Disney’s Magical Express & Resort Airline Check-in
Walt Disney World Resort offers a FREE airport shuttle service called Disney’s Magical Express that includes a complimentary airport shuttle bus to and from the Disney resorts*, and luggage delivery from your home airport directly to your Disney resort hotel room (as long as you arrive between 5:00 am and 10:00 pm).
Additionally, all Disney resort* hotel guests can use a FREE service that is technically separate from Magical Express: Resort Airline Check-in, which allows you to get your return boarding pass and check in your luggage right at your Disney hotel, for selected airlines.
Orlando International Airport and Disney have agreed to a plan that will have Disney’s Magical Express continuing at least through the year 2016.
- Approximately two weeks before departure, special luggage tags are provided by Disney to its resort guests* who have booked Magical Express service. The tags are sent out by mail or FedEx. Guests are expected to attach them to their luggage before the bags are checked in at the guests’ departure airport. The tags allow personnel at Orlando airport to identify which bags belong to people using Magical Express.
- The tagged luggage is then loaded on trucks that take the bags to the Disney resort hotels, where they are placed directly in the guests’ rooms after arrival. Guests using this service no longer need to go to baggage claim and wait for their luggage (except if arriving from outside the US — see below).
- Upon arriving at Orlando airport, guests must find a counter in Terminal B, Level 1, where they are checked in and then assigned to buses (operated by Mears Transportation under contract to Disney) that carry them to their hotels. The drivers are allowed to put up a sign indicating gratuities are accepted, but they should not be actively soliciting tips. If your driver helps you with luggage or does an exceptional job, a gratuity is in order.
- When guests are ready to return to the airport, they can check in their luggage and get a boarding pass using Resort Airline Check-in (assuming they are flying on a participating airline), then ride a Magical Express bus back to the airport. The pick-up time for your return to the airport will be approximately 3 hours prior to your flight time.
- Disney resort guests using non-participating airlines can still ride the Magical Express bus back to the airport, but must carry their bags to the bus and check in at the airport in the usual fashion. The pick-up time for your return to the airport will be approximately 3 hours prior to your flight time.
*Disney’s Magical Express is available only to guests staying at the official hotels owned and operated by Disney. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, the seven Downtown Disney hotels and Shades of Green are NOT included.
Guests must be 16 or older to travel unaccompanied on Disney’s Magical Express.
If you will be arriving in Orlando from outside the US and clearing Customs in Orlando, be aware that you will have to collect your own bags and walk through Customs with them. At that point you can take the luggage with you and check in for the Magical Express bus, or you can hand off the luggage to a Magical Express rep who will have it transported to the hotel.
If you decide to use the Magical Express service, here’s what I would advise:
- In case of delays in getting your baggage delivered, I highly recommend that you pack a carry-on “day bag” that you keep with you. It should contain items you might need in the 8 hours following check-in. Depending on time of day, that might mean pajamas and toothbrush, or swimsuit and walking shoes. By keeping important items with you, you will be able to enjoy your first day (or night) at Disney World.
- If you haven’t received luggage tags a week before you depart, double-check that you are in the Magical Express system, or have your travel agent do so. The number to call is (866) 599-0951. Disney’s Magical Express requires a reservation prior to your arrival at Orlando International Airport. Disney will not be able to provide this service to guests without an advance reservation for Disney’s Magical Express.
- If you don’t receive your official Magical Express tags before departure, be sure your luggage has some kind of tag on it that lists your name and resort. Expect that check-in at the airport and baggage delivery will take extra time because of the lack of official tags on your luggage.
- You should receive the return time for your bus to the airport the day before departure. Take that assigned time very seriously. Allow yourself plenty of leeway to get to the Magical Express bus stop at your resort nice and early, because if you miss the assigned bus, in most cases you will NOT be allowed on the next bus, and you’ll have to pay your own way back to the airport. Disney is quite inflexible about this.
Pros and Cons
The obvious advantages of Disney’s Magical Express are its supposed convenience, seamlessness and the fact that it is FREE (except for tips).
However, you should be aware that it is shared bus service, with Magical Express buses each visiting up to 4 resorts to drop off passengers, and therefore your transfer will almost certainly take longer than using a rental car or towncar service. (90 minutes from the time your plane lands is a good rule of thumb. I have personally experienced it taking a long as 2 hours.) Depending on how much you value your precious vacation time vs. the cost savings, Magical Express may or may not be for you.
Be prepared to be separated from your luggage for awhile after you arrive. See above. Your bags may be delivered at an inconvenient time — for instance, if you arrive in the late afternoon, be aware that your luggage might show up at 10:00 at night. If you have kids who go to sleep early, take this into account.
Also, Magical Express is not flexible, particularly when you’re returning to the airport. Disney will assign your return time, and that time is not negotiable.
- All Disney resort hotel* guests, regardless of whether they are using the Magical Express buses, can get a boarding pass for their return trip home and check in their luggage at their hotel, subject to various restrictions (see below). This luggage check-in and boarding pass service is usually located in the lobby or just outside the front door of the hotel. It is only available for selected airlines.
- The Resort Airline Check-in service is operated by a third party company, Baggage Airline Guest Services (Bags), not by Disney. Essentially the Resort Airline Check-in is like using curbside check-in at the airport, except that you get to do it at the hotel. Plan to tip the baggage handlers who take your bags, just as you would for curbside check-in.
- Participating airlines for the resort check-in/boarding pass service are AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United and USAirways. All domestic (inside the US) flights qualify. Some international flights on these airlines now also qualify, from some resorts. Ask at the check-in desk.
- The Resort Airline Check-In desk daily operating hours are 5:00 am to 1:00 pm. Since you must be checked in 3 hours in advance, you can’t use the resort luggage and check-in service for your return to the airport if your flight departs before 8:00 am.
- You must pay any excess baggage surcharges that apply to your luggage. If you’re flying in Coach/Economy on any airline other than Southwest (2 free checked bags per person) or JetBlue (1 free checked bag per person), ALL of your checked luggage requires a surcharge, typically $25 or $35 per bag. This fee is charged by the airline but collected by Bags via MasterCard, Visa or American Express.
- Only normal-sized bags (generally no more than 62 inches in overall dimensions [length + width + height] and no more than 50 lbs) will be accepted by the Resort Airline Check-in Service. They will NOT accept overweight or oversized luggage — you’ll have to take that to the airport and check it in yourself.
*Resort Airline Check-in Service is available only to guests staying at the official hotels owned and operated by Disney. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, the seven Downtown Disney hotels and Shades of Green are NOT included.