By Erica Colmenares
Those of us who haunt the internet Disney lists often read this question: “Should I stay on-site? We could get a five-bedroom house with a pool for the price of staying at Disney World!” Everyone has their own opinion about this, but the correct one is: stay on-site. Just kidding. But seriously, let’s see if there’s bang for your buck, staying on-site.
First, it’s all about the Magic. I mean, really. Here you are, traveling all the way to Orlando to see Mickey, and you’re not staying at his House? What’s up with that? When you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, you are immersed, 24-7, in the pixie dust and theming. No matter if you stay in the deluxe heights of the Polynesian or the Wilderness Lodge, or opt for the more value-minded All-Star-Movies, you are surrounded by Imagineered atmosphere from daybreak to dusk and beyond. (Look at this issue’s Spotlight on the MouseforLess for links to lots of photos and resort details.)
As part of that immersion, you get Cast Members to attend to your needs. For you, not the run-of-the-mill registration clerk. Not the ho-hum housekeeper. You get Cast Members, trained in guest satisfaction to a degree not often found in hotel chains. Some say the level of Cast Member excellence has decreased in past years, victim to cost-cutting, but most guests have found Cast Members to still be top-notch, dependable and, yes, even fun!
What else? Well, what about more time at the parks. Nothing bad about that, right? Extra Magic Hours are for Disney resort guests only, and allow access on designated days to each of the parks, sometimes in the morning (for an hour before opening), sometimes in the evening (for up to three hours after closing). The schedule isn’t static, but you can check here to get a good sense of when Extra Magic Hours might happen during your Disney World visit: http://www.themouseforless.com/tripplanning/wdwparks/emh.shtml
Now, imagine you are at the park, having a great time, but you look over and your toddler (preschooler, teenager, grandmother) is wilting. Well, if you are staying at a Disney resort, you can just hop on that Disney-chauffeured transportation, and be whisked back to your room for some needed R&R. If you’re off-site, you may be dependant on a hotel shuttle that departed half an hour before you wanted it. Or you could take your car, which means you have to deal with the hassle of parking lot shuttles, hot steamy cars and the joy of I-Drive traffic to get back to your hotel. The Disney transportation system is fairly amazing, given the number of guests it moves around a 42 square mile property every single day. The bus drivers can be entertaining, the monorail drivers may let you sit up front, and the boat captains, well, just don’t believe a word they say, ’cause they love spreading rumors.
Come to think of it, it’s really cheaper and easier staying on-site, as you don’t have to watch for rental car codes and pay the big bucks for your ride. Disney resort guests can hop on the Magical Express bus that picks them up at Orlando International, and watch a Disney Resort flick in air conditioned comfort while the folks at Mears deliver them to the resort of their choice. While there have been complaints about slow service or misplaced luggage, Disney is diligently working out the bugs, and over-all this is a pretty nice (and free, for now) service that is only provided to Disney resort guests.
There’s even more on the on-site perk front. Yes. Hard to believe, I know. If you are at Epcot (or at any Walt Disney World shop) and you buy that 50-pound Mickey bust that’s gonna go great in your garden grotto, guess what? You don’t have to carry it over to your IllumiNations viewing site, then schlep it back to the hotel. The friendly Cast Members at the shop will arrange for it to be delivered to your hotel’s gift shop, to pick up at your convenience. Now, if you are leaving the next day, they won’t be able to help you, so word to the wise: do all heavy shopping during the beginning of your visit.
Another heavy thing you won’t have to carry is your wallet full of cash. Just bring your room key, which can also serve as a charge card if you so wish. Handy, dandy! And, if you purchase a trip package, it can also be your park ticket. Astounding! Consult your travel agent for details.
Recently, the fine folks at Disney added yet another perk for on-site guests. The call-one-time-and-make-all-your-dining-reservations perk. Kind of an unwieldy name, eh? Well, how this works is that if you have a coveted Disney resort reservation confirmation number, you can call when you are ninety days out from your date of check in, and book all of your dining needs. The poor folks off-site still have to get up each day at O-Dark-Hundred to try and get their Crystal Palace reservations when they want them, but you’ll be sitting pretty with up to ten days worth of vacation eats planned. (See Ask an ImaginEar in this issue about the new dining reservation system.)
I can imagine people who are better off staying in an off-site location. My mother-in-law, for instance. Oops, I mean visitors whose primary interests are the other theme parks and attractions that Central Florida has to offer, such as Universal Studios, Sea World or Kennedy Space Center. (I know, hard to believe, eh?) For the Disney purist, though, it is difficult to drive under the “Welcome to Walt Disney World” greeting that spans the main entrance and be departing, instead of arriving!