Evaluating Your Transportation Options after Magical Express
As the end of 2021 approaches, a glorious era at Walt Disney World comes to a close.
On January 1st, 2022, Disney will no longer operate Magical Express.
Sadly, we’re losing the amenity that transports guests from Orlando International Airport to the hotel.
So, during your next Disney visit, you may need a new plan.
Now is the time when we must evaluate the best options after Magical Express.
We should start with the service that you already know. Mears Connect is eerily similar to Disney’s Magical Express.
You may not know this, but Disney always licensed Mears Transportation Group to provide this service.
So, you’ve used the equivalent of Mears Connect all along. The difference now is that your ride from the airport won’t include any sort of Disney theming.
Mears would need to pay Disney to license that. Importantly, Mears is pretty broke right now.
During the pandemic, the company laid off 83 percent of its employees, many of them drivers. Since then, it’s struggled to get workers to return.
The struggles of Mears factored heavily in Disney’s decision to drop Magical Express. It no longer trusted Mears to live up to Disney’s high performance standards.
That statement alone may cause you to reconsider whether you want to use Mears Connect.
However, if you don’t mind the lack of Disney theming on the bus now, there’s a second problem.
Mears Connect comes with a bit of sticker shock. The price for one person is $32 one way, $64 round trip. For children, the prices are $13.50 and $27.
Depending on your party size, that might be a dealbreaker already. However, if you don’t mind the cost, there’s an even better option.
In truth, this choice surpasses previous options for Magical Express. You can basically book a van to pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel.
You’re paying for the privilege of not waiting on other guests. Mears sells this service, Premium, for $200 round trip for a party of four.
Even if you’re traveling solo, you’ll still pay $200, though. That’s the price. In fact, it goes up by $55 per person if you have more than four people in your party.
Here’s the option you’re most likely to use. Ride-sharing services had already dramatically impacted the Mears business model.
Uber and Lyft are like cabs, only you use an app to order a ride. Then, a freelance worker travels to your location and drives you to your destination.
The service is affordable and convenient in most instances, although surge pricing can be problematic at park opening and closing.
You’ll pay about as much for Uber or Lyft as you would for Mears Connect. The average standard ride is $35 or so.
However, you can make up the money when you’re not traveling solo. The cost of a ride-share service is flat, no matter the number of guests.
You should tip more if you’re filling up the vehicle, but that’s a side discussion.
Overall, up to five guests can travel from the airport to Walt Disney World for that same $35. You’ll get there faster than the standard Mears Connect service, too!
A potential drawback is that we’re in a pandemic. You may not want to sit in tight quarters with a total stranger.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money, Uber Black and the like still average out to $80-$90 one way, which again beats Mears Connect.
When I saw Mears Connect’s pricing, my first thought was that they had priced themselves out of business. So we’ll see whether that proves correct.
Anyway, another previous option was Minnie Van service. Definitely the coolest airport transportation service, it’s not operating during the pandemic.
Cabs are still a thing if you want to live like it’s 1999, though.
I always thought the idea of limousine service from the airport was ludicrous.
I’ve ridden in limousines maybe eight times in my life, and I’ve never understood the appeal. But then again, I never go to Vegas. So, it might be a lifestyle choice.
Anyway, whenever I’ve priced limousine options at Orlando International Airport, I’ve always been surprised. It’s really not that expensive.
Several limousine services will pick you up in something between a black SUV and an oversized limousine, depending on your desire.
The cost ranges from $150 to $350 for round-trip service. Many of these luxury vehicles seat between six and ten guests.
So, when you’re traveling with a large party, the pricing starts to work in your favor.
I’d rather pay $40 per person for an Escalade ride from the airport than $50 per person for a Mears van.
Yes, you have to factor in the tip, but it still seems like a more fun approach.
If the $200 option is looking good at Mears Connect, I strongly recommend that you price airport limo services, too. Make sure to check reviews, though!
This option isn’t foolproof for several reasons. For starters, you may not even have a driver’s license.
Presuming that you do, booking a rental car ain’t that easy these days. Washington Post has described the last 12 months as the “rental car apocalypse.”
The prevalence of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services had reduced the demand for car rentals.
For this reason, many car rental dealerships had dramatically reduced their inventory.
When the pandemic started, desperate people wanted to go somewhere…anywhere.
The sudden prevalence of the vaccine meant that these folks could start traveling again.
However, many of them ditched extra cars because they’d switched to work-from-home. They needed rental cars, which led to unprecedented demand.
The industry hasn’t recovered from this massive imbalance between supply and demand.
As such, I cannot guarantee that you will even get a rental car over the next year. But, if you do, you can expect to pay through the nose for it.
On top of that, Disney charges a parking fee at its resorts. So, you’ll pay somewhere between $15-$25 per night on top of the car rental fee.
I just cannot recommend this option. It doesn’t make financial sense. Also, it could lead to nightmarish travel stories.
I write about travel for a living, and I’m here to tell you that many shady workers at car rental companies will take bribes.
That car rental reservation you have isn’t as ironclad as you might expect!
Unless you have a time machine, you can forget about this option, at least for now.
Brightline is constructing a high-speed rail system that will connect many parts of Florida. The Orlando International Airport station is vital to these plans.
Disney has also confirmed that it’ll host a Brightline station somewhere near Disney Springs.
Unfortunately, this project hasn’t advanced much yet, as Brightline is battling local government officials about where to lay the tracks.
The target date for a Brightline presence at Disney Springs is 2023, and even that seems ambitious. 2024 seems like a more target date for its opening.
You’re going to visit Walt Disney World long before then. So, you’ll need to pick one of these other options for the time being.