by Military Diva
You’ve booked your Disney World Resort, selected tickets, scheduled your Park Pass Reservations, and secured your flights. And now you’re stuck. How are you going to get from Orlando International Airport to your resort?
Prior to Covid, Disney World offered complimentary Magical Express bus transfers. Guests could add the service to their reservation when booking their Disney package, making the choice clear and easy. That service ended in December 2021, leaving guests to book their transfers on their own. Fortunately, the Orlando area offers almost as many transfer options as it does hotels! Guests can choose to rent a car, use Uber/Lyft, hire a private driver/transfer company, or select one of the two services that have replaced the old Magical Express-Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer.
There are several points that a family should take into consideration when selecting their best transfer option-family size, budget, need for car seats, flight times, and convenience are just a few. Reliability and experience should also be a factor. We have experimented with all of the options over the past five years and have had great experiences each time. For our family of 6, the bus transfer options have remained the most convenient, affordable options.
Let’s Dig Into the Similarities between Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer
Booking-both Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer offer user-friendly websites that make booking transfers a breeze. And both companies work with registered Travel Agents, allowing them to seamlessly piece your vacation together. Guests just need their dates of travel, flight numbers, names/ages of travelers, accessibility needs, and resort name to book. Payment is due at the time of booking and both companies offer generous cancelation/refund policies. Once booked, guests will receive an email confirmation with their payment receipt and their tickets (QR codes). Another email will be sent 24 hours prior to the transfers.
Children-guests under 3 years of age ride for free with both companies.
Location-Both companies are located inside the Orlando International Airport. Guests are encouraged to look over the map of the airport prior to travel to understand how to navigate and locate the check-in desks. Take a look at the map below or in the Orlando International app in advance-navigating the airport with excited children, bags, strollers, and snacks can be very overwhelming!!
- Alaska Airlines, Southwest-Lands in Terminal A, Level 3. Exit the plane and follow the signs for baggage claim. Board the tram to the main hub. Take the escalator/elevator on the right to Level 2. Gather your bags then return to Level 3. Wal across the main hub, and take the elevator to Level 1. Turn right or left, depending on the transfer service you booked.
- Spirit, Frontier-Lands in Terminal A, Level 3. Exit the plane and follow the signs for baggage claim. Board the tram to the main hub. Take the escalator/elevator on the left to Level 2. Gather your bags then return to Level 3. Cross the main hub, and take the elevator to Level 1. Turn right or left, depending on the transfer service you booked.
- Air Canada, Delta, Virgin Atlantic-Lands in Terminal B, Level 3. Exit the plane and follow the signs for baggage claim. Board the tram to the main hub. Take the escalator/elevator on the left to Level 2. Gather your bags then take the elevator to Level 1. Turn right or left depending on the transfer service you booked.
- American, Breeze, United-Lands in Terminal B, Level 3. Exit the plane and follow the signs for baggage claim. Board the tram to the main hub. Take the escalator/elevator on the right to Level 2. Gather your bags then take the elevator to Level 1. Turn right or left depending on the transfer service you booked.
- Note: guests of British Airways, Jet Blue, and other international airlines arriving in Terminal C will need to gather their bags and then take the tram to the Main Hub (Terminal B) to access Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer.
Vehicles-Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer both offer comfortable, coach buses to transfer their guests. Ample under-bus luggage areas, plush seating, seatbelts, tv entertainment, and accessible buses are also amenities on all vehicles.
- Car seats are not legally required for use on either company’s buses.
- Guests with wheelchairs/scooters that need to remain in their chairs should note the request when booking their transfers to guarantee that a bus with a lift will be available.
- Guests with wheelchairs/scooters that do not need to remain in their chairs will have room to store them under the bus.
Serviced Resorts-Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer will both drop off and pick up at all official Disney World Resorts, Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resorts, and Shades of Green on Walt Disney World. However, Mears Connect services a few additional resorts (see details in the difference section below)
Check-In and Transfer Process-all guests will check in at the respective desk in Terminal B, Level 1. Officially, guests are asked to show their confirmation or QR codes at check-in. The desk staff will complete check-in and direct you to the proper waiting location. Note, there is a Starbucks located on Level 1, in between the two transfer locations! This is a great spot to grab a quick drink or snack before checking in for your transfer!! Drivers and/or staff members are available to assist with luggage, strollers, and other items. Typically, guests are on their bus within 20 minutes of check-in and dropped off at their hotel within the hour. Drivers and/or staff members are available to assist with luggage, strollers, and other items.
On the return end, guests should receive an email confirmation 24 hours in advance with their official pick-up time. Expect to be picked up approximately 3 hours prior to the departure flight, meeting your driver at the “Airport Shuttle Departure” sign outside the main entrance of the resort. (It is a good idea to check with the staff at your resort to confirm the location in advance!) Plan to be at the departure location and ready to board 10-15 minutes prior to your scheduled pick up and phone the company if the driver does not arrive as scheduled.
Extra fees-there are no hidden or extra fees with either company. Remember that driver gratuities are not expected or included in the pricing, but are always appreciated!
It’s important to be aware of the differences between Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer
Pricing-of course this is one of the first questions I am asked when recommending a transfer company!
- Mears Connect pricing holds fairly steady at $20.90 per adult and $14.95 per child one way; $39.90 per adult and $28.35 per child roundtrip. They don’t offer specials or discounts as often but are currently offering a Spring Special (2023) offering approximately 25% off the service.
- Sunshine Flyer offers frequent discounts. The standard price is $19.50 per adult and $12.00 per child one way. Their current special offers FREE transfer for children and $15/adult one way.
Child Pricing-one major difference between the companies is their age for child pricing.
- Mears Connect considers children aged between 3-9 years.
- Sunshine Flyer offers child pricing for guests from 3-12 years of age.
- Mears Connect offers both last-minute and walk-up bookings.
- Sunshine Flyer requires guests to make their bookings 4 days prior to arrival
- Mears Connect-as noted on guest confirmations, reservations can be changed or canceled without penalty up until 24 hours prior to scheduled arrival. Changes within 24 hours will be accommodated without penalty; cancellation within 24 hours of arrival will incur a full payment penalty.
- Sunshine Flyer-reservations can be changed or canceled without penalty up until 72 hours prior to scheduled arrival. Changes and cancelations within the 72-hour arrival window will receive a 100% future transfer credit.
Business Hours and Flight Delays
- Mears Connect operates 24-7, which is why they are able to accept walk-up guests. In addition, the company will track your flight and provide you with your booked transfer regardless of any flight delays you experience. It is always polite to contact them directly if you know you will be delayed though!
- Sunshine Flyer only transfers guests with flights between 7:30 am and 11 pm. If your flight lands outside of these hours, you will not be able to use Sunshine Flyer for transfers. Your flights are tracked and you can still be transferred if delayed, as long as you arrive within their operating hours. If you arrive outside of these hours you will need to book another option (Uber, Lyft, taxi, walk up at Mears Connect) and requests a refund from Sunshine Flyer (not guaranteed).
Serviced Resorts-in addition to the list above, Mears Connect also offers transfers to select Disney Springs Resorts, Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Disney World Resort, Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, Bonnet Creek Resorts, and a few other area locations.
- Mears Connect still operates the old Magical Express buses without the Disney-themed wrapping. The exterior looks different, but the interior is still the same.
- Sunshine Flyer operates coach buses that have been wrapped to look like old Steam Engine Railway Trains. This detail has been a huge draw in this company’s success, adding a touch of magic to the trip!
Check-In Location and Waiting Area
- Mears Connect is located at the far western end of Terminal B, Level 1. After checking in, guests will be ushered to a roped-off corral area to wait for their bus to load.
- Sunshine Flyer is located at the far eastern end of Terminal B, Level 1. After checking in, guests will be invited to sit in an open lounge area until their bus is ready to load.
Car Seats are not legally required on any of the coach buses. But the difference in the ability to use your own seat may be a deciding factor for some guests
- Mears Connect requires guests to store their car seats under the bus in the luggage area. Children capable of sitting on their own can be secured in the provided 3-point seatbelt. Otherwise, they will sit on the lap of another family member while riding.
- Sunshine Flyer allows the use of guest car seats onboard. The seats are secured with the onboard three-point seatbelt located in each seat.
Our family first enjoyed the Mears Company service when they coordinated with the Disney Travel Company under the Magical Express. They provided us with safe, reliable transfers without issue. In 2022, those contracts ended and Mears graciously continued the service as a paid option, continuing the tradition of allowing guests to truly begin their vacation the moment they arrive in Orlando. Their service has been enjoyed by millions of guests throughout the years without issue. Of course, when the transition began, the company and guests alike experienced a few hiccups. The same was true for Sunshine Flyer. They began transferring guests in the midst of Covid, as the Magical Express ceased to operate. Again, they experienced a few challenges in the beginning, but have structured their company to be a reliable option for Disney World guests flying into Orlando.
I encourage you to consider all of the details provided above, look over each company’s website, and carefully chose the transfer company that will best meet your family’s needs. If you have additional questions, either company offers excellent communication via phone, email, or social media channels. (All contact details can be found on their websites).
Thank you for taking the time to read and for placing so much effort into your vacation. Of course, if you appreciate the information provided here and would enjoy more helpful tips, consider contacting me for help planning your next vacation-my details can be found below!
Patricia Payne with All for Dreams Travel is an Independent Agent working under Gateway Travel/Gateway to Magic Travel, an Authorized Disney Travel Planner. She is experienced in family travel, military discounts, accessible needs, and group travel to Orlando Destinations, Cruises, and other destinations worldwide. Her specialty is in learning about guest travel needs and requests, educating them on their destination, and providing suggested daily itineraries to meet those needs. Her fees are paid by the supplier; she does not charge additional fees for typical travel. Consider contacting Patricia for a no-obligation quote today!