This recent article on CNN.com, The Absolutely Indispensable Guide to Disney World, illustrates the point that you have to be careful about where you get your Disney advice. While there's some good advice contained in the article, it's this little gem that I take issue with:
"Don't even think about paying for parking
When you're shelling out $82 a day for admission, tacking on another $14 for parking can feel like adding insult to injury. I'm proud to say my family hasn't paid for a spot in years. What many out-of-towners don't realize is that the parking lots at Disney water parks, miniature-golf courses and the Downtown Disney entertainment district are absolutely free.
From those locations, shuttle buses will take you wherever you need to go (note that some routes require transfers). Our all-time favorite spot is an unmarked overflow lot across the street from the BoardWalk Inn. Next to a Hess gas station, the lot is almost always half-empty and is a 10-minute walk to the resort.
From there, you can stroll over to Epcot, take a ferry ride to Hollywood Studios, or catch a shuttle bus anywhere else -- all free of charge."
Seriously? Okay, none of us like paying $14 a day for parking. You'll get no argument from me there. But if you're staying off-site (on-site guests and annual passholders park for free), it's one of those costs you build into your trip. Ignore the fact that the author's advice is basically a gray area from a moral standpoint no matter how you look at it. What really gets me is that this advice is simply impractical!
Let's break it down. Since there are no buses that go from Downtown Disney to the parks (for this very reason), you'll need to take a bus to a resort and transfer. Because there are fewer buses running in the morning from Downtown Disney to the resorts for practical reasons (i.e., they aren't needed at that time), you'll probably spend an hour between waiting for the bus and then riding to the resort. From there, you'll need to transfer to another bus and go to the park of your choice, adding a minimum of 20 - 30 minutes. This is, of course, assuming there are no long lines of actual resort guests waiting ahead of you. If there are, add another 30 minutes or more to your plan. The option of parking in the overflow lot at Boardwalk Inn only shaves a few minutes off this scenario, requires a lot of walking on a day when you'll be walking a lot already, and carries the additional risk of your car being towed. But never mind: You saved $14.
Or did you save money? Because we all know that time is money too and that's particularly true when you're talking about time in the parks. Now, say you paid $82 for that day's admission and there are four people in your group. That's a total of $328 plus tax. If the park you want to visit that day is open for 15 hours, that's roughly $22 an hour. But you just lost 90 minutes minimum due to your convoluted parking strategy and you'll lose another hour or more that might as well. And even if you manage to pull all of this off before the park opens and after it closes, therefore not technically losing any park time, the reality is, your time is still worth more than the $14 you saved. Do you really want to schlep yourself, kids, and countless bags of souvenirs around after the parks close to save a few dollars? No, I didn't think so.
I think what this article illustrates for me, besides the obvious fact that paying for parking is a Disney World reality, is that there's a lot of bad Disney advice out there and as a consumer, the first thing you need to be wary of is any article (or guidebook) that declares itself "absolutely indispensable." In my house, we love the Unofficial Guide. It's an invaluable Disney World guidebook (and a handy doorstopper as well), but I wouldn't call it or any other book absolutely indispensable. There are so many sources, from guidebooks to message boards, to your neighbors who happen to visit the World every year, that you can, and probably should, get your advice from many sources and then pick and choose what works for you. Because only you can know what works best for your family.
And I'm betting it's not spending part of your vacation looking for free parking.