One of the biggest decisions you can make in planning your trip to Disney World is where to stay. There are hundreds of thousands 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. We recommend it for everyone, but first-timers especially. Today we're outlining the reasons to stay at a Disney World Resort Hotel. Bonus — you can book your dream Disney hotel through your favorite theme park-visiting frogs. Which would be us.
Why You Should Stay at a Disney World Hotel
1. First Access to FastPass+ and Disney Dining Reservations
Resort guests have two distinct advantages when it comes to planning their vacations. They can book FastPass+ reservations and Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) before anyone else. This means resort guests snag reservations for the most popular rides and restaurants.
We've written extensively about FastPass+. Disney's ride reservation system allows you to book up to three experiences per day in one park. Resort guests get to book 60 days in advance of check-in for their length of stay, whereas non-resort guests must book 30 days in advance for each day of their theme park visit. This means the resort guests get first dibs on the most popular rides and attractions in the parks. Just FYI, here they are:
- Avatar - Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Frozen Ever After at Epcot
- Kali River Rapids at Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Peter Pan's Flight at Magic Kingdom
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
- Soarin' Around The World at Epcot
- Toy Story Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios
- Slinky Dog Dash at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Here's how it works for ADRs: All guests (those staying on site and off) can book dining reservations starting 180 days out, but resort guests can book those reservations for their full stay whereas off-site guests can only book for the day. If you were planning a week-long stay to Disney World, you would be able to make reservations up to 187 days in advance, a full 7 days earlier than off-site guests. This is a big deal, because the most popular restaurants are often booked by the 180 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
- Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom
- Le Cellier at Epcot
- Victoria and Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
2. Free MagicBands and Other Perks
Resort guests get free MagicBands, which can be customized (up to five days before your check-in). If you customize your bands at least 10 days before your visit, they will be shipped to your home (U.S. residents only). For the customization, 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. For you repeat resort guests who have multiple MagicBands, you can now decline a new band if you'd like in My Disney Experience.
The bands serve as your room key and entry into the park. They offer tap-and-go ease at FastPass+ queues and when you get photos taken with PhotoPass photographers. Additionally, hotel guests have the option to 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. Resort guests also don't have to lug around all of their park purchases. Let someone else handle all of those souvenirs!
3. Extra Magic Hours
One of the other benefits of staying on site is extra time in the parks. At least one park each day hosts Extra Magic Hours — either an hour before the park opens or two hours after the park closes — just for resort guests. Now, Extra Magic Hours do impact everyone, and it's important to understand how, but they are a benefit for resort guests. They are most helpful to resort guests who have Park Hoppers, or Disney Theme Park Tickets with Park Hopper Option as they're formally known now.
4. Free Transportation to and from the Airport and Around the Parks
While we usually opt to rent a car, resort guests have the option of taking Disney's Magical Express from the airport and to their hotel room for free along with their luggage (only for flights between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.). Check-in is done via MagicBands, so don't put them in your bags if you're opting for this service.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. Transportation from the hotel to the theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs is also free.
5. Location, Location, Location
One of the biggest reasons to stay at a Disney World hotel is location. Some are walking distance to the parks. Others are a boat, bus or monorail 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.
The Best Reason to Stay at a Disney World Hotel
We've outlined the major benefits to staying at a 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 Disney World hotel, let us know what questions you have! And for more tips, hop over to the Where to Stay in Orlando page inside our Orlando Planning Timeline!