Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine Review: Is Disney World’s Airport Shuttle Still Good?

Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is a shuttle bus between Orlando Airport and Walt Disney World resorts plus on-site third party hotels and a few off-site options. This transportation review shares our experiences with the paid replacement for Magical Express, and how it’s gotten better & worse since the merger with its competitor.

Let’s start with a quick recap. Walt Disney World’s free shuttle service between MCO and the company’s resorts, Disney’s Magical Express (DME), ended over 2 years ago. The elimination of the airport shuttle was big and surprising Walt Disney World news, and continues to anger fans. It’s made the list of Top 10 Guest Complaints About Walt Disney World in each of the last two years, and undoubtedly will again in 2024 and even 2025 if the service isn’t magically restored ahead of Universal’s Epic Universe opening.

In place of that free bus service between MCO and resort hotels, two paid bus services originally filled the void. One was/is Mears Connect, the old operator of Disney’s Magical Express that now uses the same buses and drivers. The other was Sunshine Flyer, an upstart service with a fun railroad theme. One of those is past tense and the title of this review is “Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine,” so the astute detectives may see where this is going…

Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer “joined forces” last summer 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. But in this case, there arguably wasn’t a market for two competing shuttle services between MCO and WDW.

We used both Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer separately on several occasions, and now have used the combined Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine about a half-dozen times. This review aims to address the concerns raised by readers to determine whether Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is “still good” compared to Mears Connect, Sunshine Flyer, or the OG DME.

For those who haven’t used any shuttle service between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World since the demise of Disney’s Magical Express–or ever, for that matter–let’s begin with a bit of background. In a nutshell, these are high capacity coach buses that take you from the various terminals at MCO to your on-site resort at Walt Disney World, as well as a handful of off-site ones in the WDW area.

Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is attractive to many Walt Disney World fans because it’s the same company that operated Disney’s Magical Express. 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, this is largely a rebranded Disney’s Magical Express–it 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.

Since the merger between Sunshine Flyer and Mears Connect, the combined company has also absorbed the railroad-themed buses into the fleet, and given them new wraps in the style of Mears Connect, with nautical exteriors and marine life (manatees, dolphins, turtles, etc.) on the outside. Gone are all traces of the trains.

Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine promises fast and convenient airport transportation service in high occupancy vehicles, limited wait times to board a bus, comfortable seating, limited stops to your hotel, affordable transportation where kids under three ride free, no need to worry about Uber or Lyft rideshare surge pricing, plenty of luggage space, and wheelchair accessibility.

It’s easy to book Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine online, and can be done in a matter of minutes. My slight nitpick is that this is more difficult to do via their mobile site, encountering hiccups a few times while my plane is taxiing to the gate at MCO. But it’s still better and easier than Sunshine Flyer was–that required several days advance notice. I can literally book Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine whenever.

To that point, I never reserve my ride in amount of time in advance. There’s zero incentive to do so, as the pricing is the same upon arrival and buses are dispatched as they fill up–not based on bookings (which makes complete sense given flight delays, early arrivals, luggage pickup times, etc).

Because of this, I always check the prices of Uber and Lyft from MCO to WDW right when landing. If the pricing premium is too steep, I quickly book Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. As I’ve been flying solo for the last year-plus, Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine has been the better option 100% of the time. If it were both of us, it would be about 50/50.

To this point, you can also make walk-up reservations for Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine upon arrival. It’s a simple process that takes less than a minute, and there’s no disincentive to doing this. So if you land and discover that Uber or Lyft are too expensive or that your rental car reservation has an issue or whatever, Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is an easy pivot.

Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine 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’ve been placed on Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine Express a few times, and on 2 of those occasions, they customers who booked Express were surprised that it was shared and that they were crammed in a van with a bunch of strangers. Part of this is on them–Mears Connect’s website makes clear that it might be shared. But the overall service they received and caliber of the experience, in my view, was not commensurate with what I know they paid for it.

Even without having used Express, I would not recommend booking it. There are better alternatives that specialize in private transfers. Or just use Uber or Lyft? Mears’ strong suit is high-capacity transportation solutions–not service or efficiency–so I cannot fathom what they bring to the table on the Express front. Despite that being part of the DME name, “express” is essentially the antithesis of the Mears name.

With Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine, you’ll receive a boarding pass sometime before your pickup with a QR code via email. Upon landing at MCO, you should also receive a text message reminder welcoming you to Orlando with a link to the boarding pass and arrival instructions.

Take this QR code to the self-service check-in stands and scan it. If for whatever reason that doesn’t work–or you didn’t get a QR code–there’s staff present to assist. Whether you do self-service check-in or the assisted version, the process is incredibly smooth. Mears is definitely efficient at this portion of the process. After this, they send you on your way to the loading zone.

When this merger was first announced, a lot of Walt Disney World fans were concerned about long lines for loading and the combined Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine becoming super busy and inefficient as a result. That has not been my experience at all. To the contrary, the times I’ve used Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine in 2023 and 2024, the combined service has been (significantly) less busy than when we used Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer in 2022 (through Spring Break 2023).

This is very seasonal and time-of-arrival dependent, but I’ve yet to encounter more than a dozen or so people in the entire Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine loading area. Two of my flights were in the fall off-season, but another two were doing a normal time, and two more were at near-peak times around Veterans Day and MLK Day. On all occasions, Orlando International Airport was at least moderately busy. (Like Walt Disney World, there doesn’t seem to be a “slow” time at MCO anymore–at least, not as compared to 2019 or earlier.)

The good news is that I’ve been almost instantly loaded onto a Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine bus every time. I would hazard a guess that my average wait time for being loaded is under 90 seconds. Maybe once I waited about 5 minutes, but that was seemingly an anomaly.

The bad news is that the waiting time once on the bus can be much longer as Mears does everything in its power not to dispatch nearly empty buses. I haven’t actually timed these waits, but I’d hazard a guess that the average is 15-20 minutes. There have been a couple of times that I’ve waited 30+ minutes for the bus to be dispatched.

Even then, I’ve yet to be on a bus that was more than 25% full. On average, there are 4-5 stops. I’m often heading to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort or Disney’s All Star Sports, and I’d say about half the time, this has also entailed a stop at the off-site Gaylord Palms Resort. That doesn’t bother me; it’s nearby the All Stars and Coronado. There have been other times when we’ve gone to random resorts on the other side of property–like the Magic Kingdom area–which is fairly inefficient.

I’m no mathematician, but I assume someone must be the first stop when taking these shared shuttle services from the airport, but it’s somehow never me. In years of using Disney’s Magical Express and now these successor shuttles, I’d reckon that we’ve been 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.

Back in my younger days, this used to really bug me. I was impatient and excited, happy to be back “home” at Walt Disney World but overly-eager to hit the ground running and get to the parks. The time from the first to last stop felt like forever. Now that I’m older and wiser (not really), you could say that I’ve mellowed out a bit. Or you could say that due to the abundance of empty seats, I sit in the back, pull out my laptop and use the Mears bus as my workstation to get stuff done. This is probably the more accurate assessment, as I’m still accused of being impatient and intense–just not when it comes to buses, I suppose.

The moral of the story is that Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine has become more time-consuming, on average, than Disney’s Magical Express or even circa-2022 Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer. But this is not due to the lack of competition, as some Walt Disney World fans fear.

To the contrary, it’s due to lack of demand. This problem would be even worse had the companies not merged, as there’d be the same number of customers spread over 2 shuttle services. They would still not want to dispatch nearly-empty buses, so they’d wait longer in the loading area, reduce the number of buses, increase the number of stops, etc.

Even if my half dozen experiences have all somehow been outliers (pretty hard to believe since I also used Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer during their waning days and those separate ‘results’ weren’t materially different), the point still stands. Demand is an issue, and there are not enough riders to sustain two separate shuttles. Even if there are long lines and packed buses during peak season (I’m skeptical of this), the existence of what I’m describing–on many occasions–points to unsustainability overall.

In any case, you can expect Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine to take about an hour on the low end and up to 2 hours on the high end. I would estimate that my time from arriving at the Mears check-in podium to arriving at the resort averages around 100 minutes. Since I’m doing work and not timing the commute, I don’t have a precise number–that could be slightly off.

I would also estimate that the average commute is now ~20% longer than it was with Disney’s Magical Express, which is driven wholly by the longer wait before being dispatched. 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 wait to 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. If you get really lucky, it could take 45 minutes on the absolute low end; if you’re really unlucky, over 2 hours on the high end wouldn’t shock me.

This is the tough thing about reviewing Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine, or even Disney’s Magical Express before. It’s so dependent upon good or bad luck/timing. Two guests could arrive 10 minutes apart but have polar opposite reviews–one just barely making the bus to their destination and the other just 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 awesome(ish) from the awful.

Honestly, the ride taking 20% longer for the bus being far less full is a tradeoff that I will happily take, as it allows me to pull out my laptop and do work in peace and comfort. For this reason, I’ve started using Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine on occasions when Uber/Lyft are a closer call. Because at least with Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine, I know I’m getting a quiet ride. Rideshares are more of a wildcard, and I don’t like being rude or aloof if my driver is chatty.

Obviously, though, all of this is highly personal. If you’re a family of 4, it’s not like “pull out your laptop and respond to comments on your Disney blog” is useful advice to your 6 year old twins. They probably don’t even have a Disney blog yet. What they might share with me is a sense of impatience and excitement, and that 20% longer ride could be what brings them to their breaking point.

It should be noted that the above review focuses on the service from the airport to Walt Disney World. I use Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine for getting to MCO far less frequently because I don’t want to be at the airport 2+ hours before my flight. (If you don’t have TSA Precheck, you absolutely should–I’ve seen security wait times of 45-60 minutes on a few recent occasions.)

Nevertheless, I have used the return service about a half-dozen times (and here, I’m also lumping in past experiences with regular Mears Connect, pre-merger). It is generally better. What I really appreciate about this is that they text you a link with real-time tracking of your bus, so you can hang out in the lobby or wherever, and only go out shortly before the bus arrives.

I’ve also noticed that Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is more efficient and the buses are fuller on those return trips. Granted, it’s a relatively small sample size, but I assume that’s because Mears is able to use capacity management and allocation systems to arrange pickup times and dispatch buses accordingly.

Nevertheless, I prefer using Uber or Lyft for getting back to the airport. It also helps that I almost always leave on the exact same flight, and the average rideshare cost is predictably low when I need to leave at around 1 p.m. (seemingly the sweet spot between the morning and afternoon rushes).

On the service side, I have zero complaints about Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. Staff at the airport has been courteous, and the drivers are always friendly. Some try to liven up the bus ride with an upbeat attitude and Disney-related commentary. No issues or complaints whatsoever–they do as good of a job as can be expected.

With that said, the issue for a lot of Walt Disney World fans is that Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine does not have that inarticulable Disney quality to it. Disney’s Magical Express had a lot of flaws, but it was easy to overlook them because DME 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. An immersive 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 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. Unsurprisingly, Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine doesn’t have any of that X-factor. Maybe you care, maybe you don’t, but it is what it is.

Ultimately, that’s been my experience with Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine post-merger of the two airport shuttle services. Whether it’s “still good” depends on whether you thought it was ever good in the first place. If yes, then probably still yes. If no, then almost certainly still no.

Whether the airport shuttle service is right for you is a personal question, and hopefully one you can answer in light of the above information about waits, service, and cost. Our view is that Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine is a good option if the math works out on it (typically meaning you have a smaller party size).

We’ll be using Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine for Megatron’s first trip to Walt Disney World due to the carseat situation with Uber and Lyft, since the numbers don’t quite work on private transfer for us. My view on Mears is that it’s the lack of better options option. Your mileage may vary, though. There’s value in predictability, convenience, and using an established service.

After these experiences with Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine in the last ~6 months, my biggest concern now is that the airport shuttle service may not exist at all in 2025 or 2026. I know that Mears offered airport buses even before Disney’s Magical Express, but the world has changed so much since then. Rideshare services are ubiquitous and rental cars are more abundant.

Pretty soon, there’s going to be an airport train to Universal (etc.) that could further reduce the demand for those options, driving down prices and thereby decreasing demand for Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. Part of me wonders if the only way an airport shuttle is viable at all in the long-run is by being an on-site perk offered by Walt Disney World. I guess we shall see.

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 Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine? Have you already used the airport shuttle service post-merger? If so, what were your wait times and overall impression of the offering? Will you use this, or is it too expensive for shared transportation? Will you opt for Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine over Uber, Lyft, or renting a car? Thoughts on pricing, efficiency, or anything else? 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!

37 Responses to “Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine Review: Is Disney World’s Airport Shuttle Still Good?”
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