The Walt Disney World Magical Express Bus “magically” transports guests from the Orlando International Airport directly to the front entrance of their chosen Disney Resort hotel. You don’t even have to fuss with luggage as it’s delivered straight to your room. But it turns out there is more to it than just showing up for the free ride. Follow along with my tips and learn how the Magical Express Bus process really works–and how to save $80.
A Whole New World
I pride myself on knowing the ins and outs of Disney. As a southern California native, I’ve been to Disneyland countless times on day trips as well as overnight visits to the Disneyland Resort. As the Day Trips Traveling Mom, I often take my family on tours of our area, returning back home the same day. It’s a rare occasion when we have an overnight stay and even more rare for us to take a flight. My trip from Southern California to Walt Disney World in Florida was to be only my fifth flight ever. That’s how infrequently we travel long distance!
A Disney trip has never included a flight, since we always drive straight there in our own car and park in the lot. I was intrigued by The Magical Express Bus and all of the perks. It really did sound magical to me!
Do Your Pre-Vacation Research
In preparation for my first visit to Walt Disney World, I read up about what I could expect. I researched restaurants, height requirements for the rides that would accommodate my preschooler and the details of our hotel, the Coronado Springs Resort. Traveling Mom recommends Parksavers for discount Disney World tickets in advance. (Even better, use code TM2 for an extra $2 off each ticket, just for Traveling Mom readers!)
I knew about Magic Bands, FastPass+ and My Disney Experience. I knew that the Walt Disney World Transportation System of buses, boats and monorail is a wonderful way of getting around the enormous resort. I knew a little about how the Magical Express Bus worked, or so I thought.
Turns out, this Day Trips Traveling Mom had lots more to learn and we made a costly mistake at the end of our vacation.
No Magic Bands at Check In? Not a Problem.
Our trip to Walt Disney World was planned in less than two weeks. A very quick turnaround when many guests are booking their trips six months out and making Advance Dining Reservations well ahead of their vacations. Because of this quick booking, we weren’t able to have Magic Bands or any travel paperwork delivered to our house. We were instructed in an email to visit the Disney desk at the Orlando airport upon our arrival. At that time, my family–my mom, my brother and my son–were directed to the bus that would drive us to our resort hotel. My mom and brother had checked one joint bag back in San Diego and I had checked my own bag as well. We were told our checked luggage would be handled by Disney at the airport, who would retrieve it directly from the airline. It would be delivered straight to our room in a few hours. We didn’t have to lift a finger!
The process was quick and within about 15 minutes we were on the Magical Express Bus, driving to the Coronado Springs Resort. I had one carry-on bag with me (my lovely and lightweight Ricardo Roxbury 2.0) that included a change of clothes for me and my son. This bag was stowed with other bags in the storage space under the bus. Quick and easy, we were soon on our way to Walt Disney World. Magical Express Bus…liking it so far!
Our vacation was a whirlwind that started on a not-so-great note: The airlines lost our checked bags when we changed planes in Austin. The Cast Member at our Disney Resort hotel was extremely helpful when we realized the luggage had not been delivered as expected. They did their best to track it down and discovered our bags were still sitting at the airport in Texas! We had no luggage until the following evening. Thank goodness I’d brought a carry-on with a change of clothes. My mom and brother were not so lucky; they had nothing! It was nearly 11 pm by the time we realized that we wouldn’t have our luggage. We didn’t have hairbrushes or toothbrushes and ended up sleeping in our clothes.
Mistake #1: I didn’t pack all of my essentials in the carry-on bag. I had to wear my glasses into the Park because I’d put my contact lenses in my checked bag. For my very first visit to the Magic Kingdom my hair is unkept and I hadn’t brushed my teeth in 24 hours…yuck, not the impression I was trying to make!
Don’t Take a Vacation from Checking Email
I was attending the Traveling Mom Writers Retreat so I spent days in the conference while my family was at the Parks. We stayed at the Coronado Springs Resort for three nights and moved to the Port Orleans Riverside for the final evening. I was checking email on my phone when I could but there was an overwhelming amount to weed through. When I received an email from the Disney Resort Hotel I disregarded it, assuming it was an invoice for our hotel stay. I read the headline, filed it into my “Travel Paperwork” folder and didn’t even open it.
Mistake #2: Read your emails. It may contain important information related to your visit. This is foreshadowing for what’s to come!
Don’t Assume You Know the Process
We headed out to Epcot for our final morning and returned to the Resort two hours before our flight. I figured in an hour for the return drive back to the airport and we’d be fine! I assumed that we would just show up at the Magical Express Bus pick-up location and hop on board for our ride back to the airport.
Mistake #3: NEVER assume! Always clarify details with a Disney Cast Member. They are all easy to work with and helpful in offering direction.
Being a ‘Flight Risk’
When we got to the bus door expecting to board, the driver asked for our reservation paperwork. “What reservation paperwork?” I asked. He informed me that I should have received some paperwork on our hotel front door with instruction on how to make a reservation for the Magical Express Bus. Uh…no we didn’t. I’m still not sure how that happened. Perhaps because we switched hotels and the system didn’t register that we were the same guests? Perhaps because our trip was booked so late and the Magic Bands were distributed at the hotel when we arrived? I’ll never know, but in any case we had no clue about any paperwork.
The driver asked us what time our flight was leaving. When I told him, he said there was no way he could get us on bus. He was already booked and called us a “flight risk.” He had two other resorts to pick up and we’d have to take a cab to get to the airport because the bus we should have been on an HOUR ago was already long gone. Oh boy…
Mistake #4: The Magical Express bus is handy but nobody said it was fast. Recommendations are that you arrange Magical Express bus pick-up three hours before your domestic flight is expected to leave, four hours for international flights.
My $80 Mistake
After apologizing profusely to my mom and brother for the big time error, we requested a cab. One arrived within five minutes and we were quickly on the road. Eighty dollars later we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.
I felt ridiculous for not actually researching and just assuming how the process worked in regards to the Magical Express Bus. Looking back it makes perfect sense that they would need reservations for those returning to the airport so they could make sure they had space. It was just one of those (very big) details that I simply overlooked.
And that would be Mistake #5: Don’t skim over any details in regards to your vacation. Make sure you have properly researched and understand how things operate. And if you don’t know, never be afraid to ask. It’s so easy to get swept up in the Disney “magic” and not plan or research, which is what happened in my case.
Any guesses as to what was in that email I received on my final day? Yep, you guessed it. It was the instructions on booking reservations for your Magical Express Bus return to the airport. I didn’t get the paperwork at our hotel room door, but the information was emailed to me. I didn’t even know what was in the email until I opened it up after we returned home.
So those are my mistakes, which added up to $80. Live and learn, I’ll never make that mistake again. And hopefully now after reading this, you won’t make the mistake either. Knowing how the process truly works without assuming would have saved us a lot of headache (and 80 bucks!) That would have been way more magical all around.
Have you ever made an expensive mistake on vacation? Share with us in the comment section below.