When you’re on a Disney vacation, the last thing you want to deal with are headaches and hassles. Yet, for some guests, this is exactly what they have to deal with when utilizing Disney transportation while using an ECV. I’ve needed to use an ECV for the last two years of Disney vacations. On top of that, I’ve been a solo traveler, so I’ve had to navigate without the help of another set of eyes, hands, or help for that matter. Another person traveling with me would have been helpful, but alas, I managed. In the course of the last two years, I’ve utilized a variety of Disney transportation and based on my experience alone, I’d like to share a ranking of them based on how easy or uncomplicated they are for a person in an ECV. I’m in no way an expert or authority. Your experience may vary based on type of ECV and experience operating an ECV. (Side note: these were ECVs rented through a 3rd party company. Disney has ECVs available for rent inside their theme parks and Disney Springs only.)
1. Ferry boat – Seven Seas Lagoon
This was by far the easiest mode of transportation. The ramp onto the ferry is very wide. It’s not very steep. Once you’re on the ferry, it’s easy to navigate around the main deck. You can easily park toward the center of the boat, or pull up to either side railing for a lovely view across the lake. Unfortunately, unless you’re traveling from Magic Kingdom to the Polynesian Resort, this will probably be the mode of transportation used the least for on-site guests, unless you brought your own vehicle and chose to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center. It’s good to have options!
The Disney monorail is a close second in regard to ease of navigation. The main loading platform is easily accessible via elevator at the three monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian) and the EPCOT monorail station, or via ramp at the Transportation & Ticket Center and the Magic Kingdom monorail station. My only issue with the monorail was that the ramp on/off the monorail itself was a little steep, and in most cases you have to back your ECV out of the monorail car. It almost felt like I was going to tumble backwards when backing out of the monorail car. Driving forward would be so much simpler, but unfortunately, you’re not given that option. They also really frown on you trying to turn your ECV around while in the monorail car. Yes, I tried. No, I wasn’t successful.
The Magic Kingdom monorail circles Seven Seas Lagoon, making stops at the above mentioned resorts, Magic Kingdom, and the Transportation & Ticket Center. To access the EPCOT monorail, you will need to disembark the Magic Kingdom monorail at the Transportation & Ticket Center and board the EPCOT monorail. The EPCOT monorail travels between the Transportation & Ticket Center and EPCOT only.
3. Friendship boats – Crescent Lake resorts/EPCOT/Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The Friendship boats were almost a tie with the monorail, but with one slightly harrowing exception. Don’t get me wrong, accessing the Friendship boat is very easy! Once you are on the boat, the area to park a wheelchair or ECV is generous to maneuver in or turn around. Here are my two issues: First, the ramp from the dock to the boat is just wide enough for an ECV. There’s not much wiggle room if you’re not lined up correctly. Second, at a few locations when leaving the boat onto the dock, once you exit the ramp, it’s a hard left turn to stay on the dock, else you risk plummeting into the lake. It’s wise to turn the speed dial down to turtle for this one.
These boats travel in a circle between EPCOT – International Gateway, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Swan and Dolphin Resorts, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort , Disney’s Beach Club Resort, and Disney’s Boardwalk Resort. Or you can take the walking path from any of these resorts to either of the above mentioned theme parks. Again, it’s good to have options!
4. Disney Skyliner
The Disney Skyliner is almost a dream come true for people traveling in a wheelchair or ECV. With the separate loading area, you don’t have to worry about taking too much time and getting impatient glares from people who just really want to get going. Yes, you can take all the time you need and once you’re in and situated, then your gondola will be staged to join the main line. My only issue with the Skyliner is that the opening for the double doors is very narrow. There is barely enough wiggle room to back your ECV out of the gondola, and yes, you do have to back out. Entering the gondola is simple: you drive straight in and then a cast member will put wheel chocks against the back tires. Backing out can be a challenge. My strategy, and I’m fortunate to be able to do this, was to put the ECV into manual mode, push it back toward the doors, and then push it out from inside the car. Granted, I’ve also been yelled at several time for this method. Cast members can guide you out of the gondola if needed.
Keep in mind, the Disney Skyliner has stations at EPCOT – International Gateway, Hollywood Studios, Riviera Resort, Caribbean Beach Resort, and Art of Animation/Pop Century (they share a station). All of these stations have a separate loading area for wheelchair/ECV guests except Riviera.
5. Disney bus
The Disney bus is the bread and butter of the transportation network; the one that goes practically everywhere on property. You need to get somewhere? There’s probably a bus going that direction. As such, the bus drivers have ample experience with ECV and wheelchair guests and are very helpful in assisting. There’s only two issues here with using the bus: parking, and exiting. Getting on the bus is pretty easy, but you do really have to be straight climbing the ramp. However, parallel parking into one of two spots is challenging. The second spot, in my experience, (the one opposite the doors) is the easier of the two. Let’s be honest though, parallel parking in general is difficult and stressful. Having to do it on a bus is even more stressful. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in order to exit the bus, you have to pull forward out of the spot and then back up into a 90-degree turn to be able to access the ramp out of the bus, and like the Friendship boats, this ramp is barely wide enough. I’ve almost tumbled out a few times because I wasn’t lined up properly. As the drivers will also tell you, continue driving straight off the ramp until all the wheels are on the pavement before turning the ECV or you risk tipping over. This almost happened to me. Almost.
6. Disney Springs water taxi
Different from the Friendship boats or the Seven Seas Lagoon boats, these water taxis are like a large pontoon boat that travels to Disney Springs from resorts such as Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Port Orleans Riverside. Since they are smaller, they are a little more difficult to drive onto or off of, but once on the water taxi, parking and maneuvering is fairly easy. Because of the smaller waterways they navigate, you are more prone to dealing with waves and boat rocking while trying to enter and exit, but otherwise it wasn’t too terrible.
7. Resort water taxi
I’ve only encountered this mode personally when staying at Wilderness Lodge. At the time, water taxi transportation was the only mode available from Wilderness Lodge to Magic Kingdom. In addition, they had two kinds of water taxis running back and forth: ECV-accessible, and not. If a water taxi arrives and it’s not the ECV-accessible one, you had to move to the side and wait for the next water taxi. Not ideal if you’re running late or are generally impatient. However, unlike the Friendship boats, these were the most challenging in an ECV. I thought I would enter on an angle and drive straight to the open area and park. Quite the opposite. They had me drive onto the water taxi and then navigate a narrow corridor around the front (where the captain stands) to the opposite side and park over there. It was extremely narrow and I got hung up on something twice. I’m fortunate nothing broke off. I absolutely hated it! Then, like the Friendship boats, once I drove off the water taxi and onto the dock, I had to carefully turn hard right in order to not risk driving off the dock into the lake. Unlike the Friendship boats, however, there is no ramp to navigate. You’re literally driving off the water taxi straight onto the dock, so there will be moments of the boat bouncing with the waves. This didn’t seem very safe to me.
To the best of my knowledge, ECV accessible water taxi transportation is also available from Fort Wilderness to Magic Kingdom. However, it is not available from Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary, Polynesian, or Grand Floridian resorts (the monorail is, however).
Honorable mention: Train to/from Rafiki’s Planet Watch – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
While this is not Disney resort transportation specifically, it is a mode of transportation you may encounter during your vacation and I didn’t want to omit it from the list. The only way to reach Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is via a train that boards in the Asia area of the park. With an ECV, you have to back your ECV onto the train. Like the Skyliner, the opening is very narrow and having an extra set of eyes would be really helpful. On the other hand, once you’re parked, you can sit back and enjoy the view and the ride, knowing to exit the train, you simple drive straight forward. If I had to give it a ranking, I’d tie it with the Skyliner because of the narrow door opening. In the picture above, the doors for ECVs are similar to the open doors pictured. A cast member will show you to the next available accessible train car and offer assistance if needed.
A final rant about Disney buses:
Not all Disney buses are created equal. Recently, Disney is/was utilizing charter buses at certain resorts (in my case it was Art of Animation). Unfortunately, these charter buses are unable to take ECVs. As a result, you may have to wait for an accessible bus. In some cases, you may have to wait several buses before an accessible bus arrives. From my experience leaving Animal Kingdom, three charter buses arrived before an accessible bus finally arrived. By that time, all guests returning to the resort had already boarded the previous buses, so I had this one to myself. Don’t ask me how long I had to wait for that bus. It took a while.