Disney onsite versus offsite

Visiting Disney World? Should I Stay Onsite or Offsite?

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

1. Amazing resorts

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.

Are you looking for a fun activity on-site? Pick up a copy of a Hidden Mickey book like this one and have fun exploring!

Onsite at Disney at the Boardwalk

2. Location, location, location

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. This means you don’t need to rent a car which can be several hundred dollars cost savings.

Disney onsite at the Contemporary

3. Staying onsite means extra park benefits

Finally, there are a few park benefits too. Often parks offer early entry or the ability to stay late. This perk does change from time to time, so be sure to check with the property when you arrive to see what’s availabIe.

I guarantee 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!

Cons for Staying at a Disney Property

Although I’m a onsite fan, there are some cons to consider …

1. Staying onsite can be expensive

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.

3. It’s harder to buy groceries for your room

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 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.

Disney onsite - Yak and Yeti food

3. You might feel like you are “wasting” all the extras

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. but 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

So, why would you choose to stay offsite?

1. Save some money by 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.

2. Staying offsite gives you more flexibility

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.

3. Staying offsite can be quieter

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 play cards on the screened-in porch.

4. Staying offsite can offer unique activities

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, swam in the pool, and participated in scavenger hunts at the various resorts we’ve stayed at through the years.

Cons of Staying Offsite

There are some definite cons to staying offsite too though.

1. Staying offsite means you need to add extra time to your plans

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.

2. Staying offsite means extra parking costs

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.

3. Staying offsite means less Disney magic

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.

 Disney onsite vs. offsite sign

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?

Looking for more Disney fun? Check out our recent visit to Splitsville at Disney Springs, how to beat the heat at Disney, or some of the pros and cons of buying an Annual Membership!

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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53 Comments

  1. I like on site if I am doing Disney, but if I have other parks on the agenda off site would be a good fit!

    1. We have been contemplating where to stay for an upcoming trip! I’ve been realizing some places off site come with a few perks like transportation to the parks which is huge!! Thanks for the article!

      1. Great points on either side. I have never gotten to stay in a Disney resort before, I hope I can one day so I can compare!

  2. Many offsite resorts offer free shuttles to/from Disney Parks too to avoid those daily parking fees. After living in Orlando for 10 years, I still prefer staying off-site for the peace. Great considerations in this post for first timers or returning guests curious to do something different

  3. Thank you for that comparison as to whether to stay onsite or offsite. Having never been there, I often wondered about that.

  4. Great post! We drive to Disney, so sometimes we stay a couple of nights off-site before our trip officially starts, but other than that, it’s on-site all the way for us!

  5. This article is spot on and so helpful for people visiting Disney. We stayed on property and the extra magic hours definitely made up for any extra money we paid.

  6. This is a great comparison to help people weigh the pros and cons. I’ve stayed both onsite and offsite, and both experiences were great.

  7. Good to know the options of on- or off-site. If I were to go, I think I would stay at animal kingdom since I’ve been to Africa and went on safari there.

  8. This is a great comparison of the pros and cons of staying onsite and offsite. We enjoy staying onsite because the resorts have a bit of extra magic, but I’m interested in exploring offsite options, as well. This post has inspired me to look. Thanks!

  9. I love staying on site. We’ve been on free dining when we’ve stayed on site, so it was definitely worth it. I love the convenience of the buses too.

  10. We definitely spend the extra to stay onsite. Also after the evening activities, if we stay, we ar eso tired we just want to get back without dealing with parking, driving etc.. Cut down on something through the year when saving for Disney so you can try to stay on site.

  11. I usually prefer to stay off site just because I would rather spend my money at the parks, but we were are planning on staying at a Disney hotel at least once for a special occasion when are kids are old/still young enough to appreciate it.

  12. Good points made for both sides. I will probably always stay on *the outside* but that’s personal preference. Convenience always comes at a higher price point than I’m willing to pay! ☺

  13. I much prefer to stay onsite. I also love the deluxe hotels, so we became Disney Vacation Club Members. Our home resort is the Polynesian

  14. This is an interesting topic. I have only been to disney twice, once as a kid and once as an adult. Both times I stayed off site and I liked it. But the traffic in and out is horrendous. So I see how that’s a con…

  15. The good thing about parking and staying off site, every resort offers shuttles to the theme parks. I don’t know about hotels though. I think staying onsite with littles is much more convenient. Now that ours are a bit older, we really enjoy the resorts as they seem to be a little less crazy. Great things to consider in this post. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I do agree – on our last offsite stay we did enjoy a leisurely afternoon at the pool – it was definitely calmer than onsite!

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