The Real Benefits of Staying at a Disney Resort

Disney World spans a colossal 43 square miles -- an area roughly the size of Boston -- and includes 34 Disney-owned resorts. Each of these hotels tends to be more expensive than comparable non-Disney properties; by some estimates about 20 to 30 percent more. What do you get for the extra cash? First, the perfectly manicured, kid-focused, cartoon-land spirit of Walt Disney's world makes its way from the theme parks into the resorts. Second, every guest of a Disney-owned resort gets a standard set of free perks and special privileges.

Free airport shuttle

Disney provides free transportation to and from Orlando International Airport via Disney's Magical Express shuttle (reservations must be made in advance). They'll also collect and deliver your luggage to your hotel for free (yes, that means bypassing baggage claim). However, because it may stop at other Disney resorts, the shuttle can take up to 1.5 hours.

Extended park hours

Each day one of the four parks opens either an hour early or three hours past closing time for the exclusive use of guests of Disney hotels. Because non-guests aren't around, lines for rides and attractions are typically shorter. But because just one park offers extended hours each day, the opposite -- longer lines and gridlock -- sometimes results.

No need to carry cash

Disney's all-in-one "Key to the World" enables guests to charge everything from meals and park tickets to souvenirs and babysitting services directly to their room, from anywhere on the Disney compound.

Free parking

Guests can park anywhere within Disney World for free (it's $14 per day for non-Disney guests).

Access to all Disney resorts

Guests can use the facilities at any Disney resort. For example, guests of the "value" Pop Century resort can use the kids' club at the Grand Floridian, or they can use the gym at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for no extra charge.

Free transportation around Disney

Disney's extensive transportation system of buses, a monorail, water taxis, and ferries will get you where you need to go, but guests often complain that it is sluggish, crowded, and inefficient. The famous monorail is typically on time but serves only the Magic Kingdom and Epcot parks and only three resorts, all of them (Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian) among Disney's most expensive. As a result, having your own car is highly recommended.

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