Park of the Week: Islands of Adventure

What Is the Best Way to Get to Walt Disney World?

May 10, 2022, 2:21 PM · What is the best way to get to Walt Disney World?

With the elimination of the Disney's Magical Express service between the Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resort hotels, many Disney guests now are looking for alternatives. The company that ran Disney's Magical Express - Mears Transportation - now offers a Mears Connect service that operates from the same locations in the Orlando airport and at the resorts that DME did. But visitors have several other alternatives, as well.

A new competitor called Sunshine Flyer offers one-way and round-trip service between the airport and Disney's hotels. And app-based car services such as Uber and Lyft also offer easy connections. So what's the best option for you and your family?

If you loved DME, you probably will want to consider Mears Connect, which now costs $32 per round-trip for riders age 10 and up and $27 for kids ages 3-9. Infants and toddlers under age three are free as lap riders. I must confess that I am not a fan of DME/Mears, however. Twice, I have been sent to the wrong resort from the airport, despite my best efforts to double check that I am in the correct queue. (This has happened only when there was no crowd at the airport and my party was the only one headed to our hotel. I have found the Mears employees to "check out" and become indifferent when there's no crowd to manage.)

Even when you are on the correct bus, Mears sends its buses to multiple hotels on one trip, meaning that you can spend up to an extra hour on board, driving around the resort delaying the start of your Disney time. The need to service multiple resorts can be even more inconvenient on the way back, when guests at the start of the route may be assigned board times over four hours before their flight's departure time.

I have not used the new Sunshine Flyer service, which is a partnership between Academy Bus, Empire Coach Line, and Transportation Management Services. It charges $34 for a round-trip for adults and $25 for kids - $2 more for adults and $2 less for children than Mears. Pickup at the airport is also located on Level 1, B side, just like Mears and the Sunshine Flyer's advertised wait times are similar - no more than 65 minutes for dropoff from the airport to hotel and pick-ups three hours before departure for domestic flights and four hours for international.

When Disney's Magical Express was available at no extra charge with a Disney hotel reservation, I often opted to request an Uber or Lyft to get to the resort from the airport and then to return at the end of my trip. I have found the cost for a one-way trip, before tip, to be between $30-40 for most locations at Walt Disney World, with rides from the airport costing about $5 more than the return trip, thanks to airport fees.

If you have three or four people in your party, an app ride will be cheaper than the per-person costs of the buses. Even if you have to order a bigger car through Uber or Lyft, it's often the cheaper choice.

But even if you are a couple or going solo, the app-based ride gets you a direct trip between the airport and your resort. No wasting time driving around to pick up and drop off others. And no confusion about where you are headed, either.

For even greater control, you could rent a car when you get to Orlando. Our travel partner offers a rental car search if you would like to check rates for them. In addition to the rental car fee, you should consider the added costs of fuel and parking fees at Disney. Parking costs $15-25 a night at Disney's hotels and $25 a day for the theme parks. Theme park parking is free for resort hotel guests, so there's no double-charge there.

Most major roads between the airport and Disney are toll roads, too. But instead of renting an expensive transponder from your rental car company, we recommend getting the Visitor Toll Pass, a temporary hangtag that gets you the lowest toll rates with no upcharges or extra fees. You can pick up and drop off the Visitor Toll Pass hangtag at the Orlando airport. Just follow that link for details.

All Disney resort hotels provide complementary transportation to all four Disney theme parks, the Disney water parks and to and from the Disney Springs shopping and dining area. Yes, these can be crowded and you might have to wait, but that might be worth saving the cost and hassle of a rental car. Even if you are planning a one-off day at Universal, SeaWorld or another Orlando-area attraction, Lyft or Uber rides there might be less than the cost of the rental car and parking fees.

Rental cars make more sense if you are planning a visit to the beach or elsewhere beyond the Orlando area. Or if you are traveling with small children needing car seats and you don't want to mess with transferring them.

Eventually, there will be rail transportation between the Orlando airport and Disney Springs, but there's no timeline on that yet. So for now, if you are flying into Orlando, a car or bus will provide your trip from the airport to Disney.

* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that - and our approach to covering theme park, travel, and entertainment news - please sign up for our free, three-times-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.

Replies (6)

May 10, 2022 at 4:21 PM

Whenever my family did it, we just took a taxi from airport to hotel and let Disney transport do the rest. Trickier sometimes but worked for us.

May 10, 2022 at 4:57 PM

WDW guests can also use Mears transport for their one-off days at Universal.

May 11, 2022 at 8:07 AM

Unless Mears picks up and drops off your luggage at your resort like DME did and frees you up to go direction from the airport to a park on your first day, I don't see the advantage of Mears Connect over Uber or Lyft.

Is there any way to use the Visitor Toll Pass option if you drive your own car to Florida?

May 11, 2022 at 9:42 AM

I've only have limited experience with DME/Mears (ironically on our 2 most recent WDW trips in January 2020 and February 2022). In 2020, we used Magical Express for a WDW-only trip, and it worked reasonably well. We did not experience the issues Robert noted, and arrived at Pop Century within an hour of touching down in Orlando, which saved us a missed ADR charge since our flight had been delayed nearly 6 hours and we had a dinner reservation at Jiko. On the way back to the airport, we did have to leave a lot earlier than if we would have liked, but I did not think it was unreasonable (we arrived at MCO 2 hours prior to departure).

In 2022, we used Mears Express, which was arranged by Disney for the Galactic Starcruiser media event. Our first night in Orlando was at the Grand Floridian, so there was some extra time to drop off guests at the Poly, but it didn't take more than 75 minutes from touchdown to check-in, though we did not check any bags on our flight so avoided the wait at the carousel. The return trip was a bit confusing, because we did not have a dedicated return time, so we spent over 30 minutes waiting for a bus outside the Contemporary. However, we deliberately built in extra time to arrive to MCO early so we could chill in the airport lounge.

I do think it sucks that DME doesn't operate any more, because the ability to go straight to the parks from the airport (and have your luggage magically arrive in your room) was a pretty amazing perk. Mears Connect can't offer that service, so you're stuck waiting at the baggage claim for any checked luggage, which can significantly cut into park time if you want to tour on your arrival day.

We ended up using Lyft for trips to/from Sea World and the Grand Floridian in February, and those rides by themselves cost nearly $30 each way, so I think a ride to/from MCO would likely be at least $35-40 (perhaps more during surge pricing). For a smaller party (2-4 guests with minimal luggage) that's probably still the best and fastest way. However, bigger families and those staying longer with more luggage, renting a car is probably better, though rental car prices have gotten INSANE recently and WDW charging parking fees for resort guests is ridiculous (particularly with MDE going away).

For most trips, we have typically driven our car down from the DC area, though having to pay parking (offsetting savings on theme park parking compared to off-site hotels) will be an annoyance for our next trip. For the tolls, I wish states would get together to allow transponders from other regions to be cross-compatible. EZPass works for much of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and some of the Midwest, but everywhere else has their own proprietary system that requires a different transponder (if I remember correctly, I actually think there used to be 2 different systems in Florida alone along with a different system for neighboring Georgia).

With admission prices and resort rates going up dramatically over the past few years, these extra charges really start to add up, making a WDW vacation cost 35-45% more than it did just 5 years ago, even though Disney would claim they've only raised prices @20% over that time.

May 13, 2022 at 10:04 AM

For anyone wondering these are states where E-Pass is accepted
Uni, formerly E-PASS Xtra: 19 states
Uni is accepted in 19 states from Florida to Maine and west to Minnesota

May 15, 2022 at 6:32 AM

I would say the absolute best way, would be via a confused Uber/Lyft Driver that brings you to Universal or SeaWorld instead.

But I just can’t seem to go without a rental car, tried it once and hated it. And yes, rental car prices are insane these days !

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Buy Tickets

Plan a Trip

Get News, Discounts