Getting Around Walt Disney World – and Why to Stay in an On-Site Resort

In my last article I discussed the Siesta Plan, which is the best way to visit Walt Disney World. Most guests arrive at the theme parks in the late morning and stay until they’re too tired to walk any more. The Siesta Plan alternative encourages you to get up early, stay at your chosen park until it gets hot and crowded, and then head back to your hotel for a swim, lunch, and maybe a nap. Then, you head back to the parks to enjoy the cooler and less crowded nights. In order to take advantage of this plan, you really need to stay on property in a Walt Disney World Resort. In this article, I’d like to tell you which hotels are best suited to taking full advantage of your valuable vacation time.

All of the Walt Disney World Resorts offer their guests access to the Walt Disney World transportation system. This network of buses, boats, and monorails can whisk you quickly and easily to any of the four theme parks, two water parks, or other destinations at Walt Disney World. While the buses are the most common form of transportation, they’re also the slowest, and the least interesting – after all, you didn’t travel all the way to Florida to ride a bus. Your theme park time is valuable, so minimizing the bus rides is a good idea. Some resorts also offer access to the parks via ferry boats. These boats offer open-air or enclosed seating, and are generally more scenic and interesting than taking the bus. However, they’re not much faster. The monorail is Disney’s flagship transportation system; it’s quick, easy, and fun. In fact, many guests go out of their way just to ride the monorail! Lastly, some resorts are located so close to the parks that you can walk right in! So, the best resorts are those that let you walk or take the monorail, allowing you to avoid buses whenever possible.

Disney’s Value Resorts are the least expensive hotels on the Walt Disney World property. These include the All-Star Resorts (themed around Movies, Music, and Sports), as well as the Pop Century Resort. Disney’s newest Value hotel, the Art of Animation, will open on May 31, 2012. While these hotels provide you with access to the Disney transportation system at a low cost, they rely exclusively on the bus system. Furthermore, many of the hotel rooms are a long hike from the nearest bus stop, and the large crowds mean you may have to wait a while for an empty bus.

Disney’s Moderate Resorts include Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, and the Fort Wilderness Cabins. These resorts provide more amenities to their guests, at a slightly higher price. From a transportation perspective, both the Value and Moderate resorts are bus only, so staying at a Moderate Resort won’t get you to the parks any faster.

The best hotels in the Disney system are the Deluxe Resorts. These hotels have not only the finest rooms and amenities, they also offer the quickest access to the Disney theme parks, usually via monorail, boat, or your own two feet.

The four main theme parks (Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom) are situated fairly far apart. When staying at the Value or Moderate hotels, your transportation time to any particular park will vary depending on the time of day, the crowds, and the luck of the draw in terms of which park bus shows up first. Therefore, at those levels you really don’t need to base your choice of hotel on its proximity to your favorite park. However, since the Deluxe hotels are located so close to the parks, it really helps to choose a hotel that’s adjacent to your favorite theme park.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is, not surprisingly, located next to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is located in the far side of Walt Disney World, quite a distance from the other three parks. Animal Kingdom is also Disney’s newest park; although it may be huge in overall size, it doesn’t take long to experience everything the park has to offer. Most visitors can easily see Animal Kingdom in one day. It’s a long bus ride to the other three parks, so you’re better off staying somewhere else if you’re interested in visiting the other parks equally.

The Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and the Contemporary are located closest to the Magic Kingdom. These resorts surround the Seven Seas Lagoon, and are directly on the monorail line that encircles the lake and stops at the Magic Kingdom. Guests at these resorts can also take the monorail to the TTC (the Ticket & Transportation Center) for a connection to the Epcot monorail line. Due to the routing of the monorail (it only runs clockwise around the lake), it is often faster to walk from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom than to take the monorail. Since these resorts offer bus-free access to the two most popular parks, they’re among the best if you want to get around Walt Disney World quickly. However, you will need a bus to get to Hollywood Studios or the Animal Kingdom.

The Wilderness Lodge is also a Deluxe hotel, and is considered to be one of the Magic Kingdom properties, but it is not on the monorail line. It has a direct boat route to the Magic Kingdom, and the view of the Wilderness Lodge as you round a point on the lake is spectacular. However, the lack of access to the monorail means you’ll need to take a bus to Epcot and the other parks.

The Boardwalk Inn, the Beach Club, and the Yacht Club are located next to Epcot. The Beach Club in particular is located right next to Epcot’s back entrance, but you can easily walk to Epcot from any of these three resorts. You can also take a ferry boat to Epcot from the docks in front of either hotel. Ferry boats also take you down a short canal to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Access to the Magic Kingdom is fastest by bus – you might be tempted to walk from one of these hotels through Epcot to the monorail line, but that’s quite a long walk, and the bus would certainly be faster.

So which of the Deluxe hotels offers the most convenient access to the parks? In the end, it really depends on which parks you want to visit most. If you really want to visit the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary is just steps away, and the Beach Club gives you a quick entry to Epcot. And both hotels offer bus-free access to one other park. If you’re afraid that either of these Resorts are outside your budget, I have good news for you – both hotels offer Disney Vacation Club Villas, which are often available for a fraction of the regular Deluxe resort prices if you know where to look. And I’ll tell you all about that in the next article!


“Walt Disney World – Accommodations” –

“Walt Disney World Resorts” –

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