When you are planning a trip one of your first decisions is whether you should you stay onsite or offsite for your Disney vacation. There are major benefits to both staying onsite at Walt Disney World and staying offsite at Walt Disney World.
First of all, if you are new to Walt Disney World vacation planning, you may be wondering what does that even mean?
For our purposes, an “Onsite Resort” means that it is located on Walt Disney World property and the resort is owned and operated by Disney. There are 27 resorts that currently qualify for this category with more being built (I can NOT wait for the Star Wars hotel!!).
Offsite by definition means that it is not located on Disney property, but for our purposes we are just going to say it is a resort that is not owned and operated by the Disney Company. For example, the Swan and Dolphin hotels are located on property but are not owned by Disney so we will consider them offsite. To make it even more confusing, Disney does offer added benefits to select offsite resorts known as Good Neighbor hotels.
The decision to stay on or offsite used to be based on cost alone. Disney resorts were exclusive and luxurious and extremely cost prohibitive. Disney realized they were losing business to their offsite neighbors and built additional properties with ranges of amenities that could fit any budget. They now categorize their resorts into 4 buckets. To learn more about the difference in price and amenities click here.
Now that cost is no longer the only factor, here is what you should consider when deciding where to stay.
Disney offers free transportation. There are buses, boats, monorails, walking paths, and even a new skyliner that will transport you from your hotel to the parks. They make it so convenient and can offer cost savings. This is probably the biggest factor that goes into the decision-making for my travelers. Not only can you take advantage of the internal transportation system, Disney also offers a complimentary airport shuttle with the added benefit of dealing with your luggage. There is no such thing as baggage claim when you are visiting a Walt Disney World resort, you get off the plane, on the bus and into your vacation. Your luggage will be delivered to your room within a few hours. They also offer onsite luggage check which saves you a step on your departure day. Some of the offsite resorts offer a shuttle, and while this may seem like a great benefit, it never runs at the times you want to travel to the park and may be an additional charge. If you stay offsite you will want to rent a car or use rideshare which brings me to my next topic…
This is really important to understand. When pricing out a Disney Resort versus the Hilton down the street, it may seem like the Disney resort is much more expensive. What you are not seeing here are the hidden fees. Many resorts charge a mandatory resort fee which covers the cost of your amenities whether you use them or not. This typically includes housekeeping, wifi, and pool use. You also have the cost of your rental car (please do not stay offsite without one), overnight parking at the hotel AND parking at the theme parks. *Disney also charges an overnight parking fee but with their airport transportation and internal system you do not need to rent a car* All of those extra fees and costs add up, so it is really important you include those when doing a cost comparison.
I know it is cliche but when you are a parent time really is money. You spend so much money on your Walt Disney World vacation and you do not want to waste it waiting in lines or navigating crowds. Staying onsite offers you the added benefit of Extra Magic Hours which gives you an additional hour or two in the morning or evening to enjoy the park before offsite guests are allowed to enter. You also can book your dining reservations 180 days prior to check in for the length of your trip, which gives you a major advantage in getting hard to get dining reservations and saves planning time. You also get an additional 30 days to book your FP before the window opens to offsite guests.
Obviously the transportation is a huge part of this but you also have the option to add the dining plan and some added benefits with your magic band. There is a huge debate as to whether or not the dining plan is a cost savings, but whether it is or not, it is a huge convenience. You can pay for your dining in advance and not worry about the cost of food while you are there: you have your credits, you order what you want, you enjoy your vacation…EASY!! While you have the choice to use magic bands staying offsite, when you stay with Disney they are included in your resort stay (another added cost offsite) and have extra capabilities including charging to your room and opening your door. While those shouldn’t be huge factors in the decision making process, they are an added benefit.
There is just something special about staying at a Disney resort. The theming is incredible and you feel transported into your favorite movie, African savannah or South Pacific island. And whether it is games by the pool, outdoor movies at night, or the cast member that goes out of their way to make your stay great, there is just something magical about staying at a Disney resort. It is not tangible or measurable but you just feel that little bit of pixie dust… it is called the Disney bubble after all.
While I personally prefer staying at a Disney resort whenever I can, there are also some situations where it makes sense to stay offsite.
The first is if you are part of a hotel loyalty program. If you travel a lot for work or use a hotel credit card and have racked up enough points for a complimentary hotel stay why not use that to bring the family to Walt Disney World. Free is better any way you slice it.
Staying at a Disney resort puts you in a bubble. You are taken directly from the airport to your resort and back. While there is plenty to do on Disney property, there is the whole city of Orlando to explore. From other theme parks to attractions and restaurants there is so much the City of Orlando has to offer which most Disney fans never experience. With your rental car you can see so much more.
There is a definite cost savings in terms of dining: you can eat at Golden Corral, Chik-Fil-A, or even Wa-Wa (their pretzels are worth the drive to find one) and save so much over the cost of eating at Disney. Some resorts also offer complimentary continental breakfast. With your rental car you can stop at Target or Publix (the area grocery chain) to get essentials.
Even if the price is the same as staying at a Disney resort you probably will get a little more for your money in terms of space. At Disney you are paying for convenience whereas offsite you are paying for a room. If square footage is a priority for you, offsite will offer a better value. You will find significant savings if you are a larger family looking at villa style accommodations. There are some incredible villa options at Disney resorts but they are all located at Deluxe Resorts and just not feasible for families on a budget. Looking offsite opens a whole new world of options to fit any budget.
There is so much more than cost that goes into selecting whether or not to stay at a Disney Resort. Remember when you are pricing it out to take into account all of the added expenses and fees. Comparing room rates will not give you an accurate comparison. There are also all the other intangibles to consider.
Looking for a more personalized opinion? Schedule a free vacation consultation to discuss all the options and I will help you decide what will work best for your family. Ready to book? Request a quote.
The right resort can upgrade your entire Disney vacation—but with more than 25 Disney resorts and hotels to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed! I can help you so you can choose the perfect-fit resort for your family—based on your budget, travel style, and family’s interests. DOWNLOAD the Guide to Choosing the Right Resort to understand the differences in amenities, how to choose the resort with the right location and which resorts offer the activities you are looking for.
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