When you first start to research a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll find that you are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a resort or hotel in Orlando.
And it can quickly become overwhelming.
On Walt Disney World property, there is a whole range of Disney resorts to fit everyone’s needs and budgets.
A question I am often asked is why you should choose to stay at a Walt Disney World resort, especially if it’s going to cost you a little more than staying in a budget hotel off-site.
Is it worth staying at a Disney Resort?
The answer to this really has evolved over the years, and it keeps changing now, with, as we will discuss, the adding (and taking away) of different benefits.
I have stayed in the majority of the hotels at least once, and definitely have some favorites.
Let’s delve a little deeper and first see what your options are for staying at a Disney World resort and then look at what benefits this will give you.
What are Your Choices?
First, you need to know exactly what is on offer. There are now more than 30 Disney World hotels and resorts.
Walt Disney World Value Resorts
- All-Star Sports Resort
- All-Star Music Resort
- All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness & Campground
Walt Disney World Moderate Resorts
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort Gran Destino Tower
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
Walt Disney World Deluxe Resorts
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s Boardwalk Inn
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Deluxe Disney Villas
These are part of the Disney Vacation Club, but can be booked by individuals as well.
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- 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
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s Boardwalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Treehouse Villas
- The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Location, Location, Location
The number one reason I recommend choosing a Disney resort is their convenient location within the Walt Disney World property.
Disney World is huge. It covers 25,000 acres or 40 square miles.
That’s just about the same size as San Francisco!
With four main theme parks, two water parks, and Disney Springs to explore, it is difficult to imagine before you visit just how big Walt Disney World is.
If you are mainly planning to spend your time in Orlando at the Disney theme parks, it makes perfect sense to opt to stay on-site.
It used to be that you could have a completely seamless experience with the Magical Express Bus picking you up from Orlando International Airport. It was free, they played Disney themes on the bus, and they even magically handled your luggage for you.
Unfortunately, those days are gone with the demise of the Magical Express. You can still get transportation from Mears and the Sunshine Flyer (they have recently merged to become known as Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine).
What used to be free with Magical Express is now at least $30 per round trip for an adult.
And no longer gives you that Disney immersion from the get-go.
You don’t need to rent a car if you are staying on Disney property. But if you do, or you bring your own car, the standard parking in the parks is free.
This is a significant saving as standard parking at Disney World now costs $25 per day.
All of the resorts offer free bus transportation around the Disney property, allowing you to get to the parks in time for their opening each day.
There is even an extensive system of Disney Boat Transportation to get you from your hotel to the parks.
Especially when it comes to visiting with children, you’ll find that your days in the theme parks soon become very tiring. Staying in a nearby resort will make the days a little shorter and offer you those precious extra minutes of rest before another day of adventure.
Some hotels are so close, such as Disney’s Contemporary Resort and the Grand Floridian, you can even walk to one of the theme parks.
Free Disney Transportation
As well as the handy location of the resorts, each of the Disney resorts offers a variety of transportation options.
You can use Disney transportation if you aren’t a Disney World resort guest, but of course, it is a lot more useful if you are.
There are three types of Disney World free transportation:
- Bus Transportation
- Boat Transportation
- Disney Monorail
- The Skyliner
Buses are the primary way to get around the resorts, which will take you to the four theme parks, Disney Springs, and water parks.
However, depending on the resort you choose, you might also enjoy boat transportation to EPCOT or Disney Springs.
The Magic Kingdom Resorts have boat transportation to Magic Kingdom Park.
There’s also the more recent addition of the Disney Skyliner, which connects many of the resorts to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The monorail resorts have one of the best perks on property, allowing you to get to and from the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT in style each day.
A lot of families realize they don’t need to rent a car or drive to Orlando thanks to this free transportation which will also give parents a break during their vacation.
A Variety of Resorts to Choose From
While Disney resorts are typically a little more expensive than budget resorts on International Drive and in Kissimmee, you might be surprised to find that there are some good value-for-money options.
Admittedly this does vary quite a lot. Recently we have seen some better deals for Disney World hotels, but prices have risen a lot since the parks reopened.
The Value resort category offers family-friendly resorts which have all of the basic amenities you could imagine for a fun vacation.
They still offer large food courts and great swimming pools, so you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained when you aren’t in the theme parks.
Related Post: Art of Animation vs Pop Century – Which is the Best
You could even consider camping at Fort Wilderness, which is the best way to stay close to the magic without breaking the bank.
If you are looking to upgrade your stay or enjoy a unique vacation, then the Moderate and Deluxe resorts are well worth taking a look at.
You’ll enjoy more amenities and transportation options, as well as table service restaurants in your resort.
For the ultimate Disney stay, we recommend checking out the Contemporary or Polynesian resorts, both of which are within a short distance of the Magic Kingdom by monorail.
Related Post: Disney Monorail Resorts – Which One To Avoid
There are also some fantastic large rooms and villas on offer within the DVC resorts for larger family groups, offering you more space to spread out during your trip.
Immerse Yourself in the Disney Magic
The Disney bubble quickly bursts when you leave the property and head out into the busy Orlando traffic.
Keep yourself in the Disney magic throughout your vacation by staying on-site.
There is a big argument for remaining in the Disney “bubble”.
Anyone who has experienced any of the Disney Parks or Resorts knows that there are very immersive themes.
It all goes to enhance the Disney experience, and there is a lot to be said for complete immersion in all things Disney when you visit. Although admittedly this may not be everyone’s idea of a great vacation!
However, if you are an avid Disney fan or are traveling with younger children, it’s a great way to enjoy a family-friendly vacation from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night.
By using your Magic Band as your resort key and theme park ticket, you can also make planning for your trip much easier.
Add a charging card to the band and you won’t even have to worry about going out with a bag for your day in the theme park.
Extra Theme Park Hours
All of the Disney resorts benefit from early entry to the theme parks, allowing you to get ahead of regular day visitors by 30 minutes each day.
These Early Theme Park entry benefits are not just for Disney World Resort Hotel guests. If you are staying in any of these hotels you will also get to enter the parks 30 minutes early.
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
- Shades of Green® on Walt Disney World® Resort
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort
- Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
- Waldorf Astoria Orlando
- Drury Plaza Hotel Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando
- Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
I know that 30 minutes early doesn’t seem like a lot. But it is.
These Early Entry perks are extremely beneficial.
That relatively small amount of time will help you get on some of the more popular rides early in the day, and this makes a huge difference.
In Epcot, I have consistently been able to ride on Test Track and then Soarin’ twice with very little wait.
For those staying in Deluxe Resorts, you can enjoy two nights a week of Extra Evening Hours.
Really these Extended Evening Hours are the game changer for me.
But of course it’s an expensive perk as it is only offered to you if you are staying in the Deluxe Disney World Resorts. Of these, usually Animal Kingdom Lodge offers the lowest rates, so check these out to see if this is an option for you.
Another thing to realise is that these perks are offered to guests of the Swan and Dolphin – usually priced much lower than any of the other Deluxe Resorts. These are on Disney property, very conveniently located, but are not Disney owned. But check out the prices to see if its a good option for you.
Shades of Green, the hotel on Disney property exclusively for the military and their families, can also take advantage of Extended Evening Hours.
Note also that the Extended Evening Hours are usually only offered two nights of the week.
Usually this has been Epcot on Monday and Magic Kingdom on Wednesday. Obviously this is not usually a perk if you are staying over a weekend!
Hollywood Studios has sometimes been offered for Extended Evening Hours too but this is not as common.
The park will stay open for 2 more hours after the usual closing time. So Epcot will stay open until 11 pm. It is a lot of fun to be in the parks at night when all the crowds have left.
Extended Evening Hours tend to have little to no wait times for rides. It’s almost like the days of old – think more than two decades ago!
Disney World Dining Benefits of Staying at a Resort
That’s not the end of the perks you’ll experience when you stay at a Disney resort, as you’ll also be able to book dining reservations in advance of regular guests.
At the moment, anyone can book Advance Dining Reservations 60 days ahead. However, if you are staying at any of the Disney World Resorts, you can book 10 days in advance of that, so at 70 days ahead.
Some of the hottest reservations book up on the day they are released, so staying at a Disney Resort can be a huge advantage here.
For certain restaurants, such as Space 220, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Story Book Dining at Artist Point, realistically staying in a Disney Resort may be your only chance of snagging a reservation.
The game will also change for many when Disney Dining Plan makes a return on January 9, 2024.
Now, the Disney Dining Plan is a controversial one. Whether it really saves money or not, doesn’t seem to matter to many people who love its convenience and appreciate the ability to budget well ahead of time for dining at Disney.
You can also enjoy getting ahead of regular guests when you book your passes with Genie+, as these are available at an earlier time when you link your resort stay on your My Disney Experience App.
Is it Worth Staying at a Disney Resort?
Whichever of the Disney resorts you choose to stay at during your next Disney vacation, you can be sure you’ll be immersed in the Disney magic from the moment you check in.
With resorts available for all budgets and party sizes, we highly encourage you to book a stay on-site during your next vacation.
If you can, embrace the Disney bubble and stay onsite. The benefits are still there.
Alison Meacham is the founder of EverythingMouse Disney Blog. For over 15 years she has shared her love of Disney Parks, Disney Cruises and Universal Orlando. In over 30 years of Disney Travel she has spent countless months in Disney Parks and has sailed on over 45 cruises. A British native and now a United States resident she splits her time between California, Florida and the UK. And spends a serious amount of time sailing the seven seas. She helps over 200,000 people per month follow their Disney travel dreams.