The Pros and Cons of Disney World Online Check-In

by on March 1, 2016 32 Comments

Filed under: Recent News, Walt Disney World (FL)

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.

It's particularly easy for guests arriving by car at a moderate or value resort to bypass the check in desk entirely.

It’s particularly easy for guests arriving by car at a moderate or value resort to bypass the check in desk entirely.

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 resort's mood starts in the lobby. You may be losing something if you skip it.

The resort’s mood starts in the lobby. You may be losing something if you skip it.

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.

If you use online check-in to go directly to your room, be sure you don't miss out on information about resort activities.

If you use online check-in to go directly to your room, be sure you don’t miss out on information about resort activities.

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?

Posted on March 1, 2016

32 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Disney World Online Check-In”

  • I’ve checked in online several times. (Once was during the “testing phase” of magic bands, so I don’t take that instance into consideration.) Never once has it gone smoothly. Every single time, I’ve had to go to the main building and give my credit card info again and reset my pin. Otherwise, it’s not bad.

  • I’ve always avoided online check-in, because I’m picky about my room. Unless I’m right there at the front desk with someone showing me the room on a map, I don’t know if that’s the room I want. And if it isn’t the room I want, I can change it right away. With online check-in, by the time you find out your room number, there probably isn’t much selection if you don’t like it and want to switch.

    • We used the Touring Plans room request service that comes with the subscription. It worked perfectly. We got THE exact room we requested. I understand it isn’t always guaranteed, but it worked like a dream for us.

    • I agree. I like to pick my room as well. I tried the Touring Plans room request and did not get the requested room. Glad I was able to participate in the room selection.

  • So if you are using Magical Express and staying a the All-Stars, can you go directly from the airport to CR and walk to the MK? Or must you go to your home resort on Magical Express from the airport?

  • Our last two trips the credit card and pin were also not saved correctly in the system. Thankfully we had our credit card with us at the park! We still do online check in but we plan to stop at the front desk on day one at some point to check our credit card and always keep a card with us until that point. One cast member told me it was almost 50% of the time that the card for charging doesn’t save correctly using online check in. Love the text when the room is ready though!

  • I’ve only ever done online check in, and it has been perfect each time, I’ve gotten the text and gone straight to our room. And we used three TP fax and gotten what we wanted

  • I’ve used online check in and all has been great except getting the text. Not once in the last 5 times I have checked in have I gotten the text that my room is ready. Instead we call the “room ready” number and they tell us our room number and if it is ready.

    • Same here…I have never rec’d the mythological “room ready text” on our last 5 trips at 3 different resorts (Beach, Yacht, and Boardwalk)

  • On my last trip to the World (Nov, 2015) I opted in for the online check in. To say it did not go smoothly would be a huge understatement. We landed in Orlando after 5pm and took Magical Express. I never received a text message, so I went to front desk at All Star Sports and waited. While the line wasn’t that long, I had to wait for quite some time as they only had one person working the front desk, and everyone in front of me in line seemed to be having some issues. When we got to the desk, everything seemed fine. Disney service at it’s best. Our room was less desirable than I had hoped though, way in the back with a view of nothing but a parking lot, but oh well. But our bags were nowhere to be found. We went to dinner at Disney Springs and got back to our room late, no bags. After a few calls, they were delivered to our room, but we found out they had been delivered to another room. The next morning, while on the bus to one of the parks, I got a call from Disney asking why I didn’t check in the previous night. So I don’t know what was going on with my check in process, but I’ve never had an experience like that. Was it all due to the online check in? Who knows, but I’ll still probably opt for online check in next time.

  • I tried online once at Saratoga Springs, and had a bad experience. I was never notified about my room number, and we had a delivery from the Disney florist which didn’t arrive until 10:30.

    In future I’ll just use the front desk.

    Has anyone tried to park at the throne parks for free without already having a parking permit from the hotel?

    • I have done this. When I pulled up to the parking lot, I told the cast member that I was staying at Saratoga Springs but hadn’t been to the resort yet. She just waved me through. I did have my resort confirmation number and my MagicBand with me, so it would have been easy to verify if I had been asked, but no one ever did.

  • I checked in online during our trip in January, and I never received a text about my room at all. I went to the desk at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and they did say they were having computer issues. I do get what you’re saying about the welcome. It was nice after a long day of travel to get to the desk, be directed to the room, and start the trip. This was my first time at the AKL, so it was cool even with the lack of the text working correctly.

  • We alwsys have done online check in. This past January we did the whole bypass the front desk thing for a quick one night before our cruise. It worked fine. I do agree hou miss that front desk interaction. I did wonder about the whole not having a parking pass would work. We didn’t have an issue, but my husband was concerned so we stopped by and got it afterwards.

    • This was a big area of concern for me as well. Without the parking placard on my dash, I was afraid of getting towed. I happen to be with a friend at the front desk of a different resort and inquired about this. I was assured that this would never happen. My instinct tells me it would never happen at a value or moderate resort, but there’s a small possibility it might at a deluxe during event season (at the Beach Club during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, for example.) I did learn that you can have a parking placard printed at any resort, not just the one you’re registered at. While I don’t know for sure, I assume they could do this at a park guest services desk as well.

  • I think that once you get on the ME at the airport, they text you either way about room availability- at least, this is what has happened to me on my 3 trips since they started offering it. So at least I have an idea of whether or not my online check-in worked, but I still stop and make sure my credit card info is correct (which it rarely has been.) Overall I think it’s a great process because I can get to the pool, the parks or Disney Springs much quicker than sitting around wondering if my room is ready.

  • I feel this is just another way for Disney to reduce cast members or reduce hours. I see this as cutting into the magic little by little, by taking away that personal touch we’ve come to expect.

    • I agree – to a point. It also allows you to skip the sometimes long queue at the front desk to check in. Pick your poison as to which is less magical.

      • Lol ๐Ÿ˜€ Lines seem less magical. Who needs a 30 minute line when you’re hyped up to get Day 1 started?

        The option still is ours; we can go to the desk if preferred. I plan on going straight to our room, then visiting the lobby at a better time to pick up schedules &/or ask any questions.

    • I agree. It feels like it’s taking the personal touch away and that’s what I love about Disney. Their cheerfulness and ability to handle anything with a smile. Except the last two trips I tried to go to the front to check in and we encountered some of the poorest Disney service ever! Completely ignored by 4 front desk people at Boardwalk and then at AK barely looked up from the computer screen to greet us upon check in. Typically I like to combine online check in and the front desk greeting. Best of both worlds.

  • None of this matters so much if you’re Canadian. We would still have to go to front desk to pick up Magic bands. Not sure if online would really save us any time.

    • I’m a Canadian myself and live on a border town, I have my magic bands shipped to my mailing address on the states side and pick them up there. That being said, online check in has never gone smoothly for me. I have never received a text with my room number and my CC usually has to be re-entered into the system. One time they added it to another party who ran up all sorts of charges on my card, took most of my trip to sort that out.

      • O.o Ooh, that does not sound like fun. Being Canadian, did you apologize to the other family who were charging to your CC? Just kidding…
        Sorry, I am a misguided perpetuator of Canadian stereotypes. You Northerners are a great neighbor ๐Ÿ™‚

  • We always do online check-in but as we traveled from Argentina we still have to go to front desk to receive our magic bands. Always I felt that this help to make the process agiler. Iยดd love to try the service ever to get involved directly to your room without going trough the hotel reception.

  • For the most part, our experience with on-line check in this past December was a good one. On arrival by DME at POFQ, we were greeted by CMs outside the door of the lobby and got some minimal information. Even though we were there at 12:30, we got our room ready text just after that. We did not venture into the lobby, but went directly to our room. The magic bands worked fine to get into the room and into MK; the unpleasant surprise occurred when we tried to use the magic band to buy a snack. We discovered, on returning to the resort, that our credit card and pin information never made it to the resort. We were listed as cash only. The very pleasant person at the concierge desk fixed the problem relatively quickly, but it was certainly not the seamless first day that Disney propaganda leads a person to expect. Any future trips will definitely include a stop at check-in first.

  • Great article, I would not know this because even with Online Check-in I have to go to the front desk, maybe that is why I really didn’t feel like I missed out. The magic band can’t be shipped to Europe – well at least to Sweden, so we need to pick them up anyway. I have not notice super warm welcome? Maybe I was not on the lookout? Don’t get me wrong – nobody was rude, but I just didn’t feel any special “welcome home” kind of treatment.
    We stayed at Riverside back in May 2015, that was also my first trip.

    This May we will be at Polynesian Village – Club level – again picking up Magic Bands at front desk, so I will pay attention to the welcoming part ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I have used online checkin 3 times. When my wife and I used it, everything went fine but we do miss the magical niceties by dealing with the staff. I also used it two times with groups and it worked well but more of the magic was missing concerning special occasions. When you complete the online information you are also asked if anyone in your party has a special occasion that you want celebrated. We had first timers, birthdays and anniversaries but both visits these were ignored or handled poorly. If you have these celebrations noted make sure to use the front desk to get the special recognition. They need to think of a better way to make these events magical as part of the online checkin process.

  • We used the online checkin in September. We also requested some specifics for our room. It all worked great. Wish we could do this at all hotels.