Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Florida for first timers - mini blog series | Where to stay (part 2) Onsite at Disney & Universal Studios

So last week, we covered International Drive, Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista and villas. (if you missed it, you can check it out Here)
This week we’re talking all about staying onsite at Disney and Universal. Make yourself a cup of tea and grab some biscuits because this is a long one !

Staying onsite at either resort comes with benefits, many people enjoy what’s called “split stays”
where they may stay offsite for part of their holiday and onsite for the rest to take advantage of these benefits (others enjoy staying onsite at Disney for part of their holiday and Universal for a few days).

So where exactly is “onsite” ? What are the benefits ?

Onsite means within the resort (note: it does not mean in a park) Whilst Universal hotels are all within walking distance of the parks. Most disney Hotels are not.

Let’s start with the Universal Orlando Resort.

To Universal Studios/ Islands of Adventure - 5 -20 minutes (walking) 5 minutes driving
To Disney - 20 minutes
To Seaworld - 10 minutes
To International Drive - 5/ 10 minutes

Universal currently has four onsite hotels, with their fifth hotel (Sapphire Falls opening on July 14th)

Premier Hotels
Loews Portofino Bay hotel
Hard Rock Hotel

Preferred Hotels
Loews Royal Pacific
Sapphire Falls

Prime Value Hotels
Cabana Bay beach Resort.

As you can see from my (super professional) map, all five hotels are in very close proximity to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (with Hard Rock Hotel being the closest)
Each of the hotels are in walking distance, but Universal also offer free water taxis as well as a free shuttle from Cabana Bay to the parks.

So what are the benefits ?
Other than the obvious very short distance to the parks, if you stay onsite at any of the Universal hotels, you will gain early entry (1 hour before park opens to the public) to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Bear in mind, the Wizarding world is in both Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) and Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade). Early entry alternates regularly so it’s definitely worth checking with your hotel which park is offering early entry during your stay.

If you’re staying at Portofino Bay, Hard Rock or Royal Pacific, you’ll receive complimentary express passes which can be used on almost all of the rides and attractions at both parks.

At each of these hotels, you will find express pass machines located near the check in desks. All you need to do, is pop your room key into the machine, smile for your photo and your express pass  will be printed there and then. ( The express pass is valid from the day you check in, until the park closes on the day you check out )

Tip - Many people who decide to spend most of their trip staying offsite (or onsite at Disney) choose to stay for one or two nights onsite at a Universal hotel offering express passes, meaning they will receive their express passes for two or three days at the parks. This ensures that they can get the most out of their few days at Universal.

For a full rundown of the perks and why I love staying onsite at Universal, check out my video below.

If you’d like to know what we (the Dis After Dark team) think of the Universal onsite hotels, check out the Ultimate Universal Resort episode of our podcast Here

So what about Disney? Disney has more than 30...that's right..MORE THAN THIRTY onsite hotels, resorts, lodges and campsites !
The Disney resort is much bigger and the hotels and parks are a lot more spread out. The great news, is that getting to the parks is still super easy ! Disney offer their own mode of transportation - Disney buses ! These buses run between resorts / parks / Disney Springs (we’ll go into this in more detail in or “getting around”  blog).

Each of the onsite Disney hotels -
To a Disney Park - 5-15 minutes
to Universal - 20 - 30 minutes
to International Drive - 20-30 minutes
to SeaWorld - 20 minutes

Here's another super fancy map ... 

Magic Kingdom Area

Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary 
Polynesian Village Resort
Polynesian Villas and bungalows
The Grand Floridian
Villas at Grand Floridian

Wilderness Lodge
Villas at Wilderness Lodge
Campsites at Fort Wilderness
Cabins at For Wilderness

Disney Springs Area

Old key
Saratoga Springs (just out of shot)
Port Orleans French quarter
Port Orleans Riverside

Epcot / Hollywood Studios area

Caribbean Beach Resort
Boardwalk inn
Boardwalk Villas
Beach club
Beach club villas
Yacht Club
Swan Hotel
Dolphin Hotel

Animal Kingdom area
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom Villas - Jambo House
Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village
All Star Movies
All Star Music
All Star Sports
Coronado springs

Disney’s Wide World of Sports area
Art of animation
Pop Century

When staying at a Disney hotel you will receive the following perks

- Free Magic band ( you can choose your band on the My Disney Experience app, this will be given to you upon check in)

- Book Fastpasses 60 days in advance (whereas those staying offsite can book their Fastpasses 30 days in advance) - Fastpasses are booked on the My Disney Experience App. For a full overview of Fastpasses check out this awesome blog by That Florida Guy

- Extra magic hours -  Each day, one of the four Disney parks will either open 1 hour earlier or stay open 1 or 2 hours later ONLY for onsite guests. When you check in, you’ll be given an up to date schedule detailing which parks are offering extra magic hours. 
It is totally free, all you need to do is show your park ticket and resort ID (room key/magic band)
If you are wanting to plan your extra magic hours in advance, there are plenty of websites that offer crowd calendars and theme park hours.

- Disney Dining plan. - The Disney dining plan can be purchased and is a way of pre paying for your meals. The Dining plan gives you credits for your meals for each day that you stay on property, these are loaded onto your magic band. These consist of table service credits, quick service credits and snack credits. Each time you wish to pay for a meal, you tell your server that you’ll be paying via Disney Dining plan and they will scan your magic band. Easy Peasy.

At various times throughout the year, Disney offer special packages where you will get the Disney Dining plan for free.

We’ll give a full rundown of the Disney Dining Plan in an upcoming blog ! (Important note : DDP can not be used when staying at the Swan or Dolphin hotels)

- The Disney bubble - Imagine being fully immersed in that Disney magic for the entire length of your stay. Experience the same fabulous theming and that Disney “home away from home” feel for every second of your Disney adventure !

-  Free Disney transport and parking - If you’re staying onsite, you can take the Magical Express bus from Orlando International airport to your hotel, you can also take advantage of free disney buses around the entire Disney resort.
If you’re hiring a car, you’ll receive free parking at hotels, parks water parks and Disney Springs. 

You can hear all about what we (the dis After Dark team) think about each of the onsite Disney hotels by listening to our Ultimate Disney Resort series podcasts - Here

Are you staying onsite at Disney or Universal this year ? Have you stayed onsite before ? I'd love to hear about your trip or your plans !

Happy planning, Amanda x

Coming up ... All things flights ! Who to fly with, where to fly to, what's an esta ? API and more...

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