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Benefits of staying onsite at Disney World (with offsite alternatives)

HomeBenefits of staying onsite at Disney World (with offsite alternatives)
Benefits of staying onsite at Disney World (with offsite alternatives)

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 on-site 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 on-site benefits outweigh the cost of staying on Disney property vs. staying off-site at a less expensive option.

Let’s take a look…

UPDATE: Some benefits are no longer available

This includes:

  • FastPass+ – FastPass+ has been discontinued. In its place, Disney has launched the new Disney Genie and Disney Genie+ system. More on what onsite benefits you get from that below.
  • 180 +10 day dining reservations – Onsite guests can still make Advanced Dining Reservations for up to 10 days after their check-in date, except now you do them at 60 days out instead of at 180 days.
  • Luggage Service with Magical Express – Magical Express and its free luggage service has been discontinued. That means that there are no complimentary transportation services to get you from the airport to your resort hotel.
  • Extra Magic Hours – Extra Magic Hours have also been discontinued and have been replaced with Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Theme Park Hours. More on those below.

What about the Disney Dining Plan?

Unlike the list above, Disney has confirmed that the Disney Dining Plan would be returning, so while it isn’t available right now, we do expect it to come back at some point in the future.

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:

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:

Magic Kingdom

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Space Mountain


  • Frozen Ever After
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Hollywood Studios

  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Animal Kingdom

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

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.

Off-site alternative:

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.

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.


Be Our Guest

…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 Be Our Guest or the Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s, 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?!

Off-site alternative:

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.

Learn more:

Tips for eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant
How to snag hard to get dining reservations

Free parking at 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.

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.

One downside to having your car on property, however, is that as of March 2018, on-site resort guests have to pay to park at the resorts:

  • Disney Value Resorts: $15 per night
  • Disney Moderate Resorts: $20 per night
  • Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts: $25 per night

Off-site alternative:

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.

Learn more:

How to navigate with Disney World transportation
Parking at Disney World

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.

Off-site alternative:

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.

Learn more

Guide to Early Theme Park Entry

Extended Evening Theme Park Hours

Although Early Theme Park Entry is available to all guests, Extended Evening Theme Park Hours is 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.)

Off-site alternative:

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.

Currently, we’ve only seen After Hours Events return for Magic Kingdom (and they were used as replacements for the traditional Halloween and Holiday parties).

Learn more

Guide to Extended Theme Park Hours
Complete Guide to Disney After Hours Boo Bash
Complete Guide Disney Very Merriest After Hours

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.

Disney purse and gift shop at Disney World

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.

Off-site alternative:

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.”

Poly beach looking at Grand Floridian

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.

Off-site alternative:

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 a boat (or bus gondola or monorail) to their favorite park 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.

Off-site alternative: 

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.

Learn more:

Resorts at Disney Springs

Perks that are suspended or no longer offered

After the parks reopened, some of the previously offered perks have not returned, and Disney has also announced that there are a few things that are gone for good.

Resort Package Pick-Up
(temporarily unavailable)

If you plan on doing a lot of shopping, the thought of hauling your purchases around the parks may not sound like fun.

Resort package pick up

For resort guests, Disney has an option to have purchases delivered back to your resort gift shop, where you can retrieve them the following day.

Since the reopening, Disney has brought this service back during busy times of the year, however, it has yet to come back permanently.

Value of this benefit:

If you like to shop, plan to purchase something bulky or hard to carry, or just don’t want to schlep stuff through the park and back to your resort, this can be a nice way to avoid all of that.

Off-site alternative:

While not as convenient as having your packages delivered to your resort, both on-site and off-site guests can take advantage of Package Pick up in the parks, which is where your packages are delivered to a designated pick up area at the front of the parks (Epcot has a second location at the International Gateway) so that you can retrieve them after your visit that day.

Another option for both on-site and off-site guests is Home Delivery, which is exactly what it sounds like – having your purchases shipped home (for a fee).

Note: If you wish to utilize any of these 3 services, you should let the cashier know before they ring you up.

Disney Dining Plan
(temporarily unavailable)

When available, guests staying at one of the Disney resorts are eligible to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.

Topolinos Terrace

The Disney Dining Plan is a prepaid meal option that allows guests to purchase credits that they can then redeem for meals and snacks.

The cost of the plan and the number of credits depend upon the Dining Plan purchased.

Value of this benefit:

For people that are looking for a vacation with that all-inclusive feel, staying on-site, and using the Disney Dining Plan is the only way to accomplish that.

The Dining Plan may save you some money (if you maximize your credits), but many guests will tell you the real value comes from knowing most of the major expenses for their trip are paid for ahead of time.

Offsite alternative:

Staying offsite? Unfortunately, there aren’t any Dining Plan options for offsite guests. 

Learn more:

About the Disney Dining Plan (and how to get it for free)
Best Disney Dining Plan values

Free transportation between the airport and your resort
(no longer offered)

Disney used to offer a complimentary airport transfer service called Magical Express to all of its resort guests.

And, before the shutdown in 2020, this perk would have Disney not only pick you up at the airport and drop you off at your resort…

Magical Express

…but they also used to retrieve your bags and deliver those to your room for you, as well.

Value of this benefit:

If you were traveling with small children, Magical Express could still be a lifesaver, even without the luggage service. 

It was also handy if you preferred not to drive or wanted to save money and not rent a car or car service.

The downside to Magical Express was that in some instances, it could take some time for your bus to depart the airport, and it would take several hours for your bags to arrive in your room.

Off-site alternative:

Staying offsite? All the options listed in the link below will work for you, too!

Learn more:

Even though Magical Express is gone, you still have many options for getting from the airport to your resort:

Comparing pickup options from Orlando Airport

Free MagicBands
(no longer offered)

Note: Complimentary magic bands are longer being offered. Instead, the My Disney Experience app has been updated to include the functionality that the MagicBand currently provides. Guests that would like to continue to use MagicBands will still have the opportunity to purchase discounted bands with their on-site resort reservations, and MagicBands will continue to be sold at retail locations and on the website.

MagicBands are colorful plastic bracelets (about the size of some fitness bands) that can be used as your ticket media to enter the parks, for your FastPass+ reservations, and for PhotoPass.

Classic MagicBands

If you stay on-site at Disney World, your MagicBand will also be used as your room key, to charge items back to your room, and to redeem Disney Dining Plan credits (if you are using the Disney Dining Plan).

Every person in your room can customize their bands by choosing the color and what name or word they’d like printed on the inside.

Although they used to be free if you want one they now cost $5 per band (which is discounted from the full price you’d pay if staying offsite).

You can also upgrade your MagicBand at a reduced rate.

Value of this benefit:

Since MagicBands aren’t mandatory to have fun at Disney World, the value of this perk is more one of convenience; no digging through bags to find your room key or your PhotoPass card – it’s all right there on your wrist.

If you plan to purchase Memory Maker, having a MagicBand means you’ll not only get the ride photos, but you’ll also get the ride videos too.

Off-site alternative:

If you stay off-site, you can still get MagicBands if you prefer to use them versus a regular ticket, but you’ll pay for each band, and you won’t be able to have a name or word printed on the inside (although there are locations on-property where you can have your name printed on the outside).

You can buy them in the online Disney Store (if you want to purchase one before you arrive), or you can purchase them at most stores on property.

Learn More:

How MagicBands work
How Memory Maker works

FastPass+ reservations at 60 days
(no longer offered; replaced with Disney Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections)

One of the former biggest perks (if not THE biggest perk) to staying on-site was the ability to make FastPass+ reservations for your entire trip at 60 days out.

FastPass for 1 person

Value of this benefit:

Back in the time of FastPass+, some FastPass+ reservations, like Flights of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, and Frozen Ever After, would go very, very quickly and have very limited availability (or be simply not available at all!) at the 30-day mark.

Off-site alternative:

Just like with the new Individual Lightning Lane Selections, offsite guests had a real disadvantage when it came to the most popular attractions with FastPass+. Here’s why:

Guests staying off-site would make their FastPass+ reservations at 30 days out, 1 day at a time, for each day of their trip.

That means if your trip is 7 days long, you’d have to wake up early, exactly 30 days out, for each of the days you want to book FastPasses.

While onsite guests got to make all their FastPass+ reservations at once, 60 days out.

Extra Magic Hours
(no longer offered; replaced with Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Hours)

Extra Magic Hours were bonus hours where a park opened either 1 hour early or stays open 2 hours later.

Only on-site guests were eligible to attend Extra Magic Hours.

Value of this benefit:

Although on the surface Extra Magic Hours may have seemed like a great deal, the park hosting the Extra Magic Hours were generally the most crowded for the day and were, in most cases, not recommended by WDW Prep School.

An exception to this would have been if you attended the Morning Extra Magic Hours in one park and then hopped to a different park when the crowds picked up.

Off-site alternative:

There were no free alternatives for guests staying offsite, but Magic Kingdom used to have a specially ticketed event called Early Morning Magic, where guests could enjoy nearly all of the attractions in Fantasyland before the park opens to all guests. This event has not returned since the reopening, either.

Note: Hollywood Studios used to offer a similar event but dates for that one haven’t been scheduled since Star Wars’ opening: Galaxy’s Edge. 


Have other thoughts or questions about staying on-site at Disney World? Feel free to chime in with your comment.

Related News
Heather Thomas


Saturday 20th of November 2021

If I’m staying at the Hilton Signia, which has Disney Resort perks, does the 60 + 10 day restaurant reservation apply?

Mia Stewart

Monday 15th of July 2019

I like how the article explains that staying at an onsite hotel can be easier to be able to travel between the park and your hotel, especially if you are spending most of your trip at Disney world. My husband and I are going to Disney world this year and we are so excited and we are trying to decide if we want to stay in a Disney hotel or off-site. Knowing that it is so close to stay in a Disney hotel, we will make sure to stay on-site at Disney world.


Monday 13th of May 2019

Can I use the Magical Express going only one way, or does it have to be a round trip?

Shannon Albert

Tuesday 14th of May 2019

Sure! You can use it one way.


Saturday 14th of April 2018

We always stay on the resort property and have never considered staying anywhere else. A major factor is the transportation. Since we fly, it's nice to have them pick our luggage up for us and deliver it to our resort. Not to mention not having to rent a car. It's nice to leave the driving to them.

But the resorts offer amenities that you won't find at off-site hotels. The pools always have activities for the kids (and adults if they choose). Whether it's out of the pool, like hula hoop contests or in the pool (they gave the kids inflatable balls to toss around), there's always something. Once, they had a tie dye shirt activity. You paid for the T-shirt and the kids could tie dye it. They started with doing the first tie to show the kids how it's done. Then the kids were on their own, choosing which colors for which tied area. Then they tightly wrapped it in plastic wrap so it wouldn't leak. After 24 hours, you unwrapped and rinsed it. We were SO surprised to see that the initial wrap done by the Disney cast member turned into a Mickey head! Made the best souvenir!

Every resort, from Deluxe to Value offer the Movies Under the Stars every night, too. It's a free thing to entertain the kids as they sit under the stars watching a Disney movie. They do nightly campfires, too, where the kids (and adults) roast marshmallows at the fire. There's just so many activities for the kids that you don't have to spend your entire time at the parks in order to be doing something.

And one last thing, the pools! Disney has the greatest pools for kids. Starting at the moderate resort level, most all pools have slides. But even at the value level, the pools are really cool with things Mickey spouting water. Most have a kiddie water play area, too.


Wednesday 20th of January 2016

Which coupons/deals are included in the booklet you receive when staying at a Disney Resort?