I’m sure that there are plenty of nice places to stay off-property, and I know how important it is to stretch your vacation dollar when you have a big family. But… staying on Disney World property is just so magical, we wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere else!
First of all, prior to your trip, you get a packet in the mail containing your Magical Express tickets (more on that below) and luggage tags. It’s such an exciting moment to open up the mailbox and see that thick blue envelope waiting for you! Then you get to show it to the kids (Look! Our Mickey Mouse luggage tags are here!) and everyone’s excitement feeds off each other!
Next, when you arrive at the Orlando airport (assuming, like us, you fly there), you make your way down to the Magical Express (don’t worry – there’s a map of the airport in the aforementioned packet that will guide you right there) and are directed to your resort’s bus. Er, I mean, motor coach. Er, I mean Magical Express. Whatever you wish to call it, climb on board, find a comfy seat, and relax while your (always friendly) driver takes you to your resort. No rental car to worry about, no taxi to hail, just a pleasant ride in air-conditioned comfort while you watch a cutesy welcome video (there are monitors all over the bus, so everyone gets a good view) featuring Mickey and the gang. Before you know it, you’re checking in!
Speaking of checking in, you can do an online check-in ten days before you arrive. That way, when you get to your Disney hotel, simply go to the online check-in desk and collect your welcome packet. Easy peasy. Another great little benefit to staying on-site.
And by the way, did you notice that you get to skip baggage claim at the airport? Disney picks up your luggage and delivers it right to your room. It will be there a few hours after you arrive, so make sure you pack any total necessities (medication, a small tube of sunscreen, your camera, etc) in your carry on.
In your welcome packet are your “Key to the World” cards. Each member of your party gets one. This serves as your room key, park ticket, and also as a “room charge” card (if you wish to use it as such). When we’re at Disney, we put EVERYTHING on our Key to the World cards. Meals, snacks, souvenirs… yep, everything. It all gets charged to your room, and you decide how to settle up (we use whichever credit card has the best “bonus points” offer at the time. It seems like one of our credit cards is almost always running one of these specials…)
Oh, and when you do buy souvenirs at Disney World, you can have them sent from the gift shop TO YOUR RESORT. That’s right, no lugging a giant stuffed Mickey around the park with you. He’ll be back at your hotel – just go to the lobby and ask where to pick him up.
And how are you getting from resort to park and back again? Using Disney’s free transportation service, of course! (That is, free to those staying on WDW property.) This includes the monorail, boats, and buses. We’ve never had to wait more than 20 minutes for a bus (generally much shorter), usually have very entertaining drivers, and have enjoyed the times we’ve taken the monorail and boats, too.
And now for the best benefit of staying on-site: Extra Magic Hours! Every day, a Disney park opens an hour early or stays open three hours late, but only for guests staying at a Disney World hotel. This right here makes any extra expense of staying on-site totally worth it. The parks are less crowded, lines are shorter, and opportunities for character interaction are greater. Thus far, the latest I’ve been able to stay out during an extra magic night was 12:15. On our upcoming trip, I’ve noticed that the Magic Kingdom is open until 2 AM one of the nights that we’re there. My boys are already planning on staying out that late. We’ll see if we can make it!
All of these benefits are fantastic, but the best part of staying on Disney property, for me, is simply being surrounded by the magic of Disney during our whole vacation. With the excellent theming of the Disney hotels, along with their spotless upkeep and friendly staff, you truly feel that Disney magic during your entire stay. And, after your first trip to a Disney hotel, the next time you visit, you’ll feel like you’re going home.