|Photo courtesy of sunshineflyer.com/gallery|
The Sunshine Flyer just announced that they are going to be providing bus service from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Walt Disney World Resort hotels starting on February 1, 2022. This is a second replacement for Disney’s Magical Express service, which ends as of 12/31/21. Since there are now a couple of new options, this post will take a look at these services and talk about the pros and cons of each, and other available transportation options.
As a quick reminder, Disney’s Magical Express was a “free” shuttle service from MCO to your on property resort hotel. This was one of many perks that have been chipped away by Disney in recent years. We talked more about this here but we’ll just say that the Magical Express was a fun benefit to staying on property, as it had themed buses and Disney cartoons playing on the way to your destination. Some of the “magic” was lost when Disney decided to end the Magical Express.
The Magical Express had been operated by Mears Transportation, so once it was announced that this service was ending, Mears quickly created a service of their own, starting January 1, 2022 called Mears Connect. Mears Connect offers both standard and express service, the latter being more like a private car service at the cost of $250 round trip for up to four passengers and $55 per additional passenger. The standard service is more of the direct replacement for Magical Express, at a cost of $16 per adult and $13.50 per child ages 3-9.
According to their website, they offer quick access to their bus, limited wait time to board, entertainment while you ride, an arrival souvenir (unclear what this might entail at this point), limited stops to your resort and more. Guests can board Mears Connect on level one of Orlando International Airport in terminal B.
Much of this should be familiar to anyone who knows Disney’s Magical Express. My suspicion is that they had to take out the Disney copyrighted material, but otherwise, this service seems very similar to what was there before. The cost is fairly reasonable as well – of course, it costs more than zero, which is effectively what Magical Express cost since it was included in your resort stay. Since that’s gone, there really is no free service from the airport anymore, unless you happen to have a friend or relative in the area to pick you up.
As I said at the top of this post, the Sunshine Flyer has now thrown their hat in the ring as a new shuttle service starting in February. Their pricing is very similar to Mears - $17 per adult and $12.50 per child ages 3-8. Per their website, they are located in the same terminal and level as Mears and other ground transportation, and they promise a wait of no more than 20 minutes for your bus, and that the last stop will take no more than 65 minutes once the bus has left the airport.
The one stylistic difference here is that Sunshine Flyer buses will look like trains! Specifically they state that “The Sunshine Flyer’s buses are late model, premium motorcoaches with a theme centered around old-fashioned passenger cars and train locomotives” and that the staff will dress as 1920’s rail conductors and engineers. Frankly, for something that has little bearing on your actual trip, I find this a pretty cool touch. The pictures on the website are eye catching, and while they aren’t Disney themed, it is no secret that Walt Disney himself was a huge fan of trains, famously having a ride-able scale model in his backyard. This is a nice subtle nod to the man who started it all. Plus, kids love trains so I could see them gravitating towards this service for that reason alone.
In most other ways, these two services seem very similar. Mears called their prices “introductory rates” though I wonder now that there is a competing service if they would raise their rates and be deemed the more expensive of the two. This is why Sunshine Flyer is a big success before it even opens, in my opinion – competition is good. This is true in most aspects of life, and it plays out there. Two services means not only are there twice as many buses running to Disney hotels but they should be working hard to gain market share and the winner of that kind of competition is usually the customer.
I’m a little skeptical that both of these services promise quick wait times. I’m not sure if that kind of wording was ever in the Magical Express marketing, but I know for sure that they didn’t always deliver. Depending on which resort you were going to, if you just missed a bus, you had to wait quite a while for the next one to appear. Plus the line to get into the boarding area often backed way up into MCO. We definitely waited more than an hour to board on our last trip. If Sunshine Flyer’s twenty minute goal is met, that would be a big deal. I’m probably more skeptical of Mears Connect at this point, as this is the same company that ran Magical Express – if they had long wait times then, what would be different now?
Of course, there is reason to believe that the pickups will be more expedited in these cases. For one, there is a cost associated with these services, where before there was not (at least directly). That might make guests less inclined to use them, and gravitate towards other means (private cars, ride sharing, etc). Plus with two different companies operating, even if every guest who used Magical Express chose to use one of these, in theory there should be more buses available which will hopefully cut down on the times as well. We’ll see how it plays out.
As for cost, for a family of four, this service will set you back about $59-$63.50, depending on the age of your children. Our last Uber trip from MCO cost about $45, including tip. It was also an incredibly quick and easy pick up so ride sharing is still my primary recommendation. However, surge pricing could still greatly effect that cost, as well as availability – if more people choose to use Uber or Lyft rather than one of these bus services, there just might not be enough drivers to go around. Locking in a reservation on either Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer takes the guesswork and volatility out of this, which might be enough of a reason to reserve a spot. Either way, more options for guests is always a good thing.