Should I Stay at a Disney Resort? Perks (and Downsides) of Staying at a Disney Resort (2023)
Planning a trip to Disney World or Disneyland? If so, you’ll eventually find yourself asking one specific question. Should you stay at a Disney resort or hotel? Or somewhere off Disney property?
For some diehard Disney fans, the question is ridiculous. Why would you stay in an off-site property? It means having to worry about actually getting to the theme park each day and an overall less immersive experience.
However, that’s not necessarily the case. If you’re trying to decide if you should stay at a Disney resort, don’t listen to the Disney fan blogs. Don’t listen to your friend who eats, drinks, breathes, and lives all things Disney.
For the average traveler, staying off-site does come with some perks. That said, staying at a Disney resort likewise comes with its benefits. As with almost all travel choices, there’s no hard right or wrong answer to this decision. It all depends on your personal preferences and travel needs.
Here’s what you need to know to help you make the right decision.
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Table of Contents
The Benefits of Staying at a Disney Resort
1. Easy, Free Transportation
If staying at an off-site property, yes, you’ll likely save some money on room rates. However, you may find that you end up paying quite a lot in transportation costs. It can be really shocking when you start to add up the costs of traveling from your off-site property, to and from the theme park each day.
You’ve got the cost of getting from the airport to your hotel, whether you take a rideshare or rent a car. Then you have to get to the theme park from your hotel each day. Then, you have to pay for parking at the theme park!
In contrast, when you’re staying at a Disney resort, you only need to get from the airport to the resort hotel. (Note that Disney no longer provides complimentary airport shuttle service). Then, Disney has you covered from there.
Disney resorts provide shuttle service to the theme parks at no cost to you. The only costs you’ll incur are when taking an Uber or Lyft from the airport to your hotel and any costs associated with going elsewhere in the area (like if you want to go from Disney World to Universal Studios).
One cool feature? The free transportation to the parks can vary depending on your Disney resort. Sometimes, that transportation is way better than just a shuttle bus. Options include boats, monorails, and more.
In addition to free transportation, Disney resort guests enjoy complimentary parking, in case they rent a car and prefer to drive themselves to the parks versus taking public transit.
2. Early Park Access
Guests at Disney resorts also enjoy early access to the theme parks. If you’re a Disney resort guest, you’ll be able to enter the theme parks half an hour earlier than the general public. (Some resorts also offer extended park access after the park closes to the general public.)
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3. Dining Plans
While Disney put its dining plans on hiatus over the pandemic, they’re coming back in 2024 — and they could very well be your favorite perk of staying at a Disney resort when they do.
So how do they work?
Resort guests can buy a dining plan for their trip that allows them to spend credits, not money, when dining in the parks. Think of it like a dining package on a cruise or at a resort.
A dining plan with credits won’t necessarily allow you to eat everything and anything you want (or drink anything you want) while in the parks. However, they can still streamline your dining experience and keep you from overspending on theme park eats (which is all too possible).
4. Priority Treatment
Disney gives its resort guests priority and preferential treatment. Resort guests receive priority access to restaurant reservations. They also can purchase Lightning Lane passes — essentially “skip the line” passes for rides — before the general public.
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5. Lots of Hotel Amenities
One nice thing about staying at Disney’s resort properties? Many feature cool amenities and fun activities, allowing you to make the most of your vacation even when you’re not at the theme parks. Think excellent, on-site restaurants and bars, pools and waterparks, and more.
6. No Resort Fees
If you’re like me, you’ve likely noticed that just about every hotel you might stay at has started charging a resort fee — and for what? Amenities that were once upon a time thrown into your stay for free?
If this newish trend in the travel industry makes you turn red, you’ll be glad to know that Disney resorts charge no resort fees. The price you see is what you get, so you’re not surprised when you check in to your hotel and suddenly discover that you’re spending dozens of dollars just for perks like WiFi and in-room bottled water.
7. Free Delivery
You have a lot of shopping opportunities when you’re exploring the Disney theme parks. However, while you might have a great time shopping for all those souvenirs, you likely won’t have a great time carrying them around for the rest of the day.
When staying at a Disney resort, one incredible perk is free delivery for your purchases, from the parks back to your guest room. Additionally, you can often charge services and costs like these directly to your room, if you don’t want to carry around cash.
8. Great Service
Disney employees are known for their commitment to providing guests with a quality stay and/or experience. It’s not uncommon for team members to go above and beyond to make guests’ experiences magical.
If excellent customer service is something that really matters to you, you’ll love this extra attention to service at Disney’s resorts.
9. Discounted Magic Bands
While Magic Bands aren’t necessary at Disney theme parks, they can make your life easier. Magic Bands can be used to access the parks and charge purchases to an account. Disney does charge a fee for these wearable bands, though — and resort guests get the bands at a discount.
10. The Disney Bubble
Last but certainly not least, we can’t overlook the “Disney bubble.” Disney fans rave that there’s just something about Disney World and Disneyland that makes everything better. Life is happier, brighter, cleaner, and more perfect when you’re at Disney World or Disneyland. That bubble of perfection extends to Disney’s on-site resorts as well.
If you don’t want to leave the bubble and return to the real world, off-resort — filled with traffic, less-than-enthusiastic hospitality workers, and all the other little annoyances that can sometimes come with average travel — then stay within the bubble.
The Drawbacks of Staying at Disney Resort
1. Money, Money, Money
Let’s face it. Disney resorts can be pricey. While they come with their cost savings (like free transportation), the up-front cost of reserving your room will be pricier.
2. Sometimes, You Can Get the Same Perks Elsewhere
Disney resorts may say they’re worth the extra cost because of all the perks you get when you stay with them. However, consider that, sometimes, you can get the same exact perks elsewhere.
For example, if you stay at specific off-site properties, you can still get shuttle service to the parks, cool resort features like waterparks, and on-site dining that’s just as good as what you’ll get at a Disney resort.
Plus, you can often find luxury, well-known hotel and resort brands off-site, nearby, so you certainly won’t be wanting for excellent options if you do decide to stay at a non-Disney hotel.
3. Less Luxury
Along these lines, if it’s mainly a luxury stay you’re after, you may find that even Disney’s luxury properties aren’t entirely up to normal 5-star standards. As such, you may prefer to book a room with a nearby, well-known luxury brand instead, so you can relax in a suite that’s up to par after you’ve left the parks each day.
4. Fewer Options
While there are quite a few options when it comes to the types of stays at Disney resorts, you’ll still find more options off-property. There are Disney resorts that offer basic hotel rooms and then up to villa-like properties with full kitchens and plenty of space for the entire family.
However, if you want the most options in terms of property type, room types, and potential homestays, you’ll want to look away from the resorts.
5. The Crowds
It’s no secret that Disney theme parks are often crowded, and those crowds often spill over to the resorts. If you like returning to your hotel after a busy travel day and having a little peace, quiet, and seclusion… you might not find what you’re looking for at a Disney resort.
Things are definitely better when it’s not the peak of travel season. However, the crowds are still something to be aware of.
How to Choose
Have you looked at all of the above considerations and are still unsure if you want to stay at a Disney resort or an off-property hotel? Here are the significant factors to think about.
Cost is tricky. It’s not just as cut and dry as comparing the costs of hotel rooms. When deciding which will be the costlier option for you and your family, consider the entire cost of your trip, not just accommodations.
Sometimes, if you know you’ll be shelling out a lot for the benefits and amenities the Disney resorts offer for free, you could find staying at a Disney resort your overall cheaper option.
It’s no arguing that, hands down, staying at a Disney resort is your best option if you’re looking for the utmost convenience. From quick and free transport to and from the park to priority access to dining reservations and more, staying at a Disney resort just makes your theme park experience easier.
- Sightseeing beyond the Disney parks
For some travelers, a Disney World or Disneyland trip isn’t just about all things Disney. Some want to visit other nearby theme parks or sightsee in the area, too. In these instances, it does make sense to stay off-resort. Choose a property that gives you easy access to everything you want to do and see, not just Disney.
- Travel style
Have you never been one for cruises or all-inclusive resorts, simply because you get a little bored with the same ol’ thing after a few days? If so, you might find that, even with all the variety and fun Disney offers, you still want to get away after spending a few days at the park.
Likewise, while plenty of adult travelers head to Disney parks without a single kid in tow, if you’re not a fan of traveling around children and you’re not a fan of crowds, you might find that spending all your time at Disney slowly begins to wear on you.
Before deciding that you’ll spend the entire vacation at a Disney theme park — staying, playing, eating, and sleeping all on-site — consider whether that’s truly an experience you’ll enjoy.
Which Option Is Right for You?
Made your decision yet? Whether you go for a nearby, more luxurious hotel, a budget-friendly home rental elsewhere, or a Disney resort right in the heart of it all, try to make your Disney experience as magical as possible.
Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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