When you think of Disney World, the first thing you might think of is probably the iconic castle, the rides and other elements of the theme parks themselves. But, Disney World also runs a massive hotel operation with thousands and thousands of on-property hotel rooms spread across more than a dozen hotel resorts.
In summer 2020, some of those hotels began to reopen — not only to regular guests but at first even to players inside the “NBA Bubble.”
I was there for the reopening of the Magic Kingdom on July 11 and stayed for a couple of nights at the reopened Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Since the early reopening days, I’ve returned a couple of times, experiencing a changed Disney World resort each time. Even now, it’s still not business as normal. And in fact, some Disney resorts remain closed to this day.
Here are nine changes to expect if you’re planning to stay at a Disney World hotel anytime soon.
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Not all Disney resort hotels have reopened
Now, almost a year into the reopening process, most Disney resort hotels have reopened. But most isn’t the same thing as all. And in fact, some properties have had moving target dates, so things are still evolving.
The Disney resort hotels with published reopening timelines include:
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort (May 30)
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (June 6)
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn (July 2)
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (late July) — hotel rooms (Disney Vacation Club (DVC) has reopened)
Related: Should you go to Disney World right now?
The resorts that still don’t have published reopening dates include:
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans — Riverside
- Disney’s Port Orleans — French Quarter
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – hotel rooms (DVC rooms have reopened)
Related: How to use points to stay at Disney World
Disney has been taking this opportunity to complete some hotel resort renovations, such as the Polynesian’s Moana retheming. But beyond that, without some of the large-scale events and conventions that Disney is used to hosting, some of its rooms and resorts simply haven’t been heavily needed yet in the parks’ reopening journey.
Related: How to choose the best Disney World hotel
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Renting DVC points can save you money
In a few cases, such as at Disney’s Polynesian Village, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Beach Club, regular hotel rooms have not reopened but Disney Vacation Club villas have. The DVC villa portions of these properties have reopened to allow for Disney Vacation Club members to use their points — but guests can also book these villas directly from Disney, as available.
Renting DVC points is always worth exploring as it can sometimes save you money, but right now it can be an especially great choice for a couple reasons.
While it normally costs $18 to $19 per point to rent DVC points from a large service such as David’s Vacation Club, right now we are seeing some fixed-date rentals going for $15 per point. To give some basic reference to this, when we rented points to stay at the Polynesian in early July, it was 26 points per night. Some resorts and dates can be much lower than that, starting at just 9 or 10 DVC points per night required.
If you can rent points at around $15 per point, you are effectively getting at least 30% off normal rates if you can make the fixed dates and resorts work for your schedule. Look for Dedicated Reservations listed under DVC Guest on David’s Vacation Club page if this interests you. Shown below were some insane deals we saw more frequently in 2020 than we have so far in 2021.
Related: My experience saving money by renting DVC points
But beyond that, renting points can be a way to get into these resorts that haven’t fully reopened and enjoy them before the crowds really return. As an added perk, you don’t have to pay for parking when you rent points either.
Skip the front desk, please
Disney is highly encouraging resort guests to skip the front desk and minimize interaction with hotel staff during their stay. A linked MagicBand, or My Disney Experience app with a digital key feature, will open the door to your room when it’s ready.
You can also chat with a resort hotel cast member via the My Disney Experience app for assistance during your stay.
Related: 19 mistakes to avoid making at Disney World
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No full daily housekeeping
While Disney has said it has increased the level of housekeeping done in common spaces and between guests to focus on high-touch areas, like TV remotes and door handles, steam cleaning the floors, offering individually wrapping glassware and double-casing pillows, you still won’t get full housekeeping (er, mousekeeping) service each night.
Instead, you’ll get a light cleaning service every other day, which includes removal of trash and used towels, the wiping of counter surfaces, vacuuming and restocking amenities. (So, be ready to make your bed.) You can also choose to decline the every-other-day service completely though they still do a brief room check.
Related: What a reopened Disney theme park will look like
Masks required — and maybe temps, too
Face masks are required in the Disney World hotels, just like in the Disney World theme parks, for all guests ages 2 and older. The only exceptions will be when you are in your room, while swimming or while seated for dining.
Also, know that just as you have to have your temperature taken to enter the Disney World theme parks and Disney Springs, as well as to enter the sit-down restaurants, the same is true for resort hotels.
Related: Do kids need face masks on the plane?
Multiple services will be temporarily unavailable
Many of the services you may have been used to at Disney hotels are still unavailable. This list isn’t all-inclusive, but some suspended Disney resort hotel services include:
- Club-level service
- Dry-cleaning and valet laundry services; though self-service laundry will remain available
- Shipping services
- Resort airline check-in service may be temporarily unavailable
- Package delivery from the theme parks
- Character experiences
- Dog parks will be closed
- Marina rentals
- Spas, salons and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
- In-room child care services
- Mermaid school
- Special classes and programs, including culinary, cultural and animal programs
- Deliveries will only be made to occupied rooms
- Valet service, other than for guests with disabilities
- Minnie Van service
- FastPass+ and Extra Magic Hours
It’s also worth noting that it seems old-fashioned resort hopping will also be unavailable without a confirmed room reservation or confirmed dining reservation, so no cruising around to check out all the different resorts.
Related: What Universal’s reopening day was like
During my July 2020 stay, in-room dining was not yet available at the Polynesian, and know that some resort restaurants remain closed. For example, the iconic and popular ‘Ohana at the Polynesian’ remains closed with no published reopening date.
On a more recent April 2021 stay at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, there was a room service menu for breakfast and dinner that had returned to the room, but I’m not certain that is the standard across all Disney resorts quite yet so be prepared to walk to pick-up your own meal. On the plus side, you can order meals to go in the Disney app from the reopened resort sit-down restaurants, just prepare to place your order well in advance if you want it during peak meal times.
The restaurants that have reopened require reservations in most cases, and you’ll want to have your smartphone ready to check-in and use to electronically view the menu via a QR code.
Now that you have a flavor for what won’t be available at Disney resort hotels in the near future, here are some services that should be operational.
- The complimentary Magical Express bus service is operational to and from the Orlando Airport for resort guests.
- Bell Services will deliver luggage to rooms, but will not escort guests to their rooms.
- Pools will operate with reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Be prepared for a line during peak times.)
- Some resort dining will be available, while other restaurants and bars will remain closed.
- Monorail, bus, Skyliner and boat transportation is available — but not until 30 to 45 minutes before the parks open.
- Transportation will operate with physical distancing measures in place, reducing capacity. As a result, you may experience delays.
Since there’s still not a lot to do at night at Disney World once you’ve had dinner as the parks are mostly closed by 8 – 9 p.m. (except Epcot), be aware the resort pools do fill up. I recommend swimming at off-hours if you can if you want to avoid crowds.
You can head to the resort updates section of the Disney World website for additional info on services that will be available at specific on-property resorts. For example, trail rides, outdoor movies and bike rentals are available at Fort Wilderness. And outdoor movies have returned across the resorts in the evenings.
Related: Ultimate guide to visiting Walt Disney World
Disney resort reservations don’t guarantee theme park admission
Disney World has severely capped guest capacity to aid with social distancing. It now requires reservations via a Park Pass reservation system and simply having a Disney hotel reservation doesn’t guarantee you’ll get theme park admission. In fact, if you aren’t planning several months out, you may not get the park you want at all.
Make a Park Pass reservation as soon as you know you’ll be going to Disney World and have your tickets in hand.
Related: How to make a reservation to enter Disney World
It’s busy and service isn’t always perfect
On a recent trip to Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, we had a great two-night stay overall.
However, I overheard some unhappy travelers at the resort complaining more than once. If you aren’t prepared for the current reality of a Disney hotel, you too might walk away disappointed after paying $500+ per night at the deluxe properties and not having access to the full normal list of amenities.
Because of capacity restrictions, there may be a wait to get in the pool, you won’t have traditional housekeeping and could experience delays at mealtime due to reduced options that create bottlenecks. If I were taking a longer trip to Disney, I would likely change resort hotels after three nights or so. This probably isn’t what Disney hopes you’ll do, but it would allow you access to a clean room. Additionally, the reduced amenities and closed restaurants may not bother you as much when you get a fresh slate to work with at a new resort after a few nights.
Related: These are our favorite Disney resort hotels
A stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel is typically an extended part of the magic of the theme parks. And while many things have changed from a pre-pandemic reality, I can safely say that Disney resort stays continue to be one of the highlights of my trips to Disney. Things aren’t yet back to normal at the Disney resorts, but if you know what to expect, you can still have a magical stay.
Featured image by author
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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