I am a tried and true Disneyphile. When my older set of kids were young, we used to go at least once a year to Disney World, and sometimes 2 or 3 times in one calendar year. It was indeed my Happy Place.
Now I live out west and most the kids are gone and have their own families. But I am planning yet another excursion but this time to Disneyland with my step-kids (teens and young adults) and my college-aged son and middle school daughter. It isn't easy or cheap, but I know it'll be worth the amazing memories.
Of all my trips, only once did I stay offsite when traveling to Florida's WDW. And I learned my lesson, and stayed only on Disney property thereafter. Why? I stayed at Disney hotels for many reasons, but mainly to soak up all the Disney magic I could while I was there. It was a major comedown to re-enter the "real world".
People are genuinely happy on vacation there (for the most part) and the cast members of Disney (what Disney employees are called) are masters of customer service. In dozens of trips, I can count on one hand the times that I received anything less than stellar service and sunny attitudes. I recommend staying on site whenever possible!
25 Disney Transportation Options - Let Mickey Take You Where You Need To Be!
If you fly into Orlando airport, you can skip the baggage carousel hassles and go straight to the Disney's Magical Express located at ground transportation. They will pick up your luggage and deliver it directly to your room. (That is as long as your flight arrives before 10 pm and after 5 am.) You will ride in a Disney-themed charter bus that's air conditioned and geared to get you amped up for all things Disney. You will be headed to more resorts than just your own, but it was never a bad experience for our family.
Once on property, you can take advantage of all the transportation options of buses that take you directly to all the theme parks, the water parks, and the Downtown Disney area, or to other resorts. Within the massive Fort Wilderness campground, you can take both external and internal buses to your destination, never waiting more than 20 minutes for a bus in most cases.
You also have the water transports at select resorts such as Ft. Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge and Port Orleans, or the Polynesian and Grand Floridian. These boats are a great and magical way to enter the Magic Kingdom. My kids would be getting so hyped up for the day at the park while gliding across the lake.
Finally, there's the monorail. Quiet, zippy-fast and fun, the monorails can take visitors from the transportation hub, aka TTC, to other parks or to the hotels on the route, such as the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian.
24 Never Leave The Magic - Enter The Disney Bubble, Stay In The Disney Bubble
Never leaving the magic became my goal on our Disney trips. I wanted to have groceries delivered, or in our case packed in our camper so if we had any food or toiletries they'd be acquired on property or brought with us. Every time we left the warm, fuzzy glow of Disney property, I felt a little deflated.
We'd get there and stay put. We'd be so hesitant to leave, that we'd rather pay a little extra to buy something from the Disney merchandise areas, than head out into Orlando and have the real world intrude on our happy vacation.
Disney tries to keep you on property, too. Every hotel has the essentials, and there's been a explosion of companies catering to visitors. They've been delivering everything from groceries to baby gear, because the Disney hotels want to keep folks happy on property 24/7 during their trips to the Mouse.
It's the amazing cleanliness and sparkling upkeep of the properties, and the never-ending smiles and determination of cast members to keep you happy while there that creates this happy Disney bubble you never want to burst by stepping out of their zone.
Planning ahead can keep the costs down while still maximizing your time staying onsite. I'm a thrifty traveler, but staying onsite for the happiness factor was always worthwhile in our experience.
23 Getting A Head Start - Because NOBODY Likes Waiting In Line
Guests who stay at Disney resorts and hotels are given the perk of early entry to the theme parks, ahead of non-guests at their hotels.
In most cases, the parks will open to these guests an hour before opening to the general public. In that hour, you can ride Space Mountain, get on Dumbo (one of the most iconic, as well as slow-loading rides of the Magic Kingdom) and see the many spirits of the Haunted Mansion, among other top draws.
At Epcot, the early opening for hotel guests includes such big hits as Soarin', Test Track and the park landmark, Spaceship Earth. For Hollywood Studios, early morning guests get to visit the big rides like Terror of Tower, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Muppet Vision 3-D.
At Animal Kingdom, those arriving before the throng of others get to jump on the Safari, or do the popular Expedition Everest or It's Tough to Be a Bug.
Guests can also enjoy the park two hours after official closing at WDW, which is a thrill for those who want the fun to keep going.
Disneyland has similar offerings, such as Buzz Lightyear, Star Tours and Space Mountain being open to hotel guests, while California Adventure allows guests in early to ride Toy Story, Radiator Springs Racers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Each day a different park is open early or late for hotel guests and a schedule is given well in advance for guests to plan accordingly.
22 Package Delivery - Don't Lug Around Your Souvenirs Like Common-Folk Anymore!
Disney knows making life simpler will make guests happier, and happy guests spend money. It's just a fact of vacation life. One perk that fulfills that ideal is that when staying onsite and shopping through the parks, or Downtown Disney, you don't have to worry about lugging around bags of goodies. You can simply opt to have your packages delivered to your resort for pick-up later.
Let's say you are having a little down time after riding like maniacs, and you pop into one of the many shops dotting Main Street in Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom. Your kids have pulled out their savings from their Mickey Mouse bank and plopped down their dough to buy a big stuffed animal or giant Buzz Lightyear or the like. You look at them like, "What are we going to do with that while we ride Splash Mountain?"
No problem! Go ahead and shop to your heart's delight, because you can just arrange to have the goods delivered back to your resort. Just let the cashier know what you need, and they will set it all up. Usually you can pick up the shopping treasures you found the following day at a package pick up counter at your hotel. It, like all other aspects of your hotel stay, will be appropriately themed and marked to find it easily. Just make sure your kids know that they will not have those things to enjoy that night, but have to only wait a day.
21 Take A Hotel Tour On Your First Or Last Night Of Trip - The Resorts Are Full Of Magic Too
Suppose you arrive at the Disney property resort or hotel the night before your park tickets are going to be used. What do you do? Your kids are zooming with excitement, and to be honest, so are you.
The perfect thing to do is get unpacked and then hop onto the park transportation to visit all the other hotels and gawk at the theming.
You don't have to use up a valuable park ticket to do this, as your resort ID will do the trick. Our family used to always do this as a cool way to dip our toes in the Disney magic that first night, without wasting tickets.
You can ride the bus to the TTC, or Ticket and Transportation Center, where you can board a monorail and visit the iconic hotels of the Magic Kingdom such as the Polynesian, the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian.
These resorts are well worth sightseeing any time of year, but should your vacation fall during holiday times like Christmas or Halloween, you'll be delighted at viewing the decorations that are done in a style to match the resort theme. You can also enjoy the grounds of the hotel, or even indulge in a meal at one of the many restaurants at the hotels.
You could also ride a boat over to the resorts served by water launch or ferryboat such as Port Orleans, the Wilderness Lodge, Ft. Wilderness or the Beach and Yacht Clubs. It's a great way to gear up for your trip, or wind down from one.
20 Midday Breaks - It Might Save Your Sanity
For years, my family stayed in our camper at Ft. Wilderness on our WDW vacation. We'd push the limits on being at the parks, only to have kids breakdown before the parks closed. Our solution thankfully was still fun, and kept us going. At lunch time we'd either have a meal at the park, or jump onto the water launch back to our campsite and eat there. Once we ate, we'd split up. The younger kids and one parent would take a nap for an hour or two, while the older ones and the other parent would go to the pool.
Even better, at most hotels, the laundry facilities are near the pool so parents can throw in a couple loads of dirty duds while splashing around in the heated pools. Disney thinks of everything!
Those midday breaks were priceless in saving our sanity while giving us a great time as well.
19 Hidden Mickeys, Themes And Stories At Disney Hotels - You Never Know When You'll Find Some
Anyone who loves Disney knows that the story reigns over everything. Every ride, attraction, hotel or park has a backstory. Nothing is without context and detail, and that includes the Disney hotel resorts.
Part of that story packaging will be in the elaborate details of the hotel. Port Orleans, for instance is made up of two distinct areas, Riverside and the French Quarter, and both are set along the Sassagoulah River. Every store, restaurant, the pool and play areas, reflect that theming. Nothing, no matter how small, will be outside the theme. The pool bar is called Muddy Rivers. One bar at the French quarter is named,Mardi Grogs and the game room at Riverside is called Medicine Show Arcade. It's like that at every hotel.
Also, a fun activity for families everywhere at Disney is hunting for those Hidden Mickey's. A hidden Mickey may be the arrangement of three circles that look like Mickey's head and ears, but it can also be a glove or other iconic symbols. They can be in the arrangement of the towels after mousekeeping has cleaned the room. Or it can be in the pattern of the wallpaper, the tile or the carpet. Keep a lookout, or even keep a diary of finds. Our family used to compete against each other to find the most. Some will be there for years, while others come and go.
18 Special Family Activities At The Hotels - They'll Even Give You Night-Vision Goggles
As part of each hotel resort's theme and story, Disney provides family activities that may not be well-known, but certainly can take the vacation to another level of fun.
For instance, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, guests can enjoy using night vision goggles to view the animals outside the hotel. Or while staying at Ft. Wilderness, Beach Club, Grand Floridian or Port Orleans you can take advantage of their campfire programs.
The big, old one at Ft. Wilderness is one I know well. My parents took me there as a kid, and then I took my kids. Chip and Dale hold a sing-a-long and then there's marshmallow roasting and a movie shown on the outdoor screen. You can bring your own sticks and marshmallows to participate for free, or pay for those items.
There are child activities held daily at the hotels, from Hidden Mickey hunts, to storytelling time, to contests like hula-hooping. Just ask the front desk or concierge for details at your resort. At Ft. Wilderness, you'll be given a calendar of activities when you check in.
17 Meanwhile, Back At The Fort - Did Someone Say Alligators?!
No matter which Disney resort you stay at, you can come on over and enjoy the wilderness - Ft. Wilderness, to be precise. Besides the nightly campfire and movie, there are tons of other reasons to visit this huge sprawling resort area. There's a petting zoo with pony rides, playgrounds and bike rentals, with loads of trails to ride on. You can go canoeing, rent a boat and enjoy a water craft perfect for your family's size/ages. There's a few yummy food options, evening hayrides and a fun frontier-themed gift shop.
Plenty of guests staying at the campground opt to rent a golf cart to amble about the resort. There's a dinner theater show that is always popular, so make reservations if you want to check out the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.
The canals that crisscross through the campground also offer fishing and kayaking to visitors. While staying there, we've spotted armadillos, peacocks, snakes and yes, there are alligators in those back waters.
Of course, it's not the only place to watch, but one of the premiere viewing spots of the nightly water pageant, the Electrical Water Pageant has to be from the beach and dock area of Ft. Wilderness. I saw it when I was 11 years old, and my kids loved it as much as I did.
Ft. Wilderness has so much to offer, you could make a day of it at the end of your vacation to Disney World. It's an attraction unto itself! I love this place and some of our best family memories of our Disney vacations are centered on this spot.
16 Best Walks, Bikes And Photo Ops - You'll Be Making Memories By The Minute
Guests of Disney hotels and resorts have some of the best walking, biking and photo ops around!
This is true whether you pop for the upscale Grand Floridian, or the economy hotels of the All-Star Resorts. Many of the resorts are located around bodies of water like Seven Seas Lagoon, the Sassagoula River or Bay Lake, making them lovely places to rent a bike and meander about the always smooth paths.
Different bikes are available for all sizes, including those specialties like tandems, those with child seats, or the fun surrey bikes that can accommodate whole families. If you drive down, especially to Ft. Wilderness, you can bring your own bikes!
Taking a walk along Disney hotel grounds is never a boring experience. The landscaping and gardens are always perfectly maintained and themed, making them ideal backdrops for a little amble. Go in the evening for an entirely different experience, as special lighting will make it seem like a new place.
Check out the geyser at Wilderness Lodge, the lush landscapes at the Polynesian, or the oversized items from pop culture at Pop Century for fun photos with family. Grab a hammock at the beach of one of the Magic Kingdom resorts and enjoy the nightly fireworks over Cinderella Castle.
15 Spa----ahh - For Our 18+ Disneyphiles
When most people think of Disney properties, they think of kid thrills...the characters, the rides, the treats. But there are plenty of treats for Disney guests over the age of 18!
Disney has health clubs and/or spas available at several hotels, including the Grand Floridian, Coronado Springs, and the Dolphin, as well as at the Old Key West, the Contemporary and the Boardwalk Villas. They also can be found at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht and Beach Club, and the Saratoga Springs.
Different services and theming are available at each, from salon services like hair cuts, manicures or facials, to massages and whirlpool therapy, to a full gym.
Consider a special treatment like a make up session before a romantic dinner at one of the upscale dining options at Disney. Or make a group spa treatment reservation for all the girls in the family, especially if you're enjoying a family reunion together.
I never thought I'd care, but I now need to work out at least every other day; a whole week off just won't work for me! For that reason, I'm glad there are fitness facilities at most the hotels, or at nearby Disney hotels I can use. And with Disney, I never have to worry about things being clean and in working order.
What could be better than a good massage and some TLC after bounding around the parks all day? I'd opt for a service either at the mid-point or the end of the vacation. You don't have to stay at that particular hotel to take advantage of the spas at another one, either!
14 Disney Dining - Yes, We'll Have Fries With That
Like all things Disneyland or World, dining is themed to the hilt. You can sit in a classic convertible and watch hilarious B movie clips under the stars, feel like your underwater while eating seafood, or sit by a pyramid eating Mexican fare. You may be greeted by princesses at your table, or enjoy stick pony races while chowing down on barbecue.
As a guest of a Disney resort, you have one very distinct advantage over other visitors to the park; Disney Dining. Disney Dining's regular plan is paid for with the rest of your vacation package, which excludes non-Disney hotel guests, and includes 1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal and 2 snacks per night of stay for each guest. No, you don't have to do them each day; you can eat 2 table service meals on one special day, and 2 counter service ones on another. Some families like to save up their snack credits and get them for the trip home. Options include an all counter service meal plan, or go the other way and splurge for the deluxe dining plan which includes 3 meals and 2 snacks per night of stay.
You can take advantage of other dining perks as well, such as mobile ordering through their app. You can go online and pre-order your meal to save waiting and maximize time in the parks.
13 Booking The Entire Vacation Package - Leave Your Worries Behind!
With so many bells and whistles, it can be easy to forget some basic advantages of staying onsite at Disneyland or World. One basic plus is that you can book your entire vacation, including hotel reservations, dining and transportation, as well as recreation options, all in one happy package. Oh, yes and don't forget, it will also include your tickets to the parks!
Going through Disney reservations to do it all at once can minimize (or is that Minnie-mize?) headaches, but you can also opt to use a Disney travel planning agency. These places do all the magic for free, so you don't have to worry about calling back and changing things to take advantages of new deals; your agent will do it for you. They will constantly monitor deals and update your reservations so you are always getting the best deal possible.
It's great to have everything booked through one source to keep details and dates straight. Plus, you have one total to save for, and if you opt for Disney Dining, you don't have to count pennies to plan your meals at the end of the trip.
Often, there are special little incentives, perks or rewards when you book Disney packages, such as water park add-ons, or a nifty Disney-themed gift.
12 Free Magic Bands - Become A Part Of The Magic
Disney always has the edge in innovations at the parks, and Magic Bands are a piece of that edge. Magic Bands are automatically available to all Disney World hotel guests, as well as Annual Passholders. They are flexible, waterproof bands that are like a bracelet or watch and function much the same way as a plastic credit card-type ticket given to Disney hotel guests at Disneyland.
Magic Bands will allow you entrance to the parks, charging privileges at Disney stores and restaurants, and help you make dining reservations or Fastpass check ins.
They also unlock your hotel room for you, and are linked specifically to you and your account. They also provide little surprises for you throughout your vacation.
You can personalize them in various ways, and you can order them specially at least 11 days before arrival. You can choose from 8 different colors, so you can make each family member's band a different color or choose to have one solid, matching family color band. The choices include pink, purple, green, red, blue, gray, yellow and orange.
Special surprises linked to your Magic Bands include little lights and sounds going off at predetermined points. Or while riding an attraction you might look up to see your family's names and hometowns lit up on the screen. It's just another cool perk to being a Disney guest.
11 Onsite Dining - Keep The Disney Theme Going While You Eat
A great perk about staying onsite at Disney World or Disneyland is the dining choices at your own hotel. The options are more varied at the more expensive hotels, but even the basic economical hotels offer plenty of grub.
Disney hotels are divided into a few categories: the most basic is called Value; next is the Moderate; then Deluxe and finally, Villas (once called Home Away From Home.)
At Value hotels such as the All Stars or Pop Century, you have only one type of restaurant available - a food court. Don't let that discourage you, because this is Disney so your food options are still quite varied and the quality is good.
At moderates, you'll have more options such as a food truck, a food court and a grill, sit down restaurant. You'll also have a pizza carry out or delivery available.
For the deluxe and villas, expect a casual, counter service restaurant, as well as a buffet (possibly with character meals) and a finer table service restaurant.
No matter the level, expect Disney theming and service to be part of the package. With the villas, you'll have a kitchenette or full kitchen to cook if you'd prefer.
10 Dibs On Fastpasses - The Look On The People's Faces You Pass In Line Is Priceless
Disney was the first theme park to come up with a ride reservation system, called the Fastpass. With a Fastpass you basically get a spot saved in line. Fastpass riders are ushered right into a fast moving line, ahead of the other poor clueless schmucks would stood in line for maybe an hour.
You go to a Fastpass Machine and either use your ticket or resort ID card, or use your Magic Band, and get a 1 hour return time window to get on the attraction later. For instance, you go first-thing in the morning and get a Fastpass to go right onto top draws like Big Thunder Mountain, or even character greeting areas.
Those who purchase tickets ahead of their trip can make Fastpass reservations up to 30 days in advance, but those staying on Disney property can do their reservations for Fastpass up to 60 days in advance. You can hold 3 Fastpasses at a time per park, per day. It gets a little confusing until you start using the service.
It's a great timesaver and keeps you from standing in lines any longer than necessary. We used Fastpass all the time, and enjoyed the dirty looks from the unprepared folks who were lost as to why we were walking straight onto Star Tours or Space Mountain.
9 First Crack At Dining Reservations - You Can Save That Special Table Up To 6 Months In Advance!
Eating at Disney theme parks is an attraction in itself. Those who are unprepared should get ready for full-on meltdowns from kids, and maybe from adults alike. We made that mistake on our first Disney trip, too. We waited until the kids started complaining about being hungry to decide where to go, and showed up at prime dining times without reservations. What a mistake! By the time we got a table, the kids were fighting, crying or beyond hunger to feeling faint. And I was a total grouch myself.
Lesson learned! Disney Dining reservations are available to everyone. It used to be you could call and make a reservation the same day, even for a primo location like Cinderella's Royal Table or Epcot's Le Cellier. Those days are over, unless you are traveling way off season and eating at off times.
If you have reservations at a Disney hotel, you can make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance. If you want to enjoy a signature dining experience, say at one of the princess character meals, or at one of the finer dining restaurants such as the Contemporary's California Grill, you should take advantage of this perk. It's especially important if you'd like to eat in a normal time range for the meal.
8 Charging Privileges - No Cash, No Card, No Problem
A cool perk for Disney hotel guests is that you can charge nearly anything back to your room, with either your resort ID card or your Magic Band, depending on whether you are staying at Disneyland or WDW.
You can skip along at the parks, pretty much without ever opening your wallet. You eat a meal, you just flash that room card. You want to buy a pair of Mickey Ears? Lift your wrist and zing! It's charged to your room account via that nifty Magic Band on your wrist.
Want your kids to be able to buy a Mickey cone on their own? No worries. The card or Magic Band will allot charging privileges for the kids as well, if you desire. Afraid the preteens will rack up a huge bill for snacks and games? You can limit or block charging for the kids.
You'll have a PIN number to access charging privileges, so if the kids have privileges, you can pick a simple number they are sure to remember.
This is such a convenient plus for Disney guests. You can go to your front desk and check on your bill midstay, if you are concerned about how much you've put on the bill, too. A nice advantage for worry-warts!
7 Free Parking - Maybe Don't Let Goofy Be Your Valet...
A bit of a hubbub resulted this year in the announcement that there would be no more free parking for Disney resort guests at the hotels. This was a great perk, indeed, but one that made them way out of sorts with other hotels in the Disney vicinity.
However, Disney guest still enjoy free parking privileges at the Disney theme parks. According to the Disney site, "If you are a Guest staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you receive complimentary standard parking at Disney theme parks for the length of your Resort stay. You must present valid Disney Resort hotel identification to enter the parking lots."
While I've already explained why you don't actually need a car at Disney properties, should you be visiting at a busy time and want to avoid overcrowded Disney buses, parking may be an issue for you. Once you arrive at the lot, take care to note where you are at. These are huge lots, but there are plenty of great signs with memorable names to remind yourself. I'd take a pic or record the lot area on my cell. Then grab one of the handy-dandy shuttles if you are parked too far from the front gate. No need to wear yourself out already!
6 Special Touches And Care - It's The Little Things That Make All The Difference
Sometimes Disney resort guests find a little extra pixie dust when they return to their rooms. It could be a special display of towels arranged in a cute or sweet way. Maybe it's a special treat or a balloon bouquet for a special event being celebrated, such as a birthday, honeymoon or anniversary.
Or maybe it's something to cheer up a friend or family member who isn't having a particularly wonderful time. For instance, when my sister and I visited WDW with her toddler son, Jaden, he became ill on the flight down to Florida. We hoped he was doing better after arriving, but on the first night he began vomiting and unfortunately, the bed got the brunt of it all. We had to call housekeeping, er mousekeeping, and they came right away and cleaned the room so well it was amazing! We definitely tipped extra, but they left some special tokens for Jaden the next day.
On one of our family trips to Ft. Wilderness, my son Darnell became injured on a broken door at the shower rooms. We called the office, and immediately a worker came and treated Darnell with first aid. He left us with plenty of extra bandages and antiseptic cream, then returned the next few days to check on him. And the door that cut Darnell was immediately fixed.
I've heard of kids having potty accidents receiving a fresh set of clothing from the gift shop for free. A cast member working at the Trading Post at Ft. Wilderness remembered our family from previous trips and gifted my kids with some trinkets, and some special stories.
It's the unexpected touches of magic that make Disney, well Disney. Staying onsite makes these moments more likely to occur, as you never leave the Disney bubble.