Thrifty Thursday: Disney Resort vs. Non-Disney Resort

Over the last couple weeks in a couple Disney discussion forums, there has been a subjective and objective discussion of what is the best deal for the Disney experience ~ staying in an off-site hotel close to Disney World vs. staying on Disney Property, aka, staying on-site.  So I was thinking this might be a great topic to cover here at Thrifty Thursday.  This week, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of staying on-site vs. staying off-site. 

I’m not an economist or an accountant so my analysis will consist of research and comparison on the basis of what is most valued, subjectively and objectively, when planning a visit to the mouse to make it more affordable.  Subjective factors are strictly based on one’s personal feelings, tastes, and/or experiences; while objective factors are based on plain facts or data, such as price of accommodation or parking fees.

First time visitors can be overwhelmed with all the choices and prices.  Price is always a major consideration since no trip to Disney can be deemed cheap; better to see it as an adventure with imagination and magic!  There are three major factors to consider when deciding to stay on-site or off-site when vacationing at Disney:  1. the Extra Magic Hours at the parks; 2. Magical Express free transportation from the MCO Airport, as well as free transportation provided between the parks and the on-site resorts; and last but not least, 3. the “magic” of Disney ambiance in the Disney resorts. 

Accommodations have almost an infinite choice range in and around Disney World.  There are hotels off-site that start their nightly rates at about $27 plus tax and fees, which will bring the nightly rate up to about $40 per night.  The range of off-site hotel rates I found was $26.28 up to $125.68.  These accommodations will rate from 3 stars up to 4.5 stars with various customer reviews (  Disney value resorts are comparable in style and amenities as other value hotels, but Disney value resorts will run about $100 per night; however, Disney value resorts, like moderate and deluxe resorts, have Disney themes so the magic continues even into your room.  Disney value resorts are more expensive than comparable off-site hotel accommodations as well; however, the subjective factor comes into play here. Either you want Disney magic around you 24 hours a day or you want time to escape the Disney ambiance.  Don’t close your mind to Disney on-site accommodations at this point, there are more to factor into the gap in pricing than just the hotel accommodation.  Keep reading!

Another factor to consider is transportation.  If you are staying at any Disney resort, you have free transportation on the Magical Express back and forth to the Orlando International Airport to your resort.  Off-site accommodations might provide transportation back and forth to the parks, but Disney offers continuous boat, tram, and bus transportation from parks to resorts throughout the day.  Off-site resorts might just take you to Disney Transportation Central, drop you off and then you have to maneuver between bus, tram, and boat to get to the park of choice for the day.  Another option if you stay off-site is to rent a car to go to the parks.  This might be a viable option if you plan to do Universal, Sea World, and other Orlando sites during vacation, but if you are there for just Disney magic, renting a car and paying the parking fees, which run $15 a day, adds to your off-site accommodations.  Rental cars and parking fees definitely have to be factored into staying off-site vs. staying on-site. An economy rental car for a week in Orlando starts at about $233 per week plus gas, which is going to cost you at least $30, depending on how much driving you do between hotel and parks.  More if you plan to drive to other amusements during vacation. Parking fees for Disney parks are $15 per day.  Some off-site hotels also charge parking fees during your stay as well.  Objectively, the rental car fee, parking fees, and gas must be figured into the cost of off-site hotel accommodations.  Disney resort guests who rent a car or drive their own car park free at the parks and resorts. 

Wireless internet is an option I cannot and will not live without while on vacation. This is only to be considered if the off-site hotel you are considering does not offer free Wi-Fi to its guests.  Most appear to offer free internet to hotel guests but there are a few out there that still charge a daily fee for internet service.  Disney now offers free wireless internet to all guests not just DVC members. 

More reasons to stay on-site versus off-site.

1.      Extra magic hours are an added bonus for Disney resort guests.  Guests are allowed more park hours by entering an hour early or up to two hours late on select days, but every day is extra magic day at one of the four parks. 

 2.      Disney guests can also have their park purchases delivered to their resort so packages do not become burdens in the park.  Purchase your souvenirs, send them to your room and go ride that favorite ride hands-free! 

 3.      Disney Dining Plan is available in the Magic Your Way package when you stay on-site at a Disney Resort.  This plan can save you up to 30% per adult and 10% per child on meals and snacks. 

 4.      Convenience!  Your room key also is your dining plan credit card and your theme-park ticket!  Your room key can also be used to charge items directly to your room and to gain access to the Extra Magic Hours in the parks. 

 5.      Disney Resorts are closer to the parks than off-site hotels.  Some of them actually are walking distance, which makes it so much easier to go back to your room for naps, dipping in the pool, or just a change of clothes. 

 All-in-all, analyzing on-site vs. off-site accommodations is more subjective than objective.  The costs are balanced with convenience, ambiance, and did I mention convenience?  Disney resorts are themed so if you are the older adult and need time away from the “magic”, then you might find that off-site is worth it to you; however, if you are the family or the “magic” addict that we are, you will want to stay on-site!

Till next time, Leigh Anne

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Leigh Anne, originally from Mississippi, lives in North Alabama with her husband and a menagerie of furry kids (FIDS), including dogs, cats, exotic birds, fish and a lionhead rabbit. Figment, her African Grey parrot, is named after Disney’s small purple dragon, Figment. She works as a motivational speaker and pastoral counselor. In 1974, Leigh Anne marched with the Enka High Marching Band in the Magic Kingdom daytime parade. Leigh Anne fell in love with Disney while on her Disney honeymoon with her husband in 2002. They have made an annual trip back to Disney to celebrate their anniversary every year since. Since they own a piece of the mouse with their Disney Vacation Club (DVC), some years they go twice! She also plans to be the grandmother that introduces all her grandchildren to Disney World first. She has a great start ~ 2 out of 3 so far! As a DVC member married to the best Disney shopper in the world, Leigh Anne has lots of experience in finding the most frugal way to have the most fun in the parks and resorts! Leigh Anne admits to being spoiled as a DVC member but is always on the lookout to keep their WDW vacations fun and frugal! She blogs at Queen of Hysteria and tweets @la_haygood

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