One of the most popular questions I get from people planning a Disney World vacation is “Should I stay at a Disney resort or off site?”. There really isn’t a clear cut answer to this, it really depends on a lot of factors. My preference is to always stay at a Disney resort, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
I’m going to break down for you the most important factors to consider when deciding where to stay:
How much do you want to spend? You really need to decide what your budget is going to be and then see if staying at a Disney resort falls within that budget. To price out a Disney vacation, you can contact an agent at Click the Mouse and they will help you put together a package. Disney always has certain promos running, so you will want to see what promos are running for your travel dates on their Special Offers page. Sometimes you can get a discount on the room and the price ends up being very comparable to what you would spend to stay off-site. It really depends on the time of year and what types of promotions they offer during that time.
Once you’ve received back the pricing from your travel agent, take a look and see if the cost falls within your budget. Keep in mind that you will still need to account for your traveling costs. Disney also has different classes of hotels, from value being the least expensive to deluxe being the highest. You may want to start pricing a value (for example, All-Star Movies) to see what kind of budget it would start at.
How Many are Traveling with You?
This is always a very important determining factor when I decide where to stay. If we are just traveling on our own (we are a family of 3), then the difference in cost of staying at a value Disney resort or staying off site is next to nothing. It comes out to the same amount of dollars, so I’ll always choose a Disney resort in that case.
If you are traveling with extended family or are a large family that may not all fit in one regular hotel room, then you may want to consider staying off site. If staying at a Disney resort, you will most likely need to have more than one room reservation and then the cost can really start to add up. At an off site location, you can find properties with full amenities and several bedrooms to accommodate your entire party. Another benefit to that, is if you are traveling with more than one family, you get to split the cost of the accommodation. That can really save $$ on your accommodations, something that you would not be able to do at Disney with a very large party.
Do You Need Space?
A Disney hotel room (unless you book a suite $$$) is very simple and usually small on space. They are regular hotel rooms with two beds (or one king) and a washroom. While they are always very clean and well kept, if you plan to spend some time in your room, you might find it cramping on space. Staying off site allows you to rent a full condo/home, where you can spread out and have access to things like a full kitchen, laundry machines, more than one bathroom to share, private balcony etc. It really depends on your preference and whether staying in a small room would bother you or not.
The Disney Magic
This is one of the reasons as to why I like staying at a Disney resort – you are immersed in the “Disney Magic” 100% of the time. A Disney resort is always fun themed and even when you are not at a park, you still have that “Disney” feeling even when you are in your room. You also have access to their food courts at the hotels and all the fun amenities they offer, such as – arcade, pools with activities all day long, movies under the stars in the evenings, Disney gift shops on site etc. Some resorts even offer special activities like a campfire in the evenings with characters. It really adds to the magic of your vacation, so if this is important to you, then you may want to seriously consider a Disney resort.
The Perks You Get From Staying On-Site
This is probably the MOST important factor to consider because this will make a big difference for your vacation. Disney Resort Guests do get certain perks and I strongly feel that these make it worth it to stay on-site:
- 30 minutes early access every day to every park
- Ability to purchase Individual Lightning Lanes as of 7am (as opposed to park opening for off-site guests, some Lightning Lanes are sold out by park opening)
- You can make your dining reservations as of 60 days from check-in for the ENTIRE length of your stay. If you want that hard to get reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table or Space 220, this will play a factor. Those popular dining places are usually fully booked by the time the booking window opens for off-site guests.
- The Disney dining plan is coming back in 2024 and it is only available for Disney Resort guests
Do you want to drive while you are on vacation? If staying at a Disney resort, and you only plan to go to places on the Disney proper (ie parks, waterparks, Disney Springs), you don’t have to rent a car because Disney provides complimentary transportation to everywhere on property.
While on vacation, you have access to buses from your hotel to bring you to all the parks. They are really convenient and pass very often. You will usually see buses passing every 15 to 20 minutes, so you never have to wait long for a bus. Unless you want to leave Disney property and go visit somewhere else in Orlando, you really have no need for a car. This can be a pretty big savings on a car rental, gas and parking!
If staying off site, you will have to take care of your own transportation to and from the parks. You will also have to take into account that it will cost you $25/day for parking. You pay once and it is good for the entire day, even if you switch parks throughout the day. The exception to this is if your off-site hotel/property offers shuttles to the parks. You would need to inquire if there is a cost and what the schedule is like. Also, take a very close look at the schedule of their shuttles because more often than not, the timing of the shuttles is very limited. I have seen off-site shuttle schedules that don’t even get you to the parks in time for park opening.
In the end, it really is a personal choice. Depending on who I am traveling with, I often switch between staying on site and off site. If you think that staying off-site might be the right choice for you, you can still work with a travel agent that specializes in Disney. A lot of people don’t realize this, but travel agents can book you a package through Disney with park tickets for off-site hotels. Disney has several Good Neighbor properties that they work with and then you get to take advantage of the flexible policy that Disney offers with their park tickets.
Best of luck on choosing your Disney destination!
Our preferred travel agency is Click the Mouse. They specialize in Disney destinations and will help you plan out all the little details. Best part is that their services are FREE when you book your vacation with them. Personalized service at no extra cost to you! To get a quote from a Click the Mouse travel agent, simply click on the quote button below and they will be back in touch with you:
Laura is a mom of one adorable girl with a love of all things Disney. She traveled to Disney World with her family in 2010 and was hooked. They have since been a total of over 15 times. With all her knowledge of planning Disney trips, she now wants to share that with others. She loves giving guidance, tips and advice to others planning their magical vacation!