Hello fellow riders and welcome back to the WDW Ride Guide. As always it is great to be here talking about my favorite place, Walt Disney World. This month we have spent some quality time in Epcot exploring the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, along with our Backstage Pass to Behind the Seeds! However, before we leave this blossoming park, I want to tell you about one of the coolest rides anywhere. We had a request from a listener a few weeks back to cover a ride you might not necessarily associate with Epcot. I hope you are ready to ride high in the sky because it is time to get moving with the Walt Disney World Monorail System.
Let’s get started with our Know Before You Go Essential Facts:
- This ride includes 3 tracks servicing Magic Kingdom and Epcot
- There is no height requirement
- Fastpass + is NOT available
- The fright factor is 0 out of 5
- Guest may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
- The monorail travels at speeds of 15-40 mph
- The system opened with the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. A third track to Epcot was opened in 1982.
If you have ever been to Walt Disney World before, chances are pretty good you have utilized “the highway in the sky,” known as the Walt Disney World Monorail System. Repeat riders have fallen in love with the voice of Jack Wagner as he instructs passengers to “please stand clear of the doors,” a phrase narrated in English and repeated in Spanish. It is the Spanish version that I think most riders find so fun, the way the words roll off the tongue as the doors gently close in front of you. Some love this minutia of Disney so much that you can find t-shirts, hats, and coffee mugs sporting the phrase.
Whether you are heading to the park early in the morning, or being transported back to your resort late in the day, the Walt Disney World Monorail System is a good friend that speeds you to your destination. This seemingly simple ride carries an average of 150,000 passengers every day, making it the second most traveled monorail in the world! How’s that for impressive! Well, it takes a fleet of monorails to support those numbers, and that’s why Disney has 12 Mark VI monorails in service. Each one consists of 6 cars, reaches a total length of 203 feet, and has a capacity of 365 passengers. Hopefully, you won’t encounter too many full capacity monorails as 60 people in a car gets a little tight. Most of the time you will find that the large fleet and frequent runs handle the growing Disney crowds with relative ease.
So, where are all of these monorails going, and how do you hitch a ride? There are currently 3 tracks: the Express Monorail, the Resort Monorail, and the Epcot Monorail. Let’s start with the Express because it sounds the coolest! The Express Monorail runs from the Ticket and Transportation Center, or TTC, to the Magic Kingdom and back. The TTC is the central hub for the monorails. This is where you will make connections when going from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot or vice versa. Think of it as Walt Disney World’s Grand Central Station. If you are new to Walt Disney World, you may be surprised to find you don’t park right outside the Magic Kingdom’s main entrance. In fact, Cinderella’s Castle may not be visible when you first leave your car. When you arrive at the TTC, you will have the option to hop on the monorail or to take a ferry boat across the Seven Seas Lagoon. Choose wisely here. A new monorail arrives every 4-7 minutes on average, while a new ferry boat comes around every 15. Add to this the Express Monorail takes about 3-4 minutes from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, while the ferry boat takes about 8-10 minutes. If time is sensitive, most scenarios favor the speed of the Express Monorail.
The Magic Kingdom-bound leg of the Express Monorail travels on the outer track in a counter-clockwise direction. Leaving from the TTC, you will pass through Disney’s Contemporary Resort. This in itself makes the ride worth it in my opinion. As a kid I can remember watching the different monorails enter and exit the giant building with fascination! My excitement at arriving at the Magic Kingdom took a temporary back seat as I waited to pass right through the middle of a building. I loved seeing the people inside the resort whiz by my window as one second we were outside, the next inside, and then back out again. It is equally fascinating to watch this phenomenon from inside the resort as well. On our last family vacation, we dined at Chef Mickey’s and one of my little nephews had more fun watching for the next monorail than he did meeting Mickey. Getting him to eat was the real challenge as he excitedly proclaimed each color of monorail as it passed overhead. “Look B, it’s a green one!” He fell in love with the monorail so much during that meal that he went home with a toy monorail to remember the occasion.
Well, after a few seconds inside the Contemporary it is a very short distance before the Express Monorail completes its journey at the Magic Kingdom. Once there, it is a short walk down the ramp to the park’s main gate.
When you are leaving for the day, you can hop back on the Express Monorail and continue around the loop, passing by Disney’s Grand Floridian and Disney’s Polynesian Resort. If you are departing right after fireworks or a parade, be prepared for some hefty crowds and a little wait. This is the scenario that may favor the ferry boat if you time it correctly. Or, you could opt for the Resort Monorail as a sneaky play!
How does that work? Well, I’ll get to that in just a minute. First, let’s talk about the specifics of the Resort Monorail. This monorail runs on the inner, second track circling the Seven Seas Lagoon. The difference in this monorail is that it stops at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary Resorts in addition to the TTC and Magic Kingdom stops. You are most likely to use the Resort Monorail if you are staying at one of these three resorts, or if you have a dining reservation at one of them. The convenience of using the Resort Monorail to bounce back and forth between your resort and the Magic Kingdom is one of the many perks associated with these Deluxe level resorts. However, there is one scenario that doesn’t favor using the Resort Monorail so let’s talk about the order of stops.
The Resort Monorail runs clockwise, counter to the Express Monorail. So, leaving from the Magic Kingdom, the first stop will be Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Next up the TTC, then Disney’s Polynesian, and finally Disney’s Grand Floridian. This order is very important and this is why: if you are staying at the Contemporary Resort, it is actually quicker to make the relatively short walk over to the main entrance of the Magic Kingdom than it is to hop on the Resort Monorail and make 3 more stops before arriving at your destination. Likewise, at the end of the day, the Contemporary is the first stop, meaning it is much faster to take the monorail assuming you don’t have a long wait to board. The Grand Floridian is on the opposite end of the rotation so a trip inbound to the Magic Kingdom is very quick as there are no additional stops. Yet, once again the end of the day is just the opposite and you have to wait through 3 stops before arriving at your resort. Unfortunately, you don’t have the option of walking between the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom, so you either take the Resort Monorail or the boat.
I mentioned a minute ago the possibility of taking the Resort Monorail over the Express Monorail at the end of the day so here is when that could be advantageous. Thousands of guest will be flooding out of the park at closing time and most will be heading for a Disney bus or the TTC. So, those opting for the monorail route will choose the Express Monorail because this is the way they arrived at the park and they have no plans of visiting the resorts this time of day. This usually means the Resort Monorail will have a much shorter line than the Express. If that is the case you can be a little sneaky by opting for the Resort Monorail. Remember, it only stops at the Contemporary Resort before arriving at the TTC. This one stop only adds a couple of minutes to this leg of the trip when compared to the Express Monorail, but could save you far more time than that when comparing the two lines to board! Another perk of this option is the opportunity to observe the 7 story tile mural on display in the middle of the Contemporary. Due to its north facing location, it is pretty much impossible to see this piece of artwork on your journey towards the Magic Kingdom. While I highly recommend finding time to see Mary Blair’s masterful piece up close and personal, a ride aboard the Resort Monorail is a good introduction. By the way, if Mary Blair is a familiar name to you, that’s good! She is the Disney Legend whose artistic style helped shaped many things Disney, most prominently It’s A Small World.
So, next time you leave the Magic Kingdom pay close attention to the lines for both the Express Monorail and the Resort Monorail. You may save some serious time and get a chance to see a legendary piece of Disney art in the process!
Before we de-board the Resort Monorail entirely, there is one more consideration to discuss. If you are heading to Epcot from one of the three Magic Kingdom resorts you can take your Resort Monorail to the TTC and then transfer to the Epcot Monorail. Those staying at the Polynesian Resort may want to exercise a slightly different route. Rather than board the Resort Monorail and then make stops at the Grand Floridian, Magic Kingdom, and Contemporary before arriving at the TTC, you can simply walk over to the TTC. There is a walking path that connects the Polynesian Resort and the TTC. If it isn’t raining, and the temperature is bearable, walking over to the TTC is faster than using the Resort Monorail. This is also a very pleasant walk as most of the time you are surrounded by lush tropical foliage.
All right, let’s keep this train moving and talk about the newest member of the Walt Disney World Monorail System! Well, 3 decades old may not qualify as new, but the Epcot Monorail represents the one and only expansion of the original monorail system to date. In 1982, Disney added a singular track spanning 4 miles, connecting the TTC to Epcot Center. What makes the Epcot Monorail really unique is that it travels inside the theme park, giving you a preview of the excitement awaiting you. As you enter Epcot, you will move counter clockwise and pass the Universe of Energy, Mission Space, and Test Track before getting a great view of the World Showcase in the distance. When we covered the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, I mentioned that you could take the monorail for a bird’s eye view of the flowers. Passing in between Test Track and Journey Into Imagination With Figment is the spot I was referring to. Here you can see the 225 petite pots floating on the water and get a wonderful perspective of the bank which is covered in a mural of flowers. After you pass the Imagination pavilion, you will see The Land on your left, home of Soarin’, Living with the Land, and Behind the Seeds! Finally, you get a quick glimpse of The Seas. This is a spot you don’t want to miss as you can ride The Seas with Nemo & Friends and for sure have a good laugh at Turtle Talk With Crush. If that doesn’t get you excited for a fun time at Epcot, I don’t know what will!
Actually, the anticipation associated with the Walt Disney World Monorail System is what I love about it so much. In many ways it is like the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. You will not find high speeds or big thrills aboard the monorail, but you do get a great preview of the magic Disney has in store for you. It is more than just that though. As a kid I remember racing up the concrete walkway to eagerly await the next monorail. It was so much fun watching each monorail pull into the station, and waiting to see what color you would get to ride in. By the way, the 12 monorails are each named after the color of stripe they sport down the side. If you want to keep track and ride them all you will need:
- Monorail Red
- Monorail Coral
- Monorail Teal
- Monorail Blue
- Monorail Orange
- Monorail Black
- Monorail Silver
- Monorail Gold
- Monorail Yellow
- Monorail Green
- Monorail Lime
- Monorail Peach
I was always really happy when a bright color like Monorail Red or Monorail Blue pulled into the station, and a little disappointed when Monorail Silver showed up. No matter the color, it was still fun watching the monorail glide to a smooth stop and then waiting for the space age doors to open up. Once aboard, I remember watching Cinderella’s Castle or Spaceship Earth growing larger and larger, meaning my long wait to get back to my favorite place was almost over. It is hard not to have fond memories of the monorail when I associate it as the gateway to a magical realm. By far, one of the coolest memories I have from all of my Walt Disney World trips came the day our family got to ride in the very front with the monorail pilot.
It was one thing to look out at the parks icons from a side window, but it was something completely different to see them unobstructed from the cockpit of the front car. I remember sitting on a bench watching the world down below disappear under the nose of the monorail. Plus, the pilot was so nice and engaging and answered all of the questions our family could come up with. I wanted every monorail ride from then on to be just like this one!
Sadly, that was my first and last time to get such a VIP ride. With only one family per trip getting the opportunity, it was always very hard secure this honor. More recently, in July of 2009, there was an accident that claimed the life of a monorail pilot. Very late in the evening Monorail Pink and Monorail Purple had a head on collision. The tragic accident is the only fatality in the long history of the monorail system. Fortunately, no guests or other cast members were seriously injured from this accident, but it was enough for Disney to discontinue the practice of allowing guests to ride up front. Safety is one of Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom, and keeping its guests and Cast Members safe takes priority over everything else. This is also the reason why you will not find a pink or purple monorail in service anymore.
Overall, the Walt Disney World Monorail System has a long track record of safe operating procedures. There have been some other incidents over the years, but your chances of being involved in one aboard a Disney bus are far greater than the chances of something going wrong aboard the monorail.
Now, if you are staying on Disney property in a resort outside the Magic Kingdom area, chances are you will never need to ride the monorail. A Disney bus will transport you from your resort to the front gate at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or any other on property destination. If that is the case, I highly recommend finding an excuse to ride the monorail at some point during your vacation. You could have breakfast at the Kona cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, lunch at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort, or take tea at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. If that is your plan, take a bus to the Magic Kingdom and then hop on the Resort Monorail. Or, at the very least, plan on park hopping one day between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot so you can experience this soothing ride on the highway in the sky.
I prefer a morning or early day monorail ride while my feet are still fresh and ready for the long day ahead. You usually have to stand while on board, so tired feet late in the day make the ride a little less magical. There are a couple of bench seats on either end of each cab, but these only hold about 4 people each. Everyone else is left to stand and grab a rail or handle up above. If you have kids they can remain in their stroller, so no waking up a sleeping child and folding up the stroller like you have to do on the bus. Also, anyone in a wheelchair or ECV can remain in either and simply roll right on and right off. Overall, the boarding process is much faster and easier than it is on the Disney buses. Just another reason to love the monorail!
All right, hopefully by now I’ve sold you on the monorail! You know how to get there and where the monorail can take you. Now, we just need to discuss when you can expect all of this magic to happen. Normally, the monorails operate 30 minutes prior to the earliest park’s opening time, and 1 hour after the latest park’s closing time. I say normally, because at the time of our podcast release, the Walt Disney World Monorail System is under going some refurbishment and therefore experiencing modified service or routes. This is scheduled to go through April 2016. So, hopefully everything will be running smoothly if you have a trip planned for this summer or beyond. Still, it is always a good practice to ask a Cast Member about the monorail service when you are at Walt Disney World and planning out your day. You don’t want to miss any dining reservations because you can’t get to your destination using the monorail as originally planned. Disney does a good job of running buses in these scenarios, but you still need to know this ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. It’s your vacation after all, and we want to cut off any potential stress before it gets started!
Now, if you have any questions or scenarios that I may have missed today I would love to hear from you! Feedback is what keeps us going at the WDW Ride Guide. In fact, it was feedback that inspired today’s episode. I want to say a big thanks to Billy for writing in and asking about a monorail episode. It was certainly on the agenda, but because of your feedback Billy we bumped it up on the calendar. Hopefully, we have done it justice and you have enjoyed our exploration of one of your favorite rides!
Thanks to all of you for coming by today. I truly love sitting down each week to talk Disney and without you tuning in this wouldn’t be possible. Thanks for allowing me to share my passion with you! If you have been following along all month I hope our time in Epcot has been both educational and magical. Next week, we are switching gears and going back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. What will we unearth there? Well, let’s just say you may want to leave your dog Indiana at home. This adventure may get explosive! I hope you will come back and join me for that. Until then, go make each day a ride worth taking!