Everything You Need to Know About the Minnie Van
A stylish new mode of transportation is all the rage at Walt Disney World right now. What is it and why is it in such high demand? Well, you can tell by the headline and the picture what the answer is, but let’s go into a bit more detail. Here’s everything you need to know about Disney’s hot new ride, the Minnie Van.
Cause and Effect
The Walt Disney World campus hosts more than 100,000 people each day. That makes it one of the most populated places in North America. And the problem that The Walt Disney Company faces is that they host all of these guests in a relatively small area. Congestion is an issue and has been since Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.
Disney has spent literally tens of millions of dollars trying to mitigate traffic problems over the years. They started with the monorail as a clever means of throughput at the heart of Walt Disney World. They’ve also used buses and boats over the years.
The results are largely inconsistent. Yes, Disney transports guests to their destination, but the wait-time varies wildly. The same trip might take 15 minutes or an hour. I once rode a boat for an extra half hour simply because they wanted to keep the dock free for a fireworks dessert party. I was close enough to the shore to swim for it…but I know about the alligators, so I didn’t.
Simply stated, Disney can never fully solve its congestion issues. The wants and needs of consumers are too vast and myriad.
Ridesharing Done Right
Oddly, a random situation in France changed the complexion of Walt Disney World transportation. A couple of friends famously couldn’t get a cab late one night in Paris. One of them wondered aloud why they couldn’t just check the internet for available drivers in the area willing to take them to the next destination. In this moment, Uber was born.
When Uber and Lyft arrived in Orlando, the two companies faced tremendous local resistance. Mears and local taxi services already had a stronghold on the region’s tourist transportation. City officials were reluctant to cede too much leeway to unproven, untested companies, especially ones with an entirely new business model.
Over time, the genius of ridesharing won out over standing practices in public transportation. The outcome of this victory was that visitors to Walt Disney World discovered an amazing new way to travel. They could pull out their smartphone, load an app, and have a driver pick them up in a matter of minutes.
This ability was a far cry from the intermittent appearances of Disney buses. Again, everyone has their fair share of Disney transportation horror stories. In one instance, we nearly missed our Tragical Express ride to the airport because a bus never arrived from Disney’s Contemporary Resort. We watched as 13 of them came and went to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort during this timeframe…and yes, we counted. There was nothing we could do as we were wholly at the mercy of the maddening Disney bus system.
Ridesharing changed the calculus. People who were willing to pay a small price could come and go from the parks and resorts as we pleased. It was great for customers.
Disney saw the situation from an entirely different perspective. Their buses run independent of how many guests ride on each one. They weren’t saving a significant amount of money as park visitors flocked to ridesharing.
Conversely, traffic around the parks was at an all-time high. Many Orlando residents and folks new to the area became ridesharing drivers. All of those new cars on the streets led to even more traffic congestion, an issue that Disney is addressing with the impending Disney Skyliner.
More importantly from Disney’s perspective, other companies were profiting off of a service that Disney already provided. Uber and Lyft were making money off of Disney’s inability to transport guests in a timely manner. Something had to give, and it did.
Enter the Minnie Van
Early in 2017, rumors indicated that Disney was testing its own kind of ridesharing service. The company witnessed how Uber and Lyft appealed to Disney customers, and corporate executives acknowledged the cleverness of the business model.
Disney started exploring a new kind of internal transportation. At D23, they finally confirmed their creation. In the middle of a series of historic announcements about the future of Disney theme parks, the company introduced the Minnie Van.
This adorable vehicle is a 2017 Chevy Traverse with a novel paint job. It has a red base with white polka dots interspersed throughout the exterior. It also has a black Minnie Mouse not-so-hidden Mickey on the front door. Suffice to say that when Minnie Mouse fans look at this car, their hearts are aflutter.
The Minnie Van is functional, too. Each vehicle comes with a pair of child car seats, an important inclusion for a reason we’ll discuss in a moment. The Traverse can seat six guests, and Disney’s service will transport you from any Walt Disney World location to another. It’s not currently available for airport pick-up and may not ever do so, although my expectation is that this will happen sooner rather than later. It makes too much sense not to do so.
Minnie Vans Ain’t Cheap
The cost of a trip is $20 one way. Yes, that sounds pricey, and it is. You should factor in a couple of things, though. Ridesharing services charge $10 per children’s car seat. That’s an automatic upcharge that’s not negotiable. Parents with two small children will actually save money by using Minnie Vans compared to Uber or Lyft.
As for everyone else, you’re paying $20 to get somewhere fast. Disney cast members drive all Minnie Vans, and they have the same right of way as bus drivers, meaning that you’ll arrive at your destination faster than you could by any other form of travel. And you’ll look adorable and stylish as you do. Seriously, it’s a running joke at Disney right now that Minnie Vans turn more heads than celebrity sightings. Eventually, that excitement will die down, but it’s not going to happen any time soon. You’ll feel like a heightened sense of importance when you ride in a Minnie Van.
The other thing to keep in mind is that if you’re traveling as part of a group, you can split the cost of a Minnie Van. A party of four pays $5 each to ride in style. That’s a tolerable cost and probably part of Disney’s strategy with the set fee.
The Fine Print about Minnie Vans
As for booking, Disney has a deal in place with Lyft to use their software architecture for Minnie Vans. You’ll load the Lyft app and check for Minnie Vans in the area. Unlike regular Lyft vehicles, the vans have individual numbers. You won’t experience any confusion about whether the approaching car is for you or not. The number listed on the app will tell you.
The Lyft app also causes a bit of confusion. Lyft allows and encourages tipping of drivers. Disney has firmly stated that riders shouldn’t tip drivers. Still, some cast members haven’t gotten the message. They’re accepting and sometimes even asking for tips, at least based on early anecdotal evidence. Personally, I’m big on tipping, so I don’t mind this at all. You should keep it in mind, though. Perhaps a quick discussion with the driver is in order during your trip.
If all of this sounds good, you’re just about ready to book a Minnie Van. There’s just one problem. Disney is still rolling out the service. It’s only available at a few resorts thus far. The starter properties were Disney’s BoardWalk Resort, and Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort. They’ve since added Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (and its adjoining Disney Vacation Club properties, Copper Creek Villas and Boulder Ridge Villas).
The most recent addition is the most important. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge now offers Minnie Van service. In terms of value and need, it’s at the top of the list. Uber and Lyft users know that Animal Kingdom Lodge is so far outside the regular travel loop of Walt Disney World that ridesharing drivers were in short supply prior to the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar. A $20 fee for transportation to or from the Animal Kingdom resorts is a solid option.
Over the course of the last month, Disney has doubled the number of resorts that have Minnie Van service. By the end of the year, most of the properties onsite should be participants.
Overall, the Minnie Van service checks a couple of key boxes for Disney guests. It’s stylish and practical. The only way it could be better is if it were economical, too. Still, let’s be honest about the fact that you’re going to ride in one of these during your next Disney visit. For $20, you’re getting an inimitable experience…and quick transportation, a rarity for Walt Disney World.
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