Which is better? Staying onsite at Disney or offsite? Many years ago, we would spend two to four weeks each June in Orlando and we rarely stayed at the Disney properties. Instead, we would hop around from timeshare to timeshare.
Now that the kids are older and super busy, a week at a time is about all we can get away for. Due to that, the last few years we’ve stayed almost exclusively at Disney resorts. However this last trip, we had some points we had to use up so we stayed at a nearby resort. This got me thinking about which is better … and I still don’t have a definitive answer. I think it depends upon what amenities are important to you, and what the purpose of your trip is. That being said, here are some pros and cons for both staying onsite and offsite.
Pros for Staying at a Disney Property
There are some really great reasons for staying onsite, but my all-time favorite reason is that the resorts are amazing. They are so well themed, that you get that “Disney” feel 24/7. If you love Disney, this will be a big plus for you! You’ll also discover little Disney touches throughout your stay. Things like icy-cold fruit infused water in the lobby, Disney pin trading with cast members, hidden Mickey’s galore. If you visit the DVC properties you’ll also find a whole schedule of engaging activities ranging from pool parties to trivia. It can be a lot of fun to spend a resort day just enjoying all these activities.
Insider tip: if you enjoy looking for hidden Mickey’s, pick up a fun book like:Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets
Location is the second advantage of staying onsite. You just can’t get any closer to the action. Plus, if you are lucky you’ll have a view of fireworks, a lovely lake or even giraffes! Several of the resorts are within walking distance of some of the parks. We’ve stayed at the Contemporary and been able to walk to the Magic Kingdom, Boardwalk where we walked to both Epcot AND Hollywood Studios and Saratoga Springs which allowed us a quick walk over to Disney Springs.
Even if you aren’t within walking distance, when you stay on-site you can take advantage of complimentary transportation between hotels, parks and Disney Springs. Even the airport using Magical Express. This means you don’t need to rent a car which can be several hundred dollar cost savings.
Finally, there are a few park benefits too. Each day one of the parks offers Magic Hours for resort guests. This means that for those staying at a resort you can hit the park an hour early or stay later. I promise you that if you are there when the park opens for the morning hours you can knock out several of the big rides without long lines! The other big park benefit is the ability to book your fast passes 60 days ahead of time versus 30 days ahead. This can easily be the difference between getting a fast pass for one of the newer and more popular rides or not.
Cons for Staying at a Disney Property
The biggest one is the cost. It can be much more expensive to stay on-site at a Disney resort. Although the atmosphere and perks are nice, they do come at a cost.
Although I mentioned the ability to forgo a car rental as a benefit, not having a car does mean all your food must come from the park areas. Disney food is notoriously expensive. If you happen to stay in a room that has a full kitchen, you can have Shipt (click on that link for $50 off your annual membership) or Amazon Prime (Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial) deliver, but otherwise, everything you eat has to be purchased at a location you can take Disney transport to.
Finally, it can feel like a “waste” of such a great room if you spend all your time in the parks. We love the feel of the Disney resorts as well as the pools, activities, etc. so if we are planning on long park days, it can feel wasteful to spend so much money on a great place that we are only using to rest our heads at night.
Pros for Staying Offsite
Although not always, staying offsite is often much cheaper. For instance, on the trip I mentioned above, we stayed in a two-bedroom condo with a full kitchen for less than our last trip onsite in a one-bedroom condo.
Staying offsite gives you more flexibility. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll need a car, which means that you aren’t tied to Disney for all your food and entertainment. You can choose to explore a local museum, a different part of town, play games at the resort and purchase much of your food at the grocery store. Just buying a case of water for $6 is a huge saving over the $3.50/ bottle you’ll pay onsite.
It can be more peaceful. After a busy day at one of the Disney parks or even Disney Springs it can be a relief to drive out of the craziness, relax over a plate of pasta cooked in your condo kitchen and playing cards on the screened-in porch.
Most resorts have a variety of activities and this can also be a fun way to spend an evening. We’ve watched Magic Shows, played mini-golf, shuffleboard, pool and participated in scavenger hunts at the various resorts we’ve stayed at through the years.
Cons of Staying Offsite
Everything takes longer. You’ll have to add time to drive to the park each day. If you want to shop at Disney Springs or have dinner at a WDW restaurant you’ll have to drive over there, find a place to park and then walk to the location.
Extra costs for parking. It is expensive to park at WDW. On our latest trip, it was $25/day. Visit the parks just four days during a week’s vacation and that is an extra $100.
You lose that Disney feel. If you aren’t a hardcore Disney fan, this might not matter to you, but if you are like our family and really love Disney, staying offsite definitely feels like a different vacation.
In Summary …
As I said at the beginning, a lot of your choice will come down to what is best for your family, and what your goals for the trip are. However, I hope I’ve given you some things to think about when planning your next Disney adventure!
What do you prefer when you visit Disney World? Staying offsite or onsite? What are your reasons?
Want some help planning your next Disney vacation? Visit Magical Vacation Planner by Pam Howard for customized assistance in creating the perfect vacation for YOU!
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