Disney with Special Needs: They See Me Rollin’…or Monorailin’…or Floatin’

I’ve mentioned it a time or two before, but I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way again…I don’t drive. Not like I don’t like to drive. Not like I would prefer not to. Like I don’t have a driver’s license I don’t drive.

I have at times attempted to learn this particular skill, but after driving down a sidewalk, nearly hitting a little elderly lady, and stopping in the middle of Broad Street (which is one of the main streets in the city) and telling my driving instructor that she could do it, what I learned was that I am not made to operate a motor vehicle. It’s not something that I’m ashamed of and it is also not uncommon among us on the spectrum. As with everything else, we just learn to adapt.

This is yet another of the ways that Disney World speaks to my soul – I never, ever, ever have to worry about how I am going to get from place to place. Usually I have to have somebody bring me where I need to go, which means not only coordinating with their schedule but also having to have them go with me. That sounded really mean, but I assure you it’s not supposed to be. It’s more that sometimes I would like to be able to do things that involve surprises I don’t want to spoil for the person who would need to drive me, or, as was the case with this last trip, the little one wants to be able to do something just with me. At Disney, that is totally possible thanks to what we’re talking about today…

The Walt Disney World Resort Transportation System.

I’m not talking about the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, though I am a very big fan and hold very dear memories of it considering it was the very first Disney World ride that Bubba ever rode. What I’m talking about right now, though, is the vast network of transportation options throughout the entire complex that ensures you can get to any park, resort, or restaurant you desire without ever having to get behind the wheel of a vehicle or entrust your family to somebody wanting to make a few extra bucks transporting tourists around. This glorious system means that we can go where we want to go when we want to go and I never have to ask somebody else to bring me. Wooooo!!!! Not that most of the time we aren’t all still together anyway, but it’s still nice for us all to enjoy the ride and not have to think about finding parking, paying for that parking, weaving around other drivers, or going up Cast Member-only exit ramps at EPCOT at midnight because you’re lost. You know. Priorities.

So here we go. I’m going to break down the three main elements of the transportation system and how to use them effectively and with minimal stress. I used two of them on my alone adventure with the baby and have used all three of them countless times during my trips.

By land. The most pervasive of the transportation options throughout the Disney area is the bus system. This will get you pretty much anywhere you could want to go, and is sometimes the fastest option. These buses service all of the resorts as well as the main theme parks, the water parks, and Disney Springs. Though there is some variance depending on the busyness, most of the time the buses show up every 15 to 20 minutes. Never fear, this is not one of those elementary school horror story situations when you wander out to a huge bus loop and have to just hope that you find the bus with the right number that will get you where you need to go. Every bus is very clearly marked with where it is going and comes to the same stop each and every time. The resorts and the parks have big signs that mark the spot where you should wait for each particular place that you want to go. You cannot get on the wrong bus. Well, I probably could. And if I did, the worst thing that would happen is I would just ride the bus around for a while and it would bring me back to where I started so I could try again. Someday remind me to tell you the story of how I learned to use the city bus so that I didn’t have to walk the two miles to college every day. Spoiler…I walked two miles to school when I was seven months pregnant. Disney buses are infinitely better and changed my mind about buses forever.

Of course, you know I’m not going to tell you the good and only the good if there’s bad, so buckle up…. or don’t, because there are no seatbelts as is usually the way with buses. They are also sometimes very crowded depending on the time of day when you are trying to use them. Around park opening and at the end of the day you might have to wait through a bus or two to get on, but they send them at a faster pace during those times. The longest we’ve ever waited is about 35 minutes. If they are really crowded you might find yourself standing during the ride. Sometimes you get on one of those double buses that have the little accordion thing in the middle and are a little scary because they swing around. For the most part, though, the buses are speedy and reliable, and even when you do end up standing it’s like an extra ride to gear you up for the parks. Bonus!

By sea. Well, not so much sea as lagoon, but we’ll go with it. The water transportation throughout the complex is often seen as the most leisurely and relaxing option, but it can also be a faster option depending on where you are and where you are going. There are various forms of this transportation. The ferryboats run from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom. The Friendship Boats run from the Boardwalk to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, and between the two theme parks. The water taxis service resorts such as Fort Wilderness to Magic Kingdom and Port Orleans to Disney Springs. Now, we know I’m not a big fan of water. I don’t even feel terribly comfortable sitting on the end when we’re riding Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, or Gran Fiesta Tour because I’m too close to the water. It’s not about drowning…but again, that’s a story for another time. Despite my water issues, I still enjoy using these forms of transportation most of the time. They are definitely more relaxing and it lets you see areas of the resort you wouldn’t see otherwise. And you can pretend that you are a pirate…or explorer…or heading toward Ellis Island. It’s up to you. These are easy to find and clearly marked, so you know where you’re going. The ferryboats are also a fabulous way to watch the fireworks with streamed music.

Be aware, though, that they do sometimes have to pause in mid-water to let someone else pass so you might have a bit of a delay surrounded by water. Just prepare for that possibility. If it does happen, you’ll still get to listen to fabulous Disney music and enjoy the view. If you’re on the ferryboat, I recommend heading up to the top deck. You’re further from the water and can see farther in the distance. It’s usually far less crowded as well

By rail. Likely the most iconic of transportation options in Disney World is the monorail. This fancy little train seems pretty novel, but it is actually an extremely efficient form of transportation. Hop aboard at the Transportation and Ticket Center, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or one of the monorail resorts and get whisked away on the Highway in the Sky. This mode of transportation is so beloved by so many (including my family) that there is a motorized toy version that you can set up much like a toy train complete with elevated tracks so that little fans (including Avalon) can play Disney World at home. It even does the famous spiel about staying clear of the doors. So soothing during periods of Disney withdrawal. This was the first form of Disney transportation that my family ever took and I will never forget the feeling when we saw Cinderella Castle for the first time as we came around the bend. Breathtaking. It still has a special place in our hearts and we love the zippy feeling of gliding through the sky to our next destination. It is definitely a more “vacationy” feeling than the bus. Rather than facing traffic and – gasp—being out on the road with non-guests, you feeling like you are being swept away from reality and into a magical world.

These, too, can be a bit busy during certain times of the day, but the only other real issue that you might face with the monorail is getting on the wrong one. Unlike the buses that might bring you on a hour-long jaunt through the resort if you happen to get on the wrong one, the monorail doesn’t have as many options and runs on a continuous loop. You simply choose the direction based on where you want to go. If you happen to select the wrong one, either ride the whole loop or get off at the first stop and find the right monorail. It’s fast and easy either way, and with the benefit of the overhead announcements every few moments, you really cannot get lost. Awesome.

One of the best parts of these forms of transportation? They’re free and available for totally unlimited use throughout your vacation. That means that whether you want to spend the evening in Disney Springs or you are in the Magic Kingdom for Rope Drop and then want to ride Everest in the afternoon and then see Illuminations that evening (you did get the Park Hopper, right? Right??), you can use whatever transportation that you works for you at that moment. It also means you can venture off on your own even if you aren’t great with directions and still feel confident that you are going to get where you need to go – eventually, anyway.

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist.

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