Perks of Staying at a Disney Hotel at Walt Disney World

One of the tougher parts of planning your Walt Disney World trip is deciding on your hotel. The first step for many people is to figure out whether they want to stay at a Disney hotel or a non-Disney hotel. Besides offering Disney theming and “magic," there are actually specific perks that guests of Disney hotels have access to.

“Disney Hotels” Briefly

Quickly, let’s remember what we’re talking about when we say “Disney hotel.” A “Disney hotel” is one that is owned and operated by Disney. It is staffed by Disney Cast Members, and it has restaurants that participate in the Disney Dining Plans. A non-Disney hotel is any other hotel, including other hotels on Disney property.

Unfortunately, Disney sort of mucks things up by often talking about some non-Disney hotels in the same spaces it talks about Disney hotels. Even Disney’s resorts page ends with some non-Disney hotels.

Best we’ll say if you’re looking for an official list—use that resorts list we linked to above and ignore the ones at the bottom: the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin, the Four Seasons, the Disney Springs hotels, and the Good Neighbor hotels—those are all not Disney hotels (despite some of them having the word “Disney” in their names).

Unofficially, we have a Guide to the Walt Disney World hotels that exclusively covers Disney hotels.

Perks of Staying at a Disney Hotel

Onto the perks! We’ve listed them roughly in the order we value them. Some of these perks are available to guests of select other (non-Disney) hotels. In those cases, we’ve tried to list what hotels they’re available to, but these do change fairly often, so you’ll want to confirm before booking anything.

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60-Day FastPass+ Window

The 60-Day FastPass+ window perk is undoubtedly the best perk of staying at a Disney hotel. With this perk, you can make your FastPass+ reservations for your entire stay 60 days in advance of your arrival date.

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Conversely, people who are not staying at a Disney hotel can only make reservations 30 days in advance. These extra 30-plus days are crucial for getting the most out of your Disney World FastPass+ strategy. In particular, you’re going to have a much better chance at booking the following FastPass+ reservations:

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This perk is also available to guests of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin and, through 2019, to guests of the Disney Springs hotels. (It is available to Four Seasons guests at least through 2018—no word on 2019.)

Extra Magic Hours

Extra Magic Hours is a perk that allows guests of Disney hotels to access a designated for an extra hour (or hours) in the morning or evening each day.

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By way of example, as I write this, the Extra Magic Hour schedule for the next seven days is: morning at Epcot, morning at Magic Kingdom, morning at Animal Kingdom, morning at Hollywood Studios, morning at Animal Kingdom, evening at Epcot (2 hours), evening at Magic Kingdom (2 hours).

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If you have park hopper tickets (that allow you to visit multiple parks in a single day), the Extra Magic Hour in the morning can be a game-changer. You’ll be in excellent position to see great rides before most people are even starting their day. As the crowds pour in, you can “hop” to another park.

Without park hopper tickets, things are sort of a wash. It’s nice to have smaller crowds at rope drop, but then you’ll be left with heavier crowds the rest of the day.

If you don’t have access to morning Extra Magic Hours, you have to plan around them because you can’t plan to be at a park the morning of Extra Magic Hours—all the lines will be huge by the time you get in them. (Believe me, there’s nothing sadder than seeing a family arrive 30 minutes before the park officially opens, only to see hundreds of people being let in before them.)

As for evening Extra Magic Hours, they’re fun, but not essential. Evening Extra Magic Hours are more “bonus” time. Lines will be short, but not non-existent, especially for more popular rides. Keep in mind, not all the rides are open during Extra Magic Hours. Check out the Disney website for the latest list.

This perk is also available to guests of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin and, through 2019, to guests of the Disney Springs hotels. (It is available to Four Seasons guests at least through 2018—no word on 2019.)

About Those First Two Perks…

We’re big fans of the 60-day FastPass+ window and Extra Magic Hours, but we should say it’s not hard to put together great days at the Disney parks without them. The following itineraries were put together without either of these perks (indeed, we actually booked our FastPass+ reservations for these just a few days ahead of time):

Expanded Dining Reservation Window

In the same way that you have access to your entire stay when booking FastPass+ as a Disney hotel guests, you also get to book Advance Dining Reservations for your entire stay once you’re 180 days out from the first day.

For whatever reason, Disney caps this perk at 10 days, so if you have a stay of longer than that, you won’t be able to book all your dining reservations once you’re 180 days out from your arrival date.

This perk is obviously valuable if you’ve booked your trip more than 180 days out, as you’ll have a better shot at getting popular reservations. If you’re within 180 days, though, this perk has no value. This perk is only available to guests of Disney hotels.

Disney’s Magical Express

Disney’s Magical Express service is a free shuttle service between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and your Disney hotel. You can book your Magical Express ride at any time, even when you land in MCO (though they really don’t like this). The process is incredibly straightforward, and MCO is filled with signage pointing you to the Magical Express station.

This is a nice perk, but it can be a more time-consuming way of getting between MCO and your hotel than just taking a taxi or Uber. While we generally recommend it for first-time guests, repeat visitors may decide it’s not the best option for them.

We have a full post on Magical Express, including the process and our pros and cons. This perk is only available to guests of Disney hotels.

Disney Transportation

Technically, Disney’s transportation system is available to everyone, regardless of whether they’re a hotel guest or even a park ticket holder. Anyone can hop on a Disney bus at Animal Kingdom and ride it to Caribbean Beach Resort if they want.

The “perk” here is rather that Disney hotels are served directly by Disney transportation. Some non-Disney resorts have free shuttles to the parks, but you know when you’re staying at a Disney hotel you’ll have free transportation to all the parks, both water parks, and Disney Springs.

Moreover, Disney transportation usually drops off and picks up closer to the park than other shuttles. In particular, Disney transportation is the only transportation that drops directly off at Magic Kingdom. Everyone else must pass through Transportation and Ticket Center.

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Keep in mind, we’re sort of salty about Disney transportation. This is one of the areas where Disney really struggles. If you’re at a resort where you’ll be relying mostly on bus transportation, you may be just as well off at a non-Disney resort with a shuttle (maybe even a paid shuttle). We tend to rely on Uber to get us out of Disney’s tricky transportation problems, and Uber works just as well at any hotel in the area.

Free Magic Bands (And Charging Privileges)

Guests at Disney hotels get free Magic Bands. These are the standard versions of the Magic Band 2—just plain colors. If you book far enough in advance and modify your Magic Band selection online, you can choose your color. If you fail to do that, you’ll just be able to pick up a grey one from the front desk.

Magic Bands aren’t essential for Disney World travel, but they sure are convenient. As a related perk, guests at Disney hotels can use their Magic Bands to charge purchases at Walt Disney World back to their hotel rooms.

Free Magic Bands are available exclusively to guests of Disney hotels. Other guests will either need a scannable park ticket or Magic Bands they acquire on their own (or have from a previous Disney stay).

Ability to Book Disney Dining Plan

We sort of hesitate to call this a perk, but only guests of Disney hotels can book Disney dining plans. Very few people are going to be worse off without the dining plan, but in the right circumstances, the dining plans can save you money on your meals at Disney World.

Disney hotel guests are also the only guests able to access packages with Free Dining, which can definitely be a huge way to save at Walt Disney World.

Cast Members On-Hand

Many hotels have Disney planning stations staffed (we believe) by a Cast Member. But at a Disney hotel, you have a front desk / concierge desk staffed with Cast Members. They’re not all going to be able to answer every question, but if you have an issue with FastPass+, Advance Dining Reservations, or anything else Disney-specific, these people will be in a good position to help you out.

Free Parking at the Parks

While the days of free parking at the resorts are gone, hotel guests do get free parking at the parks. If you don’t mind driving, this is a great way to avoid the hassle of Disney Transport.

Free Towels at The Water Parks

We just learned this one! Hotel guests get complimentary towels at Disney World’s water parks—Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. This is a small savings, only $2.

Not Sure If The Disney Hotels Are “Worth It”?

We’ve got a wide variety of Disney hotel reviews (we linked to the guide earlier in the post), but if you’re on the fence budget-wise, check out our reviews of some value resorts:

Let us know if we missed anything! Are there any perks of staying at a Disney hotel that you love?

All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered

Don't be overwhelmed by Disney World planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.

Just starting out? Check out our Walt Disney World planning guide! If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars. For picking your hotel, check out our Walt Disney World hotels guide.

When it comes time to book, we've got you covered with posts on how to book cheap flights, how to get the best deal on your Disney hotel, and where to find discount Disney World tickets. And of course everyone wants to know whether or not they should get a Disney World dining plan!

Don't forget to master your Disney World FastPass+ strategy a few months in advance. We'll keep you out of long lines so you can maximize the magical time in the parks! We've got park-specific guides as well: Magic Kingdom FastPass, Epcot FastPass, Animal Kingdom FastPass, and Hollywood Studios FastPass.

Know what to ride with our guides to: Magic Kingdom rides, Hollywood Studios rides, Epcot rides, and Animal Kingdom rides! Plus learn about the water parks with our guide to Blizzard Beach and our guide to Typhoon Lagoon!

Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.