by Passholder Diva
Growing up in South Florida, I visited Disney World quite often as a kid. This was in the days before the resort expanded to include Value and Moderate accommodations, so the only way we *ever* stayed on property before I was an adult was if we took our camper and stayed at Fort Wilderness. I continued my love affair with all things Disney into adulthood, and as a poor college kid and then an equally poor college graduate, I would visit and stay at one of the extremely affordable, yet definitely rundown, motels that line Irlo Bronson Highway and International Drive. My epiphany about staying on Disney property occurred just over 15 years ago, right after 9/11, but it was not completely cemented in my brain until this past March.
Right after 9/11, attendance at Walt Disney World (and indeed tourist attractions worldwide) dropped precipitously. So, Disney offered some great deals, especially for those associated with the military, to lure folks back to the resorts and the parks. My husband and I, newly married and of course on a tight budget, stayed at All Star Sports in January of 2002. We followed that up with stays at Port Orleans Riverside, Pop Century, Port Orleans French Quarter, and All Star Music. When my husband was deployed and came home on R&R leave, we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Then we got a conference rate at the Beach Club. I was completely hooked, and we have now stayed on property so many times I actually can’t remember every trip!
But then I strayed: we got a new puppy, and I didn’t want to leave her in a kennel during a long-planned birthday trip this March where my daughter got to eat lunch with an Imagineer. We decided to stay off-property, at a pet friendly Holiday Inn that was a mere 1.8 miles from Disney Springs, and 4.5 miles from the entrance to Hollywood Studios. How bad could it be? Turns out, pretty awful.
Here are the reasons I will never stay off property again:
The traffic in Orlando is bad. Really bad. Something that should take, say, 6 minutes according to Google maps can morph into a 45-minute odyssey. This was our experience when we went to Cirque du Soleil in Disney Springs and then tried to drive back to our hotel, not even 2 miles down the road. We also like to occasionally take breaks during the day, and this trip we had a puppy to tend to. It took twice as long as when we stay on property to go back to the hotel for a rest and then head back to the parks. I estimate each trip back and forth to from the hotel to the parks took us an additional hour. At least.
If you aren’t staying on property and don’t happen to have an Annual Pass like we do, parking at the parks will run you $20 per day, so you need to add that into your cost analysis if staying off-property at first seems like it’s much more affordable. Plus, we had never before tried to park at Disney Springs since the expansion. Even though we got there at 5 pm, the garages were full and we were lucky to find one of the last spots in the overflow parking.
There is nothing better than getting up in the morning, rolling out of bed, and hopping on a Disney bus to the parks. I know the transportation system has its detractors, but we are big fans of it. Sure, we have had to wait a bit for a bus before, but you can’t beat letting someone else do the driving, especially if you’re heading to the International Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT. Plus, as mentioned before, Disney Springs is definitely a place to let someone else do the driving. The Disney buses have dedicated lanes and can get in and out of there pretty quickly. Now if someone would just move the Pop Century bus stop there a wee bit closer, I’d be completely happy.
- Cleanliness and Service
Yes, we have occasionally had subpar Mousekeeping service. But I have found that even below standard Disney service is better than that of most hotels off-property. Plus, a quick call to Resort Services gets any situation rectified. At the Holiday Inn, we tried to ring Housekeeping on and off for hours. We didn’t even want them to make up our room, we just needed new towels and our garbage taken away. There was no answer. We finally had to walk downstairs, tell the folks at reception, have them radio housekeeping, and then wait in our room for the housekeeper to show up.
Our room wasn’t really clean to start with, either. The public areas weren’t much better – there was always trash in the hall in front of room doors, and there was no garbage can to throw away pet waste in the miniscule strip of grass they called the pet walking area.
I also am pretty used to the friendly interactions we typically have with Disney castmembers. While the staff at the motel we stayed at were, for the most part, pleasant, no one went above and beyond. And most staff didn’t even look up or greet us.
And the number one reason I won’t stay off property again:
- Theming and Atmosphere
My kids are no longer “littles.” They don’t beg to go to character breakfasts anymore and my teen won’t wear Mickey ears. But it turns out that theming is indeed important to them. They aren’t snobbish – they love the value resorts as much as their occasional stays at the deluxe resorts. But there is a certain *feel* to all the resorts on property that I can’t quite put a finger on. Whether it’s the in-your-face, larger than life Rubik’s Cube at Pop Century, the dripping Spanish Moss and Mardi Gras feel of Port Orleans, or the African artwork and savannah overlooks of Animal Kingdom Lodge, the theming is so immersive and complete. The hotels even *smell* differently.
The hotel off-property had zero theming (unless you count a Disney movie playing on an endless loop in the lobby and signs that listed various tickets for sale) and no landscaping. The room décor was downright grungy.
So there you have it, 5 reasons to avoid staying off-property when traveling to Walt Disney World. On the last day of our off-property stay, my kids asked if we could please never stay outside of Disney World again. My husband and I assured the girls that our upcoming visits are definitely going to be within the “Disney Bubble.”
And if you want to plan your next stay in the “Disney Bubble”, contact our FREE Disney Diva travel agent Patricia Payne at All For Dreams Travel!
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