Is it worth it to stay at a Disney World resort? This is probably the biggest question people ask themselves when planning a Disney World trip. Recently Disney has changed many of the policies that made staying on-site at Disney World a clear winner. After these policy changes we tested staying on-site and then off-site for Disney World to see if staying on-site at Disney World is worth it.
Staying Off-Site for Disney World Can Save Money
Cost is the number one reason people consider staying off-site for Disney World vacations. Disney World resorts, even those marketed as value, are expensive.
Paying extra per night to stay on Disney World property was often worth it before because of special perks, but now most of those are gone. With no Magical Express or FastPass system, paying extra to stay on-site doesn’t always seem worth it.
There are lots of off-site Disney World options from traditional hotels to luxury home rentals to basic Airbnbs. Families can find perfect off-site Disney World accommodations within any budget.
Now before rushing off to book an off-site Disney World vacation, make sure you factor in hidden expenses. If you are staying off-site at an Airbnb, VRBO, or other vacation home you’ll need a rental car.
Another hidden cost of driving yourself to Disney World is parking fees. Disney World theme park parking costs $25 to $50 per car per day and can add up quickly.
Many Orlando area hotels have free shuttles to Disney World parks, but understand how often they pick up and drop off during the day. Their schedule might not match up with yours and you’ll need to budget extra money for Lyft rides to and from the parks.
Renting A House Can Be More Comfortable
Going with a big group to Disney World? Then staying off-site in a house may be more comfortable than a Disney World hotel room. On a recent extended family trip we debated staying at Pop Century or splitting a house.
The house was less expensive per person plus gave the kids extra room to play both inside and out. One potential downside to sharing a house with family is you are together all day, every day of the trip. For some extended families this works great. For other families a hotel is better because each family unit has their own dedicated space.
Understand Disney World Theme Park Reservations Before Booking On or Off-Site Stays
Disney World now has a theme park reservation system. Guests must purchase theme park tickets plus make a theme park reservation for each day they visit Disney World parks.
There are three buckets for theme park reservations: Disney World resort guests, annual passholders, and theme park tickets. People staying off-site at Disney World are considered theme park tickets unless someone is an annual passholder. Make sure that you can get Disney World theme park reservations under theme park tickets before booking an off-site stay.
Staying Off-Site For Disney World Makes Hard To Get Dining Reservations Even Harder
One perk of staying on-site at Disney World is the ability to make advanced dining reservations before off-site guests. This is because when the reservation window opens 60 days before your vacation on-site guests can make plans for the entirety of their trip. Off-site guests can only make reservations one day at a time.
Staying On-Site Means More Park Hours
Starting October 1, 2021 Disney World resorts guests have access to a new early theme park entry program. All Disney World resort guests have 30 minutes early entry into every park, everyday starting with the 50th anniversary celebration. Disney World Deluxe and Deluxe Villa guests have even more theme park time with extended evening hours at select parks on select nights.
On-Site Guests Get Early Access To Genie+
Both Disney World resort and off-site guests who purchase Disney Genie+ make their first Lightning Lane selections at 7am. This means off-site and on-site Disney World guests are treated the same for Genie+ Lightning Lane access.
Genie+ is a complex topic, but we have an easy to use guide to help you understand Disney World Genie+ and when it makes sense to buy it.
However, Disney World on-site guests have an advantage with Individual Lightning Lanes. Disney World resort guests can buy access to these Individual Lightning Lane attractions at 7am while off-site guests aren’t eligible to purchase until park opening.
Unfortunately, this on-site perk means buying Individual Lightning Lane access is easier for Disney World guests than those staying off-site. If you are staying off-site, Individual Lightning Lane attractions like Rise of the Resistance often sell out prior to or within moments of park opening time.
Does Staying On-Site At Disney World Mean Lower Travel Times?
Not necessarily. Disney World on-site transportation is convenient, but isn’t always fast. Our rental house was about 25 minutes away. Traffic occasionally spiked, but we were able to hop in the rental car and be at the house in about 45 minutes. And since we arrived before the park opened, lines to pay for parking moved quickly.
One downside of staying off-site for our Disney World vacation was my sister needed to bring a booster seat plus a car seat for my young nieces. On-site guests at Disney World don’t need car seats or boosters for Disney transportation.
During peak travel times at Disney World, waiting for a bus plus taking the ride back to a Disney World hotel can easily take 45 minutes. If you are willing to pay a premium, there are several deluxe resorts within walking distance of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Hollywood Studios which means lower average travel times.
Staying Off-Site At Disney World Isn’t As Magical
There is an intangible feeling when staying in the Disney World bubble. Over the top Disney theming at value resorts and subtle Disney inspired decor at moderates and deluxe resorts add to the feeling of magic at Disney. Disney World cast members also go above and beyond to make family vacations special.
Leaving Disney World and driving past regular places certainly pulls you out of the Disney magic. Washing towels and dishes or cooking at a rental house is, without a doubt, less fun than quick service meals and having Mousekeeping drop off fresh towels whenever you call down.
So Is It Worth It To Stay At A Disney World Resort?
Right now with Disney World COVID policies and reduced offerings for resort guests, staying on-site at Disney World isn’t always worth the extra money.
If leaving the Disney World bubble sounds awful, you want extra park time, and you’ve got the budget, I recommend booking an on-site stay at Disney World. We love Disney resorts and will continue mostly on-site stays at Disney World despite the reduced offerings. The on-site resorts and experience of being in the Disney World bubble are more enjoyable even though it is more expensive.
For those will a limited budget hoping to visit the parks, but save money, an off-site Disney World stay can be a great choice. Staying off-site for Disney World can also provide flexibility in visiting other places like Universal Orlando or Gatorland. I expected to feel disappointed in our off-site Disney World vacation, but the extra space, saved money, and comfort of staying in a home was a surprising treat.
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