To say that a lot has been said about the recent changes to the Monorail system would be an understatement. WDWMAGIC’s announcement on July 9th that the Epcot and Magic Kingdom Monorails would cease operation one hour after Park close set off a flurry of questions, rants, musings, and speculation around the internet. Now most everything on the DIS gets blown out of proportion, but the fact that we saw a 160 page, one-hundred-thousand-page-view thread about it (http://www.disboards.com/showthread.php?t=2755740) is a testament to the surprise and outrage that the news sparked among many of Disney’s most vocal visitors. WDWMAGIC wasn’t far behind, with this 68-page thread with 1,000+ posts and 50,000+ pageviews: http://forums.wdwmagic.com/showthread.php?t=770131.
Without a doubt, one of the main selling points of the “Monorail Deluxes” is the Monorail. People stay at the Polynesian, in part, because of the convenience of the Monorail to Magic Kingdom and the other Monorail Deluxes. There’s something magic about riding the Monorail through the Contemporary Resort and onto the Polynesian and Grand Floridian after a long day at Magic Kingdom. Indeed, one of my fondest memories visiting Disney World as a child is riding the monorail back to the Polynesian after E-Ride Night. This feeling can’t be replicated on a bus.
With that sentimentality out of the way, what do the changes actually mean? What effect will it ultimately have on the average person’s vacation? What can we expect to happen in the future? Let’s have a look – starting with Magic Kingdom.
Yesterday was the first evening Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom with the new monorail schedule. Main Street Electrical Parade was scheduled at 9pm and 11pm, Wishes was scheduled at 10pm, Magic Kingdom closed to non-resort visitors at 12am and stayed open to 3am with Extra Magic Hours. This means the monorail should cease operation at 1am, leaving two to three hours with no monorail service.
The signs in the third image above are littered all around the Ticket/Transportation Center and the walkway to and from the Monorails. Note that it says “up to 1 hour,” with no guarantee of service.
The bus “gates” during the day. Note that Gate 18 is listed as the Transportation and Ticket Center at the gate itself, though the bus is not currently operating and it’s not listed on the destination list.
Just a quick apology here. I am not exactly the Tom Bricker of Disney World photography (Tom is the chief photographer for TouringPlans.com and runs his own website at http://www.disneytouristblog.com/ which you should absolutely check out). A few (all) of these pictures are pretty blurry, but it should help advance our commentary a bit, nonetheless.
Here we are transferring from Epcot to Magic Kingdom via the Express Monorail line at around 10:15pm. Disney still does not run buses directly from Epcot to Magic Kingdom. You have to connect at Magic Kingdom either by boat or monorail.
In the “Disney online community,” we like to derogatorily refer to the sorts of people with arrows pointing to them as “suits.” These aren’t really “suits” strictly speaking, but it’s still fun to make red arrows pointing to them and say that they are. The important point here is that Disney was closely monitoring who was using which form of transportation throughout the night. The woman in black is on a tablet sort of device counting and recording the number of people that are using the boats back to the resorts. There were similar people counting at the other boat launches, the monorail, and even the walkway to Contemporary Resort. In that respect, we have to give Disney credit for keeping tabs on how the changes are affecting transportation options and we can assume they will prioritize the most popular modes of transportation and make the overall system more efficient moving forward(?).
This is the line for the Express Monorail back to the Ticket and Transportation Center at 10:30pm. Wishes just ended, preceded by the popular Main Street Electrical Parade. After these two evening spectaculars, a ton of people leave – even with evening Extra Magic Hours scheduled. It’s just too late at night for a lot of families. As we’ll see in the Magic Kingdom Walkabout attached to this evening, you’ll see more about what I mean.
Here we are back out front at 12:45am, 15 minutes before the Monorails are supposed to close. The Express Monorail had already closed and the usual red sign with the arrow pointing to the Resort Monorail was out. If you’re unfamiliar, Magic Kingdom has two Monorail lines – the Express Monorail goes direct from Magic Kingdom to Ticket/Transportation Center and the Resort Monorail goes to Magic Kingdom, Contemporary Resort, Ticket/Transportation Center, Polynesian Resort, Grand Floridian, and then back to Magic Kingdom.
Self explanatory I think.
Disney shut down the Resort Monorail at exactly 1am. Actually, my phone said 12:58am. As long as you get to this point by the time the Resort Monorail is scheduled to cease operation (and a couple minutes earlier to be safe), Disney will let you ride. In other words, they won’t ask anyone to get out of line, even if the Monorail doesn’t show up until after the stated closing time. This couple was actually walking toward the Monorail as these fellows decided to shut it down. The cast members didn’t make an exception and let the couple board, even though it was obvious where they were headed. This is going to come across as rude, but while it may make logistical sense to put these monorail workers out front of the monorail entrance, I’m not sure it’s the best placement for them. Their usual job basically consists of them walking back and forth along the Monorail platform waving their hands and repeating, “Fill in all available space.” They aren’t exactly the best customer service agents, particularly when people are going to be upset from the onset of the conversation after they realize the monorail has shut down. I overheard a couple of conversations that didn’t go well and had a couple unfortunate conversations with them as well as I tried to gather intelligence. Granted, this is not an enviable position because they’re going to be stuck giving people the bad news for hours to come and also dealing with whatever whining and repercussions come their way.
We now have a stop listed for Gate 18. Disney added a bus to the Transportation and Ticket Center right at 1am – the same time the Monorail stopped operating.
There was a lot of confusion over exactly what the “bus situation” looked like. The cast members at the monorail were saying that there was a bus to the Contemporary at Gate 2, which would mean Wilderness Lodge and Contemporary Resort would share buses. However, that turned out to be false. The cast member pointing people in the “right” direction in front of the Resort Boat Launch told me that no bus was available to Contemporary Resort and I could either walk or take the boat to Fort Wilderness and then from there take another boat to Contemporary Resort. As you’ll see in the sign in the second image above, it states that the bus at Gate 1 services Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Resort. To complicate things further, there was another sign off to the side that stated the Contemporary Resort and Fort Wilderness Resort shared buses. Back out front on the signs that list the Gates and the corresponding destinations, there were no resorts listed for Gate 1, even though that’s where the buses servicing all three Monorail Deluxes picked up guests. Confused?? So was everyone else.
Here’s what turned out to be true:
1. The boats run for the entirety of evening Extra Magic Hours and until it’s confirmed that Magic Kingdom is cleared of all resort guests. This includes boat transportation to Ticket/Transportation Center, Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort, and Grand Floridian Resort. Smaller boats service the resorts and the large ferry services the Ticket/Transportation Center.
2. Bus service is shared between Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort, and Grand Floridian Resort. This means you could be able to get on the bus from one of the resorts destined for the Magic Kingdom and get off at any of the stops, just like you could on the monorail. For example, you could get on the bus at Polynesian, ride until you get to Contemporary, and get off at the Contemporary for dinner at California Grill. For your return trip, you would get on the bus at Contemporary and then disembark at Polynesian. In other words, the buses will serve the same purpose as the Monorail. It’s unclear what will happen in September when Magic Kingdom closes at 9pm. Considering you can book a reservation at California Grill past 9pm and that meal would likely last until at least 10:30pm, it wouldn’t be possible to easily transfer back to the Polynesian if that’s where you were staying and Disney isn’t running buses. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween/Very Merry Christmas Parties aren’t a concern because the bus to the resorts would run until at least 1am. It’s the 8pm/9pm “Regular Closes” that may become an issue. Disney would either need to continually run one or more buses in a loop, operate the monorail, or let Monorail Deluxe guests fend for themselves, much like visitors staying at other Disney resorts.
3. Access to the Magic Kingdom Resort Monorail is restricted right at the stated time and the Express Monorail may cease operation before that. If you are in line for the Monorail by the “closing time,” you’ll be allowed to ride even if the Monorail vehicle doesn’t show up until later.
4. There is a bus from Magic Kingdom to Ticket/Transportation Center offered immediately after the Monorail is scheduled to stop operating. It’s located at Gate 18, which is the furthest down on the right hand bank of Gates.
Here are a few images snapped at 3am.
The last of the Extra Magic Hours crowd exiting the Park.
The clock strikes 3am…soon.
Still out with their signs and bean counters. A long night, no doubt,
The large ferry boat to the Ticket/Transportation Center in the distance with very few people on board this late. Since you would need to be a Disney resort guest to stay for evening Extra Magic Hours and most guests take Disney buses to Magic Kingdom, there isn’t a lot of demand. But Disney was still running the boat regardless.
The bus servicing the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian Resorts. Not a lot of people on this one. The Pop Century bus was standing room only and nearly to capacity. This looks like a much more leisurely ride and not to mention much shorter. It seemed like Disney was prioritizing buses to the Monorail Deluxes in order to appease guests.
So ultimately, how big of a deal is this?
It’s hard to say because it obviously depends on your situation and where you’re staying. For most people, the monorail hours have very little, if any, appreciable effect. Remember, it isn’t like the Monorail is shutting down in the afternoon. The Monorail will continue to operate one hour after regular Park close, which is plenty of time to exit the Park in most instances. The only real exception would be dining reservations that begin right before Park close when Magic Kingdom closes earlier this fall and winter and during evening Extra Magic Hours. Beginning in September, Magic Kingdom will host evening Extra Magic Hours on just one night each week. Assuming you stay for most or all of evening Extra Magic Hours, it would mean just one Monorail ride replaced with a bus or boat ride. At the moment, most of the problems are either theoretical or “what if…” speculation. As it stands now, there isn’t a ton of tangible inconvenience. For those staying on the Monorail line, it means getting on a bus instead of the Monorail in very limited situations. Since Magic Kingdom is open until 11pm or 12am every night, there’s no problem with late night dining reservations or transfers in between Monorail resorts. This may change next month – we’ll see what happens when the time comes.
It It Permanent?
It’s hard to say what exactly is on Disney’s mind here. The change is being done under the guise of maintenance. It’s true that the Monorail has been having more mechanical problems than any of us would like to see (in fact, the Epcot line closed at 8pm this same night because of mechanical problems). However, several sources say that very little work will actually be completed due to the logistics of moving the monorail vehicles where they need to go for that work to be done. In addition, Disney’s official response to the outcry included a seemingly reasonable assertion – The Magic Kingdom is open until 3am for evening Extra Magic Hours and the Monorail would need to operate until about 4am. Then the following day the Monorail would need to start back up again as early as 7am. This wasn’t enough “down time” for maintenance and preventive care. However, beginning in September Magic Kingdom will very rarely, if ever, be open past 12am for evening Extra Magic Hours, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, special events, or anything else. In fact, it will close several times per week as early as 9pm and will likely have zero 8am regular openings for the entire month.
So I can calm down?
You might consider it. As it stands right now and for the rest of August, the only real inconvenience for Monorail Deluxe guests will be the ride back to their resort during or after evening Extra Magic Hours. Come September, we may see some additional logistical problems, particularly on Mickey’s Party nights if Disney does in fact close down the Magic Kingdom Monorail line at 8pm (one hour after the regular 7pm close). If that happens, it could mean a lot of delays for Monorail Deluxe guests, particularly after they come back from Epcot via Monorail. More on Epcot is incoming.