Earlier this year, Walt Disney World made the bombshell announcement that Disney’s Magical Express is ending in 2022. This post details the spiritual successor to that, Mears Connect, which will be the new shuttle from Orlando International Airport to hotels next year. (Updated May 31, 2021.)
When announcing the end of Magical Express, Disney attributed the decision to the rise of Uber of Lyft, saying there has been an the expansion of transportation options for guests: “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.”
As we’ve pointed out, Disney’s Magical Express is operated by Mears and not Disney itself. This is why Mears Connect is a spiritual successor to Magical Express–it’ll literally use the exact same buses, just minus the Disney-branded wraps. Mears is a transportation company with coach buses and taxis that enjoyed a virtual monopoly on Orlando for years. That is, until Uber and Lyft debuted, at which point Mears sued in an attempt to protect their marketshare.
As with many Central Florida tourism-centric businesses, Mears faced significant challenges last year, furloughing and laying off a large portion of its workforce. This led us to speculate that the original announcement about Magical Express ending resulted from a relationship breakdown between Walt Disney World and Mears, with an alternative offering potentially coming down the road from either or both.
Mears Transportation Group since announced exactly that, releasing a statement that the company will continue offering transportation services to visitors between the airport, area theme parks, and resorts. Starting January 2022, Mears is launching a new service called “Mears Connect.”
According to Mears, this announcement is being made in direct response to overwhelming demand and inquiries by future guests to Central Florida’s theme park and resort areas. Earlier this year, in reaction to news reports of changes in transportation service between the Walt Disney World area and Orlando’s International Airport, Mears made clear their intention, “to continue offering transportation services between the airport and all area theme parks and hotels to meet the demand of our visitors now and in the future.”
Per the company’s press release, “Mears Connect will offer the same safe and reliable service the company has provided millions of guests for decades.” The Mears Connect service will initially operate between the Orlando International Airport and resorts in the Walt Disney World area.
Mears Connect will provide fast and convenient transportation service for visitors in high occupancy vehicles, thereby reducing traffic and lowering environmental impacts. Guests can expect scheduled service, luggage handling, convenient airport terminal staging, and return trips from resorts to the airport.
“We plan to offer the same level of experience, service, and convenience we’ve provided for the last 16 years, on behalf of our longtime partner, as returning guests and first-time visitors can expect nothing less,” said Roger Chapin, a Mears spokesman.
“It is important for visitors to know they still have many of the same safe transportation options for their Orlando visit, all offered by the same company who has been providing seamless, economical, and hassle-free transportation for decades.”
In addition, Mears will offer enhancements to ensure greater convenience and vehicle options. Pricing for all services will be announced later this year, along with the launch of a custom reservation platform.
Per the Mears Connect website, reservations were originally starting in May 2021 (see above). However, this page has been updated and simply states that reservations will begin in “Summer 2021” (see below). It’s entirely possible that this is a normal and unremarkable delay. Mears might be working on ironing out specifics, building its booking system, etc.
However, it’s also possible that the same bus driver shortage that Walt Disney World is experiencing is also negatively impacting Mears’ efforts to get Connect off the ground. As we recently reported, Disney has contracted with outside companies from as far away as Miami to provide additional bus coverage (if you’ve seen Academy-branded buses at the parks or resorts, that’s why).
While the Central Florida labor shortage is particularly pronounced right now, the difficulty finding bus drivers is not a new development. Walt Disney World has offered signing bonuses for bus drivers the last several years. We don’t anticipate that this will prevent Mears Connect from debuting on its January 2022 timeline, but it very well could impact pricing. If labor costs more and the indirect competition (Uber, Lyft, rental cars) are all more expensive, Mears Connect will also have higher price points.
Obviously, Mears Connect will not be a direct successor to Disney’s Magical Express to the extent that it won’t offer Disney branding, on-ride videos featuring characters, music, or any other Disney intellectual property. So from that perspective, it’s sure to be a disappointment for many Walt Disney World fans looking for a “Disneyfied” way to start and finish their trip.
There’s also the practical reality that this will not be free, or built into the cost of hotel reservations. So those are two big strikes against this right off the bat, which may make Mears Connect a total non-starter for many Walt Disney World visitors.
However, the problem and concern many of you expressed in the 542 comments to the original announcement was that there were no good alternatives, period, to Disney’s Magical Express. Its retirement would either require using Uber or Lyft, hiring a private transportation service, or renting a car.
Many people are downright uncomfortable with some or all of those options. There’s also the practical reality that rental cars and rideshare services have all soared in price this summer as those also experience significant shortages. We’re hopeful most of that will resolve itself by January 2022, but there are no guarantees.
Mears Connect should adequately address all of that. It sounds like it’ll essentially be the same service, in the same vehicles, with the same staff. From a continuity perspective, that’s about as good as it gets.
The wild cards at this point are really just pricing, scheduling, and frequency. All of that will likely be driven by the guest adoption rate for Mears Connect, which we’re guessing will be reasonably high. (Especially if Orlando International Airport continues to have a rental car shortage, thus driving up the price of rental cars…plus Uber and Lyft along with them.)
For years, we used Super Shuttle to get between Disneyland and Los Angeles International Airport. It was an awful company and that service is no longer offered, but that’s not really the point here. For all of its faults, Super Shuttle was fast and relatively inexpensive–we regularly paid $10 to $25 per person, and that’s for a much longer distance than WDW to MCO.
Our expectation would thus be similar pricing–and much better service, comfort, and efficiency–for Mears Connect’s routes between Walt Disney World and the airport. Having a similar schedule and routes to Disney’s Magical Express but charging $20 per person sounds about right. For many families, the economics of that won’t work out and Uber/Lyft or a rental car will make more sense. For others, Mears Connect will be perfect.
The other silver lining that could come out of this is Mears expanding its airport shuttle service to the Swan & Dolphin, Bonnet Creek Resorts, Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, Hyatt Regency, and other options that are more or less on-site.
This would be great for guests of those properties and facilitate more Walt Disney World guests staying in third party hotels. It would also be a way for Mears to poke Disney in the eye, so to speak. Heck, Mears Connect could even service the resorts at Universal Orlando, which could help those hotels–and hurt Disney in the process.
As we’ve been saying for a while, Walt Disney World’s on-site advantage is disappearing. This should be yet another reason to look at nearby third party hotels–some of which are even on-site–before booking your 2022 Walt Disney World vacation.
If you’ve never even considered venturing outside the “Disney Bubble,” we would strongly encourage you to rethink that and check out our Off-Site v. On-Site Walt Disney World Hotel Comparison for a balanced assessment of the pros & cons.
Ultimately, this is a positive development who we’re upset with the practical side of the news about Disney’s Magical Express being retired. While we’re not the biggest fans of Mears taxis, their service with coach buses to and from Orlando International Airport has been solid. The downside is that it’ll cost money, making it “worse” than Disney’s Magical Express from that perspective, but almost certainly “better” than the alternatives presented by ride-share or rental cars.
For those who were upset at the emotional side of the news that Disney’s Magical Express would end, this doesn’t really change anything. Unless Mears works out some licensure deal, this will not be the same magical service…even though it’s literally the same service. There’s still an outside possibility that Walt Disney World will introduce its own shared airport transportation service before the start of 2022, but with this development, we now find that highly unlikely. Mears Connect is probably it.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of this Mears Connect news? Will you use the service, or is the lack of “Disneyfication” make it a non-starter for you? Will you opt for Mears Connect over Uber, Lyft, or renting a car? Thoughts on pricing, efficiency, or anything else regarding Mears Connect? 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!