There are multiple transportation options between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World, including shuttle buses, Uber and Lyft, private car services, and more. This guide covers MCO to WDW ground transportation, pricing, comparisons, and more. Plus, updates on supply/demand and price increases. (Updated August 4, 2023.)
In case you missed it, Walt Disney World ended the Magical Express airport shuttle service. In place of that free bus service between MCO and resort hotels, two paid bus services originally filled the void. One is Mears Connect, which was the operator of Disney’s Magical Express (DME) and now uses the same buses and drivers. The other is Sunshine Flyer, a new service with a fun railroad theme. (More on these “two” services in our latest update below.)
The elimination of Disney’s Magical Express was big and surprising Walt Disney World news, and continues to anger fans. It even took the #1 spot in our List of Biggest Guest Complaints About Walt Disney World, ahead of Genie+ and other cutbacks. Fortunately, there are plenty of viable alternatives, including several that are superior to DME, and we’re here to give you a rundown of the alternatives for airport transportation. First, let’s start with an update…
The biggest news is that Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer have “joined forces” to form Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. This merger has pros and cons for consumers. Competition is always good for keeping prices and service competitive. In this case, there arguably wasn’t a market for two competing shuttle services between MCO and WDW. The two were stretched thin, and had issues with both supply and demand at times.
We’ve used both Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer (separately), and will be using the combined Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine later this month. Our expectation is that it’ll mostly be more of the same–an economical and reliable way to get between the airport and resorts at Walt Disney World.
Our experiences with both have been entirely uneventful. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but they’ve been solid for airport shuttle buses. Neither will win any awards for speed, but that’s par for the course. We have no complaints. Basically Disney’s Magical Express. Minus the “Disney” part…and the “Magical” part. Okay, and the “Express” part, too. (In fairness, DME was never actually “Express,” either.)
Otherwise, issues with shortages, disruptions, and other ripple effects from the pandemic and resulting economic circumstances are largely in the rearview mirror. This had impacted airport transportation services, rental car companies, and rideshare services–there were plenty of horror stories about supply and demand imbalances for airport transportation at Walt Disney World over the last couple of years.
About the only lingering effect is higher prices for Uber and Lyft. That’s probably the “new normal” as some drivers have moved from rideshare to food delivery and other opportunities that don’t require having strangers in their cars.
If you’re planning on visiting Walt Disney World during peak travel weeks in 2023 (or any year, really)–think Presidents’ Day/Mardi Gras, Spring Break, Easter July 4th, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, NYE, etc–and plan on using an airport shuttle service or renting a car, we’d encourage you to book early.
This is good practice, in general. Airfare and hotel prices increase, availability worsens, and so forth. Well, same applies to ground transportation between MCO and WDW. It’s possible that Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine will sell out ahead of the busiest dates in October through December 2023, and rental car prices will almost certainly increase. That happened last holiday season on certain dates between Columbus Day and New Year’s.
We’ve used Uber and Lyft a lot for getting to and from MCO. This has been easy and efficient, and we’ve never had any issues whatsoever with availability or wait times at the airport or on-property at Walt Disney World. That hasn’t always been the story at Flamingo Crossings–where wait times are usually longer–but it’s also out in the middle of nowhere. (It’s an odd dynamic–middle of nowhere, and yet, tons of people live in that booming area.)
Pricing with Uber and Lyft is all over the place, but the range is definitely above what we experience in 2019. We’re primarily traveling between the Orange Counties (Florida and Southern California), which tends to put our MCO arrivals late at night. For whatever reason, MCO is often slammed late at night, which leads to surge pricing. We’ve paid as much as $70 for a ride to Walt Disney World via rideshare. That’s not even as bad as it gets–we’ve heard of some people paying $100.
We usually depart Walt Disney World early in the morning or in the middle of weekdays, and rideshare prices are almost always significantly lower. In the last two months, our range has been $30 to $40 before tip for these trips. On that note, a couple of suggestions.
First, pull up both Uber and Lyft and compare prices. The vast majority of the time, we’ve found cheaper (sometimes significantly so) rides via Lyft–but not always. Second, opt for the “Wait & Save” option if you’re not tight on time. We did this once, got an immediate pick-up time, and have done it ever since. If you’re traveling at an off-peak time, this is usually easy savings and minimal inconvenience.
With that update out of the way, let’s turn to our normal Orlando International Airport transportation guide…
MCO-WDW Shuttle Service
Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine– As noted above, Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer have merged as of August 2023. More accurately, it seems like Sunshine Flyer was absorbed by Mears, the dominant player in Central Florida transportation and the shuttle service by the company that operated Disney’s Magical Express.
This makes Mears Connect the “true” spiritual successor to Disney’s Magical Express. It literally uses the exact same drivers and buses, just minus the Disney-branded wraps. Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine offers transportation in high occupancy vehicles, including buses and vans. The company advertises this as the “same reliable, safe service guests have been using for decades to Disney area hotels” with scheduled service, luggage handling, convenient airport terminal staging, and return trips from resorts to the airport.
Mears Connect has two options: Standard and Express. Standard is a shared vehicle on Mears Connect (bus or van) that is economical. Standard makes 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 level offers direct service with limited to no wait time.
Pricing could vary depending on date and hotel, but the current rate on the standard service is $16 for adults and $13.50 for children for a one-way trip or $32 for adults and $27 for children for round trips. Express is currently priced at $250 per round trip for up to 4 passengers, plus $55 for each additional person.
Mears is a transportation company with coach buses and taxis that enjoyed a virtual monopoly on Orlando for decades. Historically, we have not been fans of Mears. We had several negative experiences with them in the pre-rideshare days–enough to arrive at the conclusion that it was a poorly-managed company doing the bare minimum and not caring about customer service given their aforementioned monopoly.
To the extent that Disney’s Magical Express offered good service, our suspicion is that it was due to contractual requirements with, and oversight from, Walt Disney World. Without the Disney monitoring and mandating service quality, bus frequency, dispatch times, etc., we fear the “spiritual successor” could be worse. In our experiences with Mears Connect thus far, this has not been a problem–but we’ll continue to use the shuttle service and provide periodic updates.
Alternative Airport Transportation
Luxury Car, Limo & Private Van Service – Honestly, we’ve never used private van service for traveling between MCO and Walt Disney World. There are only two of us, so it has never made sense. It also felt of little value from a research perspective, since Disney’s Magical Express, rideshare, or rental car served the needs of 98% of readers.
Obviously, the end of Disney’s Magical Express changes the equation. Now, many families of 4-6 will be find private car service to be a superior and more economical option than the aforementioned shuttles. Moreover, depending upon how things play out with rental car and rideshare prices and waits, private vehicle service might be better than those, as well.
I’ll level with you again: researching private car service in putting together this article has been overwhelming. There are a lot of advertorials and it’s almost impossible to tell what’s objective advice. Fortunately, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers in the months since DME’s demise was announced, and I’ve cobbled that together here. (On that note, please offer more recommendations–I’ll continue to modify this with your top picks!)
Quicksilver Tours – Far and away the “most recommended” option, we’ve heard nothing but good things about Quicksilver from our readers. Many praise the pricing, noting that it worked out to be cheaper for them than Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. (Just keep in mind that prices will likely go up with demand, which will assuredly increase with the end of DME. So book sooner rather than later!)
Orlando Transportation by Mike – Readers have recommended this service (including in the comments to this post!) and online reviews elsewhere are likewise overwhelmingly positive. Mike’s transportation company gets high marks on communication, courtesy, and cleanliness.
Happy Limo – Based on our research, this is one of the most well-established and largest luxury vehicle services in Orlando. It’s definitely not the cheapest, but appears to offer good customer service, with fewer issues than many alternatives. From our perspective, there’s something to be said for a larger scale operation with years of experience–especially as all of these transportation options adjust to a post-DME environment.
Tiffany Town Car – Readers who have used Tiffany have unanimously praised their service and recommended this luxury limo. However, we’d offer the caveat that online reviews are more mixed, with some red flags from guests with disabilities.
Again, we cannot vouch for any of these services as we haven’t used them. Generally speaking, we’d recommend checking policies on luggage handling (included or do drivers assist?), car seats (included or do they cost extra?), airport meet & greet policy (does the driver greet you with a sign in the pickup area of MCO?), grocery stops (whether they’re included, discretionary, and duration), and whether gratuities are included or recommended on top of the base price.
Public Bus – Orlando International Airport has bus stops that are serviced by LYNX local buses. This public transportation is available not only to Walt Disney World, but also Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, International Drive, Downtown Orlando, and a range of other destinations in Central Florida.
We haven’t used the LYNX buses in Central Florida, but are not averse to public transportation. Judging by Google Maps and LYNX’s route map, this seems like a much better option if you’re staying near downtown or I-Drive, which offer more direct routes. (Really, anything to the east of Walt Disney World is better for bus service.) With that said, transit times seem relatively reasonable (~90 minutes from MCO to Disney Springs) but just be aware that you’ll likely have multiple transfers to get to your resort. Probably not ideal with kids in tow, but that’s the nature of public transportation.
Taxi – Available on a walk-up basis at the Arrivals Level (Level 2) on both sides of Orlando International Airport. Taxis may carry up to 9 passengers, and charge the same rate regardless of the number of passengers. All taxicabs picking up at the MCO are regulated by Orlando’s Vehicle-for-Hire Ordinance, which requires fares to be determined by a taximeter. This means there are no flat rates–you’re paying by distance, which typically amounts to $60 to $70 each way depending upon the location of your hotel.
This is another example of where the Mears monopoly comes into play, but there are a handful of alternatives to Mears at MCO. Given the wealth of alternatives, I would not take a taxi from the airport unless really desperate. There’s a decent chance desperation will creep in for some visitors if problems play out with rental car and rideshare services, though…
Rental Cars – This one is pretty self-explanatory, so we’re not going to fixate on the ‘basics’ of it too much. We have an entire post titled Tips for Renting a Car at Walt Disney World that covers the ins and outs of renting a car, along with money-saving tips. If you don’t like waiting at all, like to be in control, and don’t mind driving while on vacation, renting a car is probably for you. This is doubly true if you ever want to leave Walt Disney World property.
When we rent a car anywhere, we typically use either AutoSlash or Hotwire for car rentals and book one of their “blind” Hot Rates. Renting a car can reduce waits and commute times, but we’ve found that sometimes not renting works better for us. Consider your circumstances, how much you want to drive while on vacation, whether you’ll be staying off-site or on-site at Walt Disney World, and how frequently you’ll want to venture beyond the bubble.
Without question, there will be strong demand for rental cars at MCO during peak travel dates. The unknowns are to what degree, whether it’ll exceed supply of available rental cars (and how often), result in more overbookings, and the long-term impact on pricing. If you plan on booking a rental car, it’s wise to lock-in rates as early as possible.
Rideshare – Similar deal here as with the rental car section. Now that they’re reasonably well-established in most cities, we assume most people are familiar with Uber and Lyft–even if you’ve never used them. If not, you can read some of our advice for using Uber and other ride-sharing services in the post Uber & Lyft at Walt Disney World Tips.
In general, we are huge fans of Uber and Lyft, using rideshare services whenever possible rather than renting a car. We’ve almost exclusively switched from renting cars to Uber/Lyft when visiting Walt Disney World. For us, it just makes more sense, is more convenient, and cost-effective.
Using rideshare in tandem with Disney transportation works out really well for us. As with renting a car, you’ll also want to consider your circumstances to determine whether relying on rideshare is right for you.
Ultimately, the end of Disney’s Magical Express has been disappointing to many Walt Disney World visitors, but the good news is that great alternatives exist. Equally as important, there largely are no longer issues with supply and demand imbalances or regular roadway congestion between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World.
Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is absorbing most displaced DME riders, with rideshare and rental cars picking up the rest of the slack. The bad news is that all of these options cost money. Even though the last couple years have been a roller coaster of supply and demand imbalances, this outcome isn’t all that surprising. After all, Disney’s Magical Express didn’t exist until the 2000s–before the days of Uber and Lyft–and people managed to get to and from the airport just fine, and without issue.
With that said, Walt Disney World attendance is up significantly since then (Magic Kingdom alone has increased by ~6 million guests). A lot has changed since Disney’s Magical Express debuted and Disney attendance still hasn’t recovered to 2019 levels, so there could still be disruptions during peak travel dates. Just something of which you might want to be mindful if visiting Walt Disney World during a particularly busy travel time–it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets and get something booked sooner rather than later.
What do you think of the various ground transportation options between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World? Will you opt for Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine, Uber, Lyft, or renting a car? Thoughts on pricing, efficiency, or anything else regarding airport transportation? What do you think about Walt Disney World ending Disney’s Magical Express? Other thoughts on this? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!