone by calling Disney Cruise Line at (800) 951-3532. The call center hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST and Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST. You should arrange for port transfers at least 72 hours prior to your sailing.
OK, I’ve arranged for a Disney WDW to port transfer. How does this work?
The evening before your sailing, you’ll receive a note under your door at your WDW hotel room. The note will tell you what to do with your luggage and where and when to meet the bus.
I’ve done this four times at four different WDW hotels and the instructional letter never arrived at my room prior to 7:30 p.m. I have to admit that the first time I did this, I found the entire process unnerving. I’m a PLANNER. I like to know far, far in advance what’s expected of me. Getting travel details less than 24 hours ahead of time required me to summon all the reserves of zen at my disposal. I am more relaxed now that I know the drill.
You can expect that your letter will say that the Bell Services staff at your hotel will “begin luggage pick-up at 8:00 a.m. on the morning of your sailing.”
Does 8:00 really mean 8:00?
In my experience, yes. The latest they’ve been at my room to get my bags is 8:10 a.m. Your luggage MUST be ready by 8:00 a.m.
A few things to note when prepping your luggage:
- Prior to this DCL luggage pick-up, remove any airline and WDW tags. Then put the luggage tags on your bags that were supplied by DCL in your spiral bound document booklet. These will have your name, ship, stateroom, and other information on them.
- The next time you’ll see your luggage is on the ship, during the late afternoon. The earliest I’ve gotten my bags on the ship was about 3:00 p.m., the latest was after the safety muster, at about 5:15 p.m. This means that you’ll need to keep a day bag with any items that you’ll need access to during the day. This might include swimsuits (if you’re planning to swim immediately upon boarding), diapers and other baby care or personal care items, cruise documents, personal ID documents, etc. You’ll also want to stock your day bag with any valuables or mission critical items such as medications, prescription glasses, a child’s “lovey,” electronics, etc.
- You do not need to be in your room when your luggage is collected. If you’d like to take advantage of one last WDW character meal or early Extra Magic Hours spin on Space Mountain, you can leave the room at the crack of dawn and they’ll still pick up your bags.
My bags are taken care of, now what about me?
The letter in your room will also give instructions about the time and location of your pick-up. The location varies depending on the hotel, but typically this will be at a specific point in or near the lobby. In my experience, the hotel staff knows/cares very little about Disney Cruise pick-ups. If you have questions, either you or they will end up calling DCL directly.
I have never seen a WDW to DCL port pick-up time prior to 11:00 a.m. The latest pick-up time I have personally been given was 12:30 p.m.
12:30? Isn’t that kind of late?
Well, yes. Once you get to your meeting point, there will be a bit of housekeeping to take care of (checking IDs, etc.) and there may be a stop at another resort or two to collect more guests, so realistically you’re probably not getting to the port until about two hours after your assigned pick up time. If you have a 12:30 hotel pick-up, you may not be getting to the ship until 2:30 or so.
There are pros and cons to arriving at the port late. On the plus side, here are some benefits of late port arrival:
- You’ll have extra time at Walt Disney World. When I stayed at the Contemporary and had a noon pick-up prior to my cruise, I was able to have breakfast and work in eight rides before having to leave. If your visit to WDW is brief, a few extra hours in the parks can be a great bonus.
- The check-in lines at Port Canaveral will likely be minimal. When I’ve done a Disney WDW to Port Canaveral transfer, I’ve always gotten through the security checkpoint within five minutes and through the port check-in within 10 minutes. If you arrive super early in the morning, you could have a substantial wait ahead of you, with swarming crowds all around.
- Your room may be ready, or close to it, when you have a late arrival. You can pop your hand baggage in your room right away, without having to carry it around the ship.
- Lines for food at lunch will be minimal.
On the minus side, here are some negative issues you might encounter with a late port arrival:
- If you’re a worrier, you may have stress that the bus won’t arrive in time for sail away. (An unfounded worry, but a worry nonetheless.)
- If you’re trying to accomplish “business” aboard the ship, you may be at a disadvantage. Some things are first come, first served. By business I mean things like arranging teen spa treatments, getting walk-up Palo reservations, snagging a stateroom upgrade, switching dinner seating times, or grabbing tickets for a character greeting. I have heard a few anecdotes about guests being locked out the free tickets for the Anna/Elsa greeting because they had been fully distributed prior to their arrival.
- You’ll have less time to enjoy onboard amenities like the pool and buffet lunch. This may not be an issue if you’re on a longer cruise with several sea days, but if you’re on a three night sailing with no sea day, then this may matter to you.
- You’ll have less time to experience the open house hours at the kids’ clubs. If your young child is reticent about using the clubs, extra time there with you could help ease the way.
I’m interested in having as much time as possible on the ship. Can I change my DCL pick up time to make it earilier?
There is no official mechanism to change your pick-up time. There’s one pick-up per hotel, always in the late morning or early afternoon.
I have heard of a workaround. Some guests who want to use Disney transfers and also want to get to the port early decide to do a two-step transfer. First they take Disney’s free Magical Express service from their WDW hotel back to Orlando International Airport. They do this early in the morning. Then they take a DCL transfer from MCO to the port. The MCO to Port Canaveral transfer cost is also currently $35.
The airport to port buses begin departing at about 9:30 a.m., plus the trip from MCO to Port Canaveral is a bit shorter than the trip from WDW to Port Canaveral. By doing this, it’s conceivable that you could be at the port as much as three hours earlier than if you took the transfer directly from your hotel. On the down side, you’re getting up earlier and spending more time on buses. This wouldn’t be my choice, but it works for some folks.
Can anyone use the MCO to Port Canaveral transfer?
As long as you’ve made a reservation and paid the fee, sure. A typical user of this service is someone whose flight arrived at the airport the morning of the cruise, or someone who arrived the night before and stayed over at the airport Hyatt or other airport area hotel.
I want to arrive at the port early, but that back-to-MCO workaround seems silly to me. Is there an alternative?
Guests in your position most commonly use a car/limo service to get from their Disney hotel to Port Canaveral.
With a car service, you arrange the pick-up time with the company. You can ask them to get you as early as you want. Other pros of using a car service are:
- If you have a larger party, a car service may be more economical than paying Disney’s transfer fee for multiple guests.
- You can arrange to make a stop on the way to the port. Guests may stop at a grocery store for a case of bottled water, for example.
- Some guests find car travel more comfortable than bus travel.
- You can arrange for them to pick you up at a location other than your hotel. For example, if you want to go directly to the port from a theme park or different resort.
On the minus side, car service users:
- Have no access to an on board restroom during the trip to the port.
- Run the risk of the driver not showing up on time, or not showing up at all.
I’d like to risk it. Can you recommend a car service provider?
There are many services, most of which are quite reliable. One that we like is Mears Transportation, 407-423-5566.
Some people rent a car to get to the port, for just a one-way 90-minute drive? Really?
This is probably the least popular option, but some people do it. There are Alamo and National car rental desks on Disney property at the Dolphin hotel and at the Disney Car Care Center near the Magic Kingdom. Other rental agencies have desks at hotels that are within walking distance of Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs). When arranging your rental, be sure to specify that you want to pick up and drop off at different locations. You’ll also want to verify that your rental agency has a drop point at Port Canaveral (most do).
If you already had a rental car for the land portion of your trip, it may make sense to keep it for the drive to the port, returning it at a Port Canaveral location.
Reasons why a guest might want to rent a car to get from WDW to Port Canaveral include:
- Need for a particular type of vehicle due to medical factors or size or party.
- Advantageous pricing.
- Need to control port arrival time, combined with unease about car services.
- Need to use a particular car or booster seat configuration.
How do transfers work on the way home?
Basically, everything is the same, but in reverse.
Disney offers paid ($35 per person) bus transfers from the port to either Orlando International (if you’re flying home) or to Walt Disney World (if you’re doing the land portion of your land/sea vacation second). Arrange for this via your travel agent or directly through DCL. Buses from the port to MCO and WDW run continuously from about 7:30 a.m. until about 9:30 a.m., as soon as one bus is full, they start loading the next.
You can also get a car service to take you to MCO, WDW, or any other Florida area location. Rental car desks are also available at Port Canaveral.
I’m not sailing out of Port Canaveral. Are there transfer options for me?
Yes. Disney offers some form of hotel or airport transfer for all of their sailings. For example, when I went on an Alaskan sailing out of Vancouver, I took a Disney transfer bus both from my hotel to the ship and, after the voyage, from the ship to the Vancouver airport. I’ve arranged for DCL to transfer my family from Dover, England to Heathrow airport in London following a European sailing this summer. Rates will vary depending on the distance and your destination. Again, contact Disney or your travel agent for details.
How do you typically get from Walt Disney World to Port Canaveral? What have your transfer experiences been? Do you have any other questions? Let us know in the comments below.