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Over the last decade, we’ve stayed at a variety of Orlando hotels over the course of more than 25 trips, and though we’ve usually spent less money on lodging at off-site hotels, we also missed key benefits that we enjoyed at Disney World Resort hotels. It’s hard to quantify the extra magic you experience at a Disney World Resort, but we’re going to try with these 16 reasons to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort during your next Orlando vacation.
1. You’ll get the best FastPass+ reservations
FastPass+ reservations — three of which are included with every daily park ticket — let visitors ride the most popular attractions without waiting in line. The sad reality of Disney World is that the most popular attractions can have wait times as long as three hours. (Need proof? See the video of the Flight of Passage ride at Animal Kingdom this summer.)
Disney Resort guests get their pick of FastPass+ reservations, as they can book 60 days out instead of 30.
For the most popular attractions, such as Slinky Dog Dash, Flight of Passage and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, FastPass+ reservations are all claimed well ahead of the standard 30-day window that opens for off-site guests. FastPasses for the hottest rides aren’t available until the third or fourth day of hotel stays (63 or 64th day) even for Disney Resort guests (and, temporarily, Disney Springs guests).
Disney also rolled out a pilot program early in 2018 where guests who stay in a club-level room or in a suite at select Disney World resorts can purchase three extra FastPass+ reservations. These can be booked even farther out, up to 90 days prior to arrival. As an added bonus, they can be used in multiple parks — something you can’t currently do with standard FastPass+ reservations. There’s a three-day minimum stay per person to participate, and an extra price tag of $50 per person per day. But if you’ve already splurged on that incredible suite or club-level room, you may not be quite as concerned about an extra $150 per person on a three-night stay.
2. Extra Magic Hours
Guests staying at a Disney Resort property have access to one park either before or after normal operating hours each day through a program called Extra Magic Hours. Disney World publishes a schedule that shows which parks are open early or late each day. You’ll need to get to the park at least 30 minutes before morning Extra Magic Hours to get the most out of it, so it’s best for early risers. Evening Extra Magic Hours can make for a late night, better for families with older kids.
Because some folks actually prefer to avoid parks with Extra Magic Hours (they tend to be be more crowded during the day), the winning strategy is to get Park Hopper tickets, so you can hit the Extra Magic Hours park early — or late — and visit another park midday.
Until at least the end of 2018, you can also access Extra Magic Hours and FastPass+ when you stay at a number of Good Neighbor hotels on Disney property. Some of these hotels even allow you to redeem hotel points for your rooms, but this is not expected to be a permanent benefit.
3. Get serious travel perks
The folks at Disney World take great care to streamline the travel process. To start, they send luggage tags to you that let Disney bring your luggage straight to the hotel when you land at Orlando Airport (MCO) — no need to stop at the baggage carousel!
Disney World also operates a free Magical Express Bus service between Orlando Airport and Disney World Resorts. Disney World is about a 20-minute drive from the airport, so this can represent significant savings for a family. Best of all, you’ll avoid the parking fee at Disney World resorts.
Because some of the Magical Express Buses make more than one resort stop, your scheduled departure time at the end of your Disney vacation will be a few hours before your flight departure from MCO.
Another perk? Airline check-in at the hotel. You can grab a boarding pass and, if you’re early enough, even check your bags at the hotel with participating airlines. That’ll take some sting out of the crowds at Orlando airport.
4. Free Disney Resort transportation
Walt Disney World maintains a vast transportation network that connects all hotels, parks and other attractions via buses, boats and monorails. All of these transportation options are free for Disney Resort guests.
The monorail resorts are the most convenient (and expensive) of all of the Disney properties. They include the Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village Resort, all with easy access to Magic Kingdom and one-stop access to EPCOT.
Disney World also has a fun ferry-boat network that connects a few properties with parks. Guests at Fort Wilderness Resort and Wilderness Lodge can access Magic Kingdom, while Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club, Yacht Club and Dolphin and Swan Resorts can reach EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. Disney’s Port Orleans, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs Resorts also have ferry access to Disney Springs. Our kids look forward to the ferry boats as a way of getting to the parks, as the crew are typically Disney cast members.
All Disney Resorts are also connected by a bus network. For the most part, all Disney Resorts have direct buses to each park. There are a few exceptions.
Disney World also has pretty cool additions on the way. The Disney Skyliner will connect Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Caribbean Beach Resort and Art of Animation Resort with both EPCOT as well as Hollywood Studios. These resorts are somewhat close to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, but the current drive always takes longer than you’d like. While there’s no firm opening date, rumors are the Skyliner will be operational in 2019.
5. Easy access to kitchens and laundry
If you’re looking to save money at Disney World, some of the rooms at Disney World resorts feature kitchens where you can prepare a few of your own meals.
Additionally, some rooms have washers and dryers, while other properties have access to on-site laundry machines. (You’ll find our family at Disney World multiple times a year, and as there’s a washer and dryer, we can easily squeeze everything we need into carry-on bags — even with all of the wizard hats and magic wands in our suitcases.)
Disney has a category of properties referred to as villas. These are generally part of the Disney Vacation Club, a timeshare-like product. You can book these rooms like a regular hotel room, even if you’re not a Disney Vacation Club member, directly through Disney. If a kitchen, washer and dryer are of interest, book a stay at one of these properties:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Beach Club Resort
- BoardWalk Inn
- Boulder Ridge Villas At Disney’s Wilderness Resort
- Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Old Key West Resort
- Polynesian Village Resort
- Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Wilderness Lodge
- Yacht Club Resort
6. You can get a Disney Dining plan
Guests of Walt Disney World resorts are the only park-goers able to select a dining plan. There’s a quick-service plan, a middle-of-the-road option with sit-down dining and a deluxe, gourmet version. They include a set number of meals for each day of your trip, and you’ll need to purchase the same plan for all guests in your room.
Travelers can watch for the free Disney Dining plan, which usually only comes along once a year. For a few weeks, Disney World will offer free dining plans for everyone on your reservation when you book a paid vacation at a Disney World Resort. Good Neighbor resorts are generally not included. If you were planning to book a room at a Disney World Resort anyway, free dining can represent phenomenal savings for your family.
7. And a head start on dinner reservations
Walt Disney World restaurant reservations are available 180 days before your visit. In some cases (think Cinderella’s Royal Table and ‘Ohana at dinner), you definitely need to book as far in advance as possible to get your ideal dinner time.
If you’re staying onsite, your 180-day window starts the day you check in. This means you can technically book reservations a few days farther out for days later in your vacation. It’s not much, but that head start can be the difference between the reservation you want and explaining to your children why they’re eating at a quick-service restaurant instead of dining with a princess.
8. Have nap time at the hotel
One benefit families love is how close Disney Resorts are to the theme parks. The Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower, for example, are a five-minute walk to the Magic Kingdom. As a Disney Vacation Club owner, I can’t tell you how many times we walked back to Bay Lake Tower so our kids could take a nap in the room. (We parents may have snuck a nap in once or twice too.)
Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village Resorts are also just a short monorail ride from Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. If your child is of napping age, this is a huge benefit for at least some Disney properties.
9. You’ll save plenty of time
Similarly, the location of Disney Resorts can save you a ton of time. And time is the most valuable resource you have at Disney World. After all, a single-day park ticket will set you back more than $100 per person. Staying at an off-site hotel may save you money, but it won’t help you maximize your minutes in the park.
Expect to spend at least 30 minutes of extra transit time to get to a Disney World park from an outside property. In some cases, it can be longer. And at night, if you leave at a peak time — after the fireworks or at park closing, for example — you can expect to be in line for up to 30 minutes just to get to the parking lot.
The same is true for character breakfasts. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort with a character meal, such as breakfast at ‘Ohana at the Polynesian or Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary, you can simply walk to the resort restaurant and let the fun begin. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave plenty of time to get there — especially if you’re driving and need to find parking.
10. Get free Magic Bands for the entire family
Disney World Resort guests are entitled to a complimentary new Magic Band for every stay. You can even select the color and have them customized with your name. Magic Bands can be used to access the parks and FastPass lines, to pay for items around the parks, and to open your Disney hotel door. They’re not a requirement, but they sure do make life easier as you walk around the parks. And getting them for free definitely beats paying $12 or more per Magic Band.
Points aficionados will want to know that thanks to these magical bands you can charge virtually everything at Disney World to your Disney Resort room with the touch of your wrist. When you check-out, the entire bill should code as a travel charge from the hotel. To earn as many points as possible, you should pay with the card that earns you the most on travel charges. The Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier Card are great choices to earn 3x points on the travel charge (excluding the $300 travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve) — that may ultimately include dining, Mickey Mouse toys, t-shirts and more.
11. They can easily accommodate a family of five
Where a number of hotels will only allow up to four guests per room, Disney World has rooms specifically designed for five. Generally referred to as studios (and only available at certain properties), these hotels often have a pull-out sofa or a pull-out chair for the fifth person. Disney World also has the best quality pull-out sofa mattresses. They’re real mattresses, not flimsy afterthoughts. And I can speak to that from personal experience.
12. Disney purchases can be delivered to your room
Your kid wants to buy that big, bulky toy, but you don’t want to haul it around the parks all day? Easy. Just ask the store to have it sent back to your hotel room, free of charge. It takes a few hours, so don’t do it if you’re in a rush. But it’s free way to have your in-park purchases appear magically in your Disney Resort room.
13. You’ll swim in Orlando’s best pools
On the hottest summer days in central Florida, a midday swimming break is a must. Fortunately, Disney World is a heavyweight when it comes to pool design.
Disney’s Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts share Stormalong Bay, a 3-acre waterpark featuring a slide that starts on a pirate ship. Meanwhile, at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, there are five pools and multiple waterslides. And parents can enjoy a cold drink at Cove Bar at the Bay Cove Pool at Bay Lake Tower while their kids climb the 148-foot tower to the waterslide.
The Polynesian Village Resort has a handful of different pools, but the main one is the Lava Pool, which has a 142-foot volcano waterslide, a zero-entry section and a separate splash area with additional slides.
14. There are complimentary evening activities
Most Disney World resorts offer free evening movies or nighttime experiences like poolside movies or campfire screenings.
The Fort Wilderness Resort hosts the Chip ‘n Dale Campfire Sing-a-Long. The night starts with a campfire where you can roast marshmallows and continues with a sing-along and outdoor movie. There’s no extra cost for the evening entertainment at Disney Resorts, which can extend the magical fun long after the park closes.
15. You can use points at Disney Resorts
It may not be our favorite card for everyday spending, but Disney’s own credit card can make it easier for families to manage a big Disney vacation. The Disney Visa offers a six-month, 0% financing option on Disney vacation packages.
If you’re planning a shorter stay, pay instead with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier Card to earn 3x points. And if you want to use Chase Ultimate Reward points to book a Disney Resort, that’s possible, as long as you’re willing to pick up the phone.
You can also use your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to book your Disney Resort stay and then use the points from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per point to cover the charges.
16. You’ll be part of the ‘Disney Bubble’
Disney does a great job of carrying their themes into the hotel rooms. There are small touches, such as Hidden Mickeys, characters on the walls and other flourishes throughout the properties. Combined with the added convenience and complimentary transportation to the parks, all of these details can make your vacation that much more special. It’s part of what’s sometimes referred to as the “Disney Bubble.”
Once you’re on Disney property, employees go out of their way to make your trip a special one. That leaves you time to focus on your children.
When we were staying at Saratoga Springs a few years ago, for example, someone caught my daughter’s foot in a door. It was an accident, but she screamed. Loudly. A Disney Vacation Club salesperson — er, cast member — saw our daughter upset, and went into the gift shop to buy a few stuffed animals for her while we bandaged her foot. The cast member sat and talked to our daughter for 30 minutes to help keep her calm, and even emailed us later to see how she was doing. Seven years later, our daughter still remembers that experience, in a good way.
Featured image by Jacqueline Nell/Getty Images
Reporting by Ed Pizzarello and Summer Hull
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