There are few things quite as magical as arriving at Walt Disney World: the rush of seeing the “Welcome to Walt Disney World” sign roll into view… the mounting anticipation as you approach the Magic Kingdom gate… the thrill of searching for your wallet to pay your parking fee… the exhilaration of your first line waiting for the tram, followed by another line after the tram to check your bags, followed by another line onto the monorail to whisk you dramatically to another cluster of lines at the ticket gate…
Okay, there are times when parking at Walt Disney World can really suck the morning magic out of a Disney day.
Parking at Walt Disney World can be something of a mixed bag. Having access to your vehicle can prove a huge convenience, but there are some downsides that have given parking at The Most Magical Place on Earth a foreboding reputation. Most guests aren’t exactly thrilled about long slogging walks under the Florida sun or the fob-clicking march of shame where you try to locate your silver rental Corolla amidst thousands of other silver Corollas at the end of a tired day.
Overall, Disney has done a pretty good job making parking as painless as possible for guests—you just have to know a few things before you arrive. Parking at Walt Disney World doesn’t have to be miserable if you know which snags to avoid. Here are the top tips we found to keep parking mishaps from putting a sour note on your Walt Disney World visit.
1. There are ways to park for free (but you’ll probably end up paying)
No one wants to start off their Disney day with a surprise parking fee, especially if you tend to get the nervous sweats when offered the “preferred parking” option and end up doling out $45-$50 right off the bat.
On average, most guests can expect to pay $22-$27 a day for parking at a Walt Disney World park. The good news is that if you choose to park hop, you don’t have to re-pay to move your vehicle (the parking fee covers all four parks for the day). Still, even $22 a day can sting if you’re on a budget. Is there any way to park for free?
Yes—with some catches.
First, Walt Disney World Annual Passholders do get genuine free parking at all four parks—just present your Passholder card and ID at the gate. This benefit doesn’t apply to preferred parking, but in most cases, preferred parking really isn’t necessary (more on that later). If you have a passholder in your party, have them present their ID and Passholder card to get free parking for whatever vehicle they happen to be in. This can make carpooling a very attractive option!
Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests also get “free” parking at all four parks. I put quotes around free because, technically, you’ll just be getting a slight discount. As of 2018, all of Disney’s hotels charge overnight parking fees ranging from $15 to $25 a night, so basically, you’re just paying the fee at the resort instead of at the parks. The only resort with truly free parking is Fort Wilderness, which provides each family a free parking spot.
In short, unless you’ll be bringing a passholder or resort guest with you, prepare to pay up with cash or a credit card at the gate.
2. Kooky tricks to get free parking are probably not worth it
There is a slightly convoluted way to park for free when visiting Disney parks, but it requires an abundance of extra time. Technically, you can park for free at Disney Springs or one of Disney’s water parks (when they are open), then use Disney transportation to get to the parks. Guests used to take advantage of this so much that Disney finally added a snag to reduce the behavior: they eliminated all direct bus routes between Disney Springs / the water parks to their four main parks.
There are two ways to get around this. If you’re determined enough to add what might be an extra hour onto your morning, you could go from Disney Springs to one of Disney’s resorts, then take transportation to the parks from there. Here are a few potential routes:
- Epcot – Bus to The Yacht and Beach Club or Boardwalk Inn. Epcot is walking distance from all of the Epcot resorts, but these two are closest to the International Gateway.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Animal Kingdom Lodge will be your closest option, but the All Star Resorts are also very close to this park.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios – There are so many options to get to this park now. From the Swan and Dolphin, you can take a just-under-a-mile walk or Friendship Boats to the DHS gate. From the Caribbean Beach Resort, you can also take the Skyliner directly there.
- Magic Kingdom – The Contemporary offers a walking path to Magic Kingdom, but you can also just take the monorail. Both The Grand Floridian and Polynesian also offer monorail access.
With all of these, you will notice a common theme—they all add a lot of extra time onto your morning just to avoid paying the parking fee.
The only option that really makes this trick workable is to use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft to travel from Disney Springs to the parks. This method isn’t entirely free, but you’ll save a good amount of time and the price of your rideshare will almost certainly be less than parking (if the driver has a very low rating, cancel your trip, wait a little bit, then try to book again to see if a different driver pops up). This is still a convoluted way to avoid paying twenty-something dollars, and it won't even save you a trip to the Transportation and Ticket Center at Magic Kingdom. In most cases, you will be better off just parking at the parks and enjoying your day without the extra hassle.