My family just returned from a whirlwind four-night stay at Disney World over the Martin Luther King weekend. This is the first in a series of posts about that short but thrilling vacation to Orlando. We spent three days in the parks, stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and experienced quite a few new things. One of these firsts was Disney’s Magical Express — the topic for today’s post. I’ve heard so many different opinions on this perk, which is available to all Disney resort guests. The complimentary airport shuttle and luggage service can make your trip easier, but so much depends on your personal needs and a lot of luck.
I’m amazed by the logistics involved in transporting so many guests to their Disney resorts. When you add in the challenge of providing luggage to the rooms in a reasonable time, the layers are mind-boggling. It’s worth the effort for Disney, however. They don’t want their resort guests to rent cars. It helps retain their profits on meals and keeps guests away from Universal and other resorts. If people don’t choose to rent a car, they’re most likely to stay at a Disney resort. Magical Express helps Disney maintain their hotel occupancy and earn higher revenues. They can also sell the service as a valuable perk to reduce the hassles of a vacation.
Our flight landed in Orlando on Thursday night at 7:10 p.m., and it took us a half hour to disembark and reach the Magical Express location in the main airport terminal. A note to parents with younger kids: it’s quite a trek to reach this spot. That said, crowds were very light on a weekday evening. There was only a short line at the desk, though a few groups seemed to be taking a long time to get rolling. Surprisingly, a quick scan of our travel notice and Magic Bands and we were off! It helps to be prepared when you approach the desk. We stepped onto a bus that was nearly full and barely found two pairs of seats. Other families weren’t so lucky and ended up having to leave. We lucked out and waited about 10 minutes before the bus started our journey.
I’d read horror stories of 90-minute commutes from guests staying at the final hotel on the route. Our bus was making four stops: Art of Animation, Pop Century, Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House), and the Animal Kingdom Lodge (Kidani Village). The driver provided this information up front, so there would be no surprises. He cited a range of 35-45 minutes for the trip, and we arrived at the Jambo House at 8:30. This was a better result than I expected given all the variables involved. The process moved swiftly, and each stop took no more than a few minutes.
Unlike the buses on Disney property, the Magical Express vehicles are quite roomy and comfortable. The time flies thanks to TV screens that prep you for the upcoming trip. The mix of travel information, trivia, and clips from the parks flows seamlessly. Arriving in the dark meant that I didn’t even realize we’d reached Disney property until I glimpsed the familiar sign going past us. I doubt we could have arrived much faster in a rental car; not having to wait for luggage and to access the car compensated for the extra stops along the way.
The last step in reducing my nerves was the arrival of our luggage. We’d packed the necessities in our carry-on bags, but we couldn’t really get rolling until the rest appeared. Disney’s materials state that we should expect this transfer to take about three hours. Our suitcases reached our room around 10:30, which wasn’t optimal but was only slightly above the expected time. While this made for a late first night, it was mostly because of our evening flight. Magical Express seemed to function as intended and set us up well for our days in the parks.
My concerns before the trip about Magical Express had focused mostly on a smooth arrival, but there was still the need to reach the airport on time in the end. Our return to St. Louis departed at 3:10, and we received a packet from Disney with a 12:05 p.m. Magical Express departure time. We took advantage of the Resort Check-in service, which offered the ability to check luggage at the resort. I can’t say enough good things about this on-site benefit. It took a huge weight off my shoulders and allowed us to casually tour the Animal Kingdom Lodge grounds. We also stored a few carry-on bags at the Bell Desk since our room’s checkout time was 11 a.m.
I’d also read about issues with extended return trips on Magical Express that left travelers scrambling to make their flight. Thankfully, we also had an easy journey back to the Orlando airport. Our bus stopped only at the Coronado Springs Resort and then proceeded to the airport. We reached the security line with about two hours to spare before our flight. After finally reaching the end of the slow-moving queue, we still had plenty of time to spare. Our bags arrived in St. Louis on time and without any issues. It was a hassle-free trip that worked better than I expected on both legs.
Magical Express is probably not the fastest way to get from the airport to your hotel. If you’re scrambling to make a dining reservation or want to maximize your minutes at Disney World, I’d suggest taking a car. On the other hand, it does work especially well on shorter trips. We were looking for the easiest way to transport quite a bit of luggage without renting a car. I was a little more worried because of the extra steps in receiving our bags after reaching the resort. Admittedly, we did have some idle time after dinner that we could have used to set up our room if our bags were there.
Choosing whether Magical Express is the right move really depends on you and the nature of the trip. I’m not 100% sure that we’ll use it on our next trip, but it worked perfectly for this one. There were no major hiccups or slowdowns that hampered our enjoyment. We have younger kids, which made not having to wait for our bags and lug them through the airport quite refreshing. With Universal and other players making a real push for guests’ time, Disney needs to ensure that Magical Express works flawlessly. Keeping people on property will help them stay ahead of the game, a spot that is becoming tougher to maintain with each passing year.