One of the biggest decisions you can make in planning your trip to Walt 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 (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!
However, keep in mind that some of the benefits are temporarily unavailable or have been modified since Disney World's reopening during COVID-19 ... and a few others will be retiring completely over the next year. It's also important to note that all guests currently need a Disney Park Pass reservation to visit the theme parks, 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 that 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 are changing, 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!
Why You Should Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel
First Access to FastPass+ and Advance Dining Reservations
Walt Disney World Resort hotel 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. Currently, FastPass+ is not available, and the ADR booking window has changed from 180 days to 60 days.
We are not sure when FastPass+ will be coming back, but we've kept in the details in case the service returns before your trip. We've written extensively about FastPass+. Disney's ride reservation system allows you to book up to three experiences per day in one park to essentially skip the traditional line. Resort guests get to book FastPass+ reservations 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 guests staying at a Disney World hotel get first dibs on the most popular rides and attractions in the parks, including:
- Avatar - Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom
- Frozen Ever After at EPCOT
- Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
Here's how it works 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, whereas off-property guests can only book for the day. If you were planning a 10-day stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you would be able to make reservations up to 69 days in advance, a full 10 days earlier than off-site guests. 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
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 five days before 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). 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 serve as your room key and entry into the park. With the mobile check-in option, you can even bypass the lobby and go straight to your room!
Tap and go at FastPass+ 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. Resort guests also don't have to lug around all of their park purchases. Let someone else handle all of those souvenirs!
In 2021, Disney World plans to bring the features of a MagicBand to guests' smart devices via the My Disney Experience app, building on the app’s existing digital key feature. Guests who choose not to purchase a discounted MagicBand or use an older MagicBand will be able to use the My Disney Experience app or a Key to the World card during their visit instead. 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.
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. Recently, Disney announced that Extra Magic Hours will not be returning. However, a new benefit, called Early Theme Park Entry, is coming soon for resort guests! Unlike Extra Magic Hours, Early Theme Park Entry will allow 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 should have less of an impact on crowds (and provide hotel guests with more options!). We'll be sure to update this post with more information once we know more about Early Theme Park Entry!
Free Transportation to and from the Airport and Around the Parks
While we often opt to rent a car, resort hotel guests can hop aboard Disney's Magical Express for a free ride to and from the airport through Dec. 31, 2021. Check-in is done via MagicBands, so don't put them in your checked bags at the airport if you're opting for this service! While Disney's Magical Express will be retiring as of Jan. 1, 2022, Mears Transportation will continue to offer bus service from MCO to all area theme parks for an additional cost. We expect that other options will pop up between now and 2022, as well — plus we've got our eyes on the upcoming Brightline Train, which is heading to the Orlando area in 2023! 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 is also free. This can be a 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, a relatively recent change.
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
One quick note ... if you drive to the parks and are staying on-site, you will not be charged to enter the theme parks! You can also pay the difference between standard and preferred parking if you'd like 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 to 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 to 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, are trained to bring you Disney's world-class customer service. But you will be fully surrounded by the Disney magic for your entire length of stay, as well.
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!