Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Zero-Waste Walt Disney World Vacation

Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Zero-Waste Walt Disney World Vacation
Disney Parks Zero Waste Wandering

This post is just one part of our Complete Guide to a Fully Sustainable, Zero-Waste Walt Disney World Vacation where we cover all aspects of visiting WDW with zero-waste in mind.

On this page, we’ll cover all aspects of planning your next Walt Disney World trip: Should you drive or fly? Stay on-property or off? Take advantage of the dining plan or not? We’ll help break it down for you and provide some ideas on how to keep the environment in mind when thinking about your next trip to Walt Disney World.

Transportation

One way to reduce your carbon footprint is by choosing a mode of transportation with the lowest environmental impact. There are many factors that go into this and organizations like Carbon Fund and TerraPass have made it easy to calculate an approximate value and offer you a way to offset your impact.

Playing with the calculators and understanding the statistics shows that long distances by car are typically the worst offenders when it comes to emissions. Now, this can change depending on your car’s fuel efficiency and the number of passengers you’re traveling with. Assuming around 1,000 miles (New York to Orlando), travel by car emits about 0.35 tonnes CO2 (assuming ~28 MPG) while bus tends to be the best here (~0.07 tonnes CO2) due to the high passenger capacity and low emissions compared to air travel. That same trip by train (diesel) and plane are similar to each other (~0.14 tonnes CO2 each), but again, these figures can change based on many factors.

For shorter trips (around 300 miles or so), the bus still wins (~0.02 tonnes CO2), followed by train (~0.05 tonnes CO2), plane (~0.07 tonnes CO2), and car (~0.10 tonnes CO2).

Take a look at our breakdown below, but we also recommend playing with the calculators to see what works best for you.

Drive

Driving may not be the worst idea from an environmental impact if your car is fairly fuel-efficient and you can transport at least two others with you – this may come close to or even beat the emissions from flying. If you have an electric or plug-in hybrid, know that charging stations on Walt Disney World property are incredibly limited – so planning is key. Check out our separate post for more info: Where and How to Charge Your EV on Walt Disney World Property.

Remember that if you’re staying at a hotel on Disney property, all transportation is provided so a car isn’t necessary unless you plan to break out of the Disney bubble (though Lyft and Uber are still possibilities). On-property hotels now charge up to $25 per night to park and if you’re staying off-property, theme park parking starts at $25 per day. All things to keep in mind when making this decision.

Road trip!!!

If for some reason, the idea of road-trippin’ tickles you, take a look at our blog post: How to Disneyfy Your Next Road Trip for tips on how to make your drive as comfortable as possible along with sustainability topics like using a sunshade to keep your car’s interior cool, thus saving time and gas needed to run the A/C. Give it a read by clicking here.

You may also want to consider renting a vehicle that’s more fuel-efficient than the one you own – this will spare you the extra mileage on your car and if the price is right, save on gas too. We’ll get into more details on car rentals in a section below.

Fly

Though flying is typically one of the highest carbon emitters, sometimes it may be your only option, especially with time and cost restraints. Some airlines offer carbon offsets for a nominal fee when booking a reservation, but if not, we suggest offsetting on your own when you get home.

The first ride of your trip: the MCO monorail!

If flying is your only means, take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express service from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and rest-assured that Disney does their best to pack those busses and optimize their routes. When arriving on a late-night flight, don’t be surprised that you may wait a little longer for the bus to fill up – it’s to ensure that gas isn’t burned to just transport a few people (saving money for them but a win for the environment).

If staying off-property or flying into Sanford Orlando Airport (SFB – yes, this is a real airport), you can rent a car, but consider a shared airport van like Super Shuttle first. If you prefer a rideshare service, we are big fans of Lyft who’ve committed themselves to full carbon neutrality on all rides.

Train

Taking the train may be a better choice for you if you’re along Amtrak’s South route which connects along routes to the mid-west and the north-east. Amtrak claims to be 47 percent more efficient than traveling by car and 33 percent more efficient than domestic airline travel, but as you’ve read above, many factors go into these statistics, so be sure to calculate it out for yourself.

Kissimmee Station (KIS) is the closest train stop to Disney World property and Lynx provides public bus service from the station to Disney’s Ticket and Transportation Center. Check the number 56 route for schedules.

Of course, shared vans like Super Shuttle and rideshares like Lyft are also available for you.

Bus

Taking a bus seems to be the lowest carbon offender based on statistical data, but unfortunately, options into the Orlando area are limited.

Megabus offers direct service from Atlanta, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, and Tampa to their Orlando stop. Though you can find public transportation form this stop, it may not be worth the effort to get to Disney property this way due to the time and transfers it will take. Megabus also has an interesting green effort in place, offering their drivers monetary incentives for the most efficient driving.

Greyhound offers a more extensive network of destinations with two Orlando area stops. The Kissimmee stop is closest to Disney and Lynx has public bus service via the number 56 route to Disney’s Ticket and Transportation Center. The Orlando stop is a bit further and from the parks, without easy public transportation options.

Accommodations

Resorts on the monorail line let you access the parks using fully-electric transportation

Choosing a hotel will most likely be based on your budget and taste, but keep transportation in mind. Staying on Disney property will have its perks like complimentary airport transfer and transportation to the parks each day. All of Disney’s Deluxe resorts offer you the ability to walk to at least one park, saving emissions from diesel-powered busses. You can also find all-electric modes of transportation like monorails and the new Disney Skyliner gondolas connecting to certain hotels.

You may even want to choose a hotel based on how their cafeteria-style dining areas serve food. For example, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort’s quick-service dining option serves on real dishes and uses stainless steel silverware instead of disposables. This may save you some heartache if you’re in search of a quick bite without waste. Read more about which other spots serve on real dishes as well as hotel snack hacks in our Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Eating and Drinking at the Walt Disney World Resort.

If staying off property, we suggest utilizing your hotel’s shared shuttle service to the parks, if offered.

MagicBands

When staying on-property, you’re provided with MagicBands, electronic bracelets that act as your room key, park pass, etc. The battery in them will last for about two years. If you plan to return to the parks within that time, you can decline bands on your next stay and use the ones you already have as long as they’re still active in your account.

One way to avoid some waste with MagicBands is to decline having them shipped to your house. Instead, you can opt to pick them up at your hotel upon check-in (you’ll find this option in the My MagicBands and Cards menu of your account). They’ll still be customized with your name and color of choice as long as you fill out the info at least 6 days before arrival. Since you won’t have a ‘band at the airport upon arrival, you’ll just need to be prepared with your resort reservation at Disney’s Magical Express counter if using this service.

If you don’t think you’ll return within two years, you can bring your bands to the front desk of any Disney resort for proper disposal – they claim to recycle them but I’m very skeptical about what actually happens behind the scenes. If you don’t know when you’ll return, find a friend to mule them down and turn them in on their next visit. If all else fails, I’m sure you can come up with a clever way to re-purpose them into holiday decorations or a shadow box that displays memories of your magical, waste-free trip!

For Annual Passholders, we found a hack on how to get package-free MagicBands without a hotel stay. Check out this post for the scoop: A Zero-Waste Guide For Souvenir and Gift Shopping While at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Car Rentals

If staying off-property with no shuttle service, or just want the freedom of your own transportation, you may decide to rent a car. Keep in mind that driving is one of the most polluting things we do on a daily basis and to make matters worse, Disney charges a premium for parking.

If renting, typically the smaller size the better: economy or compact class rentals will be your best bet for fuel efficiency, but since you don’t know exactly which make and model you’ll get, this might be a gamble. Hertz and Budget provide you with minimum MPG values when going through the vehicle selection process online.

Some agencies offer hybrid-electric and fully electric vehicle options, though these are usually incredibly limited and, sadly, most electrics are still considered a luxury option right now so prices will be high. Hopefully, this will change as more automakers debut new EVs and charging infrastructure expands.

If you do end up with an electric or plug-in car, be sure to take a look at our post to learn Where and How to Charge Your EV on Walt Disney World Property.

Dining Planning

There are many, many credible studies that show conclusive evidence linking a vegan/vegetarian diet with a vast reduction of carbon emissions over a meat-based one. I won’t go into more details, but I will tell you that Disney has made a very impressive effort to include one, if not multiple, vegan options on most of its restaurant menus. Our pals over at VeganDisneyFood.com and VeganDisneyWorld.com both keep pretty comprehensive and up-to-date list of where to find them and how to modify non-vegan selections. Take a look and perhaps this will help you plan your dining reservations.

Whispering Canyon’s plant-based skillet dish

For your own sanity, we suggest booking at least one table service meal per day while you’re in Disney. All table service locations serve on reusable food service ware, so no need to worry about disposables (except for the occasional plastic ramekin [small sauce cup] and kid’s drink which can be avoided). We also recommend this for your comfort – some of the best food in Disney is at their sit-down restaurants. So taking a break from the heat and the crowds to sit and have a nice meal in air conditioning. This will help you recharge both physically and mentally.

See more dining tips including a complete list of quick-service options that don’t use disposable tableware in our Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Eating and Drinking at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney Dining Plan

When it comes to deciding if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you, take a look at our friends, DisneyToursitBlog.com‘s thorough rundown of the different options. Consider if you’ll be able to keep up with the amount of food on the plan as food waste is one of the biggest contributors to the problems our earth faces. Though Disney has partnered with a company called Harvest Power to generate energy through anaerobic digestion of organic waste, avoiding waste in the first place is key to solving the climate crisis.

Food, glorious food!

In our experience, we’ve always been over-fed on dining plans and end up walking away with extra unused credits (and thus wasted money) each time. If you decide that the dining plan is right for you, make sure you order meals with mindfulness. Just because you are entitled to a dessert, doesn’t mean you should order it if you only plan on taking a bite and wasting the rest (unless you use your container to take the leftovers to-go).

Another source of Dining Plan waste comes from unused snack credits. In our experience, and from observing others, we always end up with a few of these left over at the end of our trip. In a panic, you’ll wind up with an armful of plastic potato chip bags while waiting for your Magical Express to the airport. We also find that most snack options on the Dining plan come in plastic packaging. Find out where you can find unpackaged or minimally packaged snacks and more dining tips in our Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Eating and Drinking at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Saving For Your Trip

One of the best ways I’ve found to save money for a trip is to put aside a little bit at a time. For example: each time you get a paycheck, purchase a $100 Disney gift card – you (hopefully) won’t miss that money skimmed off the top and after 6 months you’ll have reached well over $1,000 (assuming a bi-weekly paycheck). This is more than enough for spending money or to help pay off a resort stay.

Disney offers digital gift cards via shopDisney.com starting at $25. Use the cards to pay for food and drinks at the parks, your hotel, tickets, or even pay down charges you accrue on your MagicBand. These digital cards get e-mailed to you and you can combine and use the value without ever touching a physical piece of paper or plastic. Check out our  Zero-Waste Guide For Souvenir and Gift Shopping While at the Walt Disney World Resort to find out how!

Digital Disney gift cards can also be found on Raise.com at discounts using coupons (ex: we just purchased a $100 gift card for $85) found on sites like Rakuten.com (who will also give you a percentage of cash back for each purchase). These eCards get e-mailed to you and you can instantly combine them the same way you can with the shopDisney cards. You can earn even more by using our sign-up bonus codes for Raise.com and Rakuten.com by clicking on the links provided.

Wrap-Up

Now that you’ve expertly planned your trip, find out how to pack for it to reduce waste by reading our Packing Tips For a Zero-Waste Trip to Walt Disney World.

This post is just one part of our Complete Guide to a Fully Sustainable, Zero-Waste Walt Disney World Vacation where we cover all aspects of visiting WDW with zero-waste in mind.

About Daniel

Curating a database of Disney locations from around the world - come #WanderDisney with me!