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Choosing where to stay at Disney World is one of the most important parts of vacation planning if you’re headed to the parks with your family. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, the Lake Buena Vista and Orlando area offer endless accommodation options for Disney World guests. Despite all of the choices, one of the first decisions you must make is whether to stay on property at one of Disney World’s resorts or off property somewhere else in the area.
This episode marks the start of our Disney World Vacation Planning Series. It’s also the first time I’ve recorded a podcast episode somewhere other than my home office. That’s right! I’m recording the first episodes of this series from my hotel at The Walt Disney World Swan Resort.
In this episode, we tackle the question of which is better: Staying on property at a Walt Disney World Resort or staying offsite? We look at each option’s pros and cons to help you plan your next Disney World vacation.
Staying On Property At A Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World offers a variety of accommodations for all budgets and interests. Walt Disney World Resorts are split into three primary categories.
Deluxe Resorts and Villas
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s Boardwalk Inn & Villas
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Several of the Deluxe Walt Disney World Resorts offer additional villas in addition to standard resort accommodations.
- The Cabins At Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Start Sports Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Non-Disney Resorts On Property With Disney World Benefits
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
These three hotels are located in the Boardwalk area on property at Walt Disney World. All three are Westin Hotels (a Marriott brand). Guests staying at the Dolphin, Swan, and Swan Reserve receive similar benefits as Disney Resort guests, like early park entry, extended hours access, and free park transportation. They are also within walking distance of Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
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Benefits Of Staying On Property At A Disney World Resort
Being a Disney World Resort guest comes with several benefits you can’t access while staying elsewhere.
- Convenience: Staying on Disney property means you are close to the theme parks. It’s a matter of time getting to and leaving the park and the ability to go back to your resort during the day without it being a huge headache. I’m going to touch more on this in a minute because there’s something that I think a lot of Disney guests forget to factor into their planning.
- Extra access: Guests staying on property have access to early entry and extended park hours on certain days. You also have first dibs on dining reservations and booking lightning lanes.
- Free park transportation: Depending on where you stay, resort guests have access to complimentary transportation to and from the parks, water parks, and Disney Springs. Available modes of transportation vary between resorts but include busses, Skyliners, boats and monorails.
- Themed experience: The resorts, especially Value resorts, are heavily themed with Disney magic. This provides an immersive experience that extends beyond the parks themselves.
Disadvantages of Staying On Property At A Disney World Resort
Staying on property can be magical, but it also comes with some potential disadvantages to consider before booking your Disney World vacation.
- Cost: Walt Disney World resorts typically cost more than comparable hotels and resorts located outside of the Disney bubble.
- Limited dining options: While the dining experience is unique, it may also limit your options. If you prefer a wide variety of non-Disney dining, you might find the on-property options restrictive.
- Crowds: Since many guests choose to stay on property, the resorts and transportation systems can be crowded, especially during peak seasons.
- Less flexibility: If you plan to visit other attractions in the area, staying on property might limit your flexibility, as the focus will primarily be on Disney-related transportation and activities.
- Too much Disney: Disney is almost everywhere you turn on property. If you want a break from the Disney theme, staying on property might not be the best choice. The immersive experience could feel overwhelming for some guests.
Staying Off Property At Disney World
Now, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of staying off-property. This obviously covers more options, from hotels and resorts to condos, vacation homes, camping, and other accommodations. This also includes Walt Disney World Good Neighbor hotels, which aren’t owned by Disney but offer varying perks through a partnership with Disney.
Advantages of Staying Off Property At Disney World
We’ve enjoyed several Disney World vacations while staying offsite, both at local Orlando area hotels and in vacation rentals. Here are some of the advantages of staying offsite during a Disney World vacation.
- Cost savings: Staying off property can be more budget-friendly. There are often more varied options in different price ranges, allowing you to save money for other aspects of your vacation.
- More dining options: Off-property locations typically provide access to a broader array of restaurants and cuisines, offering flexibility in your dining choices.
- More accommodations: There is a wide variety of hotels, motels, and vacation rentals available off-property, providing more choices to fit your preferences and budget.
- More flexibility: If your vacation isn’t entirely centered around Disney World, you may want a more convenient option closer to other attractions like Universal Studios Orlando, Sea World, and Legoland.
Disadvantages of Staying Off Property At Disney World
As much as we love saving money, there are some disadvantages to staying off-property.
- Transportation challenges: Off-property locations may not provide transportation to the Disney parks, or if they do, it may be less frequent and less convenient, potentially adding stress and time to your daily schedule.
- No extended park hours: Staying off property means missing out on certain perks like Extra Magic Hours, limiting your time in the parks compared to on-property guests.
- Less themed experience: Off-property accommodations won’t have the immersive Disney theming that many visitors enjoy. It may feel less special compared to the full-on Disney resort experience.
- Hidden costs: While staying off-property may seem cheaper, it’s essential to factor in potential costs like parking, resort fees, and transportation to the parks, which might reduce the overall savings.
Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels
If you prefer to stay off-property, there are several hotels that are considered Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels. While not located within the Disney World bubble, most are relatively close in proximity and partner with Disney World to offer additional benefits you may not find elsewhere. Benefits vary based on the hotel or resort. Some Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels offer themed elements and decor to help extend the Disney experience.
- Best Western Plus – Kissimmee – Lake Buena Vista South Inn & Suites
- Blue Tree Resort at Lake Buena Vista
- Buena Vista Suites
- Candlewood Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Caribe Royale Orlando
- Comfort Suites Maingate East
- Courtyard by Marriott Lake Buena Vista at Vista Centre
- Courtyard by Marriott / Marriott Village Hotels
- Crowne Plaza Orlando
- Delta Marriott Orlando Celebration
- Delta Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Embassy Suites Orlando — Lake Buena Vista Resort
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando — Lake Buena Vista South
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando International Drive Convention Center
- Fairfield by Marriott Celebration
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Lake Buena Vista
- Fairfield Inn by Marriott Village Hotels in Lake Buena Vista
- Floridays Resort Orlando
- The Grove Resort & Water Park Orlando
- Hampton Inn Orlando/Lake Buena Vista
- Hampton Inn & Suites – South Lake Buena Vista
- Hawthorn SuitesHawthorn Suites Lake Buena Vista
- Hilton Garden Inn Orlando/Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando Southwest – Celebration Area
- The Holiday Inn Express & Suites – South Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites-Waterpark
- Holiday Inn Resort Orlando – Lake Buena Vista
- Home2 Suites by Hilton Orlando International Drive South
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Lake Buena Vista – Orlando
- Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista
- Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa
- Margaritaville Resort Orlando
- Meliá Orlando Celebration
- Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate
- Residence Inn Orlando Convention Center
- Residence Inn Lake Buena Vista
- Rosen Inn Lake Buena Vista
- Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort
- Sonesta ES Suites Orlando – Lake Buena Vista
- Springhill Suites Orlando Theme Park/Lake Buena Vista
- SpringHill Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
- Springhill Suites by Marriott Orlando Kissimmee
- SpringHill Suites Orlando Convention Center/International Drive Area
- TownePlace Suites Orlando Theme Park/Lake Buena Vista
- WorldQuest Orlando Resort
Should You Stay On Property or Off Property At Disney World?
Honestly, you can’t go wrong whether you stay at a Walt Disney World Resort, another hotel, a vacation rental or somewhere else. Instead of asking whether you should stay on-property at a Disney World Resort or offsite, you should be asking yourself:
- What’s important to you and your family?
- What are you willing to pay for?
Once you answer these two questions, you’ll start to discover which choices are best for your upcoming Disney World family vacation. And as you continue to take trips to Walt Disney World, your family’s interests and needs may change.
Budgeting For A Disney World Vacation
Our family uses value-based budgeting to make financial decisions. We intentionally design our spending and saving around what we love and cut unnecessary spending elsewhere. Vacation planning should be no different.
Think about your trip. Picture your family at Walt Disney World. Which parks do you think everyone will like the most? Picture what a day at the parks looks like. Picture what your trip will be like when you’re not at the parks.
- What will you do?
- Will you spend much time in your room or at a resort, hotel or vacation home?
- Which of the benefits or drawbacks I mentioned resonated with you or got your attention?
- Do you need more space?
- Will you even use the amenities included with certain accommodations?
- Do your kids (or you) love Disney enough to be immersed in it 24/7?
- Do you want access to a kitchen?
- Are there any medical concerns to consider?
- What are your family members like when they get tired, hot, and hungry and what helps them best in those situations?
Determine what’s most important to you and your family, and plan your vacation and budget around those aspects of the trip. If it’s where you stay, great. If not, that’s great too. If you want to save money on your Disney vacation, find ways to do it outside of what you value the most. You can still look for the best deals or value. You can still look for discounts. You still need to stick to your budget and what you can afford currently.
Focusing on what you value gives you a better frame of reference when you start planning your Disney World vacation or other adventures.
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Kevin Payne is the budgeting and family travel enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. He’s also the host of the Family Money Adventure Show podcast, where he helps families learn to manage their money better so they can afford to do the things they love.
Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to USA Today, Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Fox Business, Credible, and CreditCards.com.