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.
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.
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!