Planning a trip to Disney World is so exciting! Deciding where to stay is one of the first things to knock off the “to-do,” list! We’ve visited Disney World five times with our family, and we’ve stayed both on and off property! (We’ve got 6 kids and have done Disney with toddlers, teens, and everything in-between—we LOVE IT!). Because where you stay has such a significant impact on both the cost and quality of the trip, I want to share our experiences staying on and off property at Disney World. I hope our experiences help you as you narrow down your options!
Don’t miss my other Disney World Vacation Planning Posts!
What Exactly Are the Benefits of Staying at a Disney Resort (On Property)?
Before we talk about Off Property options—we should probably talk about the perks of staying directly On Disney Property. The benefits may be important to you…And some are available at select OFF-Property Hotels!!!
My favorite thing about staying on property is the convenience. There are lots of convenient things about staying at a Disney Resort, but here’s what stands out to me:
- Free Transportation to and from Disney Parks AND Disney Springs (previously called Downtown Disney).
This is such a time-saver and makes for a very seamless experience! However—I do think that some of the convenience depends on which Disney Resort you choose. We will always treasure our experience at the Grand Floridian (A Deluxe Disney Resort, On-Property)—the ultimate in convenience because of its location on the monorail line. Nothing else has quite lived up to that magical experience!
We’ve had a great experience with Disney’s Magical Express, which is the complimentary bus transportation provided for guests coming in from the Orlando airport! It’s so nice knowing all your transportation to and from the airport is taken care of—and it’s done with excellence!
- Park Purchases Are Shipped to Your Resort
As much as we try to limit our souvenir purchases—we’ve always allowed our kids a least one special item to take home. Without fail, some child will have their heart set on something large and awkward…like let’s say a Darth Maul Light Saber. Not exactly fun to lug around for the rest of the day! If you are staying on property at a Disney Resort (including the Dolphin or Swan Resorts)—your purchases can be sent to your resort for pick up the next day! Genius!
2. 60 Day Early Access to FastPass+
FastPass+ is Disney’s system for holding your place in line—you will love it! You are able to choose 3 rides (within one park) to get a FastPass for and therefore, avoid waiting in a long line. After you have used up the initial 3 passes—you can request additional passes (one at a time) for the remainder of the day. Find out more details and information here!
Summer 2017 was my first experience with the new FastPass+ System. We stayed off property, and with your park ticket purchases—FastPass+ ride selections can be made 30 days in advance. I thought that seemed silly…I mean REALLY?! Do I really need to hold my place in line for Space Mountain a month in advance? The answer is actually—YES! The best times and best rides get snatched up fast! At 30 days out, we were able to get most of our favorite, “must-do,” rides—but the FastPasses were gone for some of the new rides in Pandora and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride (so bummed I missed that one!)…
The 60 Day Early Access to FastPass+ Rides is a nice perk for Disney Resort Guests! (But NEW In 2018 Disney is offering this access to Disney Springs Area Hotel guests who purchase vacation packages!)
3. Extra Magic Hours
During the week, the various parks rotate Extra Magic Hours. A park with Evening Extra Magic Hours will be open 2 hours later, and a park with Morning Extra Magic Hours will open an hour early. These extended hours have always been a special privilege for Disney Resort Guests only…UNTIL NOW! In 2018, Disney is extending their Extra Magic Hours to Disney Springs Area Hotels! Wow!!
Now—keep in mind, Extra Magic Hours may be a perk you can live without! If you are traveling with very small children (or teens that like to sleep in)…closing down or opening the parks may not appeal to your crew! I have a strategy for scheduling your park visits—check it out in my planning guide post!
4. Complimentary Magic Bands
Magic Bands are provided to all Disney World Resort guests. The bands are multipurpose—they can act as your hotel room key, hold ticket information, FastPass reservations, Disney photos, and be linked to your hotel account for food and merchandise purchases made in the parks. Sounds pretty nifty!
Magic Bands can be purchased by any park visitor—they are linked to My Disney Experience accounts. The bands are available to purchase online and in the parks—prices range from about $13 for solid colors to $30 for character designs.
I have zero experience with the bands…We stayed off property on our last trip and decided not to purchase them. Instead, we just used the traditional park ticket “cards,” (cute Disney character cards—much like a hotel room key). After linking these cards to the My Disney Experience (MDE), they work in the same way as magic bands—storing all your ticket, FastPass, and photo information. It’s just what we’ve always done and works just fine for us!
So my point is—they sound super cool, but are not necessary! Plus—if you are doing Magic Bands, the complimentary bands are solid colors…If you want character bands, those will still need to be purchased.
5. Disney Dining Plans
Wow…a lot could be said about Disney Dining Plans. Some people love them and some people don’t think they are worth the money. I love all the restaurants and eating at Disney! Our family tends to eat one big meal at a dine-in restaurant each day and one quick service meal or snack. Dining plans are only offered to resort guests purchasing a Magic Your Way Vacation Package (basically booking a Disney Resort stay plus Park Tickets).
The only time we’ve used a dining plan was during Disney’s Free Dining Plan offer—but that was several years ago. The offer seems to be less of a deal than it once was… Still—if you’re considering visiting Disney in the late summer or fall, you might keep an eye out for this special. Disney hasn’t announced if or when they will offer Free Dining Plans in 2018. Traditionally, the offer has been announced around April…We loved using the plan and I would definitely consider doing it again! Save at WDW has great information about the special offer and some insights about whether or not the deal would make sense for your family!
Staying OFF Property
So now that we’ve established some of the awesome things about staying ON Disney property…Let’s talk about staying OFF Property…Because that can also be an awesome choice! Here are some reasons why:
1. Saving Money
Always a good thing!! Many Disney area hotels offer great deals—and often offer larger, nicer rooms than the Disney Resorts at the same price point.
Personally, my husband racks up a lot of hotel reward points. We have saved these up and used them at both Hilton and Marriott properties to pay for most (if not all) of several hotel stays. So for us—FREE is a good thing!
Our family is so large now (8 of us)—that we have to purchase 2 rooms. All the more reason we opted for FREE on our last visit. I did miss some of the conveniences of staying on property—but free wins every time!
So if you have hotel points—look at cashing them in on your Disney Trip!! Most hotels allow you to purchase rooms with a mix of points and dollars. Marriott even allowed us to book with points before all the points were accumulated! If we didn’t earn them before the trip, we would just pay the remaining difference in dollars for the room.
Even if you are not purchasing a hotel room with travel points—there are lots of great deals to be found! I love the MouseSavers.com for keeping up on Disney savings—so much detailed advice and all the latest deals (sign up for their newsletter)!
2. Transportation to/from the Parks
Most Disney area hotels are going to offer some level of transportation to the parks. How often the transportation is provided and where the transportation takes you really varies depending on which hotel you choose! Be sure to consider this before making any final decisions!
**Also note—One-way transportation is provided throughout Disney World to Disney Springs—but there is NOT transportation provided back to the parks! All Disney Resorts and some area hotels (but NOT ALL) provide transportation to/from Disney Springs. We had to pay for car service to get back to our Marriott Hotel (JW Marriott) when leaving Disney Springs.
3. Disney Springs Area Hotels Now Offer Extra Magic Hours in 2018!
So if those extra hours are an important perk to you—you now have options outside of the Disney Resorts. Additionally in 2018, with the purchase of a vacation package and hotel room, Disney is offering 60 Day Early Access to FastPass+ for Disney Springs Area Hotel Guests!!
Personal Reviews of Our Off Property Stays…
We chose the JW Marriott for our most recent (2017) trip to Disney World. It was our first big trip with all 6 of our kids. We needed 2 adjoining rooms and wanted to pay for them with Marriott Reward points—this hotel worked well for the points we had available.
PROS: It feels very high-end and grand, the grounds are beautiful, and the pool is huge (it’s actually several connected pools) with a lazy river. The restaurants are really good! We often ordered dinner (and a bottle of wine…) to take up to our room when we arrived back at the hotel after a day at the parks. Everyone loved having access to our Netflix account on the room televisions! My teens binge watched their favorite shows in their room, while we got the little people settled down in our room (later we escaped onto our tiny balcony to enjoy a cheese plate and wine)! We often hit the hotel’s Starbucks for a “cheap,” breakfast before grabbing the morning bus to the parks.
CONS: DISTANCE to the Walt Disney World Parks!! We just felt too far away! It really added a lot of extra travel time to our day…Also this hotel did not have shuttles going all day. In fact, the transportation to (AND from the parks) was few and far between!! Not convenient at all. We never felt like we could stay and watch the evening fireworks because we were always worried about catching our bus…bummer!! (Yes—we were the family of 8 running like maniacs through the park, like Cinderella at midnight!) Also—travel arrangements to the parks must be reserved with the concierge 24 hours in advance.
If you are a smaller family and can Uber to and from the parks—this might not be such an issue for you! In fact, my husband did Uber with our oldest kids one night to Animal Kingdom to check out Pandora—but that was not a viable option with our 3 littles who all need car seats. We did splurge and use Mears for car service to Disney Springs from the Magic Kingdom and then back to our hotel on the last night of our vacation. (They did a great job accommodating our large family and provided the car seats we needed. Mears was also the company we used to and from the airport.)
PROS: My husband and teenage daughters stayed here on a last minute father-daughter trip to Orlando. They used Hilton points and really loved their stay at Hilton Bonnet Creek! They raved about the beautiful property and amazing pool (by far their all-time favorite hotel pool). The bus service to the parks was convenient and not an issue at all for them.
CONS: They had no complaints! This is a great off-property choice! However it does not offer the perks of Extra Magic Hours or 60 Day Early Access to Fast Pass+. This was not an issue for my family—but may be important to you.
PROS: Excellent proximity to the parks—it’s a Disney Springs Area Hotel! We loved our stay at the DoubleTree several years ago—but now in 2018 there are even more reasons to love it! As I mentioned earlier—Disney is offering guests at Disney Springs Area Hotels, Extra Magic Hours in 2018! In addition, guests purchasing vacation packages may be eligible for 60 Day Early Access to Fast Pass+…Wow!
We loved our large suite (at that time we had 4 kids)—and it gave us plenty of room. The bus transportation to the parks was very convenient and lasted beyond park closing. We definitely were able to stay and enjoy all the fireworks without feeling rushed when the parks closed—no problems at all.
CONS: Not an amazing pool or luxury feel—but we weren’t really expecting that from this DoubleTree. And to be honest with you—we kept so busy at the parks, we never had time to swim anyway!
To Stay On Property or Off Property…That is the Question!
Whatever you decide—I’m sure you’ll have a great trip that your family will remember forever! And I’d love to hear about your experiences staying On or Off Property! Please feel free to share your favorite place to stay and why you love it!
(Be sure to check out my other Disney posts!)