One of the things we like to stress around here is that there are ways to have fun at Walt Disney World that don't break the bank. Yes, theme park admission is expensive and, yes, once you get inside, you still have all kinds of costs like food, souvenirs, and any unforeseen sundry necessities. However, if you stay outside the parks, there's plenty you can do for a fraction of the cost – or even for free.
One such activity is called “resort hopping.” Disney's resort hotels are so well designed and themed, they can be considered attractions unto themselves. As such, passionate Disney fans love exploring and seeing these gorgeous accommodations, even if they aren't staying there themselves. Resort hopping usually involves using Disney's transportation to go from resort to resort, experiencing all of the awesome details of each new location along the way.
While resort hopping is fun no matter what, there are a few things you can do to make your experience even better:
1. Put together a plan
As George Orwell once wrote: Every Disney hotel is awesome in its own way, but some are more awesome than others (that is how that quote goes, right?). Because of this, you'll want to prioritize which hotels you want to visit, and in what order you'd like to visit them. Unlike the theme parks, there's far less structure to your day when you're resort hopping, and so more decisions are in your hands.
The simplest way to do this is to choose hotels that are connected by a particularly convenient mode of transportation. The monorail hotels near the Magic Kingdom are a great place to explore easily, as are the hotels around Crescent Lake between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. There are other clusters worth checking out as well (the two Port Orleans hotels are connected with the Saratoga Springs Resort and with Downtown Disney/Disney Springs), but the easiest way to do it is to plan to visit hotels that are within walking distance of one another.
Having a plan and knowing which hotels you want to visit (and in what order you'd like to visit them) can help keep travel time between them to a minimum. Which, in turn, keeps the stress level down on what should be a very relaxing day.
2. Make a breakfast reservation
Disney does not actively discourage resort hopping. To them, any more time guests spend on property is a good thing as it will likely cause them to spend more money (I'm guilty there...). Or, at the very least, feel more loyalty toward the brand and encourage them to return. As such, no one will yell at you for visiting a resort at which you are not staying as a guest. So, you really needn't worry about that.
Parking, on the other hand...
Disney doesn't like giving guests free parking. Despite the fact that they have an enormous plot of land in central Florida, to them, the square footage taken up by your car is strangely valuable real estate. For this reason, Disney discontinued direct bus service between the theme parks and Downtown Disney – guests would park there and take the bus to avoid paying the fee.
And so, if you aren't staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you might not be able to park at just any resort. Unless, of course, you have a dining reservation there.
My personal favorite way of doing this is to book a breakfast reservation at one hotel in a cluster (say, Tonga Toast at the Kona Cafe in Disney's Polynesian Village Resort), and then enjoy the rest of my resort hopping experience from there, knowing my car is located in a convenient (and, effectively, free) parking space. Sure, I'm paying Disney money, but instead of being given the privilege of leaving my car unattended in the hot sun, I'm getting deep-fried stuffed french toast. And the hot sun thing.
There are other options for resort hopping, of course, and many rely either on your own patience with Disney's bus system or the discretion of the security guards (if you're staying off-site to begin with), and so the easiest way to eliminate the hassle is just to schedule a breakfast stop.