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How to Get Early Entry With Disney World’s Third-Party Hotels

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A couple of weeks ago I heard from my friend Justin, who had friends staying at a Disney Springs hotel.  Justin had the following question:

How do my friends get access to Early Theme Park Entry? We’ve been running around the hotel asking the staff what to do, and none of them knows what we’re talking about.  Do we just show up at the park?  We don’t have My Disney Experience accounts, and I doubt the Magic Kingdom Cast Members are going be able to scan our third-party room keys to prove we’re eligible.

I read this question on the Disney Dish podcast, and got dozens of emails from guests who’d gone through the exact same thing.  So I thought I’d do some research to help future guests get this done faster.

What Is Early Theme Park Entry?

One of the most useful benefits you can get from staying at a Walt Disney World hotel is Early Theme Park Entry.  Early Theme Park Entry gets you into all four of Disney World’s theme parks 30 minutes before regular guests, every day of the week (and occasionally, even earlier than that).

Those extra 30 minutes in the park will allow you to see many more attractions than off-site guests. During our testing during Christmas Week 2021, we saw the following:

  • Guests with Early Theme Park Entry saw 9 attractions before noon, with an average wait time of 13 minutes per attraction
  • Guests without Early Theme Park Entry saw 6 attractions before noon, with an average wait of 20 minutes per attraction

That’s roughly 50% more attractions in roughly 50% less time, during one of the busiest weeks of the year.  So Early Theme Park Entry helps avoid long waits in line. It’s valuable.

Which Third-Party Hotels Get Early Entry?

Some non-Disney hotels – mainly the Disney Springs hotels and Bonnet Creek, plus Shades of Green and the Four Seasons, get the Early Theme Park Entry benefit too.  The next section lists each hotel that we know gets Early Theme Park Entry, gives instructions on how to link your reservation in the My Disney Experience (MDE) app, and provides fallback methods that might work in the event MDE doesn’t.

Before we get started, here’s a look at My Disney Experience’s “Link a Hotel Reservation” screen.  We’ll be referring to it a few times later.

There are two fields in the My Disney Experience app for linking hotel reservations. One asks for your last name, and the other asks for your reservation number.
The My Disney Experience “Link a Hotel Reservation” screen

If you’re making a third-party hotel reservation through Disney’s website, your reservation will likely be linked to My Disney Experience automatically.  But many folks don’t do that. For example, if you’re using Hilton or Marriott points to book your reservation, that’s got to be done through the chain’s website. This article guides you through how to link that reservation to MDE once it’s made.

Walt Disney World Swan, Swan Reserve, and Dolphin

Linking your Swan, Swan Reserve, or Dolphin reservation is about as easy as it gets: Just enter your hotel confirmation number into MDE, along with the last name on the reservation, and you should be set.  This isn’t surprising, because these three hotels are probably the most integrated into Disney’s benefits programs of any non-Disney hotel in Walt Disney World.  Other than using third-party bus services (and having Magic Kingdom guests dropped off at the Transportation and Ticket Center instead of the park entrance), there are few benefits for Disney-owned hotel guests that are not also afforded to guests at the Swan, Swan Reserve, and Dolphin.

The Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel has a giant blue triangle shape in its center, with curved hotel wings in a sort of orange color.
The Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort (image © Disney)

Also, the Swan and Dolphin have their own app, with instructions on how to link your reservation into MDE:

A screencap with text instructions showing how to link your Swan/Dolphin reservation into MDE.
The Swan and Dolphin app has instructions on how to link your reservation in MDE
Shades of Green

A Disney Dish listener named Jeff had this to say about linking his Shades of Green reservation:

I can confirm that those staying at Shades of Green can link the reservation on MDE to allow for extra hours access. We did this in August and again for an upcoming week – it works well. MDE knows the number of folks in the reservation and only that many can be chosen in MDE. (By the way, Shades has a really nice indoor set-up at the bus stop too.)

That’s great news – it’s the same process as guests staying at the Swan and Dolphin described above, and only one step more than guests staying at a Disney-owned hotel.

The Shades of Green Resort is a set of tan-colored, low, two- and three-story buildings surrounded by lots of green landscaping.
Shades of Green at Walt Disney World (Image © Shades of Green)
B Resort and Spa Lake Buena Vista

I was surprised to hear that it’s possible to link reservations made at the B Resort and Spa to MDE.  The trick is that it might take a few days for your B Resort reservation information to be transferred to Disney’s systems – it doesn’t appear to be as fast as with the Swan, Dolphin, or Shades of Green.   That’s fine if you’re making reservations months in advance, but less good if you’re taking a last-minute trip and need to do things in a hurry.  We’ve heard the transfer time can be anywhere from two to three days, so plan accordingly.

Purple and pink nighttime fireworks explode behind the blue-tinted high-rise B Resort hotel tower at Walt Disney World.
The B Resort and Spa in Disney Springs. (Image © B Resort)
All Hilton Properties

Hilton properties in Walt Disney World include:

  • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando – Disney Springs Area
  • Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
  • Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Palace
  • Signia by Hilton Bonnet Creek
  • Waldorf Astoria Orlando

The Hilton properties proved to be the most difficult to research for this article, because guest experiences were all over the place when it came to linking reservations in MDE.

Our friend Brendan said this:

I’m a big My Disney Experience guy, so I’m no stranger to planning, linking, booking, etc. For some reason, however, our Hilton reservation wouldn’t link in the app. After asking about a dozen people how I could make sure I’d be able to get into the park for early entry, (including official Disney guest relations at Disney Springs who said they could not help), we finally landed back at the concierge desk inside the Hilton hotel. After going through a few different staff members who acted as if they’d never heard of Early Theme Park Entry, we got to a manager who could help.

Believe it or not, the answer is that they give you what is essentially a business card. One for each guest, the concierge writes down a bunch of numbers (basically a confirmation code), the dates of your stay, and each guests’ name on little paper cards with Disney branding on them, and those are what you show to the park gates cast members for early entry. To my understanding, this is the “backup” process for all of the 3rd party Disney Springs hotels/resorts.

I’ll take a minute here to echo Brendan’s point about Disney Springs Guest Relations not being able to help.  I asked Disney Media Relations for guidance on how third-party hotel guests could make use of Early Theme Park Entry.  They never responded.

A really large pool is in front of you, and in the distance rises a white and blue tower hotel - the Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace.
The Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace in Disney Springs (image © Hilton)

Our friend Katie chimed in with this experience:

I called the Hilton Bonnet Creek with this exact question:

Question #1 How does a guest prove they are at an eligible hotel for Early Entry?

Hilton Concierge’s Answer Link to MDE.

Question #2 But what if that doesn’t work? Is there a card?

Hilton Concierge’s Answer YES, but the guest MUST ask for this “magic card” and it’s good for their length of stay.

This is a lot of work! Not only are there hoops to jump through, but the hoops are on fire in quicksand. I worked Magic Kingdom Guest Relations in the early 2000’s and I long for the days of a simple FastPass!

We’ve also heard from guests who were able to link Hilton reservations in MDE without having to contact the concierge or MDE technical support.  In all of those cases, the guests waited at least three days between making the reservation with Hilton, and linking the reservation in MDE.  So that might be the secret. Again, it’s not helpful if you’re making a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World.

Holiday Inn Orlando – Disney Springs Area

John said this:

I’m a passholder and I typically stay at one of the offsite Disney Springs hotels that provide early entry.  Most of my encounters involve really kind Cast Members who have no idea about the policy and need to ask a manager. This most recent visit, the Cast Members actually had to Google Disney World’s “approved” hotels to see the list. To make it even more complex, at the time, the Holiday Inn name was listed on Disney’s website incorrectly, leaving me trying to explain that the hotel I was staying at was in fact the Disney Springs location.

John’s email arrived when I was tagged in a Twitter thread about Disney call centers giving out wrong information. Disney’s a big, complicated place, so it’s not really surprising that Disney itself doesn’t always have the right information.  (But still, if they don’t, who does?  And why is it on the guests to correct it?)

The Holiday Inn at Disney Springs
The Holiday Inn at Disney Springs (Image © IHG)

Like other third-party hotels, the trick to linking a Holiday Inn reservation seems to be to wait a couple of days after making the reservation with Holiday Inn, before trying to link the reservation in MDE.

Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista

The Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista is the hotel that Justin’s friends were staying at, and that insipired this blog post.  It’s safe to say that asking the front desk there for help, didn’t result in an optimal guest experience.  But like the other hotels, if you allow a couple of days for your Wyndham reservation to make it to MDE, you should be fine.  And if that doesn’t work, ask for the magic business card.

A purple, red, and orange sunset happens behind the white, L-shaped, 6-story Wyndham hotel , seen here with a really big green lawn, and tons of pretty landscaping.
The Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista (Image © Hilton)

Disney World Third-Party Hotels Booked Through Hotwire, Priceline, Expedia and Others

Ah, this is a little trickier because there’s three companies involved: Disney, the hotel chain you’re staying at, and the third-party booking engine.

Lucky for us, a Disney Dish listener named Robbie found a solution by calling the Disney Wholesale phone number:

As a huge fan of scouring Hotwire’s “Hot Rate” hotel offers and finding the Disney World resorts hidden there, I discovered a great work-around. After getting my room confirmation from Hotwire, I call the Disney Wholesale number (below).  I give them my Hotwire confirmation number and they convert it for me to a MDE friendly reservation number within minutes of making the original reservation. I hope this helps, and keep up the good work!

The Disney Wholesale number is (407) 939-7671.

Other Disney-Area Hotels and Information

This is what I’ve found out so far for these Disney World-Area hotels. The common themes are:

  • Link your reservation in MDE for best success – but how you do this may not be consistent
  • Try to allow at least three days between making the reservation and trying to link it in My Disney Experience
  • If you aren’t successful in linking to MDE but your hotel offers Early Theme Park Entry, be prepared that you may need to talk to multiple employees to find one who is familiar with the “business card” backup process.

If you’ve stayed at another hotel and figured out how to do link your reservation to My Disney Experience, let me know in the comments.  And if all of this sounds wayyyy too complicated, our Travel Agents can help with your hotel booking.

Also, if you’re thinking about using your third-party hotel’s transportation, make sure to verify that the hotel shuttle will get you to the park in time to take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry.  Some off-site shuttles only operate a few times each day, and some don’t start until close to park opening. In those cases, it might be more useful to take a taxi or ride-share to the parks.  It’ll save you a ton of time in line.

Postscript: All the Different Names Disney Uses for “Nearby Hotels We Don’t Own”

In updating this post I had to verify the difference between hotels in Disney’s own hotels, the ones in Disney’s “Good Neighbor” program, and others.  It’s confusing because Disney uses a lot of different names to refer to these hotels and their benefits.  Here’s a quick rundown:

Disney Partner Hotels – Mainly used by Disney’s U.K.-based sites, “Disney Partner Hotels” refers to:

  • The Disney Springs hotels (also called “Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels” – see below)
  • The Swan and Dolphin (and probably the Swan Reserve, but the website doesn’t list it)
  • The Bonnett Creek resorts: Hilton’s Waldorf-Astoria and Signia, and Wyndham’s Grand Orlando Resort
  • The Four Seasons Orlando
  • The SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites at Flamingo Crossings, which this site calls the “Western Entrance”. See also “Disney Gateway Hotels” below

Disney Gateway Hotels – Another term used by Disney to refer to the hotels of Flamingo Crossings.  See also “Disney Partner Hotels” above.

Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels – Along with “Disney Partner Hotels”, Disney uses this term to refer just to the seven hotels within the Disney Springs area.

Good Neighbor Hotels – Disney uses this term to refer to third-party hotels that aren’t Partner or Gateway hotels and that do not receive any special theme park benefits.  These hotels include national chains such as Empassy Suites and Hampton Inn, as well locally-run hotels such as the Rosen Inn Lake Buena Vista.  Note that the link is broken on Disney’s site that is supposed to show the list of these hotels.  It should go to https://www.wdwgoodneighborhotels.com/browse-hotels/

Orlando Area Hotels – Disney uses this term to refer to the combined set of its own hotels, the Swan, Swan Reserve, and Dolphin, plus the Four Seasons Orlando, the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels, the Good Neighbor hotels, and the Bonnett Creek Resorts.

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Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is len@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

17 thoughts on “How to Get Early Entry With Disney World’s Third-Party Hotels

  • Has anyone stayed at Drury Plaza Hotel? It’s a newer hotel and curious how they handle early entry and if they are aware of a business card.

  • I know this is an old post, but did you ever get a photo of one of these cards Len? I can’t get my Wyndham hotel to show up in MDE and I called the hotel and they had no idea what I was talking about for the “business card”. I’ll try again when there in person, but would be nice to have a pic or reference as you said!

    • Ah, I didn’t. Definitely try in person, please, and let me know how it goes.

  • Yes you get early entry on the day of check in and day of check out. You don’t have to be physically checked in yet, but you need the reservation linked to your disney account so that you can show it on your phone to the gate keepers at Disney.

    I think morally you’re just fine! You are paying for the early access with points.

  • Sorry one further to this question. If I am checking in on a Monday, but cannot check in until 4 PM, can I get early entry on that Monday? Thanks.

  • I had two questions related to this:

    1. If my checkout day is a Monday (let’s assume an 11 AM checkout time), am I eligible for early entry on that morning for perhaps a 7:30 AM early entry day?

    2. I was planning on renting a home (family of 5), but using Hilton points to get a room for 4 days at the Hilton Double Tree Suites (that will sit empty) that will accommodate 5. Is this morally dubious or TP Savvy to get the early entry benefit?

  • I am staying at: Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort
    Address: 12205 Apopka Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL 32836
    Phone: (407) 239-0444
    It is a Disney Good Neighbor hotel. I booked through Undercover Tourist.
    Do you think it’s possible to get early entry for us and how, please?

  • Thanks so much for this helpful info! We are planning to stay at the Doubletree Disney Springs and I successfully linked the reservation. However, I’m getting mixed info on whether I’ll be allowed to book individual lightning lanes at 7 am when staying at this hotel, or if I’ll have to wait until park opening. Any info available on this? Thank you!

    • Hi Disney Gal! You’ll be able to purchase Genie+ at 7 a.m. Good luck!

  • I shared my (outlier) experience on Twitter, but I’ll expound on it here.

    I stayed at The B in late April 2022, booked through a lesser third-party site (I think it was called Agoda?). I used early entry three days of my trip (more on that in a second). I could not see my reservation in MDE. My park ticket was a 4-day base ticket.

    On day one, I went to Epcot. I scanned in with my MagicBand, and the CM asked where I was staying. I told her, and flashed my room key. She let me in.

    On my Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom days, I had my room key ready when I scanned my MagicBand. Never was stopped or challenged about whether I should have early access.

    As noted in the article and echoed by others, bus service is wildly unpredictable. The service that stopped at the row of Hotel Plaza Blvd locations differed in operation from day to day. Usually it was three busses, but the two parks combined onto one bus (and the order of drop off) changed daily. This is why my Hollywood Studios day wasn’t an early entry experience. Our shuttle ended up behind another bus that spent ten minutes at the Animal Kingdom booths. By the time we made it through that, dropped off the Animal Kingdom guests, and went to Studios, it was regular park open.

    Now, it’s possible that I was incredibly lucky during my trip. I was traveling solo, and I generally look amenable, trustworthy, and laid-back. (My wife thinks this is why I often get pulled for routine additional screening by TSA.) But it’s also possible that CMs at the gates are making the general assumption that the folks who know about early entry, show some plausible form of confirmation, and are using a base ticket (not an annual pass) are not trying to swindle Disney out of a 30-minute benefit they are not entitled to.

  • I have been successful linking Good neighbor hotels to my MDE account (both Hilton and Holiday Inn).

    But… if you have to make changes to those hotel stays, there is no way to get MDE to recognize the change. First, we had to move our dates back a few days due to some airline flight changes. Made the change on the Holiday Inn website, then went to MDE – message says to call to make changes. I called, and after a long hold time was told they cannot change the dates, and it would have to be escalated to a different group, with a 48 hour turn around to show in MDE. A week went, by, and then another, with no change. Called again, got same info relayed. Again, two weeks later no change. In the end, we ended up switching to a Hilton property and a brand new reservation. I was able to link that one, and it overlapped with the Holiday Inn reservation in MDE.

    Finally, I had to call again and tell them to cancel the Holiday Inn reservation. After 6 weeks, and multiple phone calls the changed reservation finally showed correctly in MDE. That was frustrating.

    • Thanks for this, Chuck. Based on this experience, it sounds like the process is a “Send once in batch mode” thing. The first time a reservation is created, it’s sent to Disney. And nothing after.

  • Thanks for this article (and the podcast)! I stayed at the Dolphin last year, booked through Priceline, and had to call the Dolphin to get the confirmation number to link to MDE. The confirmation number I got from Priceline didn’t work. Once I entered the number the Dolphin gave me, it took a couple of days to show up, but all good after that.

  • Thanks for the article, Len! I heard the segment on this and decided to investigate a little further as we were heading down for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend and staying at the Doubletree (Disney Springs). I called and spoke with the front desk, and they informed me to just ask for the paper business card (my words, not theirs’) when we checked in. We requested our early entry cards upon arrival, and the front desk happily filled them out. We utilized them two different days at Epcot with no issues. Simply showed them to the cast member monitoring early entry and they let us in. On a related note, I took the bus from Doubletree one morning (meeting my husband after he finished the half marathon) and the bus driver was unaware of the road closures due to the race. He drove around a while, then informed us that he couldn’t get us to Epcot, and dropped us at the TTC. Not a big deal but this was the same bus then going on to Hollywood Studios and had picked up at multiple hotels before it picked up at Doubletree. Seems like you would be on this bus for a while trying to get anywhere! I spoke with others on the bus who said it took forever to get to the parks and then their bus never came when they were supposed to take it home the night before. So, definitely consider using your own transportation in order to take advantage of early entry if staying at the Doubletree (Fabulous Buses was the company but they were less than fabulous…). Thanks for all the great info!

    • Thanks Erica! Do you happen to have a photo of those business cards? In case someone else goes looking for them, it’d be nice to say “…and this is what it looks like.”

      • Len, I do still have the card. Happy to pass along a photo. Is there a way to attach an image to this thread? If not, if you want to email me, I would be happy to attach to send along a photo!

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