Walt Disney World is so vast, with so many accommodation options, that making a final decision about where to stay can be quite a task. Some folks find the decision so challenging that they skip making a final call altogether and instead decide to divide their stay between two or more hotels. This not uncommon practice is called a “split stay” and it comes with a host of things to consider. We’ll help you decide whether a split stay will give you the best of both worlds or a double-size headache.
Why might I consider having a split stay?
There are a number of reasons why you might consider bunking at two or more hotels during your Disney World visit:
- Availability. You may have your heart set on a particular hotel, but rooms there are not available for your entire vacation.
- Budgetary constraints. You have deluxe tastes, but not a deluxe wallet. You can satisfy both needs by staying at one more and one less expensive hotel during your trip.
- Attractiveness of multiple hotels. You may simply like the location or amenities of more than one hotel. You can sample them all with a split stay.
- Change in your party composition. If part of your vacation is alone and part is with the in-laws, you may have different resort priorities for each leg of the trip.
- Arrival/departure time. If you’re arriving at WDW late at night, you can economize a bit, by staying at a lesser resort for your first “sleep only” night.
- Business at one hotel, vacation at another. Some guests may arrive at WDW for a conference, wedding or other programed event, but stay on longer for vacation time. Different hotels may suit these different purposes.
How exactly do I make a split stay reservation?
If you’d like to reserve online, then simply make two completely separate reservations, having the second one start on the day that the first one ends. You’ll end up with two confirmation numbers and two sets of email/paperwork.
I’ve personally found it a bit easier to make split stay reservations over the phone (407-W-DISNEY). To me, there’s something comforting about taking to an actual person when I’m trying to make a reservation that’s even slightly complicated, but really that’s up to you.
I won’t have a car with me, how can I move my bags from my first resort to my second?
No worries, Disney can take care of that for you. On the morning that you’re done with your first hotel (Hotel A), check out and bring your luggage to the Bell Services desk. Tell them that you’ll be moving to your second hotel (Hotel B). Bell Services will tag your bags for transfer and give you a receipt. You can then be off on your merry way to enjoy some park touring.
Later in the afternoon or evening, when you’re done with park touring or need a break, take Disney transportation directly to Hotel B. Check in there and then head to Hotel B Bell Services. Give them your luggage receipt and let them know that you had bags transferred from Hotel A. They’ll find your bags and either hand them over to you or ask you if you need assistance getting them to your room.
You should know that bag transfer from Hotel A to Hotel B usually takes several hours. In most cases, your luggage won’t arrive at Hotel B until mid to late afternoon, possibly even after check-in time. If there are items that you’ll need during the day, be sure to keep them with you while your luggage is being transferred. This may be one of those times when renting a theme park locker could be helpful.
If you’re doing close budgeting, you should factor in that you will have a few more people to tip when you hand over your bags for transfer and when you collect your bags at Hotel B.
Anything else I should consider about the physical move from Hotel A to Hotel B?
Even though Disney makes resort transfer pretty darn easy, you will use up at least a bit of time mid-trip with packing, checking in, and then unpacking again.
If your party consists of just an adult or two, with minimal gear, traveling during the off season, there may be less than an hour of “wasted” time. If you’ve got several small children, with loads of paraphernalia, traveling Christmas week, this might take three or four hours, or more.
Personally, when I’ve had a split stay traveling on my own, I’ve barely even registered the move because it all goes to seamlessly. But one of my worst Disney vacation memories ever was trying to repack the luggage of my three preschool daughters during a mid-trip resort transfer. Everyone wanted to go somewhere fun, but I was busy hunting for hairbands and socks that had migrated under the beds. Don’t even get me started about the worry that everyone’s stuffed animals, sticker books, and pressed pennies made the trip. I then had to unpack all this detritus at Hotel B and then repack again a few days later. For me, that particular split stay ended up being more trouble than it was worth.
I want to spend a few nights at a value resort and a few at a deluxe resort. Which order should I do them in?
Obviously this is a matter of personal preference and resort availability, but given the choice, I’d always make the nicer hotel my last hotel. To me, it’s a bit of let down to go from posh to pedestrian. If you stay at the nicest hotel last, then you’ve still got something to look forward to during the first part of your vacation. I’ve also found that the memories made toward the end of a trip are the ones that tend to stay with me the longest.
Can I use the Magical Express bus service if I have a split stay?
You sure can. However, this is slightly complicated to set up online. Your best bet is to call Magical Express directly to set up your airport transportation. The phone number is 866-599-0951.
When I’ve used Magical Express with a split stay, I’ve received two separate transportation voucher booklets in the mail, arriving several days apart, so don’t worry if yours don’t come all at once. If you have any doubts/questions about your pick-up from Hotel B, feel free to stop by the resort concierge desk or call Magical Express at any time.
Can I use the Disney Dining Plan if I have a split stay?
Use of the Disney Dining Plan is perhaps the most complicated part of a split stay.
Remember that the DDP can only be purchased as part of a package that includes a hotel stay, park tickets, and the Dining Plan. If you have a split stay, your packages will be completely separate. There is no “roll over” of Dining Plan credits from the first part of your trip to the second. You’ll have to keep close tabs on your credits to make sure that your meal selection doesn’t have you over- or under-spending credits during what Disney considers to be two totally separate vacations.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who’s been thinking about using the Dining Plan, but isn’t quite sure, then a split stay can be a good Dining Plan test experience. Get the DDP for just one half of your stay and then use the knowledge gained from that to inform future Dining Plan decisions.
Wait, you said that if I get the Dining Plan, I have to get park tickets. How is my ticket situation impacted by a split stay?
First let’s discuss split stay park tickets without the Dining Plan. In the best of all possible worlds, you have an annual pass or have purchased park tickets for your entire stay from an outside vendor. This keeps your room key (Key to the World Card) and park tickets totally separate, thus cutting down on confusion. (Also, be aware that in most cases annual pass holders are not required to purchase additional park tickets when getting the Dining Plan.)
If you’d like to purchase park tickets through Disney, you’ll do this with the first room reservation of your split stay. Let’s say you’re staying for eight days, four at All Star Sports and four at the Polynesian. When you make your All Star reservation, add park tickets for the full eight days. It is MUCH cheaper to buy an eight day ticket rather than two four day tickets ($512 for two separate four day adult tickets vs. $298 for one eight day adult ticket). You can have the front desk at All Star Sports add your eight day ticket to your Key to the World Card. However, you’ll get a new KTTW Card when you check into the Poly. So, for the second half of your stay, your park tickets will be on your old room key, even though you’ve checked out. (This definitely works. I recently used a water park ticket that was encoded onto a KTTW Card from a stay at Port Orleans in 2003.)
If you want to use the Disney Dining Plan, the ticket situation becomes more complicated. If you have a bit of financial flexibility and you’ll be back at WDW for a visit in the future, then you should proceed as above, getting the All Star room, the eight day park ticket, and four nights of the DDP during your first stay. To get the DDP during the second half of your split stay, you’ll also need to buy a park ticket. (Remember, the DDP is only available as part of a package that includes a room, the Dining Plan, AND park tickets.) For the Polynesian part of your stay, get the room, the Dining Plan and one day of tickets. YOU WILL NOT USE THESE TICKETS NOW. Unused Disney park tickets do not expire. You can use that excess one day ticket for a one day visit in the future or apply its value to the purchase of a multi-day ticket.
If you want to use the DDP for both parts of your split stay, but won’t be returning to WDW, in the example above your best option would be to get a seven day park ticket at the All Stars and then a one day ticket at the Poly. This would cost you $377 in park tickets vs the $289 that you would have spent had you been able to get one ticket for all eight days. That’s a substantial jump, particularly if you have several people in your traveling party. You’ll want to think hard about whether any benefits of having the Dining Plan outweigh this cost. If I were in these hypothetical shoes, I’d get the DDP for only the first half of my split stay and pay out of pocket for food during the second half. The savings in park tickets alone is enough to cover the cost of a nice signature meal.
Are there other financial implications to a split stay?
Since you have two reservations, you’ll have to pay two deposits up front, and will have to be aware of two sets of cancellation policies, etc. If the initial deposit outlay is an issue, then a split stay might not be right for you.
On a related note … I have fixed travel dates. I’d like to take advantage of a promotion (discount rate, free dining, etc.) that’s only available for part of my visit. Can I do this? Can I do this and stay at the same hotel?
Possibly, but it may entail making two separate bookings, one for the part of your trip where the promotion is available and one for the part where it is not. This will bring up some of the same issues as a split stay, even if you’re staying at the same resort. You’ll have to check out/in during the middle of your trip, for example.
Since you will come up in the computer system as having two bookings, the room assignment office might inadvertently put you in two different rooms for the different parts of your trip. If you’d like to stay in the same room, be sure to make this request in advance. You should also have a nice long chat with the front desk of your hotel up arrival. Be aware that there may be some circumstances where you will have to change rooms mid-stay.
Anything else to think about?
When having a split stay, it probably makes sense to tailor your park touring around your resort location. For example, if you’re spending a few days at the Pop then a few days at the Contemporary, make your Chef Mickey’s reservation during the Contemporary part of your stay. Similarly, if you have some time at an Epcot area resort, be sure to do your touring of Epcot and Hollywood Studios during that part of your trip. Smart planning like this can easily making up for any touring time you lost in the resort transfer process.
Also remember that having two “arrival dates” and confirmation numbers may impact your ability to make dining reservations. I have a split stay arranged for this coming Christmas. We’re arriving late and thus have made our first night at a less expensive resort and then will move to a deluxe. At the 180 day mark from our arrival, I was all set to make dining reservation for the full seven days of our stay. However, given that my first confirmation number only covered a one-day stay, the computer system only allowed me to make reservations for the first day of the trip, effectively boxing me out of the “180 + 10″ benefit of booking at a Disney resort. I had to come back the next day to make the meal reservations for the rest of the trip. (I did get the 180+10 benefit then because my second resort confirmation number covered more days.)
So my weary travelers, have you ever split your stay between two Disney resorts? Did you find it easy or challenging? What have your experiences been? Let us know in the comments below.