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Lani Teshima, editor

Solar Express

Disney's new “Magic Express” takes pain out of lugging luggage

Tuesday, February 1, 2005
by Lani Teshima, editor

In its never-ending quest to improve guest experience—and make it tougher on the competition, Walt Disney World (WDW) this month introduced a new transportation program that shuttles hotel guests from the airport to their on-property resorts (and back) for free.

As we reported in our January 3 Walt Disney World update, Disney's new “Disney's Magical Express” transportation program eases travel woes for those who are staying at official WDW on-property resorts. If you are staying on-property, beginning May 5 and running through the end of 2006 during Disney's “Happiest Celebration on Earth” event (to commemorate Disneyland's 50th anniversary), you can:

  1. Check your luggage in with your airlines at your originating airport
  2. Get a free motor coach ride from Orlando International Airport to your WDW on-property resort
  3. Have your check-in luggage show up at your on-property hotel

The convenience doesn't end there. When you are ready to go home, not only do you get a free ride back to Orlando International, but you can also check your luggage in at your Disney hotel and get your boarding pass for your return flights printed there as well. This means you can bypass the headache of waiting in line to check in altogether (and the only remaining queue being the one to go through security).

There are some catches, however. Because Magical Express is available only for Disney-owned resorts, you are out of luck if you are staying in the Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green or the Hotel Plaza Boulevard hotels. In addition, Disney Vacation Clubs at Vero Beach and Hilton Head are not included (but the other Walt Disney World DVC resorts are).

In addition, currently the only airlines that have signed up for this program are American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Song, United Airlines and Ted. For travelers flying on these airlines, they can catch the shuttle from Orlando International, as well as take the shuttle back at the end of their trip. This means that those traveling on other carriers such as U.S. Airways and Northwest, as well as value airlines such as jet Blue, Southwest, Air Tran, Midway, and Spirit, as well as international carriers, can only take advantage of the shuttle pick-up service from Orlando International to their respective on-property hotels.

If you plan to be visiting Walt Disney World and staying on-property during the resort's Happiest Celebration on Earth period and want to take advantage of Magical Express, you do need to make your reservations in advance (that is, don't expect to show up at Orlando International looking for a free ride). You will need to phone the Disney Reservation Center 407-W-DISNEY (407-934-7639) or a travel agent beginning January 2, with at least 10 days' notice—preferably 21 days beforehand (don't forget service commences May 5). You receive special tags that you must put on your luggage by the time you check in at your home airport.

You can still use the Magical Express service if you booked your own air transportation, or didn't use Walt Disney Travel services to arrange any portion of your trip. The only requirement is that you be an on-property resort guest.

There are some obvious advantages to using Magical Express. On the day of your departure, you can send your luggage off and get your boarding pass at the same time you check out of your room, making it easier for you to enjoy your last day in the parks. For some, this may mean changing their return itinerary so that they can fly later in the day and making better use of their last day.

In addition to travel convenience, this means a great savings for the traveler. Ground transportation has always been an additional cost in a WDW vacation budget, ranging from $29 per adult on a Mears Shuttle, $80-$90 round trip on vans and taxi cabs, and $100+ for curbside limo services. With this program, a family of four can easily save $80 on transportation to and from WDW.

Magical Express is a great program if you only expect to stay on Disney property, and use the Disney monorail and bus system while on property. As long as you plan your day to include the extra time it takes to use the Disney transportation system, Magical Express should be fine for you.

If you plan on going off-property to visit non-Disney attractions, you expect to visit different hotels for meals, or you have access issues that make it difficult to use the Disney buses, you might want to consider passing up on Magical Express and renting a car. For example, if you are staying at All-Star Movies Resort and you want to dine at Boma, a quick drive in a rental car is considerably more convenient (and timesaving) than catching a Disney bus to Downtown Disney, then transferring for an Animal Kingdom Lodge bus (this would become more inconvenient when you are ready to go back to your hotel room late at night).

One word of caution: Because you will not see your luggage from the time you get to your airport, to when you check in at your WDW hotel, make sure you do not pack anything in your check-ins that you might need access to during your trip. Make sure to put in your carry-on your valuables (money, credit cards, passports, traveler's checks, jewelry), prescriptions, medications, basic toiletries (such as toothbrush and toothpaste), glasses, contact lens care items, as well as a change of clothing should your luggage end up in New Orleans instead of Port Orleans French Quarter.

Approximately three weeks before your trip, either you or your travel agent receive an airport transportation booklet containing general information and luggage tags. You need to affix these tags to the luggage you plan to check in for your flight to Orlando.

When you get to Orlando International, proceed to the Disney Welcome Center located on Level One A. There, you get to board a motor coach that takes you directly to the on-property resorts. Meanwhile, a Disney representative waits for your luggage to come out on the luggage carousel and transported separately to your hotel room.

Perhaps you arrive to Orlando with just a carry-on bag (which is my recommended method of travel; see my Travelite FAQ Web site for how-tos), but you buy up a storm and need to check in a new suitcase on your return.

For your return back to the airport, the motor coach picks you up two hours before your flight departure, and again, your luggage is checked in and you don't see it until you get to your final destination—your home airport. And as long as you are a Disney on-property resort guest, you can book return transportation to the airport by making arrangements with the Magical Express Guest Service desk before your day of departure.

For others, however, this will make for a particularly gloomy 18 months. Those who are negatively impacted will include everyone from airline curbside bellmen (who will no longer get your tips for carrying your luggage at Orlando International) and car rental companies and shuttle services, to neighboring Orlando theme parks. Travelers opting to take advantage of Magical Express instead of renting a car, for example, will decrease the numbers visiting Sea World, Universal Studios, and other parks. The one company to have come up roses with the program is Mears Shuttle, which Disney has contracted with for Magical Express.

This does pose some questions. What happens if the airlines lose your luggage? Is Disney responsible for tracking the suitcases for you? How will you know if your luggage was misplaced by the airlines or by Disney? What happens if Disney damages your luggage? In a perfect world, none of these problems will happen. If you do experience any difficulties, we would love to hear from you about what happened, and how it was resolved.

Some specifics of Magical Express:

Wheelchair access: Although Disney does not provide a wheelchair upon your arrival, the motor coaches can accommodate wheelchairs—as long as you indicate this need at the time you book your Magical Express request.

International travelers: If Orlando is your first port of entry, you need to pick up your luggage and proceed through customs first, at which time you can hand your luggage off to Disney Welcome Center, and you can still catch your shuttle.

Resort airline check-in desks: Each resort has a dedicated check-in desk located in or near the lobby or outside the entrance to the resort so you can easily check your luggage in for your return back to the airport. These desks are open from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. daily. If your flight out of Orlando outside this window, you need to make arrangements while the desks are still open.

No check-in luggage? You can still use the shuttle service—assuming you've made the appropriate arrangements—even if you just have carry-ons. On the other hand, you cannot send your luggage off on a return shuttle on its own; unlike the inbound ride, where the luggage is brought in on a separate vehicle whenever it becomes available from the luggage carousel, your check-ins get stowed on the motor coach you use to get back to the airport.

What if your flight is delayed? The Disney Welcome Center staff at the airport keep tabs on whom to expect on the various flights, and will know to wait for you if your flight is delayed!

What if you land from a Disney cruise at Port Canaveral? As long as you purchase a seven-night land-and-sea package including ground transfers from Orlando International Airport, you can use Magical Express. Unfortunately, that means that if you booked your own cruise and a hotel reservation on-property on your own, Magical Express will not pick you up at Port Canaveral.

For more information, see the official press release at the Walt Disney World Web site (link).

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.


Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.

A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.

When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.

In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex—our MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinator—attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).


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