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Disney or Universal as a Cruise Excursion: 10 Facts to Know

Updated: Apr 5

Disney or Universal as a Cruise Excursion: 10 Facts to Know

When we sail from New York to southern destinations, Port Canaveral is frequently a port of call. Most cruise lines offer a transfer to either Disney or Universal. A transfer means just the bus ride to the parks, not the tickets.

Disney 100
Disney 100th Anniversary

Options: You can take a cab or car service but the prices surge as soon as a ship docks, so it can cost as much as $200, each way. You can also rent a car but the timing may not coincide. For example, the rental agency may close before it's time to return to the ship or it may not be open on weekends. Also, most care rental agencies have to shuttle you to their lots from Port Canaveral, so you'll waste time that way. Your best bet is to take the shore excursion offered by the cruise.   

Carnival Freedom cruise ship
Carnival Freedom

Make sure you have the My Disney Experience and/or the Universal Orlando apps downloaded on your phone (with the cellular turned on for the bus ride, if there is no WiFi).

1.Plan ahead: purchase your theme park ticket ahead of time online. You can download the voucher or have something in your email. If you have an annual pass, make sure you have it with you. Check your app as well to make sure that your annual pass is there.

2. If you’re going to Universal, figure out whether you want to go to all 3 parks and decide if you want to spend the enormous amount to purchase the express pass. At least you’ll get on the rides. But, remember, you will not have that much time for park hopping if you want to do a lot of attractions. For Disney, see #6.

Harry Potter
Universal's Islands of Adventure

3. For Disney, you’ll need wifi at 7AM to try to buy Genie+ to have options for the Lighting Lane. If you have a park reservation (not always required) you may need to get on a virtual queue for new or popular rides. Double check.

Soarin' in Epcot
Soarin' in Epcot

4. Factor in about 60-90 minutes from the cruise terminal to the parks and vice versa. This cuts into your time at the parks as well.

5. The most important thing you need to do is to take a photo of the bus and find out what time you need to be back. Don’t wait until the last minute to try to get back to the bus. If the bus is delayed, the ship will wait for you. But if you are delayed getting back to the bus, it will not wait for you! They usually give you a phone number to call in case you truly do have a real emergency you can’t call at the last minute just because you’re on a ride.

Disney World Entrance
Disney World Entrance

6. For Disney, most of the time, you are dropped off at the transportation center. For trips like this, it’s best to stick to either Magic Kingdom or Epcot. A monorail will take you to either park. This will afford you the least travel time to other parks. Remember, most Disney buses run every 20 minutes so you have to deduct at least 40 minutes from your fun to travel to and from another park. At the transportation center, you go through security and then can hop back and forth between Magic Kingdom and Epcot via monorail without the hassle of going through security again and again.

7. Remember, the parking area for excursion buses will not be as close as the Disney buses, so factor in walking another 10-15 minutes to be back to your bus on time.

Universal Entrance
Universal Orlando Resort Entrance

8. Sometimes, the cruise line offers a parks transfer and a Disney Springs transfer. Since the parks sell out faster, taking the transfer to Disney Springs is an option if you want to go to the parks.  Remember, there are no theme park buses from Disney springs, only to the resorts. You can take a car service from there to the park. Again, timing is very important. It’s better to get back to Disney Springs earlier and walk around there than to miss the bus back to your ship because you fooled around trying to ride Space mountain. Travel Tip for Your Trip: Disney Springs is free and since the time there will probably be very short, you may want to just do this.

Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Studios Orlando

9. For Universal, pay attention where the bus drops you off in comparison to the Universal buses. Remember that you have to walk through City Walk from the parks to get back to the bus. The transfer to Universal is great because there is no separate bus between the parks or City Walk. Travel Tip For Your Trip: If you want, just hang out at City Walk for free and then get back on the bus to your ship.

10. Remember that you have to go through security to get back on the ship, so popcorn or the cookies are about all you can bring back. No real food from one of Epcot’s festivals.

Rockin' Roller Coaster, Disney's Hollywood Studios
Rockin' Roller Coaster, Disney's Hollywood Studios

So, is the theme parks bus transfer off a cruise it worth it? That depends. If you’re an annual pass holder, then this is just one more trip within your year and you know this is just a stop-by. We don’t expect to have a full experience because time is often very limited.

Cruise Ship sign
Back on the ship

If you’ve been before, again, it’s nice to stop by and have some fun, especially if the weather is not the best in Florida and a trip to the beach would be a waste.

If you’ve never been to any of the Orlando theme parks, this can be an introduction. You certainly won’t get a chance to do everything (unless your ship is parked overnight and you buy two transfers). But you’ll get a taste and that’s what traveling can be all about: just a chance to have the experience.

Happy Travels.

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