One of the most important decisions you’re faced with when planning your Walt Disney World vacation is to decide whether to stay on or off Disney property. Having done both over the years, we’ve uncovered some Disney World tips that can help you decide which is right for you.
Your Disney World Vacation -- Staying Off Disney Property
Orlando is such a popular tourist destination that you can find everything from basic hotel rooms to villas, suites and full houses for rent, helping to ensure that you can easily find something that's perfect for your stay. The sheer quantity of available options alone makes staying off property attractive, but some of the other advantages include:
- Lower costs.
- More room / space.
- Less of a “commitment to Disney” (many people I’ve talked to feel like if they stay on property, that’s all they should do – but with Universal Studios, Sea World and a bevy of other attractions in Orlando, staying off property allows you to feel less inclined to commit only to “the Mouse”).
On the flip side, you lose a lot of the perks that make staying on property worthwhile (noted below). In addition, you end up having to deal with things like:
- Additional costs for rental car / parking / etc…
- Dealing with the hassle of getting into and out of the parks each day.
- Not being able to setup your Disney Fastpass+ ahead of time.
- More time spent traveling -- time is your most precious resource on vacation, treasure it.
People often forget about these other costs associated with staying off property, so one of my favorite Disney World tips is to calculate whether these costs make up the delta between what staying on property would cost. Obviously this varies with each scenario, but is an important consideration to keep in mind.
Your Disney World Vacation -- Staying On Disney Property
The past few years, we’ve opted to stay exclusively on property. In fact, this year, we spent our entire Disney World vacation on property (in years past, we've taken a few days to venture off property, but my kids just love the Magic Kingdom so much, we ended up there most days*). With young children, not having to deal with rental cars and being able to come and go as we please to allow for naps and other breaks proved to be a big selling point for us. But beyond that, there are a ton of advantages to staying on Disney property, including:
- Free transportation and luggage service (including in-room luggage delivery) to and from the airport via Disney’s Magical Express (if you’re traveling with kids, the value of this service can’t be understated).
- Access to Disney’s Extra Magic Hours, hours that the parks are only open for guests staying on property (another of our Disney World tips is this: while it tends to be super crowded because most people on the property feel the need to take advantage of it, the lines are still shorter than during normal hours).
- No driving / parking / etc., it’s all handled via the Disney Transportation System (DTS).
- The ability to configure FastPass+ attractions in advance (it helps guarantee you can ride the rides you want, when you want to, and don’t have to spend the first chunk of your day setting up your FastPasses).
- The ability to stay at some of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) properties, which are generally very nice.
- More of an “all-inclusive” feel, even though it’s not technically “all-inclusive”.
If you’re looking to remove some of the stress from your Disney World vacation (and who isn’t, really), staying on property helps with that quite a bit too. Plus, it’s more affordable than you think. Sure, if you want to stay at the higher end resorts and villas near Epcot and Magic Kingdom, you’re going to pay for that, but if you can get by with a standard hotel room, you can stay on property for about $100 a night – that’s not bad. As for the downsides:
- Generally, you are paying a premium for these benefits and depending on where you stay, those premiums will be higher or lower.
- Like everything else in the world of real estate, it’s all about location. We prefer to stay near
- While the Magic Hours and Transportation System are benefits, if you’re not going to use them, or find them cumbersome to use (DTS works better for certain properties), the additional cost might not make sense (another of our Disney World tips: If you can stay on the monorail, you'll have a better chance of staying on whatever schedule you've planned -- they run on a much tighter schedule that the bus system).
So, which do you prefer? I don’t think you can go wrong either way, and while we prefer to stay on property now, that might change when our kids get older (their favorite park is the Magic Kingdom, but they might like the bigger rides at Hollywood Studios as they get older). I hope that this has been helpful. If you have a Disney question, I’m happy to help. Feel free to shoot me your question on Twitter (I’m @jonmkee) or via email (jonmkee at gmail dot com). Have a magical day!
* - One of my favorite Disney World Tips for those with young kids is to visit one park in the morning, go back to the hotel for naps/rest during the afternoon when the parks are most crowded, then head back later. Kids don't need to ride every ride a dozen times to have a magical experience.