Did you know Walt Disney World is the size of San Francisco (40 square miles)?
Consider that for a second.
My feet hurt thinking about it.
The resort is so big it has its own bus system, and depending to whom you chat with about it, it’s an amazing thing or can be the biggest pain in the ass of your vacation.
After using WDW bus transportation exclusively for our last few trips, here are a few important lessons I need to share with you.
Lesson #1 – If you’re staying at a WDW hotel and using the Magical Express service, then pack a small bag with you for check in. The Magical Express is the coach bus service from Orlando International Airport to the various hotels on Walt Disney World Property. There is something about leaving the driving to Disney that made our trip feel more like a vacation. We didn’t have to worry about our checked bags, waiting in long lines at the rental counter or finding our way to the resort. We could sit back and relax.
It can take luggage services a few hours to get your checked bags to your room, so you have two options. You can pick up your checked luggage at the terminal, if you wish. Or, you can pack what you will need (bathing suit, change of clothes) in one of your carry ons. We decided on the second option and were at our hotel and in the pool within 2 hours of landing at the airport–and we didn’t have to lug all of our bags. Win-win!
Lesson #2 – Get to the bus stop early in the morning – Disney buses start running about 60-90 minutes before park opening (AKA ‘rope drop’). Most days, we were at the stop about an hour before park opening and the buses weren’t full. The bus schedules were consistent at 10-20 minutes between pickups. We found earlier in the morning, there were actually more buses coming through than later in the day. Some resorts have monitors near the bus stops with wait times until the next bus.
Lesson #3 – Skipping the parking lots – This is a nice little perk provided by Disney transportation. When traveling to the Magic Kingdom, the buses take guests past the Transportation and Ticket Center and directly to the main gates! No waiting for the monorail or ferry boat!
At Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the bus stops are just to the side of the entrance–less than a 5 minute walk from the gates. We didn’t miss waiting in line for the parking trams and then walking around to find our car after a long day.
Lesson #4 – Patience is a virtue – While we never experienced the bus delays many complain about except at the end of the day when the crowds leave en masse and head to the buses. Typically, this is after the last parade or fireworks show. This can mean long waits at the bus stop, which can be a bummer after a long day.
The one time we did wait, we started at the end of the queue and only waited about 20-25 minutes because they were moving the buses in so quickly.
After that, we decided on a different strategy for the next day: hang around the park. We waited in the park after the final fireworks and watched as the crowds made their way to the exits. We did a little window shopping, took pictures or just sat and enjoyed the view.
This is now one of my favorite times in the park. Then, within 30 minutes or so, the crowds were much lighter and the bus lines were much shorter.
Lesson #4a – There is always going to be another bus. This is related to the previous rule, but worthy of its own mention. I also learned to wait until the next bus if I saw it was jam-packed. My legs and feet ache at the end of the day and standing up the whole ride home is not something I enjoy. We decided to wait until the next bus to get a seat. It was worth it, because we rarely waited longer than 5-10 minutes.
Lesson #5 – Leave enough time to get from place to place – Delays can happen and planning for this is important. Whenever we were heading to the park for a dining reservation or a time-sensitive event (fireworks, FastPasses, etc.) we left plenty of time to get from one place to another.
Don’t expect to get somewhere on the buses at the last minute to make an appointment. You’re setting yourself up for failure.
Most times, we allowed 60-70 minutes to get to and from the parks. I’d say 90% of the time we had time to spare once we arrived, but it’s better to have extra time than be late and miss something important.
This is especially true for your return to the airport on the Magical Express. They ask guests to board the bus about three hours before the flight’s departure time. It seems like a long time, but the bus can make multiple stops, there can be traffic and security lines can be long.
Bottom Line: Using Disney transportation to get you from your hotel to other locations around the resort is like any other part of your trip: a little planning before you head out for the day goes a long way to help your enjoyment of the service!
HAVE YOU EVER USED THE WDW BUS SYSTEM? What was your experience like? Share in the comments!