Disney World has had an online hotel check-in option for several years. Initially, online check-in just meant that you verified your name/address information and left a credit card on file. This expedited the process at the hotel’s front desk upon your arrival. If you checked in online, you still had to stop by the desk upon arrival at your Disney World hotel, where you would pick up your Key to the World cards, get a warm greeting, a welcome packet, and the opportunity to ask questions of the staff. The benefit was that you wouldn’t have to wait in a significant line to do so. In fact, if you look at the online check-in FAQ on the Disney World website, you’ll see a description that closely matches this, minus the Key to the World Card portion.
With the advent of MagicBands and My Disney Experience, online check-in has in practice been radically transformed. On one recent stay at Disney’s Saratoga Springs resort, here’s what happened:
- Several weeks before my trip, I completed the online check-in form on the My Disney Experience section of the DisneyWorld.com website. Part of this process included giving Disney my credit card information and selecting a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to use when making in-park purchases.
- I had previously linked my park tickets, FastPass+ selections, and dining reservation information information to my My Disney Experience account.
- I selected MagicBand customization options (again, via My Disney Experience) and had my MagicBand mailed to my home.
- I selected the option “text or email me when my room is ready” and gave Disney the appropriate contact information.
- On the first day of my Disney visit, I arrived at Orlando International Airport early in the day and picked up my rental car. (I often take Magical Express, but on this trip I had a car.)
- I drove straight to the Magic Kingdom, using my MagicBand as my park entry ticket, FastPass, and payment method.
- Part way through the day, I received a text on my phone that my room at Saratoga Springs was ready. The text also gave me the room number and a link to a map of the hotel.
- In the late afternoon, I drove to Saratoga Springs, using my MagicBand to open the resort traffic access gate.
- I drove to my building and parked, then went to my room, opened the door and began unpacking.
The process was seamless. There were no snags or snafus. All went according to plan and worked like a charm.
So why did I feel so icky about it?
I later realized that I had started my Disney hotel experience having never been welcomed to the resort. I never even spoke to anyone at the hotel. And as it turned out, in a four day stay at the hotel, I never once set foot in the main building.
This was not really a problem for me. As a frequent guest, I’m well versed in both Disney parks and Disney hotel protocol. I had stayed at Saratoga Springs several times before, including twice in the past 18 months, so I knew the drill: where the pools were, how to walk to Downtown Disney, what types of restaurants were nearby, and how to make use of the spa at the resort.
But what if this had been my first Walt Disney World visit? What if this had been my first time at this hotel? What would I have missed?
There are certainly many positives to using the full online check-in experience.
ONLINE CHECK-IN PROS
- You don’t have to waste time during your vacation doing “chores” like waiting at the hotel front desk – leaving you more time for relaxation/touring.
- You don’t have to wonder about whether your room is ready yet.
- You don’t have to speak with extraneous people (possibly important for introverts).
- You don’t have to do extra walking by making two stops at the resort (main building and your room).
- Overall, you’re getting to your room much faster.
ONLINE CHECK-IN CONS
- There’s a lack of warmth. No welcome greeting or smile at your “home away from home” means that a component of the Disney personal touch is missing.
- Guests unfamiliar with the resort layout may become lost.
- Guests unfamiliar with the resort may miss out on amenities like poolside activities or recreation because these have not been mentioned by staff during check in.
- Guests new to Disney travel may be unaware of benefits like Extra Magic Hours or confused by package components such as the Disney Dining Plan.
- You may miss out on unique resort touches like receiving a welcome lei at the Polynesian Village or watching the cast have a Hustle party at All Star Music.
Of course there are online and print resources that can fill in information gaps for new guests (hello touringplans.com and The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World) and there is a rudimentary standardized paper welcome packet in the room. For a new Disney visitor, these resources become significantly more important.
For me as an old hand at Disney, online check-in is generally a boon. But if you’re new to Disney touring, you may want to bypass this feature of My Disney Experience and go old school, stopping at the front desk to check in. Or even if you complete online check-in, stop by the front desk anyway and ask for an overview of resort amenities and activities.
What have your experiences been with Disney World resort online check in? Do you love it? Is there something lacking in the process? Is there anything you’d change? Let us know in the comments below?