Checking In? -- In an effort to make check-in a bit easier, Disney is now offering resort guests the option of checking in ahead of time -- allowing them to skip the long lines often encountered upon arrival. Simply go online within 10 days of your arrival date, enter the requested check-in information, and advise the resort of your arrival time. You can also make room requests at this time, should you have any (keeping in mind that requests are not guaranteed). You'll need to register the names of all the people in your party and provide a credit card to cover any WDW resort charges. Upon arrival at the resort, simply head to the special welcome area, where you'll find your room keys and other registration material waiting for you.
The Perks of Staying with Mickey
The decision of whether to bunk with the Mouse is one of the first you'll have to make when planning an Orlando vacation. In the sections "In & Around Walt Disney World" and "'Official' Hotels in Lake Buena Vista" of this guide, you'll find information on the 36 hotels, resorts, villas, timeshares, and campsites that are owned by Disney or are "official" hotels -- those that are privately owned but have earned Disney's seal of approval. All 36 are in WDW or Lake Buena Vista.
In addition to their proximity to the theme parks, there are other advantages to staying at a Disney property or one of the "official" hotels. The following amenities are included at all Disney resorts; some are offered by the "official" hotels, but be sure to ask when booking:
- Guests get free transportation from Orlando International Airport to their Disney resort using Magical Express. Not only does the shuttle service get Disney resort guests to their hotels, but it also delivers their luggage straight from the plane to their room, allowing them to bypass baggage claim! Guests can also check luggage and print boarding passes before leaving their Disney resort. Currently only select airlines participate in the program.
- Unlimited free transportation on the WDW Transportation System's buses, monorails, ferries, or water taxis to and from the four WDW parks, from 2 hours prior to opening until 2 hours after closing. Free transportation is also provided to and from Downtown Disney, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, and the WDW resorts. Three of them -- the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary resorts -- are located on the monorail system. The transportation services offered can save money you might otherwise spend on a rental car, parking, and shuttles. It also means you're guaranteed admission to all of the parks, even during peak times when parking lots sometimes fill to capacity.
- Kids 17 and under stay free in their parent's room, and reduced-price children's menus are available in most restaurants.
- Hotel guests have the option of adding the Disney Dining Plan (with three different plans designed to accommodate every budget and palate) -- a definite money-saver when compared to dining a la carte.
- Character breakfasts and/or dinners at select restaurants.
- The Extra Magic Hour. -- Disney's Extra Magic Hour lets resort guests into the parks either an hour before other guests, or allows them to stay and play up to 3 hours after everyone else has to head home. Many of the more popular rides and attractions are operational (pick up the latest schedule for a complete listing), as are some shops and restaurants.
- TVs equipped with the Disney Channel, nightly bedtime stories (Channel 22, 7-10pm, audio only), and WDW information stations.
- A Lobby Concierge where you can buy tickets to all Disney parks and attractions -- without standing in long lines at the parks -- and get information on dining, recreation, and everything Disney.
- Playing privileges, preferred tee times, and, in some cases, free transportation to one of the Disney golf courses.
- Online check-in within 10 days of arrival. Simply check in online, advise the resort of your arrival time, and provide a credit card to cover your charges -- and you can skip the lengthy check-in line at the resort.
- WDW has some of the best swimming pools in Orlando and most are zero-entry or zero-grade pools, meaning there's a gradual slope into the water on at least one side rather than only a step down. These include pools at the Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom, and Polynesian resorts and others.
- On-premises car rental is available at the Magic Kingdom Auto Plaza through Alamo (tel. 407/824-3470). There are also car-rental desks at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, as well as select Hotel Plaza Boulevard properties.
- Extensive recreational options (not including the parks), including fishing, tennis, boating, surfing, parasailing, horseback riding, golf, and more. Though many activities cost extra, they're all right at your fingertips and several offer experiences you won't find elsewhere.
- Disney's refillable mug program lets you buy -- for around $13.50 -- a bottomless souvenir mug for soda, coffee, tea, and/or cocoa at its resorts. The offer is for the length of your stay, but it isn't transferable to the theme parks. You can use it only at the property at which it is bought, with two exceptions: Mugs are transferable between the Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts or among the three All-Star resorts. A similar program is available at Disney's two water parks, but again, they're not transferable beyond the park where they were purchased and these aren't valid beyond the day they are purchased.
- Resort guests can charge most purchases (including meals) made anywhere inside WDW to their room. In most cases, purchases made inside the theme parks can be delivered to your resort at no extra charge.
But there are also disadvantages to staying with the Mouse:
- The Transportation System can be excruciatingly time-consuming. There are times when you have to take a ferry to catch a bus to get on the monorail to reach your hotel. It can take up to an hour or more to get to a place that's right across the lagoon from you.
- That free Magical Express shuttle system to and from the airport isn't perfect. Luggage delivery may take up to several hours. And departure shuttles (from your resort to the airport) are scheduled several hours in advance of your flight (thanks in part to the numerous resort stops it makes before getting on its way). Also note that though the Magical Express service is provided by Disney, the airlines still have a say in the matter. Changes to baggage policies (which vary by airline) have now spilled over to Magical Express. Though guests can still check their bags via the resort airline service, those with more than the allotted number of "free" bags (or those traveling via an airline that charges for each bag) will have to call ahead to the airline check-in service (tel. 407/824-1231) to pay the additional fee (by credit card only) or else check in at the airport.
- Resort rates are around 20% to 30% higher than comparable hotels and motels away from the parks.
- Without a car or other means to get off the property, you'll be resigned to either paying Disney's higher prices or paying for shuttles to get to Orlando's other offerings.
- If you don't spend a little time away from Disney, the all-Mickey, all-the-time atmosphere can get overwhelming, and you'll miss out on the real Florida and all the other great attractions Orlando has to offer.