It doesn’t take long when you’re planning a trip to Orlando to come across information that mentions the benefits or the perks you receive when staying onsite at Disney World.
While some benefits may provide varying levels of convenience, others can be the difference between being able to snag a ride (without a long wait) on a popular attraction or not.
Since every trip is different, it is important to understand exactly what the benefits are so that you can determine if the onsite benefits outweigh the cost of staying on Disney property vs. staying offsite at a often much less expensive option.
Let’s take a look…
8 perks onsite guests receive at Disney World
While there used to be more, there are still 8 perks that are worth mentioning for onsite guests:
- 7 am Individual Lightning Lane Selections
- Dining reservations at 60 (+10 additional) days out
- Free parking at the resorts and theme parks (& complimentary transportation between resorts and parks)
- Early Theme Park Entry
- Extended Theme Park Hours
- Resort Room charging privileges
- Being inside the Disney “bubble”
- Location, location, location
7 am Individual Lightning Lane Selections
Now that the old FastPass+ service has been discontinued, Disney has officially launched their new Disney Genie and Genie+ services, plus you now have the ability to pay-to-ride on select attractions with their new Individual Lightning Lane selections.
If you are unfamiliar with the new Genie+ system, you’ll definitely want to take some time learning about it. Here are some of our best resources to help you with that:
Be sure to read all of our guides on Disney Genie, Genie+, and individual Lightning Lane attraction selections.
- How to Use Disney Genie at Walt Disney World
- How to Use Disney Genie+ at Walt Disney World
- How to Book Lightning Lane Selections at Walt Disney World
- The Most Frequently Asked Disney Genie+ Questions — Answered
- Best Genie+ Choices at Walt Disney World (book these first!)
- Touring plan strategies for Disney World (with and without Genie+)
- First Thoughts on Disney Genie & Genie+
- How Genie, Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections Differ
- A Genie+ Timeline of What to Book When for Walt Disney World
- Comparing Genie+ at Walt Disney World and Disneyland
- Complete Guide to Genie+ at Disneyland (including timeline and WDW comparison chart)
- Lightning Lane passes at Disney World (price & more)
But if you are just trying to decide if staying onsite will give you an advantage when using them, here’s what you need to know:
When it comes to Genie+, both onsite and offsite guests have nearly equal benefits, since both groups can snag their first Genie+ selection at 7 am.
But, when it comes to the Individual Lightning Lane selections, guests staying onsite will have a huge advantage because onsite guests can also make their Individual Lightning Lane Selections at 7 am, while offsite guests will have to wait until the park officially opens to make theirs.
And, although there are only 2 attractions in each park that are eligible for this pay-to-ride service, as you can see from the list below, it includes some of the most popular attractions at each park:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Space Mountain (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
- Frozen Ever After (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
Because of their popularity, it isn’t unusual for attractions to be out of Individual Lightning Lane passes before the park even opens up, which means if you are staying offsite and want to ride, you’ll have to use the standby line.
And, since staying offsite also means you won’t be eligible for Early Theme Park Entry, you can expect to find that the line will likely be quite long.
If you are staying offsite, you should still try for an Individual Lightning Lane pass right when the park opens up. But, if they are all gone by the time you are eligible to book, your only option will be to use the standby line (or in the case of Cosmic Rewind, you will also want to try for a spot in the Virtual Queue since there is no Standby Line right now).
Keep in mind, however, that for most of the popular attractions, the first hour and the last hour of the day tend to see some of the lowest waits. You may still have to wait quite awhile, but it won’t be as long as what you’d find during the middle of the day.
Dining reservations at 60+10 days out
All guests visiting the Walt Disney Resort can make dining reservations at 60 days out.
…guests staying on-site have the advantage of being able to make reservations at 60 days for up to 10 additional days.
For most visitors, that additional 10 days will cover their entire trip.
Value of this benefit:
This perk can be very beneficial if you’re hoping to snag some of the most coveted reservations.
Since on-site guests are making reservations 60+10 days into the future, some of the most popular reservations, like dinner at Space 220 or some of the character meals, will not be available at 60 days since on-site guests have a 10-day head start.
Plus, this also means that as long as your trip isn’t longer than 11 days, you’ll only have to wake up early once to make dining reservations, and can you really put a value on added sleep?!
Guests staying off-site make their dining reservations 1 day at a time, exactly 60 days out from the day they’d like their reservations, for each day of their trip.
Free parking at your resort and the theme parks and complimentary transportation between resorts and parks
If you stay on-site at Disney World and decide to drive to the parks, parking is free both at the Walt Disney World resorts and at the theme parks.
If you prefer to let Disney do the driving, depending on where you are coming from and where you are headed, you will have the option of using buses, watercraft, the Disney Skyliner (gondolas), or the monorail to get around.
Value of this benefit:
Obviously, saving $25/day for parking at the parks is a nice perk.
In addition to the savings on parking, though, staying on-site and having access to Disney transportation to get you from your resort to the parks has additional non-monetary value, such as making it easier for groups to split up without worrying about dropping members of their party off and picking them up.
Off-site guests pay $25/day to park at all 4 of the major parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
Parking at Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and self-parking at Disney Springs is free.
If you have a meal scheduled at one of the resorts, you can park there for free as well.
Off-site guests also have access to all of Disney’s transportation (buses, watercraft, Skyliner, and monorail) for free once on property, so if you want to Park Hop, you’ll be able to do that without having to move your car from one park to another.
Early Theme Park Entry
While Extra Magic Hours are no more, onsite guests still have the opportunity to enter the parks early with the new Early Theme Park Entry.
Early Theme Park Entry works similarly to Extra Magic Hours, but they aren’t identical.
There is only a “morning” option for Early Theme Park Entry (unlike Extra Magic Hours which could be in the morning or at night) and instead of the benefit being at 1 park per day, Early Theme Park Entry is available at every park, every morning and allows onsite guests to enter the park 30 minutes early.
Disney has said that this new benefit is part of the big 50th Anniversary Celebration, but no word on whether we will see it extended past that.
Value of this benefit:
We very rarely recommended Extra Magic Hours because of how they drove crowds to a park. But, we feel the opposite way about the new Early Theme Park Entry.
The simple fact that it is available at all 4 parks means that we don’t see the same crowd issues we used to with the old system.
At this time, there are no free alternatives for guests staying offsite. Disney used to have paid ticketed events that allowed for early entry. However, those have not returned since the reopening.
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours
Although Early Theme Park Entry is available to all guests, Extended Evening Theme Park Hours are only available to guests staying at Disney Deluxe Resort Hotels, Disney Deluxe Villas, and other select hotels (Swan, Dolphin, Swan Reserve, Shades of Green).
In order to access this perk, you’ll need a valid Resort ID, valid admission and a theme park reservation for the same park on the same day. (Or a ticket or annual pass with the Park Hopper option, provided you entered the park where you made your reservation earlier in the day.)
At this time, there are no free alternatives for guests staying offsite. However, Disney does offer some nighttime After Hours events that you can pay to attend.
- Guide to Extended Theme Park Hours
- Complete Guide to Disney After Hours – Hollywood Studios
- Complete Guide Disney After Hours – Magic Kingdom
Resort room charging privileges
Disney offers handy room charging privileges for guests of its resorts.
This means that you can charge your purchase back to your room while shopping and dining at most places on property.
To make it even easier, the same MagicBand or Key to the World card (which is basically your hotel room key) that gets you into the parks is what you use.
It is important to note that when you check in to your resort room, a hold for the amount due at check-in plus $100 for incidental expenses will be placed on the credit card you have associated with your room.
As you charge items back to your room, if your balance exceeds the initial $100 being held, additional $100 holds will be placed on the credit card incrementally.
The credit card hold should not exceed what you currently owe plus an additional $100, although sometimes the holds can take a while to “fall off.”
Value of this benefit:
The main benefit of this perk is simply added convenience.
It can be pretty darn easy (maybe TOO easy) to just scan your MagicBand instead of having to dig for your wallet.
Unfortunately, if you are staying offsite, there isn’t any alternative.
Since charges are going towards an account associated with your resort room and not immediately to your credit card, even if you purchase a MagicBand or bring one from a previous trip, etc., it will not work.
Only on-site guests have this perk.
Being inside the “Disney bubble“
Many Disney World fans refer to the idea of staying on property as being inside the “Disney bubble.”
It means immersing yourself in all things Disney, from staying on-site to dining on-site to playing on-site.
Value of this benefit:
It depends on what your expectations are for your trip.
Do you want to immerse yourself in all things Disney and Disney World, or do you just want to go to the parks and relax at a resort off-site?
Do you want to step off your plane onto Magical Express and never get behind the wheel of a car during your vacation, or do you prefer to drive yourself around?
The value of being in the Disney bubble is different for everybody, and may even change from trip to trip.
You are either in the Disney bubble or off-property. However, there are many lovely off-site resorts, hotels, and private villa rentals that can provide a fabulous “less Disney” experience, especially if the idea of being on Disney property 24/7 sounds overwhelming for you.
Location & staying on-site at Disney World
Like in real estate, many people feel like one of the best perks of staying on-site at Disney World is location, location, location.
Depending on which resort you choose, you may find yourself able to walk to a Disney park – something you can’t do if you stay offsite.
Value of this benefit:
Many families with little ones find the convenience of walking or hopping on a boat (or bus, gondola or monorail) to be their favorite perk worth the extra cost associated with staying at a Disney resort.
If you know you’re going to spend most of your trip in the Magic Kingdom, for example, staying at one of the resorts located on the monorail makes a lot of sense.
There are several hotels, including some in Disney Springs, that, even though not as close as staying on-site, are still very convenient (and often less expensive).
If you do stay offsite, though, you should definitely plan on having a car (so factor that into your cost) since the shuttles advertised often run on inconvenient schedules that may impact your touring plans.
VIDEO: Is it Worth It? Staying Onsite vs. Offsite at Disney World
Onsite vs. Offsite
When researching where to stay, you’ll likely find yourself focusing on 4 different things:
- amount of space
All of those are important. But for you – which is the most important? Because whatever your answer is will likely drive your decision.
- Typically, if the price is the main driver, you’re going to find much better deals offsite. And if you have reward points, you’ll likely even be able to use those at the surrounding hotels, too (which is something you can’t do at a Disney resort).
- When it comes to space, there are some fantastic onsite options (that come with price tags to match). But there are also many offsite ones, too – most of which are much more budget-friendly.
- But – when it comes to location and convenience, hands down, your onsite options will nearly always be your best bet.
And when it comes to Disney World vacations – especially if this is your “once in a lifetime trip,” we think it is worth it to stick to onsite for the location and convenience alone.
Plus, if you’re making a once-in-a-lifetime Disney trip, a Disney resort with Disney theming is kind of like the cherry on top.
Why we usually choose to stay onsite
What do you value?
Not all perks or benefits will have an equal value to every guest.
And with travelers visiting from so many different parts of the world, it was nice to have a hefty list of perks that went beyond the location aspect a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel offered. And in the “before times,” most guests could find at least 1-2 things on the list of perks and benefits that made the cost of the onsite room “worth” it.
But, at least right now, the list of perks is a lot shorter. And it makes sense that for some guests, losing some of the things that made it easier to justify the price now makes it easy to move their business offsite.
What matters the most to you and what you consider a good value for your money may not be the same for the next person.
It’s the location and convenience for us
We can sum up why we frequently choose to stay onsite in just a couple of words: location & convenience.
We don’t do it every visit. But, we are suckers for the location and convenience that the onsite resorts offer.
First of all – in most instances, you aren’t going to find resorts with any better locations than the onsite resorts. Of course, there are resorts like the Swan and Dolphin that are suitable options, too. But, Disney beats just about everybody else when it comes to location.
And, we love that there are so many free and convenient transportation options onsite (like bus, boat, monorail, Skyliner). Not only does that make getting around easy, but it also makes things a lot more simple if we split up our group.
Add room service and easy-to-access dining options, and onsite not only checks a lot of the boxes of things that are important to us, but it also wins our heart.
Perks that are suspended or no longer offered
At the time of the initial closure back in March 2020, these were the perks that anyone staying onsite could expect to have:
- FastPass+ reservations at 60 days
- Dining Reservations at 180+10 days out
- Free transportation between the airport and your resort
- Resort Airline Check-In
- Free MagicBands
- Free parking (at the parks) and complimentary transportation between resorts and parks
- Access to purchase the Disney Dining Plan
- Access to Extra Magic Hours
- Resort room charging privileges
- Resort package Pick-up
And, since the reopening, the list looks more like this now:
FastPass+ reservations at 60 days(Genie+ has replaced FastPass+)
- Dining Reservations at 180+10 days out (Dining Reservations are now 60+10 days out)
- Free transportation between the airport and your resort (No more free transportation or Magical Express as of January 1, 2022)
Resort Airline Check-In(Suspended, with no word on whether it will return) Free MagicBands(You now have the option to pay for a MagicBand or to use your phone)
- Free parking (at both the resorts and parks) and complimentary transportation between resorts and parks
Access to purchase the Disney Dining Plan(The Disney Dining Plan has been suspended, but we do expect it to return) Access to Extra Magic Hours(Extra Magic Hours have been eliminated and have been replaced with Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Theme Park Hours)
- Resort room charging privileges
Resort package Pick-up(It was back for a bit briefly, but Disney has said the service has been suspended again. We do expect it to return in full sometime in the future.)
- NEW Park Pass Reservations for the number of days on your ticket. This mainly impacts Annual Passholders because, without a resort reservation, you can only make Park Pass reservations for 3 days at a time.
Have other thoughts or questions about staying on-site at Disney World? Feel free to chime in with your comment.
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