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Disney World Split Stay: Add More Magic to Your Vacation

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OK, I gotta be honest. A split stay – staying at more than one resort on your Disney World trip – will not add more magic to everyone’s vacation. But when I’m not writing for TouringPlans, I spend a lot of time asking people why they do things a certain way. Astonishingly often it’s that they just didn’t know about all the options. If you’ve never really thought about a split stay at Disney World, you might want to keep reading. I’ve done almost every kind of Disney World split stay, and I’m here to tell you how it can plus up your vacation. And yes, that includes saving time and money!

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • Advantages of a Split Stay
  • Reasons To Avoid a Split Stay
  • Planning and Booking a Split Stay
  • Planning and Tips for Transfer Day(s)

Advantages of a Split Stay

The benefits of a split stay fall into one of three buckets: budget, location, and resort features. And maybe more than one. For instance, 2 days at a monorail resort followed by a switch to cheaper Pop Century could be killing three birds with one stone.

The Hippy Dippy Pool at Pop Century with the Petals Pool Bar and part of the Pop sign visible in the background
Deluxe resorts are luxe, but Value resorts are friendly to your wallet and still fun.

Enjoy the perks of a Deluxe – maybe you wanted a treat for someone’s birthday. Stay within your budget – no question that Pop Century is cheaper by a lot. Plan around your location – Magic Kingdom and a splurgy celebration meal in one of the monorail Signature restaurants. Then Hollywood Studios and EPCOT after switching to the Skyliner resort.

Here are some ways that we’ve used split stays, see if any of them make you go “Hmm”. I’ve put lots of examples to spark your imagination, but if you’re already sold on the idea then you can skip ahead for tips on booking and transferring between resorts.

Budget

It can be hard to break even with the Disney Dining Plan, but it’s easier for just a few days. We’ll put the Dining Plan on only part of our trip, and then plan our dining to make it count. If we do the Dining Plan portion first we can still use the refill mugs after we switch, because they’re good for 14 days.

A recent Disney World offer reads: “Save up to 20% on stays most Sunday to Thursday nights from January 9, 2024 through February 22, 2024”. That Sunday to Thursday night language is common, and even if there are no discounts weekend nights are more expensive. If you’re guessing that we move in on Sunday and head somewhere else by Thursday, you’d be right!

Sometimes we’ll do an onsite/offsite split stay. Some would argue that this isn’t technically a split stay, but … we’re still in the area, still vacationing at Disney World, and I’m writing this article so I make the rules. Where offsite? It’s easy to forget, but the Swan and Dolphin are offsite hotels. The Disney Springs resorts are less expensive but still give you Early Entry. Or we might move offsite altogether to get access to more space or a kitchen.

Two Mears connect buses wait to pick up passengers
Mears Connect will bring you from the airport to Disney World no matter what time you arrive. But if it’s gonna be midnight, do you want to pay for a room in a Deluxe?

A “split” that we do about half the time is on arrival or departure day. We can often save on airfare by flying the evening before our vacation, but I do not want to pay for an expensive Disney hotel room when I’m not checking in until 10 p.m. or later. We stay at an inexpensive hotel near the airport that has a free airport shuttle. (Or sometimes an All-Star turns out to be the least expensive option.) Then we head to Disney World bright and early the next morning with the full day ahead of us. Got a super early flight out? Do a similar thing in reverse.

Location

When I looked at which resorts offered the best access to dining, there were three clusters. My family often coordinates dining plans with our resort location.

  • Magic Kingdom area resorts have easy monorail access to each other’s restaurants.
  • Resorts in the Crescent Lake area or on the Skyliner were powerhouses, with access to all the Crescent Lake area dining, plus Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
  • Stay at Port Orleans, Saratoga Springs, or Old Key West for easy access to Disney Springs dining and shopping via boat.
Two water taxis docked at the Port Orleans French Quarter boat dock
Port Orleans French Quarter has Moderate room rates and Water Taxi service to Disney Springs

If you’re taking advantage of Early Entry, then the Skyliner, monorail, and your own feet are some of the easiest ways to get to the parks. But that requires that you’re staying at a resort with that kind of access to the park you’re visiting. Even if you’re sticking with Value resorts, you can get savings and convenience by arranging your park visits around where you’re staying.

Resort Features

Whoa, there’s a lot of options for “what makes a resort special”. Some are obvious, like the pool at the Beach/Yacht Club, or the savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge. But all the Disney World resorts are highly themed, and you can pick whatever appeals. Plus, I’ve got some statistics training and I know better than to say anything like “100% of guests agree that … “. If your kid is into pyramids, you might prefer the Dig Site pool at Coronado Springs, no matter how much everyone else raves about Stormalong Bay.

A picture of Stormalong with the pool and lazy river focused in the foreground, with the windmill and hotel framed in the background.
Is a Mayan pyramid-themed pool better than this? Your kid might think so.

One extra that comes with a stay at a Deluxe-tier hotel is Extended Theme Park Evening hours. When EETPH is offered at a park, eligible guests can stay 2 hours after the park’s regular closing time. The perk can be a mixed bag – it doesn’t always offer as much time savings as you’d think – but we enjoy it.

It’s common to hear that if you’ll be in the parks all day then a Value might have the most value for you. When we’re choosing a resort for its extras, we’re usually planning at least one day where we’ll spend most of our time at the resort. All the Deluxe resorts, plus Coronado Springs, offer a Club Level. We’ve stayed concierge very rarely, but it can definitely add something special to a resort day.

Reasons To Avoid a Split Stay

I said in the beginning that it’s not for everyone or every vacation. For starters, if your trip is only 2-3 days to start with, you might want to stay put. I mean, if you’d like to do a different resort every night, then go for it. But most people find that a little stressful. We don’t like to stay fewer than three nights at a resort.

Even on a longer trip, if it takes you a while to feel settled when you travel, you might not want to move. And Disney will do most of the work moving you between hotels (unless you’re going offsite), but if you’re traveling with a lot of gear you might feel like the packing and unpacking isn’t worth it.

You know when we traveled with the most gear? When our kids were little. We didn’t do quite as many split stays when they were small enough to need naps, because it was more important for them to get a good rest. There was no guarantee we’d have access to a hotel room for napping on transfer day.

Planning and Booking a Split Stay

I’m just going to say it up front. If your split stay includes any kind of discount or promotion, consider using a travel agent like our own TouringPlans Travel. You can get a quote for free, their services are free, and they’ll help you get the most from the discounts.

One thing you’ll need to decide is which nights to put at which resorts. You should know that you can use all your resort’s amenities and extras on both check-in and check-out day. This includes pools, club lounges, and even things like Early Entry and Extended Evening Theme Park Hours.

Spaceship Earth is lit in orange, pink, and purple that reflect against the speeding monorail in the foreground
If you stay at a Deluxe resort, you’re eligible for Extended Theme Park Entry even on checkout day

 

Each resort you stay at will be a separate reservation. If you’re booking a package, you’ll want tickets for your whole stay on the first reservation. That’s because tickets are cheaper the longer you stay. And be aware that when it comes time to reserve dining the 60+10 rule will apply to each reservation separately if you are doing them yourself. (If you’ve booked with a travel agent, they should be able to book your dining as if it were a single reservation.)

One question that people have a lot is about whether to do the cheaper resort first or second. It’s common advice to do the cheaper resort first because it “feels better” to move up. But I find that we care more about how the resort fits into our plans. Here’s an example: a couple of days at the Polynesian for easy Early Entry access to the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Then shift to Port Orleans for more relaxed days where we’ll dine at Disney Springs in the evening. It goes against the recommendation, going from a Deluxe to a Moderate. But we prefer to have the relaxed part come after the go-go-go part. Short answer: do what you feel will fit your style best.

Planning and Tips for Transfer Day(s)

Moving Your Stuff

If you’re switching between two Disney World hotels, Disney’s Bell Services will move your luggage. If you’re moving offsite you’ll need to handle the luggage transfer yourself. You can still use Bell Services at the Disney resort to store your stuff, at either your old or new resort.

You don’t need to pack light, but I do recommend leaving yourself some suitcase space. It makes packing feel like less of a chore, and it’s easier for moving small stuff you’ve accumulated on the way. Bell Services will in fact bring you 17 individual plastic bags to pack random crap into (ask me how I know), but it just makes the whole process feel stressful and disorganized.

It can take up to 45 minutes or so for a bellhop to appear when you call, especially during busy checkout times. Either prepare to relax and wait, or prepare to take your stuff down to the bell desk on your own. Your luggage won’t move from place to place instantly, so you may want to pack a day bag to keep with you. Bell Services will tell you what time your bags will be available at your new resort; usually it’s after 5 p.m.

Bell Services will transfer your luggage between Disney World resorts

Special cases like refrigerated stuff and computers? This is one of those places where you may find a difference between policy and practice. Bell Services can store refrigerated items, but there may be several hours between pickup and dropoff, and there’s no way to guarantee that chilled items are kept at the proper temperature during transit. Because of this, the official policy is that Bell Services will not move perishable items. They’ve let us send our stuff anyway if it’s things like cans of coke or ketchup where refrigeration isn’t critical. If it’s something like medication where you can’t risk spoilage, you’ll want to transfer it yourself, or plan in advance to have it in an insulated bag with an ice pack.

For electronics, let Bell Services know that a bag contains a computer or tablet. We’ve had Disney transfer these items many times and never had an issue. But my employer’s policy doesn’t allow me to send my laptop this way, and yours might not either. If you need to move electronics yourself, make sure your plan takes the weather into account.

Planning Your Day

Check-out from Disney World hotels is 11 a.m., and check-in at your new resort will be 3 or 4 in the afternoon. If you’re spending all day in the park, then you won’t even notice not having a room in the middle of the day. My family often lacks the stamina to spend all day in the park, so here are some ways that we divide up the day to make it less obvious that we’re temporarily homeless.

We’ll often do Early Entry and head over to a Table Service lunch at our new resort. If we get lucky, our room is ready early and we can head up after our meal. If not, we’ll visit the pool, hang out in the lobby, or check the resort activities calendar for something fun. If you’re planning to lounge around for a while, all lobbies are not created equal. Deluxe tier lobbies >> Moderate lobbies >> Value lobbies. But even a Value resort lobby will have space to sit and wait. Many lobbies will have a TV playing Disney cartoons to keep littles entertained for a bit.

Being able to step out to the Savanna overlook and watch the giraffe makes the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby especially awesome.

If we have evening plans in the park, we’ll book a very late breakfast or early lunch at the resort that we’re leaving. Depending on the timing, we might stop by the desk the day before to request a late checkout. It’s a bonus if you can get it, but if not then it’s the same old story. Hang at the pool, relax in the lobby, resort activities. Or we’ll head over to Disney Springs and do a little shopping.

Do you do split stays at Disney World? What do you like or dislike about them? Let us know in the comments!

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Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer has a background in math and biology, so she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

6 thoughts on “Disney World Split Stay: Add More Magic to Your Vacation

  • Hi again, Jennifer, hope I didn’t sound critical of your writing, I wasn’t shooting for that at all! I appreciate all of your helpful articles. I was just frustrated finding out about the “two trips” thing, and wanted others to be aware. You wrote, “Disney has made a number of changes to how they manage dining reservations, and many reservations are simply easier to get than they used to be.” Can you please elaborate on THAT now please? <3 I've never used a TA, I've gotten used to slugging through the process myself and don't really go that often, but if a TA could make dining reservations for the second leg of the trip that sounds like a very valuable service that would tempt me to use them. Just FYI …

    I can't recall the check-in process right now, but I think I would have checked in online if that was possible. We were given a special needs room that we didn't need or want, it had a very different feel to it than what I was expecting. Furthermore, we had a view of a wall, the room was pretty dark as a result. In hindsight since we were in EPCOT that day, I could have run over and checked out the room once it had been assigned, but of course that would have taken "fun time" out of the day. I'm not normally super fussy about a room, it's just this one was particularly disappointing. Also, FYI I had tried to use the TouringPlans tool to request a particular room, so I guess I had my hopes up that I would get something close to what I had requested, but that did not happen 🙁

    Reply
    • Hi Leslie, no, I didn’t take it that way, I just wanted to be clear for anyone else who was reading why I hadn’t chosen to go into that in more detail. We’re good. 🙂

      FWIW, I agree that Disney IT should fix the part where a split stay is treated as two trips. It isn’t a problem for everyone, but it can be a pain in the rear. That said, I personally, others who work for TouringPlans, and others who are in the general Disney blog-o-sphere have found reservations to be easier to get than they used to be. It’s hard to say directly what’s causing it, but my opinion is that it is a combination of a number of changes post-pandemic: change to 60-day reservation window, introduction of the walk-up-waitlist, and no DDP. They have also recently made changes to how you book dining (no more “you can only see three times and why can you see this 1 p.m. reservation if you search for noon but not if you search for lunch) that are probably going to be helpful also, going forward. It will be interesting to see what happens when the DDP comes back, but my own opinion is that the switch to 60 and the Walk-up Waitlist are the two biggest factors. (I do not have any data to back this up, it’s just an opinion.)

      The TA is free to use and my favorite part is that they will watch for discounts for you and try to rebook if something is released that will make your room/package cheaper. I admit that sometimes I don’t use them because I am a super-control freak, but I’ve never been unhappy when I have. When you really appreciate having used the TA is not when everything goes right, but when something goes wrong like a canceled flight or whatever. (I had a cruise booked for April 2020, the TA saved me hours and hours of my life, as well as $$ in that rebooking experience.)

      I know for sure that the online check-in didn’t used to work correctly if you were doing a split stay. But I did it multiple times (we had a 3-leg split) this summer and it went off without a hitch. And yeah, I love the room request tool but sometimes it doesn’t work out.

      Reply
  • I have done a few split stays. I like the theming of the hotels, and a split stay allows me to have multiple theming experiences. Fun! Bell Services makes it easy to transfer your luggage to the next hotel. That part is great.

    The not so great part … Jennifer, you kind of buried this part: “And be aware that when it comes time to reserve dining the 60+10 rule will apply to each reservation separately if you are doing them yourself.” The issue is this: you are most likely to snag a coveted dining reservation on the last day of your “trip”. If you do a split stay, Disney treats it as if you are taking TWO trips. If you spend 3 days at a monorail resort to be close to MK, your ability to snag a dining reservation at MK is 60+3 days out from day 1 of that stay. If you then spend 3 days at a resort close to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT, your ability to snag a dining reservation at one of THOSE parks is 60+3 days out from day 1 of THAT second stay. Even though you are spending 6 days at Disney, you don’t have the ability to reserve dining 60+6 days from the start of your original stay. That seems like an IT issue that Disney could and should fix. Can you please elaborate on the ” (If you’ve booked with a travel agent, they should be able to book your dining as if it were a single reservation.)”

    The other not so great part … we xferred into Beach Club after spending a long day at EPCOT, and found out at 10pm at night that we had been given a crappy room, and our luggage was not in the room, we had to get it from Bell Services. It was late, we were tired, didn’t have the energy to deal with it so just took the room. But it’s kind of like the situation that you described where you didn’t want to pay for a Deluxe hotel getting in late at night. I think they kind of took advantage of us, we paid a ton of $$$ for a crappy room because we were not in such a great position to complain about the room we were given. People should be aware that the managers in Hotel #2 might pull that same trick on them if they check in late after a full day in the parks.

    Reply
    • Hi Leslie, thanks for reading. Yes, you are correct about how the reservations work, but there were a few reasons not to go into quite so much detail in the article (which is already kind of on the long side for some readers). One reason is that Disney has made a number of changes to how they manage dining reservations, and many reservations are simply easier to get than they used to be – availability can still be an issue for some restaurants, but not nearly as much as it has been in the past.

      To your question about travel agents; our agents confirmed to me that they are able to call Disney when the phone lines open for dining and have Disney confirm the split stay, then open the second leg of the trip for them to book dining. It’s true that the phone lines open an hour after dining becomes available online, but in most cases this doesn’t make a significant difference. This works for TAs, but I can tell you from personal experience that it does not reliably work for private individuals like you or me. I have occasionally been successful when calling this way, but it’s the exception and not the rule.

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience at Beach Club. In general, we check in online (that didn’t used to work properly at the second hotel but it does now) and receive our room assignment midafternoon no matter where we are on property. It might be a room that for some reason we don’t like, but it’s given to us at 3 pm. Using the online check-in would be my recommendation for anyone who is concerned that they might get a less desirable room simply because they have arrived late.

      Reply
  • I really enjoyed this article. I’ve never considered myself a person who can pack up and switch to different hotels, but now I might consider trying it to take advantage of the perks of a new dining area or transportation method! How far in advance would you say you should book a split stay? Do you think you need to do it farther in advance than if you chose a single hotel?

    Reply
    • Hallo other Jennie, that is an interesting question. I’m going to go with no, and also “it depends”.

      Here’s the thing, if you want to book any part of a discount it’s the same as always, you have to book far enough in advance that there’s availability. (I mean, that’s true even if there isn’t a discount. But if there’s a discount it’s possible that there are rooms at the resort you’re trying to book, just not for the discounted price you’re trying to get.) But you don’t need to book any farther in advance than you normally would to guarantee getting what you want. There’s either good availability at many places, or there isn’t. But if availability is poor then you might actually be able to make adjustments more easily if you’re aiming for a split stay.

      Let’s say you’re trying to book a week’s stay, 4 nights at a discount in the Poly and 3 nights at Pop Century. It turns out there aren’t 4 Poly nights at the discount rate, there are only 3. If you were just trying to book a 4-day stay and that was your whole vacation, you’d have to choose between full price at the Poly or somewhere else entirely. But for a split stay, you could just reverse it, take the 3 discount nights at the Poly, and do 4 at Pop Century. You got *almost* exactly what you wanted, despite having left it later than you “should have” to book and get everything you wanted.

      Reply

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