Should You Stay Off Property At Disney World?

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Where to stay during your Disney World vacation is a long debated topic with no right or wrong answer. Before moving here I was a 100% Disney purist, horrified at even the thought of stepping foot off Disney property. But after moving to Orlando and working in the travel industry I realized there are some excellent options if you are brave enough to venture off property. Today I’m outlining some things to think about before choosing to stay off property on your next trip.

Beware “scheduled” transportation: Many properties in Kissimmee and throughout Lake Buena Vista offer what they call scheduled shuttles to the parks. What they don’t tell you is that this is often a single shuttle in the morning and evening to each park, meaning that you likely will have to arrive late or leave early to make this one shuttle. The shuttle is also commonly shared with other hotels and crammed, packed full. Be sure that you understand the shuttle service offered prior to booking if you’ll need transportation to the parks.

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Believe me – you don’t want to walk from here!

You cannot walk: I know this seems pretty obvious but I can tell you from working in hotels that it’s common for guests to think they can just walk to Disney from offsite hotels. This is because hotels advertise their distance to “Disney’s Maingate”. By definition a maingate is the arch that you drive under to enter Disney property… which can be miles from an actual Disney park! There is not a single non-Disney hotel where you can walk to a park.

Renting a car: Personally, I can’t imagine staying off property without renting a car (or using your personal car if you’re driving to get here). The shuttles offered by offsite hotels have never worked for me and I need the freedom to come and go as I please. The cost of renting this car should be weighed with the cost of an onsite room at Disney. Also, remember that if you don’t have an annual pass you will have to pay for parking when staying off Disney property. That really adds up at a minimum of $15 a day!

Transit time: The time to get back and forth to your hotel can be longer when staying off property. However, I’ve found this evens out when you have a car. The time that you would be standing around waiting for a bus is the time you spend driving a little further.

Load up on freebies: A big plus of staying off property are all the included services that you have to pay for at a Disney hotel. Look for bonuses like free breakfast, happy hours, welcome gifts, lobby snacks, manager receptions, and Wi-Fi.

Watch out for extra charges: However, the good comes with the bad. Watch out for resort fees, parking fees, safe fees, or even cleaning fees or pool heat charges with vacation rentals.

Visiting other parks: If you plan to visit other attractions while in the Orlando area it can be nice to stay somewhere more central. Of course, everyone thinks of SeaWorld and Universal Orlando but there are also tons of other things to do. You’re only an hour from the Kennedy Space Center, LEGOLAND Florida, and you can’t forget Gatorland! With driving a little further you can visit Busch Gardens Tampa. Having a car is a must for this as taxi fees mount quickly and public transportation in Florida is pretty terrible.

Where’s the magic: An undeniable downside is that to stay off property you have to leave the Disney bubble and enter the real world at the end of the day. With the creation of Disney’s Magical Express you never have to experience that when staying on Disney property. You really have to weigh the value of that vs. savings and other amenities.

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The pool at the Hyatt Grand Cypress
Photo Credit: http://grandcypress.hyatt.com/

Oh, but those amenities: I have found that off property hotels offer more and prices are normally 50% less. This is especially true with vacation home rentals where you can have all the comforts of home plus your very own pool! It sounds too good to be true, but there are thousands of homes for rent in the area at nearly the same cost as an on site hotel room. Doing a quick online shop I found a very nice two bedroom condo at Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club for $75 less per night than the Dolphin at Walt Disney World. Knowing both properties well, I can tell you the condo is a much better value!

Staying together: Another option in a larger vacation rental is several families staying together in a one home. This further reduces the cost and gives everyone more time together. But then again, I suppose that can be the down side too! ;)

The things you can’t buy: However, by staying offsite you give up Extra Magic Hours. While these can be hit or miss there are other benefits you might miss more. The theming of Disney hotels completely blows away other hotels in the area. Package delivery is also exclusively available to onsite guests to deliver your purchases back to your room. While the value is questionable, Disney Dining Plans are also only available to onsite guests.

But you can still visit: Remember even when you stay off property you are always welcome to visit your favorite resorts. We love resort hopping to try different restaurants or to check out the decor. This is especially fun around the holidays. While there are limits (you certainly can’t go for a dip in the pool) there are still plenty of fun things offered at the on site hotels that you can enjoy.

Don’t forget your furry friends: Some vacations aren’t complete without our pets and sadly Disney doesn’t offer a single pet friendly hotel. (I’m omitting the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds because camping isn’t really a hotel.) Be sure to check out your off property options if you plan to bring your best friend. Of course, Disney does offer Best Friends Pet Care which I have personally toured and the facility is flawless. I’d even let my very spoiled pooches stay there!

So there are some of the things to consider before venturing off property at Disney World. Did I miss anything that you’d like to add? Did I point out something you might not have thought of yet? Do you have any questions or would you like more information on anything? Please let me know in the comments – I’d love to help! As always thanks so much for reading! :)

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Posted on February 2, 2014

103 Responses to “Should You Stay Off Property At Disney World?”

  • Ive been going to wdw every year, sometimes 2 a year for 23 years and only a couple times stayed on property. I love Disney but I experience all of Orlando. we rent a car and rent a house, its awesome.

    • Hey Melissa! Well, there is one vote for off site. I tend to agree with you. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • We are headed to the world Febuary break with my wife and 2 kids and in-laws in tow. We really wanted the two girls to have there own room (better quality sleep) and we did not want to share a room with them (same reason). Also the in laws are not 100% on board with all things disney, so a compromise was a vacation home. It was a daunting task when I started looking there are a unbelievable amount of rental homes around Disney. So I started with the fact we wanted to be as close as we could be to Disney and whittled it down from there. So we got a place in Windsor Hills just of Bronson highway, pool kitchen etc etc. the cost 170.00 a night but split two ways 85.00 each family. Add rental car 300.00 (minivan split two way) and parking 60.00. Now there is more to it gas,dinners made vs bought, but all in all I think everyone will be happier then if we were staying at the All Stars (a stones throw from where we are) or other on site lodging. There is one run in my mind no FP+ on my app and no MagicBand #MagicBandsforall which my kids are bummed about what little kid does not want a rubber bracelet. :-(

    • Hi Jason! I know Windsor Hills and I think you’ll be really pleased. The houses are beautiful. I’m hesitant to comment on MagicBands because everything is still changing. I know it is hard to tell a little girl this… but the bands are honestly a pain and not comfortable to wear. You might be happier without them!

    • we just came home from Windsor Hills yesterday. 1st time staying off property. Was really close to Disney. Only thing I didn’t like was no advance FP+. Stayed in the building, not house for $775 for the week. 3 bedroom /2 bath.

  • Re: freebies–Wi-fi was free at the Contemporary/Bay Lake Tower during my stay in January. I think that’s now true of all the Disney hotels.

    • Hey James – you’re totally right. I thought about this after the fact. I mean, Disney has free Wi-Fi in the parks! The last resort we stayed at was Art of Animation and we didn’t get a signal in our room. But I don’t think that is the norm.

  • Only on site guests can schedule their FP+ attractions in advance. Offsite guests can do so at kiosks inside the parks. I’ve seen some pretty long lines at those kiosks, especially in the morning.

    • Thanks for the info, Kim. And ditto – those lines are crazy in the morning. I’m hoping they get a better system going and soon!

    • And I really, really don’t like the Fastpass+ issue if you’re off property. It’s enough to make me seriously consider spending my vacation budget money elsewhere this year. I hear they’re working on allowing AP holders to eventually have pre-trip access to reserve FP+ slots, but it hasn’t happened yet. Until it does, we probably won’t be renewing.

      • Hey Dan- you aren’t the first person I’ve heard that from. And the Harry Potter expansion opens this summer. Disney may be causing themselves some trouble!

      • Our thoughts exactly. Our experiences with FastPass+ as AP who stay off-property were very negative. We are not renewing until this gets resolved. We have already planned trips to other locations for the foreseeable future.

        • Isn’t Disney moving the same direction as Universal already is though? Universal hotel guests get free “fastpass” and non-hotel guests must pay extra for the service. I see Disney likely adding something similar once the wrinkles are ironed out. So in the long run you’re going to have to spend the extra money with someone.

  • We have done it both ways now. After staying on site (PO Riverside and The Polynesian) we will never stay off site agin. We actually hope to just stay on the monorail line from now on. there is just too much Disney magic to experience and when you stay off site, you just don’t get that.

    • Hey Tara – well there is one vote for Disney purist! :) I know where you’re coming from. Staying on property can make for a magical vacation! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      • I completely agree! Although, we stayed at Bonnet Creek two years ago In a time share which was not a disney hotel but still on property and it was amazing. This year it’ll be even better because we will be at the Contemporary in the Bay Lake Towers. ☺️

    • Tara- last week while waiting for the monorail at the Poly, I struck up a conversation with the cast member about how you can no longer ride in the front seat… he told me that OSHA has told disney that the monorail system has to be REPLACED in the next 3-5 years. He said it has been in operation for 40 years with a life expectancy of 45 years and that it would take 2-3 years and billions to rebuild… so you might want to plan that monorail resort trip sooner than later!

  • Being a family of five, I find Disney properties just cannot offer the space and the value that off-site rentals do. We get a well appointed, two bedroom Villa with a kitchen (saves on dining out, especially at breakfast time), washer/dryer and 7 pools to choose from. To stay on Disney property, we would pay more for less space. Spending a week to 10 days with 5 people crammed into 1 room is not my idea of Magic. We drive to Orlando from NY, so transportation is not an issue. Having your own car also allows you more freedom to have meals at less expensive non-Disney restaurants ($69/adult for Boma?!). For us, it’s a no brainer.

    • Great comment, Alicyn! Thanks for sharing. That is when my parents started staying offsite with us too. (When we didn’t fit into the cookie cutter room for four anymore.) Disney tried to address this with the Art of Animation resort but I feel it was a fail. There just still isn’t enough space. Who wants to share a fold out couch when you could have your own room off property?

    • We were there in 2011 with a family of 5. Disney is not real friendly for that number but we found that we could do the family suite at Music. The 3 youngest ones were never really uncomfortable with the ‘hide a bed’, it would not be comfortable for us a bit more spoiled and ‘mature’. After having spent the week on Disney grounds with all the perks I just cannot imagine ever going and NOT staying on the grounds.

  • I have stayed on and off property if you have different aged kids it’s a great idea to stay off property it’s cheaper to eat at the house before you head out to the parks then pack some sandwiches for the park and have a nice dinner at the park or in a local restaurant. Florida Sun vacation homes are great.

    • Hey Shannon! Thanks for sharing – I agree that eating breakfast wherever you’re staying in a big money saver. I’m also familiar with Florida Sun and they are great! :)

  • After twenty years of staying off site we finally decided to go “all out” this past December. We did the deluxe dining plan, no car, AKL. Except for the fact that we would lower down to the next level dining plan, I wouldn’t change a thing. Truthfully I am even glad we did the deluxe just to have the experience. The difference that you get by staying on site makes we wish we had already been doing it for years.

    • Hi Pamela! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. There is something about not having to drive for a week and just getting whisked away to the magic. I still stay on site a couple times a year for that reason. :)

  • I will be staying offsite when I go in April. I was wondering if you can speak to the potential to solve Jason’s problem above with the no bracelets and no pre-booking FP+.

    I was thinking of booking 1 night at fort wilderness campsite to get access to FP+ and bracelets. Correct my math but if I pay $70 for the night I get 2 days parking at $15/night = $30 in value. also access to early park entry and booking FP+ times sooner than staying offsite. I figure the extra value for me is worth $40.

    Do you know if I have to actually check in to get the parking passes?

    I’m assuming the bracelets will get me access to EMH’s?

    What are your thoughts?

    • Interesting I did not think of staying one night “on site” to get the advantages. Wonder if that would work?

      • Hey Ryan & Jason – in my exceedingly unprofessional OPINION.. this would work for Fastpass+. It has worked for me. I stayed on property one night and I’m able to use the app, have a magic band, ect. However, I have an annual pass so that may make a difference. There is also absolutely nothing that is guaranteed right now as the system is changing so often.

        You do that to check in to get parking passes and they will be dated. They check them at the park and you will be required to pay the day after you check out.

        The Magic Band only grants you access to EMH the day you check in through the day you check out. After that you won’t be allowed. They do check at every ride entrance.

        I hope this helps! :) Please comment back if you have any other questions.

        • Thanks for your insight.

          My strategy would be to book the 1 night (2 days) on the day with EMH even if it means that my first day in the parks I am having to do FP+ the day I get there. It will still be worth it to have pre booked FP+ times for the next two days and parking for the next 2 days.

          The only wrinkle is checking in before you head to the parks to get your parking passes. I will call Disney to find out if I can get reimbursed at check in if I pay for parking the day I check in and check in after our day at the park.

        • So, along these same lines, I have a large enough family were we are going to be renting two separate small cars instead of one large van, does the free parking apply to more than one car if you are staying onsite? I have to imagine it would not but I thought I’d ask just to see if anyone knows for sure. I can’t find it in any policies on their site.

          • Well, I just went to the site and spoke to someone over the pop up help window thing who answered it for me, she said the answer is yes you can get multiple passes.

  • Another consideration should be your travel party. My son loves Disney, but by early afternoon, he’s had enough of the parks and wants to return to the hotel and get in the pool, while my daughter wants to stay and attack the next thrill ride in her path. Staying on property allows my husband to accommodate my son and I can carry on with our daughter. Also, my father has some mobility issues which results in him joining us later in the park on some days and leaving us early on others. We meet up later for any ADR’s. Without the ease of Disney transportation and staying on property, this would not be possible – we’d all have to leave together. We’ve thought about staying off-site before, but it just wouldn’t work as well for us.

    • Hey Jennifer – this is awesome! We always stayed together and everyone had to head back for a nap so I didn’t think of this idea. I might edit the article to add it. Thanks!! :)

  • Is everyone forgetting one of the greatest (all-natural) reasons for visiting Florida? The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and within a relatively short drive anywhere you are.

    As a midwestern family who rarely gets to see a great beach and big waves, the ocean is a huge draw and you can’t get there if you don’t leave the Disney confines.

    We’re planning a mid-week “Beach Day” to just relax and get away from the parks. No alarm clock for rope drop, no dinner reservations, no schedule to keep…just hanging out on the beach. Great way to save some money and “recharge your batteries” before a few more days at the parks.

    • Hey Andy – I’m not forgetting! And I’ll take that and raise you a cruise! :) You’re only an hour away from one of the biggest cruise ports in all of Florida.

  • We’ve been twice – once off site (Downtown Disney) and once on site (Art of Animation) I’ve told my husband that the next time we go, we are renting a condo or house. While I loved the convienence of being on site, being crammed into a tiny hotel room with the kids for a week isn’t my ideal vacation (and I refuse to spend the $ for an onsite suite!) Toward the end I was feeling a bit suffocated by that “magic” bubble. We only go in winter so part of the vacation is being able to sit out in the sun and go swimming, etc. I felt like when we were on site we *had* to do the parks every day (could just be my own issue though). I would like to do other trips while there – universal, Lego Land, maybe a beach day, etc.

    • Hey Kate- Haha- another vote for offsite. I’m honestly with you. It is nice to be on property a few days but then I need a little space. I love everything that Florida has to offer so I want to see it all. (Ironic since when I go to Disneyland I do nothing but go to that park!)

  • I just do not agree with “losing the magic”. I guess it depends on where you stay? We stayed off site for the first time on our last trip and it was awesome! 2 bedroom condo with washer/dryer, beautiful property, right next door to a Disney resort so just as close. Yes, we had to drive but we were renting a car no matter what. We loved the condo experience at a fraction of the cost of what something similar on property would cost. We are back on site for our next trip because of FPP. Kids are excited because for some reason they love the bus. :)

    • Hey Tanya – that is really interesting that FPP got you to stay on property. I hope you have a great trip. I’ll be really curious if they convert you back to wanting to stay off property or if you miss the condo! :)

  • My family of 5 (three kids ages 5 and under) are going in a few months for our first trip to WDW. We really debated on-site vs. off, and figured we could definitely have more space if we stayed off.

    But…for avoiding the hassle and expense of renting a car, being at really fun themed resorts, and the ability to schedule FP+ ahead of time, we decided to stay on for this trip. It helps that our baby is free.

    We’re doing a split stay, AoA suite and Wilderness Lodge. I know we’ll have plenty of space in the suite…hopefully the awesome lodge will make up for the smaller quarters!

    We may opt to stay off-site for future trips, or maybe we’ll just make it work on-site. Can’t wait to go!

    • Hey Kacie – wow what great ages to take the kids! :) I hope you have a great trip. I didn’t think the AoA suites were really very big so I don’t think you’ll fee too cramped at WL. Plus it really is pretty enough to make up for it! Take some time to enjoy the hotels. At AoA the pool is salt water! At WL there are all kinds of trails to explore. It is also easy to go visit the WL Campgrounds. Have a blast!! :)

  • Stayed offsite the first time we went in 1988. But the onsite choices were far fewer – none of the values were built and Caribbean Beach had just opened. And there were only two parks. Since then we’ve stayed onsite and I think being in the “Disney bubble” makes it a better experience. For me, the rest of the world goes away.

    “YOU CANNOT WALK” Disney World is not even slightly pedestrian friendly, except within your resort. I stayed at Riverside for marathon weekend and decided to walk to the Epcot parking for the finish of the half-marathon. On the map it looked like a straight shot of about a half mile. Oops, there’s a “river” in the way – half a mile detour. Then you can see the parking lot but the woods and brush are so thick you can’t get through. It ended up being about two miles. And no sidewalks.

    • Haha, thanks for the support! I have done the same thing where I tried to walk on “unofficial” walkways and ended up in a mess. ;)

  • We always stay at the Polynesian. Family of 4 so each kid has a bed (couch makes into a twin), boat or monorail to MK, and walk to Epcot monorail. And at these prices, we decided a few years ago that a cab to AK and HS is a drop in the bucket compared to standing in line for a crowded bus. With touring plans and easy access to all the parks and the old FP, we’ve never felt compelled to make it to rope drop…will see what FP+ does to us. For our “down” day, we always schedule AK for Wed then head back early for the Aloha dinner at the Poly. We do eat cereal in the room for breakfast, but for mom here, it’s more of a vacation not to deal with meals, cleaning, etc!

    • Hey Monica… I love the Poly! It has a great vibe and beautiful views of the fireworks. I haven’t stayed there in ages, though. The prices have gotten so outrageous! I’m glad you’re still getting to stay there! :)

  • One big one you missed. If you stay off site in a condo or house. Self catering means that after a big day around thousands of other people you can have a quiet meal just your family. No crowds. No unwanted conversations. No fuss.

    After a big park day I need to recharge my batteries away from people so I can be refreshed and ready for the next day.

    • Hey John – I totally agree. Not to mention if you eat at restaurants you can find real, local places. It isn’t the same as the tourist areas. (Have you tried Manny’s Chop House? Look it up for your next trip. :))

  • We also like to visit Universal Studio but I understand that Disney World does not offer shuttle to Universal Studio. How can we get to Universal Studio without use of rental car and not using taxi if possible?

    • Hi Laura! If you don’t rent a car your option is pretty much a taxi or a Mears shuttle. Neither are great options… Mears will be cheaper.

    • Hi Laura, I went through Mears from a Disney hotel to Universal in January and it cost $20 for a round trip. They had pick up times from 6:25am and then 7:25 etc and would pick u up from Universal from 3:15 onwards.

  • I’m a local (lie in Tampa) so I don’t usually stay at hotels when going to Disney as we are mainly day guests. The few times we have stayed our choice of stay is Buena Vista Palace hotel. Its right across the street from Down Town Disney and its right by the resort bus drop off. We have hoped onto one of those buses to the contemperary and walked over to MK.

    • They also have a Character breakfast on Sunday mornings with Minnie and Pluto I think? Goofy too if I remember right?

      • Ohhh.. that is a beautiful hotel! It also has some of the most reasonable prices considering how nice the accommodations are! I believe the do have a character breakfast. They did several years ago the last time I was there.

  • “There is not a single non-Disney hotel where you can walk to a park.”

    Not one, but two: Swan and Dolphin?

    • … Shades of Green?

      • Hey Craig – I consider those both Disney hotels, frankly. I still don’t think I would walk from Shades of Green. Even just to get to the Poly it is quite a distance on roads that aren’t really built for foot traffic. You’re a brave guy if you’re trying it! :)

        • Our family’s stayed at Shades of Green for 3 of our last 6 trips. I have to disagree that it’s too far to walk from SoG. It’s 8-10 minutes from the SoG front building to the Poly monorail.

          As for roads, I also disagree that it’s not built for foot traffic. There’s a nice paved path from SoG to the road, then a clearly marked crosswalk, then another marked path to the Poly with signs. Disney clearly anticipates that foot traffic at the Poly from SoG and accomodates it.

          As for the subject generally: Our son’s in the College Program and we plan on seeing him 4 times for a week each during the 7 months he’s down there. Even with a Cast Member discount, there’s no way we could afford to stay onsite for 4 weeks. When you combine that with us being able to get a week’s rental on a condo for $339/week through the Armed Forces Vacation Club, at least 2 of our trips we will be staying offsite. It basically means the difference between going 4 times and only going twice, maybe 3 times, tops. Every family has to make their own decisions on this, but for us, being the parks 1-2 extra weeks makes it worth staying offsite.

          • BTW, I could see the previous argument that Swan/Dolphin/SoG were onsite. But now that Disney is refusing to permit guests at those hotels to book FP+ prior to the day of visit, it’s pretty clear they’re offsite–in Disney’s eyes, at least.

          • Hey Brian – thanks for the info. I don’t speak from experience on Shades of Green since I don’t qualify to stay there. I was going on what friends have told me. Thanks for sharing. :)

            And on the below, I didn’t know that FP+ wasn’t going to be allowed at Swolphin! That is really interesting. You can totally walk from there and they have always enjoyed other on property benefits like EMH. It’s a brave new world with FP+!

          • Brian, from who and when did they tell you that “FP prior to visit” was not allowed at Dolphin or Swan? I haven’t heard that and we were planning on staying their with my education discount. Thanks!

  • by Allison Nelson on February 2, 2014, at 4:37 pm EST

    We have done Disney both ways (onsite and offsite) and both worked for us. Staying offsite is significantly cheaper. I estimated on a four day trip we saved $1,500 by staying offsite. We rented a house with a pool and ate one meal at the park each day and two at the house. We also had grandparents in tow. The second time we went, our kids were older and no grandparents in tow. We stayed at the Art of Animation and loved the onsite experience. We like the suites because it gave us space from the kids to have some downtime and we loved the immersion into the Disney experience. If budget is an issue, you are traveling with extended family or if you have young kids, I would recommend offsite. If your kids are older (8 and up), and budget is not an issue, then I would go for the Disney experience every time.

    • Hey Allison – thanks for your great perspective. We don’t have kids so I appreciate your opinions on ages for on property vs. off.

    • I disagree. We are planning my 2 year old’s first trip and we are definitely staying on property. Using all Disney transportation means we don’t have to lug a car seat around with us. Plus there is nap time. It will be much easier to hop a bus back to the resort for a quick nap in the afternoon than to load up into a car to drive to our offsite accommodations. I’ve stayed both on-site and off-site throughout the years and I think it totally depends on your vacation plans. If visiting more than Disney, off-site makes sense. If you plan on being in the “bubble” for your whole vacation, it makes sense to stay there. And for us money isn’t the number one concern as we are at max once every other year visitors. Great article as usual Daisy!

  • We went twice last year. The first time, in May, we stayed at a townhome we booked through VRBO in Windsor Palms (a development my then g/f, who became my fiancee on that trip :) had stayed at before we met). It was great! Private pool, we could eat a nice breakfast in the room, and very relaxing. Around $110/night. Driving was never an issue for us.

    On our second trip in October (our honeymoon), we stayed at the Poly (since I proposed on the beach at the Poly during the fireworks) for two nights (which got us MagicBands which continued to work for FP+/admission/etc for the rest of our trip), then moved to Windsor Palms (in a different townhome) for the remainder of our 8 night stay. The second townhome was both less expensive AND nicer than the first one we stayed in. Since we stayed both on and off site (I *hate* the term “property”, especially when said with certain accents… it’s grating!), I can make a few comparisons:

    1) Room quality: MUCH better at the VRBO.
    2) Food options: Much cheaper and more convenient at the VRBO.
    3) Travel to/from parks: Took longer from the VRBO, but a neat trick we figured out was to park at the TTC then take the launch from the Poly to Magic Kingdom. However, as Daisy pointed out, since we went at non-peak times of year, I doubt we would have saved much time staying at, say, AoA or Pop Century and waiting for buses to go everywhere. And to me, a country boy, buses aren’t that “magical” anyway.

    4) Magic bands worked for the remainder of our stay, so that was a non-issue for us, but would be for those not staying on site at least a night first. This is probably also subject to change.

    5) Some little perks for a honeymoon couple at Disney (real vs. plastic floral leis at the Poly and a free stale cookie at Hollywood Studios were the extent of our perks from Disney for being a honeymoon couple, other than lots of cheery “congratulations from cast members), but when we arrived at our VRBO, we found a nice bouquet, “congratulations” balloon, and a couple of bottles of champagne, and an amazing arrangement on the master bed of towels and washcloths folded into the shape of kissing swans! I doubt you will get this treatment with every VRBO, though!

    6) Better views at the Poly.

    7) Better pool at the Poly, but private pool at the VRBO (and they have a larger pool if that’s your thing).

    All in all, there is NO WAY the room at the Poly was worth 3x+ the cost of the VRBO room. No way.

    Would I stay at the Poly again if money were no object? Probably. It will always have a special place in our hearts.

    Cheers,
    –Lee & Robin

  • We stayed off property for our first trip, which was our honeymoon, and we had a huge condo to ourselves. It was great, but with children now, I just love the ‘Disney Bubble’. It’s hard to describe it, but the bubble is a very real thing and I just love it! And now with being able to book fastpass+ attractions 60 days out, I would hate to stay off property now! When my kids are older and ready for Universal, we’ll revisit the ‘off property’ debate…

  • by Deanne Kallenbach on February 2, 2014, at 5:23 pm EST

    When our five kids were younger we always stayed off site: Embassy suites, Holiday Inn Sunspree, Nickleodeon suites before it was called that, and then a 3 brm condo. When they were older teens and could tour independently the transportation flexibility that comes with staying on site really helped. We have stayed at AKL-Kidani (2br), Port Orleans Riverside, and All Star Sports where we need two rooms. Teens and college age kids can sleep in, tour late, go to Winter Summerland mini golf or Disney Quest at Down Town Disney, even go to a different park than us if they want because of Disney transportation. This is invaluable for us. We also like the dining plan, and the advance FP+ reservations with magic band.

    • Hey Deanne! Hoe cool that you guys split up. Your teens must love it. I totally see the value in transportation in that situation. I think I should add that to the article. I never thought about it!

  • I completely agree with your comment about “scheduled” transportation. We went to Disney on our honeymoon almost 17 years ago. We stayed off-site on the advice of a travel agent who advised us that we didn’t need to rent a car because the hotel had a shuttle to and from Disney. I wish you had been writing 17 years ago!! We ran into the exact problems you mentioned. We never got to the parks at rope drop because the shuttle stopped at one other hotel besides ours. We also had to leave before the fireworks because the shuttle’s pick-up was at 9:00. We did not return to WDW for 15 years. When we did, we stayed on property. What I have told others is that if you do stay off-property, have your own car!!

    • Aw Gretchen, I wish I could say that it has changed but some properties are still running the same old shuttle scam. :( I’m glad you stayed on property for your last trip! Day and night difference, right?

  • For us, Disney is a twice (or if we are lucky) thrice in a lifetime experience. When we go, we want ALL the Disney magic and would not consider staying offsite, no matter how much money we could save. We want to soak up every drop all that Disney has to offer! We have enjoyed CBR (pirate rooms) and adored Wilderness Lodge. One night of our last trip, we splurged and stayed at the Contemporary. Being able to walk to the MK was just wonderful!

    • Hi Chris – I totally get that. I’m glad you’ve gotten to stay on property! I have my fingers crossed for you to get another trip! :)

  • Yes, Rosalie! The bubble is a wonderful place to be!!!!

  • We just arrived back from a week at the Polynesian last night! My kids are young (6 & 2) and I cannot imagine having to get them into a car to get back out of the resort each night. The convenience of the monorail is worth it to me. Half the time my 2 yr old was able to be pushed right onto the monorail asleep in his stroller when we went back to our room at night. We also did a budget trip a few years ago when we just had our first daughter and stayed at one of the All Stars. I loved being in the magic bubble the entire time with her. Even at the value resort she was given Princess treatment 24/7 with stickers and balloon galore!
    And FYI- Wi-Fi is free in the resorts now. You can connect to WDW resort guest, or WDW public space Wi-Fi.
    oh and for the previous comment about having to check in to activate your Magic Bands, we were advised that our magic bands would be activated the first time we used them to open our room door and that we needed to use all the bands on it (even the 2 yr olds) to activate them.
    And one other thing, we use the mini-fridge and do cereal in our room for breakfast and pack PB&J’s for lunch. That way we just spend money on dinners.

    • Hey Heather! Thanks for the info on using your magic band to open doors and activate. I wonder what happens if you get in at like 10am and your room isn’t ready until 3pm? I hope they have another way to activate?

  • We’ve stayed on site with exception of one occasion, when we traveled with extended family. Much preferred closeness and convenience of being on site, but for the cost the disney resort rooms were always a bit of a letdown. We’ve stayed at all star music, port orleans fq, animal kingdom lodge, poly, and wilderness lodge. At the poly our first room reeked so badly of cigarette smoke we did not even go in. I was surprised that for $400 a night (and that was with discount!) something like that could happen. Thankfully they gave us another room and in a better location. We feel that you pay for the convenience and the grounds when you stay on site. Having said that, we will still probably stay on site as long as we can find a discount.

    • Hey Heather – wow $400 is a pretty good rate at the Poly. I’m glad they were able to get you a better room. There is nothing worse than that smokey smell!

  • When we go to the Orlando area we typically stay at timeshares via trade and have stayed onsite (Beach Club and Saratoga Springs) and offsite (Sheraton Vistana Resort (one of the places we own), Orange Lake, and Bonnet Creek) over recent years with young children (currently 5 and 3). My comments is nothing to do with timeshares versus hotels, but to show I have stayed on and offsite. Many of the advantages of staying onsite have been mentioned, but here are some advantages for staying offsite or at least staying onsite with a car:

    * After a long day at the parks, it’s nice that Disney Transportation drops you off at your hotel, but from there it can still be a nice little hike to your room and if you have young kids you need to carry / push them even further. That is also assuming you were able to get on the first bus and get a seat. Many (not all) of the offsite places I have stayed I have been able to park right in front of the building I am in and have the short walk back to the room. Heck, at Orange Lake some villas essentially have private driveways
    * It is very hard to hotel-hop in Disney and experience the magic outside of the parks without a car. For example, if you are staying at Riverside, getting to the Beach Club Cafe for the character breakfast is challenging or doing the Chip and Dale campfire at Fort Wilderness
    * The Character Warehouse is hit or miss as far as finding anything that you personally like, but if you can it is a great dollar saving option for bringing home souvenirs. You can’t get to it without a car
    * You can take a break from the mouse if you want. As it was stated before there are a lot of activities outside of Disney and as much as my kids love Splash Mountain and Test Track, they love just as much Aquatica and Busch Gardens (whose kids area I think is the best of any park I have been to)

    At the end of the day everyone’s personal feeling about how they spend their vacation dollars. What’s good for one person another person may be foolish to another. I have plenty of friends who will only stay on property but you will not know the advantages of staying on site and off site unless you have actually done both.

  • I’ll go to WDW for the first time in October, and I don’t even consider staying off-site. People tell me that “it’s not worth the extra cost”, and then I say “well, if you know a cheaper off-site hotel that has big statues of Mufasa, Nemo and Ariel welcoming me back after a day in the parks, please tell me”.

    • Haha, Leandro! Well that is a very excellent point! :) I don’t think any other hotels can compete with that.

  • Great article! I’ve taken about 10 trips to Disney and have always stayed at an off-strip condo (by renting unused timeshare weeks in the off-season through Endless Vacation Rentals or Resort Vacation Certificates). The lowest I’ve paid is $200 per week and the highest is $500. Considering that just one night at a Disney hotel costs this much, it’s a no-brainer for me! However, I know if I had kids I would seriously consider a Disney resort. I can see why this might be the best option for the “magic” and the “no-hassle” aspect.

    I actually have walked to Disney from one of the off-strip properties. Silver Lake Resort is adjacent to Disney property right near Animal Kingdom. I walked from the resort to AK in about 15 minutes. However, it wasn’t a pleasant walk – no sidewalks or pedestrian crosswalks and you had to watch out for fast moving cars that weren’t used to encountering pedestrians on Sherberth Road. I wouldn’t recommend the walk for anyone with small children.

    • Wow, Wes! You’re a brave guy!! I know that route well and I would never walk it. But I guess we’ve established I’m a wimpy walker from my earlier comments! :)

  • We always stay at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek – but own with Wyndham – so it would be really hard to justify the cost to stay on site. I watch to see if any DVC appear on RCI or if we have a year we run low on point I may rent DVC point to experience it at least once. It would be nice to split up as others have posted, but for the most part it is not an issue since I generally travel with all adults who are fine with RD to Close and don’t need naps.

    A co-worker of mine also stayed at Wyndham Bonnet Creek back in mid-december and paid $800 for a week in a 2BR condo which was great for his family (Kids got there own room seperate from parents with their own bathroom and a full kitchen, dining area and living room). It is 2 miles from Hollywood Studios (Closest) and about 6 miles to the TTC (Furthest). So about $115 for the room, $15 for parking and about $35/day for a car (Our corporate rate) he was $165 per night for a pretty nice condo that is still really close to everything. The is the exact same as the cheapest moderate (Carribean Beach) with the spring promotion that are going on right now. I know talking to him he is planning on doing off-site again next time – the extra space, two bathroom, sepearte bedrooms, kitchen, laundry and escaping the Disney bubble at night and for nap time was a selling point. All Disney all the time is too much for some people.

    • Crystal – I totally agree. I love Wyndham Bonnet Creek and the rooms are beautiful. I’d totally stay there if I were visiting.

  • I love the on-site theming, but they’re just not a good deal for families. When you can get an off-site condo with a kitchen, extra bedrooms, and so much space for $100 a night, there’s no contest. Plus, the ones where we stay are 5-10 minutes away at most. I’ll take that any day of the week.

    • Hey, Dan! Thanks for the comment. I agree with you. I’ll never understand why Disney doesn’t do a better job offering these kind of accommodations. (But then if they did they would charge $1,000 a night!)

  • As UK DVC members we always stay on site. Having different age children it has always given them the freedom to be independent and I know they are perfectly safe. They can stay by the pool, join us later for a meal etc. When we go as a couple the transportation or close vicinity to some many wonderful restaurants means that we can relax together over a glass of wine or two but easily get back to our hotel. And as someone has already mentioned there is something magical about that Disney bubble!

    • Hi Roo – I love this! I’m jealous, we never did this as kids. How fun for your kids!

      • Thanks Daisy Lauren, I must admit it has made “family holidays” much more enjoyable especially now we are taking partners/son-in-law etc. Transportation to malls, other parks is pretty good too via Lynx so we do not have to drive them about either. There does not have to be a compromise so no arguments, which usually means we do spend part of the day together anyway! And of course the bank of Mum and Dad is always handy for mealtimes. Happy People all round.

  • This is a goofy (pun quasi-intentional) advantage to stay off site: more flexibility to your air travel. If you are planning to rely on Magical Express and Disney Transportation System onsite you have one airport choice: Orlando. If you stay offsite you have Tampa, Melbourne, and some other airports as well within a relatively short drive. We have found that typically (not always) airfare and car rental is cheaper in Tampa versus Orlando particularly peak times (spring break, xmas, etc.).

    Some other comments on some items I read:

    * When we travel we always lug the car seats (yes, plural) and stroller because it is a minimal hassle for the cost savings and benefits. Check it in at the airport where most airlines don’t charge you for it. Don’t need to see it in again until we arrive. When we arrive we tip the porter an extra $2 or to lug it with the rest of our stuff to our car rental, we install it in our car and we’re done for the vacation. Same thing for the week back. So for maybe a little inconvenience initially I have longer benefits and flexibility. Compare it to waiting for the Magical Express bus with a toddler (or 2) without a stroller and whether or not it is a wash is up to you. Some of my friends think I’m nuts and would rather spend the extra money for the car seat and stroller but to me Disney is expensive as it is and is worth the temporary inconvenience so we can stretch our vacate dollars a little more (e.g., using the $ saved to do the Fireworks Dessert Party instead)

    * If your kids are older and mature enough to handle the Disney Transportation System on their own, that is definitely a plus for staying onsite as it gives you and your kids a little freedom

    * As I posted before I do own a timeshare in the Orlando area and since timeshares/condos were brought up by a few people I’ll add my two cents about that subject: particularly with young children this is a great option. Room to spread out and store your things. A washer/dryer in most units means less clothes to pack / easier to clean up an accident. Dietary needs are easier to address with a kitchen. Multi-bedroom units means more people can get ready at once. We bring a collapsable cooler with us from home and bring it to the parks with bottles of water, juice boxes, snacks, etc. which saves a ton of money. It doesn’t mean we don’t buy from the parks (love the root beer floats at MK) but it gives us more options.

    Let’s face it, going to Disney is not cheap. Where and how you want to tighten your belt is all up to the individual person / family.

  • The bottom line for me is that is a vacation – I will always stay on site for the full Disney experience. I’m not interested in driving or cooking on my vacation unless there is no other option. I’m not rich by any means and have been to WDW 4 times in the last 10 years and never stayed in anything more expensive than a moderate resort on-site.
    Disney is a total escape from reality for me and my family and I want my only stress to be making sure I make my flight down there. I understand the money issue, but in dealing with Disney, I know I will have to pay extra…but it is worth it to stay on-site in my opinion.

  • I can’t imagine not staying on Disney property! Magic hours are a great way to fit in extra rides on lines that tend to be long even in the off season i. e. Peter Pans Flight. Pulse if you drive or have a rental car parking is free if you are staying on property. I’ve always booked through hotels.com and received a per night rate as low as $69 for the all-star resorts. Obviously this price reflects what time of year you are planning. Hotels.com allows you to set up a price watch for the dates you want to go and they email you when prices change. Because I get their emails in my inbox I also know when they are offering extra percent off on top of booking price. On our last trip back in January 2014 I only paid $398 for 8 nights. I also receive a discount on park passes through work and received 7 day park hopper passes for the price of 4 day passes.

  • We have done both off-site & on property…I love the “Disney Bubble” comment because it is so true. Price wise I have found no matter where you go it’s all give or take $$ but it’s all what you look for in your vacation..after being at the parks all day with the kids (14,10&5) I don’t want to do anymore work..being on property w/ the dining plan makes it so easy..no cooking, no driving & no cleaning!! I’m on vacation too!

  • Wow, So much helpful information and so much unanswered questions. So we are heading to WDW in July for my families first time.(my second, but so long ago I was 13) Heading out with mother in law, brother in law, and our family of 5 (3 kids, 17, 12, and 7) We are staying off site in a 4 bedroom 2 bath with private pool and spa, also w/game room(where the kids can decompress with air hockey, basketball hoops, darts, wii, PS3, and the adults a pool table) I have to say we are trying to save as well as have a great vacation. I’ve read hundreds of threads and have learned so many things along the way, but I wasn’t aware you could take in water bottles, juice, sandwiches, fruit, snacks…etc. etc. When speaking with CS I was informed no outside food or drink was allowed while making dining reservations, but then again seems like every CS rep I get tells me something different, if anyone could clarify? Also I know dining reservations are made 180 days in advance, but does anyone know why Tomorrowland Terrace isn’t open that far and if you may know when, I’ve been reading 60-120 days out? Also is the photopass the same as the memory maker? I was told by a CS rep memory maker was a new option and that on site guests are linked to their magic bands while off site guests are given a card to have swiped. It’s a $50 discount purchased online and the only catch is there is a 72 hour waiting period so buy at least 3 days before arriving. I would hope in the near future to stay on site, but seeing as there’s only prices for a family of 4, it seems like a harder feat, and kept getting your party exceeds the availability. We are driving our own vehicle since we are also doing SeaWorld and several beaches as well. I’m a big sight see’r and love to take it all in! Also I was wondering if anyone knew the name or had info on the alligator tours, my DH had a friend who recently went and said there are tours outside MK, but ran out of time. Also as far as tickets to get in the park after searching and found the best deal to be on expedia.com buy 3 day park hopper get 2 free, only downside is it’s a voucher and not actual tickets. Tickets will be given at the gate, therefore no FP+, bummed and not sure if this is true, but read on another site that your Ex# can be linked to My Disney Experience 3 days prior to arrival(I hope that’s true) A girl can only Hope,you live and learn, on the upside I’m super Excited!

    • I can help answer a couple of your questions. We brought in food and drink with no problem. I had a little back pack and each kid would put in one lunchable every day and it worked pretty well. It’s a bummer cause the lunchables aren’t nearly as good as all the food available but the kids didn’t mind, they like them, that was a grown up issue. It takes the edge off the cost a little for sure. They have a security check and they go through the packs before you enter the park and they definitely saw the food and it was okay.

      I don’t know how the FP+ picture thing works, haven’t been there since that started but there are disney photographers everywhere, you just have to go up to one of them right away and they’ll get you a card and then you just keep that and hand it to a photographer when you want your picture taken and they put it on the card, take a picture of the card# with your phone or something in case you loose the card and you’ll still be able to get your pics. The pictures cost money (although well worth it to be sure) and Disney makes everything to do with spending money easy! LOL

      I’m in the same boat you are as far as family, we have too many to fit into the lowest rate rooms. We’ve never stayed on site but this next trip we purchased a camp ground for 55 a night, you get free parking that way which really makes it like 40 extra a night on top of the cost of our rental house (which is still WAY cheaper than on site) and you get Fast Pass and all the goodies that go along with it. Worth thinking about if it’s not too late.

      Good luck on your trip.

  • Does anyone have any input as to using the Lynx Transportation buses to get the the Magic Kingdom if you are staying at a house/condo offsite? The one we are looking at says it has a Lynx stop right at the complex entrance and it is only about a 20 minute trip. I wonder since I have seen no comments about that. Thank you for any information.

    • My husband and I took advantage of a conference he had for work to take a short Disney vacation. We didn’t have a rental car so we used the Lynx system. I did not find it overly complicated to use their system. Just make sure you are on the right bus. The only complaint I would have is that the bus can make some stops, like a traditional bus system does. It’s not like Disney’s buses that are dedicated to one park. So your travel time may take longer than expected due to that. Since it was only my husband and I, we didn’t mind. I don’t know if I would bring young kids as the ride could get lengthy. I don’t have the link but touring plans wrote an article about the lynx system several months back. It might be worth a look through the archive to see if it gives you any more info.