So you’re going to Walt Disney World and you’re not sure where to stay, right? Trust us, it can be a very overwhelming process to plan a trip to Walt Disney World especially if its your first or only trip. But, before you decide much else, you need to make the decision about whether or not you will be staying on-site or off-site at Walt Disney World. Here’s a quick guide we hope you find helpful in making that first decision.
The Pros of Staying Off-Site at Walt Disney World
Staying Off-Site Can Save You A Lot of Money ( Sometimes)
Many factors play in to whether staying off-site at Walt Disney will be a budget-friendly Disney vacation move. Depending on what time of year you are going, how big your family is or what discounts you could get by staying on property at Walt Disney World will all make a difference. As Disney Annual Passholders we don’t qualify for a lot of the special discounts that make sense. But, we also no longer have to worry about paying for park tickets so we count that as a perk of being an annual passholder.
The biggest discount that is missed by staying off-property is the Free Disney Dining Plan offer. While not always offered, we have routinely come to rely on this discount as a way to save thousands on food during trips. We strongly recommend considering the free dining plan offers when traveling with more people.
Off-Site Hotels at Walt Disney World are Roomier
While not always 100% true, the chances of bigger rooms off site in Orlando is greater. At Walt Disney World families of 5 or more usually have to opt for the family suites at Art of Animation, which can be pricey. Worse still, is the alternative of booking two rooms at a Disney Resort so there is room for everyone. Of course if you add in the possibility of renting DVC points to cover a stay at a Villa on property you may actually be better off.
Staying Off-Site at Walt Disney World Allows You To Get Away from It All
Don’t get us wrong, we LOVE staying on Disney property. We love the the theming, the vibe, and even the crazy cafeterias. But the truth is that even at some of the most relaxing Disney Value Resorts, like Pop Century there seems to always be an element of chaos. Since we’ve taken up resort hopping we have gotten to see a wide variety of resorts at all pricing levels and you can get away from the chaos if you pay more. Who doesn’t love grabbing a dole whip with their toes in the sand while at the Polynesian? Or having tea at the Grand Floridian during a classic Florida thunderstorm? But even then, there are ALWAYS people around. While that’s fine for some people, other really do want to get away and not be surrounded by people in Mickey Ears or taking photos every 5 seconds. If you need the break, then staying off-site may be for you.
You Can Cook Your Own Food ( Maybe)
Unless you’re staying in a DVC villa on Disney property you won’t have access to a kitchen during your vacation. And as preparing your own food is one of the best ways to save money. Or if you’re watching your waistline, you may prefer to cook your own meals even just occasionally while at Disney. We have seen some offsite hotel properties that offer small kitchenettes, like Homewood Suites or Hyatt Place . Of course if you’re going all out by staying in a condo or a house, you’ll have all the comforts of home right there for you. And there really isn’t anything like a nice home cooked breakfast or late dinner after a long day at Disney. So this is something to consider if you’re not ready for a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) level stay.
You’re Closer to Everything Else in Orlando, Florida
Want to visit Universal Studios? Trying to get away to Winter Haven for a day or even planning some beach time during your Walt Disney World vacation? You might be better off staying off property. When we tackled Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one day, we stayed at a hotel 5 minutes away from Universal. It was 30 minutes from Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney World is so huge that getting just on and off property can take a long time. Even without factoring in the crazy traffic that can sometimes happen in Orlando.
If You Bring A Car You Don’t Have to Pay Disney Resort Parking Fees
Walt Disney World introduced Disney Resort Parking Fees for any guests parking a car. While this system is still somewhat elusive to us, there is a complete breakdown of everything you’ll have to pay on Disney’s website here. We also give you some ways to avoid the parking fees if you choose to stay on site. While most Orlando hotels do have a parking fee, some of these get waved if you find the right deals, like on hotels.com. And if you’re staying far enough out of town, free parking may be a perk you can look forward to.
Cons of Staying Off Site at Walt Disney World
Ok, so now that we’re through the pros of staying off-site at Walt Disney World, lets get honest about the cons.
Staying Off-Site at Disney is Just a Lot Less Magical
We love staying on property at Walt Disney World. And if you’re looking for an immersive Disney experience this will be a big con for you too. For us a Disney vacation really is about the theming of the resort with all our favorite Disney details, the access to Disney themed food in the cafeterias, the late night Disney movies on the lawn, and trivia-filled pool parties. With Disney, it really is all in the details!
You’ll Have to Pay for Parking Twice
Chances are you already paid for your hotel parking off-site. Unless you were lucky and got a deal, or are staying at an airbnb. And now you’ll have to pay for parking at the parks as well. Unless you’re an Annual Passholder or are taking an Uber, the sad fact is that parking at WDW is EXPENSIVE. At $20/day, depending on how many days you plan to go, that can add up pretty quickly.
You Won’t get Access to Big Disney Discounts
Any discount that is part of a Magic Your Way Package is not available unless you’re staying off property. Its just that simple. The Free Dining Discount like we mentioned earlier is by far the biggest. To see what you’d be missing, check out the Disney Special Offers page.
You Won’t Have Access to Complimentary Disney Transportation
While we can truthfully say we’ve driven in much worse places(Los Angeles, I’m talking to you) driving in Orlando can sometimes be the worst! While we haven’t run into many issues with congestion or accidents, we’ve heard enough horror stories to know that Disney transportation is a godsend. No matter how flawed it may be. The combo of monorail, buses, Minnie Vans courtesy of Lyft and the skyliner gondolas are multiple options for when you need to get around. But off course if you stay off site- you could also just call a taxi if you don’t want to pay for parking again.
Note: Even if you’re not staying on property, you will have access to Disney transportation once at the Parks and can use it freely.
You Don’t Get the Disney Resort Perks
Disney is diminishing the differences between Good Neighbor Hotels and true on-property resorts but for the most part if you’re staying off-site you don’t get access to the following.
- early advanced dining reservations
- early fast pass reservations
- magical express shuttle to and from airport
- extra magic hours ( if not on-site or a good neighbor hotel)
Where Can You Stay Off Site at Walt Disney World?
By staying off property, you have so many more options and can really get away from it all. You can easily get a condo or even a whole house. Orlando has a lot of them, and some of them even have their own private pool. Check out Groupon for discounted hotel rooms and condos or AirBnB for unique listings and when you sign up through this link, you can save $40 on your first stay!
You can also choose good neighbor hotels that come with many of the same perks as Disney Resort properties. Check out the full lineup of perks here.
Good Neighbor Hotels
- Best Western Lake Buena Vista
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando – Disney Springs® Area
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando – Disney Springs® Area
- B Resort & Spa – Disney Springs® Resort Area
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort – Disney Springs® Area
Is Staying Off Site at Walt Disney World Better?
As you can see from this post the truth is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of situation. It will depend on your family’s tastes, priorities and budget, especially when traveling with a larger group. We hope this has been helpful in your decision to stay off or on property when visiting Walt Disney World. And have an amazing vacation!