We get a lot of messages and questions from people who are planning to vacation in Orlando. You wonder what Disneyland Hotels really mean and what Universal Resort Hotels really are. Others, on the other hand, think that you should only book a trip to Disney or Universal if you want to visit theme parks – but of course that’s not true. It’s fair to say that the accommodation options in Orlando are varied and more than a little confusing…., but we hope we can point you in the right direction!
Universal and Disney World Hotel Guide – and not…
In this article, we will look at several examples of accommodation in Orlando. In general: If you’re hoping to save money, it’s probably cheaper to stay outside the resort (say, in Orlando, close to theme parks), but there are deals that can be had by staying at a Disney or Universal Resort hotel. In addition, there are many benefits to staying at the resort. It really depends on what you have in mind for your trip to Orlando and how you want to spend your budget.
This guide is part of our series of mini guides to Orlando and Disney. It will be easier for you to choose your accommodation if you know exactly what you expect from your trip to Florida. If you need recommendations or suggestions for your plans in Orlando, you can check out our Disney Travel Planner or our sample two-week itinerary to Orlando.
Cover: Joel. This post contains affiliate links.
Stay in Disney Resorts or Universal
What is a Disney Resort Hotel and a Universal Resort Hotel?
Universal Cabana Bay Cabana Resort (Image: Universal)
The first thing to note is that staying at a Disney or Universal hotel does not mean that your hotel is within the gates of the park. You will still need a separate ticket for the theme park, and most hotel packages do not include admission. Make no mistake, your hotel will be very close to the action, but you can’t just walk into Diagon Alley and eat a chocolate frog whenever you feel like it. There’s been some confusion, so I’m glad we’ve clarified the situation….
The Walt Disney World and Universal hotels are theme park hotels, close to the parks, and have their own transportation (free) for guests. There are 25 different hotels in Walt Disney World, ranging from moderate (2-star) to luxury (5-star), and seven hotels in Universal Orlando, ranging from economy (3-star) to premier (5-star). The choice is huge! There’s also a selection of Disney’s partner hotels, but we’ll talk about them later in this article.
*The number of Disney hotels open to guests varies at any given time, but 25 is a good number to work with.
Is it worth paying extra for a Disney or Universal Orlando hotel?
Hotels in the big theme parks are a bit more expensive, like in Orlando, where you can get a decent room for £45 a night, but they also offer good perks. These include early park admission (at Universal) and extra-magical hours (at Disney) – essentially parking hours reserved for resort customers only. That’s fine if you desperately want to be on the most popular ride before the doors open and the lines get longer. It should be noted that the two aftercare programs only apply to certain parks at certain times (i.e., not all parks, but all days). When you check into the hotel, you will be given a schedule that shows which park is open early or late each day.
*No additional parking time was allowed during the restricted period of Covid 19. Visit the official websites of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando for the latest information.
Free transport to theme parks
Station Transportation at Walt Disney World (Photo: Scott Thomas)
Another great benefit of choosing a resort hotel is that you can enjoy free transportation to and from the parks. Depending on where you are, it could be a bus, a tram, a train, a boat or even a cable car! Universal Orlando’s hotels are also close to the park entrance, and you can even take a rickshaw ride for fun (*if you do, it’s recommended that you leave a $5 tip per person, since they don’t depend on the park).
COMPARE RESORTS AND NON-RESORTS: virginholidays.co.uk offers seven nights in Orlando from £935 per person. This includes economy class flights from Glasgow to Orlando, accommodation at Disney’s All Star Resorts with car hire.
This is £260 more than the same package if you are staying at a resort hotel outside Disney (defined below). Parking tickets are not included in any of the packages.
Check out my video on choosing a Disney Resort hotel:
REMARK ON PARKING IN HOLIDAY HOTELS
Even if you have your own rental car and are not taking advantage of the free transportation, parking at Disney theme parks is free for all resort guests. This means you can save a lot of money on parking costs, depending on how often you want to drive. If you’re aiming for an average of three days at Universal Orlando and five days at Walt Disney World, the total cost of parking is $170 ($23 per day at Universal, $25 at Disney if you’re staying off the property). Parking is free at Disney Springs and Disney Waterparks, and free for everyone at Universal after 6pm.
What to look for: Please note that parking at the hotel may not be included in the room rate, so please check before booking. Self-service parking at Sapphire Falls Universal is $25 per night. The Disney’s Port Orleans Hotel costs $20 per night and the Disney’s Grand Floridian $25 per night.
Do you need a car in Orlando? We’ll talk about it in another article, click here.
Pre-use of FastPass+ for resort hotel guests
Pay attention: During Covid 19 restrictions, some Fastpass+ services may not function. Check the My Disney Experience application for updates.
If you’re staying at the Disney Resort, a big bonus is the ability to book the FastPass+ 60 days in advance. This gives you a great advantage, as you can book peak hours to get to the busiest attractions before placing guests outside the resort. I didn’t know that the first time I stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and that’s why we couldn’t go with Avatar: Passing flight or travel on the Na’vi River in general, as queues lasted more than three hours during the day….
You can still book a FastPass+ if you purchased your park tickets in advance and linked them to your My Disney Experience app, but only 60 days in advance. So the resort guests really benefit from this small advantage.
In our Orlando FAQ we explain the FastPass+ and many other confusions.
HOTELS WITH NO DIRECTIONS, AND WHAT DOES RESORT MEAN?
The Hilton Orlando is located on Bonnet Creek in the Walt Disney World neighborhood (Image: Hilton).
If you’re looking for hotels in a Disney complex, options like Bonnet Creek and Lake Buena Vista are considered Disney hotels. It’s technically true, Disney owns 43 square miles of land in Orlando, and not all of it is covered with colorful attractions. These hotels often offer good deals and are only ten or fifteen minutes from the entrance to Walt Disney World. A good example is this resort village, which is just a few miles from Walt Disney World, and these family villas, which are located at the entrance to the Disney resort.
However, only Walt Disney World Resort Hotels offer all of the above benefits. So keep in mind that if you have a car, there may be parking fees at both your hotel and the parking garages, which suddenly makes this offer less attractive.
TIPS: Read the fine print, as the definition of children can also vary from hotel to hotel. Some consider children 12 and older to be adults, while others allow pricing for children up to age 19. For more information on Walt Disney World Resort hotels, click here.
What is a Disney partner hotel and does it have a theme park?
But wait a minute… There is a different kind of Disney housing, because there is nothing simple!
As a result of your research, you may have stumbled upon some Disney partner hotels. This hotel group is independent, but respects the high standards of Disney. Disney partner hotels are all the well-known hotel brands around Walt Disney World and Disney Springs. Some even offer Disney exclusives like free transportation to the parks, on-site meals with the characters, extra hours of magic and 60-day FastPass+ privileges – but that can cost less than staying at an equivalent Disney Resort hotel.
However, in my experience, if your budget is a priority, it is in fact often cheaper to stay at a Disney resort than at an affiliated hotel. Let me tell you why:
Budget hotels, such as Disney’s Star Music Resort, start at £60 a night. They include all the epic benefits of Disney and are the equivalent of a 3-star hotel. You’ll also find seasonal offers like free days, hotel+park packages and limited edition MagicBands that make the total cost of your vacation more affordable.
Disney Polynesian Village (picture: Jeff Krause)
However, if you want to stay at a more luxurious hotel for your trip, a Disney Resort partner hotel offers superior services for a third of the price of a Disney Resort hotel. Look at this:
Rooms at the five-star partner hotel Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort are available from £138 per night. For comparison: Disney’s five-star resort, Polynesian Village, costs £302 a night. To be fair, Disney’s Polynesian Village is a more exciting resort, connected to the theme parks by monorail, boat and shuttle bus rapid transit. However, the Dolphin is certainly an impressive hotel with luxurious rooms, 17 restaurants, five pools, a white sand beach and a luxury spa – so it’s not exactly shabby by comparison. In addition, guests at Walt Disney World Dolphin partner hotels can dine with Disney characters at the Garden Grove Café, book a FastPass+ for 60 days and reserve a room using the My Disney Experience app. This resort also has a direct shuttle to Walt Disney World (most other partner hotels use a shared shuttle to the parks).
The Walt Disney World Dolphin is the hotel’s most popular partner (Image: Inside Magic).
TOP TIP: For obvious reasons, the Walt Disney World Dolphin (and its sister hotel Swan) are among the first Disney hotels to sell out. If you decide to stay at one of these partner hotels, be prepared to book as soon as you have your flights.
DISNEY AND UNIVERSAL NUMBERS ARE CHEAPER THAN THEY THINK.
stay at the mouse house (image: pasortstamps.uk)
A trip to Disney may seem like a dream, but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable, even if you’re planning your trip to Orlando on a limited budget.
In fact, AttractionTickets.com offers rooms from £60 per night at Disney and Universal stations, so it’s worth checking out all the options available during your visit.
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Last tip for booking a hotel outside the property
If you decide to stay at a hotel other than Disney or Universal Hotel, please check the location and refer to the information. Hotels often advertise free shuttle service to theme parks, but they often operate three or four hotels, so your actual travel time is two or even three times longer than if you drove yourself. Or they can only be used in one place, like the Magic Kingdom. Then you must use the (free) Disney transportation to go to another park (Animal Kingdom, for example). This can add another 10 to 15 minutes to your trip.
Additional Orlando Planning Mini Guides
What is the best hotel in Universal Orlando?
What else is there to do in Orlando besides theme parks?
Where do I start planning a vacation in Orlando? Check out our sample two-week itinerary to Orlando and our best Disney trip planner.
Where to buy the best Disney merchandise in the UK before you travel and save money
How much does it cost to go to Disneyland?
Where can you buy tickets to the Orlando theme park and get the best deals in advance.
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