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Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World?

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

So, you're thinking about going to Disney World! One of the biggest decisions that you'll have to make while planning your trip will be whether you'll stay on-property at one of the Disney-owned hotels or off-property at one of the many, many, many hotels elsewhere in the Orlando/ Lake Buena Vista area.

Which one is better? How do you know which is worth the money? As someone who's visited Walt Disney World more times than I can count--and someone who's stayed all over Orlando--I have a few tips to help you decide the best location to call home while you're staying in the most magical place on Earth!


Disney hotels are extremely convenient to everything else on the Disney property. Topographically speaking, Walt Disney World isn't that big, so by staying on property, you're just a few minutes from all four parks, Downtown Disney, and the other Disney hotels. Because of their proximity to the fun stuff, you'll spend more time on vacation and less time stuck in traffic along I-4.

Transportation to and from the parks is free. I don't know about you, but when I'm at Disney World, I prefer to park my car and immerse myself in the magic. By staying on Disney property, you've got complimentary access to the fleet of Disney buses. The buses are timely and arrive every 20 minutes at each hotel. Through the bus system, you can make your way to the parks, the other hotels, the water parks, and Downtown Disney. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

Transportation to and from the Orlando (MCO) airport is free. If you're flying into Orlando for the sole reason of going to Disney World, there's no need to rent a car. Just hop on the Magical Express, and you'll be shuttled to your hotel's front door along with your luggage. 

Your hotel stay comes with free parking and no resort fee. I hate when hotels have added fees tacked onto the nightly cost. When you stay on property, Disney makes things easy: the price you see when you're browsing the site is the price you pay. 

Each hotel is sprinkled with the trademark Disney magic. Whether you're staying at the Victorian-themed Grand Floridian, the larger-than-life themed Pop Century, or the Louisiana-themed Port Orleans, you're sure to be happy with the fun, inventive decor. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Mickey towels, characters on the bedding, and collages on the walls: Pop Century's fun rooms

All on-property guests get to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours. Of all the benefits to staying on property, this is my favorite. Each day, one of the four parks offers additional time in the park to on-property guests only. That means that for a few hours in the morning or late evening, the crowds are greatly reduced, and on-property guests have the run of the place. In the past, I've been able to accomplish amazing things--like getting a jump start on the 4 Parks/1 Day Challenge--during Extra Magic Hours, which leaves the rest of the day free to meet characters, see the parades and shows, and have dining reservations. 


Disney hotels aren't always the most cost-effective options. Though there are multiple tiers of Disney hotels (Value, Moderate, and Deluxe), even the lowest tier can top $150 a night for a basic room with two double beds, a small bath, and mini-fridge. If you're just looking for a simple room without any Disney frills, you're better off looking elsewhere for a room.

Only a handful of the rooms offered include a kitchenette and suites. Yes, they do exist (in the new Art of Animation hotel, the Treehouse Villas, some of the Disney Vacation Club properties, and the new Polynesian villas, among others), but you can find much more affordable suite and apartment-style properties offsite. Especially if you're traveling with multiple families or friends, it's far more economical to rent one of the suites or vacation homes off-site.

You can find a much wider range of prices. If you watch Travelzoo and Groupon Getaways like a super nerd (ahem, like myself), you'll find that there are always great deals on hotels and resorts throughout the Orlando area. These deals pretty much always beat out the standard price on Disney hotels when you compare the amenities and room sizes.

There are more centrally located options if you're not just going to Disney World.  Not everyone goes to Orlando to just go to Disney World. Universal Studios and Sea World are just the beginning of what the Orlando area has: there are museums, historical attractions, the new Orlando Eye, and more. If you're planning to pack more into your central Florida vacation than just Disney, it might be a good idea to consider staying somewhere off-property.

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

There are some non-Disney hotels that are still super, super close to Disney World. If you're looking for a deal, but aren't sold on any of the Disney properties, there's a happy medium: the Downtown Disney area hotels. These are just a few minutes walk to the restaurants and shops of Downtown Disney, but usually offer great deals since they're not Disney owned. Some, like the Buena Vista Palace and the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, even have character breakfasts onsite. Just note that the buses that cater to these properties are very slow (and not always punctual), and the bus pick-up area has no shade (not great when you visit in the heat of the summer).

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Lake Buena Vista hotel
Off-property guests have to pay for parking at the Disney parks. While paid parking isn't a huge expense, it can add up over the course of your vacation. Each day, you can expect to pay upwards of $15 per car to park. Add that to the daily parking fee at your hotel (which can easily top $20 in some places), and you're looking at $30+ in parking alone.

Staying off-property means you're at the mercy of the Orlando traffic. Sometimes it's okay, but most of the time, it's awful. The stretch of I-4 between International Boulevard and the Disney exits is home to a ton of restaurants and hotels, parks, a convention center, and apartment buildings. Traffic is guaranteed, and who wants to spend more time battling other park goers on the interstate?

You lose the Disney magic illusion. Personally, if I'm going on a Disney vacation, I want to stay in the magic for as long as I can. I've stayed elsewhere in Orlando for mixed park trips (Disney, Orlando, and Sea World), and I'm fine with an off-property hotel in those cases since I'm indulging in a mixture of park experiences. However, if I'm only going to Disney World on a trip, staying off property means there's a clear division between the magic and where I'm sleeping, which is a killjoy for a Disney nerd like me.

Which do you prefer: on- or off-property hotels? What's the most important thing that you look forward to in a hotel when booking?

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