Using Auto GPS At Walt Disney World
BY DON MUNSIL
- What is GPS?
- Why use an auto GPS receiver to navigate at Disney World?
- The MouseSavers POI File – Updated 3/8/2017
- MouseSavers POI Categories and Contents
- Installing (& Uninstalling) the MouseSavers POI Files
- Different Kinds of GPS Receivers
- Contact Information
- Copyright Notice
GPS stands for Global Positioning System. A GPS receiver uses signals broadcast by satellites to calculate its position on the earth. Auto GPS navigation systems use position information and a large database of maps to give real-time visual and spoken directions to virtually any location.
As anyone who’s spent significant time driving around Walt Disney World knows, it’s a large and confusing place. Driving your own car or a rental car is faster and more flexible (albeit more expensive) than using Disney’s transportation. The rub is that you must navigate a somewhat confusing complex of streets and freeways inside Disney property, almost none of which have normal street signs.
Disney’s on-property navigation signs are good, but they don’t always take you on the most efficient route, and for the hotels and smaller destinations it is often necessary to know what general area of the World you need to get to. Only once you reach that area will the signs start displaying directions to specific resorts. If you don’t know (for example) that Saratoga Springs is in the Disney Springs resort area, you may have trouble navigating to it just by following the road signs.
Using a GPS receiver is a great way to avoid many of the navigation hassles associated with driving in and around the World. In theory, you just select your destination from the GPS unit’s internal list of hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, etc. It calculates an efficient route and gives you spoken navigation instructions to get you there. If you take a wrong turn, most modern units will just calmly recalculate a new route and start giving you new instructions to get you back on track. In unfamiliar locations, a good GPS is a huge advantage, allowing you to focus on the road while it gives you the upcoming turns. It has complete knowledge of every road and it never gets mad at you because you took the wrong exit.
The flaw with this rosy scenario at Walt Disney World is that most current GPS units have a very limited selection of POI (Point of Interest) locations within the Disney World property, and what they do have is in many cases poorly placed. Many restaurants and hotels are left out, and the points for the various major parks are often placed not on the entrance to the parking area, but in the middle of the park itself. Faced with a point that is not actually on a road, GPS units will route you to the nearest road, which may be a service road that runs backstage. If you follow the GPS’s instructions you’ll likely find yourself at a security gate nowhere near the actual entrance to the park.
To help prevent this situation, I’ve created a file of accurate POI locations. Read on for the details!
I’ve created a file of POI locations for just about every place you might need to drive while on vacation at Walt Disney World. All of the major Disney theme parks, water parks, shopping areas, golf courses and hotels are in it, plus all the MouseSavers Preferred Hotels. It contains all of the Disney sit-down restaurants, a handful of distinctive Disney counter-service restaurants, all of the Disney Springs restaurants, and the restaurants and dinner shows discussed on MouseSavers.com. There are also nearby grocery stores, drugstores, medical facilities (urgent care and hospitals), and selected Disney outlet stores. The Universal Orlando area is also covered to a smaller extent.
For now, the files are only available for recent-model Garmin and TomTom units. If you have a GPS that allows custom POI uploads and would like me to make a version of the POI file for your unit, let me know. I’ll add new formats if there are enough requests.
March 8, 2017: Removed some closed locations and fixed name/address on others. Added newer Disney Springs restaurants. Added newly opened hotels. Removed closed restaurants and entertainment locations.
The MouseSavers POI file is for driving only. (Click here to learn why.) Nearly all of the locations have been verified in person and in general they should improve the driving directions, compared with using the built-in POIs on the GPS units, especially for locations on Disney property.
That said, here are some caveats to keep in mind:
- The points covered in this file are not a comprehensive list of every hotel, restaurant, etc. in the Walt Disney World area. The list focuses on locations on Disney property and other locations mentioned on MouseSavers.com. Your GPS probably has other locations in it, should you need to find the nearest Waffle House or something along those lines.
- There is no guarantee as to the quality of the actual driving directions your GPS will produce. The points are accurate, but the GPS must use its internal road maps to get you to the destination. If the GPS has outdated or inaccurate maps, it may direct you down a road that doesn’t exist, or it may not know about a road that would allow a faster route.
- Related to the above, it’s valuable to get the latest map updates for your unit. Garmin and TomTom keep updating the roads in and around Walt Disney World on a regular basis, and while the road maps have been pretty good for the last 3-4 years, there are still minor improvements released that will improve the quality of the directions you get.
- GPS units don’t know the difference between Guest areas and Cast Member areas at Walt Disney World. Occasionally it might direct you onto a road that is not actually off-limits to guests, but is nevertheless in some sense “backstage.” There are lots of roads within the World that are OK for guests to drive on, but go past warehouses, casting centers, Cast Member parking lots, etc. Driving on them is not generally a problem, unless you don’t like seeing some of the backstage areas. If you don’t see a guardhouse, gates, or signs saying “Cast Members Only,” it’s probably a public road. When in doubt, if the GPS sends you a direction that doesn’t look like it’s open to the public, ignore its directions and drive on. It will quickly recalculate a new route.
- In general the navigation points are located on the driveway to the destination. Usually this is going to be the place you turn in from the road, where the entrance sign is located. In the case of destinations that are inside shopping centers or amusement parks, you will still need to find your way on foot to the final endpoint, and this file will not help you do that. For example, if you’re headed for a restaurant in Epcot, the POI location in the MouseSavers file is the entrance to the Epcot parking lot. Once you’re past that, Cast Members will direct you into a parking space, and you’ll need to enter the park and find your way to the restaurant. For information about GPS inside a theme park, click here.
- Some locations have multiple entrances, and when that’s true all of them are marked separately in the POI file. Usually choosing the closest one to your location is the right choice, and conveniently the GPS will show POIs in order by distance from your current position. For Walt Disney World in particular, it’s usually better to navigate directly to the park or location in the World you want to get to, rather than routing to one of the entrance gates and then to your final destination; the GPS will pick the best entrance automatically. In other words, navigate to “Magic Kingdom” or “Epcot,” not to “Walt Disney World.”
- In the Orlando area, many roads are divided and have a wide planter strip in the middle. Often there is a gap in the divider strip so you can make left turns into shopping centers and so forth, but GPS navigators don’t have all of those small left-turns in their map data. So when the destination is on the left side of the street, it’s common for the GPS to tell you to drive past the location, make a U-Turn at the next light, and come back so the driveway is on your right. This adds an extra minute or so to the route at times, but if you’re paying attention and see that the destination is directly to your left, you can often just take a left at the gap in the median and save a little time.
- Hours are not always provided as they are subject to change, other than a few locations that are open 24 hours, 7 days a week, since that tends to remain constant. Those locations are noted as “24hr” in the description. For hours of other locations, call the number provided.
Airport: Separate (and accurate) points for both Terminal A and Terminal B at Orlando International Airport, plus Sanford Airport. If you don’t know which terminal you are supposed to use at Orlando International, just pick the closest one. It’s really one big terminal building with a north (A) and south (B) entrance. You can enter on either end to get to any gate or ticket desk. Picking the “wrong” side just entails a bit of extra walking. All the on-property car rental lots are on both sides, and they don’t care if you pick up from terminal A and drop off at terminal B.
Car Rental: The airport drop-off locations for all the major rental car companies, plus the rental desks nearest Disney World, Universal Orlando and Port Canaveral. For rental at Sanford, all the rental car locations are in the airport, so just navigate to Sanford and follow the signs for rental car return.
Drugstore: The Walgreens locations closest to Disney World and Universal. All are 24hr locations.
Entertainment: Off-property dinner shows like Medieval Times and Pirate’s Dinner Adventure; the Wantilan and Makahiki Luaus; Cirque du Soleil and AMC Pleasure Island at Disney Springs and Disney dinner shows like Hoop-De-Doo and the Polynesian Luau.
Gas & Auto: All the Speedway stations on Disney World property; a specific Speedway station that is conveniently located where most people get on route 417 on the way to the airport; and the Disney World Car Care Center, where you can get gas or car repair.
Golf: The five major courses at Disney World.
Grocery: The nearest supermarkets to Disney World and Universal.
Medical: Nearby walk-in urgent care facilities and hospitals with 24hr emergency services.
Restaurant: All the Disney restaurants that take reservations, a handful of additional counter-service restaurants, all the restaurants at Disney Springs, and a few recommended off-property restaurants.
Services: A miscellaneous group including the SunTrust bank at Disney World; health spas; the Disney Wedding Pavilion; the main Disney World kennel and lost-and-found; the nearest library; and shipping centers like FedEx, UPS and the US Post Office.
Shopping: Stores in local outlet malls offering Disney merchandise, the major stores at Disney Springs, and the nearest Costco.
The detailed installation instructions below are for PCs running Windows only. You can use a Macintosh to install these files if your GPS unit will work with a Macintosh, but I can only give general instructions. Get your GPS attached to the Macintosh using the instructions that came with your unit. Then read the Windows installation instructions below and you should be able to translate the steps to Macintosh equivalent. In the end it’s just copying a file or a few files onto your GPS using normal file operations.
Special Macintosh Note: When files are copied from a Macintosh to a non-Mac flash drive (which is what the Mac thinks your GPS is), it may create extra files that begin with a period and underscore (“._”). These files are not visible when you display the folder using the normal Mac interface. The GPS can see them, though, and it can result in invalid POI categories showing up on your GPS unit. To avoid this, I recommend that you download and use a file manager that will show you all the hidden files, and won’t create these special files by default. One file manager that Macintosh users tell me works for this purpose (and is free) is muCommander, available here.
- Garmin Units
- Notes on the Garmin Files
- Simple instructions for all Garmin units (for experienced users)
- Detailed installation instructions for Garmin units using the precompiled GPI file (recommended)
- Installing on Garmin units (all) using GPX files
- Finding and using custom POIs on Garmin Units
- Removing the MouseSavers POI locations (all Garmin units)
- TomTom Units
The Garmin file has addresses and a few extra notes about the location, and the phone numbers are marked so the advanced nüvi/StreetPilot units can dial them via Bluetooth. If you have a very old unit that can’t display the extra info, it still should work fine.
If you already know your way around your GPS unit and are familiar with copying files onto it, then here are simple instructions. If these confuse you read on for the longer step-by-step instructions.
- Special note: if you are replacing an older MouseSavers GPI file (pre-2015), the file name has changed, so you’ll need to delete the old one first. If you don’t, you’ll see two copies of just about every POI. Just follow the instructions below to delete the old file, then download and install the new one
- Download the MouseSavers_Garmin.zip file.
- Open or unzip the file and open the \Garmin\Poi folder inside it.
- Copy the MouseSavers.gpi file found in the zip file onto your GPS unit, placing it in the X:\Garmin\Poi folder on your unit, where “X” is the drive letter of the Garmin unit. Create the X:\Garmin\Poi folder if needed first.
- Unplug the USB cable and let the unit reboot, or replace the SD or MicroSD card back in the unit.
- You’re done! Read “Finding and Using custom POIs on Garmin Units”
Newer units have the ability to show extra information like address and phone number, and can dial the phone number if you have a Bluetooth phone (and a Garmin unit with Bluetooth). Phone numbers are marked properly so the GPS can dial them. If you have trouble with the GPI files, you’ll need to use Garmin’s POI Loader and GPX files; instructions are further down the page.
Note: Do not use Garmin’s POI Loader with these GPI files; it won’t work. POI Loader needs GPX (or CSV) files as input. Those can be found further down the page.
- Special note: if you are replacing an older MouseSavers GPI file (pre-2015), the file name has changed, so you’ll need to delete the old one first. If you don’t, you’ll see two copies of just about every POI. Just follow the instructions below to delete the old file, then download and install the new one.
- Download the MouseSavers_Garmin.zip file, and save it to a location you can find again. The desktop or your “My Documents” folder are good choices.
- Go to the Start menu and select “My Computer” (or “Computer” if you’re using Windows Vista).
- Plug your GPS into your computer with the USB cable that came with the unit. If your unit didn’t come with a USB cable, you’ll need a common and inexpensive USB A to Mini-B 5-pin cable, available at any computer store, office supply, or electronics store (bring your unit along so you can check that the ends match). You may even have a cable that works already; many digital cameras, MP3 players, memory card readers, and other USB devices use the same cable.
- Power the GPS unit on if it’s not already on. Wait for a new drive letter to show up on the list of drives in the My Computer window. The drive may have a name like “Garmin nüvi” or something similar. If there are two drives added, one is for the GPS’s internal memory and the other is for the SD card reader on the unit. Choose the one for the internal memory, which will usually be the one with the lower drive letter.
- Open the new drive and check that there is a “Garmin” folder on that drive. If not, it’s the wrong drive. Try another until you find the one that has the “Garmin” folder. There may or may not also be “Audible,” “JPEG,” and/or “MP3” folders, but they aren’t important. Make a note of which drive it is and hit the “back” button to go back to “My Computer” or open “My Computer” again from the Start menu.
- Open the ZIP file. It should contain just one folder, also called “Garmin”
- Drag the “Garmin” folder from the ZIP folder onto the GPS drive icon in the “My Computer” window (NOT into the “Garmin” folder on the GPS drive). If you get an error, or you see the circle with the slash through it when you drag the folder to your GPS drive, then first drop the folder on the computer desktop (the background behind all the windows), then drag that folder onto your GPS drive icon.
- You should see a warning saying that there is already a folder by that name, and files with the same name will be replaced. It’s not a problem; the only file that will be replaced is the MouseSavers GPI file, and then only if there’s already an old version installed. Click “Yes to All.”
- When the file has been copied, unplug the USB cable and wait for the nüvi to restart.
- You’re done! Read “Finding and Using custom POIs on Garmin Units.”
If you can’t install the GPI file using the above instructions, you can use Garmin’s POI Loader and a set of GPX and BMP files. The downside of this approach is that you need to deal with more files, and if you want to combine the MouseSavers POI files with other GPX or CSV files you’ve created or downloaded from other sites you’ll need to manually combine the MouseSavers points with your existing points. Read the instructions for the Garmin POI Loader for more information.
Note: Be sure to use the current version of POI Loader. Older versions don’t recognize the advanced formatting used in the MouseSavers GPX files. The POI loader can be downloaded from Garmin for free, here. Get it installed and familiarize yourself with the instructions. Make sure it can detect your unit. Then proceed with the rest of the instructions.
- Download the MouseSavers_Garmin_GPX.zip file.
- Unzip the zip file to a folder of its own somewhere on your drive. The desktop or your My Documents folder are both good options.
- Plug your GPS into the USB cable and power it up.
- Run Garmin POI Loader, let it detect your unit, and click “Next” until it asks for the path to the folder of POI files.
- Either type the full path of the folder you created that contains the GPX and BMP files, or click the “Browse” button and navigate to that folder. Leave the other settings alone, and click “Next.” It should upload the POIs to your unit.
- Unplug the USB cable and wait for the GPS unit to restart. With some units, you may need to power it off and back on again.
- You’re done! Read “Finding and Using custom POIs on Garmin Units”
Note: These instructions were tested with a nüvi 360, a nüvi 1490 and a nüvi 3597. Other nüvi or StreetPilot units may put the Custom POI section under a slightly different menu option, but you should be able to find it by looking for a looking for a “My Locations” menu option or an “Extras” menu option or a special Category or something similar.
- On the newest Garmin units, the MouseSavers POI will just be mixed in with all the other POI, so you can just search normally and they’ll come up. If you get more than one result for the same name, tap one of them and then tap the “info” icon (an “i” in a circle). If the symbol on the map is the special MouseSavers red and yellow colors, then it’s a MouseSavers POI. If it isn’t, back up and try the other result(s) until you find the MouseSavers POI. Or you can search just the MouseSavers POI by following the directions below.
- Tap the “Where To” button.
- Tap the “My Locations” or “Extras” button, or select the “Categories” icon for newer units.
- Tap the “Custom POIs” menu option. It may be down near the bottom of the list.
- You should see a bunch of categories like “Amusement Park (MouseSavers).”
- Select the relevant category, or “All Categories.” Then either scroll through the list of nearby POIs or use the “Spell” function to start spelling the name. When you find the place you want to go to, tap the button to see the address, phone number, and so forth.
- Hit the “Go” button to navigate there, or hit the phone-shaped button to dial the phone number of the location (if you have a Bluetooth cell phone and have paired it with the nüvi).
If you installed the files using POI Loader, use POI Loader to delete the POI files. Just run it and select the “Delete all custom POI from my device” option.
If you copied the GPI files manually, follow the instructions below:
- Attach the GPS to the computer using the USB cable (or plug the MicroSD card into the reader) as per the instructions given above for adding the POI files.
- Open the GPS drive (or MicroSD drive).
- Open the Garmin folder.
- Open the Poi folder.
- Delete any files that have the word “MouseSavers” in their name.
- If you’ve installed any POI files using POI loader, there will also (or only) be a file called POI.GPI in that directory. If that contains MouseSavers POI points (because you installed them separately using POI Loader), you may need to delete it as well, or recreate it using only non-MouseSavers GPX or CSV files.
- Unplug the GPS and let it reboot (or replace the MicroSD card in the unit). Power the unit off and on, if it doesn’t automatically reboot itself.
All TomTom units use the same (simple) format. Since they are pretty much limited to one line of text, the files contain just the name of the POI, some extra location information like “In Epcot” (which may get partially cut off on screen), and the phone number (which is marked so the unit can dial it, if it has Bluetooth and you have a Bluetooth cell phone paired with the TomTom).
- If you’ve never attached your TomTom to your computer and installed the drivers and software, do that now. Download all the software updates and so forth and get the latest TomTom Home software installed.
- Download the MouseSavers_TomTom.zip file and save it to a location you can find again. The desktop or your “My Documents” folder are good choices.
- Go to the Start menu and select “My Computer” (or “Computer” if you’re using Windows Vista).
- Plug your GPS into your computer with the USB cable that came with the unit, or put it on the cradle that came with the unit and plug the cradle into a USB port. Power on the TomTom if it’s not already on. When it asks if you want to connect to the computer, tap “Yes.” Wait for a new drive letter to show up on the list of drives in the My Computer window. The drive may have a name like “TOMTOM DISK” or something similar.
- If the TomTom Home software starts up, just close it.
- Open the new TomTom drive. There should be a folder at the root named something like “USA_and_Canada” or “North_America”. Open that folder.
- In a separate window, open the MouseSavers_TomTom.zip file and drag all of the files inside it into the “USA_and_Canada” or “North_America” folder on the TomTom.
- Wait for the TomTom to finish writing its files (it will show a “do not remove” graphic on the screen until it’s done), then unplug it from the computer or remove it from the cradle and let it reboot.
- Tap the screen to get to the menu.
- Tap the “Navigate to” button.
- Tap the “Point of Interest” button.
- Tap the “POI in city” button.
- If needed, select “Orlando FL” or “Lake Buena Vista FL” as the city. (Depending on the version of the software you’re running, you may need to select the state first by hitting the state button, or you may just be able to type “Orlando FL”.)
- Tap the right-arrow button to see all categories.
- You should see some new categories like “Airport (MouseSavers)”. Tap the down-arrow to show all of them and scroll through them, or you can type “Mouse” to limit your list to just the MouseSavers categories.
- You can do any kind of POI search on the TomTom and you’ll see the MouseSavers POIs mixed in with the built-in ones. This is a nice feature, and one I wish Garmin would adopt. You’ll know the MouseSavers POIs because they have different icons with the MouseSavers colors (red and cream).
- Attach the GPS to the computer using the USB cable or charge cradle as per the instructions given above for adding the POI files.
- Shut down TomTom Home if it starts up automatically.
- Open the GPS drive.
- Open the “USA_and_Canada” or “North_America” folder, depending on which one you have on your unit.
- Delete any OV2 and BMP files that contain the word “MouseSavers” in them. You may want to sort the folder by type to make all the OV2 and BMP files cluster together.
- Remove the USB cable or remove the unit from its cradle and let it reboot.
The big distinction in GPS units is between auto navigation units and hand-held units. Auto navigation units are designed for driving, and have features like spoken directions and 3D map views. They generally are sold with complete USA (or European) road maps. They come with an auto power adapter and a windshield mount.
Hand-held GPSes, such as the ones included in most smartphones these days, or ones built for geocaching or hiking, are designed for walking around. They don’t come with driving maps, they don’t speak directions, and they usually don’t come with any mounting equipment. (You can now buy those as add-ons for some phones, though.)
If you want GPS navigation inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, Disney’s MyDisneyExperience App is probably your best bet at this point, assuming you have an iPhone, iPad or Android device that can run it.
If you have a GPS other than the Garmin or TomTom units mentioned above that allows custom POI uploads and would like me to make a version of the POI file for your unit, let me know. I’ll add new formats if there are enough requests.
I’m also interested to hear about your experiences using the MouseSavers POI files.
To contact me, email
The MouseSavers POI files are © MouseSavers, Inc. 2008-2017. Not for distribution elsewhere without written permission.
Do not put direct links to the MouseSavers POI ZIP files on other sites. Please point people to this page instead.