Choosing where to stay is a huge decision when you start planning your Disney World trip. Big considerations, such as cost, location and amenities, will all factor into where you finally book to stay.
But when planning a Disney World vacation the number one question I get asked is 'should I stay on site or off site at Disney World?'. So today I will help you answer this!
WHAT DOES ON-SITE AND OFF-SITE MEAN?
Staying on-site is when you stay at a Walt Disney World property, and mostly refers to staying in a Walt Disney World Resort.
Disney World has over 20 hotels to stay in, covering all different budgets, room types and levels of amenities.
There are also a range of 'good neighbor' hotels on Disney World property, but these often don't include the same benefits to staying at a Disney World Resort. When talking about staying on-site typically these types of hotels are excluded.
Staying off-site is to stay in a property outside of Walt Disney World Resort. There are hundreds of different hotels, resorts, villas and rentals available in Orlando.
Some great areas in Orlando to stay in are Lake Buena Vista, which is closest to Disney World, International Drive which has lots of restaurants and entertainment right there for you to enjoy and Kissimmee which is an area with a lot of holiday rentals not too far from Disney World.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO STAY ON-SITE AT A DISNEY WORLD RESORT?
Here are the benefits to staying at a Disney World Resort plus two reasons people may choose not to.
You Get To Stay In The Disney Bubble!
One of the biggest benefits of staying on-site at a Disney World Resort is you are in the Disney Bubble for your entire trip! The magical atmosphere that you feel when at Disney World is extended throughout your entire stay! This makes your trip feel more like an experience rather than just a vacation.
Many Different Types of Resort So There Is Something For Everyone
If you are a family, a couple, a solo traveller or visiting with friends there is something for everyone! There are so many different types of resorts at Disney World that everyone is accommodated.
No matter what your taste is you will find something to suit you! If you want lots of Disney references then Art of Animation Resort is right up your street, if you are animal lovers then Animal Kingdom Lodge is the best for you as you can see all the incredible animals on the savannah or if you want an adults trip then the Port Orleans resorts are the perfect setting for you.
All budgets are catered for also. Value resorts are the most budget friendly and have the most Disney theming. These resorts are particularly great for people travelling with children. They have the least amount of facilities and restaurants but with Disney's complimentary transport you can easily travel around the whole of Walt Disney World easily to find whatever you need.
Moderate resorts are the perfect balance between budget and facilities. These resorts are great for adults and offer both quick service and table service dining.
Deluxe resorts are the closest to the parks, have incredible facilities and the most amount of restaurants. These are perfect for people wanting convenient access to the parks, amazing dining right at your doorstep and access to lots of facilities.
Complimentary Disney Transportation
Disney World offers a whole range of free transportation to its resort guests! All Disney Resorts have buses that connect them to the Disney Parks and Disney Springs. Many resorts also have a secondary mode of complimentary transportation: such as the monorail, the Skyliner and the Disney boats.
Having free transport can save you a huge amount of money when visiting Disney World! There is no need to factor in the cost of taxis, theme park shuttles or car hire.
Free Park Parking If You Do Have A Car
If you stay at a Disney Resort you get free park parking! Although you do have to pay to park at your resort you can end up saving you money as to park at the parks costs $25 a day, whereas parking at a value resort is $15 a night, at a moderate resort is $20 a night and at a deluxe resort $25 a night. If you are staying in a value or moderate resort you can end up saving big bucks on parking this way!
Resort Activities, Entertainment, Movies and Pop up Character Experiences
The Disney World Resorts have so much more than just great rooms and fantastic dining. You can also take part in a range of activities and entertainment.
Every resort posts a weekly schedule of everything that is on offer for you to enjoy at your resort. Plus many of these are free!
Activities such as 'Movies Under The Stars' let you watch classic Disney movies in the beautiful outdoor surroundings of your resort. This is a lovely way to end the day!
You can pay to create your own tie die t-shirt. This is a really fun way to take home a one-of-a-kind souvenir from your trip. It is a great activity for families or groups as you can all have similar designs but the way you tie die your t-shirt will be totally unique to you!
You can even see beloved Disney characters making pop-up appearances at your resort! It is so great to spot Disney character whilst walking around your resort grounds and this is a part of the magic that you experience when staying at a Disney World Resort!
Some resorts also offer activities unique to their theming. Animal Kingdom Lodge is incredible for the beautiful animals on the savannah and the African culture represented throughout the resort. Whilst staying here you can attend talks about the animals to learn more about them, take a safari or enjoy a range of activities to teach you about the wonderful culture of African nations.
More Restaurants You Can Visit
Some of the best restaurants at Disney World can be found in the Disney Resorts! If dining is a big part of your Disney trip then you are in luck as you have a range of different resorts, and different cuisines, to choose from that have incredible dining right at your doorstep!
With the free Disney transportation, you can also easily head to other Disney Resorts to dine in. This opens you up to so many more choices and you are not limited to only the restaurants in the Disney Parks.
Easy To Rest During The Day
One of the biggest benefits of staying on-site is you can take breaks during the day! This is particularly great for people visiting with young children.
In the heat of the day, when the parks are super busy, it is really nice to be able to travel back to your resort to relax by the pool, take a nap in your room or take part in the activities at your resort.
Because of the free Disney transportation, or the ability to drive to any location across Walt Disney World Resort in under 20 minutes, it is very easy to head back for a break during your day. If you are staying off-site this can be costly and time consuming.
You Never Have To Leave The Property As You Have Everything Available To You!
The best part of staying on-site is that you have everything you could possibly need available to you so you never need to leave the property!
As well as the incredible theme parks you also have shops at Disney Springs, amazing dining across the whole resort, fantastic entertainment and a whole range of sports and activities to keep you entertained.
You could easily stay for two weeks on-site and never leave once as there is just so much to see and do!
It Can Be Expensive
The downside to staying on-site is it doesn't come cheap. This is because you are paying for the convenience of never needing to leave the property, being super close to the parks, the ability to get everywhere with free transportation and the benefit of being able to visit your resort in the daytime easily.
Although the price tag can be large there are ways to make it more affordable to stay on-site at a Disney World Resort.
The more people in the room, the cheaper it works out. Disney charge by the room, not per person. A solo traveller will end up paying a very high rate due to this. But the more people staying in the room, the more ways the cost is split. Four people will pay a quarter of the bill each by splitting it four ways so this then becomes much more affordable.
Some resorts also have fifth sleeper rooms which feature a pull-down Murphy Bed under the TV unit, which great for younger children to sleep in and is super helpful for families with multiple children.
There are also a range of different resort tiers to cover all budgets.
Value resorts are the best value, have the most theming and are great for families.
Moderate resorts a good balance between price and facilities and are great for adults.
Deluxe resorts are the closest to the parks and have the most amount of facilities, making them the most expensive.
Fewer Benefits To Staying On-Site At The Moment
Due to the operational changes in place due to the coronavirus not as many benefits to staying on-site at a Disney World resort are currently available. Here are some of the benefits temporarily suspended:
Not all the resorts are currently open so your desired resort may not be available to stay in.
No FastPass+. This was a great benefit to staying on-site at a Disney Resort as you could book your Fastpasses 60 days before your trip. People staying off-site could book 30 days in advance. This meant resort guests had first pick and a better chance of getting the Fastpass+ reservations they wanted.
Dining reservations harder to come by as there are fewer restaurants open and limited capacities. One benefit still available is that resort guests can book their whole stay, up to 10 days, at the 60-day mark so have a better chance of getting the reservations they want.
No Extra Magic Hours. Instead resort guests can enter the parks 30 minutes earlier than day guests but this isn't a long enough period to make a significant difference.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO STAY OFF-SITE IN ORLANDO?
Here are some reasons people prefer to stay off-site in Orlando and a few downsides to consider.
Cheaper Room Rates
It can be far cheaper to stay off-site. This is a much more affordable way to visit Disney World. There are hundreds of hotels to choose from, for every budget, star rating, level of facilities and locations.
If you still want to be near Disney World then look for accommodation in Lake Buena Vista, as this is the closest area to Disney.
If you would like lots of restaurants and entertainment then International Drive is a good location for you. This long strip has a large number of hotels, restaurants and attractions such as WonderWorks, a super fun and interactive museum. At the end of International Drive is Universal Studios so many people like to stay here to be in between Disney World and Universal Orlando.
If you are a solo traveller or two people staying off-site can be considerably cheaper. Like Disney World Resorts, Orlando hotels also charge by the room, but their room rates are significantly lower. If you are travelling on your own or as a pair then staying off-site can be much more affordable.
Some Resorts Offer Free Shuttle To The Theme Parks
Many resorts in Orlando offer theme park shuttles and some of these are even free! Check that your resort offers theme park shuttles before you book. Even better if it is a free service!
This can be a great benefit for you as it can stop you from having to pay out for taxis or hiring a car which can save you a lot of money. Be sure to check the frequency of the shuttles before you book and some hotels only offer 3 or 4 a day which can be restrictive.
When booking an off-site hotel also look out for resort fees. These can be upwards of $20 a day which can really add up! Resort fees cover amenities such as Wifi and theme park shuttles so be sure to look for hotels with no resort fees and free or cheap theme park shuttles to get the best deal!
Free Parking At Your Hotel
Many Orlando resorts will offer free parking which is a huge perk! As you will be paying to park in the Disney Parks any way to save money is helpful and free hotel parking is a way to do this! Check before you book if parking is included in your resort room rate. This saves you paying out twice for parking, once at hotel and then in the theme parks.
You Can Explore Everything Orlando Has To Offer!
As you are not staying in the Disney Bubble you may want to explore everything Orlando has to offer, including other theme parks, museums and malls. Orlando is so much more than Disney and it can be nice to have a trip where you really get to experience everything Orlando has to offer!
Popular places to visit include Orlando Universal, where you can experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or ride the latest attraction, the Jurassic Park VelociCoaster! Head to Icon Park to go on The Wheel to see a great view over the whole city, brave the Starflyer or visit attractions such as Madame Tussauds. Or take a trip out of Orlando and visit the Kennedy Space Center to learn all about NASA!
Choose From A Range Of Different Accommodation Types
If you stay off-site you will have a larger range of accommodation types. For big groups hiring a villa can be a much better option as you can all stay together in one property, instead of paying out for multiple hotel rooms.
Villas can also be great if you would like to self-cater and cook some of your own meals, which is a great way to save on costs.
Orlando also has many hotels, resorts, motels, Airbnb accommodations and holiday rentals so whatever type of location you are looking to stay in you will be able to find it!
You Can Dine Outside Of The Disney Parks Which Is Much Cheaper
If you are staying off-site you won't need to have every meal in Disney World. By eating outside of the parks you can save a lot of money this way. Orlando has so many great restaurants and every type of cuisine you could imagine!
Once you know the area of Orlando you would like to stay in you can do a quick Google search, or use Google Maps, to find what restaurants will be close to your accommodation.
Not The Same Atmosphere
The downside to staying off-site is you don't enjoy the same atmosphere. Whilst in Disney you can feel the magic but when just visiting the Disney Parks it can feel like you are just visiting a theme park that feels magical rather than having a magical vacation.
Have To Factor In Transportation Costs
If you stay off-site you need to work out what types of transportation you will be using. Transportation costs can quickly add up so this is something to factor into your budget.
The locations you will most likely need transportation to include:
Getting to and from the airport
Getting to and from the theme parks
Visiting a supermarket
Visiting a mall
Getting to restaurants
The easiest way to travel around Orlando is with a car. If you bring your own, or hire a car, you can visit everywhere with ease and on your own schedule.
You may be staying at a resort that offers theme park shuttles. This can be a massive benefit if you are travelling without a car and can help you visit all the big Orlando attractions.
Another mode of transportation visitors use a lot are taxis or car ride services. The local taxi company, Mears, is popular or using ride sharing services such as Uber or Lyft.
You May Need To Travel To Dine Or Shop
Orlando is a destination that is set up for tourists, so many hotels will be in areas with lots of amenities. But you may find yourself needing to travel a bit more to visit supermarkets, shops and attractions.
Before booking your trip it is a good idea to see what is local to your accommodation so you can find out whether you can easily walk to everything you need, take local transport or if may need a car or taxi.
HOW TO CHOOSE WHETHER TO STAY ON-SITE OR OFF-SITE
Now you know the benefits and downsides to staying on-site and off-site how do you choose between the two? The main factors to consider are:
What type of vacation you want to have
Do you want to explore everything Orlando has on offer or to fully immerse yourself in the Disney experience?
Convenience - Will you want to take breaks during the day? Would you like to have everything in one place?
Staying off-Site is the best for your budget, great if you have a car and if you are wanting to explore everything Orlando has to offer. If you are wanting to spend less on accommodation so you can use your money on other expenses like park tickets, food and souvenirs then staying off-site can be a great way to do this.
If you are wanting to full Disney experience staying on-site is the best option. You get to feel the magic every day of your trip by being in the Disney bubble, you will never get bored with so much on offer to do both inside the parks and outside, you can dine at over 200 restaurants catering to all different tastes with lots of different cuisines and you can easily travel for free to experience it all!
Be sure to check out my Budgeting Planner for Walt Disney World which breaks down everything you need to budget for and then has handy templates to create the budget for your entire trip, your dining budget and daily budget! Get yours today by clicking here!
Make sure you head to the Most Magical Blog to read other posts all about how to plan your most magical trip to Disney World!
Do you prefer to stay on-site or off-site? Let me know in the comments below or over on social media using the links at the top of the page!