Our 2015 Walt Disney World trip – Part 2: Staying on-site, staying off-site, and tips for buying Disney souvenirs up to 70% off

Disclosure:  I attended the 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. I paid for my and my family’s transportation and conference admission, which included lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, discounted park tickets, some meals and many special events. We chose to extend our 4-day conference trip for three more days after the conference ended for a total of seven days in Disney. We paid for all expenses on the post-conference portion of the trip, and this post details our vacation experiences. This post contains affiliate links.

This is Part 2 of our 2015 Walt Disney World Vacation trip report! Read “Part 1: MagicBands, Memory Maker, park days and downtown days” at this link.

Our resorts:  Disney’s Yacht Club resort and the Downtown Disney Hilton Lake Buena Vista

Disney's Yacht Club Resort

The 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration was held at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. This is one of Disney’s deluxe resorts, and it’s located right behind the Epcot Center world showcase. We’ve stayed all over Walt Disney World, but we’d never stayed here! We spent three nights of our 7-day trip here.

The entire resort has a nautical theme — my daughter even said “I feel like I’m on a cruise ship!” during our stay. And, like a ship, the resort has its own captain! He’ll greet you when you enter the lobby:

Yacht Club Resort captain

This resort can be pricey (typically $350-$400/night or more depending on dates and seasons) but its location cannot be beat. We have family friends who stay at the Yacht Club each time they go, and me, ever mindful of vacation budgets (even other people’s!) once asked them why they always pick this resort. One of them replied, “Because I can walk to France every night, buy a delicious pastry, and walk back along the water’s edge, eating and enjoying it. “Location, location, location.

Indeed, both the Yacht Club and its sister resort, the Beach Club, occupy some of the most desirable real estate on the Disney property. (I’d add Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resorts to that list too – all five resorts circle the same lake and waterway, and all five are within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.) 

Disney's Yacht Club resort room

Our room came with two queen beds and a twin daybed — perfect for our family of five. It also had a refrigerator, a desk area and a balcony. We ended up with a great view too overlooking the water, and we could see Epcot’s Illuminations fireworks from our balcony on the nights we were in our room early (only one – we stayed and played late in the parks most nights.) 

Disney's Yacht Club resort balcony

The Yacht and Beach Club also share the most incredible pool on Disney property – Stormalong Bay. Stormalong Bay could more accurately be called a small water park (it spans three acres) and it’s only for the use of Yacht and Beach Club guests. We previously peeked at Stormalong Bay on our last trip when we had dinner at one of the Yacht Club restaurants, and our oldest kids remembered how much they’d wanted to swim here!

Stormalong Bay

It’s difficult to do Stormalong Bay justice in photos because it’s so large. Stormalong Bay features the longest waterslide at a Disney resort, its own lazy river, and a meandering series of shallow and deep pools that are connected by waterways an and over-the-water bridges. The best part? Stormalong Bay is a sand-bottom pool. I’d never experienced anything like it prior to this trip. 

Stormalong Bay

Yes, he’s IN the pool. This pool has all of the fun of a beach with the crystal-clear water of a pool. One area has a beach and zero-depth entry, while others have traditional-style pool entry with stairs and ladders.

The pool’s waterslide begins at the top of a boat that’s been “shipwrecked” on the shores of the Yacht & Beach Club: 

Stormalong Bay

Stormalong Bay

I particularly liked going down the waterslide, pluging off – and then, when you’d normally expect the heels of your feet to hit the bottom, they’d smoosh into a cushioning bed of sand.

Stormalong Bay slide

 

Stormalong Bay

We gathered that Stormalong Bay is also one of the pools people try to sneak into often (pool-hopping is not allowed at Disney resorts) and security is tight. Guests need two wristbands to enter the swim area — your Disney MagicBand and a separate Stormalong Bay wristband.

We spent three fantastic nights at the Yacht Club, and I have to say that staying in such close proximity to the parks does spoil you more than a bit. As the resorts are connected to Epcot and the Studios by waterways, you can also take boats to either destination. Most days, though, we walked along the boardwalk and paved paths right to the parks.

Disney's Yacht Club

As excited as we were about staying at the Yacht Club, we decided to extend the remainder of our trip at a different resort. It’s worth noting that if you switch resorts in the middle of a Disney stay, Disney’s staff will take care of moving your luggage to another Disney-owned resort for you, so an on-property switch is pretty painless.

One blogger at the event noted that they were switching resorts simply to stay closer to another park for the remainder of her family’s trip – Walt Disney World is about the size of Manhattan (really! Getting around between different parks, resorts or attractions can take 30 minutes or more depending on your mode of transportation) and she opted to move to the Contemporary Resort, where again, she could simply walk from that resort to the Magic Kingdom or take the monorail. Other bloggers were moving to more value-friendly resorts, while others simply wanted to change destinations and take in the theming of a different Disney resort – they’re all amazing and unique.

Downtown Disney Hilton

© Hilton

For the remainder of our vacation, we chose to stay at the Downtown Disney Hilton Lake Buena Vista. I have to confess that when I booked this resort, I felt like I was “cheating” on Disney..! On every Walt Disney World trip I’ve ever taken in my life, prior to this one, I’ve stayed on property at a Disney-owned resort. There are so many perks to staying at a Disney property:

  • Disney’s Magical Express transportation will bus you from Orlando’s MCO airport to your Disney resort and back, free of charge.
  • Extra Magic Hours: Disney resort guests get an extra 1-2 hours in the parks each day.
  • Sending souvenirs to your room: Go shopping in a Disney park, and Disney will deliver your purchases to your room so you don’t have to carry them around the parks.
  • “Magical” touches: If you use the wake-up call on your Disney resort telephone, a Disney character will call your room to wake you up. We do this on every single trip, whether we need wake-up calls or not, because our kids get such a kick out of guessing who will call each day! Baymax from Big Hero 6 was their favorite caller on this trip.
    We also noticed something new since our last stay – Disney bedtime stories on the in-room TV. Duffy the Disney Bear reads stories to your kids at bedtime on a special resort-only channel. Do you think my children, at 7, 10, and 19, were too old to enjoy this? Nope. They weren’t.
  • Many Disney resorts also have on-site activities for families, like movie nights, pool parties/dances, poolside bingo, fishing, and campfires. Years ago, we used to make a point of always going to Fort Wilderness on at least one night of the trip to enjoy their campfire-and-movie program. Now, quite a few other Disney resorts do it too. We had a campfire each night at the Yacht Club, and they also set up a movie screen on the beach outside the resort for beachside Disney movies each night.  Because of the many free entertainment options, we love visiting different Disney resorts on our trips, even if we’re not staying at them – each resort has unique theming and dining options too, and some have additional free entertainment options that you won’t want to miss either, like…

Disney's Electrical Water Pageant

Disney’s Electrical Water Pageant. It’s been running on Bay Lake at the resort since 1971 and is one of the very few opening-year shows to continue operating at Walt Disney World. This electrical water parade floats between Disney’s Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridan, Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness resorts, with some appearances at the Magic Kingdom too. Each float lights up with motion and accompanying music, and it’s just one of those little magical, free things worth seeking out at least once on a trip.

One night on this trip, my oldest son and I went to Fort Wilderness to watch it from the beach (his little brother was exhausted and went to bed before we went out for a night out!)  The next night, the whole family walked from the Magic Kingdom to the Disney’s Contemporary Resort to watch this pageant from their beach. You can find a schedule for the water pageant on Disney’s site.

So why did we move to an off-site hotel?

In every Disney tips post or email I’ve ever shared with anyone, “Stay on property” has always been my #1 tip. So why was I “cheating” on Disney this time?

Hilton Honors points. This decision truly was a financial one. I had accrued enough Hilton HHonors points to cover the rest of our Disney nights free of charge, turning a 4-day trip into a 7-day trip. I’ve written about the perks of Hilton’s hotel loyalty points before, and my Hilton credit card that I use for all of my business expenses earns HHonors points that I can redeem for free stays at Hilton properties.

(The expensive reality of blogging:  my blog’s monthly server costs and related expenses are substantial enough to rack up a couple of nights’ worth of HHonors points each year.) So, it came down to dollars – why pay when I had enough points to redeem for a free room? 

Downtown Disney Hilton

I’m happy to report that the Downtown Disney Hilton is very nice too. No, it doesn’t have the transports-you-to-somewhere-else theming of a Disney resort, but you are greeted with a large Mickey statue in the lobby and a Disney Store on the ground floor of the hotel:

Hilton Disney store

There’s even a Disney character breakfast on Sundays right at this Hilton — a great on-site option for a character meal if that’s something you’re interested in.

This Hilton is on of the few non-Disney-owned resorts that participates in Disney’s Extra Magic Hours too – one of the biggest perks for on-property Disney guests. We’ve found that going into the parks, or staying beyond the parks’ closing, for an extra few hours can really help knock out some of the rides with longer lines and really maximize our theme-park-commando days. (If you’re curious, the other resorts that participate in Extra Magic Hours are the Swan and Dolphin hotels near Disney’s Yacht Club and Boardwalk resorts.)

Room at Disney Hilton

Downtown Disney Hilton Lake Buena Vista

The rooms at the Hilton are spacious, and each one comes with a desk area, several armchairs and a refrigerator.

DVD kiosk in Disney Hilton

Had we paid, the price for our room would have been $179/night. Hilton does charge a $24.95 resort fee per night on top of that, something many other hotels are doing now. I mention it because if you’re looking at rates to stay here, do remember to figure that into each night’s price too. The hotel’s resort fee includes two free movie rentals each night from the DVD kiosks located in the hotel, two free Starbucks beverages at the Starbucks located in the hotel’s lobby and other benefits.

As we were staying on HHonors points, each day’s resort fees were waived too. It’s a pretty exciting thing to receive an end-of-stay folio noting that you owe $0.00 for your entire time at the resort..!

Breakfast at Disney Hilton

Additionally, my gold status with HHonors meant that we’d enjoy free breakfasts for the duration of our stay at this hotel too.  Having one meal a day covered was another extremely budget-friendly benefit. (Many of this Hilton’s room packages include breakfast too depending on what promotions are running.)

While this Hilton is technically an “off-site” resort, its located right in the Downtown Disney/Springs area about a block from all that this area has to offer. How close is it? There’s a short path from the Hilton’s pool area that leads toward Downtown Disney. Here’s a little video I shot walking from the Hilton to the West Side of Downtown Disney: 

Note the over-the-road bridges that are being constructed in this area. With the enormous expansion of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs taking place right now, there are also many traffic-flow improvements for both vehicles and pedestrians going on in this area. By the end of this year, this walk will be even easier and won’t necessitate crossing a street at a crosswalk or walking around the construction barricades. In fact, we witnessed a crew dropping one of the overhead bridges into place with a crane one morning.

Disney Hilton pool

The Downtown Disney Hilton Lake Buena Vista also has a gorgeous pool area – I’ve never been to a hotel that had two enormous pools located side-by-side like this one does! One pool was heated, and the other was not.

Hilton pool

The Hilton also has a kiddie pool and two hot tubs perched among decorative rocks. Hammocks in palm trees dot the area. We really enjoyed relaxing here after our park days came to an end.

Hilton hot tubs

Getting Around:

Disney’s Magical Express:  When you stay at a Disney-owned resort, you don’t need to worry about renting a car. Disney’s Magical Express buses pick you up at the Orlando airport and deliver you and your luggage right to your resort. Disney sends luggage tags to you prior to your trip. Put them on your bags, check your luggage, and you won’t need to worry about it again until it shows up in your hotel room. The bus trip’s a fun one for kids, as the buses are equipped with televisions streaming Disney cartoons and video of resort attractions.

Disney's Magical Express

Part of the Magical Express service also includes flight check-ins. When I booked our reservations at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, I was asked to provide our flight info. If you will also be returning to the airport via Magical Express, Disney will automatically check you in for your return flight and slip your boarding passes under your door on the day of check-out:

Disney's Magical Express boarding pass

They really do think of everything! This boarding pass belongs to our daughter, who headed back home at the end of our Yacht Club stay. (College and work commitments prevented her from accompanying us on our Hilton days of the trip.) She took the Magical Express bus back to the airport while we checked out of the Yacht Club and prepared to make our way over to the Hilton.

One downside to staying off-site at the Hilton (or anywhere else): Non-Disney-owned hotels do not participate in Disney’s Magical Express, so we knew we’d be on our own to get back to the airport. You can only use Magical Express to return to the airport on the day you check out of a Disney resort.

Disney’s internal bus system also does not run to the Hilton. The Hilton has its own busing system that takes guests from the hotel to Disney’s Transportation and Ticket center, where guests can then board a monorail, boat or bus to their park destinations.  

Disney bags

With four suitcases and quite a few bags of convention swag, our options from getting from the Yacht Club resort to the Hilton were:

  • Option 1: Board a boat or walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios from the resort, luggage in tow.
    Then, board a bus to the Ticket and Transportation Center.
    Finally, board a bus to the Hilton.
  • Option 2: Accept the Yacht Club concierge’s offer to call us a cab. $13 later, we arrived at the Hilton with all of our luggage.

At the end of our vacation, we knew returning to the airport from the Hilton was going to cost us a little money — again, because we could not take the Magical Express bus back to the airport.  After researching prices for airport shuttles, most of which were $20-$22 per person, we decided to rent a car instead. There’s an Avis car rental located in the lobby of the Downtown Disney Hilton. It’s an on-site rental, so the cars are right on property at the hotel – you aren’t transported to an offsite lot to pick up your car.

Our car rental was $31 and change, which was cheaper than paying for four airport shuttle tickets. (Returning your car at Orlando International Airport is easy too – it’s also an on-site return, so you drop the car and go right to the elevator of the airport – no shuttling you back to the airport from a rental lot.)

When I found a great rate for our car rental, we pondered over renting it earlier in the day so we could use it to get around instead of the buses. However, parking at the Hilton is an additional $15/day, and now that we were staying at an off-site hotel, we’d also have had to pay $17/day to park at the Disney parks. We decided not to pick up the car until we checked out of our hotel on the afternoon of our departure. 

One last thought on staying off-site: For us, having our on-site portion of the trip take place before the off-site portion also meant that our Disney MagicBands were free (they’re $12.95 each if you aren’t staying on-property and opt to buy them at the parks, but they’re free if you stay at a Disney-owned resort.) We continued to use the same bands we received as part of our Yacht Club reservation for the remainder of our stay, as the park passes and FastPasses remained active on them after we checked out of our Disney hotel and moved to the Hilton. 

 


 

Disney Character Warehouse

Best-kept secret for saving on Disney souvenirs: Disney Character Warehouse

Having a car also afforded us the option to visit one of the best-kept secrets in Disney vacation souvenirs: Disney Character Warehouse stores! There are two clearance outlets for Disney Parks merchandise, and both aren’t too far from Walt Disney World:

Disney’s Character Warehouse
Orlando International Premium Outlets (About 20 minutes from WDW)
4951 International Drive
Orlando, FL 32819
Once at the mall, enter at the middle pathway and head toward the Nautica and Gap outlet stores. Disney is right next to the Gap — store #95 (map)

Disney’s Character Warehouse 
Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets (About 10 minutes from WDW)
8200 Vineland Avenue
Orlando, FL 32821
Once inside, look near the Plaza Del Sol food court – it’s store #1252 (map)

Disney Character Warehouse

We discovered the Disney Character Warehouse on our last trip to Orlando five years ago when my husband’s cousin, who lives in the area, took us there. On that trip, we went to the Vineland store, which is located inside a large indoor shopping mall. This time, we visited the International Drive location, which is located in the enormous Orlando International Premium Outlets outdoor mall. 

If you have lots of friends and family members on your Disney souvenir list, either one of these stores is worth a stop. You never know just what’s going to be on sale, but we scored some great bargains on our previous and on this trip too. Signs in the windows advertised that park merchandise is up to 70% off original prices.

Disney Character Warehouse

These men’s tees had Disney parks price tags stating $24.95 and $36.95. At the Character Warehouse? Just $4.99 each!

Disney Character Warehouse

This girl’s tee was originally $27.95 at Walt Disney World. Here, it’s $12.99.

Disney Character Warehouse

There were several racks of $4.99 kids’ tees, sweatshirts, pants and shorts too — our boys were thrilled to pick out souvenir shirts for themselves and their cousins. These stores are so much fun to browse too — you never know what you’ll find! They typically contain closeout merchandise, discontinuing designs, or overstocks. 

Disney Vera Bradley

My mom loves Vera Bradley bags, and Disney has some Vera purses and totes on their website at typical Vera prices – $75.00 and up. But at the Character Warehouse?

Disney Character Warehouse Vera Bradley

I bought my mom the Vera Bradley “Where’s Mickey?” Hipster bag for under $20 – what a crazy-good deal!

Duffy the Disney Bear

We even saw Star Wars merchandise on sale at the Character Warehouse that we’d previously spotted in the Disney parks a few days earlier – but the prices were better here! My son chose this Duffy bear who had a Star Wars Weekend shirt and a Yoda-ears hat on (Star Wars Weekends were just beginning the week of our trip.) Duffy was $19.99 in the park — here, he was $9.99. 

We even bought postcards here – a steal.

Disney postcards

(I’m guessing these postcards were priced low because the Test Track cars have been redesigned. But at .09? All good by me. )

You can even pay for your merchandise at the Character Warehouse with your Disney MagicBand if you’re staying at a Disney resort – there are touch points to pay with your band at each store register.

Disney Character Warehouse

Just in looking at the tags from the shirts we purchased, we bought $159.70 worth of shirts for $59.85!

If you have a rental car (or friends/family willing to take you to one of these stores, or opt to take a taxi or public transportation) either one of the Character Warehouse stores are definitely worth checking out on your Disney trip! 

Hope you enjoyed this trip report! It was wonderful to return to Walt Disney World. At 7, 10, and 19, all three kids aree at great ages to participate in all of the trip-planning, and the youngest ones are tall enough to ride all of the attractions and old enough to remember all the memories we made on this trip.

Also see:

Disclosure:  I attended the 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. I paid for my and my family’s transportation and conference admission, which included lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, discounted park tickets, some meals and many special events. We chose to extend our 4-day conference trip for three more days after the conference ended for a total of seven days in Disney. We paid for all expenses on the post-conference portion of the trip, and this post details our vacation experiences. This post contains affiliate links.

Comments

  1. says

    6/25/15 update: The Downtown Disney Hilton Lake Buena Vista has special rates running for August 2015: $79/night rates August 16-22, 2015!

    August 9-15, it’s $89/night. Remember that there’s a $24.95/night resort fee added to this (includes daily Starbucks, free movie rentals & more explained above), so you’re at $103.95 for the lowest rate, but this is still a great rate for this luxurious hotel. This Hilton also participates in Extra Magic Hours at the Disney parks, so you get the same benefits of early/late park hours as Disney resort guests do.

  2. Rich says

    Thanks for the great trip report! We are going to stay at the Hilton in November, also using up some Hhonors points.
    Can you tell me how the extra magic hours works when you’re staying at Hilton instead of a Disney resort? Since there aren’t any dates/resort information printed on your ticket, how do the Disney folks know that you “belong” in the park during extra magic hours?

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