The Sunshine Flyer is a new themed airport shuttle service to Walt Disney World, replacing Magical Express. This covers pricing, transportation info, and everything we know about the bus between Orlando International Airport and resorts, plus commentary on this v. Mears Connect. (Updated January 10, 2023.)
The first option to launch was Mears Connect. That offers airport transportation service via high occupancy vehicles, including buses and vans. This is the “spiritual successor” of Disney’s Magical Express, using the exact same buses as its predecessor (Mears was the operator of DME and owned the buses). We have more up-to-date details, in Reservations & Pricing for Mears Connect, Disney’s Magical Express Replacement.
Another alternative for Walt Disney World airport shuttle buses from MCO is the Sunshine Flyer, a themed motorcoach bus experience. Offering a convenient and cost-effective mode of transportation, the Sunshine Flyer allows guests to start the themed magic of their Walt Disney World vacation from the moment they step off the plane.
We’ve used Sunshine Flyer since launch, and generally found the service comparable to Disney’s Magical Express. Both are economical and reliable ways to get to Walt Disney World, albeit not particularly efficient. That was also the case with Disney’s Magical Express, where the last word in the name was always a bit dubious. For its part, the Sunshine Flyer does a better job at replicating the “Magical” part of that name, with a fun theme–albeit minus any Disney IP.
January 10, 2023 UPDATE: Sunshine Flyer announced the launch of Sunshine Flyer Direct, its private transportation service from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Walt Disney World resorts.
The Sunshine Flyer Direct will provide exclusive, private transportation for guests, and it will be able to pick-up guests at any terminal including the new Terminal C. Guests will have the option to select their preferred vehicle: sedan, luxury SUV, or van; they will also be able to choose their preferred pick-up time. Sunshine Flyer Direct drivers will handle all luggage including meeting guests at the baggage claim to assist with bags.
Like the company’s regular bus transportation, the Sunshine Flyer Direct is well-equipped for kids, including three-point harness seat belts for safety. Plus, a variety of fun offerings to start the trip off on a well-themed foot with free conductor hats, stickers, and coloring/activity books for kids.
Turning back to the buses, above is a look at the range of wraps that the Sunshine Flyer offers on its main fleet. Just like the variety of themed Disney Skyliner gondola designs, it’ll be fun to spot the different train models. Should be a good time for kids with a degree of “re-rideability.”
The Sunshine Flyer’s buses are late model, premium buses with themes that center around old-fashioned passenger cars and train engines. From the bus designs to staff dressed as 1920s rail conductors and engineers, the motorcoaches effectively serve as time-machines, offering a glimpse into 1920s train travel.
Upon entering the Sunshine Flyer staging area, guests will not wait more than 20 minutes to board the bus, and the ride to the resorts is scheduled so the last stop will not take more than 65 minutes.
Originally, Mears Connect made this same 20 minutes promise, but has since quietly dropped it from their website as guests have reported waiting up to 45 minutes to depart. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Sunshine Flyer can do a better job dispatching buses more frequently.
The buses service all Walt Disney World resort hotels and offer with a restroom, USB chargers, and three-point seatbelts for the comfort and safety of all guests. Ahead of travel, guests will book their tickets online and receive a QR code they will scan once arriving at MCO, which will ensure smooth timing and departures to Walt Disney World resorts.
For the return trip to Orlando International Airport, you’ll receive a confirmation email advising you of the motorcoach departure time the day before you check out from your Walt Disney World hotel. It will be approximately 3 hours prior to your scheduled departure time for domestic flights and 4 hours prior to your scheduled departure time for international flights.
The Sunshine Flyer officially started service from Orlando International Airport last year. The Sunshine Flyer offers transportation to all Walt Disney World resort destinations in Orlando, from Value Resorts to Deluxes.
Tickets for the Sunshine Flyer must be booked at least four days ahead of arrival. The cost is $19.50 per adult and $11 per child each way. There is no round trip discount–prices are $39 and $22, respectively, for round trip adult and child fares.)
The Sunshine Flyer offers a full refund if cancelled 72 hours in advance, or credit towards future tickets if cancelled under 72 hours. For more information and to book tickets, click here.
Sunshine Flyer does have some limitations as compared to Mears Connect. For one, Sunshine Flyer reservations are only accepted up until 4 days before service, whereas Mears Connect allows last-minute reservations.
Additionally, the Sunshine Flyer service starts at 4:00 am and services flights starting at 7:00 am. The last bus leaving Orlando International Airport is at 11:00 pm. By contrast, Mears Connect runs 24/7.
Finally, the Sunshine Flyer does not pick up or drop off guests at MCO’s new Terminal C. However, there is a tram that takes guests from Terminal C to Terminals A/B where the Sunshine Flyer is located. Mears Connect offers service from Terminal C.
For most Walt Disney World tourists, none of these differences will matter. The bulk of visitors book airport transportation far in advance, don’t do red-eye flights, and fly into Terminals A or B.
However, this will impact maybe ~10% of you, especially those flying internationally or from the West Coast, and last-minute travelers. To of those things describe us, and as such, we’ve had more challenges using the Sunshine Flyer than Mears Connect. That doesn’t diminish its service or quality–just makes it less suitable for us. As with anything, your mileage may vary!
To its credit, the Sunshine Flyer has a passionate team offering a quality transportation option that immerses Walt Disney World visitors in a themed experience from the moment they land at MCO. “We’re incredibly excited to launch The Sunshine Flyer and give Disney guests the chance to kickstart their vacation with a fun, unique travel experience,” said Frank Sherman, CEO of TMS, the parent company of the Sunshine Flyer.
“Everyone knows the magic of Disney once they’re inside the park gates. But, through The Sunshine Flyer, we’re able to give guests the chance to start their vacation from the minute they step off the plane and turn what used to be a procedural drive into the beginning of an adventure to remember.”
With 25 years of experience as a large events transportation company working with world-class events such as the FIFA World Cup, NBA Finals, and PGA TOUR Tournaments, TMS contends that their company is primed to offer a streamlined and well-executed service.
“By combining our storied expertise in mass transportation management with a creative, themed experience, we have the unique opportunity to offer an experience that’s both stress-free and engaging,” added Sherman.
“After all, Disney guests deserve a trip to remember, right from the start. Whether they’re young or old, travelling in a group or solo, we hope The Sunshine Flyer sparks the imagination and excitement of all of our guests from the moment they step on the bus.”
In celebration of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, the Sunshine Flyer will donate 50% of all revenue from the first 50,000 passengers during the first 50 days of business to Make-A-Wish Central & Northern Florida to support their mission of creating life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.
As a part of the Sunshine Flyer’s commitment to giving back, all Make-A-Wish children and their families will receive complimentary service from the Sunshine Flyer for their Disney wishes indefinitely.
In terms of commentary, this is awesome. Well, at least as “awesome” as going from the free (or at least included in the cost of hotel stays) Disney’s Magical Express to something that costs extra. With that said, the Sunshine Flyer is not to blame for Walt Disney World’s shortsighted decision to eliminate Magical Express. Can’t exactly fault another business for Disney’s ill-advised cutbacks.
What’s awesome about this is that it’s themed–and to something objectively cool. Trains are awesome, as is the golden age of rail travel after which the Sunshine Flyer is modeled. Perhaps I’m biased as a railfan who visits museums, enjoys railroad simulators, and far prefers train travel to all other forms of transportation–but you know who else loved trains? Walt Disney. Even setting aside my own interests, there is a clear “Disney connection” to the Sunshine Flyer’s theme.
Another reason this is awesome is because the Sunshine Flyer is not operated by Mears. For those who are otherwise unfamiliar with it, Mears is a transportation company with coach buses and taxis that enjoyed a virtual monopoly on Orlando for decades–before Uber and Lyft arrived on the scene. Since then, Mears has been extensively involved with rideshare lawsuits over the past several years.
Historically, we have not been fans of Mears. We had several negative experiences with them in the pre-rideshare days–enough to arrive at the conclusion that it was a poorly-managed company doing the bare minimum and not caring about customer service given their aforementioned monopoly.
If you’ve read our posts about the Disney’s Magical Express saga, you might find this surprising. We’ve been fairly sympathetic to Mears, which is largely because we have reason to believe they got “done dirty” by Disney (as the kids say). I also don’t like some Time Warner properties, but nevertheless feel pity for how they got screwed over in the AT&T acquisition. Beyond that, Mears was filling a void left by the end of Disney’s Magical Express and would be the default “best” option for many tourists. With the arrival of the Sunshine Flyer, that is no longer the case.
Granted, I have absolutely zero knowledge of or experience with TMS. For all I know, they could somehow be responsible for the plight of Florida’s manatees. I’m guessing not, but it is possible they offer similarly poor customer service. However, I’m willing to take my chances on pretty much any transportation service over Mears. Any company with such an affinity for the golden age of railroads can’t be all bad.
Ultimately, more competition and alternatives for transportation between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World resorts is a good thing for consumers. Even if you’re a monster who hates trains, it’s hard to deny this as positive news from that perspective. As past precedent has demonstrated, Mears having a monopoly is not a good thing. We strongly recommend booking one of these shuttles rather than relying on Uber or Lyft if you’re visiting this year or in 2023.
Without Disney’s Magical Express, rideshare demand has increased, and at times there’s an insufficient supply (or drivers) in the Orlando market at times when travel volume is high. We’re used Uber and Lyft when traveling between the Orange Counties (Florida and Southern California) this year, which tends to put our MCO arrivals late at night. For whatever reason, MCO is often slammed late at night, which leads to surge pricing. We’ve paid as much as $70 for a ride to Walt Disney World via rideshare. That’s not even as bad as it gets–we’ve heard of some people paying $100. Unless you have a large party, using an airport shuttle service is going to be much more economical than that.
What do you think of the Sunshine Flyer? Will you use the service, or is it too expensive for shared transportation? Will you opt for Sunshine Flyer, Mears Connect, Uber, Lyft, or renting a car? Thoughts on pricing, efficiency, or anything else regarding airport transportation? 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!