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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Walt Disney World Resorts and Their Various Transportation Options

A Williams Family Blog reader, Lee, asked about info on various Walt Disney World Resorts due to rumors about guests having difficult time with transportation, etc.  And, while we haven’t experienced any “nightmares” while using Disney transportation (thank goodness!), we have learned a thing or two while navigating Walt Disney World. 

It took a while to organize this post in my head. . . do I start with various transportation options or by resort category?  I decided to go by resort category.  Here’s our take on various resorts and what we have found with transportation with the various resorts.

Walt Disney World Resorts fall into 3 categories:  Value, Moderate, and Deluxe.  A resort is classified as one of the 3 categories based on location within Walt Disney World, size of accommodations, amenities available to guests, transportation options available, and price.  All of our stays at Walt Disney World have been at resorts classified as moderates.  Actually, we have stayed at 4 out of 5 moderate resorts—with the only one left to experience being the Cabins at Fort Wilderness.

Value Resorts include the “All Star” Resorts—Movies, Music, and Sports, Pop Century, and the new Art of Animation Resort.  Art of Animation offers family suites except for the newest building—The Lion King—which offers standard resort rooms.  All Star Music offers family suits as well as standard resort rooms.  The Value Resorts are served by Disney busses.  There is one bus stop for each resort located outside the main building of that resort.  The Value Resorts are quite large—can accommodate many guests, so during peak travel times, busses can get full quickly.  We have no personal experience with the Value Resorts.

Moderate Resorts include Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside and its sister resort, Port Orleans French Quarter, Coronado Springs, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness

We have stayed at Caribbean Beach twice and found that while it is beautiful, the fact that it was Disney’s first attempt at a moderate resort is evident with guests having to use an internal bus to get to their resort room and main building as the check-in/registration area is very much separate from the rest of the resort.  I found it ironic that we had our carry-on luggage and were faced with large signs posted on the internal bus saying “No Luggage Allowed.”  Needless to say, our carry-on bags went on the bus with us, but it made no sense to me to have an internal bus picking up arriving guests with that type of sign.  We found location makes a big difference when staying at Caribbean Beach Resort.  The farther away from Old Port Royale will either make your vacation quiet or inconvenient, depending on your point of view.  Disney has made changes to enhance theming and entice guests to come to Caribbean Beach by creating “pirate” themed rooms, which are located in some of the buildings farthest from Old Port Royale.  Guests would pay more for the themed room located farthest away from the main pool, food court, shops, etc.  Caribbean Beach Resort does not have elevators, so if you have a room beyond the 1st floor, be prepared for the stairs.  The multiple bus stops at the resort making getting to and from a bus stop short and easy.  Guests riding the busses to and from theme parks and Caribbean Beach will find that it is a direct route with the only delays being the multiple stops within the resort.

Port Orleans French Quarter offers guests a moderate resort that is more compact.  Food Court, pool, and other amenities are a quick jaunt at this resort.  There is only one bus stop located just outside the main building that houses Guest Registration along with food court, shops, etc.  There is only one swimming pool at Port Orleans French Quarter, but guests are welcome to use the main swimming pool at the sister resort of Port Orleans Riverside and can get there by boat or by walking.  In addition to bus transportation, Port Orleans French Quarter has boat service to Downtown Disney and Port Orleans Riverside.  We had a 3rd floor room during our stay and appreciated the elevators.  On occasion, busses will be shared with guests at Port Orleans Riverside.

Port Orleans Riverside is the French Quarter’s more spread out sister resort.  Riverside offers a section of buildings designed after grand plantation homes and another section with more of a log cabin theme.  The resort busses also operate as internal busses with four stops within the resort—North, South, East, and West.  The main building with guest registration, food court, and shops is located at the South bus stop.  Riverside has a main pool along with several quiet pools located throughout the resort.  Riverside boasts the most pools than any other resort on property.  In addition to bus service to and from the parks, boat service to Downtown Disney and the French Quarter is available to guests.  Something we learned our first night there was to know your bus stop before getting on the bus to the park.  Is your stop “East,” “West,” “North,” or “South”?  The stops are not marked, so knowing this will require looking at the resort map handed to you during check-in.  The direction of the stop will be announced and that is all you will have to go by.  Get off at the wrong stop, and you could end up walking quite a distance to your room, or end up going back to the theme park.  Trust me, it has happened to us and we have seen it happen to others (and I was told never to speak of it again!)  You can’t rely by “looking” out the window of the bus for your location after dark as it is difficult to see due to the bus lighting as well as the foliage blocking the views to buildings.  And, the bus drivers don’t know the resorts and rely and the pre-recorded message that corresponds to the route.  I contacted Disney Guest Services about this issue and suggested that Cast Members verbally tell guests what “direction” their bus stop would be when checking in, in addition to the map, and/or mark the stops with the “direction.”  These are things Disney Cast Members wouldn’t know as they most likely wouldn’t experience this as a guest.

Coronado Springs was Disney’s latest attempt at a moderate resort and they seemed to have worked out several of the “flaws” from earlier attempts.  There are 4 bus stops throughout the resort that also operates as an internal bus system.  The stops are marked and numbered—1, 2, 3 or 4—one stop for each of the “sections” of the resort, with stop 1 building El Centro or the main building.  And, while the main pool is separate from the main building, there is a food counter, ability to refill mugs, and arcade near the main pool, giving guests most of the amenities without having to go to the main building which also has restaurants, food court, shops, arcade, health club, and convention center.  Coronado Springs is a convention hotel and the layout does keep convention guests and theme park guests a bit separate.  Elevators are available for guests with upper floor stays.    Quiet pools are located throughout the resort.  Coronado Springs boasts the largest hot tub on property.

The Cabins at Fort Wilderness are the largest moderate resort accommodations, sleeping six guests.  Fort Wilderness has an internal bus system in addition to bus service and boat service to the Magic Kingdom.  Guests often rent golf carts for use throughout Fort Wilderness.  Many dining opportunities are available here along with Hoop Dee Do Review—Walt Disney World’s longest running live entertainment venue.  Many outdoor activities are available for guests.  We have yet to stay at this resort.

The Deluxe Disney Resorts include Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary Resort along with Bay Lake Tower, the Polynesian Resort, and the Grand Floridian Resort.  Studios and 1, 2, and 3 bedroom Villas are available at Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, Bay Lake Tower, and are being built right now at the Grand Floridian.  Will the Poly be next? 

While we have yet to stay in any of the Deluxe Resorts, we have visited several for dining opportunities and have taken advantage of Disney transportation.  Here’s what we have discovered:
Just like the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and the Polynesian share the monorail and bus service, the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club share boat and bus service.  We have ridden the bus from the Beach Club to Magic Kingdom and made several stops along the way to pick-up and drop off guests.  We have also taken the bus from the Beach Club to Downtown Disney and had quite a wait as we watched several busses come and go that were headed to the same location.  We have also taken the bus from Animal Kingdom to the Poly which also serves the Contemporary and Grand Floridian.

Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian offer boat service to and from the Magic Kingdom.  The Contemporary is a quick walk to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom and the Poly offers a 5 minute jaunt to the TTC to take the monorail to EPCOT.

Guests at the Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Club can walk to EPCOT or Hollywood Studios.

Boat service to Downtown Disney is available from Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, though guests at Saratoga Springs may find walking to Downtown Disney easier and faster.  Guests staying at Old Key West and Saratoga Springs also have bus service to and from theme parks.

Guests at Animal Kingdom have bus service to and from the theme parks along with an internal bus serving Jambo House, the newest section with Disney Vacation Club villas.

To us, guests staying at Deluxe Resorts have efficient walking distances to various theme parks or Downtown Disney.  Once you leave the monorail line—Poly, Contemporary, or Grand Floridian—the transportation gets more inefficient—having to share routes with more resort.  Wilderness Lodge stands out with both bus and boat service without having to share with other resorts.  I can now understand why guests staying at some of the other Deluxe Resorts choose to drive to and from theme parks, etc.

Yet, Disney created the transportation system specifically to get guests to stay on property and not wonder off with their money in hand.  If the folks staying at a deluxe accommodation—spending the most money for that accommodation—feel they need a vehicle to make the most of their trip, they now have ample opportunity to travel outside the Disney bubble and spend their money.  To me, that’s not the best for the bottom line. 

Disney reported that use of Disney’s Magical Express service that offers guests free transportation from Orlando International Airport to their Walt Disney World Resort, was down during the first quarter of 2012.  Could inefficient Disney transportation service be part of the reason, as guests feel the need to rent a car?  I have another reason in mind, but I’ll share that for another post.

For us, using Disney’s transportation system is the way we want to travel.  We love to sit back and let Disney do the driving—either bus, boat, or monorail.  We usually don’t mind waiting too long for a bus and enjoy visiting with folks, even if we are hanging onto the handrail on a crowded bus going back to our resort.  We have had busses all to ourselves along with monorail cars and have ridden boats to and from Downtown Disney as well as to and from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom.  We want our vacation to be inside the Disney bubble and from the moment we arrive at Orlando International. . . actually from when we check our bags at our departing airport, we are on vacation!

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