The Biggest Mistake Disney World Ever Made?

Disney World might be the most magical place on earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Far from it. 

Magic Kingdom

We’ve seen days at the parks where EVERYTHING goes wrong, apologies issued for how the company has handled certain matters, and other mistakes – from little to big. But one decision Disney World made could be its biggest mistake of all time.

The “Mistake”

So what is this big mistake? Well, at least to some, discontinuing Disney’s Magical Express service was one of the biggest mistakes in Disney World history.

For those who may not have been familiar with it, the Magical Express was a bus service organized by Disney but operated by Mears which took guests to and from their Disney World hotels and the Orlando International Airport at no additional cost.

Disney’s Magical Express is now a distant memory

For many, it marked the magical start to a trip or a sad goodbye to the vacation. It was also considered to be pretty convenient (for guests) since it was free and could get you where you needed to be in a “Disney-managed” fashion (taking one thing off of your planning plate).

But aside from pure convenience and being free, for many it was a part of the trip tradition. The Magical Express had been available to guests for years, but Disney suddenly announced that it would go away once 2022 arrived. It ran for its last days and then sadly joined other offerings in the Disney graveyard. And guests were NOT happy.

Why Was Discontinuing It Such a Big Mistake?

Discontinuing the Magical Express could be Disney’s BIGGEST mistake ever for a multitude of reasons.

From a guest’s perspective, the Magical Express was viewed by many as convenient. It was free and had a touch of the “Disney spirit.” That could help your vacation start before you even left the airport.

Were You a Big Fan?

But really, the bigger benefit was to Disney. The Magical Express was a convenient way to get guests directly from the airport to the Disney World bubble with no chance for them to stop at competitors like Universal Orlando Resort, no time to stop at a restaurant or store that competes with those at Disney Springs, and no grocery store stops to compete with the limited (and pricey) groceries available at Disney World’s hotel gift shops. It offered guests a purely direct trip — airport ➡️  Disney World; Disney World ➡️  airport.

Essentially, it provided Disney with a greater chance of “trapping” guests in the bubble. Less money spent elsewhere likely equaled more money spent in Disney World. Can’t make a pit stop at McDonald’s for a $4 burger? Guess I’ll have to spend $12 on a Disney burger instead!

Disney’s Magical Express check-in area at MCO

It also likely discouraged individuals from leaving Disney property at all (or very much) during their stay. Those who used the Magical Express likely found no need for a rental car since the bus would take them where they needed to go — Disney. Without a rental car, guests may have been less tempted to pay for some other transportation (like an Uber) to leave Disney property. This again served to “trap” them on property for all of their needs, unless they wanted to rely on rideshares or delivery services.

But now the Magical Express is gone. Visitors have to arrange their own transportation. That leaves them open to utilizing rideshares, private car services, rental cars, or other transportation methods that potentially give them the ability to make stops outside of Disney. Now, to be clear, these services all existed while the Magical Express was available and many guests may have opted to skip the Magical Express altogether. But now, those guests who would have otherwise relied on Disney’s free transportation have to figure out their transportation on their own, opening them up to a world they may not have considered before.

Disney’s Magical Express Bus Stop Pick-Up

Particularly with a rental car, guests may feel more motivated or empowered to leave Disney property to visit other local attractions and restaurants, rather than spend ALL of their time at Disney. Without the Magical Express, some guests may also be more tempted to stay off property, as the free service no longer draws them in to stay on property.

Those are all of the “maybes” and possibilities though. Those are the theoretical effects of removing the Magical Express, but have any of those theoreticals become reality, or is Disney’s big mistake not a mistake at all?

Has That “Mistake” Really Yielded Terrible Results?

It’s hard to say whether the removal of the Magical Express has really motivated people to leave Disney World property, stay off property, or otherwise change their plans. Disney doesn’t release information displaying exact numbers that show how many people are or are not staying at the hotels now vs. before, who is leaving the parks vs. staying, etc.

So what do we know? We do know that for the Disney parks, demand is EXCEEDING reservation availabilityAccording to Disney’s executives, the company has not seen demand for the parks decline. Disney is still seeing demand in EXCESS of the reservations being made available to guests, meaning there are days when guests cannot get Park Pass reservations because there is so much demand. That would lean toward showing that the removal of the Magical Express hasn’t really affected trip plans in a big way for some.

Crowds

Disney has noted that they’re seeing increased demand and affinity for the parks. But they’re also seeing an increase in terms of what guests are willing to spend when they get there to improve their experience.

We also know that the Disney parks are hitting big revenue levels. The Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products division hit nearly $7.4 billion in revenue this past quarter. That marked a BIG increase from 2021, which only saw $4.3 billion in revenue for the Parks division during the same period of time.

WHOA!

Guests who are visiting the parks are also spending MORE than before. During Q3 of Fiscal Year 2022, the increase in guest spending was seen mostly when it came to ticket revenues and a higher average daily rate for Disney hotel rooms. The ticket revenue increase in spending came largely from the introduction of Genie+ and Lightning Lane as well as a “reduced impact from promotions” at Walt Disney World Resort.

Chapek has said that close to 50% of park guests purchase Genie+. This is higher than it was several months ago when Disney reported during the Q1 (Fiscal Year 2022) Earnings Call that about one-third of guests were purchasing Genie+.

Lightning Lane sign

But that’s not to say that Disney is the only theme park doing well. For example, Universal Orlando has had some great numbers lately. According to the Q2 results from Universal Orlando (fiscal year 2022), the adjusted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) for the second quarter was $632 million. That actually marked the highest EBITDA on record for the Universal parks for any quarter.

Additionally, in Q2, theme park revenue increased 64.8%, coming out to $1.8 billion in total. That increase was due to higher attendance and guest spending in the parks in the U.S. and Japan.

We’ve also seen some good signs at other theme parks. For example, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported attendance as just 3.1% below 2019.

Universal Studios Florida

Could some of the success at Universal be due to Disney’s decision to drop the Magical Express, giving people greater incentive to explore other areas? Possibly, but there’s no direct evidence.

In fact, some evidence seems to indicate that Disney hasn’t made a mistake at all. For many of our AllEars readers, the removal of the Magical Express (while perhaps sad or disappointing) has NOT changed their trip plans.

We turned to our fantastic AllEars readers via Instagram to see if the removal of the Magical Express had encouraged them to stay off property, rent a car, or do something else. And their answers may show that (at least from a purely practical perspective) Disney didn’t make a mistake.

You will be missed, Magical Express!

We first asked: Are you renting a car more now that Magical Express is gone? This is based on the expectation that those with rental cars could have more freedom to travel around Orlando, leave Disney property, and visit other parks, etc. We received over 700 votes and the breakdown was clear with 78% saying NOPE – they’re not renting cars, instead, they’re using other transportation. Only 22% said they’re renting a car every trip now.

Seems like the removal of the Magical Express hasn’t turned some of our readers toward the rental car game. Now, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t using other transportation that could easily take them off Disney World property, but it is interesting to see that the Magical Express’ removal hasn’t necessarily thrown our readers into the arms of rental car companies.

Not Really Pushing People to Rent Cars

We then asked: Are you staying OFF Disney property more now that Disney’s Magical Express is gone? We got around 1,000 votes for this one and the results were (again) pretty clear. 81% said that they are still staying ON property, while only 19% said the change has now made them stay OFF property every time.

That would be a vote in Disney’s favor – showing that the removal of the Magical Express actually may NOT have resulted in the “disaster” some expected.

Not Staying Off Property!

We also asked: Would you consider staying off property more now that Disney’s Magical Express is gone? The answer also leaned in Disney’s favor, with 68% of people saying NOPE – I want to stay on property. About 32%, however, said they’d consider staying off property more now, but that’s still a relatively low number all things considered.

Still Leaning in Disney’s Favor Here

Our final question was: Are you going to restaurants, stores, or theme parks OFF Disney property more now since the Magical Express is gone? We received over 1,000 votes here and again the answers were clear. 77% said they are still staying on property, while only 23% said they’re going off property a bit more.

Again, this weighs in Disney’s favor, potentially arguing on the side that removing the Magical Express wasn’t as big of a mistake as some might expect.

Not Really Impacting People

Are you surprised by the responses? With all the theoreticals of big negative effects that could be felt due to the removal of the Magical Express, it seems (at least for now, and at least based on information Disney has shared and polls of our readers), that things are sort of still “normal” and the removal hasn’t impacted trip plans for the majority of folks.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some side effects from this “mistake” that could impact things more generally.

The REAL Effect of the “Mistake”

Interestingly, it seems like many AllEars readers don’t feel all that compelled to leave property due to the removal of the Magical Express. And, as we noted above, Disney has seen demand staying steady. So perhaps the removal of the Magical Express didn’t really impact Disney’s practical ability to get and maintain guests within the Disney bubble.

But there could be another side effect of the discontinuation of the Magical Express that still makes it a big mistake — it serves to forward the narrative that Disney only cares about money and nothing else.

©Disney

The removal of this free service that was convenient for guests could potentially serve as another example guests will bring up when they argue that Disney has “lost the magic” and cares more about profits than the guest experience.

For some, the end of the free Magical Express, coupled with the end of the free FastPass+ system, the introduction of the PAID Genie+ and Lightning Lanes system, price increases, and a potential (or rather, a high likelihood) for more increased costs can leave a bad taste in their mouths about the whole Disney experience.

Sounds like the price increases will keep coming.

Some may argue that the slow removal of free perks from the parks shows that Disney just wants to make more money and doesn’t care about the impact it may have on the guest experience (so long as it doesn’t impact their ability to keep bringing guests to the park and increase revenues).

In that sense, the mistake could cause more damage to the brand as a whole than the more immediate practical effects of its removal. But, on the other hand, the fact that guests continue to stay on property, continue to come to the parks, and continue to spend more money now in Disney World than before might indicate that Disney’s “mistake” won’t yield the bad results (from a practical or brand perspective) that some expect.

What Now?

Well, with the Magical Express gone, you have no choice now but to plan your own way to get to/from Disney World and the Orlando airport. That might mean getting a rental car, booking a rideshare service, getting a private car, or utilizing some of the Magical Express replacement services (like Mears Connect or The Sunshine Flyer).

Maybe the discontinuation of the Magical Express will encourage you to stay off property or explore other areas in Orlando. Or maybe you’ll stick to those trip plans and just pay a little extra to do the same thing you did before — go straight to Disney and spend all of your time there.

Mears Connect Express

While some may have expected and may still expect the removal of the Magical Express to be a big mistake from a practical perspective, giving guests a greater encouragement to leave property, stay at off-property hotels, etc. the responses from many of our AllEars readers (and the increased revenue seen in the parks department) seem to indicate otherwise. Those responses are not necessarily indicative of the opinions of all Disney fans, but it is interesting to see.

Has the removal of the Magical Express affected your plans? Tell us in the comments.

©The Sunshine Flyer

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16 Replies to “The Biggest Mistake Disney World Ever Made?”

  1. In the short term, these cutbacks at Disney is increasing their bottom line, but Disney management is sacrificing long term gains and guest satisfaction for short term profits. This may not hurt them through FY 2024, but they have no projects of significance planned beyond that year (assuming Tron actually is finished prior to that!). Meanwhile, just down the road Universal is planning to open AN ENTIRE NEW PARK. Universal opening their third full park finally makes Universal a full week resort destination to rival Disney. That is a time Disney execs should fear for their bottom line, and eventually, their jobs.

  2. Disney used to have more finesse. Slickness. Champions at slight of hand, they’d sprinkle the pixie dust from one while they reached in your wallet with the other.

    Magic Express was no different. It was in their best interest. Period. It elicited feelings of good will and set WDW apart. The costs were recovered by guests staying in the bubble eating all their meals on property and getting all their goods from the way overpriced resort market.

    What changed? Uber/rideshare, Amazon Prime and grocery deliveries coupled with a trend toward shorter and more frequent visits. The costs of ME was no longer worth it to WDW. Their idea of goodwill changed too. If you are the fortunate still affording Disney without being taken down a notch for being unfavorable, consider it enough goodwill from WDW because you’re still welcome 🙂

    1. My wife and I have been going to WDW since 1986. We at one time were going every other year. The ME was the greatest, upon arriving in Orlando, we got that magic feeling , that we have arrived at the “ Happiest Place On Earth” It was the beginning of a wonderful trip. It will surely be missed, I’m sure it make take awhile for it to click, people will see this and all the other things Disney family had in place. The magic is gone, it will be missed. I think Disney will go by the wayside, as other parks will be just as happening as they were.😢

  3. You don’t even mention Disney stopping luggage service. That , combined with the DME, was absolutely great. And I would tell anyone that taking a Disney vacation was a stress free, relaxing experience. I would have gladly paid for both. All that is now gone and replaced with less and less convenience, and with a lot of the magic now gone. Let’s see should I go to Disney this year and fight to get to the resort, stand in huge lines, and pay a lot more for that? The answer seems to be yes. And my response is “WOW”. People seem to be more than willing to accept whatever they are given with like no push back. I would suggest Disney not go any further, but I see no evidence there is a line that goes too far. Oh, well.

  4. I feel like all my favourite things about my Disney trips are gone. I am just glad I got to experience these things before they were gone as I would not have experienced some of my favourite Disney moments. To me the Disney experience began when we got to line up to board the Magical Express, the whole family together on our way to the park. Just like the end of our trip riding to the airport was a sad farewell trip. I loved the Dining plan and found it so enjoyable to get to plan the meals and during the trip just get to enjoy them. Fast pass was such a nice treat and made guests staying at the park feel special. To me, it is in these small details where I felt Disney cared about making our experience magical from start to finish. Now I just feel less excited to return, feeling more and more like a customer rather than a guest.

  5. Some excellent points made by the author of this article. For me, losing ME was more a slap in the face than a hit in the pocketbook. We began our long affection for Disney with the original Mears pay to ride service that was replaced by the complimentary ME. Loved and appreciated ME, but the cost savings were not a huge factor as well as the return of the additional cost would be now. Disney’s mistake with me was the mounting list of discontinued perks and rapidly increasing prices for less service. I feel like the customer is being asked to pay for Disney’s other financial mistakes that sucked all their cash from the coffers such as some of the overseas parks and the Disney Streaming service that, although they sing it’s praises in the stock meetings, has yet to turn a profit and considers trimming the budget from $8B in production costs last year down to $4B this year an indication of winning the financial battle. Disney’s lost my 2-3 family trips per year by showing just how much they don’t appreciate my loyalty to their brand, so ME or no ME doesn’t really matter when you don’t fly into MCO for a trip there anymore.
    On a side note, IMHO, Disney’s biggest Mistake ever was letting the Harry Potter franchise slip thru their fingers and subsequently allowed a talented group of Imagineers go to the “dark side” of Universal. That is what put Universal on the map and truly started the battle of the parks. There is a movie starring Tom Hanks as Walt that tells the story of how he managed to snag, I believe, the Mary Poppins story to make a movie. I would love to see a similar movie showing how Disney lost Harry Potter and Universal managed to sign it to their stable of attractions.

  6. It is not just the loss of the magical express. It is the combination of the constant loss of benefits that made up a magical vacation. No luggage pickup and delivered to your room, The fastpass being discontinued for a paid service that makes the regular ride lines longer than anytime in history. The discontinuing of free magic bands. The magical express stopped. The increase of everything in parks, including smaller portions of food and quality. No meal plan offered. To me the magic is gone, and Disney is only wanting to capitalize on every dollar. Out pricing vacations for many families. The Disney experience has changed. Time will tell if making all this money and forgetting the middle class families will pay off. For me I would like to see the magic return.

  7. Agree, big mistake. We no longer fly to Orlando/Disney due to this change. Our direct flights were just over an hour. Now we drive 8 hours. The first stop overnight is usually an hour before reaching Disney. What does Disney lose? One full day of our family in the park. Less ticket revenue for them as well as meals and incidentals. Also, we have our car to explore other options. Win for us because the trips are cheaper overall.

  8. Discontinuing Magical Express is one of many examples of how little Disney really values guests and the guest experience. Everything is about increasing revenue. That’s a short term feel good for the executives. The list of poor service, lack of maintenance and ridiculous pricing is endless. It’s only a matter of time before we sell out of DVC.

  9. We loved Magical Express. We loved checking our bags at our home airport and having them appear in our room at the resort. We loved having airport check in at the resort and having our bags appear at baggage claim at our home airport. As Vacation Club members since 2005 we still go to Disney World but some of the sparkle is gone.

  10. Agree, biggest mistake was taking away Magical express. Have visited 3 times since Oct. 2021 and have stayed off property each time. For the last 20+ years before 2020 we always stayed on property. Renting a car now and doing more off Disney property now and visiting less of the parks.
    We were always in the bubble of WDW, but now we are spending more money outside of WDW on these last 3 trips then we do the previous 20 yrs. Thank you Disney for making it so easy to enjoy other things outside of the WDW bubble.
    THANK YOU!!

  11. We had a terrible experience in April using Meats returning to the airport. The bus was 45 minutes late and then we had to go to two other resorts to pick up people who hat missed their bus!!! We arrived at our gate with 20 minutes to spare!!!!! VERY nerve wracking. We have used Disney’s ME around 40 times and NEVER had an issue. I HATE what Disney is doing (or not doing) for their patrons

  12. IT SEEMS THAT THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF CHANGES NOT IN FAVOR OF THE GUESTS HAPPENING AT DISNEY… MAGICAL EXPRESS, FAST PASSES, NOT BOOKING FLIGHTS ON WEBSITE, DINING PLAN, PRICE INCRESES, AND WHAT SEEMS LIKE MORE THAN USUAL RIDE DOWNTIMES. THE MAGIC IS SLOWING SLIPPING AWAY. I’M SURE THE ONLY THINGS NOT SLIPPING AWAY ARE THE EXECUTIVES GIANT SALARIES/BONUSES. GOOD JOB BOB!

  13. I would think people using rental cars would benefit Disney since they hit guests with ridiculous parking fees at the hotels. Who cares if you buy a $4 burger McD’s instead of a $12 one at WDW when WDW has you for $25+/day for that car sitting in a resort’s lot? I stopped using the Magic Express after 2 very bad experiences in favor of using a private car service. That it could take nearly 2 hours to get to your hotel and close to 4 (depending on when you are picked up in the route) to get to the airport was nuts and so frustrating/stressful. Although I would think it more environmentally friendly to have 1 bus for every 40 people then to have 40 cars.