Should you stay in a Disney World resort, or off-site? In most cases I’d suggest staying in a Disney resort for sure!!! While there are some people who might do better in a non-Disney resort (see below), for most people, there are a lot of good reasons to choose Disney. I’ll explain the pros and cons.
For years when we first came to Disney we didn’t know about the option to stay on Disney property. We stayed all over Orlando in a wide variety of hotels and resorts. Eventually we found out about the Disney resorts, and we figured out that we could pay about the same, or depending on the time of year and deals available, slightly more than what we could pay at a non-Disney resort. From our first Disney resort stay, we’ve never looked back.
Personally, we love the Disney-owned resorts, and we stay in them as often as possible. We do stay in other resorts so that we can investigate and write about them, but we’ve found that there’s something very unique and special about the Disney resort experience.
Let’s look at both sides. Here’s the downside to staying in a Disney-owned resort:
- Rooms are small – I have to admit that though the Disney resort rooms are comfortable, clean and nice, most of them are not very large.
- Rooms have comparatively less luxury than some non-Disney resorts – The Deluxe resort rooms are not what I’d call high-end ultra-luxurious, though they’re very nicely designed and appointed. You may find that a some high-end resorts that are not Disney-owned give more luxury.
- Crowds can be high – At certain times of the year, the crowds in the resorts, depending on the resort, can make things uncomfortable.
- Cost – You can find a room for a lower price outside of Disney. Also the food in the Disney resorts is a little higher than you’d find in some outside restaurants.
…But, what you pay for with a Disney resort is something that you don’t get anywhere else.
Here’s the upside to booking a Disney World resort: In the Disney resorts, we find that the themes, amenities, ambiance, activities, generally cheerful and polite service, special needs support, perks, locations and Disney magic are just priceless. The Disney resort experience has become a big part of what we enjoy most about our Disney World visits. Caroline from Horsham, West Sussex in the U.K. had this to say:
“On site is so much better, we have been 6 times and only been able to afford to stay on site twice, most recent visit being one of them. It just engulfs you in all the magic of Disney 24 hours a day, really makes it a truly magical trip.”
Even if you plan to stay in the parks for most of your visit, there are still good reasons to consider a Disney resort.
Disney World Resort Themes
Each Disney resort has a theme that permeates the property. For example Animal Kingdom Lodge puts you in the middle of Africa with live animals on the “Savannah’s”, real safari’s, incredible architecture, African food (along with American), authentic art work, historical pieces on display, and African art and culture throughout every nook and cranny. The attention to detail in developing the themes in the Disney resorts is amazing. It seems that the Disney staff has applied the same creativity to the resorts as they have to the parks.
Also most of the resorts have really wonderful themed pools which adults and kids seem to really love. So you’re not just staying at a hotel, you’re traveling to Africa, you’re visiting Polynesia, or you’re living in a Disney movie. You’re doing it in comfort and with the assurance that you’ll have the Disney service to support you during your visit. You’re staying inside the heart of Disney, and you’ll know it as soon as you drive onto the grounds. Everything looks, well… Magical! (Except when they’re doing a refurb or new construction project).
What About the Cost of Staying in a Disney Resort?
If your budget allows it, staying at a Disney resort can add an entire other dimension to your trip. Disney offers resorts at several pricing levels, and starts with the value resorts. The value resort prices are currently starting at around $89 a night. You can reduce your costs further through a variety of means. For example Disney discounts room prices significantly during the slower periods. There are also discounts for Florida Residents, Chase Visa credit card holders, and Annual Passholders. You can save approximately 50%, give or take, on Deluxe Disney Villas by renting Disney Vacation Club Villa points.
You may want to visit www.mousesavers.com for more money saving ideas.
Some of the Disney Perks for staying on property actually reduce your other costs. For example you won’t have to pay for parking in the parks. That’s important to consider when calculating and comparing room costs. Also consider that some of the perks can’t be bought!
You Some Great Perks When You Stay in a Disney Resort!
Consider the value of the perks you get when you stay in a Disney resort, as you determine what Disney actually costs. In addition to what you experience within each Disney resort, you get many perks such as:
- Extra Magic Hours – Guests can participate in early openings and late closings at the parks. Currently according to Disney’s site, all Disney resorts, plus the Swan & Dolphin resorts, Shades of Green and the Disney Springs Resort area hotels are also able to participate in this.
- Advance booking for Fastpass + – You get to schedule your FastPass+ passes 60 days in advance of your trip. That’s a huge advantage! Currently (2018) this includes Disney Springs hotels, Swan and Dolphin and Shades of Green.
- Preferred Tee Times on Disney golf courses. Currently includes Disney Springs Resorts.
- Disney Dining Plan – You get to add a dining plan to your reservation which can save you money. (Disney World resort guests only)
- Charge to your room – You can charge almost anything on Disney grounds to your room if you’ve linked a credit card to your room account, so you get one bill. (Disney World resort guests only)
- Package Delivery – When shopping anywhere on Disney property you can send packages back to your resort. (Disney World resort guests only)
- Free Parking – You’ll save money with free parking at all the parks. That’s important to consider when you’re determining the actual price of your hotel stay. However Disney did recently start charging for parking at the resorts, so you’ll want to factor that in if you’re bringing a vehicle. Keep in mind that many non-Disney resorts also charge for parking. (Disney World resort guests only)
- Free Transportation – Anyone can use the extensive Disney transportation system for free, but only the Disney-owned and Swan/Dolphin resorts have Disney run transportation at their resorts. Shades of Green and Disney Springs resorts have their own resort to Disney bus transportation, which tends to run less frequently than Disney’s resort transportation service. Disney’s resort transportation is accessible (except some of the smaller boats) and It’s makes life easy if you’re using an ECV or wheelchair.
- Complimentary Airport Transportation – Magical Express takes you to and from Disney World. (Disney World resort guests only)
- Amazing resort themes – They can make the trip so much more special.
- Guaranteed park admission during high crowd days – Though you may not get into the park of your choice, if you’re in a Disney resort, you’re guaranteed to get into one of the Disney parks. Shades of Green participates in this.
- You’re located in the middle of Disney World! You’ll be immersed in Disney World.
- Shorter Commute most of the time – You may be spending less time going back and forth from your hotel to the parks, depending on where you stay. This is often the case, but not always. Keep in mind that there are some non-Disney hotels that are really close by, or even on Disney property. And Disney is huge, so depending on where you’re going, an outside resort could be closer to your destination than a Disney resort. Bottom line – Compared to the majority of Orlando area resorts, you’re better off in a Disney resort if you want to shorten your commute time.
- Free MagicBands – MagicBands are available to non-Disney resort guests for a fee, but Disney resort guests get free MagicBands. They’re used as your room key, to charge food & merchandise, to enter the theme parks and water parks, to use PhotoPass, and to use your Fastpasses at attractions in the parks.
Here’s a compelling quote with some things to consider. It came from a member of our Facebook group called Walt Disney World Made Easy for Everyone:
“Just a friendly reminder when staying off property: When a hotel says that it’s “X miles” from the resort to Walt Disney World, it means the miles to the property line, so it could still take 15-20 minutes to get to the parks. Parking is now $22 a day, and especially at MK where you go to the Transportation and Ticket Center and then have to take a boat or monorail, the lot is only step one. If you park far away you have to wait to get a ride on those golf cart like cars to get near the front of the park. Bag check and security take time. You’ve just easily gone an hour before you step into the parks. Time is money too.” —Eitan Jacobs
Who Should NOT stay in a Disney World Resort?
Despite all the positives, there are a couple of reasons to consider staying at non-Disney locations.
You Need Lower Crowd Conditions where you stay – Some Orlando area resorts don’t have the same crowd flow as the Disney resorts. We’ve found this to be especially true of resorts with conference centers. When Disney resorts are heavily crowded, a nearby resort could be quite empty if there are no conferences going on. We experienced this at the Gaylord Palms Resort. It was very quiet there, but down the street at Disney, the hotels were at or near full occupancy. If you’re making your reservations far in advance, it may be hard to predict what will happen. If you’re reserving your room close to your visit, the resort rep should be able to tell you how full they expect the resort to be during your visit.
Another way to avoid crowds is to rent a vacation home in the Disney area. This way you can go home to your quiet, private location.
You Want More Luxury Than You Can Get at Disney – If you’re looking for a very high-end, luxurious experience, you may find that you get more luxury for your dollar elsewhere. You may want to consider the Four Seasons resort which is now on Disney property, and the Waldorf Astoria which is also in the middle of Disney property. If you’re looking for luxury experiences inside of Disney, we recommend The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World Resort, by Cara Goldsbury.
The Expense is Still too High – If your budget doesn’t allow you to spring for Disney, you may wish to consider an outside hotel. However don’t give up on the idea of Disney, since the value resorts can be affordable, especially during off-seasons. Even if it’s a bit more, consider that you do get a lot for your money.
You Need More Space – You still may be okay at Disney. If you really need a lot more space than you can get with a standard Disney room, consider a Disney Villa, or a family Suite (found in either Disney’s Art of Animation resort, or in Disney’s All-Star Music resort).
If you don’t have the budget to rent a larger room, you may wish to stay in an outside hotel or a home rental. You may find that you can get more space with your budget outside of Disney.
If you need a full kitchen and your budget is limited – While you can get a kitchen on Disney property, if your budget doesn’t allow, you may want to consider an outside hotel or a home rental.
You need a low stimulation environment – If someone in your party needs a quiet and less stimulating environment to decompress in, you may want to consider a non-Disney hotel or a home rental. For hotels we’ve found that the Four Seasons resort chain usually creates a relatively calm environment with subdued colors, lack of crowds, non-noisy rooms, etc. We also found the Waldorf Astoria in Bonnet Creek to be fairly calm.
A private home rental might be the ultimate way to get away from Disney’s crowds and its stimulating environment.
Do you have more tips or thoughts on this topic?
Please feel free to post them in a comment below. We’d love your input.
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