The Deal Mommy

Two Free Disney World Parking Hacks Only Insiders Know

Free Disney World Parking Hacks: 2 insider secrets!  

One reason to consider staying at a Disney resort is the free Disney World benefit- good even at the parks. One of the reasons I don’t recommend the Swan and Dolphin is the parking fee.  Luckily, I have two simple free Disney World parking hacks that get you free Disney World parking.

Parking at Disney Springs is free and frequent shuttle buses go to the parks via the resort hotels.   

Even better, Disney Springs now has buses directly to and from the parks after 4PM. 

Tips and Tricks for Free Disney World Parking at each Park

To get to a specific park your best bet will be to take the shuttle from Disney Springs to the hotels within walking or monorail/boat distance of your desired park:

  • Magic Kingdom or Epcot front entrance: Take a bus to Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary than take the monorail. You can also walk from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom.
  • Epcot World Showcase or Hollywood Studios: Take a bus to the Swan/Dolphin, Boardwalk, or Beach/Yacht Club. Any of those will get you within walking or a short ferry distance.
  • Animal Kingdom: Animal Kingdom Lodge is the closest, but there’s nothing within walking distance so just change buses.

A similar way to accomplish the same result: park at Disney Springs and walk over the footbridge to one of the Disney Springs hotels. The buses from there go directly to and from the parks. They start an hour before opening. 

Yes, you’ll add a few minutes each way, but you’ll be taking a tram to and from your parking space anyway so might as well bus it and save $25. If you’re leaving at closing, the buses to Disney Springs might actually be less crowded than the parking lot trams. I understand this isn’t for everyone- but if $25/day is a budget buster, the extra time might be worth it.

A less crowded but also less convenient alternative: the water parks and mini golf courses.  The buses from the water parks aren’t as frequent as their hours are limited. There’s also parking at the Boardwalk but that lot can fill up so I wouldn’t recommend it for all day.

Grab dessert at the Grand Floridian Cafe and use one of my favorite Disney World Parking Hacks.

Grab dessert at the Grand Floridian Cafe and use one of my favorite Disney World Parking Hacks.

Eat and Park for Free

Another easy free parking hack is to have a meal at a Disney World Resort hotel and park there for free. This works especially well if you plan your meal at one of the monorail resorts for Magic Kingdom or Epcot or one of the Boardwalk area resorts for Epcot or Hollywood Studios.  For breakfast the clear choice is Kona Cafe in the Polynesian- although that one might be hard to secure a reservation. Two of my favorites for lunch- The Wave in the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian Cafe – pretty much always have availability.  You can have the reservation anytime in the day. Just show the guard your reservation and you’ll get right in to the hotel lot. Note that I’m not recommending a fake reservation as you’ll get charged- plan for the meal. The food is really good and it’s a nice break from park fare. The rules technically state you get three hours free parking but I’ve never heard of this being enforced. 

Wanna learn more Disney World Hacks? Check out my Book! 



39 thoughts on “Two Free Disney World Parking Hacks Only Insiders Know

  1. Jim

    So, no one wants to be the commenter who comes on and says “this is a terrible post and I’m a huge jerk for telling you why”. But seriously, this is a terrible post and I’m prepared to be a huge jerk for telling you why, now in conveniently numbered list form:

    1) Parking at Disney Springs does not add “a few minutes each way” and anyone who writes that is either being disingenuous or has never actually tried their own suggestion. Things are getting a bit better with the addition of the DS parking garage, but the garage is not especially close to where the buses pick up and drop off. You will spend as much time getting from your car to the bus depot at DS as you would taking a tram from your car in a theme park parking lot to the front of that park. Then you wait for the buses. Anyone who regularly takes Disney transportation knows that this wait can be 2 minutes or 20 minutes. Then you get on the bus and you get to deal with the traffic around DS, complete with on-going construction. To EPCOT/DHS you are looking at maybe 5-10 minutes. To AK or MK it could be more like 10 or 15. If you can get out of your car in DS and to the front gate of any of the theme parks in less than 30 minutes I will eat my Mickey ears. That’s a minimum of an extra hour of travel each day, probably more like 90-120 minutes each day, to save on the $20 in parking. Maybe that hack is worth it, but you’re probably paying a heck of a lot more than that to be on vacation there to begin with so maybe sacrificing your sanity and time for a small gain is a poor trade-off.

    2) The reservation idea is a solid one, though it comes with the caveat that all Disney dining reservations now require a credit card to hold it and there is an automatic charge if you don’t show up. That charge is still less than the parking fee, so it could be worth it if you’re only going to do it once or twice. But it’s like fuel dumping or throwaway ticketing: legal, but violates the spirit of the regulations and is likely to get you in trouble if you do it often enough for Disney to figure it out.

    3) Please do not show up at the Boardwalk and think you’ll be able to park there without an Advance Dining Reservation. You might get lucky – back when they were less strict I would maybe be able to talk myself in once every two or three times (usually to legitimately go to the ESPN property on the Boardwalk). But Disney has really tightened up. I even got challenged at Saratoga Springs when I was going to pick a friend up there. Who the hell is scamming parking at Saratoga Springs that they are so concerned?

    What are my parking suggestions?

    1) Pay the stupid fee. Yes it is extortionate. So is everything else in Orlando but you’re there anyway, aren’t you?

    2) If you want to eat in a restaurant and it is at one of the hotels where you will save time by walking/monorailing to the theme park (so Poly, GF, Contempo, WL, Boardwalk, Beach Club, or Yacht Club) then go for it – but make it early enough that you’ll still make it for park opening because those are the best touring hours.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I always appreciate feedback- it means you’re reading!

      I have parked at (what was) Downtown Disney many times. Maybe it’s because I go early but I’ve averaged 5-10 minute waits for buses. I’ve definitely waited longer from some Disney hotels (SS springs to mind) than DD (now DS).

      The construction may be a factor in the short term but it will end.

      I do recommend actually eating a meal at a resort hotel, not just making an ADR, if you want to park.

      I agree about Boardwalk: I mentioned it to avoid the “you forgot Boardwalk” comment but specifically don’t recommend it.

      And the worst wait I’ve had? After closing, waiting for MK parking tram: 45 minutes.

  2. AMJ

    I’m sorry to say, but I’ve got to say that I agree with Jim that the Disney Springs parking advice is really bad advice. The last I checked (and we are annual pass holders who go several times a year), buses haven’t gone from Disney Springs to the park in many years precisely because of the hack that you suggest. They go from Disney Springs to the resorts. In fact, the Disney link that you provided states that.

    Taking the bus from Disney Springs to a resort and then to a park would be a MAJOR time commitment. It would easily be over an hour and potentially very frustrating if you are waiting 20+ minutes for each bus and dealing with a crowd of people from the actual resort that you are transferring at.

    I’m super cheap, but the parking fee would be money very spent when you are looking at time wasted on your vacation. If you are going to make the decision to stay offsite (which I don’t recommend for the average family), you just need to budget in parking.

    I agree completely with what Jim said in his second point about the dining reservation. It does work, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you are planning to eat at one of those resorts due to the credit card policy with dining reservations. Again, it honestly makes more sense to just pay for the parking.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi AMJ,
      I see what you’re saying and will edit my post to be more clear. I actually think it might be easier to recommend the bus to the hotel nearest and then the walk…thanks for giving me the idea.

      1. AMJ

        I still think that would be more trouble than it is worth, but I suppose it depends on how tight your budget is and how valuable your time is. Obviously, there is no resort attached to Animal Kingdom and it is about a 20 minute walk still from Swan/Dolphin/Boardwalk area. I also think that this would imped on your ability to get to the parks prior to park opening which is the smartest thing that you can do when visiting a Disney park (as Jim indicated as well).

  3. Pam

    As an Orlando resident that visits the parks weekly, I can tell you Disney Springs has only one parking area open and it’s a walk to the busses. And the wait can be 20 minutes if there’s space, 40 if you need to wait on the next bus. Disney is really cracking down on parking hacks, so be prepared to be turned away if you don’t actually have a reservation to dine at a resort. We frequent the Boardwalk to dine at non-reservation restaurants and get turned away 50% of the time or told to pay for valet. Thank goodness the Florida resident pass now includes free park parking. Also, handicapped persons are allowed free valet at the resorts if you have a reason to be there.

  4. Shannon

    My hack may or may not work. And, I’m still going back and forth in my mind whether I should even try it. Last spring, I stayed at the Swan. I kept the hotel card. My friend who stayed last month told me it’s the same exact card. I just may try to show the hotel card that’s suppose to allow me to park for free. I’m headed there in a few weeks and this time not staying on property. If it’s warm enough, we’ll go to the water parks.

    On my first stay, five years ago, we did a split stay at a Disney hotel and off property for the rest. The parking paper was in the front window the whole week. We pulled up to the Magic Kingdom intending to pay and we were waved through. This happened to us twice.

    For me, paying the $20 parking fee is a small price to pay for convenience with a family. Getting to the parks early is key and at the end of the night, the hassle just isn’t worth it.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Shannon,
      Not sure about the Swan, but the Disney room parking is now via magic band. The mini golf is right down the street…

  5. Erik

    I will also throw out there that some hotels like Sheraton Vistana Villages offer complimentary transportation to WDW but you need to check their schedules to see if it meshes with your plans. Depending on the time of year, the first trip may not leave until after the park has opened which would not be good if you are a “rope drop” family. Personally I don’t think the free parking hacks are worth the time wasted and potential hassle. Sure $20 is outrageous but you have the convenience of your own vehicle and don’t have to be dependent upon schedules or long lines of people waiting for transportation. If you park hop, doing it with your own vehicle can be quicker than the WDW transport system. Your paid parking ticket gives you same-day parking at the other WDW parks – just show it to the attendant.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Erik,
      Very true. Some of the offsite shuttles can work well.

      I guess my experience with WDW parking is worse than most: getting to our car from the entrance takes at least 20 minutes at the Magic Kingdom even when we DO pay for parking. Epcot and Hollywood average 15. If I’m already in for that amount of time, the extra for the bus from Disney Springs doesn’t seem so long. I’ve also never not been able to get on the first bus I saw- but then again I don’t go at peak times like Spring or Christmas break.

      1. Erik

        We went last year during spring break. I am a huge fan of the “rope drop” philosophy. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination but you can get so much done within the first few hours and experience minimal waits. We parked about 30 minutes before the scheduled opening. MK had EMH that started at 7AM and regular opening was at 8AM. Got there around 7:30AM and had a spot that was a max 5 min walk to the transport center. This was on an 8 or 9 crowd day. It was nice because we had a double stroller loaded with snacks, packed lunch, and cold drinks in a soft-sided cooler. We could have walked right on to the monorail but opted to take the boat because it was there and our first time as a family (I like the scenic approach to build excitement and I wasn’t sure that they would let us off-site people into the park before 8AM – which they did, we were in our first line around 7:50-7:55). We left about 30-60 minutes after the first Wishes and went straight to the car. The girls fell asleep on the boat so it was easy to lift them straight out into their car seats. We visited MK a 2nd time later that week on a lower crowd level day using same strategy and parked even closer. A month later, we went to the other WDW parks during a long weekend and park hopped with the car. Those crowd days were more in the 4-5-6 range and using the “rope drop” strategy, we never walked more than 5-10 minutes to the entrance. So, I guess my parking experiences have been good and considering the gear that we had, I think it would have been more difficult riding/transferring between buses.

        1. AMJ

          We almost always rope drop and on the rare occasions when we drive (opposed to taking Disney transportation from the resorts) it has always been about a 5-7 minute walk to the entrance for DHS, AK, and EP, probably because we get there early and are able to get a closer spot. We don’t typically utilize the trams because of this. I could see how it could add a considerable amount of time if you arrived later in the day.

          MK is always a pain to park at because you have to take the monorail or ferry. The monorail can get very backed up! I much prefer to rely on Disney bus transportation to get to MK because you are dropped off right at the entrance. I’ll admit that if you close a park that the buses can be a pain at park close. You can get stuck waiting for several buses (though they typically keep them coming pretty quickly at park close) and they are very crowded, but it’s a pain if you have driven to deal with the traffic congestion too.

          1. thedealmommy Post author

            Hi Guys,
            Thanks for the helpful comments. This is why I especially like parking at Disney Springs if visiting MK. You have to go the the transit center anyway so it’s not like you’re gonna walk in. Buses from Disney Springs start at 8:30 so if you catch the first one to the polynesian/gf/contemporary you’re gonna be at the front door by 9.

  6. Jamie

    We just went to Disney a few weeks ago, and stayed onsite, so the parking was free. Here are a few things I observed.
    – I hate taking the busses. We got downstairs for a 8:15 bus at about 8:12 (on a 9:00 park opening day). It had just left 🙁 I realize that you are supposed to get there 5 minutes early, but that was a huge bummer and then we waited 30 minutes for the next bus. The stress of standing there with the crowd of people trying to get on the bus and worrying about people cutting in line and Hey, where is the line actually supposed to start etc. Then the bus gets there and there are two people in motorized scooters who got there much later than most of the people in line, but of course they have to load the wheelchairs first (I mean this seriously, there is no other option than loading them first) and you just stand there using up all of your patience feeling like you’re going to scream because you’re trying to get to the Mine Train ride (which IMO is the biggest disappointment at Disney) before the line is 2 hours long. *deep breath* I hate the busses. I don’t think they actually take much longer than driving, but I find the experience more stressful. It’s like how you can either sit in bumper to bumper traffic, or take the long way around. Even if the long way around doesn’t save time, I just prefer it from a mental health standpoint.
    – Pulling up to the parking booths was weird. They always just said something like, “Hello”. Not “parking is $20 please” or “are you staying at one of our resorts”. So, I was always awkwardly answering something like, “Hi, we’re going to Magic Kingdom.” (duh). Anyway, only once did they actually scan our magic band when entering a park. They usually would either ask what resort we were staying at, or just see the magic band and wave us in. If I was trying to hack the parking thing (or “lie in order to get free parking” – no judging from me), I’d try to pick a resort name that is similar to a non-Disney resort name (I can’t think of one) so that if they actually scanned my band I could say, No, we aren’t staying at the Contemporary, we are staying at Joe’s Contemporary Motel (or something like that – I’m not a good liar).
    – On our last night we stayed at the Buena Vista Palace in the Disney Springs area. At the moment they are not charging a resort fee or a parking fee (at the hotel), but the place is seriously under construction. So is Disney Springs… seriously under construction. I don’t know anything about parking at DS or busses from there, I can just say that as of right now I’d avoid that area because of all of the construction.

    So, I don’t really have a recommended free parking method, just think about your own personality and what you’d prefer. If you are staying on property, the nice thing about the busses is that you don’t have to take the tram/monorail combo. The bad thing about the busses is how unpredictable they are. Our experience with the tram/monorail was pretty good. I’d have said that it added like 10 or 15 minutes, but Joe (of asthejoeflies) was there at the exact same time as me, and he said *at least* 20 minutes. Never ever waited anything like 45 minutes for a tram, but we never closed the park down, though we did stay to almost closing time.

    The “hack” I would recommend considering is the annual pass. If you have a large group of people staying off site for like a week, look into whether it is worth it for one person to get the AP. You get free parking at Disney parks, and a 10% discount on food at some of the restaurants (for your whole group). My impression was that it was mostly the sit down places, but my sister got a discount on a rice crispy snack she bought somewhere in the MK. There may be other minor benefits. I think it includes Memory Maker also, which I would value at least at $50. I love those crazy roller coaster shots.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Jamie,
      Good points all. Knowing your tolerance levels for public transit is a definite consideration.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Gail,
      “Rope drop” is the official opening when a large rope held by Disney cast is slowly backed up for guests to enter.

  7. Emily

    FYI- I just called WDW to check and a dining reservation at a WDW Resort hotel gets you free parking at the hotel for a max of 3 hours. After that you risk being towed, which is apparently pretty common. You can’t leave your vehicle there all day if you aren’t staying at the hotel. Sorry!

  8. Big Al

    it would be nice if they charged a one time fee for a multi-day parking pass so it would be more desirable and a little less expensive…something like using your park tickets within 14 days…

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Once you are past 8 days a year it’s worth considering the annual pass for 1 for free parking and the other discount benefits.

  9. Greg

    Does anyone have any suggestions for parking for Boardwalk if you are not staying on property?

    1. Ann

      If it’s a weekday, they will typically let you park at the Boardwalk Inn; on weekends or busy times, you can park via the valet service with no problem. Employee parking is across the street from the Boardwalk Inn and behind the gas station. Or go to the Beachclub and have a bite at Beaches & Cream – they will usually let you park there for that reason. Or make a reservation for any Boardwalk restaurant and you have access to parking at the Inn. Play a round of mini golf at Fantasia Gardens and walk over to the Swann.

  10. G Grindstaff

    Just worked yesterday contemporary guard told me only guests staying at resort tell them you want to buy a disney backpack that they only have in there they will let you in went to mk all day came back truck was inbred same place we left it

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Unless it’s peak they really don’t have the staff to check. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. Derek

    There is a way to get free parking at the TTC. Stay to the left of the toll booths and tell the attendant you are going to Contemporary or Bay Lake. They will wave you through. Then drive all the way around the MK and just past the gas station is an access road right before the toll booths on the left side. That one way road will loop you back into the flow of traffic of the people who just paid for parking.

  12. diane pontillo

    The buses from the parks after 4:00 p.m. do go to Disney Springs, but there are no buses back to the parks (even after 4:00 p.m.). You still have to transfer at a hotel. The issue in the morning is that the Disney Springs buses to hotels start later so you’d never get to a park for opening doing that. Parking is $20 not $25 🙂

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Diane,
      An easy work-around is to leave from a Disney Springs hotel. They Wyndham is the closest to the parking lots. Those buses start an hour before opening.

  13. Nikki

    We live in Florida and used to park at the hotels and catch the buses to the parks. That night, come back to the hotel and drive to our hotel off Disney. We would use the pools also at the hotels. Now, I heard they cracked down. My family would visit and stay at the Disney Resorts and we would meet them there, swim, eat and all go to the parks on the buses. Never had anyone try to tow my car. How in the world would they even know? They don’t give you passes to put in the windshield. We did this years ago, now I would question if you have to scan your bracelet to get on a bus at a resort? I know you have to now at the pools. We have bands from the resort we booked at but canceled. We are staying off Disney now to save $1,500. They may take the model of your car and plate number when you check-in now, and if they do have someone constantly patrolling the lot and putting in plate numbers to see if you are really staying there, they can catch you that way. If you’ve been there over the 3-hour limit. But I highly doubt they have people doing that all day. Anyhow, I am paying to park at the parks, my luck now, I would get towed. But like I mentioned before. We would just pull up and tell them we were meeting family that was staying there and get right in. Never a problem.

    1. thedealmommy Post author

      Hi Nikki,
      You definitely don’t have to have any sort of ID to use resort transportation. Disney wants you to use it, even if you are staying off site because of dining options at the resorts, etc.

  14. Greg

    Do you know whether a car left in Disney Springs overnight will get towed? Any basis to believe it will likely, unlikely, absolutely, or absolutely not towed?

  15. sandra henshaw

    We are a party of 16 travelling Aug 2019 we were going to use the parking at DS and use the transport but we value our time much more. The actual cost of parking doesn’t sound too bad if you divide it by the amount of people traveling, well not in our case anyway, if there were only 2 of you it’s expensive!!

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