This question is looming large for anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World. It’s always been a big, rather complicated question, but with a loss of many perks during the pandemic, staying on property with the premium that goes with it, is less and less appealing. Let’s unpack this as I compare my experience planning now versus my last visit in 2017.
The cost of hotel stay seems to have gone up considerably since our last visit to Pop Century when we paid $135 a night on average. Now it looks like we would pay $195 a night. That said, that’s without a discount. Since we want to go in a lower season, a discount may become available, likely saving us $20 a night.
Off property hotels are often cheaper at first glance but most Disney Springs hotels now charge resort fees to the tune of $25-35 a day. Disney properties (for now) do not charge resort fees. Upper scale hotels off property seem to offer much more than the Disney Deluxe Resorts as far as amenities go, for less cost. Less expensive and Value options are more of a gray area and I need to investigate further.
We have stayed at the Pop Century Hotel twice and enjoyed both stays. Is it a bit cheesy? Yes. Am I obsessed with the theming like other guests? No.
Many Disney fans fawn over the theming of Disney hotels. Many Deluxe resorts tell a sort of story and if you are a sucker for theming and details, it’s all there. However, when it comes to my family theming is secondary to a comfortable sleep and a good pool.
The “Bubble” Factor
Is it nice to be in the Disney “bubble” upon arrival?
Yes. There is something to be said about having a fully immersive Disney experience that you never leave. It allows a level of escapism.
You also have access to that famous and excellent Disney customer service. On one visit with my family, both my daughter and I got terribly sick with a 24 bug in the middle of the night. Housekeeping was prompt, kind and had our sheets changed no problem. The front desk sent sick care packages up to us and coordinated and rescheduled all our reservations. Looking back the incident was a blip in the vacation when it could have been absolutely devastating.
In addition, all Disney properties (at least before pandemic times) offered free kids activities including games, dance parties, movies and simple crafts. This is not a babysitting service but a nice little perk for those non-park days.
Guests who stay on property have the ability to send souvenirs directly back to your hotel for free. This is not a big deal to my family, but it may be to you.
Magicbands used to be included with any Disney hotel package stay. No longer. That’s a loss of $60 value to my family.
This is huge. Beginning in 2022, Disney Resorts are ending their excellent complimentary Magical Express bus transportation from the airport. When I recently looked up costs of transportation from Orlando’s airport to the hotel it looked to cost anywhere from $50-100 for the half hour ride. That’s not a small chunk of change considering you have to pay it twice (to and from).
Driving yourself is an option, but Disney Resorts now charge $15-25 per night for parking. So for a week that’s another $90 in accrued costs. Off property most nearby hotels also charge for parking usually around $25 a day, or $150 for a week.
Renting a car just for airport transportation may make sense for off property guests as there are rental offices located directly in some hotels. One in Disney Springs and one in the Bonnett Creek area. We did this strategy many moons ago and it was convenient enough, but with rising rental costs it may not make sense anymore.
What staying on property does provide is the convenience of direct park transportation service which is mostly buses, supplemented by monorail, boats and most recently skyliner. This is complimentary and included in your stay.
However, off property hotels also offer free transit to the parks. How good/bad it is really seems to depend on time of year and hotel. Once you are on a Disney property you can take full advantage of their free transportation system between their properties including restaurants, hotels and parks, regardless of where you are staying.
Location, Location, Location
Ultimately, in my humble opinion, the advantage of staying on property is the ease and access to the parks. In some cases, you can literally walk from your hotel to a park. Being nearby allows you to take an afternoon break, which we absolutely like to do. The farther away you are, the more time you spend traveling, and the more inconvenient it becomes. And you pay for that privilege, dearly.
That said, some non Disney hotels are actually closer than Disney properties including those in the Disney Springs area and Bonnet Creek. Coupled with reliable free transport to the parks, it may not be much of a tradeoff to stay in one of these properties.
Disney resorts are no longer offering Extra Magic Hours. Instead, they are offering a 30 minute early entry each day to all four parts for resort guests. Basically it allows you a one to two ride headstart each day. If everyone heads to the same rides it may not be much of a benefit. Time will tell. Guests in Deluxe resorts can gain two additional hours on select evenings. As someone who took advantage of the Extra Magic Hours usually in the evening, this is a bit of a loss for me.
In addition, those who stay on property will be able to book Genie+ ride reservations at 7 a.m. instead of at park opening like everyone else. This seems like a marginal benefit to me of little value. For more on Genie+ and what it is click here.
If you are someone looking at the Deluxe price range, unless you are nostalgic about a certain property, I would take my money and go to the Waldorf Astoria or other four star property. Those of us in the Moderate and Value range have more of matrix of things to consider based on personal preference, with a lot of it hinging of mode of transportation. After going over all these factors, there is no doubt that the perks of staying on property for these customers has significantly diminished in the last few years, with the biggest blow being the loss of the Magical Express. With increased rack rates, increased transportation costs and increased ticket costs, it’s a tough pill to swallow to the tune of several hundred dollars.