When planning a Disney World Vacation, a lot of people have a hard time deciding if they want to stay at a Disney World Resort or head down the road a little ways to stay off property and save money. But the burning question remains: Is Staying Off Property During Your Disney World Vacation Worth It?
Staying off property during your Disney World vacation
Whether to stay on-property or off-property is probably the number one question that is asked over and over again when planning a trip to Disney World. Today we are sharing all of the pros and cons of staying off property that we have encountered.
Mindset is everything and being as informed as possible helps. Knowing what to expect and feeling confident in whichever choice you make will help you appreciate your vacation selection and not resent the drawbacks. The fact is, every hotel (even Disney-owned ones) have their drawbacks and it’s just as much about picking the perks that work for you as choosing the “cons” that you can best live with.
Just a note, this post is exclusively talking about off property hotels – not vacation rentals like airbnbs. While many of the pros and cons on this list apply to vacation rentals, we will share a post soon that discusses the pros and cons of vacation rentals.
What IS an Off Property Hotel?
An off property hotel is ANY hotel not located on the Disney World Property or a Hotel that is NOT owned or operated by Disney World.
There are two distinctions that should be made however between off-property hotels. Some hotels are affiliated with Disney through their Good Neighbor Hotels program.
The perks for these hotels vary but can include earlier access to dining bookings, the ability to take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening hours, etc.
Also, potentially to add to the confusion, some non-Disney owned hotels are located on Disney Property (like the Swan and Dolphin resorts which are in the Epcot circle) but are exempt from certain perks of staying at a Disney-owned property.
Trust me. I get it. I am all about saving money and getting the best price. However, when it comes to a Disney World Vacation, saving money should not be the only reason you choose to stay at an off property hotel.
If staying off-property is the only way that you can afford a Disney vacation, then yes, that’s an easy decision. However, if you have some budget flexibility, you should consider the pros and cons of staying off-property a bit more thoroughly.
Personally, if I’m already spending a few thousand dollars on a family vacation, I don’t want to compromise on the overall experience of my vacation in order to just save a couple hundred bucks – but I also know better than to assume that staying on-property is going to give me the best experience. I want to weigh my options and see which choice really works for the kind of vacation I’m planning.
Sometimes staying off-property isn’t about the money – there are some amazing luxury hotels and resorts in the Orlando/Lake Buena Vista area that are not affiliated with Disney that offer unique perks and experiences that may be more attractive to you than staying on property.
However, normally when this question is asked it’s because the person asking is looking to save money.
When you stay at Disney World Resort, you are immersed in the Magic from the time you check-in to the time you check-out. When you are staying off property you have to leave the Magic every night.
Some off site hotels will have some Disney decor but none have the same “feel” as staying at a Disney themed resort. You miss out on the detailed decor, the immersive “bubble” experience of staying on-property, the hourly activities available at Disney resorts, and most importantly, the Disney guest services.
We’ve stayed at some off-property hotels that have some fun activities planned throughout the day for kids but none of them offer as many activities as Disney properties do. We’ve also stayed at some wonderfully themed and decorated off-site hotels, but if you want Disney theming, the only place you’ll truly get that is on-property.
You may pay for parking twice:
When you stay at an offsite hotel, you will have to pay for theme park parking daily if you plan to drive (although many offsite hotels offer complimentary transportation). This can get very expensive depending on how many days you are planning to visit the parks. Plus, most off-site hotels also have their own parking fees.
Transportation to the Parks:
While most off-property hotels offer transportation services, they often aren’t as “connected” as Disney resort transportation and many only offer transportation once per hour – so if you miss that hour’s bus, you either need to wait another hour or pay out of pocket for other transportation options.
While it’s a good rule of thumb to plan an hour for transportation, with some offsite hotels the transportation time can be longer.
This cannot be overstated! Disney’s customer service is outstanding.
I travel for a living and have stayed at everything from budget airbnbs to 5-star hotels in NYC, to boutique hotels all over the world… and I can honestly say that the customer service even at Disney’s Value Resorts often matches the experience of the 5-star resorts I’ve stayed at – and exceeds many of them.
If your stay goes off without a hitch, they are friendly, family-oriented and helpful. If you have issues, they will go above and beyond to resolve them and often make up for those experiences.
No Disney Dining:
You cannot add a Disney dining plan to your vacation if you stay off-property unless you stay at either the Swan or Dolphin hotels located in the Epcot Resort area. (However, you cannot redeem Disney dining credits at either of these resorts.)
Currently, Disney is only allowing Dining reservations to be made 60 days in advance – regardless if you are staying on-property or off. However, on-property guests can book all of their dining reservations at once, whereas off-property guests can only make one day’s dining reservations at a time. This used to be 180 days, but the one day at a time rule has always applied to off-property guests.
Missing out on Extra Hours:
Disney now allows on-property guests to enter the parks 30-minutes prior to opening and it also has “extended evening hours” available twice a week for guests staying at Deluxe Resorts, Deluxe Villas, the Swan & Dolphin and Shades of Green.
So, if you want to “rope drop” at a park, you have to stay on property.
You May Get Conned with Resort Fees:
We are not fans of the practice of hidden resort fees which is a rampant issue in Florida. (Read more about this practice on Disney Tourist Blog.) Before booking a seemingly inexpensive off-property hotel, call the hotel directly and ask about resort fees – or ask your travel agent. Some hotels don’t charge them in advance, so it’s an unpleasant surprise upon check-in.
These fees can be $25-40 a day, which needless to say really adds up and can be a deciding factor in choosing your hotel. If your hotel charges them, there is no way to opt out even if you’re only planning on using your hotel for sleeping and not planning on using the “resort perks.”
While I have had wonderful stays at resorts that charge resort fees, the practice does dampen my enthusiasm and respect for those resorts because of its deceptive nature – they should just include those non-optional fees into their advertised rate!
While we’ve mentioned some drawbacks, staying off property isn’t all bad! We’ve stayed off-property multiple times and had wonderful experiences.
In fact, staying off-property has actually worked better for certain vacations – especially vacations where we were only planning to spend a few of our days at the parks.
Visiting Other Area Theme Parks:
If you’re planning on splitting your time between DisneyWorld and Universal Studios Orlando, staying off-property may be a better fit.
Not only will most off-property hotels offer transportation to both parks, but they may be situated so that your transportation time to other parks is shorter and they may have on-site experts who can help you plan your day at the other park, if needed.
Proximity to Other Attractions:
My absolute favorite thing about staying at Wyndham Gardens Lake Buena Vista was that it was literally a 5-minute walk from the front doors of the hotel to being fully immersed in Disney Springs.
I loved not having to take another bus and being able to have flexibility in our planning. We could stay in the pool as long as we wanted, get changed and then casually stroll over and take our pick of multiple entertaining, shopping and dining options.
Staying off-property is often comparable in cost to Disney’s Value or Moderate Hotels, depending on where you stay, but sometimes the amenities of off-property hotels (especially when comparing in the “value” price range) make this an easy choice.
I’m not a huge fan of Disney’s Value Resorts – the pools, dining and locations for me don’t compare to the offerings and savings of many off-property hotels. However, that choice gets trickier when comparing Moderate Hotels to off-property hotels in the same price range.
Some off-property hotels offer competitive amenities like microwaves, kitchenettes, spas, gyms, free airport shuttles or free continental breakfasts that can make a big difference to your vacation.
Microwaves are first-come, first-serve at Disney and kitchenettes are located only in a few suites at Art of Animation and the All-Star Music Resort (both in the Value category) and the only Moderate option with kitchenettes are the Cabins at Fort Wilderness.
Most Moderate Disney resorts offer gyms, but none of the Value resorts do. The only Moderate resort with a spa is Coronado Springs – again, none of the Value resorts do.
Disney has ended it’s free Magical Express service so guests now need to arrange and pay for their own transportation from the airports to their resorts – and no Disney resorts offer free breakfasts.
Y’all, I am the queen of spontaneous Disney vacations. I think of all my vacations, only one was booked the recommended 6 months in advance.
Off-property bookings are often your best bet with a spontaneous trip – especially during busy seasons when the resorts are full or super busy.
I hope this list of the pros and cons of staying off property helps you in making the best decision for your family’s vacation. The answer to “Is Staying Off Property During Your Disney World Vacation Worth It?” isn’t a simple yes or no because every family has individual needs and preferences that will make one decision better than the other – and sometimes, those needs and preferences change from vacation to vacation.
For more reasons to stay ON PROPERTY, check out our Top 10 Reasons to Stay On Property at DisneyWorld.
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