Disney’s Magical Express is free airport-to-hotel transportation for Walt Disney World guests at Disney hotels. This post offers tips and info about DME, along with a review examining whether the service is worth your time, or if you should rent a car or look into an alternative shuttle service. We’ve used Disney’s Magical Express over 30 times, so we have a good amount of experience with the service. (Last updated May 12, 2018.)
Disney’s Magical Express is available to guests staying on Walt Disney World property in a Disney-owned hotel. In other words, if you’re staying at a hotel with the possessive “Disney’s” in front of it, you’re good. If you’re staying at a Disney Springs hotel, the Swan/Dolphin, Shades of Green, or “Cleetus’ Luxury-r-us Motel, Now with COLOR TV!” down on I-Drive, you’re out of luck.
As for what Disney’s Magical Express offers, let’s start with a brief overview. The service operates to and from Orlando International Airport (MCO) only, where it is located on Level 1 of the B-side baggage claim area. It runs 24-hours a day, so long as the airport is open.
To take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express, all you need to do is indicate that you want to use it when booking your hotel reservation, and the agent will automatically walk you through the process. If you want to add it to your reservation after you make it, you can do that online or by calling 866-599-0951.
Alternatively, if you’re like us, you can fail to do all of those things and just show up to the Disney’s Magical Express kiosk where they will scan your MagicBands and let you board the bus. This is the easiest way to go about it for us, especially since many of our trips are last-minute and we rarely check baggage (and our Disney’s Magical Express tags regularly seemed to get “lost” in the mail, anyway). This is also an option if you lose your vouchers, your flight is delayed, etc.
As long as you’re a registered guest, they will make sure you get to your hotel. They will even offer to pick up your checked bags if you don’t have the yellow luggage tags and you describe the bags to them. (We’ve never tried this and I never would, nor am I recommending that you do it if you don’t have the yellow tags.) So don’t fret–after all, Disney wants you to get to Walt Disney World so you can start spending money…err…enjoying your vacation! 😉
The advantage to making a Magical Express reservation in advance is that Disney will mail you boarding vouchers for the bus along with the yellow luggage tags for your checked bags mentioned above. (If they don’t mail you enough, you can call and they’ll mail you more.) Disney will then pick up your checked bags for you and take them to your hotel room.
The bags usually arrive about 30 minutes to 3 hours after you, but luggage has been known to get temporarily lost (we had this happen to us once in the early days); because of this, you should pack any real necessities in your carry-on bag that stays with you (along with clothes for at least a day or two). All you have to do is get off the plane, walk to the Magical Express area with your carry-on, and board a bus to your hotel (unfortunately, there is no theme park drop-off). Pretty simple.
If you’re “fortunate” enough to still be on the bus after this video finishes, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shorts play after it.
In total, the commute from your plane (via walking and an airport monorail) to the Magical Express area will take about 10-12 minutes, the wait from the time you arrive in the Magical Express area until your bus departs will be about 10-30 minutes, and the commute from the airport to the Walt Disney World main entrance is about 30 minutes.
After that, add about 7 minutes for each hotel at which the bus stops. In other words, plus 7 minutes if you’re stop 1, plus 28 minutes if you’re stop 4. The whole process will take a minimum of about an hour and a maximum of just under two hours. Oh, and trying to bribe your bus driver with a generous tip will not get you there any faster (although it is customary to tip them, regardless).
Note that if you would prefer a faster, private ride but don’t want to rent a car, Uber airport pickups are now an option at Orlando International Airport. Unfortunately, these are currently limited to UberSELECT or UberFAMILY, which are the two most expensive types of ride, but it’ll save you a good amount of time if that’s a bigger concern.
The whole Disney’s Magical Express process is similar when leaving Walt Disney World resort. You will need to schedule your DME ride in advance, and you will receive a voucher slipped under your hotel door the day before you leave with a pick-up time about 3 hours before your domestic flight or 4 hours before an international flight.
Note that last year between the busy Thanksgiving and New Year’s travel times, Disney’s Magical Express picked up guests from their Walt Disney World resort hotel 4 hours prior to their scheduled flight time for both domestic flights and international flights. This change occurred due to a combination of increased TSA wait times during the busy holiday period and construction at the Orlando International Airport.
The pick-up time has now returned to normal as of May 2018, but we would not be surprised to see the 4 hour time implemented again during the Thanksgiving and Christmas 2018. Security at MCO can get really backed up during busy travel times on normal days, and the holidays are downright chaotic. If you have it, you’ll be very thankful for TSA PreCheck.
In terms of procedure for using Disney’s Magical Express for your return trip to MCO, it’s pretty simple. The morning of your departure, you can drop-off your checked bags with the “Resort Airline Check-In” counter at your Walt Disney World hotel, which will deliver them directly to your airline.
Then go out to enjoy the parks on that precious last day of your vacation! Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get back to your hotel to catch your assigned bus. Unlike the ride to Walt Disney World property, Disney is not nearly as flexible in accommodating you on the way back to the hotel.
If you’ve never used it before, it can sound complicated, but it’s actually incredibly easy to use. It’s actually fairly idiot-proof, too. As long as you can find Level 1 in the airport, you’re set. Someone there will help you with the rest of the details and herd you to your hotel.
Some of you are probably wondering how something that’s “free” might not be worth it. Well, free is in quotes at various places in this article because it’s truly not free. You probably don’t need a reminder of this, but Disney is a for-profit company that doesn’t offer things out of corporate benevolence. Don’t let those cute characters fool you.
As such, there are a couple of costs associated with Disney’s Magical Express. The first is your freedom. This is the big reason Disney offers the service, as it makes guests much less likely to rent cars when visiting Walt Disney World, and thereby makes them less likely to visit competing theme parks, eat off-property, or even go to the grocery store.
In short, it makes tourists a captive audience, and Disney has determined that the average increase in per guest spending with Disney’s Magical Express plus the perceived convenience and goodwill obtained from offering the service outweighs the average per guest cost of offering the service. There’s probably a bit more to Disney’s calculations than that, but that’s the basic gist of it.
If you plan on spending your entire vacation on Walt Disney World and thus don’t really care about your freedom, this is not really a cost at all. Even if you do care about having some freedom, services like Uber and Lyft have made it so much easier to go off-property at a relatively low price. These days, we don’t really view “freedom” as that great of a cost.
The second cost is your time. As you can see from the information above, using Disney’s Magical Express can be a time-consuming proposition. Even in a best-case scenario, it’s going to take more time using Disney’s Magical Express than it will take to pick up a rental car and drive directly to your hotel. Unless you are awesome at getting lost in Orlando.
Depending upon how you value your vacation time, the cost of these couple hours on the front and back of your trip may not be worth it. You may see better value in just paying for a rental car for the duration of your trip. These are the two main costs of Disney’s Magical Express. When planning your Disney trip (or living life in general), it’s sometimes important to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
As for the service itself, we generally like Disney’s Magical Express. That much should sort of be a given, as we use it almost every time we travel. Efficiency with DME can be hit or miss; sometimes we wait 10 minutes from the time our MagicBands are scanned until the bus departs, sometimes we’ve waited 40 minutes. We’ve been taking red-eye flights lately that arrive into Orlando at around 5:30 a.m., and our average wait this early has only been around 15 minutes, and often we have a bus nearly to ourselves–not bad!
Even though it does take longer when using Disney’s Magical Express than when not using it, we believe the difference is negligible. You’re probably looking at a grand total of two hours of vacation time (round-trip, and that’s at the absolute most), which isn’t a big deal to us. Granted this time is at the front and back of the vacation, when you’d do just about anything for “one more hour” in the parks, but in the grand scheme of a trip, it’s not much.
The big benefit of Disney’s Magical Express, as we see it, is convenience. All we have to do is show up, and we’re put on a bus and dropped off right at our hotel. We can even sleep on the way there. Of course, sleeping means you miss out on the video on the way there. Watching that video has become a tradition of our vacations, and although the video itself is a bit corny, it always makes us smile. Disney’s Magical Express, in general, has become such a part of our trips that vacation doesn’t really start until we get on that Magical Express bus.
When discussing Disney’s Magical Express, it seems the topic of renting a car instead always comes up. Aside from the above (using the rental car instead of Disney’s Magical Express to get to and from the airport), it’s important to remember that using Disney’s Magical Express and renting a car for your trip aren’t mutually exclusive. You can take Disney’s Magical Express, and then rent a car once at Walt Disney World for just a few days of your trip (or the whole thing, if you really want).
If you’re on the fence about renting a car for your Walt Disney World vacation, getting to and from the airport shouldn’t really be a consideration either way. Since this is a Disney’s Magical Express review and not a post weighing the merits of renting a car, I won’t go any further down the rental car road in this post. Additionally, taking Uber instead of Disney’s Magical Express can be an option (with some caveats). We touch upon that and some other transportation issues in our Walt Disney World Transportation Tips article.
Overall, we believe that Disney’s Magical Express is still a useful service that offers a fun way to start out your vacation. Granted, it’s not a “signature” experience like riding the monorail, but it still has a “Disney feel” that we’d miss if we didn’t take it. As far as efficiency goes, it’s unquestionably less efficient than renting a car and driving directly to your hotel, but the trade-off is convenience and lack of additional out of pocket cost. It’s not going to be for everyone, and rent-a-car die hards are unluckily to change their ways due to Disney’s Magical Express, but for everyone else, Disney’s Magical Express is a good service that’s worth using. Because of this, all things considered, we recommend using Disney’s Magical Express.
Are you a fan of Disney’s Magical Express, or do you prefer to get yourself to the hotel? What have been your experiences using Disney’s Magical Express? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!