One of the biggest decisions you can make in planning your trip to Walt Disney World is where to stay. There are hundreds of options in the Orlando area, which can make your decision even more difficult. But it's really simple for us: We prefer to stay on-site (and did we mention we offer hoppin' deals on Walt Disney World Resort hotel stays?). We recommend it for everyone but first-timers especially. Many guests refer to it as the "Disney bubble" for a reason — there's just something special about never feeling like you leave the magic!
Keep in mind that some of the benefits may be modified or unavailable. It's also important to note that all guests currently need a Disney Park Pass reservation to visit Magic Kingdom Park, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom and EPCOT, in addition to valid admission. In other words, a Walt Disney World hotel reservation does not guarantee entry to the parks. That said, we've generally seen the greatest theme park availability for Disney Resort hotel guests in looking at Walt Disney World's Park Pass availability calendar — another added perk!
While some benefits have evolved, there are still plenty of reasons to stay in the magic. Let's hop into all of the benefits of staying on-site at the Most Magical Place on Earth!
Overview of Walt Disney World Resort Hotels
You'll have plenty of options when choosing a Walt Disney World Resort hotel — there are more than 25 resorts and villas! There's something for every theme and budget. Disney World Resorts are separated into three categories based on price point. We have separate guides detailing everything to know about value, moderate and deluxe resorts.
Walt Disney World Value Resorts
- All-Star Sports Resort
- All-Star Music Resort
- All-Star Movies Resort
- Pop Century Resort
- Art of Animation Resort
Walt Disney World Moderate Resorts
- Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney's Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney's Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts and Villas
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney's Beach Club Resort
- Disney's BoardWalk Inn
- Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney's Polynesian Resort
- Disney's Wilderness Lodge
- Disney's Yacht Club Resort
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas - Jambo House
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Top Benefits of Staying at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels
First Access to Disney Genie+ Selections and Advance Dining Reservations
Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests have two distinct advantages when it comes to planning their vacations. They can book individual Lightning Lane selections and Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) before anyone else. This means resort guests can snag reservations for the most popular rides and restaurants.
Lightning Lane is the new FastPass+ replacement as a part of Disney Genie+. For $15 a day per person, guests can access most attractions through the Lightning Lane entrance. Reservations can be made one at a time on that day only, starting at 7 a.m.
For an additional cost, guests can make individual Lightning Lane selections for popular rides such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT. Each park has rides that are paid a la carte and are not part of the Genie+ service. These selections can be made once the park has opened. For resort guests, you'll be able to book up to two individual Lightning Lane selections at 7 a.m. This means guests staying at a Disney World hotel get first dibs on some of the most popular rides and attractions in the parks. This can be a huge perk to guaranteeing your Lightning Lane selection hours before general guests, especially for rides such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which can sell out of reservations for the day by late morning.
For ADRs, all guests (those staying on-site and off) can book dining reservations starting 60 days out, but guests staying at an official Disney World hotel can book those reservations for their full stay. If you were planning a 10-day stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you would be able to make reservations for the later days during your vacation when others cannot. For example, say you're visiting from Dec. 1 to 10. When it hits the 60-day mark, you would be able to book dining reservations for every day of your trip. On the exact same 60-day mark, an off-property guest who is visiting during the same timeframe would only be able to book reservations for Dec. 1 and then would have to book for subsequent days over the next nine days.
This is a big deal because the most popular restaurants are often booked by the 60-day mark. Here are the most popular restaurants at Disney World:
- Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom
- California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Cinderella's Royal Table at Magic Kingdom
- Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Le Cellier at EPCOT
Disney often allows guests staying at select Walt Disney World resorts to book special tickets ahead of the general public. This can be a huge perk for highly sought-after events, such as After Hours or holiday parties, and a key benefit to booking on-site.
Out with Extra Magic Hours, in with Early Theme Park Entry
One of the other benefits of staying at an official Disney World hotel is extra time in the parks. Previously, at least one park each day hosted Extra Magic Hours — either an hour before the park opens or two hours after the park closes — just for resort guests. However, a new benefit, called Early Theme Park Entry, has debuted for resort guests! Unlike Extra Magic Hours, Early Theme Park Entry allows hotel guests to enter any park 30-minutes early, every day.
In the past, it was important to understand how Extra Magic Hours worked when planning days in the parks because sometimes the park hosting Extra Magic Hours would actually be more crowded than the others. Since the purpose of Early Theme Park Entry is to spread guests out among the four theme parks, this benefit has less of an impact on crowds (and provides hotel guests with more options!). While all Disney Resort hotel guests have access to Early Theme Park Entry every morning, Deluxe and Villa guests also have access to Extended Evening Hours on select nights.
Discounted MagicBands and Other Perks
Disney no longer provides free MagicBands to resort guests, but they may be purchased at a discount. Resort guests may customize their MagicBands prior to their trip, up to six days before check-in. If you customize your bands at least 11 days before your visit, they will be shipped to your home (U.S. residents only). You get to pick the color of the band and can add a name or nickname to the inside of the band for easy identification. All of this can be done in My Disney Experience. For repeat resort guests who have multiple MagicBands, you can also use an old favorite instead.
If you needed even more pixie dust in your life, MagicBands or even your phone can serve as your room key and entry into the park. With the mobile check-in option, you can bypass the lobby and go straight to your room!
Tap and go at Lightning Lane queues, ride photo stations and PhotoPass photographers. Additionally, guests staying at a Disney World hotel can assign a four-digit pin for their band that can be used for purchases at the hotel, in the parks and at some Disney Springs retail locations and restaurants. Previously, resort guests could have items shipped to their resort and not have to lug around all of their park purchases. Here's hoping the service returns soon!
Disney World has brought the features of a MagicBand to guests' smart devices via a new service called Disney MagicMobile. Much like a MagicBand, MagicMobile serves as a contactless way for guests to enter the theme park by holding their smartphone or Apple Watch near a touchpoint. Guests who choose not to purchase a discounted MagicBand or use an older MagicBand can use the My Disney Experience app or a Key to the World card during their visit instead to unlock their room doors. MagicBands will remain available in retail locations and on shopDisney.com, and guests will be able to continue using the wearables throughout Walt Disney World Resort.
Free Transportation Around the Parks
While Disney's Magical Express has retired as of Jan. 1, 2022, Mears Transportation continues to offer bus service from MCO airport to all area theme parks for an additional cost. Other third-party options are available, as well! For more information about Orlando transportation options, hop over to our full post.
Transportation from the hotel to the theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs remains free. This can be big cost savings because standard car parking at the theme parks is $25 each day! If you drive to the resort hotels, do note there is a charge for overnight parking.
Here are the standard overnight parking charges per resort category:
- Disney Value Resorts: $15 per night
- Disney Moderate Resorts: $20 per night
- Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts: $25 per night
If you drive to the parks and are staying on-site, you will not be charged to park at the theme parks! You can also pay the difference between standard and preferred parking if you want to upgrade for a shorter walk.
Renting a car is a good option if you'll be visiting Universal or other theme parks, are traveling during peak times when transportation waits will be extra long or just want the maximum flexibility. (Pssst. Did you know we offer toadally ribbeting rates for car rentals?)
Location, Location, Location
One of the biggest reasons to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel is location. Some hotels are within walking distance of the parks. Others are a boat, bus, monorail or Skyliner ride away. But they are all on the Disney World property, which makes it easier to take a break in the afternoon when crowds are at their peak or the tadpoles just need some downtime.
Being Inside the Disney Magic
Last but not least, one of the best benefits of staying on-site at a Walt Disney World hotel is that you are completely immersed in the world of Disney your entire trip! If you've never experienced it, you might think it's no big deal, but if you stay on-site, you will get the full Disney treatment your entire stay. Every person you encounter on your vacation, from the bellhop to the concierge desk attendant and from the parking attendant to the ride attendant, is trained to bring you Disney's world-class customer service.
We've outlined the major benefits of staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, but the biggest one isn't an official benefit — it's simply being surrounded by the magic. Anyone who has been to Disney World can tell you the magic is real, and you get more of it staying on-site. The hotels are so incredibly themed, with their own special Disney touches, character breakfasts and awesome pools. If you stay on-site, you never have to leave the Disney "bubble."
Now it's your turn. We want to hear why you stay on-site! Leave us a comment and let us know your reasons for staying on site. For those who haven't stayed at a Walt Disney World hotel, let us know what questions you have!