To stay on or off Disney property?
by Tomas Szklarski
This is a question I get a lot. Should I stay at a Disney Resort or not? To be transparent, I am a travel agent that specializes in Disney Destinations. I go to Disney World a lot…at least once a year. I have been at least 37 times, maybe more. Most of those stays have been off property, only since I became a DVC member, have been staying mostly on property.
I feel like if you asked a 100 people who have been to Disney this question…you would probably get a 50/50 response. My response; as much as the travel agent in me knows I shouldn’t say it, is that it depends on your family and what is important to you. Is cost the only thing that matters? Then you probably can deal with all the issues that come with staying off property. If all you care about is convenience and don’t mind paying for it, then on property is the way to go.
Let’s start with staying off property. I did it for many years and some of my fondest memories of Disney World are when I stayed off property. Here are just some fo the benefits of staying of property as well as some of the downsides
- Cheaper hotel/resort rooms
- You can do other things besides Disney
- You can cook your own meals or find less expensive places to eat
- You can still use Disney internal transportation while on Disney property
- You have to rent a car
- You only get to choose Fast Passes 30 days out from start of your trip, one day at a time
- You have to drive to the parks, pay parking and take a tram to get to entrance of the parks
- You can’t get perks like dining plan, free transportation to/from airport or participate in Early/After magic hours.
Staying off property wasn’t that big a deal back when I was a kid/teenager. I think Disney is making it harder to keep staying off property, but I think Disney gets that most people who are in the parks are not staying on property, so they have been relaxing some benefits. For example, guests of the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels can get the same 60 day Fast Pass selection as guests staying on property.
When I would stay off property, we would go as soon as the park opened, get on a bunch of rides then go back to the hotel to rest and swim for a few hours and then head back to the parks. It was fun actually, to take the tram to the parks, being able to drive through Disney property to see all the signs, it gets your excitement up about going. What was frustrating sometimes, all the traffic of leaving the parks to go back to our hotel.
You can still enjoy Disney and not be on property, I did for a lot of years. Is it harder now to really have a great time, if we all answered honestly, most would say, yes. Especially with kids and strollers or even wheelchairs and Electric scooters. Maybe it’s worth it for the lower price hotel and at least you get to go to Disney when you might not have other wise. I always try to tell people what their expectations should be, whatever they decide to do. You can have an amazing time at Disney, you just have to plan for it and have realistic expectations.
As far as staying on-property. There are many benefits to staying at a Disney Resort. You have access to 60 day Fast Pass selection starting from your first day of your stay, plus 10 days, unlike when you stay off property and you can start 30 days and only choose one per day. As an added bonus, if you stay Club level, you have the option to buy 3 extra Fast Passes per day with no tier restrictions, so you could have a total of 6 Fast Passes per day. Another benefit is Magical Express, you don’t have to pick your luggage up from the airport, you just board a Disney Coach bus and they take you to your resort, which also means you don’t have to rent a car. As a resort guest you can add the dining plan to your stay.
Each guest receives a Magic Band that is your room key, park entrance, payment for food, merchandise and can be linked to Memory Maker. If you stay off property, you can still use a Magic Band, but you can only use it to gain entry to the park and link Memory Maker to it.
So here are the Pros/Cons of staying on Disney property
- You get free transportation to/from airport on Magical Express
- You can use your Magic Band as a room key, payment for dining, merchandise and can add Memory Maker
- You can choose your Fast Passes at 60 days prior to the start date of your stay
- You can use Disney Transportation to get everywhere
- Disney Resorts can be expensive
- It’s a hassle to get away from Disney if you don’t have a car
- You are stuck eating only on Disney Property, if you don’t have a car
- Disney transportation sometimes can take awhile to get you places
I have stayed at a lot of different Disney Resorts, some have been far away from everything and others have been in the Magic Kingdom area. There are no resorts that are close to all 4 parks. If you stay in the Magic Kingdom resorts, you can get to magic kingdom really fast; but you have to take a monorail to Epcot or take a bus to Animal Kingdom Park or Hollywood Studios. The only resorts that are close to two parks are Beach and Yacht club, Boardwalk and Swan and Dolphin (which are on Disney property, but not run by Disney). They are within walking distance of both Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
I enjoy staying on Disney property, I like that I can get away from real life, I don’t have to rent a car and I can be immersed into the magic of Disney. Riding the buses has never been a big deal for me, yes, it can be frustrating when there is a long wait for the next bus. There are other options now like Minnie Vans and uber/lyft.
Until I became a DVC member, I never really spent too much time in the room, I was always out in the parks and just came back to the room to sleep. Most of the Disney pools are really fun and the resorts are fun to be at. There is just a feel when you stay at some Disney Resorts that just makes you happy as soon as you walk into them.
I understand staying on Disney property isn’t always an option and that is okay. Disney can be magical no matter where you stay. It really just matters on your mindset, keeping your expectations realistic and making sure you plan for whatever scenario you choose. It also depends on who you go with and how into Disney they are, no matter if you stay on Disney Property or off, if anyone who is with you are downers, that gets infectious and starts affecting the mood of everyone.
I say, do whatever you think is right for your family and situation. You can stay on property for pretty reasonable prices sometimes, granted, it won’t be the Grand Floridian, Polynesian or Contemporary for example, but you still get a good price for an All-Star resort or Moderate resort like Port Orleans and still have the benefits of being on Disney Property.
If you are still unsure or have questions, you can reach out to me and I would be happy to help, even if you don’t book with me. Talk about Walt Disney World Planning in the all-new WDW Kingdom Disney Forums!
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