A huge decision to make when you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, is deciding whether to stay on site at a Disney Resort Hotel or at accommodation off site. We have done both over the years and there are great reasons for choosing either one.
But I have to say, if you’re able to swing a stay on site, do it! You are truly in the Disney bubble, and surrounded by Disney’s magic at every turn. Walt Disney World is a place where you can forget about your day to day worries and be a kid at heart. And its this feeling that keeps us going back to WDW year after year!
From the Disney music on the buses, to the friendly cast members saying “Welcome Home” in the lobby, your vacation feels like a non-stop enchanted event. Take a look at all the perks and benefits you will receive as a resort guest.
Benefits of Staying at a Disney Resort
Resorts For All Budgets
Many people write off staying on site at Walt Disney World simply because they think it would be too expensive. Not so! Disney has three tiers of resorts: Value, Moderate and Deluxe. As you might expect, the value resorts aren’t as luxurious as the Deluxe Resorts but they are still Disney through and through. And there is something special about every resort!
Disney’s Value Resorts:
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Value Resorts have awesome pools and cool, food court style eateries. They each have unique themes that are represented in the lobbies, restaurants, pool areas and rooms. Art of Animation is themed with popular Disney movies – Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Cars, and The Little Mermaid. It’s hard to believe that a Value Resort features WDW’s largest pool, Big Blue! It’s also the only Disney pool that plays music under the water! Disney’s Value Resorts are perfect for guests on a budget.
Disney’s 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
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Moderate Resorts feature bigger rooms, counter-service food courts, table service restaurants, and more amenities. Disney’s Moderate Resorts are also wonderfully themed – my personal favourite is Port Orleans – French Quarter, where it is always Mardi Gras! You will notice that the themeing is a bit more grown up, but the fun Disney touches are still there. The pools at these resorts also have water slides, which is something that Value Resorts do not have. If you’re looking for a balance between price and facilities, Disney’s Moderate Resorts are the ones to look at.
Disney’s Deluxe Resorts:
- 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 Village Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
For those that like higher end digs, Deluxe Resorts are the lodgings for you! They offer spa services, fitness centers, character dining, and truly impressive architecture (nothing beats walking into the Wilderness Lodge lobby for the first time – it took my breathe away!). Disney do themeing very well, and it is very apparent at the Deluxe Resorts. Be transported to Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge where [some] rooms have a savanna view, complete with giraffes, zebra, and other wildlife; or kick back and relax in the South Seas inspired Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort with lush tropical landscaping, white sandy beach, and a volcano themed pool!
If you have your heart set on staying on site at a Walt Disney World, Disney has a place for you!
I will be covering each Disney Resort in more detail in their own posts, so make sure you are part of the The Pumpkin Patch for updates!
Disney’s Deluxe Villas
There is actually a fourth set of Disney accommodation – Deluxe Villas. These are part of Disney Vacation Club (DVC), which, simply put, is Disney’s timeshare programme.
We became DVC Members in 2015, and own at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. Members will have first access to these villas, which vary in size from studio, through one, two, and three bedroom villas, as well as bungalows, cabins, and treehouses. They are located within Deluxe Resorts and share amenities.
- 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 – opening 2019
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Disney’s Magical Express
Guests staying at Disney owned resorts, receive complimentary transportation to and from Orlando International Airport on a motorcoach – Disney’s Magical Express. Domestic passengers can bypass baggage claim and head directly to board the Magical Express – your luggage will also be delivered directly to your room. International passengers will have to take their luggage onto the bus, but the Cast Member will stow it safely in the hold, and Bell Services are there at the other end to transport your bags to your room. Disney’s Magical Express will also return you to Orlando International Airport on the day you check out of your Disney Resort hotel.
As a Disney Resort Hotel guest, you receive free MagicBands for everyone in your party. (Guests staying offsite have the option to buy MagicBands if they want to use them instead of their park tickets.) For those that live in the USA, MagicBands are delivered to you shortly before your trip. If you are an international guest, you just pick your MagicBands up when you check into your Resort Hotel. Here are some of the MagicBand perks when staying on site:
- Link to park tickets for one touch entry
- Open resort room doors
- Hold FastPass+
- Can be used to make purchases when linked to a major credit card
- Are waterproof
- Read: Everything You Need To Know About Disney MagicBands for lots more info!
Early Access to FastPass+
All guests with park tickets are entitled to FastPass+ which allows them shorter waiting times for rides and attractions. Guests of Disney Resorts, are able to select their FastPass+ earlier than those that are not staying on site. Resort guests are allowed to choose their FastPass+ 60 days before check-in as opposed to 30 days for non-guests. This is a HUGE perk because FastPass+ selections for the most popular rides and attractions go quickly! Think Flight of Passage in Pandora – The World of Avatar; Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land, and of course, new attractions in the soon-to-open, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge!
Extra Access to Dining Reservations
Anyone can book an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) at a Disney restaurant up to 180 days in advance. Disney Resort guests are able to book ADRs for their entire stay (up to 10 days) starting on that 180 day mark. It is often called 180 + 10 ADRs. This means that you don’t have to wait 180 days for each day you want to make a dining reservation for. You are essentially able to book earlier than non-resort guests if you book for the whole stay upfront. If you are staying longer than 10 days, then you just wait 24 hours for each additional day, so that would be 48 hours to book for day 12 of your stay, for example.
Advance Dining Reservations are essential at most table service restaurants. This includes buffets, character dining, signature dining and dinner shows. ADRs are not required at counter service/quick service locations.
Access to Disney Dining Plans
Only Disney Resort guests that have a vacation package are eligible to purchase Disney Dining Plans. (Look out for Free Dining offers that Walt Disney World offer from time to time too!) There are three options that range from quick service to fine dining. All three plans include 1 non-alcoholic/alcoholic* drink per meal (*over 21s only), 2 selected Disney snacks, and a refillable resort mug, plus:
- Quick Service Dining Plan (QSDP) – 2 self-service meals (counter service/quick service)
- Disney Dining Plan (DDP) – 1 waiter service meal (table service/buffet) and 1 self-service meal
- Deluxe Disney Dining Plan (DxDP) – 3 waiter or self-service meals
It would seem that Disney have changed their terminology and calling meals either self-service or waiter service. I’ve included what I have always known them to be! For up-to-date and full info, make sure you read about Disney Dining Plans on the Disney website.
Walt Disney World has some amazing restaurants, and many are extremely popular. Character dining is especially popular so make sure you get those ADRs made! There are great quick service options too – it’s not all boring hamburgers and pizza. And don’t forget Disney Snacks – there are new ones popping up all the time, and we LOVE trying them out!
There are always arguments online for and against the Disney Dining Plan, and you are welcome to seek those arguments out if you like. However, we have upgraded the free DDP to the DxDP on two trips now and loved the experience! Read about all of our Disney Dining in our trip reports :
Free Resort & Theme Park Transportation
No need to spend any money on parking. Just hop on one of the complimentary modes of transport from all Disney Resorts to all four parks, the two water parks, Disney Springs and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Not all modes of transport service all areas. I will briefly outline the options below, and will be writing more in depth soon! Oh, and I should also note that all of this free transportation is available to any guest visiting Walt Disney World, not just those staying at one of the Disney Resorts!
Disney Buses are scheduled every 20 minutes or so, and start operating 45 minutes before park opening and ends 1 hour before park closing. The buses continue their return service to Disney Resorts for 2 hours after the parks close. You should note that buses do not run between resorts, so check with a Cast Member if you need help planning your route. Some of the more sprawling Disney Resorts will have several bus stops, your resort map will indicate where they are.
If you are luckily enough to stay at one of the Deluxe Resorts that have a monorail stop – Grand Floridian, Polynesian Village, and Contemporary – you can catch a ride directly from your resort to and from Magic Kingdom and be there in no time at all!
There are actually three separate beams on the Monorail. One is the Resort Loop that services the aforementioned Disney Resorts and Magic Kingdom (the Monorail actually goes inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort!); The other is the Express Loop which goes back and forth between the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and Magic Kingdom. And the third loop is between TTC and Epcot.
Water taxis and ferryboats traverse many of the water ways around Walt Disney World. Until we stayed at a Disney Resort, I hadn’t realised how many boats were used for transporting guests! As I mentioned I will be going into more detail about Disney Transport in a different post, but the main route has got to be catching one of the ferryboats from the Transportation & Ticket Center, over Seven Seas Logoon to Magic Kingdom. It takes longer than the Monorail does, but if it’s your first visit to Magic Kingdom, I highly recommend riding the ferryboat. There are resort water taxis to Magic Kingdom from Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness.
There are water taxis that run between Disney Springs and the following resorts: Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, Old Key West, and Saratoga Springs. There are also Friendship Boats that operates between Hollywood Studios, and Epcot (International Gateway entrance) and the resorts on Crescent Lake: BoardWalk, Yatch & Beach Club, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts (Disney owned, but doesn’t benefit from all the same Disney Resort perks)
Scheduled to open in Fall 2019 is the Disney Skyliner. We saw it in testing mode during our February 2019 trip to Walt Disney World, and it was very exciting to see this new mode of transport in action, even if the designs of each gondola was under cover!
Glide above the treetops and add an extra dash of pixie dust to your day. This grand, state-of-the-art gondola system will conveniently connect Disney’s Hollywood Studios and International Gateway at Epcot to the following Resort hotels: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s NEW Riviera Resort (opening 2019). – Walt Disney World
Extra Magic Hours
Disney offers resort guests Extra Magic Hours (EMH). This grants guests either early entry or longer hours after park closing. All four parks offer EMH on different days of the week. With the crowd somewhat smaller, you’re able to get on rides, snap a few selfies or search for Hidden Mickeys before the park really fills up!
Shop till you drop at Walt Disney World without having to carry your loot around with you at the parks. Simply request that your items be delivered to your Disney Resort once you purchase them at the register. This service is free! You will have to wait until the next day to pick it up at the main shop at your resort – so don’t send things back if it is you final full day/evening at Disney World. Cast Members do usually check this with you.
Don’t confuse this delivery service with ordering online at stores like Amazon. You can have this delivered to your resort room (as we have done many times) but there is now a $5 fee, per package which will be billed to your room.
Free Resort Activities
Many of the Disney Resorts offer free family activities, and if yours does not, you are welcome to visit a resort that does! Here are just some of the activities you can enjoy:
- Toasting marshmallows at the resort campfire (most resorts have one). Marshmallows are free! S’mores kits are available for an additional charge, or you can bring your own supplies!
- Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long at Fort Wilderness.
- Disney Movies under the stars. Most resorts also offer a nightly movie, some even have a movie near the pool for a swim and watch night!
- Animal tracking with night vision glasses at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- Live music in the Grand Floridian lobby.
- Pool side games
There are also other great activities available for additional fees including fishing, horseback riding, carriage rides, boat rentals, and more. Don’t feel you have to just visit theme parks when you stay at Walt Disney World!
Staying on site means that everything you need is at your disposal. No need to travel to restaurants or stores off site, you can stay well within the Disney bubble! It can take a while to get off of Disney property because it is its own little city. The hustle and bustle of Orlando can make commute times challenging and it can be a waste of precious park time!
I hope you’ve found some useful info to help you decide if a Disney Resort Hotel is right for your next Walt Disney World vacation! Do you have any tips for staying on property? Are there any other perks that I missed? Let me know in the comments!