Doing a split stay at Walt Disney World can be a good option if you can’t decide between two hotels, want to splurge for a night or two on a Deluxe Resort, or have no other choice due to limited accommodations availability. In this post, we cover how to do it, whether it’s worth the hassle, and more. (Updated May 22, 2022.)
A lot of readers have asked us about split stays, and the primary question is whether they’re worth the effort. We won’t bury the lede here: yes. We love the resorts at Walt Disney World almost as much as the theme parks, and staying at multiple hotels is a great way to experience different ‘thematic settings’ during a single trip.
Your resort can set the tone and atmosphere for the entire trip, so changing resorts makes it feel almost like a different vacation entirely–travel to both Fiji and the Pacific Northwest during your Florida trip. Right now, we’re even bigger advocates of split stays as a form of splurge that’ll allow you to take advantage of better on-site perks…
That’s because Walt Disney World is offering Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours through at least 2023 as a replacement to Extra Magic Hours. The former allows all on-site resort guests and those staying at select third party hotels to enjoy 30-minute access to any Walt Disney World theme park, every day before normal operating hours begin.
We’re big fans of Early Entry, as it essentially offer a couple of ride headstart for on-site guests, which can be pretty significant. (Learn more strategy in our Guide to Early Entry at Walt Disney World.) However, it’s not really relevant from a split stay perspective, since all on-site guests have access to this.
Where split stays come into play is with Extended Evening Theme Park Hours. This benefit is exclusively for guests staying at Deluxe Resorts, Deluxe Villas (Disney Vacation Club units), or other select hotels (currently Swan & Dolphin and Shades of Green). Guests staying at Value or Moderate Resorts are not eligible for Extended Evening Hours.
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours occur only two nights per week in total–typically Mondays at Epcot and Wednesdays at Magic Kingdom, with a 2-hour duration starting immediately after normal park closing. Two hours should allow eligible guests to accomplish more, but this is only a perk for those who book more expensive hotels.
Extended Evening Hours is a huge advantage. Crowds are virtually non-existent, as are lines for most attractions. It’s way better than Evening Extra Magic Hours, which had become overcrowded due to expanded eligibility during its last few years. However, it’s only so blissfully unbusy because it excludes a large chunk of guests–everyone staying at Value and Moderate Resorts.
This is where a split stay comes into play. You’re eligible for these extra hours both on your checkin and checkout days, meaning that you could theoretically do a 2-night stay at a Deluxe Resort, checking in on Monday and checking out on Wednesday, and take advantage of Extended Evening Hours at both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. (See our Guide to Extended Evening Hours at Walt Disney World for more rules, eligibility, strategy, etc.)
Split stays offer a number of other different strategic advantages. One is in leveraging location for more efficient transportation to the theme parks near your hotel. This is of particular relevance when it allows you to avoid Disney buses, which aren’t typically as efficient as the non-bus transportation.
If you do a stay at Crescent Lake or at one of the Skyliner resorts, you have easy transportation–either via gondola or your feet–to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you follow that up with a Seven Seas Lagoon or Bay Lake resort stay, you have non-bus transportation to Magic Kingdom. That leaves only Animal Kingdom, and you could probably just deal with the buses for that.
This approach also opens up more opportunities for enjoying and comparing a variety of amenities. For instance, you could do a head-to-head comparison and settle the Polynesian v. Caribbean Beach Resort debate once and for all. Or, you could simply enjoy a greater range of restaurants, pools, and other entertainment that’s unique to each resort.
If you’re going to be spending more time at the pools or eating breakfast and dinner at your hotel, this helps you mix things up. Doing a split stay opens up more options–variety is the spice of life and all that.
On a personal level, we are huge fans of split stays. We change hotels frequently at Walt Disney World. Part because we really enjoy it and part because it’s necessary to keep our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews updated. There were times in the past when we’ve done as many as 6 hotels in a single trip! While I definitely wouldn’t recommend that, changing once over the course of a week is really no big deal at all.
For our own sanity, we’ve developed a few rules when it comes to split stays…
First, never do just a single night at any hotel. We’ve done that several times, and it can become exhausting. Unpacking and packing, settling in, and getting acclimated, only to do it all over again the next day. Plus, one night is simply not enough time to ‘get to know’ a resort and even partially enjoy its amenities.
Second, go low to high. This is to say, start at the lowest tier hotel and end at the highest. One big motivation for doing split stays is to splurge on something nice without breaking the bank on a full week there. However, you absolutely do not want to go from the Grand Floridian for 2 nights to Pop Century for the next 5 nights.
That’s simply too jarring of a change, and in the wrong direction. Experiencing the nicer properties first really amplifies the shortcomings of the lower tier ones, and will make you less comfortable. It might sound silly, but beginning at a Value and ending at a Deluxe is a far superior approach, and will help you appreciate the Deluxe more.
Third, coordinate park days with resort stays. If we’re staying at the Contemporary or another monorail resort for one part of the trip, that’s when we go to Magic Kingdom. If we’re staying at Beach Club or another Crescent Lake Resort, that’s when we go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
This may seem like a minor or even odd thing, but it’s strategically huge. Walking between the Contemporary and Magic Kingdom is a pleasant stroll of less than 10 minutes, with the shortest security check you’ll encounter for the park. Waiting for and taking a bus, then going through the main bag check, can take over an hour. Ditto walking to and from Epcot or DHS.
Finally, only do the Disney Dining Plan for a portion of the stay, if at all. (Obviously not a pertinent consideration for right now as the Disney Dining Plan is temporarily unavailable, but still potentially relevant for those planning ahead.) As covered in our Disney Dining Plan Info & Tips post, we think it provides too much food and can take too much time. Only doing the Disney Dining Plan for one portion of the trip allows us to do an attractions-oriented half of the trip, and a food-oriented half.
We almost always do the food half of the trip second, when we’re ready to slow down, relax, and focus more on eating. This also allows you to maximize savings by booking ADRs for the Best Uses of Disney Dining Plan Credits during the second half of your trip, while focusing on your favorite ‘good value’ restaurants during the first half. This isn’t something often discussed when it comes to split stays, but we wholeheartedly recommend it.
The resort transfer itself is pretty easy. On the morning you check out of your first resort, take your luggage down to Bell Services and indicate that you’re transferring resorts. They’ll ask where you’re going, at which point you’ll want to specify the full name of the resort to which you’re going.
As we cover in our Tipping at Walt Disney World: Info & FAQ, you’ll need to tip the Cast Member to whom you give your luggage. After that, you can head to the bus stop/monorail/etc. and start your day. Only a few minutes of extra effort, and you can be on your way to the theme parks.
Most transfers occur in the mid-afternoon, so plan on not receiving your luggage at the next resort until as late as 5 p.m. At your new resort, you’ll almost always have to either go down to Bell Services to retrieve your luggage or call down to have it delivered again. Again, you’ll need to tip.
One thing we’d caution against is opting to ‘do it yourself’ and transfer resorts via Uber, Lyft, or (worst of all) Disney transportation. There are several exceptions to this: those with a rental car, transferring between monorail resorts, or any hotels within walking distance of one another.
Additionally, it can be easier at resorts that are spread out among multiple buildings (like Caribbean Beach), or between off-site and on-site hotels (at which point doing it yourself is necessary). In these cases, Uber or Lyft can pose an advantage.
We understand that some of you may be apprehensive about the luggage transfer, but we have done split stays dozens of times (probably nearly 100 times–so many we’ve lost count) and have had zero issues with the luggage transfer. This doesn’t mean they don’t happen, but they so infrequent it’s not worth worrying about.
More importantly, doing it yourself is a complete waste of time and money. You’ll have to take the time to go to the new resort and spend the money on a ride. You’ll most likely still have to drop your luggage off with Bell Services at the new hotel, because you’ll be arriving there by about noon at the latest and your room is unlikely to be ready.
With the greatness of split stays established, let’s turn to some of the potentially unpleasant logistics. Some Walt Disney World visitors make a huge deal about the planning “hurdles” that come with a split stay, but in fairness, people make a huge deal about everything Walt Disney World-related. It’s not that much additional coordination at all.
First, no matter how you want to do the split stay, you’re going to be stuck booking multiple reservations. This is irrespective of whether you’re doing a vacation package, room-only reservation, Disney Vacation Club booking. Unfortunately, Disney’s system is not sufficiently sophisticated to allow for a single reservation to encompass multiple hotel stays.
From our perspective, tickets are the most important element to discuss, and you’ll want to purchase tickets for the full duration of your stay with the first stay. The reason for this is, quite simply, that one 7-day or 10-day ticket is cheaper than two shorter tickets. This also assumes you’re doing a package, rather than following the strategies in our Money-Saving Tips for Buying Walt Disney World Tickets.
There are potential hiccups and exceptions (you know, the usual when it comes to Walt Disney World planning), but that’s essentially it. For most visitors, booking a split stay and planning all components shouldn’t be much of a challenge, particularly if you’re a more laid back planner. If you want more thorough guidance or assistance navigating the ‘split stay’ planning waters, we’d highly recommend contacting an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Overall, hopefully this helps you understand the ins and outs of how to do a split stay and, much more importantly, the upsides of doing one. In case you can’t tell, we love split stays. There’s something truly special about sleeping in the rustic seclusion of Fort Wilderness for a night, and then flipping a switch to the grandiosity and elegance of the Grand Floridian the next. Or staying with walking distance of Magic Kingdom at the Contemporary for a couple of nights, and then walking distance of DHS and Epcot at BoardWalk a few nights. That’s obviously just a couple of examples, but the options for changing from one richly-themed Walt Disney World environment to another are pretty much boundless.
Have you done a split stay at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any resort combos you particularly like? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!