GETTING TO AND AROUND WALT DISNEY WORLD
Unsurprisingly there are two main methods of traveling to Walt Disney World: by car or by air.
Now before I begin, invariably someone will read this and say “what about the train?” You don’t want to take the train. Nobody wants to take the train. Until Central Florida builds a high-speed railway between Tampa and Orlando, rail travel to Walt Disney World will never be practical. It will most likely be as expensive as air travel and as time consuming as driving. So please don’t e-mail me and ask about taking the train.
For the vast majority of people reading this article, flying will be the only practical means of getting to Walt Disney World. The obvious major plus to flying is that you will get to Central Florida within a few hours of leaving your home. Orlando International Airport is located roughly twenty minutes away from Disney property but Disney provides a free shuttle service to and from the airport (“Disney’s Magical Express”, free for Disney resort guests) meaning that anyone who wishes to have a totally stress-free hands-off vacation can forget their troubles the minute they get on the plane. No worries about directions, traffic, parking, etc. Disney, of course, benefits from this too. By taking rental cars out of the equation, they succeed in “trapping” people on their property. No car means no way to get to Universal, Sea World, reasonably priced off-site restaurants, or hotels that would get shut down by the health department for having mice in them.
If you do decide to drive your car from home, for whatever reason you may have, or rent a car at the airport to drive to and from Disney, there are a few things you should know.
Walt Disney World’s property is located at the cross section of Interstate 4 and the Osceola Parkway. (Part of the reason Walt Disney chose this location to build on was that he liked the proximity of these two roads and Florida’s Turnpike to the then-proposed resort.) I4 runs from Tampa in the south to Deltona in the north, annoyingly to Interstate Highway buffs, it is regardless signed as an even numbered “East/West” highway…but I digress. You should also be aware of International Drive on your way to and from Disney World. Many off-site hotels and motels are on “I-Drive” as well as the other major stops on the Orlando theme park circuit (Universal Orlando, Seaworld.) This road gets extremely congested during rush hours year round and can be downright impassable during the busy times of year when everyone and their brother’s cousin are trying to get to and from a theme park.
Parking at Disney theme parks is free for Disney resort guests. If you are staying “off-site” at a different hotel, condo, vacation home, etc. and it does not provide free shuttle service to the parks, you will be paying Disney’s steep parking fee. Also be aware that if traveling during the busiest times of year (Christmas, Easter, 4th of July) and a Disney park reaches capacity (most likely the Magic Kingdom), off-site guests driving their own cars will be the first people denied admittance. This is most likely to occur between 11am and 4pm. It never happens on a normal summer day but you should be aware that it can happen during the busiest times of year and it will happen on uber-crowded days like the aforementioned holidays.
Regardless of if you are driving a car yourself, taking off-site shuttles, or even using Disney’s own transportation system, ALWAYS make sure to leave yourself tons of time to get from place to place on a property. Parking your car at the Magic Kingdom is a multiple step process that involves waiting at an entry gate, parking, taking a tram from your car to the “Transportation and Ticket Center” where you must then board either a monorail or ferry boat to the park, and then walking through Disney’s security line and ticket line.
Disney’s own transportation system, while ultimately reliable, is not always efficient. All Disney resorts run buses, boats, or monorails to the parks. The buses especially can be deceiving. A ride from your resort to a park may involve stopping at one or two other resorts (or multiple stops within your own resort’s property) and with a necessary transfer at a theme park, a ride from resort to resort for dinner could be a ninety minute adventure each way. Disney’s transportation can always be counted on for resort to park to resort transportation but you should always allow for at least an hour to reach your destination and up to two hours when going from resort to resort. This is something important to keep in mind when planning dinner shows and character breakfasts at other Disney resorts.
All told, the flight or drive to and from Florida will likely be the least important as far as planning goes. Hopefully the information in this article will keep you informed enough to keep things going smoothly. Next time I’ll discuss when to visit and where to stay at Walt Disney World.