Planning a trip to Disney World can be overwhelming. There is so much to decide from how long to stay, which parks to visit, to which fastpasses to reserve. We just spent a week at Disney World, and the planning was months in the making. I thought I would lose my mind by the time it was all over. One of the first decisions that I had to make was to stay on or off-site.
I put a lot of thought into this decision. We have visited Disney World in the past but we only visited the park for one day so we stayed off site during that visit. This time we wanted our kids to have the whole Disney experience, and wanted to visit several parks so with Disney being the focus of our vacation it played a huge part in our choice of accommodations.
Before talking about staying off site I think it is important to discuss what the benefits of staying on site at Disney World are.
On Site Benefits
Disney's Magical Express - If you are staying on Disney property and flying into Orlando Disney's Magical Express will pick you up from the airport and take you to your hotel free of charge. It will also take you back to the airport when you are ready to depart.
Disney Transportation - Disney has it's own transportation system to get around Disney property. You can get from the hotels, to the parks, to Downtown Disney without ever having to get in a car. You can take a Disney bus, the monorail, or even the Riverboat depending on where you are staying and trying to get to. Before we arrived I had heard horror stories about the transportation system and how it could take an hour to get from the hotel to the park or back to your room from the park. In the seven days that we were there we never had any problems with the transportation.
Extra Magic Hours - Each day of the week a different park offers Extra Magic Hours. During Extra Magic Hours the designated park either opens early or stays open later for guests staying on site.
Magic Bands - While Magic Bands can be purchased by any Disney World guest, guests staying on Disney property are given Magic Bands to use during the length of their stay. The Magic Bands act as your room key, your theme park ticket, your fast pass, and can even be linked to your credit or debit card to make purchases. I can not tell you how convenient these were with no tickets to keep up with or room keys, it was nice having it all in one.
FastPass+ - Disney guests can make fastpass selections for their entire stay 60 days before check-in.
Hidden Extras - What I consider to be hidden extras are the little things they do not tell you about. These include a booklet of coupons for Downtown Disney which included a $15 food credit at Planet Hollywood, free admission to attractions, and discounts. We also received luggage tags in the, and a personalized Mickey Mouse sketch in the mail. It seemed that we were getting mail from Disney almost daily in the weeks leading up to our visit.
Disney Dining Plan - Guests who stay on Disney property are eligible to purchase the Disney Dining Plan. During certain times of the year the Dining Plan is offered free with certain room and ticket prices.
From the beginning I wanted to stay on site but since staying on site is so expensive staying off site was very appealing. Rooms off site are absolutely cheaper than the on site rooms, so cost is the number one benefit of staying off site. If you are on a very tight budget staying off site might be your best option. Another situation in which you may want to consider staying off site is if you have a very large group, or if you are going to be visiting attractions other than Disney World during your stay. One of the big downsides to staying off property is not only the commute to Disney World each day, which would include traveling on the toll roads, but also paying the parking fees to get into the park each day.
While I found the off site rooms to be cheaper I found the difference to be minimal. I am sure that if you visited during the off-season there might be a larger price difference but during our stay this difference was minimal. When you add in the cost of the parking and tolls there was only a $200 difference over the course of a week that could be saved by staying off-site. For us the benefits of staying on site made the $200 cost difference worth it.
Staying on site or off site is a very personal choice, and will be different for each family. It is important to consider your family's individual needs, and budget when making the decision whether to stay on or off Disney property during your visit.