Pros & Cons of Staying Off Disney Property
Disney World vacations are always magical, but there are some Disney touches that make it just a little bit extra magical. On my most recent trip, we stayed with some friends off of Disney property, which we haven’t done in many years, and man was it a learning experience for some Disney veterans! So I thought this would be a great opportunity to share some of the pros and cons of staying off Disney property.
There are many beautiful and clean resorts or other options like Airbnb/VRBO that are much less expensive than Disney resorts. If your budget is of concern, you can certainly find a non-Disney resort that won’t break the bank and will be a safe, clean place to rest your head at night. This is the most convincing reason for me to ever consider staying anywhere but Disney.
One big benefit is the flexibility of dining when you’re not at Disney. It’s much more likely that you have a kitchen if you’re staying off property, so you’re able to make meals together and save a little money when you’re not eating out for every meal. Plus, there are tons of great restaurants in the Orlando area (aside from Disney Springs), which you’re probably closer to if you’re not at a Disney resort.
Travel Distance -
If your group is interested in visiting other attractions aside from Disney, you can definitely find a place to stay that’s more in the middle of those destinations. Maybe you want to take some day trips to the Kennedy Space Center, the beach, or Universal Studios in addition to your Disney days. That may affect where you want your home base to be to help decrease drive time.
Split Interests -
If you’re with a group and part of you really want to do Disney and the other part really doesn’t, staying off property may be the choice for you. There are plenty of great pools and other activities for those who are staying at “home” while the rest are doing the parks…..ok honestly, you can do that at Disney as well if you pick the right resort.
This is honestly like a three pronged con. As a group of all adult travelers, transportation can be one of the biggest struggles.
Part A - When you’re staying off property, you either have to bring your car or rent one so you’re able to get over to Disney or you can depend on Lyft or Uber. In either case, you’re usually just going to have one car for your group, so everyone has to be on the same page and ready to roll all at the same time or being content being split for the entirety of the day. Whereas, when you’re on Disney property, it’s super easy to split up. If I’m an early riser and am ready to go, I can catch an early bus and the rest of the group can sleep in and catch up with me after getting those extra z’s.
Part B - If you do have your own vehicle, parking costs really add up. As of this writing, it’s $25 per day for standard parking at all theme parks. This fee is waived if you stay on property or have a certain level of Annual Pass.
Part C - Traffic is the worst during park opening rush hour. And when you’re staying off property and going to Disney, you’re going to be running into both Disney and Universal traffic, which can really back up and it’s rather unpredictable. Not to mention, in addition to the bad traffic, you’ll probably find yourself on a toll road. On a recent day over the Christmas holiday, the line of cars was backed up four miles - FOUR MILES - beyond the Magic Kingdom vehicle entry point. Did I mention it was a four mile back up?
This was the biggest bummer, I think. When you stay off property, you can only book Fastpasses 30 days out and one day at a time. So for example, if you’re traveling July 1-7, you can book your Fastpasses for July 1 on June 1, for July 2 on June 2, etc. When you stay at a Disney resort, not only can you book 60 days out rather than 30, you can book for the duration of your stay at that 60 day mark. So for travel dates July 1-7, you can book all 7 days of passes on May 2. This is a huge benefit when you’re hoping to get high demand Fastpasses like Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Frozen Ever After, or Slinky Dog Dash.
Disney Magic -
There is really just something extra special about Disney theming and Cast Members, which of course are not at non-Disney resorts. This is obviously not to say that every non-Disney resort has terrible theming and design and the customer service is terrible. That would be absurd. BUT, when you stay at a Disney resort, you are guaranteed the best possible service and theming. Where else are you going to find a full sand bottom pool with a pirate ship splash area? Or get to watch nightly fireworks from your room’s balcony? You don’t realize the small touches you’re missing until they’re not there. Little things like sending your purchases at the park back to your resort are sorely missed when you’ve come to expect them. Not to mention you also don’t get to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours and the free transportation to and from the airport.
If you’re planning to spend the bulk of your time at Disney, it can be a real pain to go back to the resort late at night during park close traffic, and it makes it much less convenient to go back to the resort for a nap or lunch during the middle of the day.
Overall, I pick the Disney resort 9 times out of 10. There are certainly cases in which you’re better off staying elsewhere, but when the primary goal of your trip is to do Disney, the Disney magic starts at the airport when you get on the Magical Express and continues through the resort, dining, theme parks, swimming pools, and only ends once you find yourself on the Tragical Express back to the airport.