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Walt Disney World might be known as the “most magical place on earth” but you still need more than a magic carpet to get to, from and around Disney World. Home to four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom) plus Disney Springs and two water parks, this Orlando destination is HUGE. Add 30+ on-property hotels and Disney World is roughly the size of San Francisco. Getting around requires some know-how. Here’s everything you need to know about the many modes of Disney transportation and the best way to get to Disney from the Orlando airport
In any vacation, how to get to and from your destination is always a big consideration in planning. When you’re going to Disney World, getting around the property itself is worthy of your pre-trip attention, especially if it is your first trip to Disney.
First-timers, listen up: not understanding the ins and outs of Disney transportation can turn magical into frustrating and no one likes that.
You’re in the right place because I’m deep diving into the ins and outs of the Disney transportation system. If it gets you to, from or around Disney and it moves, I’ve got the info.
Getting to and From Disney World
Whether to drive or fly is always going to be one of your major vacation planning decisions. I recommend making this decision as soon as possible after you’ve decided you’re going to Disney World. After all, this decision will impact how you plan the rest of your Disney transportation and your trip. Not to mention your budget.
Lots of things are going to factor into whether you drive or fly to Disney World: where you’re starting from, how many people are in your family and how much time you have. Then there’s the all-important question: how much are you willing to pay?
We live in San Antonio, Texas, and we always fly to Orlando. My husband has limited vacation days and the two full days of driving (each way) is the main reason we fly. Plus, the idea of two full days of driving on either end of a very busy vacation is not my idea of fun. While Disney is magical, I don’t personally find it restful, especially if we spend a lot of time in the parks.
It’s historically been pretty easy to find direct, reasonably priced flights on Southwest Airlines from San Antonio to Orlando, so that’s always been our choice. Someday if we have more time to enjoy the journey, we may consider driving.
Flying to Disney World
If you decide to fly, you’ll most likely fly into Orlando International Airport, airport code MCO. Flying into Orlando will get you pumped up for that Disney vacation. There’s a Disney Store in the terminal and lots of Disney signs, so you get that first dose of “Mickey” as soon as you get off the plane. It’s really fun for kids. (Not to mention a woman in her 50s. Ahem.)
MCO is a pretty easy airport to navigate – just follow the signs. You have to take a tram from the terminal to the baggage claim area. Depending on what your transportation plan looks like, you’ll find a rental car and shuttle options on the ground floor, as well as the exits to the rideshare areas.
Disclosure: The following section was sponsored by The Sunshine Flyer.
Meet The Sunshine Flyer: The Magical Express Replacement
Disney used to provide complimentary bus service from MCO for people staying in Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Even better for people using Disney’s Magical Express, Disney also retrieved your bags and delivered them to your hotel. Those were the good old days. Disney retired this service at the end of 2021.
But there’s some good news: The Sunshine Flyer.
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This bus transportation from MCO to Disney resort hotels is via luxury motorcoach. The buses are wrapped to look like 1920s trains or automobiles – no two are alike. The drivers are dressed like conductors, making this a fun, whimsical experience that sets the tone for your Disney vacation.
The Sunshine Flyer reservations can be made online up to four days before travel, so definitely be on the ball and don’t leave these arrangements until the last minute. Once you make your reservation, the folks at The Sunshine Flyer will communicate with you on pickup times and locations. The Sunshine Flyer podium is located at Terminal B, Level 1. Just follow the signs!
Buses have seatbelts, entertainment and restrooms. Car seats are not required. Sunshine Flyer does not offer baggage service at this time (but the website says it will be a option in the future) so you’ll have to retrieve any checked luggage from the baggage claim and bring it to the bus.
The Sunshine Flyer’s services are priced reasonably at $32 for adults and $20 for kids round trip. One-way fares are also available.
The company uses a technology-driven approach designed to keep your trip under 65 minutes. This is about the same timetable as the Magical Express. Please note this service is for flights leaving Orlando starting at 7 a.m. so if you have an earlier flight than that, this might not work for you. The last bus leaves the airport at 11 p.m.
Orlando Sanford Airport and Others
You can also fly into Orlando Sanford Airport. This is a smaller airport that’s increased in popularity with Disney visitors because of Allegiant’s low-priced flights from select cities. Before you snag that great deal on flights, consider how you’re going to get to where you’re going if you choose to fly into Sanford. The cost of rental cars out of Sanford may be higher, so make sure that low fare isn’t going to cost you more in the long run.
If you are willing to rent a car and find a great price on airfare into Tampa or Daytona Beach, both of those airports are less than 100 miles from Orlando. Personally, the savings in airfare would have to be pretty significant to make the drive worth it for me. But if you’re planning Florida travel outside of Disney World, this might be an option.
Driving to Disney World
The specifics of your Disney road trip are going to be entirely driven (see what I did there?) on your starting point. Things to take into consideration are how many stops you’ll need to make and the cost of lodging for any overnight stops, the cost of parking at your hotel, and how tired everyone will be when you arrive.
Tally up the cost of hotels along the way, gas, meals, and how much it will cost to park your car at your hotel. The days of free parking at hotels are just about over, I’m sad to say. Disney Resort hotels charge between $13 – $33 per night for parking. The price difference will match whether your resort hotel is considered to be value, moderate or deluxe.
The partner hotels in the Disney Springs area charge approximately $20 per night to park. Please check before you book for the exact amount. Disney Vacation Club members staying in a Deluxe Villa using their DVC points are not charged a parking fee.
Read More: How to Entertain Kids on a Road Trip to Disney
Size (of Your Family) Matters
If you have a larger family, driving is probably going to be cheaper, but our biggest reason for flying (besides the driving days eating into our vacation time) is arriving tired. We’re looking at two full driving days just to get there. Unless we had a do-nothing pool day as our first Disney day, the road fatigue would impact my enjoyment of the parks. You know what they say…if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.
If you live a few hours from Orlando, the decision to drive is probably a no-brainer. It all depends on where you start.
Once You’re There, Understanding Disney Transportation
If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World, I am so glad you’re reading this now because getting around takes some planning and patience – and sometimes, some money. Except for a few hotels, you can’t walk to the parks from your hotel. At least, you probably won’t want to because of distance or being tired at the end of a long day.
One of the carrots Disney will use to get you to stay at one of the Disney resort hotels is the lure of free transportation around the Disney property for resort guests. And, while the transportation is free (as well as safe and clean with friendly drivers) it can be crowded. You’ll need to factor in wait time. You might have the illusion that you can quickly and effortlessly breeze from one park to another, but that’s not how it works.
The reality is you might wait 30 minutes or more for a bus and be on the bus for 30 minutes or more to get from one park to the next. If you have dining reservations, Genie+ ride reservations, or anything with a firm start time, I recommend planning on at least 90 minutes to get from one park to wherever you’re supposed to be in the next park.
Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center
Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center, also known as the TTC, is located near Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. If you’re taking the Monorail, you’ll likely pass through the TTC on one of the three Monorail lines. More on the Monorail in the next section.
The TTC also serves as the parking lot for Magic Kingdom. If you drive your car to the parks, you’ll park here and use another form of Disney transportation to get to Magic Kingdom. As its name suggests, you can also purchase tickets here or get help with ticket-related questions. However, the plan-everything-out Disney nerd that lives inside me would like to let you know you should purchase your tickets and make park reservations well in advance of your trip. While buying your tickets at park opening is technically an option, I don’t recommend you do that.
The Disney World Monorail – The Most Iconic of All Disney Transportation
The Monorail is an above-ground train offering transportation to and from select resort hotels and to the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. One of the things I hear most often from people who are planning their first trip to Disney World is that they want to stay at one of the Monorail Resorts. These are great resorts. They are also some of the priciest resort hotels at Disney World. Even if you fork over the cash for the pricey resort, you’ll still have to use another form of transportation to get to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs. So I wouldn’t let being near the Monorail completely drive your decision on where to stay.
The Monorail has three lines: The Magic Kingdom Line, the EPCOT Line and the Resort Line. The Resort Line runs around Bay Lake and stops at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian and the Contemporary, as well as Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC.) The EPCOT Line runs from the TTC to Epcot and back and the Express Line runs from the TTC to Magic Kingdom. Confused? Don’t be. There are lots of Disney Cast Members on site who will help make sure you get to the right train.
If you’re staying in a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, you’ll have bus service to the parks (including the two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) and Disney Springs. The bus stops will be located conveniently near your hotel lobby and should arrive every 20 minutes or so. Larger, more sprawling resorts have more than one bus stop.
Disney bus transportation works the same in reverse when you want to return home and for when you want to go from park to park. The bus bays outside each park are quite extensive; there will be signs to tell you where to line up. Each bus will also have a sign letting you know what park or resort it is going to. Make sure you are on the right bus!
During runDisney events, you’ll have free transport from the resort to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to attend the race expo and packet pickup. runDisney participants staying on property also get free bus transportation to the start line and a ride home after the race.
Ferry Boats and More: Disney Water Transportation
There are several boat transportation options at Disney World, depending on where you are and where you’re headed. If you’re trying to get to The Magic Kingdom from the TTC, there’s another option besides the Monorail – the ferry. While the Monorail is a faster option, there’s just something fun about getting to the park by the water. Again, your kids may count this as a ride. If they do, absolutely don’t argue with them.
Other boats run to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios from various points around the property. I’ve heard them referred to as both water taxis and friendship boats.
You can access EPCOT and Hollywood Studios by boat from the BoardWalk resorts, including Swan and Dolphin. You can access Magic Kingdom from the Grand Floridian and the Villas at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Boulder Ridge Villas and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
If you want to visit Disney Springs by water, you can catch a boat from Port Orleans (both French Quarter and Riverside). You can also take it from Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort.
Taking water taxis to or from a resort is a great way to explore the resorts, even if you’re not staying there. They all have their special charm and great places to eat or have a drink…or to just look for hidden Mickeys in the lobbies. The deluxe-level resorts especially have so much theming going on and backstories behind the decor. They are super fun places to check out.
The Disney Skyliner is Disney’sgondola style rides through the air. The Skyliner can be accessed from Disney’s BoardWalk (resorts here include Disney’s Beach Club Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Boardwalk Inn), Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Riviera Resort and the two very popular value resorts, Art of Animation and Pop Century Resort. This mode of transportation also offers direct and seamless transportation between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The Skyliner solved a pain point for guests staying in the popular value resorts (Pop and Art of Animation) who wanted a Disney transportation option besides buses. Those are both large resorts and used to have lots of guests lined up for the buses. I find the Skyliner to be a convenient and relaxing way to travel around the property. The lines are efficient and the ride itself is relaxing and gives me a little bit of a break between parks.
Minnie Vans, Lyft and Uber
If you’re a fan of ridesharing, you can use both Lyft and Uber at Disney World. It sort of defeats the purpose of the free transportation, but if there are times when you don’t feel like waiting in line for the buses, know that this is an option. One hole in Disney’s transportation is resort-to-resort transportation. You can get from the resorts to the parks easily enough but if you want to go directly from one resort to another, there’s no free transportation option.
This can become an issue if you’ve got dining reservations at a resort you’re not staying at. If you have popular breakfast reservations at Chef Mickey or Topolino’s Terrace (two of the most in-demand character breakfasts) and you’re not staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Riviera Resort, rideshare is the most practical way to get there. You can take Disney transportation to the TTC and transfer to go to your second resort but if you have an early breakfast reservation, that plan probably isn’t practical.
Orlando Hotels with a Disney Shuttle
I’m a big fan of staying “on property” in a Disney hotel. But they’re not the only game in town. Many other Orlando area hotels are good values and cater to Disney goers, with perks such as Disney merchandise in gift shops, concierge desks selling tickets and shuttles to the parks. If you belong to a hotel loyalty program, such as Marriott or Hilton, you can use and earn points with an off-property stay.
In general, the shuttle service to the parks probably is not going to be as robust as Disney’s transportation from its hotels. You can have a great Disney vacation staying at a Marriott or Hilton property but a shuttle running to the parks every 20 minutes is probably an unrealistic expectation. Also, don’t assume a hotel shuttle is free. Many are, but always check.
Driving Yourself to the Parks
If you drive your car or use a rental, you can drive yourself to the parks each day. The pros are controlling your arrival and departure and not having to be at the mercy of bus schedules.
The cons are dealing with the busy Orlando traffic and the cost. If you’re staying at any of the Walt Disney World Resorts, you can park at any of the parks for free. You will pay to park at the resort but you’re not double charged to move your car from the resort to the park. If you are staying off property and paying to park at your hotel, you’re going to pay twice each day to park your car.
If you’re staying off property, you’ll pay a $25 per day parking fee (valid for the day if you park hop). You can pay a higher rate for preferred parking. It gets you a lot closer to the entrance, but costs almost twice as much.
Helpful Tips Because “We’ve Been There”
The Dreaded ‘End of Night’ Lines
The end-of-the-night lines for buses are the worst. I don’t know why, but the buses going to the parks always seem to arrive on time. But the buses taking you home at park closing always seem to take forever. Or maybe that’s just me.
If you want to watch the fireworks and milk every ounce of Disney joy out of your day, that’s wonderful. Just know there will be lots of other people who have the same plans. That end of the night wait when you’re tired and your kids are whining can be painful, especially if you’re not prepared for it.
Also, know each bus can accommodate up to two mobility scooters. These scooters take up seat space, and guests with disabilities normally board before other guests, regardless of their place in line. This can impact your wait time. If you use a scooter or have mobility issues, you can check out this post from the Disney Parks Blog.
Take the Monorail, Even if You Don’t Need To
Even if you’re not staying in a Monorail Resort (Grand Floridian Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, or Disney’s Contemporary Resort) and don’t need to use this mode of transportation, I encourage you to do it, just for fun. My kids think of the Monorail as another ride. Plus, they’re air-conditioned and I can sit and relax. Wins all the way around. One of our favorite things to do is have breakfast at one of the resorts on the monorail line (so many options to choose from there) and then hop on the monorail to visit one of the parks. That’s a great way to start your Disney day.
If you’re staying off property and your hotel doesn’t offer transportation to the parks, one of the easiest things to do is to hop into an Uber or Lyft and go to the TTC. You have some options from the TTC. We recently stayed in an area hotel that did offer limited transportation to the park, but the departure and arrival hours of their shuttle didn’t mesh with our plans. Using a ride share to get to the TTC and taking Disney transportation from there worked great.
Minnie Vans Are Back!
The Minnie Vans, operated by Lyft, went on hiatus during the pandemic and there was a lot of speculation on whether or not they’d return. They returned this summer and I’m happy to see this option back at Disney World.
When Minnie Vans were first introduced, they were a flat rate of $25 each way. Minnie Vans are currently priced based on distance, the same way regular Lyft rides are. No surprise, it’s more expensive to take a Minnie Van. Recent users are reporting rides in the $30 to $50 range compared to regular Lyft rides, which are in the $8 to $20 range. Rideshare fees can fluctuate based on gas prices and demand, so use these prices as a guide, not gospel.
Using Minnie Van service (Chevrolet Traverses operated by Disney Cast Members) is as easy as using Lyft. When you open your Lyft app from anywhere on the Walt Disney World property, you should see the option to select a Minnie Van. If you don’t, ask a Disney Cast Member for help. You won’t see Minnie Van as an option unless you’re at Disney World.
In addition to having a friendly driver who knows their Disney stuff, the Minnie Vans also carry two car seats. The drivers are properly trained on how to use/install the car seats. Minnie Vans can go places Lyft and Uber can’t go. They can drop you off in the same general location as the Disney buses drop off. If you Uber or Lyft to the parks, you’ll have to walk a bit to reach the entrance.
Why pay for rideshare when you’ve got free Disney transportation? Here’s Why.
Sometimes, time is more important than money. If you’ve got a shorter stay and are trying to pack in as much fun in as possible, long bus lines might not work for you. I mentioned the dreaded “end of the night” lines above. For me, it is worth paying a few bucks to get back to my hotel quickly at the end of a long day when I’m tired.
One of our best Disney transportation hacks is to take the Monorail to one of the three Monorail resorts at the end of a long night at Magic Kingdom. We call an Uber or Lyft from there.
The Most Important Thing to Know about Disney Transportation?
You have options. Learn what they are before you go. I know a lot of people don’t like to over-plan on vacation. But Disney is one vacation where you need to get over that mindset. If you plan to do two parks in one day, know ahead of time how to get from point A to point B. Know how much time to plan for to transit.
Bottom line: If you use the free Disney transportation, bring your patience and allow yourself plenty of time to get from one place to another. Make sure you download Uber and Lyft apps on your phone, even if you think you won’t use them. That end-of-the-night bus line might convince you that the spendy Minnie Van ride is worth the splurge.
Do the buses go to multiple resorts to pick up people before going to the parks? For instance, if I am staying at Old Key West, can I expect to be picked up and taken directly to Animal Kingdom or should I expect that our bus might stop at Caribbean Beach Resort and elsewhere to get people before going to Animal Kingdom?
Christine Tibbetts says
Ferries are my favorite—but the Skyliner gondolas may gain that position!
Sadly parking is no longer free at Disney Resort Hotels starting March 2018. Standard Overnight Parking charges per Resort Category: Disney Value Resorts: $13 per night. Disney Moderate Resorts: $19 per night. Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts: $24 per night.