Transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport is a big part of planning a trip to Walt Disney World.
But, now that the complimentary Magical Express service that was once offered by Disney is no more, what should you do for airport transportation?
One option is Mears Connect, which officially launched on January 1, 2022.
Unlike Magical Express it is not free, so is it worth your time and money?
It really all depends on several factors, but below is a Mears Connect review to help you decide if the new airport transportation service is right for you (and your entire party).
On August 1, 2023, Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer merged into Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. The following review is from when the original service launched in January 2022 by Mears Connect. There have been several updates, including price, but overall Mears Connect remains the same. The following gives a good idea of what you can expect from the airport transportation service.
Some background on my personal experience using Mears Connect…
- When did I use it? January 15 and 18, 2022
- Which service did I use? Standard (the least expensive and a shared ride service with other guests)
- How much did it cost me? $32 round trip (this is per person)
- Is the service easy to book? Yes (you can do it online)
- Where is Mears Connect located? On the first level of the A, B, and C terminals in the Orlando International Airport
- Did I have an overall good experience? Yes, except for a few hiccups on my departure day (more on this below)
Mears Connect Review
Features & Pricing
I won’t lie in saying I miss having a free transportation option when going to Walt Disney World. I mean, it’s not an affordable vacation by any means — and prices keeping increasing.
Mears Connect is a decent option, but it is exactly the same service as Magical Express.
The differences? You have to pay for it and there isn’t a fun, Disney theme to it. There isn’t that magical start to a trip anymore and that’s definitely a bummer.
Granted, Magical Express lost part of its magic, especially after the pandemic (ahem, no more luggage delivery), but I personally would rather have Magical Express or some kind of affordable, Disney-themed airport transportation option.
But, that’s just me. As for Mears Connect pricing and what’s included, let’s take a look.
Price depends on the service you choose and how many passengers are in your party. For Standard, pricing also varies per adult and per child.
Also keep in mind that length of stay does not impact price. Rates are strictly per passenger.
Here are the features for both Standard and Express:
Standard Service (Least Expensive)
This is a shared ride service on Mears Connect bus or van and includes all tolls and other surcharges.
With Standard, the bus or van, will make a limited number of stops along the way. Mears Connect says vehicles depart to the airport to each resort area every 20-30 minutes.
Mears Connect notes, “Based on the distance from the airport to the Disney Resorts, you should expect your travel time to be 30-60 minutes.” But, the amount of time it takes for guests to depart the airport on Mears Connect and head to their resort will depend on several factors and vary for all guests, so be prepared to possibly wait.
Upon departure from your resort to the airport, your return transportation will meet you, at your resort, a minimum of 3 hours in advance of your domestic flight’s departure time or a minimum of 4 hours in advance of your international flight, with the goal of arriving at the airport 2 hours prior to domestic flights and 3 hours prior for international flights.
Express Service (More Expensive)
This provides direct service to your resort minimizing your travel time on the vehicle by making your hotel the first stop after leaving the airport and the last stop before heading to the airport.
Important: Express service is not considered private service, it may be shared service.
Mears Connect notes, “Based on the distance from the airport to the Disney Resorts, you should expect your travel time to be 30-60 minutes.” But, even with Express Service, the amount of time it takes for guests to depart the airport on Mears Connect and head to their resort will depend on several factors and vary for all guests.
Upon departure from your resort to the airport, your return transportation will meet you, at your resort with the goal of arriving at the airport 2 hours prior to domestic flights and 3 hours prior for international flights.
Express shuttle guests may travel in a motorcoach bus or a van. The vehicle may be different for arrival and departure.
Pricing can increase and vary, so keep in mind that the above rates might not always remain the same.
When the service first launched (and when I used it), Standard rates were $16 per adult and $13.50 per child for One Way service, with Round Trip service coming in at $32 per adult and $27 per child.
In January 2022 (right after Mears Connect launched), the introductory rate for Express increased by $50 and went from $200 to $250.
Here is the pricing for both Standard and Express:
Standard Service Rates
- $20.90 per adult
- $14.85 per child (ages 3-9)
- $39.90 per adult
- $28.35 per child (ages 3-9)
Express Service Rates
- $250 (up to 4 passengers)
Per Additional Passenger
- $55 per additional passenger
You can cancel or modify your reservation more than 24 hours prior to your scheduled pick up time.
You will be charged fully if you cancel or change less than 24 hours prior to pick up time. Refunds will be processed 24 to 48 hours after cancellation.
Also, there is no charge for edited information (like flight details) within the 24 hour period.
Booking a Mears Connect reservation is very easy, which is definitely a bonus. You do it all online.
You select which service (Standard and Express) you want. If you want to share a ride and pay less, pick Standard.
If you’re willing to pay more to potentially avoid riding with strangers and be the “guaranteed first stop,” you’ll want to select Express.
You’ll enter all of the necessary information, including: your drop-off and pick-up location, arrival and departure airline, flight numbers, arrival date and time, departure date and time, number of adults and children, how many bags you have, and if you or anyone in your party has a wheelchair.
Then, enter your first and last name, phone number, email, credit card number, name on the credit card, and billing zip code.
Once that’s all done,check the box agreeing to the terms and conditions and select “pay now.”
See? Super simple.
If you get to the airport and decide you want to book Mears Connect last minute, good news, you can!
Go to the first level of the your terminal, walk towards Mears Connect until you see the above screen, scan the QR code, and follow the onscreen instructions.
Arrival Day (January 15, 2022)
Here’s how my arrival day on January 15 went using Mears Connect Standard Service.
After I arrived at the Orlando airport, I went to baggage claim to collect my checked suitcase.
Currently, you are responsible for your luggage, which is a downside for many, especially if you loved having Disney take care of your luggage in previous times.
At this time, Mears Connect stated, “Mears is exploring luggage service and will send an update to all interested and already reserved guests if and when it’s available.”
Thankfully, I’ve never had any issues at the Orlando airport baggage claim. Compared to Pittsburgh International Airport (IYKYK), luggage always arrives quickly.
Once I grabbed my bag, I headed to Mears Connect on Level 1 of the B Side, the ground transportation level (just like Magical Express).
Unrelated (for my fellow Southwest frequent flyers): anyone else hate walking all the way from the A Side to the B Side, all while dragging your luggage and having to take the elevator/escalator down to Level 1 before walking a half-marathon (not really, but it feels like it) just to get to Mears Connect/the former Magical Express area? Depending on what airline you’re flying, this can be a hike and even more so if you have a lot of luggage and little ones.
When I finally arrived (and caught my breath) at Level 1 of the B Side, I spotted signs to Mears Connect directing me to the check-in area.
Mears Connect is exactly where Magical Express used to be located and it’s kind of a total bummer, if I’m being honest.
I’ve used Magical Express for so many years, so to see another company take over this spot hurts my heart a little bit.
But, it is what it is and it certainly isn’t the end of the world.
As soon I walked up to the check-in counter, I pulled out my boarding pass with a QR code.
You receive your boarding pass 23 hours before your flight via email. Then, after you land, you’ll also receive a link to the QR code via text. (You can use either to check in).
The staff member who helped me was beyond nice. There is a digital device where I entered and confirmed my Mears Connect information.
Then, I scanned my QR code. The worker even gave me a welcome gift!
I’m not sure if Mears Connect will hand out welcome gifts permanently. Per their website, they note that “fun souvenirs” will be give upon your arrival at the Mears Connect reception area.
Either way, yay for new sunglasses!
After checking in, I was directed to my designated zone (there are different ones depending on where you’re staying).
This is set up exactly how Magical Express was. Even the same numbered signs were used.
Once I got in line, I barely waited before I was being told which motorcoach to board. I handed my bag to the driver, they asked which resort I was staying at, and then I got on the bus.
At the time of my use of Mears Connect, the company stated that Standard Service would make a limited number of stops and would have guests on their way to their resort “within 20 minutes” of checking in to the Mears Connect reception area.
Mears Connect has since updated their policy and removed their “20 minute” vow. As many other guests have experienced, the amount of time it takes for guests to depart the airport on the Mears Connect and head to their resort will depend on several factors and vary for all guests, so be prepared to possibly wait.
From check-in to leaving the airport, I waited about 12 minutes. Not bad, right? I will say the short wait could have been due to the fact that I was the last guest to board and that the motorcoach was already full.
It was your typical bus ride (just like Magical Express) and the driver was very enthusiastic about entering Disney property.
There are also TVs to watch that showcase facts and theme park trivia for not just Walt Disney World, but also Universal and SeaWorld.
Thankfully, I was the first stop and arrived at my hotel in a timely manner (no more than 40 minutes after checking in).
Departure Day (January 18, 2022)
I wish I could say my departure day on January 18 using Mears Connect Standard Service went as smoothly as my arrival day, but there were a few easily avoidable hiccups.
Unfortunately (and no different than Magical Express), when using Standard Service you are picked up from your resort a minimum of 3 hours prior to your domestic flight (a minimum of 4 hours for international flights).
This means, I arrived at the designated “Airport Shuttle Departures” location in front of my hotel (I stayed at Art of Animation) a few minutes before my pickup time of 6:55 a.m.
FYI: my departure flight wasn’t until 10:20 a.m. So, yeah, way too early for my liking. I didn’t mind this when using a service that was complimentary, but paying to get to the airport this early? I’m not so sure.
Like on your arrival day, you receive a boarding pass 23 hours before your flight departure time via email.
Then, 15 minutes before your departure time you’ll also receive a link to your boarding pass and a link to track your vehicle to the airport.
Mears Connect arrived on time. Along with several other guests, we were on the bus and off to the airport in the matter of minutes.
Side note: I found it strange that our driver didn’t ask to see or scan our boarding passes. He just let anyone who was waiting on board. *shrug*
And that was just the beginning…
Our driver took off towards the airport, but since I sat up front I could hear his radio going off, in which he was being told to go back to Pop Century.
That’s right, we had to turn around and go pick up guests at Pop Century. Ok, fine. This didn’t take long.
But, wait, there’s more…
Right after, he went back to Art of Animation to pick up more guests. It was beyond confusing and, honestly, I think he was rushing. He was even being told over the radio to “slow down.”
So, yeah… that was frustrating to say the least. We had such an early pickup time and could’ve easily slept in longer if we were just going to be on the merry-go-round Mears Connect.
These extra stops didn’t make us late for our flight and we still got to the airport with plenty of time to spare (too much time, in my opinion).
It took us a little over an hour to arrive at the Terminal B side of the airport.
That said, I know other people who have used Mears Connect have not had good experiences, especially on departure day.
As a newer service, Mears Connect may have been working out the kinks.
Pros & Cons
Just like with any transportation service you use, there are both pros and cons to Mears Connect.
- Most of the time, Mears Connect will be slightly cheaper compared to Uber or Lyft for solo travelers or couples
- Mears Connect is more convenient for families with small children (car seats are not required for both Standard and Express, unlike Uber and Lyft; if you want to use a car seat, Mears Connect will accept any car seat that you bring, but car seats will not be provided to guests)
- Mears Connect offers 24 hour service
- QR codes are valid for 48 hours. If your arrival flight is canceled and you reschedule a flight arriving within 48 hours of original flight time, your QR code will be valid and you don’t have to update your reservation. This also applies if you arrive one day earlier than your scheduled date. If your departure flight is delayed or canceled, click on “Manage reservations” in the reservation box on the home page and you will be able to make your changes.
- Mears Connect doesn’t offer the same convenience, efficiency, and privacy as most rideshare services
- Mears Connect doesn’t make sense for groups with strictly adults and older kids (Lyft and Uber should be more affordable)
- Delays are possible (which could impact park and/or dining plans on arrival day)
- You are picked up from your resort a minimum of 3 hours prior to your domestic flight (a minimum of 4 hours for international flights), which may mean a lot of waiting at the airport
Be sure also check out our graphic comparing Orlando International Airport pickup options:
Recommendations (who should use it?)
So, who should use Mears Connect?
This service seems to make the most sense for families who don’t want to bother with a rideshare service, especially those who need the use of a car seat.
When using Mears Connect, car seats aren’t required for both Standard and Express service (unlike Uber and Lyft).
If you want to use a car seat, Mears Connect will accept any car seat that you bring, but car seats will not be provided to guests.
As for couples, solo travelers, adult groups, or families with older children, Uber or Lyft might suit your needs, plans, and finances much better.
What about renting a car? Well, that’s always an option. You’ll need to decide if a car rental fits into your budget and travel schedule.
If you want to be in control of your own transportation and avoid other individuals as much as possible during an ongoing pandemic, renting a car might be your best bet.
You might be wondering if Mears Connect is worth your time and money.
Well, this is hard to answer with a definitive yes or a no. It all depends on what you’re willing to spend and what kind of service you want.
Now, if Mears Connect adds luggage services, well that could end up being a game changer for many Walt Disney World travelers.
I personally didn’t think Mears Connect was horrible, minus the hiccups on my departure day. It also wasn’t a standout service or that much different than Magical Express.
I’ve even thought about using Mears Connect on my arrival day and then booking a rideshare service on my departure day to avoid arriving at the airport extra early. But, of course, pricing would came into play here and I’d choose the option that would save me the most money.
When it comes to choosing an airport transportation service, it’s all about weighing the pros and cons.
Have you used Mears Connect? Let us know about your experience. And if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Disney World Transportation Links
Want to learn more about Disney World buses, boats, monorail, and more?
Check out these handy posts for even more information on how to get around Walt Disney World.
- How to Navigate with Disney World Transportation
- How to Get Anywhere on Disney World Property (WDW Prep Navigator)
- Strollers on Disney World Transportation (Buses, Skyliner, Monorail, Boats)
- Complete Guide to the Disney Skyliner
- How Minnie Vans Work
- How to use Lyft or Uber at Walt Disney World
- Renting a Car at Walt Disney World
- Everything You Need to Know About Parking at Walt Disney World
- How Mears Connect (the Magical Express replacement) works
- Mears Connect review: Is the airport transportation service worth your time and money?
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