There are many pros and cons to staying on and off Disney property. A few I will touch on here include the costs, travel and transportation, hospitality, proximity, and theming. I will try not to be biased, but I must disclose that I am pro staying on property.
Walt Disney World hotels are known for their Magical Atmosphere. You can be transported to the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, or Port Orleans. You can enjoy larger than life characters or watch the Monorail zoom through your hotel. The rooms have little Disney details like hidden Mickey’s . Our kids enjoy watching the Disney TV channels, including the tour guide channels and bedtime story channel. Unfortunately, they do tend to cost more than their real world counterparts. The values would be more on par with a Best Western and the moderates with a Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn, while their prices don’t really indicate that.
So, yes, staying on property may seem to be a little bit pricy. It may not seem worth it. You may be able to get a hotel around or near property, or even close to Disney Springs, for less money. You can eat for less, especially if you get free breakfast at the place you are staying. While some off-site hotels offer transport to the Disney parks, you will likely have to pay for transportation to the hotel. If you plan on renting a car, many off-site hotels charge for parking, which in addition to the price of the rental, can really add up.
If you are staying on property, they will send each person what they call a Magic Band. Magic Bands are awesome in Mrs. Mouse’s and my opinion. The bands can be used in many ways. They are the key to your room. You can use them as your payment method for food and at stores (just be sure to check the front desk to take care of the credit on your room. After $500, it will automatically charge your credit card on file). They are used for your park tickets, your special event tickets (Halloween/Christmas Party), fast passes, and entry to your pool. If you fly in, it gets you on to the Magical Express. If you have purchased the dining plan, or received it for free as part of a promotion, it is taken as your source of payment and records of credits used are kept through it. It allows you to leave you credit cards and anything else you don’t want stolen in you hotel safe, if you so choose. Also, as a side note, they are water proof, comfortable, and can be sized down to the smallest of wrists.
If you are driving to your off-site hotel, condo, etc… you have the freedom of driving whenever and wherever you want. This can be a definite plus. If you are staying on property and are also driving, be aware there is now a fee per night to park at the resort. (You can somewhat negate this fee if you chose to not have MouseKeeping clean your room. It doesn’t cover it all but you can get $10 back per night, for the number of nights you stay minus 1 night. Note that while you can get clean towels or sheets if requested, they will not clean your room for the entire extent of your stay.) If you are not staying on property and are flying in, you will have to make arrangements to get to your hotel (either by renting a car or cab), and make sure you have access to car seats or boosters if required. You have to pay for parking at each park you travel to. You have to fight the traffic getting into and out of the parks. If there is any construction on your route, you will have to deal with that as well.
If you are staying on property there are also ups and downs. You need leave early enough to make it to where you are going at the time you want/need to be there, i.e. park openings, breakfast, lunch, or diner reservations (keeping in mind Disney is very good about keeping your reservation, and they understand their transport isn’t the easiest/quickest to navigate). There may be times you have to wait for a bus or the bus is full and you have to wait for the next bus. The busses can be cramped and you will feel like a bunch of sardines, standing up in a can. There are also positives. You have transport from your resort to all the parks, between the parks, to Disney Springs, and to any other Disney resort, by bus, boat, monorail, or the upcoming gondola system. You don’t have to bring car seats or boosters. You can sit back and relax as you are driven around. Depending on when/where you go, you may even be the only people on the bus.
One thing about stay off property is the lack of theming. Now I’m not 100% sure but if I had to make a wager I would bet the off-site hotels don’t have near the décor any of the Disney resorts have. I mean where else can you find a 100 foot tall Dalmatian or dancing ballerina? Every resort has its very own special theming, Caribbean beach has Pirate themed rooms with pirate ship beds. Art of Animation has rooms/suites with all kinds of themes, from the Little Mermaid to Lion King to Cars. There is the negative of room size, though. Most rooms only sleep 4 adults and one child under the age of 3 in crib. The rooms are compact, smaller than your typical room at most decent hotel chains. As you move from value to moderate to deluxe, the rooms do get a bit larger. Thankfully, room size doesn’t really matter that much if you are spending most of your time at the parks.
Staying off-site gives you a plethora of options for larger rooms or entire houses, with options to sleep 5 plus people. You will give up the Disney theming (often, unless the home-owner decorated with Disney in mind) by staying off site. If you are a park person, you will also be giving up spending all your time back in your larger space, between riding the rides and fighting the traffic.
Some of the best, if not THE best, hospitality and/or costumer service that our family has ever received is from Disney. From getting a free meal from the “Blue Fairy” at Pinocchio Village Haus, to our 3 kids getting a stuffed Tinker Bell, Ariel, and Mickey Mouse because we had to wait a little bit for a band aid after one of them fell and scraped their knee at the resort we where staying at, we always know that Disney will go above and beyond to make sure that we are having a magical vacation. We also look forward to seeing how the Mousekeepers have decorated our room every day with the kids stuffed animals and toys.
We really enjoy the pools/play grounds at WDW. Yet again, the theming brings it all together. Walking around the lush gardening of the outdoor spaces, enjoying the well thought out environments, really brings it all together. Conversely, the crowds can be overwhelming during busy times of day. The food courts can be very pricey and packed to the brim. Depending on your choice of meal, you may be sorely disappointed (I just can’t recommend eating a quick service steak, no matter how much of a good idea it seems like).
Staying off-site opens up a whole world of food possibilities, from running through Taco Bell on the way home from the parks, to sit-down meals, to full breakfasts at the hotel, to full kitchens in your room. It does come with the negative of not being fully immersed in the Disney bubble. Also, staying off-site, you aren’t able to get the coveted Free Dining promotion if it is offered during your stay dates.
When you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, you are always close to the action. For those on the monorail loop, you are just a short ride to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. For those staying near the Boardwalk, you are a quick boat ride/ walk to the back entrance of Epcot or walk to Hollywood Studios. With the new gondola system, riding from your gondola loop hotel to Epcot or Hollywood Studios will be a breeze. For those in most value/ moderate hotels, there really aren’t any amazing transportation perks, though. There still is the amazing proximity. There is nothing quite like walking a few short steps from your room to be able to see fireworks at several parks, all at the same time.
You can save plenty of money by staying off-site. But when it is all said and done, we have our reasons for staying on-site and that is what keeps us coming back. We travel with little kids and really don’t want to drag car seats with us, so Disney’s Magical Express helps us travel a bit lighter. On vacation, we really don’t want to deal with traffic, road maps, or GPS’s giving wrong directions, and parking, so Disney transport gets us where we want to go. The rooms are smaller, but the proximity to the parks, superior customer service, dining, theming, and pools more than make up for that. We are Disney converts, and we love the Disney bubble.
If you would like more help planning your Disney vacation, contact our friend Audra, a travel agent with Travelmation LLC, which is an Authorized Disney Travel Planner. She can help you plan the vacation of your dreams at no cost to you!