Disney Resorts: 10 Things You Must-Know Before Visiting

Art of Animation Resort (Credit: Disney)

Making plans to stay at one of Walt Disney World’s many onsite resorts? Here are 10 things you’ll want to know before visiting.

1. Disney’s Magical Express may not be available 

For 16 years, Disney’s Magical Express has been available for Guests flying into the Orlando International Airport and looking for easy transportation to their Disney resorts. The service offered complimentary (built into the price of your stay) transportation plus package pickup so Guests could skip baggage claim and added transportation fees, and head right to the parks upon arrival at their resorts. The service is concluding its run at the end of 2021, with details for its replacement (which does come with a fee) recently shared by Mears. If you are planning a trip prior to the end of this year, Disney’s Magical Express is still available as a transportation service, but you’ll need to pick up your own luggage from baggage claim. If your next Disney trip is in 2022 or beyond, we recommend checking out the new service by Mears, or planning to book your own alternative transportation like a rental car or rideshare service. 

2. Transportation to and from the theme parks is included in your stay

With the changes coming to Disney’s Magical Express, you may be wondering if it would be easier to rent a car during your next trip. We’d recommend comparing rental car prices with the cost of transportation to and from the airport, but also noting that if you rent a car, you’ll be paying for parking both at the theme parks and at your resort. If you opt to go car-less, Disney does have complimentary transportation between the resorts and the theme parks, as well as Disney Springs. And even if you do splurge on the occasional taxi or rideshare to avoid the park closing crowds or make an early breakfast reservation, you may still come out ahead of the cost of a rental car if your entire vacation includes staying on Disney property.

3. Some amenities are only available for Guests of a specific resort

With very few exceptions, non-resort Guests are welcome to visit Disney resorts for dining, shopping, and select entertainment offerings. Some resorts, like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa even offer prime spots for viewing fireworks from outside of the parks. Other amenities, like pools and fitness centers, are reserved only for Guests of the resort. If you are hoping to visit another resort’s restaurant, making an advanced dining reservation never hurts (and is at times required if you are parking at the resort, normally only during very busy times like Christmas week for instance). Otherwise it’s often very easy to visit and explore all of the resorts by using Disney’s transportation system. 

4. Disney resorts are worth checking out

While some amenities of other resorts may be limited, you are generally able to visit other resorts, so you may want to do so just to see what they’re like! The EPCOT Area Resorts and the resorts on the monorail are particularly easy to explore with Disney’s transportation or walking paths. And during the holidays especially when the resorts are decorated for the reason, planning a day to simply explore and check out the enhanced theming can be a fun way to spend time outside of the parks. 

5. Don’t miss Movies Under the Stars

One of the best (free!) nighttime family activities takes place at Disney resorts, Movies Under the Stars! Each night of your stay, your resort will show a different movie outdoors. The schedule is not listed on the My Disney Experience app, so you’ll need to pick one up from the front desk, but it’s a great way to spend a night at the resort without spending extra cash. You can also make it a picnic by grabbing some takeout and having dinner while you watch.


6. Cast Members are here to help 

If your trip is planned for the near future, Cast Members may seem like their ability to help you is limited due to things like online check-in and the focus toward mobile ordering. Even with contactless check-ins and ordering services in place, Cast Members are still always happy to help. The front desk will be staffed as its always been and the Cast Members there are ready to help with whatever questions you may have about your resort stay. 

7. Children’s activities at Disney resorts are top-notch

Don’t be surprised if your kids have as much fun at your resort as they do in the parks. Disney’s Recreation Cast Members at the resorts always have fun activities planned for the whole family (primarily around the main pool area) from trivia, to crafts, and more. Some of these activities even come with unique souvenirs, like Mickey shirt tie-dye sessions and events where kids can decorate their own Mickey ears. 

Credit: Disney

8. Disney resorts come at a premium cost

The area surrounding Walt Disney World has a number of vacation homes, Airbnbs, hotels, motels, and more, many of which come in at a lower price point than comparable Walt Disney World hotels. If you are considering staying off property for this reason, be sure to factor into your budgeting the cost of getting to and from the theme parks, which will include parking fees if you drive your own car (and rental fees if you opt to rent). For some families, staying off site makes more sense if more space is needed. If the cost to space ratio is a cause for concern, staying off property may be easier, but if you were really hoping to stay on property we’d look into renting Disney Vacation Club points. It can be a bit of a process, but if done right you may be able to find Disney Vacation Club accommodations that are comparable to their off property counterparts. 

9. Resorts do not have the same amenities you may find outside the parks

If you are used to traveling at larger chain resorts, you may find some amenities missing from your Disney resort. We still think a Disney resort stay is well worth doing, but if you would consider yourself well-traveled you may want to check Disney’s amenities to make sure there isn’t anything you would not want to miss. Amenities that immediately come to mind include free breakfasts, room service (depending on the resort) and a concierge desk. 

10. You’ll really believe it when you are welcomed home

Despite missing out on select amenities, Disney resorts offer you a chance to stay close to the magic, and even to become a part of the magic. Cast Members are always happy to help you make the most of your stay, and between the enhanced theming and storytelling found at Disney resorts and memorable dining experiences, you’re sure to feel the magic each time you are “welcomed home.” 

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."