Brightline high-speed rail and Mears airport shuttle service announced a new partnership connecting travelers between the train station at Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World. This post shares details about the new transit options for getting between MCO and Walt Disney World, plus quick commentary about our recent experiences with Mears following the Sunshine Flyer merger.
Before we get going, today also marks the official debut of Brightline’s Miami-Orlando route, which will eventually connect “to” Walt Disney World. The company is trying to win over some of the more than 40 million people who make the trip between Miami and Orlando each year–with approximately 90% of them driving. Brightline’s Florida project is the first privately-funded passenger rail built in the United States in over 100 years.
The Brightline high-speed rail network is a nearly $6 billion gamble that eventually 8 million people annually will take the 235-mile trip between Miami and Orlando via train. The company is charging single riders $158 round-trip for business class and $298 for first-class, with families and groups able to buy four round-trip tickets for $398. Brightline’s Miami-Orlando route connects Florida’s two biggest tourist hubs with 32 trains running daily, and is at the heart of their initiative.
We won’t pretend to be unbiased here–we’re cheering for Brightline’s success. We really hope that there’s a market for high-speed rail in the United States, and that more privately-funded projects like this prove to be viable. With that said, we’re also realists who understand that it’s going to be a hard sell with the public. Not only that, but we suspect some of Brightline’s ridership and financial projections are more than a bit overly optimistic.
Nevertheless, if you’re planning a trip between Orlando and Miami and are on the fence about whether to drive, fly, or take high-speed rail, we’d recommend giving Brightline a try. While the math won’t work out for everyone (it’ll be far cheaper for most families to drive!), couples and solo travelers should consider giving it a shot.
My strong personal preference for this type of trip is high speed rail. Traveling by train is less chaotic and stressful, there’s usually more legroom and just a generally laid back quality, and even though the travel time is longer, the total time commitment is usually shorter. It’s difficult to explain and probably even harder to understand if you’ve never used high speed rail, but we far prefer it to flying for trips of this distance and duration. We can’t wait to give Brightline a try, and look forward to taking the train from Orlando to Miami and back.
We’re also really looking forward to Brightline’s high-speed rail between Southern California and Nevada. The company is working to create the first dedicated high-speed passenger rail line in the U.S. connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas, with the goal of launching Brightline service between the two cities before the LA 2028 Olympics. That project is expected to cost $12 billion. (Los Angeles-Las Vegas is an incredibly popular weekend trip, but the drive can suck. We need zero convincing about this project!)
But I digress–let’s turn to the press release details about the Brightline-Mears partnership, followed by our editorializing…
According to the two companies, the Mears Transportation fleet will be incorporated into Brightline’s door-to-door booking service, Brightline+. This is available on its mobile app and website, and Brightline+ enables guests to easily plan and book their entire journey within one seamless transaction.
Additionally, Brightline guests wishing to reserve a car may enjoy special rates when booking through Brightline’s preferred partnership with Avis Car Rental. (This one strikes me as odd. The whole reason I’d use Brightline is to avoid having to hassle with a car and parking. Why take the train at all if you’re going to end up driving? Just drive the entire route!)
The new Brightline+ Shared Connect Shuttle and Luxury Private Ride powered by Mears allow guests to effortlessly extend their journey by reserving transportation to and from Orlando International Airport’s Brightline train station. Reservations can be made during the booking process or added by modifying a trip closer to travel dates beginning October 4, 2023. Once booked, guests will receive a reservation confirmation directly from Mears with travel instructions including driver details, pickup location and vehicle identifiers.
“Last mile connectivity is an integral piece of the travel experience for our guests, Mears is the respected transportation leader in Central Florida and will be a valuable partner delivering our Brightline+ service in Orlando,” said Michael Lefevre, vice president of operations for Brightline. “Mears Transportation is familiar to Orlando travelers and a brand that aligns seamlessly with the level of hospitality our guests know and love.”
“As an Orlando based company, we are excited to welcome Brightline to Orlando and the Brightline guests traveling to and from the Orlando Station,” said Rebecca K Horton, Mears Transportation Group COO. “What a great addition to the Orlando area, connecting people between South and Central Florida! Brightline guests will have the opportunity to use Mears Luxury & Mears Connect services, pending their destination. We are grateful for the partnership with Brightline and our team is eager to get started.”
BRIGHTLINE+ IN ORLANDO
Shared Connect Shuttles Powered by Mears: Say hello to Orlando’s exclusive 24/7, Florida-themed shuttle service. Connect to and from Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resorts. This shared shuttle service provides access to over 25 popular hotels. One-way adult fares start at just $16, and child fares begin at $13. Kids 3 and under ride for free.
Luxury Private Rides Powered by Mears: For guests seeking to elevate their Orlando travels to the level of luxury they’ve come to expect from Brightline+, there’s Luxury Private Rides powered by Mears. Arrive in style at your Orlando destination aboard a carefully curated fleet of luxury sedans, plush SUVs, and versatile vans. Elegance is just a booking away, with rates starting at $63 per vehicle.
BRIGHTLINE+ IN SOUTH FLORIDA
Fixed Route Shuttles: offer pickup and dropoff service to and from Brightline MiamiCentral and Fort Lauderdale Stations with complimentary shuttles to and from Aventura Mall at Brightline Aventura Station. Shuttles depart 10 minutes after each train arrival.
Airport Shuttles: bi-directional, fixed route shuttles provide pick ups at Miami International Airport (MIA) and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL) at a flat rate of $10 per person and can be paid upon boarding shuttles.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles powered by Circuit: complimentary, all-electric, walk-up, first-and-last-mile shuttle with services around stations and nearby downtown areas in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Special Event Shuttles: offer complimentary direct service to select games and events including the Miami Heat, Miami Marlins, Inter Miami, Miami Dolphins and events at Hard Rock Stadium.
Scooter rentals, BrightBike and CitiBike rentals are available at all south Florida stations.
BRIGHTLINE+ UBER ORLANDO & SOUTH FLORIDA
Brightline passengers can utilize private rides powered by Uber and its multiple mobility options in Central and South Florida, which can be reserved during the train booking process on the Brightline app or website. This Brightline+ service includes complimentary private rides available for PREMIUM ticket holders within a five-mile radius of all Brightline South Florida stations (Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach).
BRIGHTLINE MIAMI-ORLANDO TICKETS
Tickets between Orlando and Miami are now on sale for travel through March 2024 with one-way SMART fares starting at $79 for adults and $39 for kids. Groups of 4+ automatically save an additional 25% on SMART fares. One-way PREMIUM fares start at $149, a first class experience with added amenities including a dedicated PREMIUM lounge, priority boarding, checked luggage, and complimentary snacks and beverages throughout the journey.
In terms of commentary, it’s good that Brightline and Mears Connect are integrating. To be perfectly honest, I think this is probably going to come close to the level of efficiency offered for Walt Disney World guests utilizing the eventual Brightline Station near Disney Springs or Universal Orlando. Since Walt Disney World won’t be involved with that, you’re still going to need to take third party transportation to get to an on-site hotel. That either means a bus of some sort, or rideshare service.
One thing I wouldn’t use is the Mears Luxury Private Rides. No offense to Mears, but their selling points are cheapness and convenience. We only recommend Mears Connect when the math makes it the least expensive option and money is worth more than time on your vacation. Otherwise, there are faster and better options than Mears.
I’ve had enough experiences with this company over the years to be thoroughly convinced they are not the name to turn to for luxury or efficiency. Look, I like McDonald’s, but if they add a $300 Kobe beef steak to the menu, I’m not ordering it. That’s not why I’m there. Same deal with Mears and luxury. There are a bunch of better options from MCO for that, if it’s what you desire. (See our Guide to Airport Transportation to Walt Disney World.)
Beyond that, the jury is still out on efficiency of the Brightline and Mears integration. There’s nothing to say you couldn’t book Mears Connect from the Brightline Station at MCO previously, this just seems to streamline the booking process. That’s good, I guess, but the real test will be how many airline passengers and Brightline passengers use Mears Connect. It needs to reach the right scale for there to be actual efficiency.
I’ve done a lot of solo trips to Walt Disney World this year, and thus, airport shuttles have been the most economical option for me. (When it’s both of us, we use Uber or Lyft.) In fact, I’ve used Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine four times since the two shuttle services merged over the summer. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m honestly shocked that it took so long. No matter when I’ve landed at MCO, the departures area for Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine has been dead.
Granted, it’s the off-season, so this is to be expected to some degree. Additionally, I have flexibility in when I travel, so I target the least-busy (more importantly, cheapest). Still, MCO as a whole has been surprisingly busy–rental car counters aren’t exactly slow, and rideshare prices aren’t low. Nevertheless, there have been times when I’m literally the only one in the Mears area, and I’ve yet to be one a bus that is more than 20% full.
On two different occasions, I’ve been placed on a private van instead of a bus–presumably for the sake of efficiency. A couple other times, I sat and waited for a really long time for others to arrive before the nearly-empty bus departed. Perhaps this is just luck–and my sample size is pretty small–but I can’t imagine that Mears Connect is truly busy at any point right now. That’ll undoubtedly change in mid-October through December, but based on my recent experiences, it’s little surprise that competing shuttle services from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World were unsustainable.
What do you think about Brightline and Mears Connect partnering for last-mile (or miles) service to Walt Disney World? Will you use high-speed rail to get between Miami and Orlando International Airport? Hopeful that Disney will rethink the decision and be actively involved with the station near Disney Springs? Have you used Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine post-merger? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!