This is usually one of the first things I’m asked by a future WDW guests. My response is usually something to the effect of “do you actually want to experience Disney or is this something you’re just doing it [to say you went/or took your kids, as part of a larger trip to Florida, etc]. To be honest anyone who answers with the latter, I offer little help to (sorry, not sorry) as they usually won’t be serious enough about the planning and will ask me way too many last minute questions that should have been addressed weeks or months prior to the trip and by then then it’s too late for them. To those people I tell them to google that shit and I may offer a fleeting piece of advice or two, but I won’t waste too much of my time. Walt Disney World may welcome all but not everyone is cut-out for it and that’s fine. *Editor’s Note: If this is you, seriously just book an off-site hotel room and rent a car, you’ll save money that way. However, you won’t save any time, so if you value yours keep reading. For those people who want to actually Disney at Disney or are on-the-fence but open minded, I always tell them to stay on-site. You have to remember that while, there are non-Disney hotels located near Disney property, the property itself is 43 square miles (twice the size of Manhattan) so being near the Disney property means jack-shit. So staying inside the magic can make a big difference to your enjoyment from a time aspect.
That shit is expensive.
Damn right it is. Hell for many it’s cost-prohibitive. Even the Value resort rooms can creep above $200 per night during busier times. However, if you’re wanting to do the full Disney experience then save-up and do it right (especially if this is a once in a lifetime trip). If you want to half-ass it you can get a great deal on a hotel near the Disney property and it will probably be a larger room and have free breakfast and it will undoubtedly be cheaper than staying at the house of mouse.
I got a great deal (emphasis mine) on this garden wing room at the Contemporary it was $300/night and I still had to share a fucking patio
For the cost I paid for my room at the Contemporary (which really was an awesome deal by Disney standards) I could have booked the Four Seasons and been Disney adjacent, but it still wouldn’t have been worth it to me. That sounds batshit crazy, but the folks at the Walt Disney Company have a monopoly on the Disney Bubble and it’s value is ridiculous, and to some it’s priceless.
The Disney Bubble?
It’s a term Disney fans use to describe immersing one’s self into the Walt Disney World experience and blocking out the real world. Once you enter the 43 square miles of property you really don’t have to leave for the entirely of your trip. For me and for many others this happens as soon as you check your bag at your home airport, Disney is one powerful bitch and have secured deals with the airlines and even the fuckwads at TSA so that your bags go from your hands at your home airport all the way to your room and vice-versa. So, as long as you’re not flying United, you can get into the Disney spirit right away. Once you’ve landed you walk onto Disney’s Magical Express (DME) a nice air conditioned bus equipped with TV’s continuously looping useful tidbits of information about your stay on the Disney World Resort with nice intermissions of vintage Mickey cartoons to fill the gaps. The DME drops you off at your hotel lobby where you check-in and after a short while your bags are brought to your room.*Editor’s Note if you hear the words “Tragical Express” being thrown around they are not in degradation to this transportation system but an indication that the person is nearing the end of their vacation and heading home via DME, which is always a bit of a gloomy ride.
So now I’m inside the bubble, now what?
First there are the perks which you can read on the Disney website. I’ll list them and touch on a few of the big ones: Free Magic Bands, non-resort guest have to purchase these for $13+ each.
Free Transportation from your hotel across the Disney property via boat, bus, or monorail, Minnie-vans and soon to be gondola system called the Disney Skyliner. Welcome Home is the first thing you’ll hear when checking into your Walt Disney World Resort Hotel. It sounds corny as fuck because it is, but the cast member who greets you says this sincerely and you immediately feel the pixie dust starting to rain down upon your vacation. At the Polynesian Village Resort the greeting is actually “Aloha, welcome home” as they ring a lei around your neck in traditional Hawaiian fashion. *Editor’s Note: The cast member will usually greet you little ones as Prince or Princess which is quite cool. You can also stop by your local Disney store where they will usually do this a well which should in theory cost you considerably less than checking into a Disney Hotel, but fair warning, the Disney store is full of Disney branded shit you didn’t know you needed. Extra-Magic Hours which allow you early or late access to a specified theme park.
Early FastPass+ booking window, this is a huge benefit. If you want to ride Frozen Ever After or Pandora: Flight of Passage you’re going to want a Fast Pass otherwise expect to wait in line at least two hours. By staying on-site, Disney offers guest the opportunity to book these FP+ choices 60 days out from the start of their vacation (the general public gets to do this at the 30-day mark). *Editor’s Note: For the next year or maybe even two, you won’t be getting a FP+ for Flight of Passage at the 30 day mark. Hell, you will be fighting for one at the 60 day mark. There’s a “hidden” benefit of longer stays on-site, the 60-day window opens according to the first day of your stay and you can book FP+ for rides for the entirety of your stay at that point. Meaning that if you’re staying for two weeks you can be booking FastPasses well over 70 days in advance.
Advanced Dining Reservations. Hey, Disney “Advanced” is fucking superfluous, we know it’s done in advance it’s a reservation!!! Anyways, these ADRs as they’re commonly referred to are allowed to be booked 180 days out (if a Disney restaurant strongly encourages a reservation you better be booking it early, places like Be Our Guest have been known to fill-up for dinner at the 180 day mark), but if you are staying on-site that 180 day window opens for you and includes your entire stay so if there’s a hard to score reservation just book it later in your stay which gives you more than 180 days in advance thus you beat the general public to the punch (anecdotally I’ve been told this privilege cuts of at +10 days, so if you’re staying longer than 10 days your milage may vary).
Theming at your resort. The Moderate and Deluxe category resorts were built to whisk you away to another place with hints of Disney sprinkled in. Disney’s Imagineers have done an incredible job with this from Disney’s Port Orleans making you feel like you’re in New Orleans to the Animal Kingdom Lodge where you feel like you’re on Safari in Africa, each hotel from the Moderate level on up has it’s own theme and it well done (the Deluxe category will be the most heavily themed, while the Value resorts are more decorated than themed things like the paint scheme and hanging paintings of characters on the walls are used here. In the Moderate and higher categories the actual building materials used are done so based on the resort theme.) This coupled with having things like character dining right at your hotel or even specialty tours like Pirates and Pals at the Contemporary make a Disney resort stay all the more magical.
Our daughter enjoying an encounter with Peter Pan at the Contemporary at the end of Pirates & Pals. It was late after the fireworks and once this was over we walked right back to our room on-site, super convenient
Once inside the Disney Bubble you can let the outside world go for a bit, not having to drive to the Parks every day and remaining surrounded by the sights and sounds of Disney during your stay give an extra bit of that proverbial pixie dust. The service at the Disney World Resort isn’t just about extras (of which there are plenty), it’s also a time saver, smile-inducer, and a stress reliever rolled up into a semi-tangible convenient package for your consumption. As a bunch of household items once sang, “tie your napkin around your neck…we’ll provide the rest.” It’s sounds hokey because it is, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.