********UPDATE JANUARY 2020: THE DISNEYLAND RESORT EXPRESS SERVICE HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED EFFECTIVE JANUARY 7, 2020
by Disney Magic Diva
If you’re a regular at Disney World, you may be familiar with the Magical Express, the complimentary charter bus transportation from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World Resort. (You can read my article about it, here.) It’s a fabulous perk of staying on-site while visiting the Most Magical Place on Earth. So when you finally get a chance to visit the Happiest Place on Earth in California, you may wonder how to get from the airport to your hotel.
On our family’s first trip to Disneyland, our vacation package included vouchers for transportation on the Disneyland Resort Express. This is a motor coach service similar to the Magical Express at Walt Disney World Resort, and is the only authorized Disney airport shuttle service. It’s important to note, however, that it is NOT operated by Disney. The Disneyland Resort Express is actually operated by Southern California Gray Line. It provides service from both Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) to the Disneyland Resort and other Anaheim area hotels. The motor coach is wrapped with a Disney theme (I’ve seen Cars, Buzz Lightyear, and Disneyland Diamond Anniversary), which makes it quite fun and distinctive. But while the Disneyland Resort Express was comfortable and reliable, we found it to be a little less magical than the transportation we were accustomed to in Florida.
First, and probably most importantly, it is expensive! Unlike Walt Disney World, the Disneyland Resort Express is not complimentary. A round trip ticket for an adult is $48 from LAX and $35 from Orange County/John Wayne. One child (11 years and under) may ride free with each paying adult. Additional child round-trip fare is $36 to LAX and $26 to Orange County/John Wayne. So for a family of 4, (2 adults and 2 children under 11) you can expect to pay about $70 for roundtrip transportation from John Wayne Airport, and close to $100 for service from LAX. Check their website, here, for current rates and information.
TIP: On subsequent trips, we used Super Shuttle. Although it was not quite as comfortable as a motor coach, it was much less expensive. ($64 for 4 adults round trip to LAX, $40 for Orange County/John Wayne) Uber is even less expensive. (about $17 one way to Orange County/John Wayne)
Second, the Disneyland Express does not run as frequently as the Magical Express. You need to pay attention to the published departure and arrival times, and plan accordingly. When we arrived on our first visit, we walked out to the bus stop just in time to see the motor coach pull away. Busses run about every hour, so depending on when your flight arrives, and how long it takes you to retrieve your luggage, you may be waiting for quite a while for the next bus. Unlike Disney’s Magical Express in Walt Disney World, there is no option to have your luggage picked up at baggage claim and “magically” delivered to your hotel room. You must claim your luggage, and get it to the bus. Note, too, that the Disneyland Resort Express does not run 24 hours. Departures from LAX are approximately 8:00 am until 8:00 pm, and return trips from your hotel to the airport are approximately 5:30 am until 6:00 pm. For Orange County/John Wayne, the Disneyland Resort Express runs from about 8:30 am until 7:00 pm, and from your hotel back to the airport from approximately 6:00 am until 5:30 pm. Times vary depending on which terminal you are picked up from at the airport, and which hotel you choose.
Diva Tip: Similar to Walt Disney World’s Magical Express, the Disneyland Resort Express encourages you to arrive at the airport well before your flight departure time. For domestic flights, they recommend arrival at least 2 hours prior to departure, and at least 3 hours before international flights. Keep this in mind when deciding if the Disneyland Resort Express will meet your travel needs. If you have an extremely early departure, you may need to make other arrangements. If you have a late night flight, you may find yourself waiting at the airport for quite a while.
So why choose the Disneyland Resort Express? If you have young children, and don’t want to hassle with or worry about bringing car seats with you on the flight, it may be a reasonable choice. We had 3 grandchildren with us on our last trip – one in a booster, one in a forward facing car seat, and one in an infant car seat. We were nervous about checking the car seats for fear they may be damaged by the airline (and with good cause – our stroller, which we gate-checked, did get damaged!) We also did not want the extra burden of carrying car seats through the airport along with our other carry-on luggage, especially while trying to keep track of 3 children.
California law requires that children be in car seat – even in shuttle and limousine services. Super Shuttle does not provide car seats, so that was not an option. Limousine services we researched were willing to provide a car seat, but they charged more than the Disneyland Resort Express. Renting a car was an option, but by the time we also rented car seats and paid for parking at the hotel, the Disneyland Resort Express was cheaper. The car seat law does not apply to motor coach services like the Disneyland Resort Express, so we decided to use it as our ground transportation.
Diva Tip: If your travel party does not require car seats, Uber or some other shared ride service is a much more convenient and less expensive option than the Disneyland Resort Express. However, if you have young children in your group, the Disneyland Resort Express is a nice ground transportation option that does NOT require you to bring a car seat.
You can buy tickets for the Disneyland Resort Express online or at the airport. At Orange County/John Wayne, there is a ticket booth outside of Baggage Claim in Terminal B. It is easy to spot and clearly identified with a sign. We were able to easily purchase our tickets, and were given a voucher for the return trip.
When we used the Disneyland Resort Express at LAX, there wasn’t a ticket booth. We were directed to just wait outside on the outer traffic island under the signs for busses and long distance vans. No one collected our fare when we boarded; instead the first stop the bus made at the Disneyland Resort was at the Disneyland Hotel, and here a ticket agent boarded the bus and collected the fare from everyone onboard.
Diva Tip: There is no advantage to purchasing your ticket in advance. Just wait, and purchase when you arrive. We almost purchased in advance on our last trip, just to have it done, but were happy we waited. On the day before we traveled, some adults in our travel party had to change their return flights, so they were able to use Uber for their return ground transportation. Since we knew of that last minute change, we were able to save money and purchase round trip tickets for those who needed them, and one-way tickets for those who could use Uber for the return trip.
The motor coach busses are very similar to Disney’s Magical Express. There are television monitors which play Disney cartoons, although we’ve found it’s sporadic as to whether or not that actually happens. There is a restroom on board; a nice feature when traveling with children! We found the busses to be clean and well maintained, and the drivers courteous.
Travel time from LAX to the Anaheim area is about an hour, depending on traffic – and that can be a big variable in Los Angeles! Travel to Orange County/John Wayne is considerably shorter – about 25-30 minutes.
Diva Tip: Be prepared for how long transportation may take on the Disneyland Resort Express. In addition to actual travel time from the airport to the Anaheim area, you need to include travel time to other airport terminals and area hotels to pick up and drop off other passengers. This can easily add 30-60 minutes to your time on the bus.
Be aware that on inbound trips from the airport, the Disneyland Resort Express always stops first at the three Disneyland Resort hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian, and Paradise Pier). It then will stop at whatever hotels passengers request, as long as they are designated hotels on their route. If you’re staying at a good-neighbor hotel or anything reasonably close to Disneyland Resort, you shouldn’t have a problem getting to your hotel. If the bus route doesn’t stop at your chosen hotel, it will likely stop at one within a block or so, and you will need to walk to your hotel. Just check their brochure for drop off locations.
For return trips to the airport, the Disneyland Resort Express starts at area hotels, then makes its final stops at the three Disneyland Resort hotels before heading to the airport. If you’ve booked a round trip, it’s a good idea to call a day before departure to confirm your pick-up time and location, especially if you’re staying at a good neighbor or other area hotel, so the bus will know to pick you up! Your voucher will have contact information, and the staff at Southern California Gray Line will help in determining the best time for you to be picked up in time to make your flight home.
We found the Disneyland Resort Express to be a great solution to our ground transportation needs when traveling with young children. It probably wouldn’t be our choice if we didn’t have the issue of car seats, but what fun would it be to go to Disneyland without the grandkids?
If you’d like to book your family’s next trip to Disneyland, be sure to contact Patricia at All For Dreams Travel. She will answer any questions you have and help with booking your flights, ground transportation, hotel, park tickets, dining – whatever you need to make your vacation magical. And her services are completely FREE!
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