One of the perks of staying at a Disney hotel is access to Disney’s Magical Express. At the most basic level, Magical Express is a free shuttle service between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Disney’s hotels. There are some details you should know when deciding whether or not to take advantage of the service, though.
Magical Express is actually operated by Mears Transportation, but having encountered dozens of “Disney” services not actually operated by Disney, I’m happy to say Magical Express does a fine job of maintaining Disney’s “magical” standards.
Who Gets Magical Express
Magical Express is only available to guests staying at Disney hotels at Walt Disney World Resort. Guests of the Swan and Dolphin, Disney Springs Hotels, and Good Neighbor Hotels are not eligible for the service.
If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, Magical Express is completely free of charge.
The Magical Express Process - Before You Go
Using Magical Express is actually very straightforward, and Disney provides you guidance every step of the way. Nonetheless, we want to make sure you have a good idea of what you’re in for.
What If I forget to book Magical Express?
There are two reasons you might not book Magical Express in advance. The first is simply that you forgot or were unaware you needed to. The second is that you booked your trip on short notice (true story—I once booked a hotel room at Caribbean Beach after I landed at MCO).
If you don’t book in advance, you should have no problem just approaching the Cast Members at MCO and getting on a bus, as long as you’re staying at a Disney hotel, that is. You’ll probably save time by telling them you forgot to book in advance. They’ll need your Disney hotel reservation number.
We’ve done this several times, but obviously Disney could restrict the service to advance bookings at any time, if they choose.
Currently, if you book your trip on short notice (or try to book Magical Express the day before you arrive), agents you speak with on the phone may even tell you not to waste time talking to them and to simply go to the Magical Express area on arrival.
The major downside to not booking in advance is you’ll miss out on the next two sections—your Magical Express package and (more important) your luggage tags.
Your Magical Express Package
A few days or weeks in advance of your flight to MCO, you’ll receive a package from Magical Express. Most of it is just filler documentation (worth keeping in case you don’t have Magic Bands, as it has your reservation information), but it will also contain important yellow barcoded luggage tags.
Magical Express Luggage Tags and Luggage Delivery
Besides being a free shuttle service, Magical Express also acts as a luggage delivery service. Using the yellow, barcoded luggage tags, Disney will be able to deliver your bags to your hotel room without you even having to pick them up at MCO.
Here’s how this service works:
Put your yellow Magical Express tags on your checked luggage before you leave home.
At your local airport, your checked luggage will be tagged as usual, and your yellow tags will be left on it.
Your bag flies with you to MCO, just like any other flight.
When you land at MCO on a domestic flight, you do not pick up your luggage. You go straight to the Magical Express station and get on your bus. (More about this below.)
If you flew in on an international flight, you’ll need to pick up your luggage, clear customs, and then bring it to Magical Express.
The yellow tags identify your checked luggage as Magical Express luggage. Disney (or Mears) will pick it up and transport it to your hotel.
Your checked luggage is delivered to your room by the end of the day.
This is a really simply process, but it bears noting a few things. First, it works only with checked luggage tagged with yellow tags.
Theoretically you could tag your carry-on luggage and hand it off to a Magical Express agent at the airport. Or you could pick up your untagged checked bags, tag them, and then hand them off. We’ve never done this, but if you have, let us know in the comments how it went. (International travelers must pick up their luggage from baggage claim, clear customs, and then hand it off to a Cast Member!)
In our experience, the Magical Express staff aren’t the most resourceful (they don’t have to be if everyone does what they’re supposed to), so we don’t like to test their problem-solving skills. If you’ve got your luggage with you, it will be easiest just to bring it with you. It can be put underneath the bus. You can just drop it off at bell services when you arrive at the hotel if you need to get rid of it.
Second, you won’t have your checked luggage until the end of the day. So if you need anything during the day, you’ll need to have it with you.
Third, this is a human process. It is subject to error. Obviously your bags are tagged with a flight tag and a yellow tag, so it’s going to be hard for them to get too lost, but there can be hiccups.
Finally, Magical Express does nothing with your luggage on your way back from your hotel to MCO. For that, you’ll have to utilize the Resort Airline Check-In service, if available.
Before leaving home, make sure you’ve got three things done. First, your checked bags are tagged with your yellow tags. Second, you’ve got your Magic Band with you, not in your checked bag. Third, you’ve got your Magical Express and hotel documentation with you as a backup.
Once you get to your local airport, check your bags as you normally would, making sure the yellow tags are on them.
Magical Express Process - Getting to your Hotel
You successfully boarded your flight and are heading to MCO. Here’s what to expect when you land.
Arrival at MCO
Once you land at MCO, you can head straight to the B side of the main terminal building. The airport is full of prominent Magical Express signage.
Don’t forget, if you didn’t use your yellow tags, or if you flew in internationally, you’ll need to pick up your luggage!
On the 1st floor (the floor beneath baggage claim) of the B side, all the way at one end, you’ll find the Magical Express departure area. If you have a Magic Band, the Cast Member will use that to pull up your reservation. Otherwise, be prepared with your Magical Express or hotel reservation information.
For whatever reason, our Magic Bands are never properly setup for this process. We always have to tap multiple people in our party, and the Cast Member always tells us to talk to the front desk at the hotel (who in return can never figure out the problem). It’s a weird quirk, but it doesn’t cause any problems.
Once the Cast Member has your reservation information, you’ll be directed to the appropriate line for your bus. At the front of the line, you’ll tap your Magic Band again (once per party), and be directed onto the bus. (If you had issues at the first tap point, be prepared for the same issues again.)
We were once directed onto the wrong bus—Port Orleans Riverside instead of French Quarter. We walked, but the drivers say that if this happens, they’ll just add your stop to the end of the ride.
The Magical Express Ride
Once you’re on the bus, you might have to wait a few minutes (or more) to depart. The travel time is about 30 minutes, though it can take significantly longer if your hotel is not the first stop.
The buses are comfortable tourist buses, but nothing special. None we’ve been on have outlets. The screens play either Walt Disney World planning fluff or animated shorts. (Honestly, 90% of the time, we work during the ride.)
You’re dropped off at the front of the hotel at the same point as guests arriving by any other method. Depending on the hotel (and how busy it is), Cast Members may greet you outside, or you may just have to go inside to the front desk.
Remember, if you checked your bags with the yellow tags, they’ll show up at your hotel room later in the day. If you’re getting antsy, and they haven’t arrived, go talk to bell services.
Magical Express Process — Hotel to MCO
Departing from your hotel, you’ll receive a form letter the day before you leave stating your pickup time. Occasionally, they won’t have your flight time, and the letter will direct you to call them to schedule a bus time. After you call, they’ll followup with an amended letter.
If you don’t receive a letter from Magical Express the day before you leave, you need to contact Magical Express ASAP about scheduling your pickup.
Pickup is roughly three hours prior to departure for domestic flights and four hours prior to international flights. Pickup is easy, you just meet in front of the hotel, usually where you were dropped off, at the Magical Express sign.
If you miss your bus, they may be able to get you onto the next one. Unlike traveling from MCO to the hotel, though, they’re not continuously running buses as they fill up. It’s possible the next bus won’t be for an hour, and it even could already be fully booked.
Remember, your luggage is your responsibility when you’re going from your hotel to MCO unless you use Disney’s Resort Airline Check-In Service. There is always ample space under the Magical Express bus for storing luggage. You’ll be dropped off at the departures area of MCO—happy flying!
Magical Express Pros and Cons
Now that we’ve covered the process, let’s talk pros and cons.
Magical Express Pros
The biggest pro to Magical Express is that it’s free. You’re saving about $30 to $40 (the cost of an Uber) each way by using the free service.
Another big pro of Magical Express is its convenience. Since it’s an included perk of your Disney hotel stay, all you need to do is follow signs, show your hotel information to anyone who asks (or just tap your Magic Band), and follow directions. There’s no confusing ticketing system, need to pick the right shuttle, problems fighting with a cabbie over using a credit card, etc.
Finally, there’s the luggage service. We almost exclusively travel with carry-on luggage these days, so we don’t get much out of the luggage service. But it certainly is nice to not have to worry about your luggage once you drop it off at the airport.
Magical Express Cons
The biggest downside to using Magical Express is time. From MCO to your hotel, there are two potential slow points. First, you might wind up sitting on your bus for 20+ minutes as Disney fills it. Second, your hotel might not be the first hotel the bus stops at. Additionally, the bus travels with the speed and agility of a bus, usually a littler slower than a taxi.
Altogether, we measure the total “delay” from MCO to your hotel at about 45 minutes to an hour. It’s not huge, but it is about the time required for some of the more major rides at Walt Disney World.
Returning to MCO from your hotel, the calculus is a bit trickier. You’ll be told your Magical Express pick up time the day (via letter delivered to your room) before your flight. It should be about three hours before departure (or four hours for international flights).
If the bus is on time and drives at a reasonable speed, you could be at MCO 2.5 hours before your flight. If you have TSA PreCheck or CLEAR and don’t have to stop by a check-in desk, this is way too much time.
In this direction, you’re looking at losing one, maybe even two full hours. And depending on your flight time, those hours could really mean something. The difference between leaving your hotel at 10AM and Noon could be the difference between you going to the theme parks that day or you just sleeping in.
The other downside to Magical Express is that it can be a bit…unpredictable…in the direction of hotel to MCO. There are (albeit rare) reports of buses simply not showing up at hotels. The service is actually operated by Mears, so Cast Members and Mears always play a bit of a blame game around these issues.
Since people are there super early, Disney just gives people taxi vouchers and sends them on their way (or sticks them on the next bus). You’re not really in danger of missing your flight, but it wouldn’t be great to have wasted an hour of your vacation, either.
Alternatives to Magical Express
Our big alternative to Magical Express is Uber. An Uber from MCO to Disney property costs about $30 to $40. That’s not cheap, but it’s also not a bad price for private door-to-door service.
There are other shuttle options available, and of course you can always take a taxi, but Uber is almost always going to be the most economical option for getting between a Disney hotel and MCO, other than Magical Express.
Magical Express — The Bottom Line
Most of the time, we use Magical Express to get from MCO to the hotel. In the reverse direction (hotel to MCO), we’re about 50/50, it just depends on flight times and how much we need to get done.
It’s a close call, but we do recommend Magical Express, particularly from MCO to your hotel, for first time visitors. The reason is two-fold. First, it’s one less thing for first-timers to worry about. Considering how much we’ve written about Walt Disney World planning, we think this is an easy box to check.
Second, a first-timer probably isn’t best positioned to make use of that small amount of extra time on arrival anyways. I can’t imagine how overwhelmed I’d be if I rushed to my hotel via Uber and felt like I absolutely needed to make the first hour as grand as possible. You’ll be much better off mentally planning a leisurely arrival day at Walt Disney World.
By the time you leave your hotel, you’ll have a good sense of whether you want to take an Uber rather than using Magical Express and how valuable that extra time will be.
Do you have any questions or comments on Magical Express? Let us know in the comments!
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