Several months ago, Walt Disney World announced a park to park transportation option that takes you from the heart of a theme park directly to the center of another one in a matter of minutes. The Walt Disney World Express Transportation has been a smash hit with park visitors. While anyone can tell you about the service, we present too you an Eyewitness Account of Disney’s Express Transportation Option!
Four Disney parks in one day? You’d have to be crazy to even consider doing that, right? It’s exhausting just to think about the amount of time, stamina, energy, and moleskin required for such extreme park hopping. But recently, Disney has taken the stress and blisters out of park hopping. They’ve reduced the required energy, stamina, and time for park hopping to a bare minimum with their new Express Transportation Option. It really is a breeze. It’s a wonderful choice for guests who wouldn’t normally even daydream about park hopping. Disney might have called it the De-stress Bus Service!
You’ll have been screened by security at the first park entrance, so there’s no need to repeat the process at the other parks – which removes a big chunk of time and stress from your touring plan. There’s also no need to worry about parking or walking in from a parking lot or even a front entrance, as you are dropped off in the heart of the next park (and the next, and the next). And there’s no need to pass through subsequent main entrance touchpoints (after the initial park entrance) – though the cast member will tab your band with their tablet when you’re ready to board the Express Bus.
Note that tickets with the Park Hopper Option (or a Walt Disney World annual pass) are required for use of Express Transportation, not to mention a additional fee for the service. By Disney standards, the cost is nominal. A single-day ticket is $19 per person while a seven-day ticket (consecutive days) is just $29 (that’s $4.15 a day!). The ticket provides unlimited transfers between all four theme parks. These prices are sure to rise as the service continues to build traction.
We recently set out to do four parks in – not a day – but in just four hours! We made it with time to spare. Here’s how it works:
- Because the clock starts to tick on your Express Transportation ticket the day you purchase it (not the first day you use it), you’ll want to plan to purchase the ticket the day you’ll put it to use. To save possible delays, it might be best to make the purchase at your resort concierge desk in the morning. If there’s a line at the resort, you can also purchase the Express Transportation tickets at theme park ticket windows and Guest Relations counters. If the lines are long outside the park, gamble on Guest Relations inside the park. (Guest Relations is located on your left once through the turnstiles – which is conveniently the case in all four parks!) As a final option, you can also charge the tickets at one of the Express Bus check-in locations, but if a line has happened to build there, it’s nice to arrive with the option all pre-loaded on your MagicBands. Children under age 3 are free. The Express bus runs each day from 10:00 AM until park closing.
- We began our four-hour countdown in Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom check-in location (a podium with a large purple sign) is near the exit of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Arriving at the podium, ask the cast member to confirm the Express Bus schedule. The order can vary from day to day, but there will always be departures for one park (typically Animal Kingdom) on the hour and half hour; for a second park (typically Epcot) ten minutes and forty minutes past the hour; for the third park (typically Hollywood Studios) at twenty minutes and fifty minutes past the hour. All buses are, of course, nonstop. If you’re playing “beat the clock” to park hop, you’ll get on the next bus to arrive, whatever it might be. In our case, the next bus was for the Animal Kingdom. It was 1:30 PM.
Knowing what time your bus will be leaving is an enormous plus, in and of itself! How many times have the Disney bus gods frowned upon you as you arrived at a resort bus stop only to see the bus for Magic Kingdom, your destination, just pulling away … without you. Then you’ve sat, steaming, as three buses in succession have bafflingly pulled in and pulled out for the Animal Kingdom (!?) before finally, after 45 minutes, another Magic Kingdom bus hove into view? Fortunately, that’s not the norm. It only happens when a mechanical issue or schedule glitch comes into play. But it happens to almost everyone who goes to Disney often enough. (They should issue achievement badges, including Bus Stop Vexed, for Disney veterans.) The Express Transportation schedule is a balm to the wounds of those who have felt vexed at Disney bus stops. You know just when to show up (arrive at least five minutes before the scheduled departure – and give yourself a little cushion beyond that for the unexpected – such as a bathroom stop for the little one, etc.).
- It’s time! Your personal guide to the doors of the bus will escort you backstage! You’re asked not to take any photos, but looking your fill is allowed! As you walk out of Tomorrowland, you’ll find the bus just steps away. You can see the TTA passing above through frosted windows – but its riders can’t see you! You’re backstage!! Maybe you’ve wondered what the backside of Main Street USA looks like – maybe you’ve even looked it up on Google Satellite view. Now you’re there! It’s not glamorous, but it’s fun.
- The Express Transportation buses display VIP on their digital screens. They are not crowded – you’ll never have to stand. You might even have the bus largely to yourself. The bus departing the Magic Kingdom will dip into a ravine to pass under the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks and you’ll find yourself pulling out beside Space Mountain to turn south on the road to your next park. Arriving at the Animal Kingdom, you’ll pass more backstage areas – these are facilities for the animals and plants of the park. The bus will drop you off next to Kilimanjaro Safaris. In our case, we were walking into the village of Harambe at 1:53 PM. (And keep in mind that the route between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom is the longest ride between any two Disney theme parks. 23 minutes from Buzz Lightyear to Harambe! Not bad!)
- Departures from the Animal Kingdom most often (but not always!) follow the following schedule: Magic Kingdom on the hour and half hour; Hollywood Studios, ten minutes and forty minutes past the hour; Epcot at twenty minutes and fifty minutes past the hour. We gave ourselves less than an hour at Animal Kingdom on our marathon Express Transportation afternoon, but were able to grab a snack to eat while walking at Yak & Yeti counter service, and we rode rode Everest via the single rider line. We made it back to the check-in location at the Dawa Bar in Harambe in time to catch the Hollywood Studios bus at 2:40 PM.
- The Express Bus will drop you off at Hollywood Studios just steps from Rock-n-Roller Coaster. For us, it was 2:53 PM (13 minutes from Harambe to Rock-n-Roller!). You’ll walk through the Sunset Showcase Courtyard – and what’s this?! Character Palooza? The never-announced, semi-secret character meet and greet at the Studios? These are (some of) the characters who will appear in Fantasmic that evening. Their shift has begun, so Disney lets them warm up for their performance and enjoy greeting surprised guests. And seeing eight Disney characters in one courtyard, none of them with a line – that is a legit surprise and delight moment! And one heck of a coincidental perk for Express Transportation passengers who happen to de-bus at the right time at the Studios. Again, this is an unannounced phenomenon – so you may or may not see it. It is sometime repeated several times in one afternoon – and the location is sometimes changed up. Frustratingly, Disney wants to keep the “surprise” element alive – hence the uncertainly about time and place. But keep your eyes open!
- Be creative with your Fastpass options when you use Express Transportation. You could choose to rope drop the first park so Fastpass will be unnecessary there – leaving you free to prebook your favorite ride at one of the other parks you’ll be visiting that day. Of course, combining FP with the Express Transportation Option may not be a marriage made in heaven. You might find that the bus schedule is not as expected (the above schedule is only an educated guess!), and your FP time isn’t going to work. (Try to alter it on the app as soon as you learn the correct schedule for the day.) It might work out even better to plan to use your first three FP before leaving the first park, which would entitle you to tap a kiosk and get a fourth FP at a different park. (Repeat the process at the next park, etc.) Same-day selections don’t usually provide a wide choice – but availability changes literally every minute, so it’s worth a look. Note that you can’t get a FP in a different park until you’ve used up the first three that you booked all in the first park. Another option to squeeze in a ride on a tight schedule is to use a single rider line – at Expedition Everest, Test Track, or Rock-n-Roller.
- We had opted for a Rock-n-Roller Fastpass with a window from 2:30 to 3:30 PM, and it happened to work out. We also had a hankering for a cupcake from the Trolley Car Cafe and to see Chewbacca in the Launch Bay. We gave ourselves about 70 minutes at the Studios. The Express Bus schedule for the Studios is generally (but not invariably!): Epcot on the hour and half hour; Animal Kingdom at ten minutes and forty minutes past the hour; Magic Kingdom at twenty minutes and fifty minutes past the hour. We opted for the 4:30 PM Express Bus to Epcot.
- At 4:44 PM we were pulling through the Eastgate cast member entrance at Epcot. Here you’ll emerge on the east side of Spaceship Earth (the Epcot ball!) – that’s the right hand side if you were walking in from the main entrance.
- We had done it with time to spare – and no sore feet! In three hours and 15 minutes we had visited all four parks – and with time for some fun in each one. We had been on Everest and Rock-n-Roller and were now standing in Epcot, our clothes still slightly damp from Splash Mountain! Crazy! Of course, it was a cold winter day – on a hot day, your clothes would dry!
- Unless you are traveling at a very busy time, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom are just a hop and a skip apart via the Express Bus (no more than 15 minutes from the interior of one park to the interior of another). Magic Kingdom is more of a jump, but you’ll be sitting in air-conditioned comfort, so what’s a twenty minute ride? The Express Transportation Option is particularly good for guests who have only a few days at Walt Disney World or who are traveling with elderly or very young family members. Or for anyone who wants to try the Four Parks, Four Hours challenge! (They should give out badges!)
Have you used the Disney Express Transportation system yet?