The Magical Express Debateby Steve Russo, staff writer
On site or off site? Caribbean Beach or Riverside? All Star Sports or Movies? Is Victoria and Albert’s worth the money? How about Le Cellier? We Disney fans have a lot to fuel our discussions.
In my not so humble opinion, there is no issue more polarizing than the use of Disney’s Magical Express. It seems that only a small minority of the people fall into the “middle of the field” category that is neutral about this service. The vast majority, however, seem to have taken up residence in the “Love It” or “Hate It” end zones. Worse, many seem just a bit too eager to defend their position—and attack the other.
The folks that love the Magical Express service tend to think you’re crazy for using any other form of airport transportation. After all, Disney is offering to transport you and your loved ones from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World resort free of charge. For good measure, they’ll throw in the return trip and even take care of getting your luggage and delivering it to your resort room.
The group that hates it treats it as if it were the last obstacle separating us from world peace. It takes longer, wastes your time, restricts you to Disney property for all dining and souvenir shopping, and… you’d have to be crazy to trust Disney with your luggage!
Why are we so adamant about this issue?
I wrote about Disney’s Magical Express way back in 2008. That article was more of a “how does it work?” and “should I use it?” piece. This time, I’ll try to look at why so many choose sides on this feature and why they’re so vehement in their argument.
As a basis for this discussion, I’m going to take advantage of a recent thread from a Disney newsgroup. I’m not picking on the person that posted this complaint—I happen to know Amanda (at least as well as one can “know” someone from several years of online communication) and we typically agree on most points. I’m also not mocking the others that chimed in to support the stance or argue against it. I use it because it provides one user’s reasons for disliking the service and gives me a list of complaints from which to work.
Amanda titled the thread “Tragic Express”, which pretty much sums up her sentiments and gives you an inkling of what is to come. She states she went into her first Magical Express experience with an open mind but emerged as one that “hates” the service. The response, from both sides of the argument, was quick and fervent. It seemed that someone who enjoys the service would consider an attack on Disney’s Magical Express to be directed at him or her. Likewise, the person who disliked the service often sees a rebuttal as an attack on their views.
Let’s examine the seven points Amanda offered as evidence of why the service is more “Tragic” than “Magical." In an effort to be as subjective as possible, I’ll attempt to point up the pros and cons of each argument. You can make the call, but under full disclosure, I will say that I have used Disney’s Magical Express on 10 trips and have not encountered any significant issues with the service. Obviously, your mileage (quite literally) may vary.
1. Is there anywhere farther in the Orlando airport you could possibly have to walk to get in line for the bus?
In order to use Disney’s Magical Express you have to make your way from your gate to the main terminal building via the train. Once there, you would then walk to the B-side terminal (you may already be there depending on your airline choice) and make your way down to the lowest level, for Ground Transportation. Then you would walk all the way to the end for the Magical Express counters.
Is it a long walk? It certainly is. I typically fly in on Southwest and have to make my way from the farthest reaches of the A terminal to the B terminal. Once at the ground level, the corridor seemingly stretches on for miles but in reality, it’s only a two or three minute walk.
To compare, I don’t think it’s any longer than a trek to Baggage Claim and out to a Town Car service or across the street to the Rental Car lots.
I really think we’re dealing with a perception here. I would say if the guest is at all skeptical of using Magical Express, this lengthy walk could be off-putting. The reality, however, is that it’s really no worse than getting yourself to any other form of transportation.
2. The sound volume on the video that played while going to the resort was highly uncomfortable.
Personally, I haven’t noticed this being a problem. It might have been an issue with the specific bus and/or the sound system on Amanda’s trip. It might also have been due to her specific sensitivity to noise. In any case, I wouldn’t consider this issue, on its own, to be a deal breaker for anyone to use Magical Express.
3. It killed me not being able to stop and get something to eat or buy a few groceries and sundries for my room on the way in.
This, at least partially, is a legitimate gripe. I enjoy having breakfast in the room. I also like having a few cold beverages to enjoy on the balcony after a tough day of park touring. In neither case do I enjoy paying the premium to purchase these items in the Disney resort market or store.
For those of you that have seen my trip reports, you know I have a particular aversion to coughing up $33.00 for a 6-pack of beer, especially when I can saunter across the street to a Hess station and pick up an 18-pack for $15.00.
But it’s never that simple, is it? A stop for food or sundries would imply a rental car or, possibly, a Town Car service. In each case, there’s a significant cost for that service. For this solution to make sense financially, the savings on groceries and/or sundries would have to be greater than the cost of the car service needed for the trip.
In simple terms, if I use a Town Car service that costs $120 primarily for the grocery stop, those groceries need to save me $120 over buying them at Disney for this to make financial sense. Of course there’s the counter argument that I can buy additional items at a Publix that I can’t get at a Disney store, but from a purely financial perspective, using Magical Express and paying Disney’s inflated prices is still easier on the purse.
There’s one other point to explore here: Amanda wrote, “It killed me to…” which leads me, once again, to a perception. I sense an emotional response to the perceived loss of freedom; the inability to simply stop and pick up a few items for the room. It may be a simple thing to some, but to others it’s a critical part of their trip.
4. It was highly tedious going to another resort before mine. I felt sorry for the people who were still on for a third resort when I got off.
I can sympathize here but I would change the first few words to read “It felt highly tedious…” I typically stay at the Boardwalk and, in my experience, that’s always been the Magical Express bus’s second stop. Am I anxious? You bet. In reality, it only takes an extra 5-10 minutes to make an additional stop but it can feel much longer when you’re really looking forward to getting to your resort, getting checked in and heading off to a park.
To prove my theory, check your anxiety level on the way in to your resort when you first arrive. Then check it again on the way to the airport at the end of your trip. That extra stop at the Caribbean Beach Resort doesn’t seem that bad on the way home, does it?
5. They make you check in an hour earlier than is possibly necessary. I'm lying about my departure time if I ever use Magical Express again.
Disney’s Magical Express requires a pickup approximately three hours before your flight home. I believe this is deemed necessary to accommodate the extra resort stops and allow for any difficulties with traffic on the way to the airport. I would guess the last thing Disney wants is irate guests that have missed flights home and are now demanding compensation for rooms, meals, etc.
I will admit to three hours being a bit much but I’m the type that is always early to the airport. My philosophy is I’d rather be sitting at the gate reading a newspaper than racing through traffic and airline check-in because I’m running late.
6. I got car sick on the ride to the airport because all of the windows were masked over with some obnoxious ad for some Disney product.
On my most recent trip, I did notice the ads on the sides of the Magical Express buses. From the inside, it resembles a wide-pore, black screen. It certainly does reduce visibility and I know, for some people that can lead to nausea when one can’t reconcile the sense of movement to something visible.
While this can be a legitimate complaint I would guess it would not bother the majority of riders.
7. I don't need to see ads for DVC anymore. Ever. Especially not when I'm car sick.
Yes, the advertisements for Disney Vacation Club are ubiquitous. It seems you can’t swing a dead cat in a resort lobby or theme park without decking a DVC Sales Associate or striking a DVC kiosk. I’m not particularly fond of how pervasive these advertisements are but I wouldn’t, for a minute, consider avoiding Disney’s Magical Express because of the ads.
I would offer one other issue that I find a bit annoying. Remember the early days of Epcot? Remember when it seemed that every ride in Future World used the omnimover technology? No matter how long the line you were in, the perception (there’s that word again) wasn’t one of impatience because you were continually moving. One of my biggest gripes with Disney’s Magical Express is the time I spend in line at the airport waiting to board a bus. I may only spend 5, 10 or 15 minutes in the corral (my word, not theirs) but, because there’s no movement – just standing around – my perception is that it seems much longer.
What’s the bottom line? I’m guessing it was not one specific thing but the cumulative effect of these issues that soured Amanda on Magical Express. If you’ve never used Magical Express and are considering it, I would encourage you to read my earlier article for some insights. There are some legitimate reasons why it may not be for you. There are also a number of reasons why folks, like me, consider it a very nice service Disney has provided for its resort guests.
I conducted an informal poll and received only a few replies. Most were positive and two came into the neutral area—where I fall. It seems that each trip, I try hard to justify some other mode of airport transportation—either a rental car or a Town Car service. Mostly, I fail because when it’s all said and done, Disney’s Magical Express gets the job done for free. And did I mention how I hate to schlep my own luggage through airports?
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?