We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. -Walt Disney
In an earlier post I listed some Disney-related New Year’s resolutions, one of which was to visit all 4 Walt Disney World parks in a single day and ride at least one attraction in each. I am happy to say I can check this one off the list, thanks in part to Disney’s new Express Transportation service. This option has been available since mid-December and offers guests the opportunity to travel among the 4 parks without having to go through the main gate and security each time you move from one park to another. Instead, a “VIP” bus picks you up at a kiosk inside one park and drops you off at another within the next one you choose to visit. Buses run every 30 minutes and transport you directly to the park of your choice with no stops along the way.
The service requires a Park Hopper ticket or Annual Pass. A one-day Express Transportation pass costs $15.00 per person, whereas a 7-day pass runs $24.00 (both including unlimited transfers among parks). On the days we visited the parks, the service was available starting at 10:00 a.m. through the closing time of each park. The service can be purchased at Guest Relations or the ticket windows in any park, at Disney Springs, or at the Swan or Dolphin hotels. It is also available at the pick-up kiosks in the parks (locations here), but you are required to pay by credit card. We did not receive a paper ticket or voucher—just an email receipt—and we used our Magic Bands to board the buses for the rest of the day.
The good: the Express service dramatically reduced the amount of time it took to travel from one park to another. We never had to wait more than 15 minutes or so for a bus to arrive, and no bus had more than 6 passengers aboard including the 3 in my family. The pickup and drop-off kiosks are conveniently located and easy to spot, and cast members (“plaids”—those who conduct the VIP park tours) escort you to and from the buses. Finally, you get to see a lot of backstage areas as you walk to and from the buses and travel between the parks. It rivaled the amount I saw on the Keys to the Kingdom Tour, which was much more expensive. I thought this was great, but see below.
The not-so-good: On the day we used the service, the iPads cast members used at the kiosks at Epcot and Hollywood Studios were not operating properly. Evidently it was due to a network problem (which probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever used Disney wifi). This wasn’t a serious problem, but did cause a delay as they exchanged devices. Although the $24.00 7-day pass is—in my opinion—a no-brainer for anyone who wants to park-hop, $15.00 for one day was a little steep. I may be in the minority on this. As I overheard one guest say while awaiting a bus in Animal Kingdom, “When you’re already spending this much on a Disney vacation, $15 is nothing.”
Now back to the notable exposure to backstage areas Express Transportation provides: it’s a lot, as evidenced by the “No Backstage Photography” signs that greet you each time you leave a kiosk to board a bus. There’s a reason Disney is normally obsessive about carefully controlling what guests see as we wander through the parks. To paraphrase one of Jim Korkis’ comments on Episode 201 of the The Sweep Spot podcast, Disney goes to great lengths to make you feel like you’re really there (whether that's the African Savanna, a 19th-Century riverboat, or an X-2 Deep Space Shuttle). Korkis also points out, however, that it only takes a moment to break the illusion. For better or worse, visiting the backstage areas does just that. They diminish the feeling that upon entering a park, you leave the real world of "Today" behind and “enter the world of Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy.”
Service vehicles, modular buildings, and hurricane fencing do not make you feel like you’re visiting “the Hollywood that never was and always will be.” There’s nothing wild about seeing Kilimanjaro Safaris trucks parked neatly in a row in a paved lot. While seeing backstage is a fascinating and memorable experience for many adults, I would not recommend using the Express Service with young children for the same reason that no guests under 16 are allowed to take the Keys to the Kingdom Tour. As anyone who has been around small children at Walt Disney World knows, for them—most of the time, anyway--it really is the happiest place on earth. They’ll grow up and figure things out soon enough. Why ruin the illusion ahead of time?
Overall, the Express Transportation service is a great option for many park-hoppers. One of our bus drivers said he felt as though Disney was still treating is an experiment, and judging from the hasty roll-out and lack of effort to minimize backstage exposure, I'd say he's right. Only time will tell if it becomes a permanent addition, but those of us who enjoy it should probably take advantage while the buses are still close to empty.