Are you planning a trip to Walt Disney World and don’t know where to stay? Team Clark is here to help you decide whether a Disney World Resort hotel is right for you and, if so, how to choose one!
Many Mickey fans swear by Disney World hotels as the best way to experience the happiest place on Earth. As someone who’s been to Disney World several times, I can tell you that staying on-property and off-property do provide different experiences.
Only you can decide what’s best for your trip, but we’re going to go over some factors you should consider and a list of the pros and cons of choosing a Disney Resort hotel.
How to Choose the Best Disney World Resort Hotel for Your Vacation
When choosing accommodations for your Disney vacation, there are three main questions you need to ask yourself:
- Will I Be Flying or Driving?
- What Park Do I Want to be Closest To?
- Are the Convenience and Perks Worth the Price?
Will I Be Flying or Driving?
While there are advantages to each mode of transportation, flying may make your life easier on the Orlando end if you decide to stay at a Disney hotel.
Magical Express is a complimentary shuttle service that drives you to your Disney World Resort hotel from the airport and brings you back when your vacation is over.
I've had great experiences with the Magical Express on several trips to Disney and highly recommend taking advantage of this service. You can read more about it here.
You’ll pay a fee if you want to park a vehicle at a Disney World hotel overnight, but more on that later.
However, you can park for free if you're staying at The Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. Each campsite comes with a parking space for one motorized vehicle.
What Park Do I Want to be Closest To?
A big plus to staying at a Disney hotel is being close to the parks, but which park do you want to spend the most time in?
On-site hotels are grouped by park area. The closer you are to a park, the shorter the commute from your hotel.
For instance, I've stayed at Disney's Wilderness Lodge located in the Magic Kingdom area. Since it's in this area and is a deluxe resort hotel, there are multiple free transportation options to get to the Magic Kingdom, including water taxis and buses.
Part of making this choice is determining whether you're using the free transportation from Disney hotels to the theme parks, taking an Uber or Lyft, or driving into each park.
Complimentary Disney transportation
If you are taking Disney's free transportation, build in an extra 30 minutes to an hour to get where you're going, just in case! You can check wait times for transportation on the My Disney Experience app.
The closer you are to the park, the less you’ll have to budget for Uber or Lyft if you prefer a private ride. Disney also has the
a branded Lyft partnership with standardized vehicles driven by cast members.
Driving to the park
If you decide to drive to the park, you'll be glad to know that Disney hotel guests receive complimentarily parking at each park during their stay. Just get ready for a long walk back to your car unless you get there very early!
Are the Convenience and Perks Worth the Price?
This question is perhaps the biggest factor in determining whether you want to pay for an on-property stay.
Convenience at Disney World basically amounts to travel between your accommodations and the parks and the amount of time you get to spend enjoying the atmosphere that you’re paying for.
When you stay at a Disney hotel, you can wake up, hop on a bus, boat, monorail or sky gondola and be at a park without having to think much about it.
Perks and amenities will also factor in the worth of a Disney hotel stay. Advanced bookings, extra magic hours and free MagicBands are some of the most enticing benefits that you can take advantage of when you book at a Disney hotel.
However, Disney has partnerships with some hotels in the area that make some of these perks more widely available.
As a guest of a Disney World Resort hotel, you can take advantage of some amenities offered by ANY of the Disney hotels.
Once you answer these questions, you’ll be able to calculate the true cost of your stay and pick a place that’s right for you and your travel companions.
Pros and Cons: Staying On-Property at a Disney World Resort Hotel
Now that we’ve covered what you should ask yourself before choosing a Disney World hotel, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons!
A MagicBand is a bracelet that acts as your key to Disney World. You can use it as your park ticket, FastPass+ check-in, Disney hotel room key, payment method and PhotoPass.
When you book a stay at a Walt Disney World-owned and operated hotel, you will automatically receive MagicBands for each person in your party.
To take full advantage of this tool, you must connect your MagicBand to your My Disney Experience account and link a credit card. Then, you'll be able to use the online check-in and room key features.
You can check in online on the way to your hotel via DisneyWorld.com or the My Disney Experience app. When you complete your check-in, you’ll receive a text with your room number.
Then, when you arrive at your hotel, you can go right to your room and unlock it with your MagicBand. There are no check-in desk lines and no extra room keys to remember if you use this feature.
If you’re arriving before your scheduled check-in, you can note that you’d like to check in early on your reservation, but there’s no guarantee that your room will be available. Call your hotel to confirm the details.
While you do not need a MagicBand, it does consolidate a few things that you’ll need throughout your stay at Disney.
Convenient Travel on Disney Property and to the Airport
Getting around Disney World is free and pretty easy. All Disney World Resort hotels have free transportation to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well as to Disney’s two water parks.
You can find maps, routes and transportation wait times in the My Disney Experience app.
If you plan to stay on Disney property for the duration of your visit, or will only be traveling to another part of Orlando for a single day, you probably don’t need a rental car.
This convenience is also a plus if your kids (or you) want to take a nap in the middle of the day or just want some down time away from the crowds.
Advanced reservations can make a HUGE difference in your Disney trip. When you book at a Disney property and link your hotel reservation to your My Disney Experience app, you have access to advanced dining and Fastpass+ reservations.
The Disney dining reservation window is 180 days in advance for most table-service restaurants. If you are a Disney hotel guest, you can book Disney dining reservations through the duration of your stay.
Fastpass+ reservations are available 60 days in advance of the first day of your trip, rather than the 30-day window offered to people staying off-property. You can also make FastPass+ reservations through the duration of your stay and they are free.
Tip: If you are a Disney hotel guest and have a dining or Fastpass+ reservation that is a "must-do," aim to book it toward the end of your stay. You're more likely to get the reservation you want because the advanced booking window starts from the first day of your trip and lets you book through your entire vacation.
Hotel Parking Fee
Fees to park overnight at Disney World Resort hotels run between $15 and $25 per night based on the tier of the hotel.
Here’s how much it will cost you to park at each type of Disney World hotel for reservations in 2020 made on or after June 18, 2019:
It’s impossible to avoid the fact that Disney is extremely expensive, and the convenience of a Disney hotel may not make up for that.
You could travel to many other places for the amount of money you'll likely spend visiting The Mouse. If you, like me, love Disney and saving money, that can be a hard pill to swallow.
Mixed Pro and Con: Disney Atmosphere
One thing that could be considered a pro or con depending on your perspective is being immersed in the Disney atmosphere. Some people love the theming and presence of Disney characters in and around their hotel.
Examples of this are:
- Themed rooms
- Character wake-up calls
- Disney restaurants with character appearances
If you don't want to be surrounded by Disney during your entire vacation, consider a Disney partner hotel or other off-property accommodations.
Should I Stay On-Property at a Disney Resort Hotel?
As we’ve covered, staying on-property at a Disney Resort hotel offers some incredible benefits, but it will likely be more expensive than a hotel that is off of Disney property. However, this is not always the case due to discounts and packages.
If you’re thinking about booking through a third-party, make sure to read reviews and vet the company as thoroughly as you can before handing over your information and hard-earned money.
Here are the tiers of Disney World Resort hotels:
Walt Disney World has Deluxe Villa Resorts for larger parties, including:
- Disney's Riviera Resort
- Disney's Old Key West Resort
- Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney's Beach Club Villas
- Disney's BoardWalk Villas
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- 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
Walt Disney World also offers campground space at Fort Wilderness.
As you can see, there are plenty of Disney World hotel options for you to choose from. The biggest difference in the hotel tiers is the proximity to the parks, but you can take advantage of Disney’s perks regardless of where you stay.
You’ll probably pay less by staying off-property, but there are other expenses to take into account. Because deals are variable, sometimes staying at a Disney-owned and operated hotel can be a good deal, so always comparison shop.
If you’re planning to visit some of Central Florida’s other attractions like Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, staying on property is likely not worth your money because you’ll be paying a premium for benefits that won’t necessarily matter to most of your trip.
If it’s you or your family’s first Disney trip and you have room in your budget, seriously consider staying on-property. Be sure to take advantage of the perks by researching and planning ahead so that you can enjoy your vacation while you’re there!
Do you have any other questions about finding a Disney hotel? Ask them in the comments below and I’ll try to give you an answer!
Other Clark.com Stories You Might Enjoy:
- How to Save Money When You Pack for Disney
- 24 Things You Should Pack in Your Disney Park Bag
- The Best Day and Time to Book a Hotel Room