Mears Connect offers shuttle bus service between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World resorts plus select off-site hotels. In this transportation review, we’ll share our experience with the paid replacement for Magical Express, offer comparisons to alternatives, and more.
Mears Connect is one such option. It’s attractive to many Walt Disney World visitors because it’s actually by the same company that operated Disney’s Magical Express. In fact, Mears Connect literally uses the exact same drivers and buses, just minus the Disney-branded wraps. Some of the buses look very similar to the old ‘ocean-liner’ DME buses, with only Disney logos and characters removed…
Mears Connect promises fast and convenient airport transportation service in high occupancy vehicles, limited wait times to board a bus, comfortable seating, an arrival souvenir, limited stops to your hotel, and more. (At present, luggage handling is not offered, but Mears hopes to add this in the future.)
The biggest selling point of Mears Connect is their claim that it’s the same reliable, safe service guests have been using for decades to Walt Disney World area hotels. Again, since this is largely a rebranded Disney’s Magical Express, the allure of that is strong. This Mears Connect review will take a look at whether the airport shuttle delivered on those promises.
We’ll begin with the booking process, which is simple and straightforward. From start to finish, it took only a few minutes to make and receive confirmation of my reservation. I was able to book online on incredibly short notice, and the booking engine autofilled my details after entering my airline and flight number.
This is notable because Mears Connect’s direct competitor, Sunshine Flyer, requires 4 days’ notice when making reservations. This probably won’t matter to most Walt Disney World planning obsessives, but for those of us who procrastinate, it can be a problem. There’s even walk-up availability for the ultimate foot-draggers. (On a totally unrelated note, unfortunately we will not have a Sunshine Flyer review until the next time we have a need to return from the airport.)
Mears Connect has two options: Standard and Express. The latter is direct service to your resort and back to the airport, as the guaranteed first stop. Express is not necessarily a private service; it may be shared. Given that, booking Mears Connect Express makes no sense whatsoever, as Mears has a number of competitors that specialize in actual private service. I don’t see the point of reviewing Mears Connect Express, nor do I want to pay the premium for it in a world where Uber exists, so I booked Mears Connect Standard.
The Standard level of service is a shared ride service on high-occupancy Mears Connect vehicle, which costs $16 for adults and $13.50 for children for a one-way trip or $32 for adults and $27 for children for round trips. This is the regular multi-stop shuttle bus option.
Approximately 24 hours before my flight, I received a boarding pass for the bus with a QR code via email from Mears Connect. Upon landing at MCO, I received a text message reminder with a link to my boarding pass and arrival instructions. Now, you might think it’s overkill to send this boarding pass twice. That’s fair.
Somehow, I still made my way over to the Mears Connect boarding area on autopilot and presented my MagicBand like a doofus. Old habits die hard, I guess. As I fumbled to find the QR code, the Mears Connect desk attendant found my reservation in the system, handed me a pair of sunglasses (the free arrival gift), and sent me on my way to the loading zone.
It was a late flight, and at this point, there were maybe 4 other people in the entire Mears Connect loading area. Earlier in the year, I had seen photos of long lines to check-in and board the buses; that absolutely was not my experience. This isn’t to say you won’t encounter a long line–it really depends upon demand, and the influx of arrivals versus how quickly Mears can process guests and dispatch buses.
In any case, guests quickly filled in behind me and in other lanes. Within 10 minutes, the bus started boarding. It took another 15 minutes of waiting for a few more stragglers to show up, and even then, my Mears Connect bus was only around 20% full when we departed.
Upon departure, the bus driver announced that there would be 5 stops: Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, and Gaylord Palms Resort.
That final, off-site hotel actually is a stone’s throw from Bonnet Creek and Pop Century, so it was actually a pretty efficient itinerary. I’m not sure if that was a matter of planning, or simply luck that the passengers weren’t dispersed over a larger geographic area on property and off.
I assume someone must be the first stop when taking these shared shuttle services from the airport, but it’s never us. In years of using Disney’s Magical Express, I’d reckon that we were the last or second-to-last stop approximately 90% of the time. Maybe somewhere out there, our Wario and Waluigi counterparts are boasting on their blog about always being first.
True to form, my destination was the last stop on this Mears Connect route. In this case, that was actually my preference, as this was for the sake of review. Timing everything from the moment I was checked in until I exited the Mears Connect bus, the whole process took 1 hour, 25 minutes and 50 seconds.
Had I been the first stop, it would’ve taken just under an hour. This is more or less consistent with our rides aboard Disney’s Magical Express, which is wholly unsurprising. The drive from the airport still takes the same amount of time, as do the stops between each resort.
The wildcards are going to be the waits to board buses, depart, and number of stops. Those are variables for which no single review can account, and even if they could, you’d have no way of knowing what your experience would be before arrival. It could take 45 minutes on the absolute low end, or 2 hours on the high end. Perhaps even longer during peak season with long lines for buses–but even that should be offset by demand necessitating a more frequent bus dispatch interval.
This is the tough thing about reviewing the Sunshine Flyer, Mears Connect, or even Disney’s Magical Express before them. You could luck into a flawless experience where you timed everything perfectly, were dropped off first, and the whole process only took 45 minutes. Conversely, your timing could be terrible and it could take 2 hours.
Two guests could arrive literally 10 minutes apart but have polar opposite reviews–one just barely making the bus to their destination and the other just barely missing it. One might write effusive praise online about the shuttle service, the other a rant about poor service and delays. Both would be equally true, with mere minutes separating the great from the awful.
From my perspective, this makes a time-based review of Mears Connect virtually pointless. While it took me a slightly above-average amount of time, your experience could vary widely from this. The most important thing to know is the range of these fluctuations, and that they are entirely possible and equally unpredictable.
You might luck into a 45 minute total transit time, and that’s great. But you need to be prepared and willing to wait 2 hours, as that’s also in the realm of possibilities. If not, Mears Connect is not for you. (Same goes for Sunshine Flyer.)
This was only a one-way trip aboard Mears Connect. We did not (and will not) test the resort to airport return service because, frankly, the lead times are absurd. You are picked up from your hotel a minimum of 3 hours prior to your flight (at least 4 hours for international flights), with actual pick-up times often being more like 3.5-4 hours for domestic departures.
In fairness, this is nothing new. Disney’s Magical Express did the exact same thing, and it was in large part driven by the unpredictability of security wait times at MCO. We have Global Entry and seldom check bags, so we’re usually leaving for the airport less than 2 hours before our flight’s departure.
On the service side, Mears Connect was practically perfect. Everyone at the airport was courteous and helpful, and the driver tried to liven up the bus ride with a fun and upbeat attitude. No issues or complaints whatsoever–they did as good of a job as possible.
But–and I’m sure many of you saw this coming and know where it’s going next–it’s simply not the same as Disney’s Magical Express. How could it be?
Even with offering the same shuttle service at a foundational level, Mears Connect simply does not have that inarticulable Disney quality to it. This was easily foreseeable and is unsurprising, but it nevertheless bears emphasizing.
Disney’s Magical Express had a lot of flaws. It was beloved despite those, and many visitors were easily able to ‘paper over’ the problems in their minds because, true to the name, it was a magical way to start their vacation. Being greeted by Mickey Mouse in his captain’s hat, a memorable and quotable video on board, and various little Disney touches all made it easier to overlook what was otherwise an inefficient method of airport transportation.
It wasn’t that Disney’s Magical Express was good, it was that it was Disney. A way to be immersed in the experience from the moment you landed in Orlando, all the while building anticipation aboard the bus and ultimately exiting at your themed resort. It was exciting, fun, and distinctly Disney–even while being operated by Mears. It was a bittersweet end to the trip, but one that already began planting the seeds for your next visit.
Now all of that is gone. The shuttle service must stand on its own, without its weakness veiled by the ‘magical’ veneer. Mears Connect is fundamentally the exact same shuttle, but, fairly or unfairly, it will be perceived differently by guests. Those same long waits and that inefficiency that existed before suddenly might be less tolerable.
Ultimately, that’s where we stand with Mears Connect. For better or worse, the objective experience is nearly identical to what Disney’s Magical Express offered for the last two years (after eliminating luggage handling). Whether it’s right for you is a personal question, and hopefully one you can answer in light of the above information about waits, service, and cost.
Personally, Mears Connect is not something that we would use if visiting Walt Disney World for fun. (We only did this for the sake of reviewing it.) With just the two of us, the cost of the shuttle typically beats Uber or Lyft by a slim margin–but not when allocating even the minimum value to our time, which is probably a fair assessment of its worth. Were we a larger party, it would almost certainly make financial sense to opt for something different. Then again, there’s also value in predictability, convenience, and using an established service–so I get the appeal there.
What I will never understand is the discontinuation of Disney’s Magical Express. As we’ve been saying since Walt Disney World announced the end of DME, we maintain that this is an incredibly shortsighted and guest-unfriendly decision that will have unforeseen negative long-term consequences for Walt Disney World once pent-up demand fizzles out. It’s impossible to put a dollar-value on that feeling of being immersed in the Disney ‘magic’ from the moment of arrival to departure, and the impact of its loss–on brand affinity & goodwill, guest satisfaction, and likelihood of returning–is equally incalculable. Mears Connect might offer the same service for a fee, but there’s still a world of difference.
What do you think of Mears Connect? Have you already used Mears Connect? If so, what were your wait times and overall impression of the offering? Will you use Mears Connect, or is it too expensive for shared transportation? Will you opt for Mears Connect over Sunshine Flyer, Uber, Lyft, or renting a car? Thoughts on pricing, efficiency, or anything else? 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!