Right now, Disney World is offering hefty discounts to entice guests to visit during the COVID-19 pandemic. But come 2022, it will remove one of the biggest perks to stay in a Disney World hotel.
In a Monday blog post, Disney announced that Magical Express, the complimentary bus service to and from Orlando International Airport, will be discontinued. The move goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022, so Magical Express still be included for new and existing 2021 reservations. Transportation options offered within Disney World property, such as busses between hotels and theme parks, will not be affected.
“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,” Disney World communications manager Avery Maehrer said in the Disney Parks Blog post explaining the decision.
The service, first introduced in 2005, was operated through Mears Transportation. The company told Spectrum News 13 that it will continue to offer transportation options between the airport and Central Florida theme parks.
Cutting a third-party contract may make sense for Disney, whose theme park division has suffered massive losses thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Magical Express helped justify Disney’s higher-priced hotels and keep guests inside the resort’s “bubble” — meaning they’d be less likely to spend money elsewhere in the Orlando area or visit rival theme parks.
From the guest perspective, it began the Disney World experience at the airport, taking away any stress from picking up luggage or arranging transportation once they’ve landed.
Robin Woodmansee, co-owner of Mouse & Muggle Travel Company, said she had already received texts from clients concerned about getting to and from the airport in the future, but noted there are no shortage of options.
“In all honesty, as a frequent visitor I rarely used Magical Express, as I would prefer quicker and more personalized options like Uber, Lyft or a car service,” Woodmansee told Theme Park Tribune. “All of which are going to see a huge increase in 2022.”
Academy Travel president Lisa Federico said the service did appeal to guests who wanted to stay on a budget and avoid rental cars, but most of her clients went with other options.
“The ride was often long, with many resort stops,” Federico said. “A large majority of our guests prefer transfers, not only over Magical Express, over Uber and Lyft. Both are often unreliable, do not promise car seats and cannot always fit luggage.”
Paying for your own transportation is necessary at other theme park resorts. Universal Orlando’s airport transfer service is a paid add-on for resort guests’ vacation packages. Disneyland Resort guests can also arrange shuttle services between Disneyland and both Los Angeles International Airport and Orange County/John Wayne Airport.
Additionally, a rail station connecting Orlando International Airport and Disney Springs has been announced, but it will require government approvals and years of work — likely not opening until the second half of 2023 at the earliest.
Along with the end to Magical Express, Disney also announced that the Extra Magic Hours perk will be discontinued. Replacing it will be “Early Theme Park Entry.” Instead of Disney hotel guests getting early or late access to one Disney park per day, they will be able to enter 30 minutes early to any Disney park.
To Woodmansee’s clients, this modified perk will not make up for the loss of Extra Magic Hours.
“The idea that they could enter a park or stay later than all other visitors definitely made them feel special and many of my clients would use it depending on their families personal schedule,” she said. “Those who like to sleep in would often visit the parks for night Extra Magic Hours, and those who woke early would love entering early.”
So with Disney World removing perks that helped guests justify the higher costs of staying in a Disney hotel, could this lead more guests to stay at cheaper, off-site accommodations?
Federico said no. “There are so many great reasons to stay on property, and any true Disney loving traveler would agree,” she told Theme Park Tribune. “Staying on property is the easiest way to get around, see and enjoy the entire Disney experience.”
Woodmansee agreed, with one caveat: that Disney will eventually restore on-site guests’ advantage for booking FastPass+ ride reservations.
Before the pandemic, staying on Disney World property entitled guests to secure FastPass+ times 60 days in advance, compared to 30 days for all other guests, giving them first crack at popular rides. But that perk is not currently available because FastPass+ is not being used, in order to more easily manage COVID-19 capacity restrictions.
“The Fastpass+ option is going to be the real key to keeping guests booking at Walt Disney World resorts,” Woodmansee said. “While they enjoyed and appreciated Magical Express and Extra Magic Hours, they are not as important as the FastPass+.”
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