Is Disney World’s On-Site Advantage Disappearing…or Reappearing?
For years, there were big benefits to staying at Walt Disney World owned resorts: free transportation, better line-skipping options, extra hours, and more that justified the higher cost. In this post, we’ll take a new look at how perks have changed and whether on-site hotels are still worth the premium pricing. (Updated February 3, 2023.)
I’ll preface this by saying that we have been advocates of staying in the Walt Disney World “bubble.” In our On-Site v. Off-Site at Walt Disney World article we attempt to be balanced, but concede that we’re drawn to being inside the Walt Disney World “bubble,” which offers advantages in terms of location, convenience, and the feeling of an all-encompassing vacation destination.
However, that started to change even pre-closure. We still love a lot of Walt Disney World hotels and do on-site stays, but no longer strongly recommend them for everyone. Accordingly, what we are going to do is ask and attempt to answer an important question: what if the selling points of staying on-site are no longer as valuable as conventional WDW planning wisdom suggests?
This is a question we originally posed a few years ago as Walt Disney World hotel prices began to soar and the advantages offered by on-site perks were less noteworthy. Since reopening, we’ve revisited this topic a couple of times for different reasons. That started with the end of Extra Magic Hours and free FastPass, as well as the still-temporary suspension of the Disney Dining Plan.
For our 2023 update, we’re revisiting this for the first time from a positive perspective. There have been a few positive developments last year and this year, and we’re also granting greater weight to various considerations that we previously glossed over. This has us asking ourselves: is Walt Disney World’s on-site advantage starting to reappear?
Let’s go through the pros & cons, point by point, starting with the Disney Dining Plan. This is still on temporary hiatus, but we are still expecting Walt Disney World to bring it back sometime in 2023, as covered in When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return? However, we’ve been anxiously anticipating its return for over a year–after all, Disney did promise it would be back soon about a year and a half ago.
For many planners, being able to purchase the Disney Dining Plan was very important from a budgeting and convenience perspective. While we’ve been skeptical of this for years, but it’s nevertheless true that guests find themselves surprised by food costs more than anything else at Walt Disney World (see the fascinating survey data about halfway down this article).
Nevertheless, considering the suspension of the Disney Dining Plan an on-site advantage that has “disappeared” overstates the issue. The reality is that the overwhelming majority guests will come out ahead from a budgeting or convenience perspective by pre-purchasing discount Disney gift cards and using those to pay-as-they-go for food.
For most, the Disney Dining Plan offers the illusion of convenience and budgeting; there’s far more flexibility and savings in paying out of pocket for meals and snacks. Of course, there are exceptions to this–families of big carnivores or those willing to “hack” the Disney Dining Plan did come out ahead. But for the most part, the house always wins. We look forward to the Disney Dining Plan returning, but it wasn’t the benefit that some cracked it up to be. (Conversely, it’s also not as bad as some of its detractors make it out to be.)
Next, let’s turn to Walt Disney World’s two replacements for Extra Magic Hours: Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours. Early Theme Park Entry 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.
Early Entry means that Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios (for example) open daily at 8:30 am and 8 am, respectively, to resort guests, and 30 minutes later to off-site guests. The logical criticism here is that morning Extra Magic Hours was an hour long, so this is half the time, and thus, half as good.
We have done Early Entry over one-dozen times (literally), and that has not been our experience at 3 of the 4 parks. Crucially, Extra Magic Hours occurred on select days of the week and only at one park on each occasion. This mean consolidating all on-site guests at a single park. Early Entry occurs daily at all 4 parks, and better spreads out the crowd as a result.
In practice, we’ve found Early Entry to be far less busy than EMH. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom, it essentially offers a 2-3 ride headstart for on-site guests and is actually a pretty significant. (Most days, it is not as good at Magic Kingdom.)
We’ve used Early Entry to accomplish both Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Slinky Dog Dash at DHS, all three headliners at EPCOT, and pretty much everything in Animal Kingdom. Early Entry is a huge perk, and it’s doubly beneficial to be able to use it every single day at whichever park you want. Do not underestimate its value and skip Early Entry because it’s “only” 30 minutes. (In case you can’t tell, we are huge fans of Early Entry–it’s bigger than many fans think.) Learn more strategy in our Guide to Early Entry at Walt Disney World.
Next, there’s 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. This runs for two hours each night, but this is only a perk for those who book more expensive hotels (or the Swan & Dolphin, which are often priced on par with Value or Moderate Resorts). This makes Extended Evening Hours a double-edged sword, with its quality hinging on resort status.
For those who are eligible, Extended Evening Hours is huge. 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. (In fact, the crowds during Evening EMH are one of the reasons we first wrote this post, in the first place–Evening EMH had become almost useless due to overcrowding.)
Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of Value and Moderate Resort guests who, as noted above, cannot take advantage of Extended Evening Hours. So if you’re a Deluxe or DVC guest, this perk is fantastic. If you’re staying at a Moderate or below, it’s awful/nonexistent. See our Guide to Extended Evening Hours at Walt Disney World for more rules, eligibility, strategy, etc.
There’s also the new Genie+ line-skipping system, which replaced the free FastPass ride reservation program. (See our Guide to Lightning Lane and Genie+ at Walt Disney World for full details, recommendations, and everything you need to know for making most of that line-skipping system.)
There are two components to this: Genie+ Lightning Lanes and Individual Lightning Lanes. The latter offers on-site guests the “benefit” of being able to purchase Individual Lightning Lane access at 7 am instead of park opening time, which is when everyone else can buy access. Certain Individual Lightning Lanes do sell out prior to park opening time, so that window is beneficial for headliner attractions–but even that is seasonal. If you’re visiting during busy holiday travel dates, it matters. If you’re going in May or September, not so much.
It would be beneficial if on-site guests could book Genie+ ride selections early, but that is not how this works. Everyone is able to book Genie+ Lightning Lane reservations starting at 7 am. That could always change down the road, but for now, that’s how the system works.
There’s no sugar-coating this one. Losing free FastPass+ was a colossal blow to all visitors of Walt Disney World, but especially on-site guests. One of the very best on-site advantages at Walt Disney World was the expanded FastPass+ booking window; that was a significant headstart and allowed on-site guests to scoop up most of the best ride reservations before their trip.
Two of the most recent changes concern transportation. At the beginning of last year, the Disney’s Magical Express airport shuttle service ended. Now, visitors arriving to Orlando International Airport will need to rent a car, use Uber/Lyft, or arrange for an alternative shuttle service in order to get to their resort. This was a huge loss for many Walt Disney World visitors.
Disney’s Magical Express’ closest paid replacements are Mears Connect and the Sunshine Flyer. See our Guide to Airport Transportation for Walt Disney World for other options. There’s no one-size-fits-all perfect solution; it depends on your party size, budget, and other factors.
We’ve used both Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer, and have found them to be virtually identical to Disney’s Magical Express in speed, quality, and service. The biggest downside is that there’s a fee, and that since these are third parties, there’s not seamless integration between the resorts and the shuttles in the event that an issue arises. (Some fans will cite the lack of luggage handling, but that disappeared from DME prior to this, so it’s hard to tie that to this particular change.)
Then at the beginning of 2023, Walt Disney World brought back free overnight self-parking to guests staying at Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Complimentary parking was an on-site perk until a few years ago, and it was another prompt for this post in the first place.
We hated the charge for parking, and thought it was a bad decision that diminished the differentiation between Disney and its real-world counterparts. We were not alone. At the time, the introduction of the parking fee was the most controversial change we had ever seen made by Walt Disney World. Not only did our post garner over 300 angry comments, but Walt Disney World got hit hard by negative reviews on crowdsourced travel sites like TripAdvisor and Google. I had never seen fans so mad–although backlash to the subsequent elimination of free FastPass and Disney’s Magical Express did exceed that response.
In addition to this, Walt Disney World resort hotel guests also continue to receive complimentary standard parking at Walt Disney World theme parks, which is another plus. In tandem, these two things take some of the sting out of the elimination of Disney’s Magical Express–at least for the guests who opt to rent a car while staying on-site. (That number will only grow, as Universal Orlando continues to expand and turn itself into an equally-compelling theme park destination.)
Sticking with the topic of transportation, this is another on-site advantage offered by Walt Disney World…and one that has arguably improved by quite a bit. Let’s start with the neutral components: the monorails and boats are more or less the same.
Given that the monorails continue to age and one boat route has been cut, the argument could be made that these have gotten slightly worse. Anecdotally, I’m not sure I agree–monorail maintenance has decreased downtime and the one boat route is used by a small minority of guests. Speaking of things used by a small minority of guests, we are fans of the Grand Floridian walkway to Magic Kingdom–our favorite form of transportation is “feet” and we wish Walt Disney World made itself more walkable. (Which would ease the burden on existing transportation.)
As a whole, we view Walt Disney World transportation as better today than it was 5 years ago. The big thing here is the Skyliner, which we view as the best transportation option at Walt Disney World. When there is a line, it’s constantly moving and usually a short wait. Since the opening couple of months, the Skyliner gondola system has been incredibly reliable.
We’re huge fans and strongly favor the Skyliner resorts now. It’s especially a game-changer for Pop Century; given all of the perks and transportation advantages of that one resort, we can easily justify the premium pricing there.
Also helping with past transportation woes is bus wait times, which show up both on digital boards at the bus stops and in the My Disney Experience app. There’s still room for improvement here, and there have been hotel stays when we’ve noticed overcrowded and inconsistent bus service. (In particular, Coronado Springs is a big offender.)
Walt Disney World has also addressed its bus driver shortage, which actually predated the closure, by bringing in a third party to assist with routes. All things considered, we’ve been more pleased by bus service and found it to be more efficient last year and in early 2023 than it was in 2017-2019. With that said, few things are as hit-or-miss as WDW bus service. Someone could have a superlative experience, and someone else an awful one–despite staying at the same resort during the same dates–simply by virtue of luck and timing.
I won’t include Minnie Vans as a transportation “improvement” since there’s a pricey surcharge for those, and we don’t generally recommend them. Plus, if you’re willing to use Disney’s Minnie Vans, you might as well be willing to use Lyft or Uber, which have become ubiquitous in Central Florida. The ease of Lyft and Uber is definitely an improvement for guests, but it’s neither here nor there from an “advantage” perspective since it isn’t a change made by Disney.
Turning back to dining, there is an on-site advantage when it comes to booking Advance Dining Reservations. Currently, everyone can book table service restaurants 60 days prior to the date on which they’d like to eat. In addition, Walt Disney World resort hotel guests can make Advance Dining Reservations for their length of stay (up to a 10-day stay) up to 60 days in advance of their check-in date.
As discussed in our Top 10 Tips for Booking Difficult Advance Dining Reservations, this “60+10” window can be incredibly advantageous for popular table service restaurants or larger parties, especially during busier travel dates. If character dining or highly themed restaurants are important to you, this is huge.
Even at the 60 day mark, Chef Mickey’s, Story Book Dining at Artist Point, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Space 220, Topolino’s Terrace, Be Our Guest Restaurant, ‘Ohana, and others can be scarce. We view dining as a big component of the Walt Disney World experience, so this is a big advantage to us. However, it doesn’t matter to everyone, so your mileage may vary. Also, there are tricks (see that tips post) for scoring last minute availability–but they don’t work as well as booking during the 60+10 window.
It’s definitely still nice to stay in a resort with an immersive design, attention to details, and various Disney touches. It’s also nice to be able to walk to the parks, or be part of the Disney bubble.
For many people, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of this. There’s a certain x-factor that the Disney resorts offer that elevates the overall experience into something more special. This is true for us, and even with all of the complaints here, we still prefer staying on-site in Disney-owned properties.
To their credit, Walt Disney World’s resorts are still meticulously themed, with a ton of charm, detail, and transportive environments you mostly won’t find off-site. This has long been a big selling point, as your resort stay feels like an extension of the theme parks.
This applies mostly to the exterior grounds and interior common areas. With certain recent room refurbishments, the sense of theme inside Walt Disney World’s hotel rooms has been diminished. We’ve been highly critical of this because themed environments are what defines Disney, and are in the wheelhouse of Imagineers.
Many of the new rooms seem to be striving more towards crowd-pleasing styles, with generic modern designs, clean and crisp aesthetics, and generally elegant luxury (the last one only applies to Deluxe Resorts). In general, the rooms are less fun and have traded unique and colorful designs for more bland and basic ones.
On a positive note, Disney seems to be turning the corner on this. The new rooms at the Grand Floridian are an unequivocal upgrade over their predecessor in both theme and luxury, and just one recent example of a shift in this regard. It would seem that the worst of this occurred between 2016 and 2019, with the rooms in the last 2-3 years striking the balance much better. Hopefully this is the start of a positive trend and shifts into the ‘on-site advantage’ column over time.
The problem with the previous move towards modern and nondescript rooms is that Disney went from a realm with almost no real competition (ornately themed designs) to placing itself in direct competition with real-world hotel brands by mimicking their style. This not only makes for an easier head-to-head comparison in terms of guest rooms, but it’s also a comparison that’s often not favorable to Disney. I love a lot of things about Walt Disney World, but do not view it as one of the world’s great operators of hotels.
Actual luxury hoteliers such as Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, and Four Seasons have high end properties near Walt Disney World, and they generally surpass even Walt Disney World’s flagship hotel on a luxury front. It’s arguable that even the Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham hotels give Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World a run for their money–and those are often priced below Moderate levels!
This brings us to the final consideration, which is cost. This has always been the primary selling point for staying off-site. It’s worth reiterating here because the cost difference between off-site and on-site accommodations has become much more pronounced in the last few years.
As discussed in How Much Does a Walt Disney World Vacation Cost in 2023?, the average total price of a trip this year versus a comparable vacation in 2019 is up by thousands of dollars. On a positive note, that has already improved since publication, as approximately 8 different discounts have been released for 2023. It’s likely more are coming as pent-up demand is slowing, too.
Nevertheless, if you last weighed the pros and cons of staying off-site and on-site several years ago, and determined on-site was a better fit for you, there’s a decent chance you’ve become habituated to staying on-site. You’ve felt the increase in prices over the years, but the pull to stay on-site at Walt Disney World is strong. Perhaps you not have reweighed these pros and cons–especially the growing cost disparity.
In our view, the real sweet spot is on-site third party hotels like the Swan & Dolphin, Four Seasons Orlando, and Bonnet Creek Resorts. (See our List of the Best Third Party Hotels Near Walt Disney World.)
Several of these have locations that are as good or better than Disney-owned and operated hotels, and are less expensive. Many also offer the same perks as Disney hotels. Swan & Dolphin, for example, offer Extended Evening Hours whereas Disney Value and Moderate Resorts won’t have access to those.
You also might consider renting a vacation home, both for the sake of privacy and isolation. (See our Best Vacation Home Rentals Near Walt Disney World.) These are especially great for larger parties, and you can literally rent an entire house for the cost of a mid-tier Walt Disney World hotel room. Some of these contain themed kids rooms, in-home theaters, game rooms, private pools, plus everything else you’d expect from a house.
Another great option right now is staying at Universal Orlando, which still does offer most of its on-site advantages and its own sense of immersion and being inside of a “Universal bubble” (albeit to a lesser extent).
If you want to go all-out with Universal’s nicest hotels that are in walking distance of the parks and include unlimited line-skipping at attractions via Express Pass, see our Hard Rock Hotel Review and Portofino Bay Hotel Review. Even though these are Universal Orlando’s more expensive hotels, they’re still priced about on par with Moderate Resorts at Walt Disney World.
Our Universal Orlando Hotel Rankings & Reviews covers the pros & cons of all those resorts, many of which we love for their locations, theme, on-site perks, and value for money. Additionally, refer to Universal Orlando v. Walt Disney World Resorts for a comparison between Disney’s and Universal’s hotels to see what each does better.
Ultimately, that describes our dilemma with accommodations at and around Walt Disney World. The rational side of my mind knows that staying off-site provides significantly better value for money and that the some of the perks we receive from Walt Disney World hotels aren’t as valuable as they once were.
We do now have a lower price ceiling for most Walt Disney World resorts (except Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and All Star Movies, which are all a bit higher for us now), which can be a challenge given that room rates have been increasing. However, there are still ways to find good discounts, and failing that we can either use or rent DVC points or look at the on-site third party options like Swan & Dolphin, Disney Springs, and Bonnet Creek.
There’s also Universal Orlando, and we absolutely love several of those hotels. Universal can hold its own with many of Walt Disney World’s hotels from a thematic perspective, and many of the amenities at Universal are actually superior to Disney. Plus, the perks of staying on-site are far superior and nightly room rates are far lower.
Beyond that, there’s a burgeoning vacation home rental industry, cheap Airbnbs, and robust slate of new off-site hotels near the parks. We should be further investigating all of that, as some great deals abound. The Central Florida accommodations market is incredibly competitive outside the Disney bubble, and that’s reflected in pricing and amenities.
With all of that said, there’s the emotional side. We have nostalgic attachments to certain resorts at Walt Disney World, and enjoy their lush grounds, dining, and amenities. We love being able to stay late in the parks, even if they’re crowded and all we’re doing is wandering around. We enjoy the seamless experience of going from the parks to our resort, feeling a temporary reprieve from the real world.
It’s difficult to put a price on all of that. While we “value” it below the cost difference between comparable third party hotels, we often jump through hoops to find ways to justify staying at Walt Disney World hotels. I’m not suggesting this is the right (or wrong) approach. I know part of this is Disney’s emotional power, and we fall for it hook, line, and sinker a lot. I’m not making a judgment either way–it simply is what it is. However, we find it happening less and less with Walt Disney World continuing to raise prices and cut offerings–that makes staying off-site a much easier decision!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think…are the perks of staying on-site as valuable to you as they once were, or are you getting less value for your money staying at Walt Disney World hotels? Will you continue to stay on-site despite this all? Have you already moved off-site? Other thoughts on this? 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!
I just returned from a trip last week. Stayed at Saratoga Springs. Have probably stayed there at least a dozen times over 20+ years. I really noticed how much less magical the resort is now than it was in the past. The refurbishment made the rooms downright uncomfortable. Yes, the beds are better. But the floors are awful, so hard. The couch was tiny and hard as a rock. The room has no warmth or charm -all wood and white. It looked just like the room at Yacht club we stayed at last year. Saratoga has a great location, it’s wonderful to walk to Disney Springs. the amenities are nice. Love staying on site for the extra magic hours and early entry. But the decline in the room experience was just so noticable. I wish that more awareness of this issue would reverse this trend. I know that we’re not supposed to spend time in the room on a Disney trip but it’s disappointing to spend that much money on a room with floors that literally make your feet hurt after a long day of walking and a couch no one wants to sit on! Would love to see more from the Disney bloggers on this topic.
Just got back from a wonderful trip in January 2023. Used early entry one more at the Magic Kingdom when we didn’t want to pay for Genie+. Went straight to Peter Pan and then did Space Mountain x2 before park opening so definitely felt like it was a good benefit (I refuse to wait 70-90 minutes for Peter Pan). Also LOVE the walkway from the GF! It’s such a pleasant way to get to the park in the morning. We now rent a car because we like the ability to explore different restaurants at other resorts and find it easier than bussing and transferring so LOVE that we no longer pay for parking at resorts/parks!
Except for Fort Wilderness campground (my favorite place in the “world”, we will no longer stay on-property. We have discovered Priceline for Hotel Boulevard hotels, usually staying at the Wyndham Garden Inn or the B Resort. Even with the resort fee and parking fee, the rooms are less than All-Stars rates. It is a short walk to Disney Springs or Saratoga Springs and their transportation options. They also get Early Entry.
The extra half hour is a joke. We barely got on one ride with the wave of people. I cannot imagine getting 3 headliners esp at Epcot. The Disney gods must’ve shined upon thee. Usually there is an issue that makes one not be able to “run” to the first attraction then usually there is a breakdown or something. (I.e. dwarf train, frozen, test track, splash etc etc ).
The illusion that on site hotels are slowly bringing back advantages is just that – an illusion. After 9 previous trips to Disney World before the pandemic, I can tell you that the best on site advantages are gone and appear to be gone forever. The Magical Express, free wrist bands, luggage handling, more time for advance restaurant reservations, free fast passes and the ability to book them in advance – these were the exactly the things that created that magic Disney bubble that surrounded you and took care of you once you booked an onsite hotel. They’ve been replaced with paid versions that are far inferior (Genie+) and in fact are what has driven us away from Disney and right into the arms of Universal. It was good while it lasted, but we’re now betting on the future of Universal Orlando. Some of the things they’ve brought back, such as free parking, are simply reinstating a lost item or inferior to their replacement (e.g. 30 minutes early entry). We’re simply no longer willing to pay a premium price for a less than premium experience
Back in the 80s, my parents always did split trips at WDW, staying both off-property and on-property in a single lengthy trip. Given that about 70% of park guests come from off-property, if Tom feels like reviewing or re-reviewing more off property hotels, it would be a good idea to know what the other options are that are still relatively close, regardless of what our final decisions are about where to stay. Besides the other hotels opening up at Flamingo Springs, there are surely some close hotels on 192 that aren’t just the fly-by-night motels I remember seeing on the drive.
Also, given the great location and recently good prices, I wouldn’t mind Tom going back to the Disney Springs Wyndham and checking out the Tower instead of the lousy Garden.
“I wouldn’t mind Tom going back to the Disney Springs Wyndham and checking out the Tower instead of the lousy Garden.”
We actually did that–I just forgot to write about it!
The tower is so much nicer–truly a night and day difference. I would not hesitate to stay there again, and recommend it.
“…Walt Disney World resort hotel guests also continue to receive complimentary standard parking at Walt Disney World theme parks, which is another plus.” But you are looking at the hotel parking fee and free theme park parking in the wrong light. We used to get actually free parking. Now we pay for parking, except instead of seeing it up front each time we enter one of the theme parks, it’s conveniently hidden in our hotel bill. There are MANY hotels around the area that do not charge for parking. So if you look at it specifically from a hotel stay perspective, this is an extra charge for staying on property. From a theme park perspective, it washes out as if we were paying for theme park parking.
Resort parking is free again. They just changed it.
Many hotels do charge for parking. Including Universal.
We absolutely love Early Entry and that it allows us to cover at least two attractions before regular entry. We recently stayed at the Poly on DVC points and the value we got from proximity to the parks and Evening Hours made all the difference, though we didn’t get to experience them at its best at MK since it started raining like 10 minutes before 11 pm and SDMT closed for the evening lol. On top of it all, and something I can’t really place any value to, is the feel of the Disney bubble. Everything there, even the highways, just feel like you’re are at WDW. We moved to a Universal hotel for the last part of our trip and definitely noticed the difference immediately after hopping into the Uber.
I don’t think I’d stay off property even considering how much cheaper it could be, just for the ease of mind of walking out of your hotel room and knowing you just have to take a bus or a monorail.
Worth mentioning: you can get the equivalent of Extended Evening Hours via Disney After Hours a la carte, without staying Deluxe. DAH is also valid for DHS which is hard to get via EEH.
Sums up this way:
For deluxe, you get a lot of advantages over off-site: The evening extended hours, typically great locations in comparison to off-site. But it comes with a huge price premium. (whether it’s “worth” the extra price being very subjective.)
For most mods/values — You get a few advantages over offsite (morning extended hours, 60+10 booking window for dining). While CBR has become a premium location as the Skyliner Hub, most mods and values don’t give you a location much better than staying offsite. So limited perks, not a huge location advantage, and still paying a premium compared to offsite.
For me, the choice is simple — Bite the bullet on cost and go to deluxe, or get a luxury accommodation offsite for the price of a Disney mod.
“…still paying a premium compared to offsite.”
Are you, though?
I’ve seen dates where the All Stars are a $30 or so nightly premium over Flamingo Crossings or other newer off-site accommodations. Transportation alone–be it Uber or a rental car plus parking–can easily cover the difference, and that’s before giving any value to Early Entry or anything else.
I think there are a number of objective and subjective ways to break this down. Like so much, it depends upon individual circumstances and priorities.
Definitely very subjective. But I do maintain them even value resorts are still a premium price compared to offsite. Taking the Flamingo crossing example, those hotels are the equivalent at least of a Disney mod, maybe slightly higher than a Disney moderate, but at the price of a Disney value.
As I said in a previous article, we cancelled the 10 day trip we reserved at the Wilderness Lodge because there no longer is a “Disney Bubble” that you get put in when you book a Disney World Hotel. On our prior 9 visits (before the pandemic), once you booked a hotel at Disney, you were taken care of. The Magical Express was booked, you got luggage tags that meant you didn’t have to pick up your luggage when you arrived, you were sent a free wrist band, you were able to make Fast Passes in advance, you were able to book restaurant reservations six months in advance, and so on. None of this is now available even though the prices have increased and far inferior paid options replaced everything. For us, it’s not the hotel price increases – we would have tolerated that, it’s the lack of care and elimination of on site advantages that turned us off. That, plus we have no desire to get up early and spend all day on our phones. This is where Disney will lose their most loyal fans. I’m now starting to see news stories that the pent up demand is finally decreasing and in my opinion Disney will wake up a few months from now and realize just how many repeat guests they have now alienated. We rebooked at Universal and won’t ever look back to Disney, unfortunately.
My sister and I are leaning that way also. It was 6 days WDW , 1 day Universal. If we go again, probably either 5 & 2 or 4 & 3. Disney is pricing themselves out reach
I’m in general agreement that the onsite value prop has declined significantly relative to pre-pandemic – IMO the smart way to do Disney now is stay offsite, buy G+ and preferred parking. Disney transportation was always a mixed blessing in terms of dependability, anyway. Offsite has never had it so good in terms of ride access. The only thing hard to replace while staying offsite is the RotR $ILL.
Btw, your statement “spend all day on our phones” is an exaggeration. Tom Bricker’s published articles on how to use G+ effectively for over a year, it does require some study but it’s not nearly as time consuming as you make out.
Hello, could you please explain the 60 +10 day rule if you’re staying on site? So if you book a 8 day stay on Disney property, I can start reserving my reservations for stuff at 68 prior to my arrival date? Thanks
Hi, Jen, if you’re staying 8 days, you can book dining 60 days out for your first day there, but you can also book dining for all 8 days on that “day 60”. So that’s 68 days ahead of your LAST day, 67 days ahead of your next-to-last day, etc. If you’re not staying onsite, you can book 60 days ahead of your first day, but you have to wait until the next day to book dining for your second day, then the next day to book it for your third day…
Disney is clearly pushing for the benefits of staying on site. I think bringing back the free parking is a step in the right direction. The Magical Express to me was a big component and advantage. Recently, we’ve paid for a van service to pick us up at the airport instead of renting a car and that’s worked out but it’s still more things to pay for. The magic express was just so easy, especially for families with small children. Finding an uber that has a car seat is stressful to me as a parent. If they can’t bring back complimentary airport transportation then at least bring back a dining plan in full force. I like the idea of things being all inclusive even though it’s not.
While I absolutely applaud the return of free parking, I’m surprised they didn’t keep the charge for that and bring back Disney’s Magical Express. Discourage rental cars, encourage people to use the shuttle–it makes them less likely to venture off-site and more of a captive audience (the whole reason DME was introduced in the first place). Granted, Uber and Lyft have made that easier in the last few years, but not everyone is comfortable using those services, or will want to do so. By contrast, rental cars offer the ultimate freedom.
My best guess is that Disney wanted to do something significant and fast, signaling that Iger is listening and wants to fix things. Restoring DME would take at least a year and require working with Mears again. We shall see if that happens!
Chiming in on the Feb 2023 update–
To me the only benefits to staying on-site anymore are limited to two things:
1) Proximity to parks and “preferred” transportation– If you are at one of the hotels that is either walking distance or direct rapid transport to a park’s front door, then that advantage in terms of not queueing up for bus rides, being able to take mid day breaks maybe turns the calculus with the higher cost. The Epcot lake hotels (Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Swan & Dolphin) are near perfect since you can literally walk to two parks front doors. If they only had a walkway that allowed you to walk from the Boardwalk area to the Epcot monorail station without going through Epcot…
2) Extended Evening Hours– at this point with the expansion of Early hours to more guests, Genie+, and park reservations, the extended evening hours was the only thing that allowed my family (me, wife, 3 kids, grandma and auntie) to actually ENJOY the parks and have some semblance of “how it used to be”.. we didn’t have our phones out all the time, we were able to stroll through Magic Kingdom without running into someone every three steps. It was the one time in our 5 day vacation we actually relaxed and enjoyed the parks instead of worrying about packing things in. To me, that was justification for the on-site Deluxe resorts.
So I guess I can say that staying in a Deluxe or Deluxe qualifying resort (including renting DVC villas) makes it worth it to me for on-site. If I can’t get those / afford those, then staying off site (even at a Disney Springs resort– the Holiday Inn and Wyndham properties by Disney Springs are under $200/night and a 10 minute walk to Disney Springs) probably makes the most sense as opposed to staying at one of the “on-site” resorts.
Fair points! I do think you’re understating the benefit of Early Entry, but that’s definitely not for everyone–and does have a larger eligibility pool than Extended Evening Hours.
I very much agree with more walkways, including one from Crescent Lake to the front of EPCOT. Just more paths, in general. The entirety of WDW will never be walkable, but there are some relatively easy opportunities for sidewalks that could improve the guest experience in small and big ways. (Between Blizzard Beach and Coronado is a good ‘small’ example.)
I know I am in the minority here, but I don’t understand a lot of the anger around the removal of the Magical Express. For my husband and I, it is overwhelmingly worth the cost of an Uber to be brought directly to your resort. Having to wait for the bus, and then deal with the absurdly slow loading process, and then drive around to all the different resorts before getting dropped off at your own was awful. After being on a long flight, especially if you are flying in late at night and you just want to get checked in and get to bed, that wait feels excruciating. Ubers are inexpensive enough to make it worth it to just get directly from point A to point B in an efficient manner. This comes with the caveat that we don’t have kids- it sounds like finding an Uber with a car seat can be a bit of a hassle. However, for just the two of us the efficiency is worth the cost every time.
I totally agree on Uber vs ME. My wife and I can efficiently get to our resort quicker and for $40-$60 depending on demand. With that in mind, I would like to see the luggage check in at the hotels. Then you could check your bags, go to a park and Uber right to the airport.
I’m also very much with you on Uber. While living out of state, we went years taking monthly trips to WDW without using DME.
I still think it was an objectively bad decision to eliminate DME, but I’m mildly surprised that so many people loved it. Vacation time has value, and DME wasted so much of it. (I also am shocked by how many families use Sunshine Flyer or Mears Connect–I wouldn’t use either as a party of 2+)
With a party of two adults, an Uber/Lyft would definitely save time and allow you to get to your vacation sooner. But, I can understand the frustration with taking away the Magical Express. We’re from TX and we first went to WDW when our kids were 5, 3, 18mo. I never thought a vacation would be possible (or manageable!) with a flight + THREE bulky car seats in tow. When I learned that we could go to Disney and not bring a single car seat the entire time, I was sold. We’ve been to WDW and Disneyland four or five times since then because it was just so easy to bring children, young children especially. And, Knowing that transportation was all baked into the cost of the trip was also a plus. In 2021, we flew to Orlando and rented a car to go to Universal, not Disney. Next time we do Disney, we’ll just rent a car (add $500) and probably stay off site (our family is now 6 children and two adults;) In short, the Magical Express was a lifesaver for large traveling groups, big extended families, and parents with car seat-riding kids.
I had planned a trip to Disney World for my daughter and me in summer 2021 that I canceled due to the Delta variant. Now I’m looking at planning something similar and it’s all more complicated. No more Magical Express from the airport. If I rent a car, I have to pay to park at the hotel, at the park, etc. There’s now an additional fee for Genie+, and I don’t really feel like waking up at 7 am every morning of my vacation to jump on my phone and snag Lightning Lanes. I know Disney is expensive, but I have a limited tolerance for extra fees. On top of all this, it looks like the parks are still really crowded (I was last at Disney in the 90s). We decided to go out to Disneyland instead. Yes, the flights are more expensive, but the rest of the experience is so much simpler.
As a European Disney fan, I have always dreamed of coming to WDW. But I guess the vacation of my dreams will wait again. Every time I think “hey it’s coming along, I might be able to afford it”, the prices surge, the perks diminish and vanish, the magic seems to fade. I mean: who wants to spend an entire day on their phone? A theme park is supposed to be about fun and story. How is it compelling to refresh an app over and over again in the hope to catch a (paying!) reservation? This, in my opinion, completely ruins the experience and theming.
It is honestly disgusting to see some people agreeing to this and trying to convince themselves that Genie + is a good thing, for example. Not to put the blame on those persons who just do their best to have the best trip possible and try to maximize their day by booking in advance a restaurant table, a ride, a place in the queue, or whatever; I actually am disgusted by this management and the techniques that are pulled off by Chapek and its Disney Parks and Resorts team. Because a day at a Disney park should not be about MAXIMIZING the magic, it should be about ENJOYING. I always liked planning Disney trips because it felt fulfilling and teasing but honestly this seems like a hassle! There are so many things to plan ahead of time, it feels like preparing a commando operation to raid as much perks as you can. That is not what I consider enjoyable.
Disney parks have always been kind of a “once-in-a-lifetime”, “premium” experience, and it was fine: once you got in, you could experience your day like any of the other guests, no matter how much you had to wait to afford going there. But now, with such horrifying practices, it is not even the case anymore! The rich and poor are even segregated inside the park, at all times, for each single activity they want to do. Even during Pressler’s era in California things were not that bad. Cutting all expenses and making it sound like it’s for the consumers’ best is making me so mad. I just hope that, just like around the mid 2000s, there will be an understanding that bad management is bad for business, that there is a standard of quality that must be respected, and that such a standard applies particularly to way customers are treated. I am not talking about guests anymore at this point, because this is not how we are being treated by management.
The casual guests are unhappy, the long-time fans are unhappy, AP holders are unhappy, the Imagineers are unhappy, the cast members are unhappy (I signed a petition lately, expressing the discontent of several DLP Casts). Disney is treating all of the aforementioned like garbage. It is not right, in the name of Covid, to charge so much for stuff that used to be free. I do not mind paying more if I am offered more, but this is not the case: worse, it’s the opposite!. And it’s not like it is going to be temporary in any way, now that Disney knows increasing prices everywhere does not lessen attendance, they have no reason to back up. Honestly, I think the next step will be charging clients for access to the restrooms (this one does not even sound that impossible), for the air they breathe or the number of steps they walk.
I hope that the attendance will drop. This is the only way to make them change their policy. But it will never happen, cause Disney got us on a hook like it’s a drug. We crave for this dose of escapism and they know it. But only the very rich will be contented now, at least we be warned.
In Disneyland Paris, which is my nearest resort, prices are fortunately not as high. Europeans do not spend as much as Americans do in theme parks, maybe because it is not an integral part of our culture. Anyway, the constatation for most is still the same. The management is taking a similar path, except maybe in a bit more cautious way. For example, we got the lightning lanes, but not genie + (which I think is great: The FP system was just making lines longer, and noone really uses Lightning Lanes anyway). Anyway, the prices are increasing for everything, but we still don’t have our shows back for example.