Walt Disney World Bus System
The Walt Disney World theme parks, water parks and other entertainment areas can attract hundreds of thousands of visitors per day, and moving them around the property efficiently is a major logistical challenge. While you can drive your own car if you prefer, Disney operates an extensive fleet of more than 300 buses which can (and usually do) transport guests quickly and efficiently from the resorts to the theme parks and other destinations within the Walt Disney World area.
The buses start running at approximately 6:30am, with a regular 20-minute services running from about an hour before park opening until roughly 1½ hours after each park has closed, or until the last guests have been picked up, to make sure that everyone gets home safely. Downtown Disney buses start running at about 8:30am and continue until 2am. Special buses for guests attending Character Breakfasts start at around 7am (or half an hour before the earliest reservation times) but please advise the bus driver of when and where you are eating, and allow at least 45 minutes before your check-in time, ideally an hour.
Once the buses leave the resort area after all the local pickup stops, the journey times are fairly short. You should be at the Magic Kingdom within about 15 minutes, Epcot or Disney Hollywood Studios will take about 10-12 minutes, while Animal Kingdom is the furthest away at about 20 minutes.
The two Port Orleans resorts often share a common bus service, although at very busy times — such as first thing in the morning or just after a fireworks display at park closing time — each resort may have separate direct buses (Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney rarely have separate bus services). Disney uses a GPS tracking system to monitor its fleet and they also check the current queue lines to determine when and where extra services are needed, so you should never be left waiting for too long – although after a long day walking around Epcot, “too long” can become a somewhat subjective term!
Port Orleans French Quarter Bus Stops
The “Blues” and “Jazz” bus stations at Port Orleans French Quarter are located right outside the main Port Orleans Square building, just on the right hand side as you exit from the main building.
The first station (A) is the stopping point for buses to Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Downtown Disney while the second station (B) handles the buses destined for the Magic Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios. Note: the daytime Downtown Disney buses stop at Typhoon Lagoon en route, while the Animal Kingdom buses also serve Blizzard Beach.
Except for the Magic Kingdom route, after the buses leave French Quarter they normally go on to pick up at the Riverside resort before continuing on to their final destination, especially during off-peak daytime hours. Please be aware that collecting from all four Riverside Depots can add 10-15 minutes to your journey before the bus finally heads off to its destination.
Port Orleans Riverside Bus Stops
The main (South Depot) bus stop at Port Orleans Riverside is located on the right as you exit from the Sassagoula Steamboat Company main building, just outside the rear exit of Fulton’s General Store. It is one of the few locations on Walt Disney World property that is trialling a new Wait Time screen, which displays the currently expected arrival times for buses for each of the parks.
The first station (Blue Bayou Platform) is the stopping point for buses to Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Downtown Disney while the second station (River Delta Platform) handles the buses destined for the Magic Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios. Note: the daytime Downtown Disney buses stop at Typhoon Lagoon en route, while the Animal Kingdom buses also serve Blizzard Beach.
There are three further bus stops located around the Sassagoula Circle perimeter road, with about a two-minute drive between each stop:
- The first is the West Depot, serving Alligator Bayou Lodges 24-26 and 28-35.
- The second stop is the North Depot, serving Alligator Bayou Lodges 36-39 and also Acadian House.
- The final stop is the East Depot, which is located behind Magnolia Terrace and also serves the garden-facing rooms of Oak Manor.
The other buildings are probably best served by the main South Depot but please check the resort map to see which stop would be closest for your particular room.
The Routing Dilemma
The exact route that the buses take around the resort can vary somewhat, even during a single day, as the dispatch system is computer assisted and the buses are tracked around property using a GPS locator system. New buses can be added to a route if a driver reports that there are long lines at a particular location and guests are being left behind, and routes can also be adjusted based on other factors such as driver shift changes, etc. So think of the follow as not so much Rules but more Guidelines.
Generally, the Magic Kingdom buses operate separate services from Riverside and French Quarter. The Riverside buses usually arrive at the West Depot first, then do North Depot, East Depot, South Depot and then back to the Magic Kingdom.
Most of the other parks have combined POFQ/POR services (except at some busy times, such as park opening or closing) and the normal route is Theme Park → (French Quarter) → South Depot → West Depot → North Depot → East Depot → Theme Park. Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney rarely have separated services and French Quarter and Riverside almost always share.
Some Epcot buses are currently trialling an experimental route, via an alternate service road, of Epcot → East Depot → (French Quarter) → South Depot → West Depot → North Depot → Epcot.
Generally speaking, Riverside guests are probably best to choose either the South Depot or the stop closest to their room, but for Magic Kingdom buses in particular there is a lot of merit in selecting the outer stops over the South Depot, as that way the bus is less likely to be full when it arrives at your stop. The East Depot is usually the least crowded. But remember, Guidelines not Rules!
Operational Information: It might help to understand how the Disney bus system works if you realise that the buses do not technically run from a resort to the parks and back, but rather from a specific park to the resorts and back. While this might sound like a purely semantic difference, the operational ‘Hubs’ from which the buses are despatched are located at all of the parks and at Downtown Disney (plus a few backup locations, one of which is at French Quarter by the way). Thus a bus which comes from Animal Kingdom needs to return to its own base hub, even if there are a lot of guests at the resort waiting to go to a different destination. The buses are routinely re-routed from their hubs, based on demand, but generally cannot switch to a different park destination once they get to a resort.
All of the theme parks, water parks and Downtown Disney have separate waiting areas clearly marked for every resort. With the exception of the Magic Kingdom, Disney mostly operates a combined service for the two Port Orleans resorts, so just look for signs indicating the “Port Orleans” waiting area. During busy periods however — such as at park closing time — the two resorts may have their own separate service, so watch out for waiting signs for “Riverside” and “French Quarter”. The destination will also be indicated on illuminated displays on both the front and the sides of each bus.
Transferring Between Disney Resort Hotels
Unfortunately, while Disney’s bus service is generally pretty efficient at getting you to the parks, it’s not so well designed for quick transportation between the various resort hotels.
If you’ve got a meal booked at one of the other resort hotels for example, the only way to get there by Disney transportation is to first take a bus to one of the theme parks or Downtown Disney, and then change to a second bus to get you to your required hotel. Generally, it’s a good idea to allow yourself around an hour and a half for most routes to be safe, and it is a good idea to avoid changing at a theme park around its closing time as you may experience long waits.
If you’re going for a meal at the Contemporary Resort — such as Chef Mickey’s — first get a bus to the Magic Kingdom and then walk over to the Contemporary, it’s only a few minutes away from the bus stop.
For the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge or Fort Wilderness you may find that catching one of the small local ferry boats which dock just in front of the Magic Kingdom will be quicker than waiting for a second bus. The monorail is also a good option for the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian (with stops occurring in that order).
For the Epcot area resorts — Yacht and Beach Clubs, Boardwalk, Swan/Dolphin — first get the bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then take the free ferry boat service from the dock just outside the theme park gates. This will mostly be quicker than the alternative of walking all the way from the front of Epcot, and it does not require theme park admission.
If you’re trying to get to an early character meal and you don’t have access to a car then it may be worth considering getting a taxi, which will probably cost you around $10-$15 but will make your journey a lot less stressful.
Waiting Times and Tips
One of the problems with the Port Orleans resort is its sheer size. There are more than 3,000 rooms spread out over a very large area, with a total of five bus stops servicing them all. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that there are occasions, especially when the parks are very busy, that the bus service can become a little... well, shall we say “strained”? (See also the FAQ entry on this subject)
- The easiest place to get a bus is obviously the first pickup point at French Quarter, but if that bus then progresses on to each of the four Riverside Depots in turn, it’s quite possible that there will be standing room only — or even no room at all. When this happens, Disney are usually quick to allocate extra buses to the route — but that doesn’t help you much if you’re waiting impatiently to get to the Magic Kingdom to watch the night-time parade in 30 minutes and two buses have just gone past full. I would suggest allowing yourself a little extra time at especially busy periods, and adjust your waiting-point strategy depending on your destination (see above).
- If you really need to get to your destination as quickly as possible you may wish to consider using a rental car, if you have one, as this will often prove a bit faster than taking a Disney bus (since there will be no queues, no wait for the bus to arrive, and no interim stops). The one exception to this is when you are traveling to the Magic Kingdom, in which case you’ll need to take an extra journey by monorail or ferryboat from your car to the theme park entrance which can delay you a bit.
- Similarly, at the end of the day when you’ve just watched Wishes and you’ve heading back to your hotel room, please remember that there may be thousands of other people who have the same idea. Disney do run separate services for both resorts at park closing times, but even so the lines for Riverside in particular can get pretty long at during peak summer or holiday periods — even with some buses arriving seemingly nose-to-tail.
However, do remember that no-one is forcing you to leave the park just yet. Stay a while and enjoy those thinning crowds and the beautiful evening illumination, or perhaps do a bit of late-night shopping (believe me, Disney will happily take your money until at least an hour after the official park closing time). Then meander your way back to the now emptier bus stop after all the sheep have departed and you’ll probably have a much more pleasant journey home.
- If you are worried that you may have missed the last bus back to your resort at night, speak to one of the Disney Transportation cast members and they will try to find a way to get you home.
- All Disney buses are very disability friendly. If you or a member of your party needs to use a wheelchair or an ECV (electric vehicle) you will be given automatic priority and loaded on and off the bus before any other passengers. Access is via the middle doorway and each bus has a platform lift and a dedicated area to park and lock-down wheelchairs so that the user does not need to transfer.
For more information on any of the Disney bus routes or timetables, call 1-407-WDW-RIDE (1-407-939-7433).