Where to stay for your Walt Disney World vacation
Deciding where to stay for your Walt Disney World vacation will be one of the most important decisions to make. Even if you consider your room as just somewhere to sleep, your hotel choice will have a big impact on how enjoyable your trip is. There are a lot of options. Let’s get started with some things to consider when choosing your Disney hotel. On-Site or Off-Site
On-site or off-site Disney hotel
First of all, what does this mean exactly? “On-site” resorts are located on Disney property and owned by Disney. The only exception to this is the Swan and Dolphin resorts which are on Disney property but are not owned by Disney. “Off-site” refers to any resort not owned or operated by Disney and are not located within Disney property.
There are certain benefits to staying on-site at Disney. These include:
- free Disney transportation around the property
- ability to make Fastpass+ selections 60 days before arrival instead of 30 days
- extra Magic Hours
- Disney Dining Plan
- making length of stay dining reservations 180 days from your check-in date
- Magical Express
- airline check-in and bag check at your resort (depending on your airline)
- free Magic Bands
- in-park purchases delivered to your room
- complimentary resort activities
- staying in the Disney “bubble”
Go HERE for more information about each of these perks.
On-site Disney hotels are grouped into categories based on price and amenities. You can check out pricing and availability on the Disneys Hotel and Resort page.
The biggest benefit of staying off-site is cost. In most cases, an off-site stay will be a better value especially for a party of 5 or more. Off-site hotels will often have larger rooms and more amenities particularly compared to the Disney value and moderate resorts which tend to feel more like a motel. Honestly, many off-site hotels have been better pool/activity areas than most of the Disney hotels.
Some off-site hotels offer extra Disney benefits. Disney Springs resort area hotels include the benefit of making your Fastpass+ selections 60 days before arrival and access to the parks during Extra Magic Hours.
The size of your party
Most standard rooms on Walt Disney World property will accommodate 4-5 guests. 6 or more guests would require a suite or villa and that is a big jump in cost. Our 4 children are teenagers so we require space. So we do not stay on Disney property when all of us go. The cost of a villa for 6 of us at Disney is just not worth it for what we can get off-property. We often use reward points from credit cards or hotel loyalty programs to pay for your off-site stays. My hope is to change that at some point by becoming Disney Vacation Club Members. #keepdreaming
We have stayed at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts several times. These resorts are owned by Marriott so we use points to pay for our rooms. This is a huge cost saving. They are also in one of the best locations on property. This makes it really hard for us to justify staying at a Disney property although you do lose out on the “Disney” atmosphere. A short walk over to the Boardwalk will cure that. Here is a room tour at the Swan.
The needs of your party
I have discussed this in other posts and feel it is often overlooked. Every party will have different needs and priorities. For example, a family of 6 with 4 young children may have plenty of space in a value resort family suite. But, they may find that being dependant on bus transportation to every park (with a double stroller) and the potentially long walk to their room from the bus stop isn’t worth the cost-saving. They may be better off spending the extra money to stay in a deluxe room or suite with easier access to the parks. It’s crucial to know your personal needs and priorities and plan your vacation accordingly.
Getting to parks and restaurants will take up a significant part of your time so your transportation options are definitely something to consider when choosing a resort.
Magical Express is free bus transportation Disney offers from the airport if you are staying at an on-site Disney hotel. They will even transfer your luggage for you. No need to stop at baggage claim! Disney also offers several modes of free transportation around Disney property. You do not need to be a Disney resort guest to use it. Depending on where you are going to and from you may be able to go by bus, boat, monorail or the Skyliner.
The majority of Disney transportation is done by bus and often it is your only option. I am not a fan of bus transportation. It’s fine. When considering the cost savings of not renting a car and paying for parking it is manageable. Staying at a resort with other options will help limit your dependence on the buses.
If you choose to stay off-site you will need to consider how you will get from the airport to your resort and from your resort to the parks. Most of the resorts in the area offer shuttle transportation to the theme parks. However, these can be very limited and time-consuming. If you choose to rent a car, remember to consider parking fees at your resort and at the parks.
We all know that ultimately cost may be the main consideration when choosing your resort. But be sure to take all of these other things into consideration. Sometimes spending more money to have ample space, convenient food, and transportation options or theming that makes you swoon is worth it. Or for your family, it may be more important to have extra money for character meals, souvenirs or other activities. (HERE you will find a list of 25 extra things you may want to add to your itinerary)
We have discussed how important it is to stay at a hotel that is best suited for your family. There are pros and cons to staying at any of them. Know what will make this trip the most enjoyable for your family is key. That being said, if you can not get into the hotel you were hoping for or if you can’t squeeze your dream hotel into your budget don’t fret. Stressing about not staying in the perfect hotel is a sure-fire way to kill the magic. Put a song in your heart and a smile on your face, maybe you will find a little pixie dust along the way.
If you have a question about choosing a Disney hotel for an upcoming trip please leave them in the comments. I am happy to help! Or if you have suggestions or tips about your favorite places to stay for a Disney World vacation please share them with us!
4 Real Disney Mom