Once you decide when you’d like to go to Disney World, it’s time to start working out the budget for your stay. Two of the hottest topics on any Disney World fan board are the topics of dining and hotels. I’ll cover dining next month, but this month I want to talk to you about how to decide where to stay and whether or not that expensive, on site hotel lives up to it’s extra cost.
Orlando is really a great destination for tourists. Not only are there ample things to do, but because of this rooms and tourists specials can be found in abundance. The Internet tells me that I can book a top rated, four star hotel for a Saturday night in two weeks for under $100. The internet also tells me that I can stay at a lower rated Disney hotel for $50-$60 extra per night. At first, it seems like a no-brainer. Seven nights at the four star resort within close driving distance to Disney World will cost you $420 less than staying at the least expensive Disney option. So, in this case, why would anyone ever choose to stay on-site at Disney World and, more than that, should you?
If your bottom line is a low price Disney vacation, you really must stay off site. Great lodgings can be had for far less than the price I quoted above and Orlando is a good place for finding super affordable (read: cheap) lodging so if you must stretch your money, you need to stay off site. Period. The nearby Holiday Inn Express clocks in at just over $60 a night, less than half of a value Disney Resort. The rooms will be the same size and breakfast will be included. You will easily save $100/day staying at the Holiday Inn Express and paying the $17 to park at the Disney Parks than to stay at a value resort. That’s just how it goes.
But, again, why would anyone choose to do something different? Why would you pay so much more to stay on site? $100 a day isn’t insubstantial. Why do you recommend staying on site?
The first thing most Disney World Resort fans will point out is that the Disney hotels are very well themed. If you’re concerned about everything being cartoonish, you can put your worries away. While Disney’s Value resorts do cater more to cartoons and families, their moderate and deluxe resorts usually don’t have to many cartoons to be found. They’re well themed, relaxing , well maintained and beautiful. But, that’s not really worth an extra $100 a night (considering hotel costs and complimentary breakfasts). Disney also offers “free” family entertainment at all of their resorts including daily pool parties, games and night time movies. But worth an extra $100? It’s nice, but it’s not worth the price jump.
I’m not going to blow smoke up your dress about the Disney Bubble. It’s nice. There are some nice resorts with some wonderful themeing, but you’re seriously paying for that privilege. Staying at a Disney World Resort, for me, is about time, effort and statistical advantages.
Disney World Resort hotels are worth the extra money because of the amenities being a resort guest affords you. There aren’t a ton, but depending on the time of year you visit they can turn out to be substantial.
1) Disney World Resort guests have “early” access to their dining reservation system. What does that mean? Anyone visiting Walt Disney World can make reservations for “table service” restaurants beginning at 180 days in advance. Popular restaurants and dining times are competitive. Let that sink in for a minute. Some restaurants, such as the super popular Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom is booked SOLID. You must have a reservation. Resort guests are able to utilize a “+10 day” option. What does that mean? Your reservation window opens for your entire stay at your 180 day (6 month) mark up to ten days. That gives you an advantage for popular restaurants over “day guests”. That few days of advantage can be the difference between getting a reservation at your chosen restaurant at your preferred time and, frankly, not.
2) You can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance where as “day guests” only get 30 days. What is FastPass+? It’s Disney’s line management system, essentially. FastPass+ allows you to make a reservation for the ride you want to ride up to 60 days in advance. FastPass+ works as a free, front of the line pass and is available for selected rides and attractions for all Disney guests. I’ll explain more about how to use FastPass+ later. No Disney guest is barred from waiting in line for any attraction regardless of if they hold a FastPass+ or resort stay, but for super popular attractions like visiting Anna and Elsa or riding the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, FastPass+ offers a substantial time savings, if you can get one. Resort guests have first priority, so not only do you increase the chances of getting the FastPass+ you want, but you also increase the chances of getting the time you want.
3) Resort Guests will still be admitted to the Disney Parks during times of high volume when the park is closed to day guests. Now, this doesn’t happen very often, but for those of us who are working around the kids’ school schedules, it means showing up at the parks when everyone else is. Those dates, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, have seen park closures before due to crowd levels. As a resort guest, you can still get in (even if you might not want to).
One thing I do want to be clear about, is that Big Daddy and I are willing to pay more for something to save us time and effort. Not everyone feels like that. I understand that. Obviously, the main benefits of staying at a Disney resort are time/effort benefits. I don’t have to get up for a week straight at 6am when the Disney Dining reservation system opens. I just have to get up once and it increases my odds of getting popular restaurants at popular times (there’s a reason why those times and places are popular). I also want to point out that planning to this micro level isn’t really necessary to have a good time. It’s something I enjoy, but you might not so being able to decide in May that you’re going to meet Elsa and Anna on a Wednesday in July might not be worth it to you. Only you know what sort of trip you want to have and my advice is just that.
Disney resort guests will also enjoy the minimal savings of free theme park parking and free magic bands. The cost of the parking and magic bands is about two nights difference between staying at the Holiday Inn and staying at a Value Resort. It’s there, but not very substantial.
Lastly, if you are traveling with small kids and want to take advantage of he much touted “afternoon break”, staying on property should offer you a shorter commute time from the park to your room. I say it should because nothing is guaranteed, of course, and delays do happen,