Don’t get me wrong. If we could afford it, we would stay at a Deluxe Disney Resort Suite or Villa for every trip. It is convenient and fun to not break the “Disney bubble” for sure. And I am usually willing to pay a premium for all things Disney. But honestly, for us it doesn’t make sense.
Alex and I both have food allergies, so traveling without access to a kitchen for more than a few days gives us anxiety. On-property lodging with a full kitchen falls into the category of “aspirational disposable income” for us. I am totally alright staying a few days with a kitchenette, and have done it. But, I have always noticed how much I am paying to have a small room with a tiny fridge and microwave on property versus how much I would pay to rent an entire condo or apartment off-property in a surrounding area.
Let me start by saying, I think every Disney Parks fan should stay at an on-property Resort at least once. But, for many of us, it isn’t always in the budget. Or more likely, we have the money, but we could think of more efficient ways to spend it and spread it out. I think sometimes we are fed this idea that we simply must stay on Disney property, darling, in order to “do Disney right”. But, trust me, breaking the ‘Disney bubble” does not mean you are Disney-ing wrong! Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you aren’t doing it right! We all have our own opinions and preferences based on so many different factors.
I have personally paid between $300-$400 a night to stay at Port Orleans, Riverside and Old Key West. And in my opinion, neither of the rooms I stayed in were reflective of that price point. As a splurge, I once paid around $600 a night to stay 2 nights in a theme park view room at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. The property and atmosphere were phenomenal. Walking to Trader Sams was very cool and so was taking the monorail from the lobby right to the Magic Kingdom. The room itself was very, very, very regular. In short, the resorts themselves can be fantastic, but I have never been particularly impressed with the rooms.
But, what you are paying for is location, location, location, and atmosphere. And that may be worth it to you. I can definitely see how it would be easier to direct an entire family to the monorail, Skyliner, or bus and get dropped off in front of the gates versus getting everyone in the car for a 20 minute drive with parking to negotiate when you get there.
Bottom line is that is a personal choice of how much you are willing to pay (or save) when it comes to staying in character.
Is staying off-property right for you?
Let’s address the cons first, then you’ll know If it isn’t for you right away.
- Not as much character (literally and figuratively). Obviously, when you stay off-property you are not going to be surrounded by the Disney atmosphere 24-7. However, there are some non-Disney hotel and rental options that do capitalize on using Disney decor to give themselves an edge.
- No Disney transport. If you choose to use your own vehicle or rent a vehicle, you will have to pay for parking or ride share.
- Unless you are an Annual Passholder! Standard parking is $25 a day. Add up what you would spend on parking and tickets and see if it is worth it to buy an Annual Pass when available. They are not currently available for new purchase at time of publication (Jan, 2021) but it is only a matter of time before they are again and this tip may help you.
- Along those same lines, self-parking can be a bummer. Sometimes you have to walk far or get on a tram, but my theory is you’ll be walking all day! Embrace those extra steps if you are able to.
- Sales pitches. It seems inevitable. Nearly every non-Disney hotel in the greater Orlando area will try to sell you a time share. If you hear even an utterance of a free breakfast or free Disney tickets upon check-in, just know this is what they are trying to do. There is no way it is worth your time. I have found that if you politely, but very firmly decline, they will leave you alone. If you aren’t interested, just tell them you are not and ask them not to call you with any offers during your stay. If they know it won’t be worth it and risk annoying you, they will probably cool their jets.
- You don’t get the H20+ Bath products (lol!) but you can buy them online at shopDisney!
It shouldn’t surprise you that I have a lot of pros to staying off-prop!
- Save money! The price range I aim for when staying off property is $100-$180 a night. Sometimes even when you add in the extra cost of potentially renting a car and paying for parking, you can still save money compared to staying at most on-prop places. The break-even point when adding parking and a rental car/ride share is about the $180-$200 a night mark. When adding parking and driving your own car it is about $160 a night. So, if you can find an on-property deal for those price points it may be worth it for you.
- You can be just as close to the Parks as some of the on-property Resorts. There are many options within an 8-15 mile radius of the parks. Obviously, this will depend on which park you are going to, but for reference, Wilderness Lodge is 15 miles away from Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge is 8 miles away from the Magic Kingdom. There is more traffic off-property, but when we last went, we stayed 10 miles away from MK and it took about 20 minutes.
- You can have so much more room[s]. Even if you find a break even point for an on-property hotel for around $200 a night, you are probably still just getting one hotel room with 2 queen beds, a mini-fridge, and 1 bath. If you stay off property, you could get a 3 bedroom condo with 2 baths, a full kitchen, and sometimes even a really nice tub! Friends and families can travel together and not have to share a room or bed. Send the kiddos to bed and get in the bathtub with a glass of wine or watch your own tv.
- Even if you aren’t majorly concerned about dietary needs like we are, having your own full kitchen can help save you money on meals too! You can buy essential groceries for a fraction of the cost of dining on property and eat breakfast at your condo before you leave and/or come back in time for a cheaper (and healthier) dinner too. You are even allowed to bring outside food and drink to the parks. Pack a lunch and snacks for a few days and use those extra bucks to buy a souvenir or to splurge on one really special park meal! We love park restaurants too, but we can’t afford to eat every meal out. We usually do one meal a day.
- Get a washer and dryer. I know we don’t want to do laundry on vacation, but if you are staying for a week or more it really is handy to have. We recently did an extended road trip to WDW that took us away from home for 3 weeks. A w/d was a must have. This meant we could pack a little less and wash as we needed.
- You can still visit the resorts even if you are not staying there. Again, the resort properties are fantastic and you should definitely check them out. You can visit for a meal, a drink, or even just a walk through the lobby or the grounds. The resorts are home to some of the most amazing dining on property and you can still make reservations without being a hotel guest.
So, where to go?
I have personally had the most success with a few properties I have booked on Hotels.com. They are Grand Beach by Diamond Resorts and Mystic Dunes & Golf Club by Diamond Resorts. These are a good example of the type of place where you can experience all of the pros I listed above.
I have stayed at some dreadful Airbnbs that I won’t even begin to recommend. But, if you are comfortable with vacation property rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO, you can find a lot of options there too. And a lot of them even have fun themed decor. I just have to disclose that my confidence in Airbnb is wavering right now. We had an issue during our last trip and while they did eventually make it right, it allowed a lot of wasted time and negative energy into our vacation.
So, where have I actually stayed and what do these places look like? They look like big apartment complexes on the outside and apartments/condos on the inside. Follow links to see all images of property, but here are a few.
Are they going to win any design or theming awards? No. But, they are clean, comfortable, and spacious. And just look at that tub! (The tub is in the Deluxe Condo, 1 Bedroom at Mystic Dunes and It starts at around $100-$130 a night when you add resort fees). These properties have most of the same amenities on-site like a gym, pool, convenience store, business center, nice grounds, and parking included.
It’s going to take a little work to figure out which option is right for you…
… and maybe that will factor into your decision of wether or not it is worth it. Your time is valuable, even when planning a vacation. It is a numbers game and a lot of math-ing. But, there is a lot of potential benefit to be had.
For example, the most affordable room at Art of Animation right now is around $180 a night. The cost of a 10 day stay for 1 bedroom/2 beds/1 bath/no kitchen is around $2,000. You can get a 2 bedroom/3beds/2 bath/full kitchen/living room/laundry, and soaking tub for around $1200-$1600 total at either of the condos. Prices will always vary, so this is just an example, but you get the idea.
And remember, with a kitchen, you are also saving money on food too! It is really worthwhile if you are an Annual Passholder and decide to drive yourself because then parking is included. I like the autonomy of having our own vehicle, but again, that could be due to the food allergy anxiety.
But having a car also opens it up to do some things off-property, like visit Universal, or drive to the beach for a day.
Simply put, you can get more room and amenities for less, but you will have to sacrifice some character and convenience. It is all about how you want to spread your budget around. Maybe your splurge is the hotel room and not the food. And that is ok, too. No shame in how you decide to spend your money!
Because mark my words, the day I can afford to spend my trip at any Deluxe Suite or Villa I will stray off-site no more!
And if you know about this H20+ Softening Mint Foot Rub, then it may be worth the price of the Disney Resort room! But you can also buy it by clicking the link below. They do have some of the best hotel toiletries on-property!