Disney’s Magical Express is free airport transportation for on-site Walt Disney World hotel guests. This guide to the shuttle service offers tips & info about DME, a review of whether it’s worth your time, or renting a car or using Uber/Lyft is better. We’ve used Magical Express 30+ times, and have lots of experience with it. (Updated July 25, 2021.)
Disney’s Magical Express is available to guests staying on property in Walt Disney World-owned hotels only. In other words, if you’re staying at a hotel with the possessive Disney’s in front of its name, you’re good. If you’re staying at a Disney Springs hotel, the Swan/Dolphin, Shades of Green, or “Cleetus’ Luxury-r-us Motel, Now with COLOR TV!” down on I-Drive, you’re out of luck.
As for what Disney’s Magical Express offers, let’s start with a brief overview. The service operates to and from Orlando International Airport (MCO) only, where it is located on Level 1 of the B-side baggage claim area. Disney’s Magical Express runs whenever the airport is open. Whether you have the last flight of the day or the first, you’ll have shuttle service to or from your hotel. In fact, those late and early options are usually the most efficient and least crowded!
To take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express, all you need to do is indicate that you want to use it when booking your hotel reservation, and the agent will automatically walk you through the process. If you want to add it to your reservation after you make it, you can do that online or by calling 866-599-0951.
Alternatively, if you’re like us, you can fail to do all of those things and just show up to the Disney’s Magical Express kiosk where they will scan your MagicBands and let you board the bus. This is the easiest way to go about it for us, especially since many of our trips are last-minute. This is also an option if you lose your vouchers, your flight is delayed, etc.
As long as you’re a registered guest, they will make sure you get to your hotel. So don’t fret–after all, Disney wants you to get to Walt Disney World so you can start spending money…err…enjoying your vacation! 😉
2021 & 2022 Disney’s Magical Express Updates
Before we get into the Disney’s Magical Express basics and review, we should probably cover the significant changes and cutbacks that have already happened in the last year with Disney’s Magical Express, and what else is on the horizon. We’ll start with current issues and changes, as those are impacting anyone visiting Walt Disney World now and planning on using Disney’s Magical Express.
First, luggage delivery for those arriving to Orlando International Airport is no longer available. This means that guests who use Disney’s Magical Express will be responsible for picking up any of their checked luggage from the airport’s baggage claim area, so that it can be loaded onto the motorcoach to their Walt Disney World resort hotel.
Additionally, Resort Airline Check-In Service is no longer available upon departure from your Walt Disney World hotel. This means that you’ll need to have your luggage with you to load it onto the motorcoach, and you’ll need to check it in with your airline once you reach the airport. Basically, all luggage handling is now done by guests. Not having to hassle with bags to and from the airport was a huge convenience for many guests, so this is one big loss that has already occurred.
Second, lines can be very long for Disney’s Magical Express at Orlando International Airport. There’s a bus driver shortage and that compounded with high pent-up demand can mean long lines during peak travel times. Unfortunately, there’s also a rental car shortage and Uber/Lyft driver shortage, meaning higher prices and longer waits for both.
The best way to avoid all of these issues is arriving into MCO in the morning or later in the evening. During the middle of the day is when these problems are most pronounced. At off hours, you might not experience any of these issues at all. While it might seem “extreme” to plan your flights around airport transportation, it really isn’t.
Do not underestimate just how bad these issues with DME buses, rental cars, and Uber/Lyft really are. There have been reports of hour-plus waits at rental car counters and/or Disney’s Magical Express during the midday hours. (I wish I took better photos to fully illustrate just how bad things are at MCO, but after our first negative experience earlier this year, we’ve started taking the very first flight of the day to avoid further issues.)
Now let’s turn to the what’s happening next year: Disney’s Magical Express is ending in 2022. The shuttle service will no longer be offered starting with arrivals January 1, 2022. Guests who arrive at Walt Disney World before this date will still be able to utilize Disney’s Magical Express for transportation to Orlando International Airport following their hotel stay until January 10, 2022.
Walt Disney World attributed the decision to the rise of Uber of Lyft, saying there has been an the expansion of transportation options for guests: “vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want.”
Following that, guests will need to utilize private transportation or ride-share services. Disney’s Magical Express will also have a spiritual successor in Mears Connect, which begins service in 2022. Mears is the vendor that currently operates Disney’s Magical Express, so there should be good continuity of service. The only difference between how the transportation works in 2021 v. 2022 is that there won’t be Disney branding and you’ll have to pay for Mears Connect directly.
If you don’t want to rent a car or use Uber/Lyft, Mears Connect will be your main option for the next several years. While some Walt Disney World fans might point to the Brightline train station at Disney Springs being the eventual replacement for Disney’s Magical Express, that’s still several years away. Construction hasn’t even started yet on the MCO to Disney Springs line, and the tentative target opening year for that line is 2026. Given the delays to date, we’d bank on it being finished late, not early–and certainly not next year!
With all of that out of the way, here’s basic info about Disney’s Magical Express…
Disney’s Magical Express Info
The Disney’s Magical Express buses are coach-style buses operated by Mears. They have restrooms and on-bus displays that go through a video covering the basics of Disney’s Magical Express and Walt Disney World that’s pretty fun. There’s also an hour-long background music loop that plays on the bus (which is also conveniently available online–it’s nice background music to put on at home!).
If you’re “fortunate” enough to still be on the bus after this video finishes, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shorts play after it. In total, the commute from your plane (via walking and an airport monorail) to the Magical Express area will take about 10-12 minutes, the wait from the time you arrive in the Magical Express area until your bus departs will be about 10-30 minutes, and the commute from the airport to the Walt Disney World main entrance is about 30 minutes.
After that, add about 7 minutes for each hotel at which the bus stops. In other words, plus 7 minutes if you’re stop 1, plus 28 minutes if you’re stop 4. The whole process will take a minimum of about an hour and a maximum of just under two hours. Oh, and trying to bribe your bus driver with a generous tip will not get you there any faster (although it is customary to tip them, regardless).
If you would prefer a private ride but don’t want to rent a car, Uber or Lyft airport pickups are now an option at Orlando International Airport. How long that’ll take and cost depends largely upon demand and traffic. Arriving at off hours will always be your best bet.
The whole Disney’s Magical Express process is similar when leaving Walt Disney World resort. You will need to schedule your DME ride in advance, and you will receive a voucher slipped under your hotel door the day before you leave with a pick-up time about 3 hours before your domestic flight or 4 hours before an international flight.
Security at MCO can get really backed up during busy travel times on normal days, and the holidays are downright chaotic. If you have it, you’ll be very thankful for TSA PreCheck. In terms of procedure for using Disney’s Magical Express for your return trip to MCO, it’s pretty simple.
Simply go out to enjoy the parks on that precious last day of your vacation. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get back to your hotel to catch your assigned bus. Unlike the ride to Walt Disney World property, Disney is not nearly as flexible in accommodating you on the way back to the hotel.
If you’ve never used it before, it can sound complicated, but it’s actually incredibly easy to use. It’s actually fairly idiot-proof, too. As long as you can find Level 1 in the airport, you’re set. Someone there will help you with the rest of the details and herd you to your hotel.
Some of you are probably wondering how something that’s “free” might not be worth it. Well, free is in quotes at various places in this article because it’s truly not free. You probably don’t need a reminder of this, but Disney is a for-profit company that doesn’t offer things out of corporate benevolence. Don’t let those cute characters fool you.
As such, there are a couple of costs associated with Disney’s Magical Express. The first is your freedom. This is the big reason Disney offers the service, as it makes guests much less likely to rent cars when visiting Walt Disney World, and thereby makes them less likely to visit competing theme parks, eat off-property, or even go to the grocery store.
In short, it makes tourists a captive audience, and Disney has determined that the average increase in per guest spending with Disney’s Magical Express plus the perceived convenience and goodwill obtained from offering the service outweighs the average per guest cost of offering the service. There’s probably a bit more to Disney’s calculations than that, but that’s the basic gist of it.
If you plan on spending your entire vacation on Walt Disney World and thus don’t really care about your freedom, this is not really a cost at all. Even if you do care about having some freedom, services like Uber and Lyft have made it so much easier to go off-property at a relatively low price. These days, we don’t really view “freedom” as that great of a cost.
The second cost is your time. As you can see from the information above, using Disney’s Magical Express can be a time-consuming proposition. It’s usually going to take more time using Disney’s Magical Express than it will take to pick up a rental car and drive directly to your hotel. Unless you are awesome at getting lost in Orlando.
Depending upon how you value your vacation time, the cost of these couple hours on the front and back of your trip may not be worth it. You may see better value in just paying for a rental car for the duration of your trip. These are the two main costs of Disney’s Magical Express. When planning your Disney trip (or living life in general), it’s sometimes important to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
As for the service itself, we generally like Disney’s Magical Express. That much should sort of be a given, as we use it almost every time we travel. Efficiency with DME can be hit or miss; sometimes we wait 10 minutes from the time our MagicBands are scanned until the bus departs, sometimes we’ve waited 40 minutes. We’ve been taking red-eye flights lately that arrive into Orlando at around 5:30 a.m., and our average wait this early has only been around 15 minutes, and often we have a bus nearly to ourselves–not bad!
Even though it does take longer when using Disney’s Magical Express than when not using it, we believe the difference is negligible. You’re probably looking at a grand total of two hours of vacation time (round-trip, and that’s at the absolute most), which isn’t a big deal to us. Granted this time is at the front and back of the vacation, when you’d do just about anything for “one more hour” in the parks, but in the grand scheme of a trip, it’s not much.
The big benefit of Disney’s Magical Express, as we see it, is convenience. All we have to do is show up, and we’re put on a bus and dropped off right at our hotel. We can even sleep on the way there. Of course, sleeping means you miss out on the video on the way there. Watching that video has become a tradition of our vacations, and although the video itself is a bit corny, it always makes us smile. Disney’s Magical Express, in general, has become such a part of our trips that vacation doesn’t really start until we get on that Magical Express bus.
When discussing Disney’s Magical Express, it seems the topic of renting a car instead always comes up. Aside from the above (using the rental car instead of Disney’s Magical Express to get to and from the airport), it’s important to remember that using Disney’s Magical Express and renting a car for your trip aren’t mutually exclusive. You can take Disney’s Magical Express, and then rent a car once at Walt Disney World for just a few days of your trip (or the whole thing, if you really want).
If you’re on the fence about renting a car for your Walt Disney World vacation, getting to and from the airport shouldn’t really be a consideration either way. Since this is a Disney’s Magical Express review and not a post weighing the merits of renting a car, I won’t go any further down the rental car road in this post. Additionally, taking Uber instead of Disney’s Magical Express can be an option (with some caveats). We touch upon that and some other transportation issues in our Walt Disney World Transportation Tips article.
Overall, we believe that Disney’s Magical Express is still a useful service that offers a fun way to start out your vacation. Granted, it’s not a “signature” experience like riding the monorail, but it still has a “Disney feel” that we’d miss if we didn’t take it. As far as efficiency goes, it’s unquestionably less efficient than renting a car and driving directly to your hotel, but the trade-off is convenience and lack of additional out of pocket cost. It’s not going to be for everyone, and rent-a-car die hards are unluckily to change their ways due to Disney’s Magical Express, but for everyone else, Disney’s Magical Express is a good service that’s worth using. Because of this, all things considered, we recommend using Disney’s Magical Express.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Are you a fan of Disney’s Magical Express, or do you prefer to get yourself to the hotel? What have been your experiences using Disney’s Magical Express? Disappointed that DME no longer handles luggage? Upset that the service will end entirely in 2022? Planning on using Mears Connect next year? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!