6 Reasons Why Families Should Stay On-Site in Walt Disney World
Author, Walt Disney World with Kids
Now that there are 21 on-site hotels at Walt Disney World, families have almost unlimited lodging options. And, since most of the rooms added in the last five years are in the budget category (i.e., $82–$114 a night), it's hard to think of any reason why a family wouldn't stay at a Disney hotel. Especially when you consider that Mickey throws in some generous perks for his on-site guests.
The Six Perks of On-Site Disney Hotels
All guests at Disney resorts–whether they're staying at the $82-a-night All Star Sports or a $1,105-a-night Beach Club Grand Villa–get the following advantages.
1. More Time in the Theme Parks, aka "Extra Magic Hours". Each day a selected theme park runs extended hours. Resort guests can either get in an hour before everyone else or stay up to three hours later. Although not every attraction will be open, several big-deal ones will be, and lines will be much shorter. Mondo perk!
2. Complimentary Airport Transportation, aka "Disney's Magic Express". Disney provides free round-trip bus transportation between the Orlando airport and your resort. Best of all, they handle your luggage from start to finish: check your bags at your home airport, and the next time you see them in is your hotel room.
3. Complimentary Resort Transportation. On-site guests are entitled to unlimited and free use of the buses, boats, and monorails that navigate among Disney parks and resorts. Between this advantage and the Magical Express, families flying in can generally forgo the cost of a rental car.
4. Disney Dining Plan. You can save up to 30% per adult and about 10% per child on food costs by purchasing a Disney Dining Plan as part of the Magic Your Way Package. The plan allows you to choose from over 100 restaurants throughout Walt Disney World.
5. Key to the World Card. Talk about hassle free! You'll receive this all-in-one card upon check-in. It acts as your hotel-room key, theme-park ticket, and dining-plan credit card. You can also use it to charge items directly to your room or to gain access to the Extra Magic Hours. Another bonus: As a theme-park guest, you can have purchases delivered back to your hotel, which sure beats carrying a piñata and eight Pluto sweatshirts around all day.
6. Location, Location, Location. It doesn't take a Baby Einstein to figure out that Disney hotels are closer to the theme parks than off-site hotels. Proximity makes it easier to return to your room after lunch for a nap, dip in the pool, change of clothes, etc.
How to Choose the Right Hotel
So...if you've decided you want to stay in an on-site Disney hotel, how do you choose among your numerous options? First visit Disney's Resorts page. Your choice will hinge on three basic questions.
How much do we want to spend? The value resorts start at $82 per night. Moderate hotels start at $149 and deluxe hotels at $240. Suites and villas range from $148 for a suite at All Star Music to $1,100 for the Deluxe Villas at the BoardWalk. Camping at Fort Wilderness ranges from $42 for a tent site to $265 for a cabin.
What's the perfect location? This isn't much of a factor at the value resorts, which are in the more far-flung parts of Disney property; resign yourself to bus rides and console yourself with the money you're saving. But if you're choosing among deluxe resorts, pick one that's close to the theme park where you anticipate spending most of your time. Families with young kids will probably opt for a hotel close to the Magic Kingdom, such as the Polynesian, which is a 10-minute ride on the monorail line. Families with older kids might chose a location with easy access to Hollywood Studios and Epcot, such as the Beach Club, which has convenient water-taxi service to both parks.
Which theme seems the most fun? This, of course, is purely subjective. Some families like the high-tech and futuristic Contemporary, others prefer the laid back and classically Florida-esque Old Key West. Some swoon over the Victorian elegance of the Grand Floridian, and others feel more comfortable in the National Parks–inspired Wilderness Lodge. An island village? African safari? Southern plantation? Whatever ambience you prefer, there's a Disney hotel that's themed to the max and ready to make returning "home" to your resort almost as exciting as being in the parks.
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Just returned from Disney and can not imagine staying off-site with small children. There were 6 of us, 2 grandparents, 2 parents, a 2 year old and 4 year old. (Well actually went to Disney with a 4 year old and returned with a 5 year old) Can not imagine hauling the kids to a car and driving to hotel and back out to park after naps. Was so easy to just hop on the provided transportation and go back and forth. The dining plan was great - no one went hungry. We stayed in a 2 bedroom unit at Bay Lake Towers with a room overlooking the castle (which was so worth the extra cost so the kids could watch the fireworks in their jammies). We had groceries delivered to the room - breakfast items, milk, diapers,cases of water, etc. We will stay onsite next time we go to Disney and will stay elsewhere in Orlando when we plan to do the other great attractions in the area, that will be another vacation. I think it's probably best to do as 2 different holidays unless you are going for at least 2 weeks.
Couldn't disagree with sft more! We've been to Disney a couple of time with our children and now a few times with our grandkids. We've stayed outside and inside. We've done meal plans and eaten on our own. We've rented cars and stayed put. If you're willing to put a little time into figuring out where you'd like to eat (and there are some very good restaurants in WDW), it's pretty simple to make reservations well in advance of your trip. The free transportation and baggage handling is a fantastic feature! One feature that can't be beat is the ability to go to a park, go back to the hotel and swim, and go back to the park again when the folks who are living off-site have left to make early dinners or because they can't deal with one more minute of walking with the kids. Financial suicide? Only if you're spending way beyond your means - and who's fault would that be? We'll be taking our younger grandkids to WDW in about 4-5 years. We'll definitely be staying in the park, with a meal plan and counting on folks like sft to find other places so we have more of the resort to ourselves!
There is of course a dark side to only staying at Disney. For one, there are many parks outside Disney that are worth visiting and, which are, in the minds of many, superior; Universal and Busch Gardens come to mind. Another reason is the fact that most hotels outside the property deliver similar features and accommodations, whatever the category, for about half the price of a comparable Disney hotel whilst generally providing trasport to and from ALL attractions. Ditto for food, which is usually better, far cheaper and of more variety than available in Disney. My further experience with Disney is that the restaurant you would like to go to is often not the one that has room for you prior to 10:00. Finally, the idea of using one card to galavant through what even a fanatic fan would call an overpriced wonderland seems tantamount to financial suicide. Upon receiving the final bill at checkout, the prudence of alternatives may become obvious and the cost of renting a car, very resaonable in Orlando, may seem but a pittance.
Actually, staying onsite at a Disney resort is a great idea for ANYONE visiting the parks. Indeed, with so many options from which to choose (even camping!) you are bound to find something that works for you!