In a single word, yes.
Being a travel agent for Disney, of course, I’m going to want my clients to stay on site.
And there are some very good reasons as to why that could save you both time and money.
Extra Magic Hours
Extra Magic Hours are only for Disney resort guests, and will allow access to certain parks before or after general operating hours. The parks offering Extra Magic Hours vary each day. You can check online to see which parks will offer morning (1 hour before opening) or evening (two hours after closing) Extra Magic Hours (or EMHs) for your trip.
Even though I’m not personally a morning person, I prefer the morning EMHs to evening. This is because cast members are only allowing resort guests into the park, so you know that everyone at the park during EMHs are either are staying at a Disney resort or have a breakfast reservation. It may only be one hour, but you can get a lot done in that hour. A lot.
Evening EMHs are different, because the park is already full of locals and guests staying off property. Attraction queues are already filled with those guests, thus making waits longer for resort guests wanting to take advantage of the on property perk. The park will also feel more crowded as non resort guests meander their way out of the park, stopping at shops and grabbing a couple of last minute snacks. I will say the closer you get to the end of EMH, the less crowded the park will be, especially when there are very late EMH, like 1-3AM. Most families with very young children will already be tucked in their beds at that time.
There are a select few non Disney resorts that are permitted EMH access. Shades of Green and The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels are the only off property resorts that offer the perk. The Downtown Disney Hilton is also on this list, but will no longer be able to offer EMH access for their guests as of January 1, 2016.
We live within driving distance of Disney (about 7 hours), so we visit often and always drive. A lot of people that drive down enjoy parking their car and letting Disney do all the driving by taking advantage of the buses, monorails, and boats. But we like our independence, and parking is included with your resort stay, so we drive to the parks. When you check in to your resort, you will be asked if you have a vehicle with you, and they will give you a paper to place on your dash that will serve as your parking permit. Resort buses will typically run every 10-15 minutes, while Downtown Disney and water park buses might be a little longer. There is no transportation between resorts, so it is necessary to visit a park or the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) to transfer.
Guests staying off site will be subjected to a $17 per day parking fee. It’s important to note that this fee is good for all properties for the entire day, so if you would like to park hop, you will not have to pay the same fee at each park.
Many off site hotels and resorts do offer bus transportation to and from the parks, but the
times are extremely limited and may not be ideal for your plans. Most resorts offer two drop offs and two pick ups per day. If something happens and you miss one of them, you’ll either need to wait for the next one or be paying extra for a taxi. Once on Disney property, off site guests are welcome to use the internal transportation system, so if you have dining reservations at one of the resort restaurants, you can still get there.
You might read of a way to get “free” parking and stay off property, but I promise you that this method is not worth the time or the effort involved. Doing this will take, on average, anywhere from 1-2 hours to get from your car to the gates at the parks and vice versa. Saving $17 isn’t worth 2-4 hours of my family’s time.
Staying at a Disney resort will allow you to make reservations a little earlier than others. On site guests are allowed to make FastPass+ reservations through My Disney Experience 60 days before they check in. Off site guests can still use the My Disney Experience website to manage their FastPass+ selections, but they only have a 30 day window to do so.
What does this mean for locals and off site guests? It means that some of the more popular attractions might be “sold out” or they can only get FastPasses for late in the evening. You see, the trick to making your FastPass+ reservations is to do them early in the day, and pick the most popular attractions, so you are able to get another one from a My Magic Plus service station within the parks. The extremely popular choices such as 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, Anna & Elsa, and Toy Story Midway Mania will go right away or guests will have to wait 2+ hours in a standby line.
Resort guests are also able to make dining reservations in what is known as “180 + 10” window. This translates to 180 days prior to check in, and up to 10 additional days. Off site and local guests can only make dining reservations exactly 180 days in advance. This means that an on site guest checking in on February 1, 2016 can begin making their dining reservations on August 5, 2015 for the dates of 2/01/16-2/10/16. Off site and local guests wanting to dine at Disney restaurants will have to make reservations for 2/01/2016 on 8/05/2105, reservations for 2/02/2016 on 8/06/2015, and so on.
You may think that’s not that big of a deal, but popular restaurants such as Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Chef Mickey’s fill up quickly, so you run the risk of not being able to get a reservations at all, or eating at off peak times. Any Disney travel agent or frequent Disneygoer will tell you how difficult it can be to get a reservation at an ideal time at any of those three restaurants any later than the 180 day mark.
Ever purchase something while on vacation and then dread the decision because you had to lug it around with you all day? Well, if you are staying at a Disney resort, you can choose to have your purchases sent directly to your resort so you don’t have to carry with you. Your can pick up your purchases at your resort’s gift shop.
Yes, you can also have your package sent to the front of the park to be picked up on your way out, but what if you are park hopping that day? You’ll need to pick it up on your way out and still carry it with you while you are at the next park, unless you have your own vehicle and can leave it there.
Disney Dining Plan
Only resort guests are permitted to purchase any of the Disney Dining Plans. Disney offers several different dining plan options for different vacation experiences that can fit into almost any budget. To learn more about the different Disney Dining Plan options and how to determine if they are right for you, read my recent blog post about them here!
There is a dining discount card that many people who visit Disney often will take advantage of called Tables in Wonderland. Benefits of this card include a 20% discount on food and beverages (including alcohol) at more than 100 participating restaurants in the Walt Disney Resort. The card will also allow for complimentary valet parking at a Disney resort when dining at a Tables in Wonderland restaurant at that resort. However, membership is limited to Disney Vacation Club owners, Florida residents, and annual pass holders.
Other Notable Perks
- How about free Magic Bands? Yes, you can purchase specially themed Magic Bands in the parks, but there are ways to personalize your complimentary Magic Bands. Just do some searches on Pinterest, and you will find hundreds of ways to make your bands unique!
- Free resort wifi access is a somewhat recent perk. Disney used to charge for daily internet access, but around the time they introduced My Disney Experience, they began to include wifi with their resort stays to allow their guests the ability to use their app and website to make changes to their plans from their rooms or while on the go via mobile devices in the parks. Yes, there are some complaints of slow service, but it is free. I always tell people that if you have AT&T and are grandfathered with unlimited data, it will be faster to turn off your wifi on your mobile device.
- Magical Express is a service Disney offers roundtrip transportation with luggage service for Disney resort guests to and from Orlando’s MCO airport. All you need to do is check your luggage at the airport with your specialized Magical Express luggage tags, and Disney will deliver your luggage to your room!
Even after all the benefits of staying on site, sometimes money talks. If that is the case, you can still take advantage of a Disney travel agent like me! Did you know there aremany nearby hotels and resorts that are considered “Good Neighbor” hotels at Disney World? Just like the Disney resorts, there are Good Neighbor hotels to fit any budget. These hotels and resorts are all AAA approved and meet Disney standard for quality and service. For more information, feel free to contact me via the Free Quote link above and mention that you are interested in Good Neighbor Hotel options.