Disney’s Magical Express (DME) has been a free service for guests of Walt Disney World (WDW) resort hotels since 2005. Those arriving at MCO who were staying at a WDW resort hotel could make a reservation with DME and not only would they be shuttled directly to their hotel, their bags would be brought directly to their room, as well (alas, that second part has been on pause since COVID hit).
DME was a great way for Disney to increase their chances that people never left Disney property. Unless guests rented a car partway through their stay, or used taxis, Ubers Lyft, etc., to visit other parks, go to outlets, etc., they would stay on-site and spend all of their money at Disney.
Despite that, in January 2021, Disney announced that effective January 1, 2022, they will no longer offer the services of DME. Their justification was that with so many other options out there that offered more flexibility, they would end the program.
Granted, as Disney made the announcement, they already had an iron in the fire in terms of the extension of the Brightline train. Once the track from the southeast FL coast to Orlando International Airport is completed in 2022, the plan is for the track to extend west, stop at WDW and then continue on to Tampa. But that’s still several years away – probably not until 2024 at the earliest.
But never fear, Disney fans – apparently there’s now a “fix” and a very familiar one, at that. Effective January 2022, Mears Transportation will be offering a new (but the same?) service as DME, called “Mears Connect,” which will connect “airport and the Disney resort area.”
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. So here’s some background…
Y’see, Disney didn’t actually run DME. They may have figured out the logistics of who was staying at which hotel. But the DME buses themselves were run and supplied by Mears Transportation, a local bus/taxi/shuttle company that’s been in Central Florida since 1939 (Psst! The “bag to your room” part was also supplied by a third-party company. Yeah, Disney farms out a lot of things to other entities. Their car valet services, spas, hair stylists/barbers, pet kennel, several of their restaurants, etc. are all run by third-party companies. Even their workers’ on-site healthcare buildings are run by outside health-related companies).
Anyway, so yeah…Mears Transportation just announced this “new” service, that they tout as “the same, reliable, safe express service” and it’s going to start in January 2022. Conveniently, that’s just as DME ends. 😉
“Mears Connect will offer the same safe and reliable service the company has provided millions of guests for decades,” said a press release. The service, which is being offered via what’s being described as, “high occupancy vehicles” (read: buses, just like DME) will initially operate between the Orlando International Airport and resorts in the Walt Disney World area.
Guests can expect scheduled service, luggage handling, convenient airport terminal staging, and return trips from resorts to the airport. In addition, Mears says they’ll offer enhancements to ensure greater convenience and vehicle options.
Pricing for all services will be announced later this year (operative word is “pricing.” Read: it won’t be free, like DME was), along with the launch of a custom reservation platform.
“We plan to offer the same level of experience, service, and convenience we’ve provided for the last 16 years, on behalf of our longtime partner, as returning guests and first-time visitors can expect nothing less,” said Roger Chapin, a Mears spokesman. “It is important for visitors to know they still have many of the same safe transportation options for their Orlando visit, all offered by the same company who has been providing seamless, economical, and hassle-free transportation for decades.”
The biggest differences between DME and Mears Connect appear to be that the transportation system won’t be co-branded with Disney and, of course, it will no longer be at no cost. Although, of course, we don’t know how much the cost will actually be yet. If you’re interested in finding that out, Mears Connects’ website gives you the opportunity to sign up for email updates when they occur.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time Mears will independently offer service between MCO and WDW. They also supplied bus service to/from WDW prior to the advent of DME – we used them during my childhood trips in 1979 and 1983, as well as my first “adult” trip in 1991 (after that, we just rented cars for the entirety of our stays). So this really isn’t anything new for Mears – just going back to what they did before DME started up (albeit, maybe [or maybe not] with luggage transport service as an added option, too).
But for now, there will be another solid choice for WDW guests, at least until the Brightline train is an option in 2024/2025ish.
Feature Photo: Jrobertiko / Wikimedia
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary