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Planning a Walt Disney World vacation in 2022 or 2023? There is one extra step you’ll have to do if you’re flying into Orlando. Disney ended their Magical Express service and many families are now scrambling to find a new transportation option from the Orlando airport (MCO) to Disney World. We share some of the best options that we’ve found and what other trip complications we’re seeing as a result of this change.
Airports in Orlando Florida
First off, we need to clarify airports. The Orlando Florida area has two. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the major one and the one that had the Magical Express bus service to begin with. MCO has numerous airlines flying in and out daily to both domestic and international destinations. The Orlando International Airport is roughly 25 miles from Magic Kingdom park. Orlando Sanford Airport (SFB) is smaller and is roughly 50 miles from Magic Kingdom park. Sanford is served year round by Allegiant Air, Flair and Swoop. Seasonal flights are available from Sun Country Airlines and Surinam Air.
We’ll be discussing Magical Express replacement options from Orlando MCO in this post. To learn more about flying into Orlando, check out our full post.
Magical Express Replacement
While complimentary Magical Express service has ended, the transportation itself isn’t. Mears Transportation was contracted to run Disney’s airport shuttle for years, moving hundreds of thousands of passengers from MCO to Disney resort hotels. Disney made the decision to end complimentary transportation for resort guests (boo!) and ended their airport transportation contract with Mears. Mears now operates Mears Connect which will essentially be unbranded Disney Magical Express…at a fee.
Honestly, I think this is a poor decision on Disney’s part. One of the main reasons to choose a Disney resort hotel was the free airport transportation. When you’re paying top dollar to stay on property close to the Disney parks, this perk made it worth it. Now, family vacation planners have one more thing to think about. The more work I have to do for a Walt Disney World vacation, the less magical it is.
How to Get from the Orlando Airport to Disney World
There are multiple ways to get from the Orlando Airport to Disney World but the reality of the situation is that without the complimentary Magical Express, it’s going to cost you. When you budget for your Disney World vacation, you’re going to want to add in a transportation cost line item.
There are now 5 ways to get from the Orlando Airport to the resort area at Disney World: Mears Connect, taxi, rideshare (Uber or Lyft), rent a car or hire a private car service. Sometime in 2022, we’ll be able to add Brightline train service to this list. Here are the ins and outs of each of transportation option.
To help you compare prices on Disney shuttle service options, we calculate the total price of each based on a family of 4 with two kids in the 3-9 age range. These prices can vary if your family size or kids’ ages are different. We’re just laying down a baseline to give you an idea.
Mears Connect at the Orlando Airport
If you’ve ever visited Disney before, you’ve probably been on a motor coach operated by Mears. We can make the assumption that service will operate in a similar manner. But we’ll report back to you in January once we’ve had the opportunity to utilize the service. Mears has two service main service options available. Both are shared ride services, meaning that you’ll potentially ride with other families. In addition, both services include tolls and surcharges. Car seats are not provided by Mears, but you can bring your own.
Mears Connect Standard Service
Standard service by Mears Connect could have you traveling in a large or small vehicle. You will be in a vehicle and on your way within 20 minutes of your check-in with Mears. You could potentially have several stops before arriving at your resort. This option is similar to value resort transportation through Magical Express where you might stop at All Star Music and All Star Sports before arriving at your destination of All Star Movies.
You can book Mears Connect Standard Service as one-way or round trip.
Cost of Mears Connect standard service is $16 each way for adults, $13.50 each way for children ages 3-9. Under 3 ride free. There is no price break for booking round trip. For a family of 4, this option will add $118 roundtrip to your Walt Disney World vacation cost.
Mears Connect Express
Mears Connect Express Service will provide non-stop service to and from the airport and your resort. You’ll be on your way within minutes of arriving. Transportation could be in a car, van or motorcoach. Again, keep in mind this is not private car service. If you’re a party of 2 you could be placed into a sedan with another small party…kind of like Uberpool. However, you’ll make no stops except your resort (or the airport), making this option similar to staying in a deluxe resort where the Magical Express only served one property.
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Mears Connect Express Service can only be booked as a round trip and does not offer a child rate.
Cost of Mears Connect Express Service is $250 for 4 people. Additional passengers are $55 each. A family of 4 would pay $250 with this option.
Sunshine Flyer Shuttle Option
Launching on February 1, 2022 the Sunshine Flyer is door to door shuttle transportation designed to look like an old-fashioned passenger train. It is slightly cheaper than Mears with tickets running $17 one way or $34 round trip for adults and $12.50 one way or $25 round trip for kids 3-8. Kids 2 and under ride at no charge on a parents lap. Sunshine Flyer will be located in Terminal B on Level 1. Operations sound like they’ll be similar to the Magical Express. You’ll be on a bus within 20 minutes and your trip will be completed in 65 minutes.
Taxi to Disney World from MCO
We’re going to cover taxis quickly. In our modern world taxi service has been absorbed into other forms of transportation. For example, Mears operates a taxi service and also lists their SUV size taxi vehicles on Uber. This puts them in three categories – Mears, taxi and Uber. Taxi service is available from MCO to Disney World. You can catch a cab from one of the six companies allowed to pick up at MCO from Level 1 Ground Transportation in both Terminals. Car seats can sometimes be requested in advance from the companies. You can also bring your own to install.
Cost for a taxi can vary wildly. We’ve seen quotes ranging from $50 all the way up to $118 one way. As a passenger you will pay for any tolls and waiting time which will be added onto your total. Gratuity is not included in this cost estimate.
Uber or Lyft from the Orlando Airport to Disney World
Your next option is to take a taxi, Uber or Lyft from the Orlando Airport to Disney World. The cost on this one is going to vary based on time of day and your party size. If you’re traveling with kids be sure to check out our tips on using rideshare services with littles. Need a car seat? Look under “more options” for a list of car seat rides available. Prices run roughly $10-15 higher with a car seat. Be aware that availability varies. UberX fits 3 passengers; UberX with car seat was exactly $10 more. However, UberXL which fits 5 had no car seat availability over 5 times of me checking.
The benefit of using one of these services is that drivers are usually very close by with minimal wait times. You can reserve and be in a car in under 5 minutes in many cases. For this reason we recommend checking availability once you land but not booking until you have your luggage in hand and are out the door. Uber and Lyft pickup is located on Level 2 near baggage claim in both terminals (A & B). Follow the signs for Ride App Pickup to the end of the curbs.
Calculate Uber or Lyft cost to Disney without installing an App
You can get a price estimate for your trip with Uber here. I did a comparison between looking for a ride live on the app and forecasted prices and they were pretty darn accurate. Keep in mind that the cost of the ride one way does not include a tip for the driver. You can schedule an Uber ride in advance which will help with the cost if you’re arriving at a busy time. Same with Lyft. When checking prices in app versus on my laptop using their estimator, they were very similar.
TravelingMom Tip: Pay close attention to the passenger count when reserving both Uber and Lyft. You want to make sure your entire party will fit in the ride you select!
Private Car Service at MCO
This option may sound decadent and out of reach, but can actually be quite affordable. The sweet spot for these services, in my opinion, is larger families who want to reduce travel times. With Uber and Lyft, it can get pricey (or even be impossible) trying to find a larger size car that will fit everyone. On a shuttle bus service like Mears, you may make stops on the way to the hotel room. With private car service, we were able to price out options for 7-10 passengers starting at just $130ish. In addition, several town car companies offer a quick grocery stop at no charge. A free 15 minute grocery stop. We know that packing your own snacks at WDW is a great way to save money. Being able to pickup groceries on the way to your hotel is clutch.
We’ve used and have had friends use several of these services so far. Tiffany Town Car is frequently recommended in Disney groups. They charge $85 to any Disney resort hotel from MCO or $165 round trip for a towncar that fits 4. Rates for larger families are still decent. A van that fits 10 will cost $120 one way or $210 round trip. There is a $10 add on fee for pickups or drop offs that take place between 10pm and 6am. Gratuity is not included in this cost. Drivers will meet you inside the airport at the bottom of the escalators near baggage claim. They will have a sign with your name on it (just like in the movies!).
One thing to note is that your credit card will be charged 48 hours before your trip and a 20% gratuity is added automatically. For a family of 4 this option would cost roughly $129.60 ($108 plus 20% gratuity) one way at the cheapest level making it significantly cheaper than Mears Connect Express. Ultimate Town Car does offer car seat options with some limits. Rear facing seats are a $10 charge per trip.
Renting a Car at Orlando International for Your Disney Trip
We’re going to have to crunch some serious numbers for this option. While a rental car gives you some freedom as a family to add on additional stops, hit beaches or other areas of Florida, or run errands while in town, it will cost you in both time and money. Rental car prices vary by season, stock and specials. We recommend booking one as soon as you know about your trip, but make sure it has free cancellation. Check prices leading up to your trip and make a new reservation if something cheaper comes up. For more information on getting the best rental car deal, read this post on saving money on rental cars. If your plans are flexible and you might be able to drive one way and fly the other, look for one-way Florida rental specials.
Extra Costs that Come with Car Rentals at Disney
If you’re staying on property at Walt Disney World Resort, make sure to calculate the price of parking into your transportation budget line. Daily parking rates vary by resort level. Value resorts charge $15 a night, moderates charge $20 and deluxe resorts charge $25 a night. If you are staying at a Disney Vacation Club property using points, there is no parking fee. That’s another great reason to look at renting DVC points for your trip! Resort guests do get free parking at the theme parks during their stay, so if you’re looking at renting a car to avoid Disney transportation you won’t have to pay twice.
Car seats are available through some rental car companies when booked in advance. Hertz offers free car seats for AAA members. Daily car seat rentals can be pricey, up to $15 a day. On one trip where we diverted and unexpectedly rented, my husband waited at the airport while I ran to a nearby Target with the rental car. Then I picked him and my son back up at the airport. The newly purchased car seat cost less than a rental would have. We broke down the box, reboxed it at the end of our trip and checked it for free on our Southwest return flight. Upon arriving home, we passed it on to a friend who needed a 2nd seat.
TravelingMom Tip: Always check for additional driver fees and read the fine print. Some companies (Hertz, Avis, Enterprise) allow an additional free driver who is a spouse or domestic partner. Alamo and other companies charge unless it’s a business rental and the additional driver is a coworker.
Car Rental Price for Disney
When renting a car from MCO, plan to spend between $40-90/day for a small to midsize vehicle, including taxes and fees. These numbers can certainly vary but it’s a good number to start at budget-wise. Be very wary when using aggregate sites like booking.com, priceline.com and kayak.com. I’m not saying don’t use them, but there has been an influx of car rentals showing up from tiny or new companies that have strange restrictions on them. I saw one great deal and on further inspection it only included 150 miles. That’s great if you’re just driving to and from your hotel. But, if you planned a day trip somewhere else, it could bite you in the end.
Plan to spend roughly $380 for a 5 day car rental plus overnight parking at a moderate resort.
Pros and Cons of Having a Car at Disney
You might be wondering at nearly double to cost of any other transportation is having a car at Disney worth it. That will depend on how long you’re staying, plans you have outside of Disney and your comfort level with Disney transportation. Disney transportation can run slow sometimes and there is something to having a car at Disney that makes you feel in control of your own destiny. Personally, I would only rent a car for a fly in trip if we had plans outside of the parks as well. For example if we were doing a split stay vacation between Disney and Universal, I’d rent a car. Or if we were staying off site in one of the Disney Springs area hotels.
Any time we’ve had a car at Disney, we’ve driven in from Texas because it was cheaper. And that one time that our flight delays and diversion landed us in Tampa instead of Orlando and we’d had enough. I’d totally book into Tampa and drive again for cheap flights. It was a very doable drive and there are some fun things to do in Tampa.
TravelingMom Tip: Here’s how to calculate out whether it’s cheaper to drive or fly.
Brightline- Train Option Coming to MCO
One exciting future option is the Brightline train. This privately run train will bring visitors from MCO to Disney and other areas of Orlando. How exciting is that! I know to my kiddos it will be like the tram on steroids. They love the airport tram. The station at Disney will be at Disney Springs. Completion for the airport station is currently scheduled for 2022 but no word yet on when the line will be operational for Disney visitors.
Do I need a car seat for my child from Orlando International to Disney World?
This is the biggest pain point for most parents with the whole bye-bye Magical Express drama. It wasn’t even something you had to think about before. You flew in, you knew you were going to be on a motorcoach. You didn’t need a carseat for a motorcoach. Now though? Even with Mears, you may be on a bus, shuttle or in a sedan. Therein lies the issue. You can’t guarantee that you’ll be in a vehicle that doesn’t require a car seat.
Florida requires children 5 and under to be in car seats. Car seat violation is a primary enforcement law. That means if the police see an unrestrained toddler, they can stop the car just for that. Technically, the parent is the responsible party here. Uber/Lyft/taxis and other chaffeur-driven services are technically exempt. However, you could still be stopped and the ticket would go to you the parent if deemed unsafe. The drivers can also refuse the ride if they don’t feel it would be safe.
The bottom line? Bring a car seat or book a transportation method that will have one. We picked up a lightweight and affordable car seat to travel with. I strongly recommend holding onto the box. Car seats can be checked for free on many airlines if you aren’t using them on the plane. We packed ours in the box it came in to keep it safe.
Best Car Seats for Travel
This lightweight Cosco frequently goes on sale. It is easy to install and the cover comes off for simple cleaning. Good for kiddos from 40-80 lbs.
With infants be sure to look for a car seat with a European belt path. This will enable you to bring just the car seat and not the heavy base on vacation. We have a whole tutorial on how to install a car seat without a base here. Graco is one of the more affordable car seats with this technology.
The Chicco Fit2 is an excellent infant seat that also utilizes the European belt path. The construction on it is a little more sturdy than the Graco in my opinion. The seat alone weighs 11 pounds without the base and is very easy to use. Good for kiddos 4-35 pounds.
For bigger toddlers who still need a car seat by Florida law (under 5), folding boosters are a great option. This model is super compact and can fit kiddos from 40-100 pounds who are 40-59″ tall.
Two other great little boosters are the mifold and the Bubble Bum. Both are under $30. Many states have rules that govern car seats by height and weight. Technically, Florida doesn’t, but many children who are 6, 7 and 8 should still be in a car seat to travel safely. We personally love the mifold. It’s what I used on trips to my parents from Texas to New Hampshire. Around Virginia, my middle daughter would become technically too short to not be in a booster seat. But she was too tall for many traditional high back boosters, so we kept a mifold on hand. The Bubble Bum is a great option but I stink at blowing up balloons and car seats. It makes my throat hurt, so that one wasn’t a good fit for us.
What has your experience been with getting from Orlando International to Disney World? We’d love to hear!