Oh, the eternal Disney question, for first-timers and veterans alike.
Should we stay on property, or off property?
Now, I am a huge Disney fanatic, and I would virtually always prefer to stay on property if I could, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the true benefits that staying off property can have. Unlike some other Disney blogs out there, that will tell you staying on property is the only way to go, I’m going to give you my honest opinion on the pros and cons of each option.
Let’s start by discussing the pros of staying off property. For the purposes of this post, I am categorizing Swan and Dolphin as off property. Despite their fantastic location right by EPCOT, they are not Disney owned and operated and simply do not carry ALL the benefits of a Disney on property resort.
But more on that later.
The first benefit that probably comes to mind when you think about staying off property is the lower price tag you can score. And this is definitely the most compelling point in the ‘pro’ category. It is simply indisputable that you can get a lot more hotel bang for your buck on the nightly rate at an off property versus on property resort. For example, you can spend roughly $115/night for a stay at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, which will get you a room whose door faces outside. Or you can spend that same $115/night for a stay at Homewood Inn and Suites near Disney Springs, and get a spacious suite with a full kitchen, indoor gym, hot tub, free hot breakfast, and complementary manager’s receptions including hors d’oeuvres and adult beverages.
My point is, for the exact same hotel budget you can get a heck of a lot nicer amenities for the exact same nightly room rate.
(Notice how I keep emphasizing nightly room rate? Yeah, we’ll get to that in a bit when I talk about the pros of staying on property, since there can be a lot more cost to a hotel stay than just the nightly room rate.)
Nightly price tag aside, another tick in the pro category for staying off property is the chance to earn rewards if you are a member of a hotel chain rewards program. I personally love Hotels.com (and no, I didn’t get a dime for endorsing them) because earning and redeeming free hotel stays is super easy.
Additionally, if your Orlando trip will encompass visits to places other than Disney, such as Universal Orlando, Seaworld, or Legoland, then staying in a more central location may make a ton more sense than staying in the heart of Mouse territory.
Finally, if you are driving yourself to Orlando, or will definitely be renting a car on vacation, then an off property hotel can make more sense (assuming they have free parking). I say this because even if your off property hotel has a complimentary theme park shuttle to get you to Disney World each day, chances are it has very limited hours.
For example, when we stayed at the Homewood Inn and Suites near Disney Springs, I think the Disney-bound shuttle had two morning runs. That was it. Get on at 7 AM, get on at 9 AM, or don’t get on at all. (Don’t quote me on those hours, as they may have changed).
But the point is, we were VERY limited in when we had to get up (my husband is not a morning person), when we could travel to the parks, and when we could return back to our hotel. There was literally no shuttle option to go to the parks in the morning, then come back to the hotel for an afternoon nap, then go back out at night.
So, if you will have your own car, then the inconvenient (or even nonexistent) shuttle schedules at off property hotels won’t be a deal breaker for you. But remember, unless you have an affiliation (such as an Annual Pass) that grants you free parking, you’ll have to pay to park at the Disney parks!
Now onto the pros of staying on property.
Despite the Disney markup on nightly room rates, there are a surprising number of budgetary perks to staying on property.
Don’t believe me? I know, I was surprised at first too.
One of the biggest budgetary perks is Disney’s complimentary Magical Express shuttle to and from the Orlando International Airport. And before you say, “yeah, but an Uber is cheap,” we found out the hard way a couple of years ago that Orlando does not allow Uber pickups at the airport (only drop offs). And a taxi from the airport to the Disney area will cost you upwards of $70 after tipping. Seventy bucks!! Sure, you can get a free airport shuttle to a neighboring airport hotel, then order an Uber there. But really, that’s a lot of hassle when you think about dragging luggage with you.
Not only is the Magical Express complimentary, Disney will even take care of all the luggage for you. When you supply Disney with your flight information, they will send you a ticket needed to board the shuttle, and yellow luggage tags like these.
Simply fasten the tags to your luggage, check it at the airport, and don’t worry about it again! Disney will pick it up at Orlando for you and take it right to your hotel room. I don’t know about you, but I hate lugging bags around and waiting for them anxiously at the arrival carousel.
So, the complimentary transportation and concierge luggage service are definitely a big plus to staying on property.
Speaking of transportation, Disney’s ample on-property bus services are another huge perk. According to Disney, all buses run approximately every 20 minutes. While this can vary greatly depending on the resort or park, having the flexibility to leave your resort and come back virtually whenever you want is huge, especially if your party likes to split your days up and sandwich them with naps in the afternoon.
Another big pro to staying on property is Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, which are extended park hours (either early morning or late night) exclusively for Disney resort guests. If you are a huge ride fanatic, these hours are perfect chances to squeeze in an extra go on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Tower of Terror. Crowds really thin out, and wait times plummet.
On a recent trip, the wait times were so low that I could have just kept riding the Magic Kingdom carousel again and again without getting off!
Finally, and I realize this “pro” is a tad nebulous, but in my mind one of the biggest benefits to staying on property is being truly immersed in the Disney environment. The on property resorts may vary in terms of how Disney themed they are (for example, the Grand Floridian is refined and elegant, while Art of Animation is in your face Disney cartoonish), but you will always be surrounded by that indelible Disney magic.
Tell me, what are your thoughts on staying on versus off property? Are the any pros or cons you think I missed?
Comment your Disney vacation questions below!