by Sleepy Diva
I have always been a fan of staying on-site at Disney World for the convenience factor and because you get to stay in the “Disney Bubble“. When we started planning our recent family trip, my grandmother tried to use her timeshare points on one of the Disney resorts, but everything was booked so we had to settle for off-site. Either way, we were going to Disney so I really didn’t care. It did however take some more planning on my part. There are advantages and disadvantages whether you choose to stay on or off-site so let’s explore them!
When you stay on site you will most likely pay more than what you would if you were staying off-site. You are paying more for the Disney name, and the convenience that they provide you by staying on-site. What you would pay for a value hotel at Disney would get you a much nicer hotel off-site. However, there are perks you get from staying on-site that you would need to figure into the cost of staying off-site (i.e. – a rental car, parking) which brings me to my next point…
Disney provides all the transportation for you when you stay on-site. If you are flying into Orlando and opt to use Disney’s Magical Express, once you step off the plane, you don’t have to think about anything. Disney collects your checked luggage and delivers it to your room (and back to the airport when you go home) and they take you to and from the airport.
Once at your hotel, Disney transportation (whether it be bus, monorail, or boat) takes you to and from the parks, to other Disney Resorts for dining reservations, or to Disney Springs. It is nice to let someone else do the driving and you get dropped off close to the gate, so less walking.
Some off-site hotels offer transportation to the parks so that is something you will need to determine before your trip. If they do not, you will need to rent a car. The transportation and parking aspect is what I was most concerned about when planning our family trip. I have seen how big those parking lots are and knew there would be much more walking involved. There are trams that are constantly running that will take you to and from your car, so that cuts down on the distance.
I was also concerned about leaving the park at night and how hard it would be to get out of the lots. At our amusement parks at home, it can take over 30 minutes just to get out of the parking lots because the traffic is so bad. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case at Disney World. They have their system down and get you in and out of there quickly. The only park that was a problem was Magic Kingdom since you have to deal with the Ticket & Transportation Center. On our last night leaving at closing we did have to wait a little bit for the ferryboat, but once we got to our car, we were still able to get out of the parking lot just fine.
I honestly found that I liked taking a car to the parks more than taking a bus. While it is nice to not have to worry about driving, I much preferred the fact that at the end of the day I didn’t have to cram onto a crowded bus with two sleepy kids and a double stroller. We also didn’t have to worry about not fitting on one bus and having to wait for the next. We could just load up in our car comfortably and go.
Diva Tip: Don’t forget to take a picture of where you park your car so you know where to go at the end of the day. Doesn’t hurt to take a picture of your rent car too incase you forget what car you are looking for!
If you stay off-site, you will have to pay to park. There is a one time fee per day which is good at all four parks. Standard parking is $22 per day and Preferred parking is $45. Registered guests of Disney Resorts and Annual Passholders enjoy complimentary Standard parking. For more parking information, visit the Disney site. It is important to note for Disney Resort guests who choose to park a car overnight at the resorts, beginning with reservations made on March 21 and going forward, they will now be charged a fee per night based on their Resort Category:
- Value Resorts: $13 per night
- Moderate Resorts: $19 per night
- Deluxe & Deluxe Villa Resorts: $24 per night
Diva Tip: As an Annual Passholder, I got free Standard parking but we were able to upgrade to Preferred parking and just paid the difference, which is $23. With preferred parking you get to park much closer to the gate and they also give you free bottles of water for all the people in your party. We upgraded every day we were there and it was definitely worth the additional cost.
It is also important to keep in mind that driving to the parks will take longer than Disney transportation. Always remember to figure in distance, traffic, parking, tram, security, etc. when determining what time to leave for the parks. We usually found that leaving an hour before we wanted to be at the park or needed to make it to a FastPass+ reservation was sufficient.
When you stay off-site you don’t get the theming that comes with staying at a Disney Resort. Many who stay on-site never leave the Disney property during their trip; they like to stay immersed in the “Disney Bubble”. Disney Resort hotels are an attraction within themselves, whether it be larger than life models of your favorite movie characters or being able to step outside on your balcony to giraffes grazing on the savannah. Staying on-site you never have to leave the magic until you arrive back at the airport to go home.
For me, I loved the hotel we stayed at recently, Hilton Grand Vacations at Tuscany Village, and I didn’t miss all the magic of the Disney Resorts like I thought I would. We have always stayed at the Value Resorts for cost and because we are really only in the room to sleep. Every trip it always seems like there is some kind of competition or field trip going on and there are lots of younger kids running around and making noise. In 2017 we stayed at Pop Century during one of the cheer competitions and had a problem with the kids hanging out right outside our door late at night. I did not miss the crowds of the Disney Resorts when we stayed off-site. After a long day in the crowded parks, it was nice to come back to someplace that was quiet.
This is probably the biggest deal for me when it comes to staying on or off-site. If you stay at one of the Disney Resorts (or now the Good Neighbor Hotels), you can begin booking FastPass+ reservations at 60 days; and once you hit the 60 day mark from your check in date, the booking opens ups for your entire trip. If you stay off-site you can’t start booking FastPass+ until 30 days out and then you must book each day separately at the 30 day mark; this was the hardest part for me. The FastPass+ reservations open at 7 a.m. (Eastern), so each day for a week I had to wake up a little before 6 a.m. (since I live in Central time zone) to book my FastPasses. Not only was that difficult but booking at 30 days instead of 60 days makes it more difficult to get those coveted FastPasses (Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs, Frozen Ever After). I got lucky and was able to get FastPasses for everything we wanted (even Flight of Passage, although that was due to Animal Kingdom changing their hours and releasing more FastPasses).
Diva Tip: If you don’t get the FastPasses you want at first, keep checking or trying to modify an existing FastPass, you never know when one might pop up.
There are some perks that you receive for staying on-site that you miss out on when staying off-site. Only guests staying at a Disney Resort Hotel or Good Neighbor Hotel are eligible to participate in Extra Magic Hours. Each day one park either opens earlier or stays open later; if you stay off-site, you will not be able to take part in the Extra Magic Hours. For me this wasn’t a big deal because we had 6 days in the parks and I don’t usually take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours. The day that a park has Extra Magic Hours is usually the busiest so I tend to avoid that particular park. Another perk that you won’t be able to take advantage of unless you book a package and stay on-site is the Disney Dining Plan. Again, this was not a deal breaker for me because I hadn’t planned on getting the Dining Plan for this trip.
All in all, it comes down to what is right for you and your family. If you don’t mind paying a little extra for the convenience that staying at a Disney Resort provides, you want to stay immersed in the magic, and you want to take part in Extra Magic Hours then staying on-site is the way to go. If you want to save some money, don’t mind driving, and the Disney theming is not that big of a deal to you, look into some of the off-site hotels. This trip was a great learning experience for me and while I do love staying in the Disney magic, I may find myself staying off-site more than I have before. To get a different perspective, check out Passholder Diva’s 5 reasons she won’t stay off site.
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