Disney’s Magical Express is a service that provides free bus transportation to and from Orlando International Airport and Disney’s resort hotels, for guests staying at those hotels. While the word “FREE” always sounds good, there may be some situations where using Magical Express does not make sense. There are also some tips and tricks that can make your Magical Express experience better if you do choose to use it. Here’s what you need to know.
Who can use Disney’s Magical Express?
Registered guests of Disney-owned hotels are eligible for Magical Express Service. These hotels are:
- Art of Animation
- All-Star Movies, Music, & Sports
- Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, Jambo & Kidani
- Beach Club & Villas
- BoardWalk & Villas
- Fort Wilderness Cabins & Campgrounds
- Caribbean Beach
- Contemporary & Bay Lake Tower Villas
- Coronado Springs
- Grand Floridian
- Old Key West
- Pop Century
- Port Orleans French Quarter & Riverside
- Saratoga Springs
- Wilderness Lodge & Villas
- Yacht Club
But I’m staying at the Swan! Isn’t that on Disney property? Don’t I qualify for Magical Express?
Sorry, no. While the Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, and a few Downtown Disney area hotels are quite close to the action, only guests staying at the hotels actually owned by Disney qualify for free Magical Express transportation.
If you’re considering staying at the Swan/Dolphin/etc., you may want to factor the lack of Magical Express service into your decision process. The lack of ME means that staying at these resorts will automatically add a rental car fee (and a resort parking fee) or cab or shuttle fare to the cost of your vacation.
I’m flying into Sanford Airport. Can I get Magical Express from there?
No, there is only free Magical Express transportation from Orlando International (MCO).
How do I set up my Magical Express ride?
When you make your Disney hotel reservation, you will be asked if you want to use Magic Express. Say yes. To make a Magical Express booking, you’ll need to provide your flight information and resort confirmation number.
What if I don’t know my flight information yet?
No worries. Magical Express can be arranged at any point prior to your trip by calling 866-599-0951. You can also add flight information to your itinerary by visiting www.disneyworld.com/mydisneyvacation.
I booked my Disney stay through a travel aggregator (Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity) that never asked me if I wanted to use Magical Express. Can I still use it?
Yes. As long as you have a reservation at a Disney hotel on the list above, then you can use ME. Call 866-599-0951 to set this up. Again, have your resort confirmation number and flight information available when you call.
What do I do if my flight information changes after I’ve given the information to Magical Express?
If the airline has tinkered with your arrival/departure time by a few minutes, don’t worry about it. If there has been a substantial change, then call Magical Express to let them know. You should also do this if anything happens at the last minute, such as a significant weather delay or you miss your flight. If you’re in a tizzy at the airport (status quo for me) and forget to call to update Magical Express about a delay, don’t stress. Just get to Orlando, and they’ll work with you at the Magical Express Welcome Desk to get you to your resort as quickly as possible.
Will I get anything in the mail about my Magical Express booking?
If you reside in the US or Canada, then yes. If you make your Magical Express booking more than about a month in advance, then you will get an envelope in the mail that includes a Magical Express voucher booklet and yellow ME luggage tags.
What are the vouchers for?
The vouchers basically function as your Magical Express ticket. When you arrive at the Magical Express area at the airport, they will scan your voucher and point you to the correct bus waiting area.
I lost my vouchers. Help!
Stay calm. There are lots of friendly folks at the Magical Express desk. If you don’t have vouchers for any reason (you lost them, you arranged for ME service on short notice, etc.), just let them know at the desk. They can look up your room reservation and print you new vouchers. Assuming that there’s no line at the desk, this only takes two or three minutes.
I only have carry-on bags. Do I need the yellow luggage tags?
Nope. Feel free to toss them in the trash. They also make a festive alternative to tape when wrapping packages.
I will have checked luggage. What do I do with the tags?
That depends. Do you want Disney to deliver them directly to your hotel room for you? Or do want to pick up your bags yourself, taking them with you on the bus?
Disney will bring my bags from the airport to my room? Cool! What do I do?
If this is your preference, place the yellow bag tags on your luggage before you surrender them at your origination airport. Say goodbye to your bags, because you won’t see them for for a looong time.
What do you mean I won’t see my bags for a long time?
Disney states that bags are typically delivered to your room three hours after your plane arrives at MCO. Anecdotal evidence suggests that waits of up to five hours are not atypical. If you do plan to have Disney deliver your bags to your room, you should be sure to stock your carry-on items with anything you might need for the better part of day. This may mean a change of clothes, toiletries, and baby gear. You should always keep medications, electronics, and trip documentation with you in your carry-ons.
Disney only sent me one yellow luggage tag, but I have two bags. What do I do?
Call Magical Express, and they’ll mail you another one.
I made my Disney booking at the last minute and there was no time for Disney to send me luggage tags. What do I do?
Honestly, the easiest thing is for you to retrieve your bags at the airport yourself and bring them with you to the Magical Express bus. The WDW website states that you can just leave your bags, go to the ME desk and describe your bags, and they’ll find them and bring them to the hotel for you. I’ve heard it works, but the entire concept just makes me nervous.
I’ve decided I’d rather not wait for Disney to deliver my bags. What do I do?
If you have checked luggage, you’re always welcome to bring your bags with you on the bus to your resort. In this case, do NOT put the yellow tags on your bags. If the airport baggage handlers see the yellow tags, they will pull them for sorting behind the scenes. With yellow tags, your bags will never make it out to the pick-up carousel at baggage claim.
Once you’ve grabbed your bags, wheel them with you over to the Magical Express check-in area.
I’m flying to Orlando from outside the USA. Does that impact my ability to use Magical Express?
From the Walt Disney World website: “If the Orlando International Airport is your first point of entry into the United States, please follow the U.S. Customs & Border Protection process and claim your luggage upon disembarking the airplane. Once you have completed this process you will give your luggage back to the airport officials and proceed to the Disney’s Magical Express Welcome Center on B side, Level 1. Disney’s Magical Express service will recollect your luggage and deliver it directly to your Walt Disney World hotel room within 4 hours after you check in at the resort. For international Guests arriving after 10:00 p.m., please retain your luggage with you or pick it up in the baggage claim area and then proceed to the Disney’s Magical Express Welcome Center. Your luggage will accompany you on the motorcoach. If you have already completed the U.S. Customs & Border Protection process in another U.S. city, proceed directly to the Disney’s Magical Express Welcome Center on B side, Level 1. For airport arrivals after 10:00 p.m., collect your luggage for transport on the motorcoach.”
You’ll also notice that I mentioned above that only US and Canadian guests will receive vouchers and tags in the mail. If this applies to you, you are still eligible for Magical Express service, you’ll just have to stop at the Magical Express desk to get vouchers when you arrive.
Where is the Magical Express check-in area?
Magical Express is on Level 1, below the B side baggage claim area. Follow the signs to baggage claim B, then take the elevator or escalator down. Follow the signs from there.
If you’re going directly to Magical Express from your flight, or if you’re collecting your own bags from Baggage Claim B, then you’re in good shape. If you’re collecting your own bags from Baggage Claim A, then you’ll have to go back to the main terminal and cross over to the B side.
Does Magical Express have specific hours?
The Magical Express buses run 24 hours a day. Whatever time you arrive at MCO, there will be a bus to take you to your hotel. This applies to flights that are running on time and to those that arrive late due to weather or other delays.
While the bus service runs all day, the luggage delivery service does not. If your flight arrives after 10:00 p.m., because it was scheduled to do so or because of a delay, then you must collect your luggage from the carousel on your own and bring them with you to the Magical Express check-in desk.
OK, I’ve made it to the Magical Express check-in area. What do I do?
If you have your vouchers, proceed to the line for your hotel. If you don’t have vouchers, stop at the desk, and they’ll hook you up.
How long will I be waiting for the bus?
In my experience, the wait could be anything from nothing to about 20 minutes. It depends on when the last bus left for your resort area.
OK, my bus is ready. What do I do with my bags?
Just give whatever bags you have, checked or large carry-on, to the driver, and he’ll load them under the bus for you.
What’s the inside of the bus like?
These are coach-style buses. The seats are plush velour, with armrests and footrests, two by two down the aisle.
Is there entertainment on the bus?
Once you get off airport grounds, a propaganda video will play on the overhead TV monitors. It’s fairly innocuous, showing you many of the activities available at Walt Disney World. Expect Disney fans to cheer when their favorite attractions appears on screen.
I have a small child. Do I need a car seat?
No. Florida law does not require car seats on buses, nor is there any mechanism to attach a car seat to the bus seat. Your baby can sit on the seat next to you or on your lap. If you happen to have a car seat with you, your driver can stow it underneath with the luggage.
I’m uncomfortable not having my child in a car seat. What do I do?
If this is a sticking point with you, then you may want to consider alternate transportation to your resort.
Is there a bathroom on the bus?
Yes, most Magical Express buses do have a small lavatory at the rear of the vehicle.
Is the Magical Express bus handicapped accessible?
Guests traveling in wheelchairs can be accommodated. This service must be requested in advance.
Can I bring my dog with me on the Magical Express bus?
Only service animals are allowed on board.
I want to rent a car for my trip, but I’d like to save time by having Disney deliver my bags to my room. Can I do this?
Unfortunately not. This is called a “luggage only transfer” and it is not allowed.
Members of my party are flying to Orlando on several flights arriving at different times. Can we use Magical Express?
Yes. Make sure their names are on your room reservation and that you give ME their flight information. There’s no need for you to travel all together. Each person can take a bus independently upon arrival.
I want to start my fun right away. Can Magical Express drop me at a theme park rather than my hotel?
Nope. They’ll only drop you at your resort.
I’m arriving in Orlando several days before my Disney room reservation starts. We’re renting a car and going to the beach. After I return the car back at the airport, can I take Magical Express to my resort?
This one is tricky. The short answer is probably yes. Here comes the long answer …
The Magical Express paperwork states, “Complimentary transportation services provided by Disney’s Magical Express are associated with a Walt Disney World room reservation and include a one way ground transfer between the Orlando International Airport and your Disney hotel on the day that you check in and a one-way ground transfer from your Disney hotel to the Orlando International Airport on the day you check out.” You’ll note that there is no language here about a need to FLY to the Airport. As long as you’re going to your resort on your check-in day, then it really doesn’t matter how you got to the airport itself.
However, Magical Express does want to know approximately what time you’ll need transportation, so they can make sure to have enough buses available. The only real mechanism they have to note is is via a flight number. Since you’re driving to the airport, you won’t have a flight number. This may fluster some ME reservationists. A good workaround is to find a flight that arrives at approximately the time you want to go to your hotel. Simply give that flight number to the reservationist as a placeholder.
Any other workarounds?
Well, you could just show up at the Magical Express desk and ask for a ride. I’ve done this myself twice. As long as you have a valid Disney resort reservation number and there’s room on the bus, they’ll transport you.
Members of my party are arriving on different days. Can they be accommodated on Magical Express?
Probably, just call ME and let them know what you need. I’ve had WDW trips several times where my husband either arrived a few days after me or left a few days before me (pesky business meetings). In every case, ME had no problem putting him on a bus.
I’m on the Magical Express bus. How long will it take me to get to my hotel?
The actual ride from the airport to Disney property takes about half an hour. Each ME bus may transport guests from the airport to three or four different hotels. So, if your hotel is the first stop, then it will take about 35 minutes to get from the airport to the resort. If you’re the fourth stop, then it may take up to about 75 minutes once you leave the airport.
That seems like a long time. Would it be any faster if I rented a car or took a cab?
Well, there are waits involved with those forms of transportation too, but yes, you might save a few minutes if you skipped ME. On the other hand, Magical Express is free. A cab one-way from MCO to a Disney hotel will be at least $70.
Will not having a car at Walt Disney World have any impact on my vacation?
If you ask 10 people, you’re going to get 10 completely different answers about this. I used to be VERY anti car rental. Now I’m more in the “it depends on where you’re staying” camp. You can read some related Touring Plans blog posts on the topic by Ryan, Brian, Evan, Ryan again, and me.
One thing to consider is that even if you take Magical Express to your hotel and forgo a car rental, your vacation may be substantially improved if you budget for a few internal cab rides while you’re at Walt Disney World, particularly if you’ll be dining at hotels that are not your own.
Should I tip my Magical Express driver?
Here’s a handy guide to all things tipping at Walt Disney World.
What’s the process for taking Magical Express home? How do I know when/where to get the bus?
The day before you depart, you’ll get a note either on your room door handle or under your door telling you what time the Magical Express bus will pick you up. The pick up spot is always right out side the hotel main entrance. The note you will receive includes a bar code that will function as your bus ticket/voucher.
Is there any way to know further in advance what time my bus will be leaving?
For domestic flights, Magical Express pickup is generally about three hours prior to your flight departure time. This may be four hours in advance for international flights. If you’d like to know the exact time of your ME bus, you can call ME directly or stop by the concierge desk at your resort, and they’ll be happy to let you know.
I want to get in the most park time possible. Can Magical Express pick me up at a theme park?
No, sorry. Magical Express will only pick you up at your own hotel.
Can they pick me up from another resort?
Again, no. Magical Express pick-up is only from your own hotel.
Members of my party are taking different flights home. Can we be accommodated on Magical Express?
Generally yes. As I mentioned, there have been several times when my husband has left our vacation a few days early or left earlier in the day than the rest of the family. Magical Express was always able to accommodate him. Give Magical Express a call to explain your situation and they will be likely to help.
My flight is at the crack of dawn. Can I really use Magical Express to get to the airport?
Yes, really. My parents once had a 6:00 a.m. departure from MCO. The Magical Express bus picked them up at their hotel at 3:00 a.m. I am still glad that I wasn’t on the flight with them.
My flight is late in the evening. Check out time is at 11:00 a.m. I’d like to go enjoy some more time in the parks, but what do I do with my bags?
You have two options here. First, if you only have carry-on luggage, you can leave everything will the Bell Services desk at your hotel. They will tag your bags, give you a receipt, and then store your luggage in a secure location. Return to your hotel about 15 minutes before your scheduled Magical Express pick-up time, hand the clerk at the desk your receipt, and you’ll have your bags back in a jiffy.
Is this really secure? I have my laptop in there.
If you tell the Bell desk that you have valuables in your luggage, they will put it in an even more securely locked compartment. However, I will tell you that I have given my bags to Bell Services for storage dozens of times, even with unzippered bags containing cameras, laptops, iPods, and iPads. I’ve never had a problem with anything going missing. Perhaps I’m just a trusting soul, but I feel like my bags are quite safe with Bell Services.
I have lots of checked luggage. Do I leave that with Bell Services too?
You can if you’d like to. Under this scenario, you’ll pick up your bags a few minutes before your ME departure. Then when the bus arrives, the driver will store them under the bus for your trip to the airport. At the airport, you’ll unload them and bring them yourself to the airline check-in desk.
That seems complicated. Any alternatives?
It’s actually not too complicated, but it does involve lots of carting your stuff around. If you’d prefer not to do this, there is an alternative called Resort Airline Check-In.
Resort Airline Check-In? What’s that?
Basically think of this as airport curbside check-in, but it’s right at your hotel. Bring your bags to RAC, and they will tag them with your airline’s bag tag and deliver them directly to your airport and then to the plane. You drop your bags here, and you won’t see them again until you claim them at your destination airport.
Sounds scary, does it work?
Yes! Yes! Yes! This is wonderful service. I’ve used it many times myself without a hitch. You don’t even have to be using Magical Express to take advantage of Resort Airline Check-In. Even if you’re driving, this is a way to get your bags to the airport without you having to carry them. RAC will even print you out a boarding pass. This allows you to proceed directly to your gate. Yay!
So everyone can use Resort Airline Check-In?
Not every airline participates in this service. Currently (July 2012) the approved airlines are: AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways. This list changes with some regularity. You may want to stop by early during your visit to confirm that your airline participates. If you are traveling internationally or if your airline does not participate, you can leave all your luggage with Bell Services, and they’ll store it for you until it’s time to leave.
Does Resort Airline Check-In have specific hours?
Yes, RAC is generally open from 5:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Bags must be dropped at RAC no earlier than 12 hours prior to your flight and no later than 3 hours prior to your flight. This means that guests booked on flights departing prior to 8:00 a.m. may not use Resort Airline Check-In.
My airline has a checked luggage fee. How do I pay that?
From the Walt Disney World website: “Fees vary by airline. Guests should inquire with their specific airline as to what fees might apply. Guests must contact Baggage Airline Guest Services at (407) 284-1231 to pay any airline fees in advance of visiting the Resort Airline Check-In desk, which will have a record of the payment transaction. Airline luggage fees cannot be collected at the check-in desk.”
OK, I’ve got the idea now, but I’d like you to break it down for me. What are the good points about using Magical Express?
The biggest item in the Magical Express pro column is that it’s free. It’s also easy to use and quite reliable.
What about the negatives?
Well, it may take you a bit more time getting to and from the airport than it would if you were transporting yourself. Also, once you’re “on campus” at Walt Disney World, you’re stuck there without a car. For many guests, this will not matter, but others who want to visit other area attractions or go shopping off site, this can be a problem.
And once you’re at WDW without a car, you’re then at the mercy of the internal Disney transportation system, which has many pros and cons of its own to consider.
What’s your personal thinking on Magical Express. Do you use it?
As with all Disney questions, the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on what rental car rates are, who I’m traveling with, where I’m staying at WDW, how long I’ll be there, what else I’m doing on my vacation, and a host of other factors. But yes, I do often use Magical Express and have been favorably impressed with the service.
So fellow travelers, what else should I have included? What have your Magical Express experiences been like? Let us know in the comments below.