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Magical Express Is Gone – What’s Plan B?

January 8, 2022
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As of New Year’s Day, Magical Express no longer exists. Sure, we can all hope it returns, but that seems unlikely.

Disney has committed to a new transportation strategy centered on the impending Brightline high-speed rail system at Orlando International Airport (MCO).

Since we’re all left to fend for ourselves, let’s talk about the available options. 


Ridesharing

Depending on where you live, you likely know this option well. Many metropolitan areas have almost unintentionally committed to this method.

Ridesharing is ubiquitous in many tourist areas as well. In Orlando and Anaheim, Uber and Lyft dominate the marketplace.

Disney had implemented a fleet of Minnie Vans using the Lyft architecture and app. 

Currently, those vehicles aren’t available, and there’s a lingering question about whether they will return. 

The official website lists them as “temporarily unavailable,” although I take heart in the fact that the page remains. If Disney had killed the program, it would have vanished by now.

Photo Credit: Disney Tourist Blog

At a minimum, Minnie Vans remain a possibility at some point. For now, you’re left with Uber and Lyft. 

Each service lists several pricing tiers, but I won’t go into all of them. Suffice to say that a ride from MCO costs $35-$50 for the basic tiers. 

Also, the ride takes about 30 minutes, varying some due to traffic and your hotel destination. 

During rush hours, you’ll take longer, which matters. The pricing will include miles, but you could also face surge pricing during peak traffic hours. 

Uber works the same as Lyft. Its price estimator indicates a trip from MCO to a monorail resort would cost $30-$45. 

You will discover some other benefits to ridesharing, depending on your driver. For example, some offer USB chargers plus food and drinks.

You’ll either pay for the food and drinks or should tip better. Your driver will probably let you know the preferred method.

The thing about ridesharing is that you never know what you’ll get. I had a former military lieutenant once, and that dude was AWESOME. 

Then, I’ve had the same driver fail to pick me up twice…eight months apart. They tried to charge me, too. Ridesharing is mercurial but affordable.


Mears Connect

Here’s a fun fact you may not know. Mears Transportation always operated the vehicles for Magical Express. And they did such a great job that Disney fired them.

The lackluster performance of Mears explains why Magical Express no longer exists. It’s also not a surprise to Orlando locals and frequent tourists. Few of us speak well of Mears. 

As such, Mears Connect strikes me as a challenging program to sell. “Disney isn’t doing business with us due to past failures, but you should use us anyway!” 

As far as marketing slogans go, that one won’t work, but it’s definitely based in truth. 

Presuming you’ve always enjoyed Magical Express, the new service should work similarly, albeit without the Disney touches.

Photo: Disney Tourist Blog

Transportation via Mears Connect starts at $16 per adult one-way or $32 round trip. For children ages 3-9, the prices are $13.50 and $27. Children under three ride for free.

I’m describing Standard Service, which works similar to what you’ve known with Magical Express. Dedicated buses transport guests to multiple Disney resorts.

You could be the first stop or the fourth. If it’s the latter, your trip will take 15 minutes longer. 

Those of you who want to skip that delay could choose Express Service. Under this system, you’ll leave as soon as you’re ready to depart the airport.

You’ll receive direct transportation to your hotel. So, it’s like ridesharing or what we once called taxis. You go immediately, getting you to Disney faster.

This service costs $250 round trip, but there’s a catch. The price is just for up to four people. Each additional traveler costs another $55. 

Also, Mears isn’t promising that your party will be the only one in the van. During a pandemic, that’s less than ideal. 


Other Options

I joked about taxis, but those remain an option. They just don’t own the monopoly that they once did at MCO. 

Similarly, you can always rent a car. You get free parking when you use DVC Points to stay at a Disney resort. So, it’s just the price of the rental car. 

Since Mears is charging $250, you may feel priced into the rental option. However, please remember that you can get lost, Florida has tollbooths, etc.

You also may not enjoy carrying your luggage from a lousy parking spot to your hotel room. Minor aggravations like this aren’t very Disney.

Those of you who like to live it up on vacation should know about luxury car rentals, including limousines. 

You’ll find a shocking number of these companies at MCO. Also, if you look online or in tourist brochures, you can find decent deals. 

If a limousine only costs $100 more than a ride with Mears, I’m taking the limo. 

You’ll find plenty of Cadillacs and Escalades available for transportation as well. 

Like everything else Disney-related, there’s something to fit every budget, whether that’s Uber or a stretch limo.

Photo Credit: Disney Tourist Blog

Another option hasn’t opened yet, but I want to mention it. The Sunshine Flyer begins on February 1st

I recently had the opportunity to interview an executive from this company. He indicated that the service will launch with 15 buses and add another 20 by Spring Break. 

The Sunshine Flyer will offer themed buses stylized as old-timey trains. The workers will dress up in train conductor outfits in the like.

Adults cost $17 one-way, $34 round-trip. Children ages 3-9 are $12.50 for a one-way voyage or $25 round-trip.

This option sounds MUCH more Disney than Mears Connect. Unfortunately, I cannot speak to their reliability yet.

I will say that I’m most likely to use it during an upcoming trip because I prefer magical experiences. 


Final Thoughts

If you’ve used ridesharing at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you know the deal. It’s convenient and affordable…when it works.

When something goes wrong, you question the existence of a benevolent deity and say some words that aren’t appropriate on network television. 

On a good day, that’s also what you hope Mears gives you with its transportation. But, unfortunately, longtime Disney vacationers have been burned by them enough to cast a wary eye. 

Mears Connect makes the most sense as a travel option, but the trust factor is non-existent. 

I’m not a car rental person on vacation. I don’t want the aggravation. But, if you don’t mind it, that’s a strong option, although car rental scarcity remains an issue. 

As for the more exotic options, that’s a personal choice thing. 

I’d rather spend my money on Disney merchandise than a car ride I won’t remember in a year, but you do you! I want you to have fun!

Finally, The Sunshine Flyer is an unknown, but I have high hopes for it. 

Then again, this service could prove just as frustrating as Mears. We won’t know for another few weeks.


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