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Why You Should Stay Offsite on Your Walt Disney World Vacation

Updated on February 10, 2012

Taking a Walt Disney World vacation for some people is a regular experience. For others, it’s a once in a lifetime trip. Regardless, every person—man, woman, or child—should visit Walt Disney World at least once. For some, staying onsite at a Disney owned and operated resort is a must, but there are many reasons why staying offsite at Walt Disney World should be considered.

People choose to stay at onsite resorts when visiting Walt Disney World for a variety of reasons. When considering staying offsite, these reasons should be considered. Perks of Disney Resorts are compelling and should be weighed into the decision to stay at an Orland hotel or rental home. There are also other benefits to staying offsite that Disney cannot offer.

Many onsite fans say that they enjoy being close to the magic of Walt Disney World. The thing is, Disney has many hotels on property that aren’t Disney owned and operated. These hotels include The Swan and Dolphin on Disney’s Boardwalk within walking distance to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in addition to many hotels located at Downtown Disney. Walking anywhere from a Disney value resort or moderate resort is impossible. Furthermore, many of the rental homes are within a 5 – 10 minute drive to Disney World—a shorter drive than from most of Disney’s own resorts.

Room charging privileges are a compelling reason to stay onsite at a Disney owned property. If you are not staying onsite at a Disney Resort, you cannot charge back to your room. This does not mean you need to carry a lot of cash. Room charges basically just end up on your credit card anyhow. If the idea of carrying a credit card through the theme parks makes you nervous, you can always carry gift cards—either a prepaid Visa/MasterCard or a Disney gift card. It is virtually no different than charging to your room.

Another reason people like staying at a Disney World Resort is for package delivery. There are tons of shopping opportunities throughout the Disney theme parks and most people don’t like to carry around their purchases. Guests of Disney Resorts can have their packages delivered to their resort. This isn’t a perk worth staying at an onsite resort for though. First, all packages are delivered the next day after 3 PM, and to the resorts gift shop. If you’re staying at the Boardwalk Inn, it isn’t even at your resort but at a nearby gift shop on The Boardwalk. Not as convenient as it first sounds. Additionally, all guests can send their purchases to the front of the park at guest services and pick up their items on the way out. Epcot has two guest service locations, so be sure to specify where you want to pick up your packages at. Items can also be stored in a locker; particularly useful if park hopping.

Another reason often quoted for staying onsite rather than at Orlando hotels is transportation. This may or may not be a consideration. Walt Disney World does offer Magical Express to those who are flying in, which is basically transportation from the Orlando airport to the Walt Disney World Resorts. Many people don’t fly and Magical Express might be free, but it isn’t a service without flaws. You don’t necessarily get to leave right away; you need to wait for everyone to board and then you must wait for everyone to be delivered to their resort. It isn’t unusual to hear reports of not making it to the resort for several hours. Even then, it can be several more hours until you receive your luggage. You either have to carry everything you might possible need or go without. It then also takes that much longer if anything turns up missing. Many people find it worth it to pay for transportation rather than use Disney’s Magical Express.

Once a guest, either of the Disney Resorts or day guests, enters Disney property, they may use all transportation available. This includes busses if hopping between parks, the monorail, or boats. Most of this is for guests staying onsite without a car, so it really isn’t an issue if you have chosen to stay offsite. A large portion of guests that fly will still rent a car. Disney’s transportation can be very time consuming. Each bus will often have to make several stops at various resorts and theme parks. Additionally, if a bus is full you will either have to stand, holding your stroller and children, and/or wait for the next bus. It can be 20 minutes between busses. At the end of the night, after a long day, waiting just for bus transportation during peak travel times might take over an hour and then another 30 minutes before reaching your resort.

Many people stay onsite because they don’t want to spend the money on a rental car. There are many ways to slash rental car prices, but if the idea of driving still doesn’t appeal to you, there are many places for staying offsite Disney that offers shuttle services. Almost all Disney World area hotels offer a shuttle to Disney (and other area theme parks), but so do many Orlando area vacation homes. Many Disney rental homes are located in resort communities and have hotel-like amenities available to guests at no additional charge.

Parking costs might scare some people off from staying offsite too. If you have a car while staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, either your own or rented, you receive free parking throughout Disney property at Disney area hotels or Florida vacation homes. Parking for day guests is $14 per day; you may change theme parks without having to repay to park. To avoid parking costs, you can have at least one person in your party purchase an annual pass for the free parking perk. An annual pass is the least expensive ticket option if you’ll be at Disney World for more than 10 days in a 365 period, or if you will get to take advantage of the discounts. It might also be worth it due to the amount of savings staying offsite provides you, although paying for parking can often still net offsite guests with a considerable amount savings in the end. By staying offsite and having your own car, you gain a lot of flexibility. You have the option to come and go to Walt Disney World as you choose; you do not need to wait on busses or boats.

A real concern regarding staying offsite in the Disney area, is the inability to take advantage of Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, where the certain theme parks will open either an hour early or stay open three hours later on specific days for resort guests only. Yet, this too, shouldn’t worry offsite guests very much. With Disney ticket pricing structure, many people will save money and buy only basic tickets (one park per day). This means that the majority of onsite guests will go to whatever park is participating in Extra Magic Hours that day and the other parks will be considerably less crowded. As a matter of fact, tour guide services and the best advice books will recommend that you avoid the parks that are participating in Extra Magic Hours in any given day. You will be able to do a lot more in the parks in less time by not going to an Extra Magic Hour park. Note however, that the Downtown Disney Hilton Hotel, The Swan, and The Dolphin all do participate in Extra Magic Hours even though they are not Disney owned and operated hotels.

Staying offsite does not leave you stranded. If you stay in an offsite hotel in the Disney area, you will still have the same level of service. First, the employees are pulled from the same population. Second, most major chains also offer a considerable amount of service, and more generous cancellation/change policies than even Disney offers. Even if you stay in an Orlando area rental home, you have owners and management companies that will be there to assist you every step of the way. Offsite accommodation competition is tough, and with the internet, each owner needs to be on the ball or you will hear about it.

Staying at an Orlando hotel does not mean that you will go without any theme in your hotel. Many hotels are themed as nicely as Disney Resorts and offer pools and amenities that are equal to, or better than, Disney’s. You can even rent a town home, condo, or house that is decorated in Disney décor. Two great examples are Florida House for Rent or Story Time Rentals.

Many Disney area accommodations offsite also offer kitchens. This can be a great way to save money. Breakfast in your room alone can save a family of four a few hundred dollars out of their dining budget. Of course, just because you have a kitchen does not mean you have to spend your time cooking. Anyone can make an Advanced Dining Reservation 180 days out. Staying offsite just opens the doors to your dining options—you can prepare meals yourself, eat at other restaurants in the Disney area (at a fraction of the cost), or continue to eat at Walt Disney World. If you purchased an annual pass to Disney, you can then purchase a Tables in Wonderland card and save 20% off your meals, most likely more than you would save with Disney’s Dining Plans.

Furthermore, staying offsite saves a considerable amount of money. Frequently accommodations that are much larger than Disney World’s largest and nicest rooms can be found for prices less than or equal to their most basic value resort rooms, even when staying longer. It’s possible to rent a Disney-themed, four bedroom home with a private, heated pool, free phone usage (including long distance), cable/satellite TV (Disney has limited options) and free wi-fi (Disney charges for 24 increments) for less than the small value rooms that Disney offers for the same cost. You’ll also get a washer and dryer so that you can throw clothes in and come home without a mountain of laundry to do at no extra charge (Disney’s washers and dryers cost $2 per load, don’t usually dry in one load, and cannot be left).

Staying offsite on your Disney World vacation is an option that should seriously be looked into. You won’t miss much compared to staying onsite at a Walt Disney World Resort and you can save a considerable amount of money.

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    • profile image

      PegP 

      6 months ago

      I would never consider staying off property. Even though the cost might be slightly higher (depending on which Disney resort and which off site resort you choose), the money is more than made up with not needing to rent a car for a week. Even if you drive, the parking at the parks is $20 (not $14), so that's a nice savings there, too. Disney might provide shuttle service to off site hotels, but I've never seen it, so I can only imagine how far from the park entrance it drops off and picks up at. And the time you may spend taking their bus (as opposed to driving yourself) is more than made up with the time you have to wait for a tram and the ride to get to and from your parking spot to the park.

      There are also other benefits. Disney resorts offer a lot of amenities I've not seen in off site resorts. Every night there's a "Movie Under the Stars" (free), games at the pool for the kids (and adults) to participate in, and other activities. We made a tie-dyed Mickey T-shirt at Art of Animation. A nice Hawaiian lady teaches hula dancing at the Polynesian. And so on.

      It's really no big deal to pick your package up at the gift shop at the resort. Chances are, you'll be passing it anyway on your way to and from the dining area.

      I've also never had to pay for internet at a Disney resort. Ever. Never stayed at the laundry with my clothes, either. No one else does, either.

      I guess everyone views things differently, but I've found a Disney resort inherently more cost effective for the return than an off-site resort. We've never chosen to stay in Orlando any year we've gone (and we go every year).

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Thank you for the recommendations.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Oops! I just booked an onsite hotel package for my upcoming Disneyland vacation- if only I had read your Hub first!!!

    • bonnebartron profile image

      bonnebartron 

      7 years ago from never one place for too long

      Great plugs for local accommodations! ;) For what it's worth I agree with you!

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