Disney’s Magical Express was discontinued at the start of 2022. That means if you’re visiting Disney World this year, you’ll need to figure out another way to get to and from your Disney World hotel and the Orlando International Airport.
You could use a rideshare service, a taxi, a rental car, a private car service, or several other options. Two BIG options you might also be considering are Mears Connect and The Sunshine Flyer. These are 2 transportation services that are essentially meant to replace the Magical Express. But just how do these replacement services compare to one another? We’re breaking down all of the information you need to know right here!
A Quick Overview
First, let’s do a quick overview of these services. Mears Connect is a new service that (as we noted above) is basically meant to replace Disney’s Magical Express. Mears Connect will transport gets to and from Orlando International Airport and their Disney World Resort Hotels. Mears Connect is operated by Mears, the same company that has been operating Disney’s Magical Express for many years.
Mears Connect offers a standard, shared service with monitored wait times and limited stops, as well as an express service that is considered to be a direct service.
The Sunshine Flyer is a new service that is also set to transport guests to and from the airport and their Disney World hotels. It is created by Transportation Management Services, Inc. (“TMS”). TMS has organized transportation for several large events in the U.S. and abroad. The Sunshine Flyer is themed and will offer a shared transportation service.
Aright, let’s get into more details about both of these offerings.
Mears Connect started service on January 1st, 2022.
The Sunshine Flyer began transporting guests on February 1st, 2022.
Reservation Date & Process
Reservations for both Mears Connect and The Sunshine Flyer are currently available to book for future trips that begin within their respective start dates.
For Mears Connect, the website indicates that you can book once you have your flight details confirmed. Mears Connect will be tracking your flight and communicating with you when you arrive, which is why they require this information. Your departure pick-up time from your resort is also based on your departure flight’s information.
To reserve, you’ll visit the Mears Connect page, select the service you want…
…input the required information about your drop-off and pick-up location, your flight details, and your party. Then you’ll make the payment required.
The Mears Connect sites notes that for standard service, the return transportation will be scheduled to meet you at your resort up to 3 hours in advance of your domestic flight’s departure time. You’ll get a confirmation email and 24 hour notification with more details. Express service will be scheduled to meet you at the hotel 2 hours before the departure time for a domestic flight.
Reservations for The Sunshine Flyer must be made at least 4 days ahead of your arrival. To book, you’ll visit The Sunshine Flyer website and put in the required information about where you want to be picked up, where you’ll be headed, and the dates of your trip.
Airline and flight information is optional.
You’ll select an outbound trip. There are a variety of different time slots to pick from.
It specifies that you should select the hour in which your flight arrives and that your exact departure time will depend on when you arrive.
You will also then select a return time from the times provided.
It notes that you should select the hour in which your flight departs, but that your pickup time will actually have you arriving at the airport 2 hours before domestic flights. Another section of the website notes that the actual pick-up time for your return trip to the airport could be around 3 hours prior to your scheduled departure time for domestic flights. You’ll receive a confirmation email the day before you check out.
The Sunshine Flight also shares that they monitor both inbound and outbound flights to make sure your trip is scheduled property. The next step in the booking process is to review the information and pay.
So it looks like the main difference here is that you select those departure/return times for The Sunshine Flyer, while you are required to put in the flight information for Mears Connect so they can make some of those arrangements.
Where They Go
Both services pick up guests from Orlando International Airport, but what hotels will they drop off at?
Here’s a list of the hotels Mears Connect will service. They do note, however, that the list will expand in 2022. They also note that if your hotel is not on the list, you can pre-schedule a Mears Luxe private car service to get there, or use Mears Taxi. The list essentially includes Disney’s owned and operated hotels as well as some other nearby hotels like Gaylord Palms Resort, B Resort & Spa, Four Seasons Resort Orlando, and more.
The Sunshine Flyer will transport guests to the Disney World Resorts. Here’s a full list of the hotels currently available when selecting the location you want to be taken to/picked up from. From what it looks like, the list is currently limited to just Disney owned-and-operated hotels. The list does not include those Disney Springs hotels or other nearby Orlando hotels.
Of course, keep in mind that these details are subject to change.
Right now, Mears Connect is offering a special introductory rate. Note that this rate is subject to change. If you reserve now and save with this introductory rate, you’ll spend $16 per adult and $13.50 per child 1-way; $32 per adult and $27 per child round trip for standard service.
If you select the express service the cost is $250 for up to 4 passengers, round-trip. Each additional passenger is $55.
For The Sunshine Flyer, the cost is $17 per adult and $12.50 per child round-trip; or $34 per adult and $25 per child round-trip.
The Sunshine Flyer does not offer a separate express/direct service like Mears Connect.
In terms of a pure cost comparison, the Sunshine Flyer is about $2 more expensive for adults when comparing round-trips on standard service.
Car seats are permitted on both Mears Connect and The Sunshine Flyer. From what it looks like, it will be the guest’s responsibility to bring their own car seat if they want to use one.
Note that the Mears Connect site does specifically note that “Florida Law provides that the child restraint [car seats] requirements do not apply to a chauffeur-driven taxi, limousine, sedan, van, bus, motor coach, or other passenger vehicles if the operator and the motor vehicle are hired and used for the transportation of persons for compensation.”
One feature many guests loved about Magical Express was its luggage service. The Mears Connect site notes that they are exploring luggage service options and will send an update if/when it becomes available.
The Sunshine Flyer notes that they’re hoping to launch a luggage service by summer.
So while it appears that neither service will offer luggage services when they start, it’s something to keep an eye on for the future.
Bus Features & Other Details
Both standard and express Mears Connect services can accommodate those in wheelchairs. They also note that their enhanced service will offer real-time electronic communication when you arrive at the airport to help you find them, a QR code to get things started, fun souvenirs when you get to the Mears Connect reception area, digital and interactive entertainment in the reception area, and digital entertainment aboard the coaches.
The Sunshine Flyer
The Sunshine Flyer notes that there are bathrooms on all of their buses, and there will be entertainment available throughout the trip. Their buses will accommodate wheelchairs. Guests will get a QR code to scan once they arrive at Orlando International Airport to “ensure smooth timing and departures to the Resorts.” Perhaps the most unique feature about The Sunshine Flyer is that their buses will be themed around old-fashioned passenger cars and train engines.
They will also have staff dressed as 1920s rail conductors and engineers, and say that their service will let guests “start the magic of their Disney vacation from the moment they step off the plane.”
Direct/Express Transportation & Timing
One big difference is that Mears Connect offers an express service option, which The Sunshine Flyer does not. Mears Connect’s standard service is a shared ride service that will make a limited number of stops. According to Mears Connect, this service will get you on your way to the hotel within 20 minutes of checking in to the reception area.
The express service, on the other hand, is a direct service to your resort and back to the airport (guaranteed first stop) which will have limited to no wait time. Express service is NOT considered a private service though. It may ultimately be a shared service and may be provided in a bus, van, or small vehicle.
The Sunshine Flyer only offers its standard service. Their website notes that guests will not wait more than 20 minutes to board their bus once they enter the “staging area” at the airport. The ride to the resorts on these buses is set up so that the “last stop will not take more than 65 minutes.”
The Sunshine Flyer site notes that they’re using a “dynamic routing software that customizes each day’s transfers based on specific riders.”
The Sunshine Flyer specifies that they have a 72-hour cancellation policy. Guests can get a full refund if canceled 72 hours in advance. Reservations canceled in under 72 hours will then transform into a full credit toward future tickets.
For Mears connect, there is no charge if cancelled or changed more than 24 hours before pick-up time. There is a 100% charge if canceled or changed less than 24 hours before pick-up time.
Both services are located on level 1, ground transportation level, in terminal B at the airport.
And that’s a look at the main comparisons between these 2 services. As 2022 arrives and we get more information about these new methods of transportation, we’ll be sure to share those details with you. Check back with us for all the latest updates.
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Which of these services would you most like to try during a future trip? Tell us in the comments.