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Planning for Disney – Should you stay on-site or off-site?

Disney Planning - Accomodations

Walt Disney World Resort is a contiguous, nearly 40-square-mile, world-class entertainment and recreation destination featuring four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom); two water parks (Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon); 36 resort hotels (26 owned and operated by Walt Disney World, includes eight Disney Vacation Club resort properties); 63 holes of golf on four courses; two full-service spas; Disney’s Wedding Pavilion; ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex; and Downtown Disney, an entertainment-shopping-dining complex.  –Whew! That is a lot of stuff!

As someone who has been to Disney World many times over, both with kids and without kids and as young adult and someone with a bit more experience, I have some preferences when it comes to planning a trip for my family.

That being said if you have never been to Walt Disney World before you may find planning your trip a little overwhelming. I can’t say that I blame you. There is so much to do and see at Disney World alone, the idea of figuring out where to stay, where to eat, what attractions to see, or even if you should extend the trip to include other plans like taking a day trip to visit the beach or to see the Kennedy Space Center can all be really stressful. Even veteran Disney goers still get a bit overwhelmed!

Luckily for you I have some really great resources to help you navigate the high seas of your ideal Walt Disney World Vacation!

Where to stay?

There are so many choices when it comes to a Disney World vacation. You can choose to stay on-property, which comes with its own set of perks, or you can choose to stay off-property which will typically give you a little bit of cost savings if you are planning to visit other attractions in the area. There is a lot to consider when deciding where to stay, knowing which benefits are the best for your situation will help in guiding your decision.

Disney World Resorts

Kuleen, from the awesome Disney themed blog, The Disney Kids, offers some really great tips and tricks when it comes to choosing a Disney World Resort.Hop on over and check out all her favorite perks of staying on site, see what each resort has to offer, and even learn about fun things to do at Walt Disney World Resorts.
WDW Prep School offers pros and cons of EVERY Disney World Resort. If you already know you are going to stay on-site and really want to know what one resort offers over another, this is worth the read.

Take a peek at what each of the following resort options has to offer so you can decide which works best for you and your family.

Off-site accommodations

If your Disney vacation will include other excursions, you will have more than four people staying in the room with you, or you simply want to distance yourself from all things Disney at the end of each day, staying off-site might be a good option for you.

Mouse Savers suggests ten preferred hotels that offer special discounts, are close to the parks, and have great amenities! I’ve stayed at the Sheraton Vistana Villages myself and can attest that is a beautiful option that will give a large family some extra room to spread out.

Advantages and disadvantages of both options

Off-Site Advantages

  • You can generally find larger accommodations for a lower price. This is great if you have a large family or if extended family will be traveling with you.
  • You are more likely to find rooms in your desired price range at the last minute. Disney’s special offers don’t last. If you don’t take advantage of those special deals while they are still available you are likely to find a better rate at an off-site resort.
  • There is better access to restaurants, shopping, and other non-Disney attractions. Unless you want to eat all Disney all the time, this is a great way to try other dining options.
  • Sometimes you just need a break from the mouse. Staying off-site means you are NOT immersed in Disney Magic 24/7.
  • Some hotels offer shuttle service to the parks. If you weren’t planning on renting a vehicle this can be a huge bonus.
  • Some hotels offer free breakfast which is one less expense you have to worry about.
  • If you are looking to extend your trip, you may find offer discounts to non-Disney attractions and restaurants.

Off-Site Disadvantages

  • Getting to and from the parks may be more difficult. This is especially important if you are planning to take afternoon breaks from the parks.
  • Off-site guests must pay for parking at Disney theme parks if they drive.
  • Shuttle service could be limited and/or slow due to sharing shuttles with other hotels. It may also be crowded.

On-Site Advantages

  • Getting to and from the parks is easier. This is important if you plan to take afternoon breaks, especially with small children.
  • You are immersed in that wonderful Disney Magic 24 hours a day.
  • Extra magic hours for resort guests only. Each day, one of the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks opens one hour early or remains open up to 2 hours after regular closing time.
  • Disney resorts offer wonderful and magical theming.
  • Want to purchase something the easy way? You get room charge privileges throughout WDW and merchandise delivery to your Disney hotel.
  • You get customizable Magic Bands that unlock your hotel door, give you access to parks, and allow you to check-in at FastPass+ entrances!
  • Unlimited use of WDW transportation system. If staying on-site, the resort transport will take you directly to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot park entrances bypassing the transportation and ticket center (where you would need to get on a monorail or ferry to reach the park entrance).
  • Flying? You get the use of Magical Express free with your stay. You and your bags will be transported right to your hotel, and your bags will magically appear in your room for you!
  • You can purchase Disney Dining to enjoy convenient meals throughout the park as part of your Magic Your Way package.
  • Disney staff provides excellent service and the properties are always clean and well-maintained.
  • You get priority on tee times on Disney golf courses.

On-site Disadvantages

  • Availability of budget-priced rooms can be limited, especially at the last minute.
  • Dining is generally more expensive.
  • Going from resort to resort relying on Disney Transportation can be long and/or a hassle.


Basically, the decision will come down to a few simple questions that you need to ask yourself. Once you’ve figured out these few things, look at the advantages and disadvantages of each option to make your choice.

  • Are you travelling with a large group that all wants to stay together?
  • Do you want to experience things other than Disney?
  • Will you have a vehicle or will you rely on shuttles?


So tell us…

Where did you stay on your last Walt Disney World trip, or where do you plan on staying?
Why did you choose that location?




4 Responses to Planning for Disney – Should you stay on-site or off-site?

  1. Carol L. February 17, 2015 at 12:00 am #

    We have been staying off site for the last three years. We have stayed at the Maingate Lakeside Resort. We have also rented a car, so after leaving the park we do not have to rush out with the crowds, and trying to hurry and get on a bus back to the resorts. There are plenty of eating places around and a grocery store within minutes of the hotel and a Wal Greens within walking distance. Rates are great. And we do other non disney things as well. Rates at WDW resorts are getting too high for us. We have no children. The only down size to this hotel is there is not elevator to the 2nd floor.

  2. Heidi Daily February 23, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Before having children, my husband and I used to stay with his grandparents who didn’t live very far from Disney, but I always wanted to try the resorts at least once. Last year when we took our children for the first time and stay at the Art of Animation in one of the standard Little Mermaid rooms, and we all LOVED it! This year we stay at the Art of Animation in a family suite since my mother in law was with us, and again absolutely LOVED it! We have been able to get great deals, because we have gone in January and the prices are low. Now that I have had the Disney experience in a resort, I don’t think I could go back. I love how easy it is. I love having the dining plan, I love the theming of the resort, love the Disney transportation, even though it can be crowded at times. It is also nice to have the magic bands and have a credit card linked to it so that we don’t have to carry much if any money around the parks. The extended park hours for resort guests is nice, but we haven’t taken advantage of them too much, especially the late hours with two young children.


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