Up until about 15 years ago (give or take a few years), any time I went to Disney World I would stay off property, usually at a major chain hotel. This was mainly due to the fact that I was traveling with my parents or other adults who were paying for the trip so I didn’t have a choice. Back then, staying at a hotel on Disney property was not something our family (or most of my friends’ families) could consider...or maybe they didn’t know about what was available on property back then, I really don't know.
Once I was out on my own, my DH (boyfriend back then) and I decided for some reason or another to stay on property at one of the Disney All Star Resorts...I think it was Sports but I honestly don’t remember. Since that trip, we never wanted to stay off property again. So for those who want to know the pros and cons of on property vs off property, here we go.......
Probably the biggest pro about staying off property is cost--since the lowest rack rate for a Disney resort is about $84 a night at a Value Resort (All Star Sports/Music/Movies or Pop Century for a minimum of at least $5 more per night), of course you can find many nice, clean hotels off property for a lot less. Even comparing Moderate and Deluxe Disney on-property resorts to their counterparts off property will turn up the same thing. And for some people this is the make-or-break for their trip-after all, if you can’t afford the room, you won’t be able to do the trip (at least not in a fiscally responsible manner). Heck, you can find rooms as cheap as $30 a night, though I can’t vouch for the comfort level of those places. On average, you’re probably looking at about $45-$60 a night for something close to what you’d find on Disney property if you’re willing to shop around and want to stay relatively close to the Disney main gate.
You can even find hotels that offer lots of extra amenities like mini-fridges, coffee makers, continental breakfasts, fancy pools, gyms, activities and such for the same or maybe even less than a Disney Value Resort. Several area hotels also offer shuttles to and from the theme parks at no extra cost which can be a great money saver if you flew in and didn’t rent a car. If you do have a car, you can always drive in to the parks each day...it honestly isn’t too far of a drive, though it will take longer (in most cases) than if you stay on property. BUT-to park at the Disney theme parks costs $14 per day unless you have an Annual Pass to the Disney Parks (a full Annual Pass, not a Seasonal Pass), so you need to factor in that extra cost per day. And what if you want to take a break during the day to rest in your room or at your hotel pool? Now you have a longer drive (usually) to get back to your hotel; if you’re using the hotel shuttles (if provided), you have to plan around the shuttle schedule which may not be convenient for you-especially if you need an unplanned break for whatever reason.
Now, if you are staying on property the biggest drawback again is-cost. Yes, you will pay more per night for a comparable room on Disney property. And no, there is no continental breakfast waiting for you in the lobby-you have to pay for your meals on your own. BUT-Disney has finally installed mini-fridges all the way down thru the Value resorts at no extra cost. Coffee makers come in the Moderate and Deluxe level Disney resorts. And from all recent reports from many guests, Wi-Fi Internet access now appears to be complimentary at all Disney resorts...at least for the time being. We’ll see if it lasts *fingers crossed*
A huge plus for lots of people when staying on property is Disney transportation. First off, if you are flying in and staying at a Disney resort, Disney’s Magical Express is a complimentary service they offer of roundtrip transportation for you and your baggage between the airport and your Disney hotel. Need to get to one of the theme parks? When you stay at a Disney on-property resort, they continually have busses running to all four theme parks, the water parks and Downtown Disney from the hotels. Most of the time the wait is pretty short, though sometimes some Disney hotel locations could see a wait of up to 15-20 minutes depending on how busy it is, what time of year and if other “special events” are going on. So whether you fly or drive, you can leave the driving up to them. If you do want to use your own car, parking is free at all of the theme parks when you stay at an Disney on-property hotel (remember that $14/day cost if you're not on property?).
But busses aren’t the only way to get around...if you’re staying at certain Deluxe resorts, you can take a boat to some of the theme parks instead. Plus some of the Moderate resorts and Disney Vacation Club (DVC) locations have boats to/from Downtown Disney. Then of course there’s always the monorail. If you stay at the Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian (all Deluxe resorts) you can just hop on the monorail to get to the Magic Kingdom...or switch monorails at the Transportation and Ticket Center and go all the way to Epcot. Pretty convenient, right? Some hotels are also within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom (like the Contemporary or Grand Floridian) or Epcot (like Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan and Dolphin). You could even walk to Hollywood Studios from the Epcot area hotels I just mentioned, though it is a bit of a longer walk-but it’s along a waterway and has a decent amount of shade.
Since being on property means you’re right in the middle of everything, it is pretty quick and easy to just pop back to the hotel for an afternoon nap or swim to avoid the heat of most Florida days (or just to relax to recharge for a night of storming the parks again!).
Remember the fancy pools I mentioned as a perk of some off-property hotels? Disney’s got that...some even have water slides. Even the pools at the Value resorts are pretty cool with interesting shapes (like the bowling pin one at Pop Century) and water features.
Several of the Disney resorts (mostly Deluxe or DVC plus Coronado Springs) have spas as well as fitness centers with workout machines and free weights. If you are staying at one of those hotels you can use the fitness center for free; if you’re staying at one of the other Disney resorts there is a per-day charge. Of course the spa treatments have a charge (let’s not get crazy thinking Disney is going to offer free massages, okay?).
You can also watch Disney movies by the main pools for free at many of the on-property hotels, including the Value resorts. They’ll also have other things going on by the main pool like games for the kids.
If you’re staying for more than a couple of days, you may want to purchase a refillable mug--you can use it at your hotel for the length of your stay for one set price (around $15 right now) for soda, coffee, tea (hot or cold), hot cocoa, lemonade and fruit punch. While you can only use it at the hotel you are staying in and not at the parks or other Disney hotels, this could be a real money saver, especially if you drink a lot of those type of beverages.
Planning to do some shopping in the parks or at Downtown Disney? Your purchases can be delivered to your hotel so you don’t have to lug them around the parks all day--and the service is FREE!
Finally, the theming at the Disney hotels is fantastic. The Value resorts have huge figures (we’re talking over 3 stories tall!) depicting the different themes for the hotels-like humongous bowling pins, Rubik’s cubes, cell phones and 8-track tapes at Pop Century; footballs, basketballs, tennis rackets, etc at Sports, bongos, musical instruments, speakers, etc at Music and enormous characters (again, many stories tall) from the different Disney films at Movies. The Moderate and Deluxe resorts are a bit more laid back, but beautifully themed based on things like the beach, tropical paradise, American Southwest, Frontier America, Victorian era and many more. All of the Disney resorts come with those fantastic Disney cast members who go out of their way to make sure you have a magical vacation.
Plus...you’re staying IN Walt Disney World-right in the center of the magic.
Now, you can have a fantastic time regardless of whether you stay on property or off...it’s really a matter of what is most important to you AND what you can afford to do. If staying on property means you couldn’t afford to go at all, you may want to opt for something off-property so you can still take your trip...you’re still going to have a great time-it is Disney World after all!
As for me, I’ve been bitten by the on-property bug and, with the exception of a trip where I stayed with friends who have an off-property timeshare in Orlando, I haven’t stayed off-property since my first on-property trip. I love being right in the middle of everything Disney and keeping the magic going even after I’ve left the parks for the day. Granted, to go as often as I like to go I usually stay at a Value resort but to me it is still a better pick FOR ME than off-property. While I would consider off-property if it was a choice between that and not going at all, on-property is always my preference. Yes, I’m a Disney hotel snob LOL.
Where do you prefer to stay, on or off? Any reasons other than what I outlined here? For the record, my favorite Value resort is Pop Century and Moderate is Coronado Springs. I haven’t had the pleasure of staying at a Deluxe or DVC property yet...but even if I never get to one of them that’s okay...just being in Disney World at all is fine for me!