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By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Bus Spotting

By Dave Shute

A guidebook that I generally quite respect (except for some of its material on the resorts) recently warned visitors off Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort based on its reader survey results that highlighted “transportation, food court, and distant lobby” as distinct issues.

bus-spotting-from-yourfirstvisit-netThe problem with such survey results, of course, is that they are often used to help choose among alternatives, when those responding to the survey aren’t actually comparing the alternatives, but rather reporting on a singular experience.

Your best bet for help in choosing among alternatives is to pay attention to survey results or reviews from people who have recently stayed in all the relevant choices—but of course, other than the reviews in the book I co-author and on this site, you simply can’t find those.

I’ve stayed at the traditional moderates 27 different times, so here’s my take:

  • It is certainly true that the check-in building at Caribbean Beach is awkwardly distant, especially for those without a car, but it hasn’t moved recently…so there’s no real need for a new warning based on its location.
  • The food court at Caribbean Beach isn’t materially worse than those at the other traditional moderates—and other than the simplification of both the check-out process and the menu at the food court at Coronado Springs (a change this particular guidebook missed, it seems, leaving in a reader comment about the now-disappeared “ticket stamping”), the food courts at the traditional moderates have not changed much recently either. (Port Orleans French Quarter’s food court is currently under refurb—we’ll see if anything interesting comes out of that.)
  • And it is true that the sheer number of bus stops (seven) at Caribbean Beach is an annoyance. In terms of time wasted getting around a resort and stopping at all the stops, Caribbean Beach is the worst of the traditional moderates, with Port Orleans Riverside next worst, then Coronado Springs, and Port Orleans French Quarter best. But something that people sometimes miss in the discussion of the number of bus stops is that more bus stops can mean shorter walks within the resort. At Port Orleans Riverside, the longest walk from a room to a bus stop is more than a quarter mile; at Caribbean Beach the longest walk is less than half of that.

Moreover, it’s always possible that better management, or something, results in one resort of the same price class getting materially better bus service than another.

Demonstrating this requires comparative data, not survey opinions.

To make an illuminative stab at this because I am such an utter geek to help my readers make good choices, I spent four mornings in late August and early September sitting at bus stops in Port Orleans Riverside and Caribbean Beach timing the arrivals of 139 buses. (Sunday the 28th of August through Tuesday the 30th, and again on September 1; each resort was observed one morning from 8-9.30a and another morning from 8.30-10a.)

I then tossed everything but buses to the four theme parks and then calculated the time between arrivals for buses to the same theme parks. I analyzed the resulting data both in traditional ways (mean and standard deviation) and graphically.

The results of this limited sample show that waits for the next bus were largely similar at the two resorts for most guests, but in every way that they were not similar, Port Orleans Riverside had better service. When you add to this that there are fewer stops at Riverside, transportation on the days I sampled was clearly better at Riverside than at Caribbean Beach.

The mean wait between buses to the same theme park at Caribbean Beach was 13 minutes, with a standard deviation of 8.2 minutes. At Riverside, the mean wait was 12 minutes and the standard deviation was 6.6 minutes. As we will see in a minute, the longer mean wait and much larger standard deviation at Caribbean Beach were driven by several excessive waits.

Here’s the graphical depiction of waits at Riverside:


And at Caribbean Beach:


In each graphic the dotted line is the average interval between arrival times for buses to the same park, the red line the 50th percentile wait, and the gold line what percent of buses come in at 20 minutes or fewer.

You’ll note that the biggest difference was in the longer waits–at Riverside, almost 90% of arrivals were 20 minutes or fewer, and the longest interval was 25 minutes. Caribbean Beach saw almost twice as many buses with >20 minute waits, and its longest wait was a stinky 34 minutes.

Something I did not adjust for in my analysis was the effect of buses to the same park that came one right after another.

For example, during one period at Port Orleans Riverside, Magic Kingdom buses came by at 9.18, 9.22, 9.23, 9.44 and 9.45a, for intervals of 4 minutes, 1 minute, 21 minutes, and 1 minute. The average wait time among these four intervals was 6.75 minutes.

But practically speaking a bus that comes one minute after another bus to the same park is of next to no value, as the arrival rate of people at the bus stops means that no or next to no incremental guests will be served by the bus arriving a minute later. Treating the two one minute waits as though they did not help any incremental people, we get 12.5 minutes as the average wait—almost twice as long.

Note in the graphics how many buses came by with a five minute wait or less (20% of them at Caribbean Beach, and 25% at Riverside). Guests would be better served if these buses were re-routed before their first stop to whatever park was fourth on the list of most recent buses…

To illuminate the impact of this, I redid the waits showing the exact same arrival times, but a steady progression of buses to the four parks so that none was repeated before all four had been served.

Here’s the results:



The effect was to add wait time to the left sides of the curves and remove it from the right sides–essentially moving time from artificial short waits from the left side (artificial because few or none would benefit from them) to reducing waits on the right side where they actually created value for people. (t statistic = “Mister.”)

How about it, Disney?

The traditional moderates are the hardest to distinguish among for recommendations. Each is at the top of some important criteria and at the bottom of others.

This means that either you should not sweat the difference among them, or that you should deeply research them to find which is exactly the best fit for your family.

But one thing that has always been true is that the total Disney transportation experience is worst at Caribbean Beach. If that’s your single concern, then that guidebook is right, and you should avoid Caribbean Beach.

You’ll find a more nuanced discussion of the moderates in my guidebook, and if you want to deeply research them, my reviews of each begin at the following links:

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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1 Micah { 09.12.16 at 10:36 pm }

Very interesting post, thanks. I have always wanted to see more real data on the bus wait times. The data this shows what I have seen at many resorts for years: on average the times are quite reasonable, but there is a lot of variability in the actual waits you find.

“But practically speaking a bus that comes one minute after another bus to the same park is of next to no value”
I agree completely. I have never understood how they allow this to even happen, but have seen it multiple times myself. What makes it worse is that the bus driver of the second bus rarely waits more than a few seconds, and typically leaves with a completely empty bus. I don’t see any reason they can’t wait around 5 or 10 minutes to help space things out more evenly.

“Guests would be better served if these buses were re-routed before their first stop to whatever park was fourth on the list of most recent buses…”
From what I have been told, each bus is assigned to a specific park as their ‘base’ for the day, so they aren’t even allowed to go to a different park instead. But… they should have never been given the assignment to go to that specific resort right after another bus was sent there.. the issue is apparently at the park where they get dispatched out to the resorts.

2 Dave { 09.13.16 at 7:00 am }

Thanks, Micah! If I were in charge–and I think we can all agree that such is a good idea–I’d give bus control to the resorts up until early afternoon, and to the parks in the late afternoon and evening.

3 Jeff { 09.13.16 at 7:54 pm }

This is the type of geeky & obsessive article that us WDW fanatics live for.
You have my loyalty forever.

4 Dave { 09.14.16 at 10:50 am }

🙂 Jeff

5 Joel { 09.14.16 at 4:10 pm }

What if the second MK bus was there because transportation already knew the first one would fill up before it finished the resort loop? So the 1st gets stops 1 – 4 and the second gets stragglers and 5 – 7. The question is does it matter what stop within the resort you are sitting at since there are slightly different routes in CRB depending on the origin location. In addition, are there exits that a bus can take before it finishes a loop and you would therefore not see it pass your stop?

6 Dave { 09.15.16 at 12:04 pm }

Joel one bus every ten minutes vs two buses every 20 minutes have the same capacity but yield lower waits.

7 Joel { 09.16.16 at 3:26 pm }

I agree Dave, but only if the buses make it to all of the stops. If 1 bus comes every 10 minutes but makes it through stops 1 – 6 before hitting capacity and I’m at 7, I would not be a fan of my outlier of a wait of infinity while everyone else gets sub 10 minutes. I’d be curious to look behind the curtain of Disney Transportation as I work with many labor and logistic engineers who specialize in productivity.

8 Dave { 09.17.16 at 11:41 am }

Joel, there are options for buses to do only a few of the consecutive stops and then exit before they have to drive past the rest. Word is that CB experimented with this recently. It requires more buses to generate the same expected wait, but does limit the time spent driving around the resort.

9 Eric { 09.19.16 at 11:05 am }

Do you know if they ever tried having something like having bus hub (or two) and then shuttle trams at each section to just keep looping to the hub(s)? I’m not sure it’s the most efficient from a macro view, but would make the bus-to-parks more simple, and fair from a customer-wait POV.

10 Jeff { 09.19.16 at 10:31 pm }

Hubs at a Resort.
Sounds like a nightmare.

11 Dave { 09.20.16 at 5:21 pm }

Eric, I’m with Jeff on this one. One resort in effect works with hubs (Fort Wilderness) and it is a pain…

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