Planning A Disney Vacation – Booking The Hotel

What Disney is best known for – the castle!

Recently, as I began a month long journey into Disney planning, I became aware of what a headache it can be. I've learned a lot … and I have a lot more to learn before my husband and I travel there in only a few weeks, but I thought I would take that time to share with you the intricacies of what I've learned through planning.

Last week, I talked about MagicBands. This week I'm going to backtrack a bit and talk about hotels.

Back in January, a friend of 11 years contacted me with the date of his wedding. He had been engaged since before I got married as he worked his way through his last semesters of college toward his lifelong dream of working as a movie editor. While he didn't make it to Chicago as he had originally envisioned, his fiance's hometown, he has pulled his career together and is in a really great position to begin a life with the one he loves.

Anyway, once I had the date, I started looking for hotels. In my opinion, you can never start travel planning too soon. When I saw that Travelocity was having a sale of $100 off a 3 night stay, I thought perfect! and was then forced to stay up late booking since Justin and I had plans that kept us out all day preventing me from looking. Immediately when we returned home, I rushed into search-mode taking in all of the reviews and pictures I could find from TripAdvisor and Flyertalk. A few hotels intrigued me, but when I looked at the traveler pictures from some of those hotels, they became  a lot less exciting. (Getting an Ariel room at the Art of Animation Hotel? No thanks – I'm not too keen on having a redhead watch me sleep. Creepy.) Finally I picked my hotel – one that fit into the terms for the $100 off and was reasonably priced.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

But how did I get there? How did I know where to look? And what's the big deal with choosing a Disney hotel to begin with?

When you visit Orlando, you have a myriad of options. You can choose to stay on Disney property or off. You can stay in Orlando, Lake Buena Vista, or Kissimmee. You can stay in a Disney owned hotel (boutique style) or an American chain. Really it comes down to what you desire and hope to experience during your stay.

If you are going for a need-to-take-the-kids-but-can't-afford-it approach, you may want to check out Costco for cheaper prices, get in touch with a Disney travel planner (who can get you discounts on rooms and tickets), and/or stay in a hotel off of Disney property.

Here are the prices I ran into when looking at these options –

• Costco offered a 3 day hopper pass + 4 nights at a hotel off of Disney property that included free breakfast and a shuttle to the parks for $1000.
• The Disney Travel planner I contacted got me a room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (a higher rated hotel than the one Justin and I are currently booked to stay at – on Disney Property) for 4 nights with 2 day park hopper tickets for $2000.
• Since the time of my booking I have seen hotel prices outside of the Disney property (condo anyone?) as low as $60 on websites like TravelZoo. Some have breakfast included as well as shuttles to the parks.

As it turns out, with my early booking and signing up for the Disney credit card, Justin and I will be staying at the Port Orleans Riverside for 3 nights and Coronado Springs for 1 night. We purchased 2 day park hopper passes. Our total comes to approximately $1000 without breakfast included. If we hadn't taken advantage of the credit card offer, it would have been more in the range of $1200. So why didn't we go with the cheaper Costco offer and get more days in the park plus breakfast? Or why didn't we choose a condo for $60 a night and drive to the parks?

The Contemporary Resort

With such cheap prices available for staying off of the Disney property, why did I decide to stay on site? 

Let's look at the perks:

1. Early entry. Late exits.

You can enter early or leave late from specific parks during certain days if you are staying at a hotel on location. For example, my husband and I will be able to enter the Animal Kingdom an hour before opening (and before crowds) with our park hopper passes enabling us to ride the best rides and do the best things before we have to worry about lines and foot traffic. On our last day at the parks, we will be able to stay 2 hours after closing time at Hollywood Studios to take advantage of the Osborne Dancing Lights Spectacle. (Have I mentioned that I'm really excited about that?) If we stayed on property outside of the parks, our days would be a lot shorter and we wouldn't have that extra bit of time without crowds. I think this perk is most useful for people who have limited time at Disney World.

The Monorail makes navigating Disney World easy!

2. Free transportation to the parks from the hotel and not having to pay a parking fee.

Want to get drunk at the EPCOT Wine and Food Festival? You can if your hotel is a shuttle ride away from the park. And who actually wants to pay fees to park at the parks anyway? Then you have to do a tremendous amount of walking back to your car (after being on your feet all day) and driving back to the hotel late at night (when all you want to do is sleep). Seriously, I'm looking forward to being a boat ride away from Port Orleans Riverside to EPCOT. That will be nice. And if we do decide to drive, parking is free because we are staying at a Disney hotel.

One more thing worth considering – not having to pay for a rental car. Saving a few hundred during our trip on a car rental may not be worth it for some, but it was for us.

3. Magical Express Shuttle.

If you fly into Orlando, Disney will transport you from MCO airport to your hotel (and back) for free. They even send you luggage tags so that you don't have to pick up your checked luggage from the airport; instead it goes straight to the Magical Express shuttle and is delivered to your room magically. Nice, right? :)

4. Moving Luggage Between Hotels.

Justin and I are in a unique situation in which we will be staying at 2 different hotels during our time at Disney, both on the Disney property. When I contacted our hotel about early arrival and holding our baggage for us, they mentioned to me that of course they could do that, but they could also transfer our luggage from one hotel to the other while we enjoyed our time at the parks. Magically, that is. It's not just McDonald's, at this point, saying "I'm lovin' it!" More time at the parks? Heck yeah!

Only at Disney World can you dine on Mickey's head

5. Make meal reservations early and pick out FastPasses before anyone else.

Not only do you get free magicbands with your stay, but you are also able to book meal reservations and pick out your fastpass attractions before others who are staying off property. I didn't take advantage of this, so I can't comment on it, but, from what I understand, you have the most options if you are early to the game. :)

6. The Disney Resorts are lovely.

Yes, some are definitely touristy … or extremely kid friendly. No, you may not be able to gain points or use status at these hotels. But, from what I've heard, the resorts are practically parks in themselves. Carriage rides, good food, tons of shops, spas… Seriously, if you want to do it while on vacation, you can. Disney will help you.

So, with all of this knowledge on hand, what would you choose? Would you stay on Disney property to take advantage of their perks? Or would you rather stay off property and save money?

As it turns out, what it all comes down to is you. Your preferences, your vacation. You make the trip what you want. I think this is one of the things I like best about the travel planning experience so far – being able to decide what is and isn't important to me and making decisions based on that. Isn't that what travel planning all boils down to anyway?

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