Disney’s Magical Express

by Steve Russo, staff writer

Suppose there was a vacation resort somewhere in the world that attracted significant numbers of vacationers throughout the year. This resort is, however, located a fair distance from the nearest airport so the vacationers that fly in are required to absorb the cost of a rental car, taxi, or some other means to travel between the airport and the resort property. The resort announces that it will begin transporting its guests to and from the airport… at no charge! Further, they even arrange for these guests to check baggage in their home city and then forget about it. They’ll retrieve it from the airline, ship it to the hotel and place it in their room… also free of charge. And the vacationers complained. Does this sound far-fetched? Read on.

Since it began service in May 2005, Disney’s Magical Express is arguably the most maligned service ever offered by the House of Mouse. Essentially, Disney is offering to transport you, your traveling companions and your luggage, to and from Orlando International Airport – for free! Yet, many people still look this proverbial gift horse in the mouth. Why?

What is Disney’s Magical Express?

Let’s begin with a brief overview of what Disney’s Magical Express is; and also what it isn’t. First, it’s only available to guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort—and that excludes the on-property, non-Disney resorts (the Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, and Downtown Disney Area resorts). Here’s how it works:

  1. Once you’ve confirmed your flights, contact Disney Reservations (or your travel agent), request Magical Express service and give them your airline information. They send you a packet of instructions including a booklet that contains the bar-coded travel vouchers for each member of your party. They also send you sets (two per traveler) of yellow luggage tags identifying your resort. The idea here is that you would tag each of your checked bags with one of these. On the day of travel, check your bags normally in your home city and fly to Orlando.
  2. After arriving in Orlando, you make your way to the Magical Express counter in the airport, bypassing baggage claim. That’s right. There are some gremlins that work in the bowels of the airport that will be looking for those yellow luggage tags, intercept your luggage and place it in a separate vehicle for transportation to your resort where it will ultimately, and magically (it is Disney’s Magical Express after all), appear in your room. Cool, huh?
  3. From the Magical Express counter, you’re directed into one of several queues (I call them corrals) depending on your resort reservation. After a few minutes, you're directed to a waiting bus and be whisked away (OK, maybe whisked is a bit much) to your resort. Each bus travels to one to four resorts so, depending upon the sequence and the other folks on your bus, you could be the first stop, second, third or fourth. Did I mention it’s free?

Here’s what it isn’t: A service that allows you to check your luggage and receive your airline boarding passes right at your resort on the day of your departure. That service, called “Resort Airline Check-In Service,” is available if you are flying domestically on specific participating airlines. That service is also separate from Disney’s Magical Express. You do not have to participate in Magical Express to utilize the Resort Airline Check-in Service.

What are the arguments?

Some folks are reluctant to entrust their luggage to an unseen baggage handler in the bowels of Orlando International. Well, I could argue that you’ve already entrusted it to the gorillas that work baggage at your home airport but, if you don’t want to trust the luggage handling aspect of Disney’s Magical Express, simply toss out the yellow luggage tags. You will have to retrieve your own bags at Baggage Claim but, other than that, it works pretty much the same way.

Others will argue that their vacation time is too valuable to wait while the bus stops at two or three other hotels. Certainly understandable but remember that Disney’s Magical Express allows you to bypass baggage claim and, possibly, the rental car counter. In most cases, I believe Disney’s Magical Express will have you at your resort check-in desk in roughly the same time as the other modes of transportation.

What about the grocery stop I would make with a rental car or a town car service? The money you save using Disney’s Magical Express should offset the higher prices associated with shopping on-property— unless you purchase a lot of groceries. Let’s do a little math. If you don’t use Magical Express, a town car service will cost approximately $120 including tip. A rental car, with gasoline, will be appreciably more. Will you buy enough YooHoos and Pop-Tarts at Publix to save $120 over buying the same items on property?

Doubtful, in my opinion. As an alternative, you might consider one of the on-line grocery services that will deliver to your resort.
A more difficult objection comes from the rental car bigots. They would sooner pass up a free dinner at Victoria & Albert’s than endure a week of using Disney transportation. Personally, I think the Disney transportation options are fine and I appreciate not having to put up with traffic and discourteous drivers while on vacation. I get enough of that in the real world. However, if you’re one of these folks that absolutely must be in control, by all means, rent that car.

Is Magical Express fool-proof? Certainly not. Scan any of the on-line message boards and you will find stories of bus delays, lost luggage or luggage that wasn’t delivered to the resort room within anyone’s definition of a reasonable timeframe. But similar scans will also yield war stories of fiascoes with rental car companies, town car services, etc. No form of transportation is completely, 100 percent foolproof.

You also need to beware the hyperbole. I was listening to a podcast recently (no, it wasn’t our own MouseStation) when the host, in an effort to demean Magical Express, cited the story of a valued listener that took five hours to reach her resort. Five hours! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, this had to have been the most timid and patient person on the planet. Who among us would wait five hours before:

  • Loudly berating the service and then jumping into a taxi
  • Loudly berating the service and then demanding to see a manager
  • Loudly berating the service and then beating a Magical Express employee with his or her own four-fingered glove
  • All of the above.

According to reports, Disney’s Magical Express transported 2.1 million passengers from the airport last year. That’s 2.1 million! Some quick long division tells me that’s more than 5,000 people per day. It certainly puts those few stories of problems into perspective.

Personal experiences

My personal experiences, having now used Disney’s Magical Express four times, tell me that it is efficient but still a bit inconsistent. Our first use had me standing at the check-in counter of the Boardwalk Resort only 50 minutes after stepping off the plane at Gate 125 of Orlando International Airport—and that included restroom stops at the airport, the shuttle to the main terminal, check-in with Disney’s Magical Express, boarding the bus and a drop-off at the Caribbean Beach Resort before the Boardwalk. That would be hard to beat with any mode of transportation.

On the flip side, my most recent experience included a 5-minute wait at the Disney’s Magical Express check-in counter, another 5-minutes in the "corral" waiting to board a bus, another 10 minutes on the bus before departing and a very slow 50-minute drive to Saratoga Springs Resort before reaching my final destination at Port Orleans – French Quarter. The total time from gate to check-in desk was an hour and 20 minutes. Not great but, as I’ve said before, it’s pretty easy to get delayed at baggage claim or the rental car counter as well.

On all four Disney’s Magical Express trips, I’ve used the yellow luggage tags and let Disney’s Magical Express worry about getting my bags to my resort room. In every case, the bags have been delivered within two to three hours of check-in. We typically check in, have lunch and then visit a park for a bit. In each case, the bags have been waiting for us in our room upon our return to the resort.

Should you use DME?

What’s the bottom line? Do I recommend Disney’s Magical Express? Yes, I do but, there are some caveats. I think it would be a good idea to try it to see if it fits your traveling style—you may be surprised. Saving the cost of a rental car or town car service can provide a ‘free’ dinner or two during your stay—or maybe just lower the cost of your trip.

If you do use Disney’s Magical Express, my last piece of advice is to use your common sense; something that too many of us fail to pack on these trips to Disney World. If you know you will want to go swimming shortly after arrival, pack your swimsuits in a carry-on bag. Likewise for any needed medications.

When would I recommend you skip Disney’s Magical Express and opt for a more traditional form of transportation? Traveling with very small children comes to mind. While waits at the Disney’s Magical Express counter, corral and bus may be relatively short, small children (and some adults) don’t handle idle time well. If patience isn’t your strong suit, you may want to look elsewhere. I also think those that are planning to arrive late at night might want to think about skipping Disney’s Magical Express—or at least think about handling their own luggage. If you’re checking into your resort in the wee hours, you may not want to wait several early morning hours, or until the next day, for Disney’s Magical Express’s luggage delivery.

One can argue that Disney has ulterior motives in the Disney’s Magical Express offering—if you use it, you’re pretty much restricted to doing your dining and shopping on Disney property. However, if you’re like me, that may not be such a big deal. And did I mention it’s free?

Well… that’s my opinion. What’s yours?