So, you’re thinking about staying at a Disney Resort hotel during your next vacation. But, should you?
A lot has changed when it comes to Disney World hotel guest perks and, while you won’t be able to take advantage of things like Extra Magic Hours or free MagicBands with every trip, there are still some pretty big benefits that make guests choose a Disney hotel over other area hotels (which are often cheaper).
So, we’re laying out all the Disney World Resort guest benefits (and some of the cons!) to help you finally click “book” on your hotel!
All the Benefits of Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel
Early Theme Park Entry
Gone are the days of Extra Magic Hours…kind of. In 2021, Disney replaced this fan-favorite perk with a NEW way for Disney World hotel guests to get some extra time in the parks — Early Theme Park Entry.
Unlike Extra Magic Hours where Disney hotel guests could enjoy an extra hour or so at Disney World theme parks on select mornings and evenings every week, Early Theme Park Entry makes things a bit easier on your schedule.
Early Theme Park Entry now allows guests staying at any Disney World hotel to enter any of the four theme parks 30 minutes before the park opens every day. So, for example, if Magic Kingdom is set to open at 9AM, you can actually start enjoying the park and riding rides at 8:30AM. All you need to do is follow the signs for Early Theme Park Entry and ensure that your Disney hotel reservation is linked to your My Disney Experience account.
You may not get as many rides accomplished with the extra time as you once did with Extra Magic Hours, but you’re still getting a head start on the day! We recommend arriving about 60 minutes before the park is set to open so that you can scan into the park and be ready to get in line for your first attraction right when Early Theme Park Entry starts.
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours (Deluxe and DVC Hotels Only)
There’s one other way to get some extra time in the parks without all the crowds as a Disney World hotel guest — Extended Evening Theme Park Hours!
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours is a lot like Extra Magic Hours in that hotel guests get an extra 2 hours in select parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or Disney’s Animal Kingdom) on select nights of the week. The only catch is that not all Disney hotel guests can take advantage of this perk…you have to be staying at the right resort.
Currently, you’re only eligible for Extended Evening Theme Park Hours if you’re staying at a Disney World Deluxe Resort or Villa.
Free Parking at the Parks and Your Resort
If you’re driving to Walt Disney World, you don’t have to worry about sneaky parking fees! As of 2023, FREE Disney Resort hotel parking is BACK for guests and this includes complimentary theme park parking too (which saves you up to $25 PER DAY!).
If you do decide to drive your car to the theme parks instead of using Disney transportation from your hotel, be sure that you have your MagicBand or Key To The World Card on you. The parking attendant will scan it at the entrance to the parking lot and you’ll be good to go free of charge!
So, save that extra money and treat yourself to an extra Dole Whip on Disney. 😉
The great thing about staying at a Disney World Resort hotel is that you don’t necessarily even need a car to get around! Every Disney hotel currently offers free transportation to all of the Disney Parks, Disney Springs, AND the two water parks. So, you can leave your car at the airport or your hotel and never touch a steering wheel or deal with traffic until you’re on your way home.
Currently, there are four different free transportation options in Disney World including Disney busses, the monorail, boats, and the Disney Skyliner, And, depending on where you’re staying, you might have access to some, all, or only one of these.
For example, the following hotels offer boat transportation to the select parks and/or Disney Springs:
- Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground (to Magic Kingdom)
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (to Magic Kingdom)
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows (to Magic Kingdom)
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (to Magic Kingdom)
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas (to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas (to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve(to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort (to Disney Springs)
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (to Disney Springs)
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — Riverside (to Disney Springs)
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — French Quarter (to Disney Springs)
The Disney Skyliner is available to take guests between the following hotels and EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
And, the monorail will take you from your hotel to Magic Kingdom and EPCOT if you’re staying at:
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
If you don’t see your Disney hotel listed above, don’t worry! You’ll have complimentary bus transportation to all the parks and places you need to get to. Some Disney-goers do find it easier to stay at a hotel with alternative transportation options, so be sure to consider that when you’re choosing your hotel.
Expanded Dining Reservation Window
Eating is half the fun at Disney World, but securing a dining reservation can be hard for the most popular restaurants in the parks and resorts. However, if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, securing a spot at all the restaurants you want to eat at — even the bucket list ones — is a little easier!
While dining reservations open for everyone 60 days out, Disney Resort guests can make reservations 60 days out from the first day of their stay PLUS the length of their stay (for up to 10 days). So, the real advantage you’ll have here is for the days that are 61+ days out.
The best way to use this perk is to plan dining reservations for the most popular spots later in your trip so that you can pick your preferred time and location before everyone else!
Early Access to Individual Lightning Lanes
Skipping the long lines at popular attractions in Disney World isn’t quite as simple anymore. In 2021, Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Attractions replaced the FastPass+ system, and now it costs you a little extra to skip the lines.
While all guests can start making their Genie+ Lightning Lane reservations at 7AM on the day of their visit, Disney hotel guests have a bit of an advantage when it comes to skipping the long lines at the most popular rides in each park. Instead of having to wait until the park opens to book an Individual Lightning Lane, hotel guests can make their selection at 7AM. This means that you’ll have the best chance at getting your preferred 1-hour return time and won’t have to run the risk of the Lightning Lane selling out.
Here are the a la carte rides where you’ll get an advantage:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
- TRON Lightcycle / Run at Magic Kingdom
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Keep in mind that all of these rides also offer free standby lines or virtual queues, so you don’t have to pay to ride them. But, this is a nice perk if you don’t want to have to worry about waiting.
Ability to Book Disney Dining Plan (Returning in 2024)
The Disney Dining Plan has gained a lot of popularity over the years as a way that Disney-goers can simplify their dining experience at Disney World. If you’re not familiar, the Disney Dining Plan is a pre-paid meal plan that gives you a certain number of meal and snack credits per person, per day of your trip that can be used at nearly all of the quick service restaurants, table service restaurants, and snack kiosks throughout the parks and resorts.
To purchase a Disney Dining Plan, you’ll need to book a stay at a Disney World resort hotel and add the dining plan to your vacation package. You can also call to add a dining plan to your reservation if you decide you’d like it after you’ve already booked.
In 2024, only two dining plans are available — the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan and the Disney Dining Plan. Each one comes with a different number of dining credits and locations where they can be used, so be sure to do your research on which one is best for you and your family before you book!
Early Access to Event Tickets
If you’re interested in attending special events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or a Disney After Hours event, staying at a Disney Resort hotel can give you an advantage. Guests of Disney Resort hotels can often purchase tickets to these events BEFORE they go on sale to the general public, giving you a better chance of securing your ticket on your preferred date.
Now, it’s important to note that tickets for these go on sale months in advance — even to non-Disney hotel guests. So, you’ll have to plan your visit and book your hotel before to take advantage of this perk. You can stay in the know on when tickets for these events go on sale by signing up for our newsletter or visiting Disney’s website.
MagicBand and MagicBand+ Discounts
MagicBands give you all the convenience of having your hotel room key, park ticket, credit card, Lighting Lanes, and more on your wrist…but, they can be pretty pricey. Currently, MagicBands start around $19.99 per band and MagicBand+ start around $34.99 per band which can really add up when you’re buying one for a family of four or more. And, while Disney hotel guests no longer get a free MagicBand when they book a stay, you can secure them up to 50% off before your trip and get them customized!
Each time you stay at a Disney World Resort hotel, you’re able to purchase MagicBands at a discounted price. To do this, just log into your My Disney Experience account at least 10 days before your arrival date and navigate to “My MagicBands and Cards.” You’ll then need to locate your Disney Resort stay and select “Get Started.” Follow the prompts to select the MagicBand design you want and remember to add names to each one to make it easy to know who’s who!
MagicBand Charging Privileges
Speaking of MagicBands, Disney World hotel guests are the only ones who can use it as a “credit card.” This is because the MagicBand must be linked to your Disney hotel reservation to have access to the credit card on file.
So, even if you purchase a MagicBand or MagicBand+ when you get to the park…if you’re staying at a non-Disney hotel, you won’t be able to take advantage of this convenient perk.
Free Water Park Admission (Coming in 2025)
For the first time ever, anyone staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel will have FREE admission to one of Disney’s water parks (including Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach) on their check-in day in 2025!
This means that you can save some money on theme park tickets on the first day of your trip (when you’re likely not getting to the parks until later anyway) and spend the day relaxing in the water instead. The water parks usually cost around $75 per person. Just keep in mind that the operating hours at the water parks are a bit different from the theme parks, so be sure to check the Disney calendar before you make your plans to ensure they fit with your travel schedule.
Is Disney World’s On-Site Advantage Disappearing?
Now, it’s worth noting that there aren’t currently as many Disney World hotel guest perks as there used to be. When the Disney hotels reopened in 2020 after the temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney pulled back on a lot of the guest benefits. For example, Disney’s Magical Express no longer provides free transportation between the Orlando International Airport and the Disney hotels, Extra Magic Hours is different, the advanced dining reservation windows used to be longer, and MagicBands used to be free compared to the now discounted rates.
So, if you’re stuck in the comparison trap it’s not going to seem like you’re getting as many perks because…well…you aren’t. But, does that mean you should forego a Disney hotel altogether for your vacation and opt to stay off-site instead? Not necessarily! There’s still something to be said for the Disney hotels’ proximity to the parks, theming, and perks. Plus, many guests feel that the customer service provided by Disney Cast Members cannot be matched by other area hotels.
If you’re not sold on the Disney hotel experience and are considering staying at a nearby hotel instead, keep in mind that some off-site hotels do offer some of the same perks that you can get at a Disney hotel. This includes things like extra time in the parks, early access to Individual Lighting Lane purchases, and more. Plus, many even offer complimentary shuttle service to the parks. Just check with your off-site hotel before you book!
Of course, these Disney hotel guest benefits are subject to change, so we’ll be on the lookout for new additions as they come! And, in the meantime, stay tuned to The VacationEAR for more of the latest Disney hotel news and updates!