Magical Express is gone: Here’s how to get to Disney World
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For over 15 years, millions of families took the easy way from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Disney World: They walked past baggage claim (not bothering to pick up their checked bags), boarded a bus (usually with a picture of Mickey Mouse on the side of it) and would arrive at their Disney World hotel about 30 minutes later (if they were fortunate enough to bypass Orlando traffic). Their bags would magically appear in their hotel room later that day. After their trip was over, those families would repeat the process, though in reverse this time as they headed back to the airport.
Dubbed “Magical Express” by Disney World during its debut in 2005, the popular service was free to all guests staying at an official Disney World Resort hotel. As of Jan. 1, 2022, guests no longer have that option. Disney World announced the end of Magical Express earlier in 2021, and families are now left to find other ways to get to the most magical place on Earth. It’s not the only cherished perk that’s disappeared during the pandemic, but it’s certainly one of the most popular.
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As luck would have it, some new options have sprung up in the absence of Magical Express. Here’s a guide to some of the best options to get to Disney World.
Shortly after Disney World announced they were ending Magical Express, Mears announced they would launch a service to mimic it — but there are some pros and cons to using this service. Mears is the company that operated the buses for Disney World’s Magical Express service, plus the taxi cabs that cover the Disney World resort hotels and theme parks, which means this service will likely be similar to what Magical Express veterans are used to.
Mears Connect — which launches Jan. 1, 2022 — provides two types of service, Standard and Express service.
Standard service mimics most of Magical Express in that there are dedicated buses from Orlando to the various Disney World resort hotels. It costs $16 per adult one-way and $13.50 per child (ages 3-9) one-way. There are no discounts or requirements to book round-trips. You will need to have your exact flight information available at the time of booking and the booking engine will verify your flights. Standard service does promise a departure no more than 20 minutes after you check-in at the Mears Connect desk at MCO.
Express service can be quite a bit pricier. For starters, it’s a flat fee of $250 for a round-trip transfer of up to four passengers, regardless of whether they are adults or children. (It’s worth noting that when Mears Connect was first announced, the price for Express service was $200). Keep in mind that this isn’t a private car service, and your experience can vary from trip to trip.
While Express service promises little to no wait time at departure, it’s not guaranteed to be a private vehicle. It also may not be a larger bus. Mears states they may provide a bus, van or small vehicle. Since Mears operates a wide fleet of vehicles, it’s certainly possible you could end up in a small van that acts as a private transfer for your family but is not guaranteed. Also note that Florida law doesn’t require a car seat for a vehicle operated by a paid driver, and Mears does not offer car seats for Express service.
Finally, as of now, Mears Connect hasn’t rolled out a seamless way to handle checked baggage. If and until they do, you’ll need to stop by baggage claim and pick up your bags like a traditional airport experience. Magical Express veterans will miss this key feature.
Sunshine Flyer is a newly-announced bus service launching Feb. 1, 2022. The service is similar to Mears Connect, though with a bit more whimsy. Passengers will board buses with exteriors trimmed out to look like 1920s-era locomotives or passenger cars. Staff will be dressed as rail conductors and engineers. There are also souvenirs for kids and entertainment on the ride.
Sunshine Flyer’s prices are very similar to Mears Connect’s Standard service. Adults cost $17 one-way, $34 round-trip. Children ages 3-9 are $12.50 for a one-way voyage or $25 round-trip.
The booking engine is pretty straightforward. It does not seem to verify your flight data the way Mears Connect does. The system asks you to select a bus that leaves in the hour that you land at the airport. For example, if your flight lands at 9:30 a.m., you could pick a 10 a.m. window or an 11 a.m. window for your departure bus.
This seems to indicate hourly service. However, the website indicates that passengers won’t wait more than 20 minutes to depart, and that they won’t be on a bus longer than 65 minutes total.
One last fun tidbit on Sunshine Flyer. They plan to donate 50% of their sales in the first 50 days of service to the Make a Wish Foundation of Central & Northern Florida.
Private car transfers
If you want to ensure you have your own vehicle that’s scheduled for your specific arrival time, a private car transfer might be your best option. You might think a private car transfer is out of your budget, but you’d be surprised — especially if you have a larger group.
One service that gets good reviews is Happy Limousine. A round-trip minivan from MCO to Disney World will run you $196 for up to five passengers (less than Mears Connect’s Express service). An extra $20 round-trip will get you a van that fits up to 10 passengers.
One of the best tips when arranging a private car service is a grocery stop. If you’re a family spending a week at Disney World, the money you can save from a trip to the grocery store can literally pay for the entire cost of the private car service. Given the price of breakfast at Disney World, eating one meal per day in your hotel room can save hundreds over the course of a week-long trip. Heck, you can save $20 by just picking up a case of bottled water from the grocery store. Happy Limousine offers grocery stops included in your private car transfer (subject to availability, or pay $25 to guarantee a grocery store stop).
Using Uber or Lyft
Uber or Lyft can be economical and quick if everything comes together as planned. UberX can be as cheap as $35 one-way from the airport to Disney World properties. UberXL, which offers slightly larger vehicles, tend to run about $50 one-way. Uber Black with a reserved car seat will run $100-$120 depending on whether you book a car or an SUV.
The upside of Uber or Lyft is that the car is all yours, and you know exactly how long you’ll wait for your car to arrive. Pro tip: Check the Uber or Lyft app right as your flight touches down. Sometimes the wait for an Uber or Lyft (especially premium service or car seat options) can be longer than expected. Getting a jump on your wait time can drastically cut down your transit time to Mickey Mouse.
The downside of Uber and Lyft is the lack of a guaranteed option. You can schedule a ride ahead of time, but these aren’t guaranteed. Additionally, there are fewer vehicles with guaranteed car seats. You could be stuck waiting a long time for one, or find none at all. Lastly, both Uber and Lyft use dynamic pricing. If you travel during peak times, your price can be much higher — up to two or three times the costs listed above. Uber and Lyft can be your most affordable (and quickest) options, but only if the stars align.
Car rentals at MCO
Car rentals are one of the most convenient options to get to Disney World but also by far the most expensive. You need to consider more than just the cost of the rental car. You also need to consider the cost for tolls as well as the hefty surcharges some car rental companies charge for using their automatic toll transponders. (Pro tip: We’ve got a way to save on those surcharges.)
You also need to calculate your parking expense. If you’re staying at a Disney World resort, you’ll pay between $15 and $25 per night during your stay. This also covers your cost to park at any of the Disney World theme parks. If you’re not staying at a Disney World resort hotel, you’ll pay $25 to park your car at Disney’s theme parks.
The upside in renting your own car is the convenience, especially if your family plans to bounce between Disney World and Universal Orlando (or a quick trip to Legoland). You can also depart the airport and head back whenever you please.
Magical Express was the easiest solution for many families over the years. Now that it’s gone, visitors to the most magical place on earth will need to figure out the best way to get their Disney World trip started.
The bus services that replace Magical Express don’t offer all the same bells and whistles but may be good enough. However, don’t rule out a private car transfer, especially for larger groups. Having a dedicated vehicle waiting for you can be the perfect way to get your family vacation started.
Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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