In 2005, Walt Disney World (WDW) began offering what was considered by most of its guests to be a wonderful option – free bus service between Orlando International Airport and the Disney complex. “Disney’s Magical Express” (DME) shuttled visitors and their luggage between MCO and their hotel, in both directions, seemingly with no charge. Heck, they’d even deliver your luggage to your room!
Of course, nothing at Disney is truly free (and even if it appears it may be, there’s always an ulterior motive) ;-). Hotel and theme park ticket prices went up nearly annually (sometimes more often than that). Plus having their guests staying on Disney property, without rental cars, made them somewhat “marooned” at Disney – meaning they would be more likely to spend more of their vacation money at Disney-owned parks, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.
Meanwhile, in late 2018, Brightline, a privately run inter-city rail company, announced a potential plan to expand their then-current Miami-to-West Palm Beach train to MCO. They also had longer-term plans to further that expansion to WDW, and then Tampa. At the time, we mused if the train, if it happened, would be an eventual option in addition to, or a replacement of DME.
Four months later, with Richard Branson “on board” (you see what I did there?) to form a partnership with Brightline and rename the train Virgin Trains USA, we again questioned if DME’s days were numbered.
Not surprisingly, in late 2019, Disney confirmed they were having conversations with Brightline/Virgin Trains USA about a potential station on their property, and not long after that, an agreement had been made – the train (which was again Brightline; Virgin was no longer involved) would indeed have a stop at WDW.
And then, what do you know, in February 2021, Disney announced they were ending their free bus service to and from MCO. Here’s what the company line was:
Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022.
So effective January 1st, DME will no longer transport guests from MCO to WDW. Interestingly, DME in the other direction, from the WDW resorts to MCO, will continue through January 10th. Or, as the MCO Twitter guru put it:
🎶 “Take on DME
(take on DME)
Take me on
(take me on)
I’ll be gone
In 2022…” 🎶
🚌 Disney Magical Express last day to take guests to the resorts from our airport will be Dec. 31. They will continue to bring Disney guests back to the airport until Jan 10. pic.twitter.com/rhEa0Ds0s7
— Orlando International Airport (@MCO) December 29, 2021
The timeline for the Brightline stop to be at WDW was originally supposed to happen in 2023. That’s now been delayed until 2026. So between now and then, Disney guests have to decide how they’re going to get between the airport and the resort. There are several options, and they run the gamut from dirt cheap to hundreds of dollars:
Run by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the public bus system in the greater Orlando area is called Lynx. And believe it or not it works REALLY well, and it’s CHEAP! The standard adult one-way Lynx fare is $2, with a single transfer valid for 90 minutes (transfers are not valid for round-trip transportation). All-Day Passes ($4.50) are also available, as are 7-Day Passes ($16) and 30-Day Passes ($50).
Here’s a bunch of information about Lynx, including trip planning, routes, schedules, etc.
Good old fashioned taxis are still available in Central Florida. Prices vary, but here’s how to find out roughly how much a taxi will cost from MCO to your hotel.
Uber. Lyft. Whatever. Ride sharing was finally allowed at MCO in 2017. Prices for ride sharing, of course, have become astronomical since COVID. And how much you’ll pay for a ride between MCO and Disney will depend upon, among other things, geography, traffic delays, time of day, type of car you request, etc. But figure between $30 and $100, per carload, per direction. Give or take.
Although Disney touted its DME, the actual buses were owned and run by Mears Motor Coach.
Mears was founded in 1939, so it’s been around for over 80 years. And before DME was a thing, it was Mears Motor Coaches that people typically paid to shuttle them between the airport and Disney.
In April 2021, Mears announced that they would again start offering this transportation, which they’d now call Mears Connect. At the time, they touted it as “the same, reliable, safe express service,” that would begin the day after DME ended – so, January 1, 2022. They initially didn’t include prices, but their website does now:
- Standard Service – $16 per adult, $13.50 per child (one way) (or $32/$27 round trip)
- Express Service – $250 (up to 4 adults) + $55 per add’l passenger (they only offer Express Service as a round trip fare at this time)
The Standard service is a shared ride service on our Mears Connect vehicle that is economical as the fare includes all tolls and other surcharges. The Connection will make a limited number of stops and will have you on your way to your resort within 20 minutes of your check-in to the Mears Connect reception area.
The Express service is direct service to your resort and back to the airport (guaranteed first stop), with limited to no wait time. This service includes all tolls and other surcharges. NOTE: Express service is not considered private service, it may be shared service.
These are being advertised as “introductory” rates, BTW. They were accurate as of 1/1/22.
Unlike the other means of transportation between MCO and Disney, the Sunshine Flyer bus service is new to the area. It’s set to launch on February 1, 2022.
The Sunshine Flyer is run by Transportation Management Services, which is a company that organizes transportation around the country. According to their website, they’ve been operating for 25 years and serve over 250 cities through 2000+ fleet partners.
The buses will be modeled after old-fashioned passenger cars and locomotives, and the staff will be dressed as 1920s rail conductors and engineers (how cute). Each bus will have a bathroom and USB chargers and will provide direct service to all of WDW’s resort hotels.
Tickets are available at sunshineflyer.com. A one-way ticket will cost $17 per adult and $12.50 per child (ages 3-8), and a round-trip ticket will be $34 per adult and $25 per child.
Private Car Service
There are bunches of private car services available in Central Florida, in the form of town cars, van transfers, limos, etc. Prices vary based on, well, everything – type of car, number of people, where you’re going, if you need a car seat or not, etc. Figure prices start at $80ish per car (give or take), per direction, and go up from there.
Orlando is the largest rental car market in the world, with most of the major car rental companies located on-airport, without the need for a shuttle bus to pick up your rental car. The on-airport rental car companies are located on the A-Side and B-Side of the Terminal on the Ground Transportation Level (Level 1).
Prices for car rentals, of course, vary based on season, availability, length of time, corporate discounts, etc. And that’s before even considering the things that may or may not come with renting a car, such as parking fees, tolls, etc. With all of those open ended questions, it’s practically impossible to even give a range of what you could wind up paying. In lieu of that, here are several ways to save some money (or just not spend more money) if you’re renting a car at MCO:
- How To Get A Cheap Rental Car
- Timing Your Flights To Save You Money On Your Rental Car
- Signing Up For Car Rental Programs And What Each One Will Give You
- Should You Get The Three Types Of Car Rental Insurance?
- How To Avoid Crazy Toll Charges When Renting A Car In Orlando
- The New Way To Save A Ton On Central FL Tolls Is Now Live
- Attn: Orlando Visitors – New Toll On Its Way, With Potential $25 Penalty
- E-ZPass can finally be used throughout Florida
- Why Do Hotels Charge For Parking? And How Can You Get Around Having To Pay For It?
- The History of Avoiding Parking Fees At WDW Parks (And Our Suggestions Of What To Do Nowadays)
- WDW Hotels Aren’t The Only Places Where You Now Have To Pay For Parking
- Should You Prepay For Gas With Your Rental Car?
- Rented A Car at MCO & Now Returning It? Don’t Fill Your Gas Tank Up Here!
- The Closest Places To MCO To Get “Normal” Priced Gas Before Returning Your Rental Car
- Late Returning Your Rental Car? It Could Cost You An Extra Day’s Rental Charge
Feature Photo: Paulo O / flickr
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