Home Disney, Universal & Other Theme Parks Disney’s Ending Its Free Bus Service. Here’s Why They’d Do That

Disney’s Ending Its Free Bus Service. Here’s Why They’d Do That

by SharonKurheg

Walt Disney World (WDW) has announced that effective January 1, 2022, they will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express (DME) between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and their Orlando-based theme resort. From the Disney Parks Blog:

For nearly 50 years, Walt Disney World Resort has continued to evolve the guest experience to best suit the changing times. As we plan for the future, we are looking at how needs and preferences are changing across the travel industry, particularly in the way people want to get places faster, at their convenience.

Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022.

They made sure to mention that all of their onsite transportation – monorails, boats, buses, gondolas, etc. – would continue.

WDW has offered DME since 2005. It’s been a bus service that would pick guests up at MCO, drop them off at the door of their Disney Resort hotel and, until COVID, even bring their bags to their assigned room, and then back again to MCO at the end of their vacation. It was convenient and, best of all, 100% free.

It was also convenient for WDW, in a different way. After all, Disney doesn’t really give anything for “free” – there’s ALWAYS something in it for them ;-). Offering a free service that brought people directly from the airport to the Disney complex was a passive enticement for customers to stay on property at a Disney-owned hotel, instead of an off-property hotel. It also meant people were less likely to rent a car, which, in turn, meant they were less apt to go off property (for meals or to visit other, non-Disney parks). It was a win for the company because the more people staying at their hotels, and eating their food, and not going anywhere else meant more money in the Disney coffers (they’re REALLY good at stuff like that).

But then COVID hit.

WDW was closed from March until July and has only operated at initially 35% and eventually 40% capacity ever since. They’ve laid off tens of thousands of employees, including almost all of their professional performers. Who knows how many more on top of them are still furloughed. They’ve cut park hours, closed hotels, and, while it’s true that canceled fireworks shows mean less chance of people grouping together to watch, it also means they don’t have the expense of daily fireworks shows (again they’re REALLY good at stuff like that).

Why would they do that???

They didn’t say why they had come to this decision in their announcement (Disney NEVER says why…). So why would Disney announce they’re stopping DME? I’m thinking of 2 possible reasons – although I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Cost

WDW doesn’t own DME; it’s contracted out to Mears Transportation Service. One of the largest taxi and shuttle companies in the southwestern U.S., Mears has been providing cabs, motor coaches, luxury vehicles and shuttle vans in Central Florida since 1939.

DME is still running now and I do not doubt that it’s at a loss – with the parks running at 40% capacity, one would assume the buses are 40% full, at best (more likely even less so, when you figure that more people are driving to their vacation destinations than flying nowadays). Whereas DME was originally a way for them to make more money indirectly, the expense of that contract might not be worth it in the age of extended COVID precautions. I mean, we’re talking dozens of full-sized buses every single day – I have no idea of the details of the contract between the two entities, but I know it costs hundreds of dollars to rent just one bus for a few hours; I planned such a rental for a company I used to work for). The sooner Disney can not offer DME, the less money they could be losing. So…give everyone a year to prepare, don’t renew whatever contract, etc.

The Train’s On Its Way

In December 2018, we wrote that the high-speed Brightline train, which was running between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, would extend the line to MCO, and had longer-term plans to expand to WDW and then, eventually, Tampa.

In December 2019 we reported that Brightline and WDW had confirmed they were “in discussion” and in November 2020, it was confirmed that the high-speed train would definitely make a stop at WDW. That extension would begin as soon as the MCO line was complete (currently scheduled for 2022).

Neither Disney nor Brightline have given an estimate of when construction will begin. However, once started, it’s expected to take at least 2 to 3 years to complete, putting us at 2024 or 2025ish. So from January 1, 2022 until 2 or 3 years into the future, guests would be on their own to get between MCO and WDW.

What’s a tourist to do? (read: other options)

Not that these Disney guests will be stranded – not by a long shot. Even as WDW said in their statement, “Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want.

Uber and Lyft hadn’t even been invented when DME started and they’re popular options nowadays. And, of course, taxis or renting a car have always been viable possibilities.

Before DME started in 2005, Mears provided ongoing transportation to and from WDW. Make a reservation, go to the designated meeting place, and either a shuttle bus or a full-sized motor coach brought you to your hotel. The bus driver loaded and unloaded your luggage, and after you checked into your hotel, bell services could bring your stuff to your room, or you could bring it yourself (just like any other hotel, LOL). Reverse the steps for when you were going home.

In response to Disney’s decision, Mears spokesperson Roger Chapin told Spectrum News the following:

Walt Disney made us aware of their decision. While we are disappointed Disney will no longer offer this service, we intend to continue offering transportation services between the airport and all area theme parks and hotels to meet the demand of our visitors now and in the future.

So it sounds as if that will come back/continue.

Of course, DME was a free service. Whatever transportation Disney’s guests choose will now cost them money. For a one-way trip from MCO to WDW, you can currently expect to pay about $30-$40 for a standard Uber or Lyft, or $40-$45 for a minivan sized ride. A taxi will cost about $65-$70 and a Mears Shuttle will be about $25 one way or $40 round trip (that last one will be per person, not per carful).

In lurking on Disney groups on Facebook (as well as the replies to the above-mentioned Disney Blog post), guests’ emotions appear to be running the gamut from anger to disappointment to sadness. Disney is expensive (although written pre-COVID, here are some ways to cut costs at WDW) and they’re well aware of the extra cost this will bring to their Disney vacations.  Multiple people are musing whether or not it’s “worth it” to stay on property anymore (WDW hotels are more expensive but they used to offer all kinds of perks for staying onsite. Unfortunately, many of those are gone or decreased, thanks to COVID).

Disenchanted Disney guests are throwing around words like “inconvenience,” and with good reason. Disney promoted DME as a convenience for 15 years. A free convenience, at that. But, of course, that doesn’t mean they were obligated to continue it forever.

The end of DME won’t happen for another year, and in the time of COVID, a year is a LONG time. Many Disney fans have been chomping at the bit to get back to the parks but haven’t because of coronavirus. When they feel comfortable to go again, it will be interesting to see, especially for those who are more price-sensitive, how or if this change will affect their vacation planning.

Feature Photo: BrownPau/flickr

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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