Auntie Tip: Navigating Disney Transportation

Here on Vacationearing, each list of “x things to do in Walt Disney World if you love y” tends to include activities and experiences that are spread throughout the four Walt Disney World theme parks, in addition to Downtown Disney, Disney’s BoardWalk area, and other locations on property. That means doing the lists will involve park hopping, so you’ll have to figure out how to get from park to park. I usually mention the means of transportation that I would use, but I thought in today’s Auntie Tip I’d provide a little more comprehensive overview of the transportation options on Walt Disney World property.

The gist is that if you can’t or don’t want to take a car to Walt Disney World, it’s no problem. If you fly into Orlando International Airport and stay in a Disney-owned-and-operated hotel, you can take Disney’s Magical Express bus service, for no charge, to and from the airport and use Disney-provided transportation throughout your stay.

Some bloggers and podcasters in the Disney community are huge proponents of taking your own vehicle or renting a car, because they consider it easier and faster to have your own transportation. That may be true, and that might work best for you, but since I almost always use Disney transportation, that’s what I’m going to focus on.

Once you reach your Disney hotel, you can use Disney buses, boats, and the monorail to get around property. Basically, wherever you need to go, a bus can get you there. The boats and monorail are additional options available only in certain locations.

Friendship Boat headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios, seen in front of Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

Friendship Boat headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios

If I have a choice, I like taking a boat or monorail. Sometimes it’s faster, but even when it’s not, it’s usually more scenic and pleasant than the buses. Plus, those options often don’t require you to collapse strollers, which can be a significant advantage if you have a child sleeping in one. In fact, the need to collapse strollers on buses is a big reason behind my suggested adult-child ratio for a successful vacation.

Regardless of the mode of transportation, the options you have for getting from place to place are usually well-marked and easy to find. If you’re intimidated by urban public transportation, don’t worry. There are no tickets or complex routes to figure out here. Just follow the signs, and you’ll be fine. If all else fails, you can always ask the driver if you’re not sure if they’re stopping where you are going.

Monorail entrance at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

Monorail entrance at Magic Kingdom

The buses are particularly easy to navigate. For example, If you want to go to Epcot, get on the bus that says “Epcot” on the large electronic sign on the front. Getting on the wrong bus is rather unlikely. The more common challenge you’ll have is waiting for the correct bus. Sometimes, particularly at the end of the night, you could wait 30 minutes or longer for a bus. That’s just part of the experience that you have to prepare yourself for (or, if you just don’t want to deal with that, bring or rent a car). As I’ve mentioned before, the magic has a price, and sometimes you just have to be patient. Even the most efficient transportation system has its limits.

Detailed charts showing how to get from any location on property to another are available on MousePlanet. The Disney website also has information, but it’s less detailed. My post on boating also lists the resorts and other locations accessible via boat.

Since those resources are available, I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but since usually my lists involve hopping from park to park, here’s a brief overview of the ways to get from one to another.

From Magic Kingdom:

  • To Epcot: Monorail or ferry to Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), then monorail
  • To Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Monorail or ferry to TTC, then bus
  • To Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Monorail or ferry to TTC, then bus

From Epcot:

  • To Magic Kingdom: Monorail to TTC, then monorail or ferry
  • To Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Boat (leaves from International Gateway, between United Kingdom and France) or bus
  • To Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Bus

From Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

  • To Magic Kingdom: Bus to TTC, then monorail or ferry
  • To Epcot: Boat (will take you to International Gateway, between United Kingdom and France) or bus
  • To Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Bus

From Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

  • To Magic Kingdom: Bus to TTC, then monorail or ferry
  • To Epcot: Bus
  • To Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Bus

You’ll see that for all the parks except Animal Kingdom, there’s often more than one transportation option. As I mentioned, I tend to prefer routes that have boat or monorail options rather than buses, and I’ll often use those in my suggested themed-day itineraries. I also try to suggest a route that makes sense geographically, so you’re not crisscrossing the property unnecessarily.

In the comments, share any Disney transportation tips you have!

Auntie Tip: Free Customized Maps for Themed Days in Walt Disney World

I started Vacationearing because I wanted people to know that whatever their unique interests and fascinations are, Walt Disney World has something for them. When I started making the lists of things to do in Walt Disney World if you love *whatever*, I decided it would be fun to not only list the activities available but also provide an itinerary should anyone want to do all those things in one day. I know that many people prefer a more well-rounded vacation rather than such a niche themed day, but for those who visit frequently, it might be fun to shake things up a bit. If you are planning a themed day in the parks, a great way to plus the experience is to order customized maps.

These maps are available from the Disney website for free. If you want the maps printed and mailed to you, you have to reside in the United States, but anyone can create the maps and print them at home. To get started, you need to create an account. (If you’ve ever bought anything from DisneyStore.com, you already have an account.)

Next, you choose your theme parks. One limitation to the maps is that they’re only available for the four theme parks, so if your themed-day itinerary involves stops in Downtown Disney or other locations, you won’t be able to map them. Once you select a theme park, you can choose which attractions to highlight on the map. Then, you can pick a theme and decide whether to print the maps out yourself or have them mailed to you. If you have them mailed, it takes two to four weeks, and if you let Disney know about your vacation plans, they’ll also include information in the package to help you plan your vacation. After you submit the order, you get to enjoy the anticipation of checking the mail every day waiting for your maps to come!

So far, I’ve provided itineraries for 48 themed days in Walt Disney World. Which one would you be most likely to order a map for?

  1. 3-D Movies
  2. Aladdin
  3. Animation
  4. Astronauts
  5. Balloons
  6. Bears
  7. Birds
  8. Boat Rides
  9. Boating
  10. Cars
  11. Chip ‘n’ Dale
  12. Christmas (in November or December – Part 1)
  13. Christmas (in November or December – Part 2)
  14. Christmas (year-round)
  15. Cinema
  16. Cookies
  17. Corny Humor
  18. Cowboys
  19. Dinosaurs
  20. Disney Villains
  21. Dragons
  22. Elephants
  23. Fish
  24. Halloween
  25. Lady and the Tramp
  26. Lions
  27. Mark Twain
  28. Miniatures
  29. Mr. Potato Head
  30. Muppets
  31. Musical Theater
  32. New Year’s
  33. Peter Pan and/or His Mortal Enemies
  34. Pirates (Magic Kingdom)
  35. Pirates (outside Magic Kingdom)
  36. Pirates (resorts)
  37. Rain
  38. Reading
  39. Romance
  40. Snow
  41. Street Theater
  42. Thanksgiving
  43. Tinker Bell
  44. Toy Story
  45. Trains
  46. U.S. Presidents
  47. Vintage Magic Kingdom
  48. Winnie the Pooh and Friends

Auntie Tip: Entering (and Winning!) Disney Sweepstakes

One More Disney Day Sweepstakes logoOn New Year’s Eve, Disney announced “One More Disney Day,” a promotion to celebrate Leap Day. Today Magic Kingdom and Disneyland opened at 6 a.m., and they’ll be staying open for a full 24 hours. For those of us who couldn’t make it to the parks for today’s celebration, Disney offered the One More Disney Day Sweepstakes, giving away a vacation a day from January 1 through February 29, 2012.

Well, have I got exciting news for you!

A Vacationearing reader was one of the winners!

Screenshot of One More Disney Day Sweepstakes webpage showing winner Ashley V.

Ashley won a five-day/four-night stay for four people in a deluxe resort, including airfare, Park Hopper tickets, $1000 Disney gift card, and a choice of a $500 shopping spree, photo package, or spa package. Wow! Today we get to hear from Ashley about her experience entering and winning the sweepstakes. Enjoy!

Erica: Welcome to Vacationearing! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

One More Disney Day Sweepstakes winner Ashley V. and familyAshley: Hi all! My name is Ashley, and I’m from Northwest Indiana. My husband, Bryan, and I welcomed our first baby girl, Avery LeeAnn, into our family two short years ago. The three of us live with our chocolate lab, Kona, and enjoy all things Disney. My husband’s first time in Walt Disney World was this past September. I’ve enjoyed many trips to WDW, starting back when I was five years old. My husband and I decided to enter the One More Disney Day Sweepstakes—why not, right? And wouldn’t you know…

E: How often did you enter the contest?

A: I entered the contest once per day beginning on January 1, 2012, which is the maximum amount of entries per person. My husband, Bryan, entered once a day as well.

E: Did you enter on the website or via text?

A: We both entered the sweepstakes via text.

E: Did you do anything to help you remember to enter the contest each day? I was trying to enter it every day too, but I kept forgetting! I also found the website to be really temperamental, so I think entering via text was totally the way to go.

A: I agree—I had issues logging on and entering online, which is why we chose text. I actually set an alarm on my cell phone for the same time each day. When I turned the alarm off, my cell phone was already in my hand to send the text. (Otherwise I would have forgotten too!)

E: How and when were you notified that you had won?

A: Disney announced that one winner would be chosen each day from January 1 to February 29, 2012. The official rules stated that the daily winner would be chosen and notified the following day. I won the January 5 drawing, so I was notified on January 6.

Disney hires a third-party company to manage their sweepstakes. I received a call from them on my cell phone (same number from which I sent the text). They identified themselves, asked if I had entered the sweepstakes, and then notified me that I was a potential winner… subject to signing a form stating that I would accept the vacation and getting that form notarized, so they could be sure I wasn’t accepting it on someone else’s behalf.

A few days later, I received a package from them in the mail with additional information regarding the trip, forms that needed to be signed, and directions on how to claim the prize. At that point, I had to send the completed forms back to them and wait for a confirmation phone call. A few short days later, I received a call that they received my signed forms, and everything was in order. “Confirmed winner” is a beautiful thing to see!

E: How did you react when you found out you won?

A: To be honest, I was a bit shocked. I’m a pretty skeptical person, so I thought there had to be a catch somewhere… but, no. As always, Disney does things so well. They followed the official rules to a tee. They are being extremely generous with the travel dates and prizes included in this sweepstakes. They are so helpful and are happy to answer any questions I throw at them.

After the paperwork was confirmed, my husband and I began the exciting talk of where to stay, when to go, etc. We’re just thrilled to go back to Disney and especially to do it at no cost to us. That’s the best way to go!

E: What has the trip-planning process been like?

A: So far the process has been very easy. They contact me in stages for different bits of info. Disney has given out a specific phone number for contest winners to call for questions and to make travel arrangements. We have from June 2012 to June 2013 to travel. It’s been fairly similar to booking a regular Disney stay so far. All final travel plans need to be submitted by March 30, 2012.

At this point, I have a questionnaire to fill out stating my choice of deluxe resort, travel dates, who’s going with, etc. Making these decisions is harder than you may imagine! Do you stay somewhere new or head to an old favorite? Pick the most expensive place to stay or choose based on location? Do you take friends or family? Take someone who loves Disney or someone who’s never been there before?

As of now, we’re planning to take family with us. Our travel dates will be this fall, probably at the end of October. The weather should be wonderful, and we really want to head to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival since we’ve never been able to do that before.

E: Do you have any advice for others for entering Disney sweepstakes?

A: Thinking back, I can’t remember any other contest I’ve ever entered! I just never took the time. When Disney announced they were doing this giveaway I decided there was nothing to lose—just send a text—easy and free.

Of course, I would advise others to be extremely careful when entering any type of contest. Know the official rules, and have them at your fingertips. Also, make sure you are not required pay anything up-front or link the trip to a credit card.

Even though we haven’t taken the trip yet, I’m looking forward to spending time having a blast with my family and being treated like royalty—just the way Disney does it.

● ● ●

Congratulations again, Ashley! Thanks so much for doing this interview for us!

Whether or not you’re in Walt Disney World or Disneyland today for One More Disney Day, have a magical Leap Day, everyone!

Auntie Tip: Traveling Solo

To balance last week’s post on romance, I thought today I’d share some tips for the single travelers among us. I’ve never done a solo Walt Disney World trip, but I have done two days in Disneyland by myself, which was a great experience.

Traveling solo has a number of perks, not the least of which is being able to do whatever you want! Group trips often involve a lot of compromise. One person wants to go here, while another wants to eat there, and sometimes no one is completely satisfied. When you’re alone, there are no worries! Eat when you’re hungry. Sit down and people-watch when your feet get tired. Ride Storybook Land Canal Boats over and over if that’s what makes you happy. (OK, maybe that’s just me.)

Storybook Land Canal Boats in Disneyland

Seriously, who could not love this attraction? It's full of TINY things! (Sigh, if only they would bring it to Walt Disney World.)

Another advantage is being able to use the single-rider lines. These lines can make your wait for roller coasters much shorter. You just have to be OK riding next to a stranger, which, since it’s Disney and everyone is friendly, should be no problem. The attractions currently offering single-rider lines are Expedition Everest, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and Test Track.

Another thing I like about traveling alone is that it creates opportunities for magic moments with other guests. When I’m traveling with the whole family, I’m usually pretty focused on them. One thing I like to do when I’m by myself on a crowded Walt Disney World bus is to take a seat and wait for someone elderly or who’s with a small child to get on and then offer them my seat. I’ve ridden the buses trying to stand while holding a sleeping child, and I know how much it means in that moment to be offered a seat, so I’m happy to do that for others.

I also had an experience on my Disneyland trip where I was able to give a tired mom a break for a while. I was sitting on a curb waiting for the parade in Disney California Adventure. The viewing area was starting to fill up, and a mom asked me if her little girl (age 4 or 5) could sit next to me. I said sure, and the little girl sat down and immediately began chatting up a storm. I had been writing postcards to my nieces and nephews, so I started showing her the cards and asking about her favorite characters. That passed the time until the parade started, and I could tell the mom appreciated having a little break.

While it’s pretty unusual for me to strike up conversations with strangers, Disney parks are a good place to do so. If you’re not up for talking to complete strangers but would like some social interaction on your solo trip, check if there are any fan meets happening. Most of the large Disney communities, like the DIS and WDW Radio, have gatherings in the parks on a regular basis. I went to the WDW Radio Food and Wine Walkabout in 2010, and it was a blast! I knew of several of the people there from following them on Twitter, but I had never met them in person. Before long, we were swapping stories and sharing the food off our plates. In November, I’m planning to go on the WDW Radio Cruise, and I expect that to be a great experience as well.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2010 Walkabout with WDW Radio Lou Mongello

There was a pretty big group of us.

Another way to avoid feeling lonely in the parks is to take a lot of photos and text them to friends or upload them to Facebook and Twitter so that others can feel a part of what you’re doing. If you’re a reader, take a book along to help pass the time in line or while you’re eating. On my trip to Disneyland, I brought along the The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland as well as The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. I particularly enjoyed being able to follow the touring plans in The Unofficial Guide, which are also available to subscribers on TouringPlans.com (affiliate link), since my family isn’t usually that disciplined when we’re traveling all together.

Have you ever toured a Disney park solo? Share your tips in the comments!

Auntie Tip: The View from a Stroller

This morning, the Disney Parks InsidEARS Facebook page shared a photo of the Cinderella statue in Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom. If you look at the statue straight on, there’s nothing unusual about it, but if you look at it from a child’s perspective, it looks like she’s wearing the crown that’s painted on the wall behind her. I unfortunately don’t have any good pictures of the effect, but you can see photos on the Disney Parks Blog.

This is one example of how Walt Disney World was designed to be seen from the eyes of a child; however, not every aspect of the park experience is that way. Sometimes, this is all the kids get to see:

View of legs from a child's stroller in Walt Disney World

My three-and-a-half-year-old niece took this picture. On one of our trips, we got her and her cousins Mickey Mouse cameras, and it was hilarious to see their photos. It was also a good reminder that the view from a stroller isn’t typically the greatest. While the adults are being wowed by the scenery, sometimes this is what the stroller-bound child is seeing:

View of a fence from a child's stroller in Walt Disney World

So, when your kids complain about being strapped into their strollers, it might not just be about wanting to run around. A theme park in a stroller isn’t always all that exciting. So, while I certainly know how tiring it can be to carry kids around and how slow they walk sometimes (and how every once in a while you might consider leashing them), I encourage you to give your kids breaks from the stroller so that they have a chance to truly see—and touch—the magic.

A Toy Story Green Army Man greeting a child in Pixar Place in Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World