In this post, I review the Universal Orlando SuperStar Shuttle between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and the Universal hotels. I’ll discuss what’s included, how to book the shuttle, my experience, and some alternatives you might consider. Read on to learn all about this option for getting between MCO and Universal Orlando!
This post is going to contain a lot of references to the airport shuttle service offered by Universal’s main regional competition—Disney’s Magical Express bus service. If you’re not comfortable with that or don’t care at all for such a comparison, I’ll save you the three minutes—take an Uber.
Universal Orlando SuperStar Shuttle Basics
With a third theme park now in the works, it’s clear Universal Orlando Resort would like to become a true vacation destination in the same way that Walt Disney World is.
Part of Walt Disney World’s appeal is “the bubble”—the idea that as soon as your vacation begins, the outside world ceases to be of concern to you.
To extend this bubble illusion and to resolve one of the most annoying parts of any vacation—getting from the airport to your hotel—Disney created Disney’s Magical Express, a complimentary (for guests) bus service between MCO and the Disney hotels.
As a frequent rider of Disney’s Magical Express, I’m in the camp that thinks Universal absolutely needs a good transportation option to get their guests between MCO and Universal Orlando. Universal’s SuperStar Shuttle is Universal’s solution to this problem—an airport shuttle for Universal hotel guests.
But there are two essential things to know about the shuttle…
First, Universal Orlando’s SuperStar Shuttle is not complimentary. Roundtrip fare is $39 per person or $29 for children 3-9.
Second, the service is just an airport shuttle. If you’re used to Disney’s Magical Express, you’ve maybe been spoiled by luggage delivery services over the years. The Universal shuttle does not include any sort of luggage pickup or delivery. You retrieve your luggage, they just drive you to the hotel.
Booking the Universal Orlando SuperStar Shuttle
If you’re booking a vacation package through the Universal Orlando website, the shuttle is offered as an “add-on.” The cost is $39 per person ($29 children 3-9), roundtrip or $23 ($18 children) one way.
If you have only a hotel reservation—as I did—you’ll probably have to call (877) 801-9720 to book. These days, we book most of our travel through Lauren Quirk, who went ahead and handled booking the shuttle for me.
I was given a completely separate confirmation just for my shuttle, and the shuttle was billed as a separate charge on my card.
SuperStar Shuttle — MCO Check In
After landing in MCO, you’ll want to head downstairs to the ground transportation level of the Terminal.
Remember, there’s no luggage delivery service on this Universal SuperStar Shuttle—it’s just transportation from the airport to your hotel. If you have checked luggage, you need to pick it up before you check in for the shuttle.
One very strong aspect of the shuttle is that I received a lot of communication, primarily by text, about catching the shuttle. The B-Side shuttle check-in was noted as being across from the Hertz desk.
The linked map is pretty helpful. MCO isn’t huge, but tracking down this desk you might feel like you’re walking past every rental car agency in the world.
On the B-Side of the terminal, when you make it to the Hertz desk, you’ll see the Universal desk across from it (swipe for the picture of the Hertz desk)
While the desk is a little inconspicuous—a quiet spot amongst the chaos of the airport—it is well-marked. I haven’t visited the other side of the airport for that desk, but I imagine you should have little difficulty following Universal’s directions to check-in.
There was no one in line when I checked in. I showed the guy at the desk my ID and confirmation information, and he quickly identified me.
Guests are given a “travel wallet” that contains a few coupons and information on my return shuttle to the airport.
There are slots in the wallet for tickets, express passes, dining plan, dining experiences, party passes, and add ons, but I had nothing in any of those since I was a mere hotel guest (I was buying my new annual pass at the parks).
Check-in was very quick, and guests are told to go wait outside between stands 22 and 26. At some point a shuttle, branded with Universal signage, will pull up and the driver is supposed to call your name.
Maybe it’s just hindisight, but there was something ominous about the way he said “it can take up to 30 minutes for the next shuttle to come.”
As I wrote in my trip report, I feel like Universal really misses the ball here. Here are a few small gripes that I think provide a good contrast with Disney’s Magical Express (which, by the way, is not perfect either).
When waiting for the Universal Shuttle, you have to wait outside, which can be quite unpleasant for people arriving from less hostile climates than Orlando. You could wait inside, but you’d have to be extra attentive to the large amount of traffic that comes and goes through the pickup spots.
While waiting for the shuttle, you don’t have a point of contact. As time went by, families standing in the heat and humidity started arguing amongst themselves about whether someone should trudge back to the desk to see if they were in the right spot. Relatedly, the spots are not marked with any Universal insignia, so it’s easy to doubt whether you’re in the right spot.
In my case, the shuttle took exactly 30 minutes to arrive, arriving at 6:46PM following my 6:16PM check-in. As I wasn’t the earliest person on my shuttle, some people waited more than 30 minutes. For $39 per person roundtrip, these shuttles really should never have more than a 30 minute wait.
When the shuttle did arrive, no one actually ever called my name. We all just rushed at it and boarded. Now, it wasn’t full, so this is barely a complaint. But it also isn’t great that pretty much anyone who wanted to wander onto the shuttle could have.
Basically, this is the near the bare minimum of what is required to have an airport shuttle operation. What’s especially strange about it is that with the lower volume, Universal could actually easily create a guest experience superior to Magical Express.
They could encourage guests to wait inside—where there is a good amount of seating—and call names or shuttle numbers inside. Disney’s Magical Express requires you to stand in line for your entire wait, and just about the only way to make that worse is to tell people to stand outside.
They could even invest in giving guests complimentary miniature bottles of water (which yes, I recognize are wasteful and I would probably note that if they did offer them). People coming off a plane and rushing to their shuttle might not realize how dehydrated they are until they’re stuck on the shuttle for an hour.
SuperStar Shuttle Ride from MCO to Universal Orlando
Universal is transparent that the shuttle makes multiple stops. This means the time for your journey may vary.
The shuttle has room for about 20 people.
There’s a large TV at the front. On this trip, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was playing, but the disc seemed to be scratched. This was mostly annoying because the audio was pretty loud and would cut in and out.
It took the driver about 12 minutes to get the luggage organized in back, and we departed at 6:58PM.
Roughly, the drop-off times and travel times for this shuttle from the airport were:
Endless Summer at 7:22PM (24 minutes)
Royal Pacific 7:38PM (40 minutes)
Cabana Bay at 7:46PM (48 minutes)
Sapphire Falls at 7:51PM (53 minutes)
Aventura at 7:54PM (56 minutes)
I’m not 100% sure that Royal Pacific was the second hotel, but otherwise I’m pretty confident I matched the right hotels to the right times. I know we didn’t make stops at all seven hotels, which could have just been because the driver didn’t have guests for the other hotels.
A guest who checked in at, say, 6:40PM, boarded the immediate shuttle at 6:46PM, and stayed at Endless Summer would have had a “total experience time” of about 42 minutes. That’s not bad.
But a guest who checked in at 6:16PM and stayed at Aventura—aka “me” this day—would have spent 1 hour and 38 minutes just getting to a hotel that’s about 20 minutes away.
SuperStar Shuttle from Universal to MCO
My return shuttle pickup time was noted on a card in my travel wallet. It was also texted to me, and they contacted my travel agent to remind her about it.
The pickup time was 9:35AM for a 12:45PM domestic flight. This is similar to the three-hour window that Disney’s Magical Express uses for domestic flights.
I headed outside a few minutes early, and the shuttle actually arrived at 9:31AM. This driver did know my name and confirmed it before I got onboard.
As one might expect, I was the last pickup for this shuttle, which was only about one-third full. While nothing played on the TV, the ride was incredibly straightforward, and we got to the airport at 9:49AM—only an 18-minute total experience for me.
Alternative Ways to Get Between Universal and MCO
Besides Universal’s SuperStar shuttle, there are a few other ways to get between Universal and MCO: public transportation, Uber, or another shuttle (Supershuttle and Mears are the two big options). You could also rent a car.
Here’s a look at some sample prices and travel times for these options. Remember, SuperStar shuttle is $39 per adult / $29 per child, roundtrip.
Roundtrip Public Transportation (bus w/ transfer) — $4 / person (approx. 90 minutes to CityWalk)
Roundtrip UberX — $60 + tip (approx. 20 minute trip) (not per-person)
Roundtrip Uber XL — $80 + tip (approx. 20 minute trip) (not per-person)
Supershuttle — 4 passenger roundtrip shuttle with stops $102.88 ($136-$156 on Universal SuperStar)
Supershuttle — 3 passenger roundtrip private shuttle $125.06 ($97-$117 on Universal SuperStar) (approx. 20 minute trip)
Rental Car — Varies
I’ve never taken a Supershuttle (or a Mears shuttle). I assume the process would be largely similar to the Universal shuttle (Universal used to have a Supershuttle partnership, the SuperStar shuttles are now operated by Escot Bus Lines, LLC).
I’m a huge fan of public transportation, but a 90 minute bus ride with a transfer just to get me to CityWalk doesn’t interest me.
The best option for most people most of the time is going to be Uber. For 20-minute door-to-door service in a private ride, you’ll pay about $60 + tip roundtrip—less than the cost for two people to ride in the shared SuperStar Shuttle.
Will I Use Universal Orlando’s SuperStar Shuttle Again?
Well, I probably will, but read on. For solo visits, the shuttle isn’t awful value if you can tolerate the ridiculous amount of time a journey can take. For visits with two people, it will probably make more sense to Uber, but as a reviewer of these things I’d expect to still occasionally take the shuttle.
For families, though, there’s really no way I’d recommend the shuttle. After hours on a plane, the last thing you need is more hours waiting for and riding a shuttle at an exorbitant price. Take an Uber.