Why Did Disney Drop Magical Express for Brightline?
Earlier this year, Walt Disney World announced the end of Magical Express. The last day for this service is New Year’s Eve, 2021.
Since this decision, Mears Transportation has confirmed that it will offer some sort of paid service to and from Orlando International Airport.
Presumably, this replacement will bear strong similarities to Magical Express, only at a cost to tourists. However, something else played a significant factor.
Why did Disney drop Magical Express for Brightline? Let’s talk about the future of Orlando travel.
What Is Brightline?
In 2012, a privately owned company in Florida gambled that the next big thing in travel was…trains.
Yes, Florida has gone back to the future with a high-speed rail system connecting popular travel destinations within the state.
Obviously, a company building train tracks and stations must spend a lot of money. Plus, governmental contracts can prove challenging.
For several reasons, cynics believed that this project would never get off the ground. But the joke’s on them.
In 2018, the first Brightline segment opened, providing station-to-station travel between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Soon afterward, the company extended Brightline to Miami, providing East Coast Floridians with a north/south route by the Atlantic Ocean.
Here’s a full video of the train ride:
Google Maps indicates that the Miami and West Palm Beach railroad stations reside 69 miles apart.
During this clip, the whole journey takes 68 minutes, including a brief stop at Fort Lauderdale.
You may think that traveling a mile a minute on the Florida coast isn’t very good, which tells me that you’re unfamiliar with the concept of traffic.
I’m joking, but everyone in the Sunshine State knows going from Point A to Point B always takes longer than it should.
Tourism has proven a boon for the entire state, but the influx of people ensures that the interstates remain crowded.
Brightline attempts to solve that problem by taking an old-school approach.
On the current railways, guests travel up to 79 miles per hour. More importantly, the trains never slow down due to traffic.
The Grand Plans for Brightline
In 2018, billionaire Richard Branson got involved with Brightline. Branson understands the importance of travel.
You’re familiar with his Virgin Atlantic airline and possibly even with his next-gen business, Virgin Galactic. Yes, that one sells space flights!
Virgin Galactic is also the place that poached Joe Rohde after he left Disney.
I mention this to establish Branson’s expertise before saying that he loved Brightline so much that he got involved…briefly.
Financial issues stemming from the pandemic caused an acrimonious split, but Virgin Trains briefly became a thing, replacing Brightline.
Virgin paid for the privilege of adding its branding to this train service, which demonstrates how successful outside observers expect the project to be.
Once Virgin got involved, government officials greased the wheels for more dramatic plans.
Brightline is now readying hubs in Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Boca Raton, Aventura, and PortMiami (Biscayne Bay).
Those ambitions are more daring than the initial ones, as Brightline will cover all parts of Florida.
The current framework resides solely on the coast, almost due north and south. To date, the project hasn’t moved inward yet, but that’s next.
Walt Disney World resides in Central Florida, one reason Walt Disney bought the land so cheaply.
Brightline has employed some fascinating techniques to integrate train tracks near congested areas of Florida…without disrupting traffic!
This video demonstrates what I mean:
The construction crew managed to build a path right beneath the interstate without impacting vehicular traffic on the nearby road.
That’s some Discovery Channel stuff right there! And it demonstrates how committed Brightline and the state of Florida are to high-speed rail.
How This Impacts Disney
The Miami-Dade area includes a population of nearly 6.2 million, yet everyone knows that the breadwinner in Florida is Orlando.
While the Orlando/Orange County area’s population hovers near 2.6 million, tourists flock to Walt Disney World and the other local theme parks daily.
Tourism has proven the heart of the Florida economy, something that 2020 crystallized as fact.
As such, Brightline always kept one eye on Orlando as it developed in other regions.
A few years ago, Orlando International Airport (MCO) agreed to add a Brightline station, and that project is nearing completion.
The pandemic delayed the plans somewhat, but the project remains on pace for a 2022 debut.
At that point, guests who fly into MCO may take a train to other parts of Florida. And yes, Walt Disney World will eventually be one of those places.
In November of 2020, Disney and Brightline agreed to construct a station near Disney Springs.
Again, Coronavirus-based delays have slowed the project’s completion date. During an update in March of 2021, Brightline indicated 2026 as the target.
So, Disney fans will fend for themselves from 2022 until an undetermined date in 2026.
Still, you can understand the appeal of the project from Disney’s side.
Brightline’s high-speed rail service will revolutionize local travel. Disney will clear road congestion in Central Florida by committing to this project.
The buses traveling to and from MCO will gradually vanish, just like the Disney Skyliner has reduced traffic at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Every consumer who takes a different form of transportation means one less person on the roads. And that’s crucial for park planners.
Thinking Long-Term at Walt Disney World
The crux of this decision hearkens back to a comment Michael Eisner once made on The Larry King Show.
The former Disney CEO jokingly lamented that he spent more time thinking about parking lots than he ever could have anticipated.
A powerhouse in Hollywood, Eisner’s background prepared him for everything at Disney except traffic congestion patterns.
A quarter-century later, not much has changed…except the roads. They’ve gotten much more crowded.
Disney’s Brightline plan calls for more people to skip I-4 entirely and take the train to Disney Springs. It’s a long-term strategy causing a temporary inconvenience.
For the next few years, guests must make do with other forms of transportation to the parks, meaning that Disney’s solution doesn’t help yet.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the financial ramifications. I’ve referenced the pandemic several times.
Yes, that impacted Disney’s bottom line, forcing some hard choices about budget cuts. It appears that the Mears contract fell victim to this matter.
Disney has decided that it’s not getting enough bang for the buck with Magical Express.
The amount of money Disney pays isn’t enough to justify the financial outlay, which sucks because that expense gets passed along to customers.
Now, we must pay our way from MCO to our hotel. Even when Brightline debuts, the service isn’t free.
Perhaps Disney will come to an agreement with Brightline that makes it so, but I’m dubious.
I suspect that Disney has just offloaded the cost of airport transportation to tourists, which saves them a lot of money…but isn’t great for us.
Still, I look forward to riding on this state-of-the-art yet throwback transportation when it finally arrives in 2026.
Keep reading MickeyBlog for more details about the Brightline station at Disney Springs!