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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!