True Disneyphiles will tell you never to stay off property. You never “leave the magic” they say, and they offer nice perks. True, staying on property offers some bonuses like easy transportation, Disney package deals and extra magic hours, but this will be my first trip (out of 5) staying within the Walt Disney World Resort. There are positives and negatives to each.
Ease of arrival
- PRO: Disney offers free transportation from Orlando International Airport only, an approximate $200 roundtrip value. They will also pick up and deliver your checked luggage to your resort.
- CON: No transportation provided from the Sanford Airport. Baggage takes on average three hours to arrive at your hotel. You will be requested to leave on a bus for your return flight 2-3 hours before flight takeoff, despite only being thirty minutes from the airport.
- PRO: Come and go as you please on your schedule without waiting for a shuttle.
- CON: Airport transfer is on your own dime – approximately $200.
- PRO: Flexibility to go anywhere whenever you want/need to. Free parking provided at your hotel (rumored to change) where free resort transit system can be picked up to go anywhere in the resort.
- CON: If you choose to take your car into the park parking lots, you will pay $25 a day in parking. Pay more if you need to rent a car.
- PRO: Flexibility to go anywhere whenever you want/need to.
- CON: Likely paying a daily parking fee at the hotel ($25 or more) PLUS daily park parking fee ($25). Pay more if you need to rent a car.
Location and Transit
- PRO: Easy, free transportation is provided. Staying on property will get you closest to the magic, and cut down on your commute to the parks. This could be critical if you have young, impatient children, or are trying to maximize your touring time. Close proximity to the parks makes an afternoon break for a nap or swim much for feasible, and smart when crowds are at their peak.
- CON: Some resort buses make multiple stops, making the commute into the parks on their transit quite lengthy. Many recommend an hour to allow for waiting for transit, then travel and possible transfer.
- PRO: Free transit is almost always provided to the parks. Easiest access is via the Disney Springs area hotels.
- CON: Transit provided isn’t always reliable. Much longer commute to the magic depending on where you stay.
- PRO: Ease of access to Disney food or use the Disney dining plan. Full Disney immersion including themed dining and character meals. Access to a rapid refillable mug ($16) which has unlimited refills for the length of your stay for fountain and hot beverages on all Disney resort hotel properties (NOT in the parks).
- CON: Paying more for average and basic food items (breakfast, fried foods). No complimentary breakfast.
- PRO: You may find hotels with complimentary breakfast included. Option of doing more meals on your own, thus it may be beneficial to stay in a condo type setting, or at least in accommodations that offer a mini fridge and microwave. Groceries can be easily delivered to your door for a small fee (usually around $6). Also noteworthy, Disney allows outside food and drink as long as you carry it in a soft sided cooler. This might be a pain for a family on the go, but easy to do if you have a stroller in tow anyway.Two properties – the Wyndham and the Four Seasons – both offer character breakfasts every week. These are authorized by Disney, and thus should provide a similar experience to those provided on a Disney property.
- CON: If you choose to cook, more work for you on your vacation.
- PRO: Disney doesn’t hide any fees in their hotel stay. Their rates include parking and no daily resort fees are charged. This is rumored to change to stay tuned.
- CON: Off property hotels usually charge for parking, and some charge a daily resort fee. At a total cost of $60 a day plus park parking fees, this could easily wipe out the rack rate savings of staying off property.
Other on property offers and perks:
Disney dining deals. Perhaps the best, and most famous, Disney package deal that is only accessible to those that stay on property is the free dining promotion Disney runs during their slower times of year (fall before the holidays, winter, and sometimes spring). Getting free dining three times a day for a family of four can be a huge savings. To get this deal you usually pay full price for the hotel, and full price for your tickets. This promotion is getting rarer and rarer and could be phased out at any time – so if you are interested in it jump on it immediately if it becomes available.
Extra Magic Hours. Extra Magic Hours are offered to guests of Disney Resorts by providing early entry or late hours to the parks. At first this sounds great, until you realize that Extra Magic Hours – especially the morning ones – just mean WAY more people in the park that day with families trying to maximize their time. If you don’t have kids, or have older children and can do the late nights, I think that would be an advantage, otherwise, not so much.
Early FastPass+ reservations. With park attendance growing every year, earlier access to FastPass+ ride ticket reservations is becoming more and more critical, especially for hard to get passes like Anna & Elsa’s meet and greet or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Guests of Disney Resorts can book their FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance. Everyone else must wait until 30 days in advance. These reservations can make or break your experience so the earlier you are able to reserve them the better.
Free basic magicbands. Disney has gone digital and your wearable magicbands can serve as your room key, your ticket, your credit card and more. If you stay on property these bands are included with your stay – a $20 value per person, or $80 value for a family of four. If you want fancier magicbands with characters on it, or limited release ones you will have to pony up the money for it yourself.
Free mini golf. When you book a room and ticket package, you receive a booklet with four passes for mini golf, discount coupons for shopping at Disney Springs and tickets for ESPN Zone. Out of these, in my humble opinion, the greatest value are the mini golf passes which are worth $52 for a family of four.