For decades, dog lovers have had a bone to pick with Disney.
Hotels at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando have not been dog-friendly, leaving visitors who wanted to stay near Mickey Mouse no option but to board Pluto.
The closest pups could get to “the most magical place on earth” was a boarding facility at the resort, Best Friends Pet Care, or a recreational vehicle at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
On Friday, Disney announced that would change.
In what Disney is calling a “new dog-friendly trial program,” four hotels at the theme park complex starting Sunday are allowing guests to bring their well-behaved, vaccinated dogs to Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney Port Orleans Resort – Riverside, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, and the cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
“Calling all labs and boxers, pugs and terriers, poodles and beagles,” the announcement said. “The welcome mutt is out!”
Guests can bring as many as two dogs per room. And like most things at Disney, there will be a cost. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort is charging a cleaning fee of $75 a night, while the other hotels charge $50 a night.
That $50 pet fee is — perhaps not coincidentally — what hotels at Universal Orlando Resort charge. Of the five on-site hotels that Loews Hotels operates at Universal, four allow guests to stay with dogs. Universal has been expanding its hotel offerings in recent years to extend the amount of time that visitors spend at its parks and on its property.
Melissa Halliburton, founder and CEO of pet travel website BringFido, said greater Orlando has been a top 5 destination for pet owners over the 11 years since the website launched. BringFideo has even created a city called Disney World — which is not technically a city — in its database due to all the searches.
“On our site we see huge demand. I would think they’re getting way more inquiries than we do,” she said, referring to Disney.
Halliburton said that while Disney World is one of the most popular search terms, two Universal hotels are among the top 10 most-popular resorts for BringFido users in Orlando even though the hotels are expensive.
“I think a lot of people have been opting to go to Universal Studios,” she said. “They’re pet-friendly and super popular.”
Disney representatives did not respond to questions about whether there were competitive reasons for allowing dogs to stay at some of its hotels. But Halliburton thinks the popularity of Universal’s hotels was impossible to ignore.
“I think Disney does have their eye on that,” she said.
There are, of course, other pet-friendly hotels in Orlando, but guests at Disney hotels have access to the resort’s transportation network, the ability to make reservations earlier than the general public for popular rides, and get extra hours in parks just for guests.
Cara Goldsbury, chief executive concierge at Disney-focused travel agency Glass Slipper Concierge and author of The Luxury Guide to Disney Vacations, said she has had very few requests for a pet-friendly resort in more than 35 years. Travel agents at the company also get minimal requests.
But she acknowledged the pet-friendly policy has been in place at Universal for years and said reaction to the Disney news seems to be mixed so far. Some clients are thrilled by the prospect, she said, while others are worried about allergies.
“It does seem to be the trend these days,” she said in an email. “I do think it’s a nice option, but certainly not a game changer by any means.”
Travel companies have been making more efforts to win the business of pet owners in recent years, with more accommodating hotel policies and even pet-friendly train travel on Amtrak. The American Pet Product Association says between 37 and 47 percent of Americans own a dog. And a TripAdvisor survey of more than 1,100 travelers found that 53 percent of pet owners who responded travel with their pets, and 52 percent would only stay at pet-friendly properties.
Halliburton said that if Disney is hoping to cater to millennial guests, dog-friendly hotel policies are a good strategy. On her site, 70 percent of customers are millennials and more than 90 percent are going on road trips and looking for places they can reach in a day.
A South Carolina resident, Halliburton said she will visit one of the dog-friendly hotels with her husband, dogs Roxy the pug-Chihuahua and Ace the lab-greyhound, “and one human” — their 8-year-old son — next week to check out the amenities.
“At different hotels, there’s just a different level of welcoming the pets, which I imagine Disney will do really well,” she said.
For its part, Disney said the resorts will have easy access to pet relief areas and exercise areas outdoors, where pups must stay leashed. At check-in, dogs will receive a “Pluto’s Welcome Kit,” which includes a mat, bowls, a pet ID tag, waste pick-up bags, puppy pads, dog walking maps, and a “Do Not Disturb” door hanger to alert staff that a pet is in the room.
“Their dog gets to have the Pluto package,” Halliburton said. “If they’re a big Disney fan, that might matter to them.”