Disney’s Magical Express Age Limit Changes: A Parent’s & Teacher’s Perspective

and | July 20, 2014 | 28 Replies

If you are a frequent traveler to the Walt Disney World Resort, you probably are very familiar with Disney’s Magical Express.  The complimentary shuttle service takes you from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World resort hotel.  It’s a very convenient service that makes your visit more care-free and relaxing.

Recently, Walt Disney World announced that the minimum age to ride a Disney’s Magical Express motor coach unaccompanied by an adult changed from 16 to 12.  That’s quite a difference in age requirements.  Four years in the life of a teenager is quite a difference in maturity and responsibility.  With this change in mind some parents may be thinking twice before sending a 12, 13, or even 14 year old child on a DME bus by themselves.  Sure, sending your child on a DME bus alone may seem convenient in some cases, or work very well with your travel plans, but is it really a safe decision? Here we provide you with both a parent’s and teacher’s perspective on the new policy.


ME (600x480)


A Parent’s Perspective

By Aaron Del Prince

Some tourists may think sending your young child on a DME bus alone is similar in scope to sending them on an airplane alone.  Not really, considering more can go wrong to them on the ground versus in the air.

Another consideration is that even though Disney has their name on the Magical Express service it’s also partially run by Mears Transportation Group.  Disney has partially outsourced the Magical Express service to Mears.  The buses and drivers are provided by Mears Transportation, but Disney runs the Magical Express service – i.e. staffing, planning, airport desk, logistics, etc.  You may think as a parent your child is safe with Disney in charge, but at the point your 12, 13, or 14 year old child boards the Magical Express motor coach alone, Mears is now in charge of their safety.  The bottom line is Disney does not own the service from beginning to end.  You also need to consider Mears as a company who will be in charge of your child’s safety.

As a parent of a 14 year old child I personally wouldn’t let her ride alone.  There are a lot of considerations when making this decision.  You have to think about what could occur if your child is unaccompanied on a motor coach.  There’s peace of mind as a parent during the transfer.  What about getting from the airport terminal to the Magical Express check-in desk if your child traveled on the airplane alone?  Is your child mature enough to handle finding his or her way through an airport or around motor coaches?  There’s so much to consider safety-wise it isn’t worth the logistics or convenience of letting your child go it alone in my opinion.  Every child is different and they all mature at different levels when they are young.  At the end of the day it’s your decision as a parent to make.

Disney is always making modifications and tweaks to their policies and procedures when it comes to guest safety.  However, I’m not so sure this change was in the best interest of safety.  It seems convenience and guest demand may have been the winner in this situation.  Only time will tell, but let’s hope we don’t turn on the news and hear a story of an unaccompanied young child’s safety compromised during a Magical Express transfer.


ME 2 (600x228)


A Teacher’s Perspective

By Nicole Mancini

I have to admit that I was quite shocked when I learned that Disney lowered the age limit for unaccompanied minors on Magical Express. In a world where the news is constantly filled with devastating stories of child abduction and abuse, the last thing we’d need to hear is of harm coming to a child who was riding alone en route to Walt Disney World. Why Disney made this decision is beyond me.

When I think of the students in my classroom – who happen to be of a similar age, many concerns come to mind. First and foremost, this policy supports the assumption that a middle schooler is able to navigate the busy Orlando Airport (MCO) alone. Now, I fully recognize that each and every child is different and has varying levels of abilities. Still, I would imagine that this would be an arduous task for most. At times, my students have trouble following multi-step directions on an assignment let alone exiting a plane and finding the correct location to board a bus. Deciphering which direction to walk, which floor to go to, where the restrooms are, etc. all while avoiding harm’s way (think: “stranger danger”) adds to the task. I can see many children feeling scared or overwhelmed.

Similarly, Disney’s new policy is supposedly the result of its wanting to complement most airline age limits. I think that there is a big difference between escorting a child through security and onto a plane and then picking him up at the terminal of the arrival airport and using the bus service alone. With Magical Express, as mentioned above, there is a significant amount of time spent between getting off the plane and onto the bus. Unlike traveling on the plane, there is not a member of the airline staff monitoring young guests. This is when things can go wrong. I would hate to hear that a child got lost or found himself in a dangerous situation because of this new policy.

Finally, it’s important to note that Magical Express, although sponsored and offered by Disney, is mainly run by Mears Transportation. This outside company partnered with the Mouse House when the service first came to fruition years ago. A lot of guests fall under the somewhat misguided notion of “everything being safe” when it comes to Disney and its staff. Here, the bus drivers and employees are not hired Disney cast members, and even if they were, one should not naively believe that all of them are the ideal; bad apples happen in every bunch. This is no different.

Overall, I truly believe that Disney has made a big mistake in lowering the age limit of unaccompanied minors using Magical Express. Navigating the hustle and bustle of MCO is itself a huge undertaking for many travelers and putting this burden on a child 12 and under is ludicrous. Even adults have difficulty finding where to go in the airport, so I imagine many children would as well. Safety is meant to be one of Disney’s utmost concerns when it comes to their guests, and I feel that this new policy is putting many at risk. I encourage parents to make smart decisions when considering it in the future. You know your child best. Would he or she be able to handle it? Would you feel comfortable? How would you ensure that the child is safe during travel? These questions are of the utmost importance to be considered.


ME 3 (393x600)


In Closing

What would you do?  Would you allow your child to ride Disney’s Magical Express alone?  Why or why not?  At what age would you let your child ride without adult supervision?  Is Disney’s new 12 year old age limit too young?   Please share your feedback in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.


Image Credits:

Disney Media

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Disney World

  • Clare

    In the UK, most 12 year olds would be responsible for getting themselves to school on public transport… some of our students make a much longer journey either by bus or by train, including changes. If I trust them to do that, I’d trust them to get on a coach from MCO to their resort too.

  • jonliz80

    I grew up overseas, and we did a lot of traveling — from the time I was 3, we were in several international airports every year. I can totally see myself being able to do this as a 12 or 13-year-old. That’s right around the time when my parents let me ride public transportation by myself (during daylight hours). Obviously, it’s parents’ responsibility to determine what their child is capable of. I assume that if a parent is letting their child fly alone to Orlando, they have enough life skills to follow the signs to the Magical Express.

  • Anne

    I am willing to bet that both the teacher & parent that wrote this article are from middle class families. I am a parent and teacher in a low income school. It is not unusual at all for my 12 year old students to successfully take much longer bus trips than this alone on much lesser quality bus lines. For many it is how they regularly travel to see the other parent they don’t live with or the only way they get to see family members that don’t live locally. Bus tickets are a lot more affordable than plane & as others have said in other countries this is normal for young teens. I would trust my own child to make this trip alone at 12. It is a parent’s choice but 12 year olds certainly are capable of doing things like this and having some responsibility.

  • That Dad

    Your kid, your choice. At 12 & 13 I was very capable of getting a bus or taxi on my own to ride to an activity and back to my home or parents’ offices. This was long before cell phones and texting. I am grateful my parents taught me self – reliance and independence. You can’t shelter them forever.

  • Jim Barr

    Well is this child that is riding the Magical Express staying at Disney alone? Hopefully this child is meeting someone there at Disney. I can’t fathom a 12 year old spending a few days to a week at Disney alone.

    • cam

      the 12 year old will have to meet someone at the hotel because you have to be at least 18 years old to check in at Disney resorts .

  • Tara R

    Just because the average middle-class North American has never trained their child to use transportation systems independently doesn’t mean that no one has.

    We were living in Europe, where school-age kids rode buses and trains without any adult in attendance, when my oldest hit 12, and yes, she was allowed to travel unaccompanied. Between non-English-speaking airports/stations, even.

  • Kim Holt

    Good article, Nicole. I guess it really is a case by case decision. I’m wondering if this is actually a Disney decision to lower the age or if Mears did this and Disney is just passing on the info.

  • Kelly Frank Greene

    Enjoyed reading the perspectives. I would personally be a little leary of sending my 12 yo alone on a bus with strangers, but with the Disney label, I am sure the driver is notified of unaccompanied kids and seats them to the front. I can assume that most parents who are divorced, like myself, would not veto it without asking that. My children have flown alone several times to see their dad and the most they do is help them on and off the plane and to another gate.

  • Sally

    I grew up in the city and took city public transportation daily to and from school on the opposite side of the city ( an hour or longer on public transport with transfers). I would think many 12 year olds would know how to do this unless they live a very sheltered life. I would guess a child who would be doing this would be prepped for it before heading to the airport.

  • KWG

    Would I do it with one of my kids at 12 years old? It depends. With my 14 or 15 year old kids – sure! I remember traveling from Philadelphia to New Hampshire for music camp by myself as a 14-year old – I took the train to NYC, took a cab to my aunt’s apartment where I spent the night by myself (she was not there), then went to Port Authority bus terminal on my own and got on a bus to New Hampshire. We live in the city, and by the time my children hit high school they are perfectly capable of navigating public transportation on their own – which is essentially what Magical Express is. As for “stories of abduction and abuse” – these types of incidents are actually less common than they were in the past (when we all ran around our neighborhoods by ourselves after school), we are just more aware of them. It is a vanishingly small risk.

  • Bec Bennett

    I don’t understand the problem. For starters why would an unaccompanied 12 year old fly to WDW to begin with? There is also no where in their terms that states you must do this. If you’re not comfortable with your 12 year old flying into Orlando and then catching a bus by themselves then go with them… 😀

  • Elaine SJ

    My almost 13 year old would not be comfortable doing this despite having been with us through Orlando airport several times on trips to Disney. However, I can easily see other kids who are more independent and self-reliant being capable of handling this. It really isn’t hard or confusing to navigate Orlando’s airport if you are a seasoned traveler and are confident following signs. It helps a lot to already be comfortable taking public transportation alone. We live in a car city so my kids have never taken public transportation by themselves and will likely be in their mid-teens before we feel comfortable allowing that (or where they would feel a need to do so). It would all depend on the child.

    • Poppy

      On our most recent trip through MCO, I let my just turned 13 year old lead the way on where we needed to go for DME. She has traveled by plane quite a bit and knows how to read airport signs.

      She led us right to DME, after consulting the ME paperwork once (side B, level 1).

      Twelve year olds are much more capable of things than we as parents (and obviously teachers) give them credit for!

  • Guest

    I used to ride Greyhound by myself from New York to Baltimore when I was a pre-teen, so I don’t see the issue. If you don’t think your kid can handle it, don’t let them do it… I’m not sure how much use this will even see. Do that many unaccompanied children really travel to WDW?

  • Crystal Seaton

    Disney is not demanding that you let your child use Magical Express alone. They are simply offering it as an option. No need for debate or drama on the topic. Each parent can make the decision on what is right for their child.

  • MKMama

    I think you just have to know your child. My oldest child who is 13 is very responsible and a problem solver. I wouldn’t have an issue sending him. However, my middle son gets more easily distracted and I don’t believe he would be ready to go by himself for quite some time. Parents know their children best. Regardless of the age limit, it is an individual decision.

  • TAM

    I think we are missing the point. Most airlines have policies that require the adult picking up the child to show ID and sign a waiver before the airline will release the child at the gate. What I see as a travel agent is that most people want to use the Magical Express as a luggage service but you need someone to ride the bus. I could see a parent sending teens on the bus so the luggage gets a ride.

  • Michael

    I think Nicole is wrong to call it a mistake (although i respect that is her opinion) and honestly I think her perspective as a teacher is irrelevant… Just because she observes certain behaviors in her classroom doesn’t mean it neatly translates to kids from other parts of the country or world…Disney clearly has a reason for this change and I’m guessing they got enough requests to make changing it necessary.

    As for the under 16 navigating the terminal… It would be pretty much the same situation if the child flew in and was picked up by someone…they still have to navigate most of the terminal since you can’t pass security. The major difference is the transportation and being by themselves. I could see an example being the child meeting the grandparents at the resort. I don’t think the logic of the argument really holds up in calling the policy wrong. Nicole’s perspective seems to be one of emotion rather than weighing the true logic of the risk perspective. So from that POV, I think it is erroneous to say the policy should be changed.

    Now all this being said, looking at it from the perspective of allowing MY KIDS to do it… I wouldn’t. That plain and simple. I’m perfectly fine with the policy… I can not forsee a possibility of me ever using it.

    • Nicole L. Mancini

      Thanks for your thoughts. As a teacher, I spend quite a bit of time with my students and, even in many cases, more time than their parents are able to during the work week. This does not just apply to time spent within the walls of our classroom. We learn together in the hallways, lunchroom, during assemblies, after and before school, and on field trips. Because of this, I feel that I have great insight as to what children can or cannot handle in terms of following directions, drawing conclusions, staying safe, etc.

      In the article, I explained that every child is different and, of course, this is a parent decision. In fact, I ended with a few rhetorical questions directed at parents who are considering this option. Some might find it feasible; others will not. Still, I stand by my opinion that this is a mistake on Disney’s part. The risk factor is just too great. The child is expected to get on and off a plane, find the Magical Express depot (which is on another floor of MCO), check in, and board the bus. Once there, what happens? Hopefully a parent or guardian will be outside waiting. In the interim, said child is expected to have the ability of avoiding danger. This is a lot to handle for most kids.

      If one considers Piaget’s studies of brain development, children are only beginning to conceptualize and create sequences of logical reasoning between the ages of 7-11. It is not until the age of 15 in which their brains are able to reason hypothetically and perform complex tasks focusing on the abstract. Could a child who has used ME with a parent find it before the teen years? I’m sure there are some who could. Is this the majority? I’m not so sure. Consider the amount of first-time or novice visitors to the World. Many have years in-between trips. The ME counter has even changed locations since its conception years ago. Procedures for check in have also been modified. Nothing is stagnant.

      Our world has also changed. Years ago, it was safe for parents to tell their children to go out and play until the sun went down. Nowadays, that is not as common. The “village community” aspect of child-rearing is not as prominent. Not all adults look out for other parents’ children. I’ve witnessed lost children crying in airports, theme parks, and stores all the while adults are walking right past them without giving them a second look. If an issue arose as a child was looking for the ME booth, would someone be around to help?

      Again, it’s up to the parents to decide if this new policy will work for them and their children. However, I think the conversation is worth noting and considering. This is exactly why Aaron and I decided to write this blog from two different perspectives.

      • Michael

        Which is a fair statement… I disagree with little of what you said in your article and in the reply. Personally, I wouldn’t let my kids take advantage. I think you’ve effectively argued WHY a parent should think twice on letting a kid take advantage of the policy change.

        I’m just saying you called Disney’s decision a big mistake, which I don’t think you adequately or effectively argued WHY DISNEY’S decision was a big mistake, instead arguing why parents letting kids use the service would be a big mistake.

        Really, this is two different issues… 1) Should Disney have lowered the age… which is more a business argument than anything else and 2) Should kids that age be using the service, which is what you argued (and what I agree with)… Call it picky, just a statement that didn’t really fit the context of your argument, IMHO. Other than that, I thought it was well written and well reasoned.

  • Bill Bourret

    Oh come on. This article is clearly biased. Instead of publishing two perspectives criticizing the age change, why not publish one perspective for the change and one perspective against the change? That way intelligent arguments could be heard from both sides and there’d be much more interesting debate. This seems especially important considering the vast majority of comments are in favor of the change.

  • Mendy Hussong

    I have no doubt that my 14 yr old could make it to Magical Express without assistance and he could make it to the resort fine alone. However, it’s other people that I don’t trust. There are a lot of people in and out of that airport on a daily basis and a long travel between terminal and Magical Express bus area. A lot can happen to a child (even to mine who is the size of an adult). I would hope that if a child is to meet a parent or grandparent at the resort that the parent/grandparent could travel to the airport to wait for the child and then ride ME together. ME has taken me to the airport before when I wasn’t catching a flight. I just talked to concierge and explained my situation. I think we need to think of the safety of our child first and not conveniece.

    • Bill Bourret

      Sounds good. So you restrict your child from riding the ME alone (which you are in your full parental right to do so), and let others make that decision for their own children. No issues!

      • Mendy Hussong

        I guess you feel really passionate about this issue. I guess I was just stating my support of the author and reminding other parents about the dangers of minors travelling through an airport unattended.

        • Bill Bourret

          I didn’t mean to be rude. Just surprised that Disney has gotten so much flak for essentially trying to cater to more consumers.

          • Mendy Hussong

            That’s true, I didn’t think of it that way. I just get worried for kids in this day and age with all the creepsters out there.

  • Gennie D

    In researching the minimum age riding requirements for the Magical Express (we are that family you all are upset about), I came across this article. Although it is quite outdated now, I felt it important to highlight a few things. Firstly, as a parent, I respect the opinions of both authors and agree on many points. However, it’s also important to bring to light a different perspective and point out a policy issue which was stated incorrectly in the teacher’s article.
    1. The airline age policy Disney aligned itself with is not for children flying with an unaccompanied minor service. Children using these services referenced in the articles are required to have an adult pick them up at the airport with ID and sign a release in which case they would not be going to the ME without their parent or guardian. To the contrary, there are some airlines (Southwest, JetBlue, etc) who allow children to fly truly unaccompanied beginning as early as age 12 meaning they do not have an adult accompany them through the airport on either end of their flight, do not receive supervision in flight, and do not require an adult to sign for them. These are the children Disney adjusted their policy for.
    2. As the authors correctly stated albeit with an extreme bias, all children mature differently. In my opinion, most children are not mature enough to handle such a task. However, there are some exceptions. My 14 year old son is a boarding school student who flies 100% unaccompanied and navigates airports and travel scenarios better than most adults. This is an adventurous, smart, and motivated child who took it upon himself to research, call, apply, and obtain scholarships to schools when we thought boarding schools were just something seen in the movies. He has proven to be wise beyond his years, is well travelled having grown up in a military family, and can completely handle the terminal transition to the ME. His sister, who is only a year younger, is smart as a whip and also a very savvy traveler. However, we would never consider allowing her to travel on the ME unaccompanied as she just doesn’t have the same maturity. So before authors and commenters jump to conclusions about the poor decision of Disney to change it’s policy or the parents who just don’t want to come pick up their child from the airport, realize that you have missed the point of the very small subset of the population Disney was trying assist.