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 bag are 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 Disney Magical Express process really works–and how to save yourself some money.
What is Disney’s Magical Express?
Disney’s Magical Express is complimentary motor coach transportation offered to Disney World resort guests. You’ll be given a free ride from Orlando International Airport to select Walt Disney World Resort hotels. In addition to the complimentary ride, guests using the Magical Express service can bypass baggage claim. Bags that were appropriately labeled (Disney supplies the Express luggage tags) will be delivered directly to your hotel room. At the end of your trip, you’ll ride Disney’s Magical Express back to the airport. Sounds like Disney magic, right?
Walt Disney World is 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 many overnight visits to the Disneyland Resort. Before my first Walt Disney World vacation, my Disney trips had never before included a flight. We’d always drive straight there in our own car and park in the lot.
But as I found out, Disney World is an entirely new world! I was intrigued by the Magical Express Bus and all of the perks. It really does sound magical! However my first trip cross-country to Walt Disney World included several mistakes that I’m sharing here to hopefully help you avoid them.
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Do Your Pre-Vacation Research
In preparation for my first visit to Walt Disney World, I read up about what I could expect. I’d researched restaurants, height requirements for the rides that would accommodate my preschooler and the details of our Disney hotel, the Coronado Springs Resort.
My mind was whirling with all the new knowledge about Magic Bands, FastPass+ and My Disney Experience. The Walt Disney World Transportation System of buses, boats and monorail is a wonderful way of getting around the enormous resort as well as to and from the theme parks.
I knew a little about how the Magical Express Bus worked, or so I thought. Turns out, this Disney-loving Traveling Mom had lots to learn and I made a costly mistake at the end of my vacation.
Scheduling Disney’s Magical Express
Your process of booking Disney’s Magical Express begins at home. If working with a travel agent, they will be able to work this out for you. No travel agent? You’ll need to input your flight information yourself but it’s a fairly easy process.
Reserving Disney’s Magical Express
Guests staying at one of the participating Disney World resort hotels can call (407) 939-1936 (from the U.S. or Canada) and give flight information for the agent to schedule transportation.
#1 TravelingMom Tip – Avoid this Mistake: What happens if your flight is late? Fortunately the Magical Express runs 24 hours a day! However, luggage service stops after 10:00 p.m. If you arrive to the airport between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., you’ll need to claim your luggage yourself and take it with you to the Magical Express bus.
Which Disney Resort Guests CAN’T Use Magical Express?
If you’re staying at Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel or the military-guest only hotel, Shades of Green, Disney’s Magical Express is not offered.
No MagicBands at Check In? Not a Problem.
My first trip to Walt Disney World was planned in less than two weeks. A very quick turnaround when many guests are booking their trips 6-12 months out and making Advance Dining Reservations well ahead of their vacations. Because of this quick booking, MagicBands and travel paperwork weren’t delivered to our house.
Would not having a MagicBand be a problem? Fortunately Disney Parks have a workaround for guests without them. I was instructed in an email to visit the Disney desk at the Orlando airport upon our arrival. The Disney desk is located at MCO in the ground transportation area in Terminal B, Level 1.
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. For guests traveling with MagicBands, there is a location to quickly scan in and bypass the resort airline check-in.
The process was quick; 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 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!
My mom and brother had checked one joint bag back in San Diego and I had checked my own bag as well. Using Disney’s Magical Express, our checked luggage would be handled by Disney, 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!
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. Guest services 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.
#2 TMOM Tip – Avoid this Mistake: Your luggage will travel separately to your Disney Resort hotel. Disney states that it may arrive up to 3 hours later, but I’ve found this might be even longer. It is highly recommended to pack essentials in a carry-on bag. On subsequent Disney World vacations, my luggage has taken longer than 3 hours and several times I’ve gone to bed only to be awakened by the porter bringing my bags.
Don’t Take a Vacation from Checking Email
On my first Disney World trip, 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, moved it into my “Travel Paperwork” folder and didn’t even open it.
#3 TravelingMom Tip – Avoid this Mistake: 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.
#4 TravelingMom Tip – Avoid this Mistake: 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…
#5 TravelingMom Tip – Avoid this Mistake: 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 #6: 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.
Familiarize Yourself With the Process
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 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.
When is the Magical Express Best?
This mistake was made before ride-sharing services like Lyft or Uber were permitted on Disney World property. Nowadays if I needed a ride to and from the Orlando International Airport, it would cost me only around $25 one way.
Lyft and Uber can also be used to get around the resort. Guests can also use the free resort transportation services or schedule a Minnie Van (through the Lyft app) that offers up to three car seats and can hold up to 6 people. Minnie Vans not only drive guests around the resorts, they can also be scheduled for airport transportation by calling 407-WDW-PLAY (there’s an additional fee for all of these).
Disney’s Magical Express is an excellent option but it’s not the best for every Disney World guest. Here are some tips on when it’s best and when it’s a good idea to explore other options.
- Traveling to Disney World with a baby? I loved using Magical Express when I had my infant with me on a trip. Car seats are not required (or even allowed) on the bus so it’s one less thing I have to lug around with me. The driver stowed my stroller for me under the bus.
- Pick up time for Magical Express bus rides back to the airport are three-hours before your flight. However it only takes about 30-45 minutes to drive to the airport. All Disney hotel guests can use airline check-in service to get bags to the airport and print boarding passes with bell services. This really makes the process smooth and minimizes line waiting at the airport.
- For guests who are only visiting the Disney theme parks, Disney Springs and Disney water parks, using the Magical Express bus to get from the airport to the resort is perfect.
When Magical Express Doesn’t Work
- Visiting more than Disney theme parks on your trip? If you’re staying at a Disney World resort hotel but also planning to visit nearby Orlando attractions like Universal Studios Orlando , renting a car or using local ride share services is the best option.
- Not flying into MCO? If you’re using another airport, Disney’s Magical Express doesn’t offer pick up or drop off service. Booking an airport shuttle through Mears transportation service is something to look into.
- Have TSA PreCheck? Security lines at MCO were an hour long on our last visit so we were grateful for the extra time at the airport. Those who have TSA PreCheck may decide not to get to the airport as early as the Magical Express drops off. Opt to get to the airport via ride share and you’ll be able to spend more time at the Disney resort.
Have you ever made an expensive mistake on vacation? Share with us in the comment section below.