As you drive under the gateway that welcomes you to Walt Disney World, you pass under a sign that reads “Walt Disney World — The Most Magical Place on Earth.” And when you stay in one of the resort’s more than two dozen on-site hotels, that magic spills over into your time outside of Disney World’s theme parks, as well.
From fun (and free) activities to home-away-from-home amenities, here are 14 reasons to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel on your next visit to Orlando.
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1. You can get into the theme parks early
As of Oct. 1, Disney Resort hotel guests (including select Good Neighbor hotels) can get into any of Disney World’s four theme parks 30 minutes prior to the posted opening time every day. An extra 30 minutes may not sound like much, but you can knock out one or two headliners (think Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom or Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios) before other guests are even allowed through the gates.
The best way to maximize this benefit is to show up at the gates about 30 minutes prior to that day’s early theme park entry time, which you can find on Disney’s weekly calendar. You’ll want to allow 30 to 45 minutes of travel time from your hotel, too. It makes for an early morning, but low crowds also means the line for Starbucks probably won’t be out the door.
A full list of participating hotels and which attractions will be open can be found on Disney’s early theme park entry information page. A valid ticket and Park Pass reservation are required for early theme park entry.
2. You can possibly stay late
Not an early bird? Along with early theme park entry, Disney is also debuting a new extended evening hours benefit for guests staying at Deluxe Resorts, Deluxe Villas, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels (including the new Swan Reserve tower coming soon) and Disney’s Shades of Green resort.
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Unlike the daily early entry, extended hours only take place on select evenings and only at one park per day. As of now, it alternates between Magic Kingdom and Epcot, with Magic Kingdom staying open from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Epcot from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Most of the designated parks' most popular attractions remain open for extended evening hours. With only a few hotels being eligible, you can expect wait times to be very low and crowds minimal.
A valid ticket and Park Pass reservation or Park Hopper option are required for extended theme park hours.
3. Complimentary transportation around Disney
The Disney World property is vast (more than 25,000 acres, to be exact), but it's convenient to get around by boat, bus, gondola and even a “highway in the sky" with its monorail. No matter which transportation method you choose, all of these are free for Disney hotel guests.
Each resort has one or more bus stops that will take you to the various theme parks, waterparks and Disney Springs. With a few exceptions, you can hop on a bus that will take you directly to your destination, and each bus stop has screens with estimated wait times.
If you stay at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian Village Resort or Contemporary Resort, you can take the monorail to Magic Kingdom, Epcot or the other monorail loop hotels. You can also take a small water taxi to Magic Kingdom from these same resorts, as well as Fort Wilderness Resort and Wilderness Lodge.
Ferryboats to Epcot and Hollywood Studios are available from the BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club, Yacht Club and Swan and Dolphin hotels. You can get to Disney Springs via ferryboat from Disney’s Port Orleans, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs.
Disney’s newest form of transportation, the Disney Skyliner, connects Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Caribbean Beach Resort and Art of Animation Resort with Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Not only is it one of the most scenic transportation options, but it’s also unique in that it’s available to guests of Disney value and moderate resorts and not only the more expensive hotels.
4. Transportation from Orlando International Airport to your hotel
As of Jan. 1, 2022, Disney’s Magical Express complimentary airport transfer service is turning into a pumpkin at midnight. Without this service, many Disney travelers are wondering what their options are for getting from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Disney World, outside of renting a car or using a ride-hailing service.
Mears Transportation Group (the same company that operates Disney’s Magical Express) announced in August it would operate its own airport shuttle service to Disney World hotels beginning in January.
Like Magical Express, Mears Connect will coordinate luggage handling and getting you to and from the airport. Unlike its predecessor, however, there is a fee.
The introductory rate for standard service is $16 each way for adults and $13.50 each way for kids, and the premium service is $200 round-trip for up to four passengers (each additional passenger is $55). The reason for the steep price bump is the premium service is a private coach for your party that takes you directly to your resort with no other stops along the way.
Reservations are now available for arrivals beginning Jan. 1.
5. It’s easy to get back to your hotel for a nap
If you’re staying off-site, you could lose hours of your vacation getting to and from your hotel in the middle of the day. Thanks to Disney’s free transportation options, you’re only ever a short ride away from your room when you stay in a Disney World hotel when your kids (or you) need a midday nap.
This convenience extends beyond tired kids. Orlando can go from hot and sunny to torrential downpour in the blink of an eye, so it’s nice to have a “home base” where you can dry off or freshen up should the need arise.
6. You can make dining reservations before anyone else
Walt Disney World dining reservations are available online 60 days before your visit. The most in-demand dining experiences like character breakfasts and drinks at Oga’s Cantina can disappear almost immediately.
If you’re staying on-site, you can book dining for the length of your trip when that 60-day window opens up. It might not seem like much, but you’ll get a leg up on off-site guests who can only book one day at a time.
7. Easy access to kitchens and laundry facilities
Most Disney World hotel rooms have at least a minifridge and access to on-site laundry facilities, but some have full kitchens and an in-room washer and dryer. These are generally located in Disney Vacation Club villas, Disney’s answer to timeshares (and some of the higher-priced hotels on the property).
You won’t necessarily save much money because of the higher room rates, but the ability to prepare your own meals and go home with a suitcase full of clean clothes is a major benefit. You can book these rooms like a regular hotel room directly through Disney, even if you’re not a Disney Vacation Club member.
If a kitchen, washer and dryer are of interest, book a stay at one of these properties:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
- Beach Club Resort.
- BoardWalk Inn.
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
- Old Key West Resort.
- Polynesian Village Resort.
- Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.
- Wilderness Lodge.
- Yacht Club Resort.
Some of Disney’s Value Resorts also have family suites with a small refrigerator, microwave, sink and dining area. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, these rooms give you the ability to make breakfast and stock up on snacks before you hit the parks.
8. Cool off in some of the coolest pools in Orlando
If you’re at Disney’s theme parks from the moment you wake up until they shut the gates at night, you are missing out on one of Disney World’s best features – the pools. Every resort has multiple pools to choose from and if you choose your hotel wisely, you could end up with a waterslide, lazy river or kid-friendly splash area (with a nearby pool bar for parents).
The Lava Pool at the Polynesian Village Resort is one of the best at Disney World. The 142-foot waterslide travels through a volcano and you can view the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks from the pool.
Another standout is Stormalong Bay, a 3-acre waterpark shared by Disney’s Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts that has a pirate ship slide, lazy river and a sandy beach.
9. You can use points at Disney resorts
It may not be our favorite card for everyday spending, but Disney’s own credit card can make it easier for families to manage a big Disney vacation. The Disney Visa offers a six-month, 0% financing option on Disney vacation packages for the first six months (then a variable APR of 15.99% applies).
If you’re planning a shorter stay, pay instead with the Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points per dollar.
You could also use your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to book your Disney resort stay and then use the miles earned to redeem for 1 cent per mile to offset some of the charges.
10. There are room types for every family
If you are traveling with three or more kids, older kids who just want a little privacy or extended family, a standard room with two double beds isn’t going to cut it. Thankfully, Disney World offers a variety of one-, two- and three-bedroom suites and villas that can accommodate any travel style.
On the lower end of the cost spectrum, some standard rooms have a child-size bed that pulls down from the wall while some resorts also have studio rooms with sleeper sofas and pull-down beds. You can also stay in a one-bedroom family suite with two queen-size pull-down beds in the living area (your kids will flip out when they see the dining table turn into a bed).
11. You can be the first to make your Lightning Lane selections (coming soon)
For years, on-site guests had a major advantage over off-site guests when it came to snagging early FastPass reservations. FastPass lines have been changed to Lightning Lanes as part of the new Disney Genie+ service, and you'll get earlier access to Lightning Lane selections when staying at a Disney resort.
Individual attraction selections can only be made on the day of your visit and for only up to two attractions per day for all guests. Disney resort guests can make their individual Lightning Lane attraction purchases beginning at 7 a.m. Non-resort guests cannot purchase their selections until the park opens for the day.
12. There are fun resort activities
One of the best things about staying at a Disney resort is the fun family activities going on all day long, every single day. The schedule changes monthly, but you can always expect to see things like poolside games, Disney trivia, campfires and movies under the stars.
Some resorts also have free scavenger hunts that give you the chance to explore different areas of the resort and collect a fun prize when you solve all the clues. Most activities are completely free, but things like Mickey tie-dye T-shirts or s’mores kits for the campfire do carry a small fee.
13. Enjoy magical experiences for Disney World’s 50th anniversary
Disney World’s 50th anniversary officially kicked off on Oct. 1, but the party keeps going for a full 18 months.
Guests staying at Disney resort hotels during The World’s Most Magical Celebration get an extra sprinkle of pixie dust in the form of surprise appearances by Disney characters; 50th anniversary artwork on buses, monorails and Skyliner gondolas; and a special 50th anniversary Joffrey’s Coffee blend for your in-room coffee maker.
14. Stay in the middle of the magic
People often refer to being in the “Disney bubble” when they visit Disney World. When you stay in a Disney hotel, that’s even more true.
There are special touches like hidden Mickeys and whimsical decor, the convenience of mobile ordering your morning coffee, being only a short distance from the theme parks and Disney’s magic-making cast members going out of their way to make your trip extra special.
Sadly, you will have to pop the bubble and return home eventually, but while you’re at Disney, the real world falls away and is replaced by a carefree world of magic.
Related: The best hotels at Disney World in 2021
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.