Last Updated on March 19, 2022
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
by Donna Manz
Disney World does it “right” throughout the year.
In Orlando, the theme parks that make up the huge sprawling complex known as Disney World incorporate special events and holiday motifs into their programming year-round. How can you not love a darkened Magic Kingdom in October, magically transformed into “spooksville,” replete with monster parade, eerie fireworks display, costumed kids and adults, AND trick-or-treating?
But nothing beats the sparkling crystal glow of the Magic Kingdom during the December holiday season. Theatrical? Yes, but isn’t that what we go to Disney for? And if you think Disney World and Disneyland are crowded over three-day weekends, wait until you visit these properties over spring break — ouch!
But no matter when you go it’s hard to separate Disney trips from Disney vacations, including where you stay, perhaps at one of the Disney Value Resorts, and where you’ll eat.
We’ve now kicked off the holiday season, with three-day weekends and spring break coming up soon. So if you want to make the most of it you better get moving. The very first thing you should do is get on Disney’s email list. From then on, you’ll be notified well in advance of special events and special promotions, such as room and dining specials.
We visited Disney World at the end of September, timing our visit with Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. And for the first time since we’ve been “doing” Disney World, we stayed on-site, at one of the Disney Value Resorts, one of the more ‘moderately’ priced properties that are further out from the Magic Kingdom than are the premium properties. For drivers to the Magic Kingdom, there are plenty of “pluses” to staying at an outlying value resort.
My experience gave me the opportunity to assess the “value” of staying at a far-out “value” property and the value of spending more per night but staying to a more premium property closer to the Magic Kingdom. I came away feeling that there are many more “pros” than “cons” to staying on-site, and I’ll share both with you.
The most beneficial perks of staying on-site are the privileges accorded to Disney World guests. You get complimentary transportation by bus from the airport to your hotel without ever having to touch your luggage.
You also get early-bird or post-general admission privileges at one theme park daily, as well as charging privileges at shops and restaurants within the theme parks, charging what you’ve bought to your room. And when your vacation comes to an end your Disney hotel even checks you in for your return flight.
Those are, unequivocally, benefits. To determine if staying at a Disney property is considered on-site, yet not as convenient as a close-in property, is most advantageous for your family or not, you have to weigh what is more important to your plans.
While we enjoyed all the privileges of “on site” accommodations, our experience staying miles away from the Magic Kingdom in one of the Disney Value Resorts was not without its drawbacks.
We opted for the new Art of Animation resort several miles outside the border of the Magic Kingdom. From a budget perspective the resort was definitely a value: large rooms sleeping up to six as well as cafeteria dining. We had a fantastic suite in the Lion King wing and thought the Nemo wing looked most engaging as well.
The transfer bus system from the airport to Art of Animation and return works well and it runs frequently, even at night. But once at the Disney Value Resorts it takes about 20 to 25 minutes to make the bus trip from there to the theme park. While that ride is not time-efficient, it pales next to a larger inconvenience.
In the pre-opening morning rush from the Disney Value Resort, the lines to board the bus from the hotel to the park were so long, we skipped the bus ride entirely and caught a taxi, costing us about an additional $20 in cab fare. Others in line were happy to wait; they felt it was a valuable benefit. The wait is a point to consider.
While on our first evening returning from the Magic Kingdom we also took a taxi back to hotel, on the second evening we tried the bus. It was a fast and efficient but, nevertheless, the ride still took about 20 minutes. We all agreed to chalk up one for experience: with two little kids in-tow, it’s not an ideal situation to make a 20-minute trip in late evening.
On the other hand, if you rent a car and stay at an outlying value site, you do not have to wait for the buses to drive you from Art of Animation to Magic Kingdom. If you have driven to the Magic Kingdom from your home, the outlying Disney Value Resorts truly are a value.
You also need to consider dining options. Disney World offers several dining plans that may – or may not – save you lots of money. If you have older children who eat a lot, the dining plans with their abundant food options are a good “deal.” With younger children over three but still preschoolers, however, you may find you’re not getting your money’s worth.
It’s smart to look over the plans thoroughly and calculate whether your child will really eat $30 or $40 a day’s worth of food. If you decide not to opt for a dining plan keep in-mind that dining within the Magic Kingdom is not inexpensive, although it’s not unreasonable, either.
Reservations for dining open six months in advance and reservations for character dining, whether it’s Chef Mickey or princess dining, go very quickly. If you have planned dates for your vacation, reserve character dining immediately. You can always cancel if your plans change.
It’s smart also to work with a travel agent who is a Disney specialist. Those consultants know all anyone could know about Disney properties, including the Disney Value Resorts, and vacations, including promotions, value-added offers and insider tips. The Disney specialists I’ve met have close working relationships with Disney reservations staff, and you pay no more for their expertise than if you’ve done all the work yourself.
If you decide to stay at a Disney property, consider the value of your time, as well. If your children are older, a bus ride isn’t going to make them tired or cranky. If you’d rather spend an additional 20 minutes at the park or relaxing in your hotel room rather than a bus, consider a property closer in to the Magic Kingdom.
I’ve decided that I wouldn’t stay at a far-out “value” resort again. I would definitely stay at one of the original properties built close to the Magic Kingdom, some place that’s either walk-able or just a brief boat-ride away. And I’m willing to knock off a day from my vacation if need-be to do so.
Where to stay is a personal decision for each of us, of course. But this much I sincerely believe: there’s no better way to gain Disney benefits than to stay at a Disney property.
If you go:
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