OpEd: Why you should stay offsite on your next Disney World vacation

in Disney, Hotel, Walt Disney World

disney world parks

Credit: Disney

Would you rather stay onsite or offsite on your next Walt Disney World vacation? This writer’s answer may surprise you.

If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ve no doubt been fed some of the propaganda about staying at a Disney Resort hotel while you’re there.

contemporary resort
Credit: Becky Burkett/ITM Reporter

In fact, booking a Walt Disney World Resort hotel is marketed to us as the only way to go; doing Disney any other way would be a sacrilege, a sure-fire way to sully your vacation, and a huge disappointment to your entire family (especially the kids–gotta make sure they pull on your heartstrings).

But after spending a combined total of months and months at Disney World so far, I can honestly say that staying on property is not always the way to go. I’ll go so far as to say it’s rarely the way to go. Sure, there are some perks to staying on Disney’s property at one of its more than 25 resort hotels, but the perks to staying off property at a vacation home, for example, outweigh those for staying on-site. Here are a few perks of staying offsite at Disney World.

Privacy onsite vs. offsite at Disney World

I get it. If you want privacy, Walt Disney World is the last vacation destination on earth you need to visit. That’s because every year, more than 51 million people visit the Most Magical Place on Earth, meaning your chances for privacy are slim to none, especially during peak seasons in the parks. Most of us Disney fans can brave the crowds–we see doing so as just part of the deal. But when it comes to staying at a Disney hotel, such as the Grand Floridian Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort, or any other resort hotel, things can get pretty crowded. This is especially true when it comes to the hotel’s pools, lobbies, restaurants, and other common areas.

Staying offsite in a nearby vacation home alleviates the issue of crowds in the place where you go to rest, recharge, and renew for the next installment of your Disney trip. Guests already encounter so many people outside of their own traveling parties while inside the theme parks, in the queues for attractions and at restaurants inside the parks. Who wants to head back to the hotel to rest, only to encounter still more crowds? Staying offsite removes that scenario so that even if you’ve explored the parks with that day’s part of those 51 million visitors, at least you can look forward to a break in the crowds when you leave and head back to your condo, townhome, or house.

Also, a private pool is a priceless commodity.

Room to breathe

I have nothing against Disney World Resort hotels. They are fabulous! I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent in them. But let’s be honest: they’re way too small, especially when you consider that a majority of Guests visiting the parks are doing so with their families. It’s one thing if you’re a family of four, two of which are under the age of 3. I suppose you don’t need huge amounts of space in that scenario.

But for families with more than two kids or with slightly older kids who are eager to explore and tend to become fussy when feeling confined in small spaces, ample space can mean the difference between a day of magic and a day of mayhem. I have four kids–all teenagers–so no matter where we stay, we automatically need two rooms right off the bat, and there’s no way in the (Disney) world we’re staying in a tiny resort hotel room (or two) for well over a week at a time. Vacations are about breaking free, and even though you often travel with the ones you love, no one wants to stay in a place where they’re tripping over each other.

resort hotel
Credit: Becky Burkett/ITM Reporter

Renting a vacation home in Florida near the Walt Disney World Resort affords families the opportunity to spread out, break free and take it easy. A majority of vacation rental homes in the area offer as many as 6- to 8-bedroom accommodations. Others offer 3-, 4- and 5-bedroom options. You might not need 8 bedrooms, but if you’re traveling with your family–spouse, kids, and possibly the grandparents, etc., those 6-bedroom homes are lifesavers. We almost always rent a 5- or 6-bedroom home, and the extra space is invaluable (and so are the 4+ bathrooms).

Opportunities to prepare meals for your family

Some people feel like they shouldn’t have to cook, clean or do laundry on vacation, and I can respect that. However, for families staying 5, 6, 7 or more days in the parks, eating out every single meal gets mundane, not to mention heavy on the waistline and the wallet. Families with special diets or food allergies will find themselves well-supported and cared for in the parks’ many restaurants. But it’s often helpful to be able to prepare your own snacks and maybe a few meals throughout your vacation as well.

Staying off-property at your own private vacation home affords you that very opportunity. Vacation homes have full kitchens and are furnished with pots, pans, utensils, and other items used for cooking meals and preparing snacks. It’s nice to eat in the parks. But there’s something to be said for options–like the option to wake up in the morning and make and enjoy breakfast with the family, especially if you’ve purchased Disney World’s new mid-day tickets that offer Guests a reduced daily rate for tickets, given they don’t enter the parks until noon. It’s even nice to leave the parks early once or twice and head back to the house for a cookout around the pool.

And one word about laundry. No one dreams of doing laundry on vacation, but if you have small children or particularly messy family members, being able to do a load of laundry during your trip might actually be a blessing.

Cost onsite vs. offsite

Many Walt Disney World Resort hotels come with a hefty nightly price tag. It depends on where you stay and when you stay. Rates at Moderate and Deluxe Resort hotels spike dramatically during peak seasons in the parks, and keep in mind that Disney World has multiple peak seasons–Marathon weekends, spring break, Easter, all of the summertime, during Epcot’s Festivals, Halloween time, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. With so many peak seasons, you’ve got quite a job on your hands, just trying to find a non-peak time to visit if you’re trying to watch your dollars.

cinderella castle christmas
Credit: Becky Burkett/ITM Reporter

Nightly rates at off-property vacation rental homes also spike during the summer and during the holiday seasons because they know they are serving Disney World parkgoers. But when you consider that during peak seasons, you might pay between $200 and $275 per night for a 5- or 6-bedroom vacation home, that rate is still dramatically lower than Disney World Resort hotel rates.

Two rooms for just two nights at a Disney Resort hotel can still run you well over $1400 during the summertime, depending on the resort. With a vacation home, you won’t be out the expense of a second room since there is so much space in a home, and you will be hard-pressed to find rates as high as those at a Disney World Resort hotel.

Staying off-site at Disney World doesn’t mean you have to stay off the property.

If you make the choice to stay off-property during your Disney trip, you can still visit any or all of Disney’s Resort hotels. You don’t have to be a Guest of a Disney World Resort hotel in order to enjoy the beauty, excitement, restaurants, and atmosphere of the hotel. You can book a vacation home outside the parks and still enjoy all the fun of a Disney hotel; it’s called “resort hopping.” You’ve heard of park hopping; resort hopping is the same idea, only with Disney’s hotels instead of the four theme parks.

gingerbread house
Credit: Becky Burkett/ITM Reporter

Visit the parks during the holidays and still tour the resort hotels. Visit the Grand Floridian and see its annual giant Gingerbread House–without paying to stay at the Grand Floridian. Or stop by Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and enjoy a lime Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai outside the first floor.

Lime dole whip
Credit: Becky Burkett/ITM Reporter

 

You can also book dining reservations at any Walt Disney World Resort hotel without being obligated to stay on property. Stay at an off-property vacation home, and still head to the Contemporary Resort for brunch or lunch at Chef Mickey’s. Or catch the fireworks over Cinderella Castle as you enjoy sushi, wood-fired pizza and more at California Grill. Looking for breakfast served with silliness? Book the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare inside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa–all without being a Guest staying overnight at the hotel.

1900 park fare mad hatter
Credit: Becky Burkett/ITM Reporter

You can still use Disney World Transportation.

You read that right. You don’t have to stay at a Disney World Resort hotel to enjoy Disney’s bus transportation. Drive in from your vacation home and park at one of Disney’s four theme parks or at either water park, and catch the Disney World bus headed to Disney Springs for a day of shopping, dining and entertainment outside the parks. Or park at Disney Springs and take a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge where you can step outside and see the giraffes up close before heading to Sanaa for lunch or dinner. The only part of the Walt Disney World transportation system that is reserved strictly for Guests of a resort hotel is Disney’s Magical Express, which transports between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and the Walt Disney World Resort.

Walt Disney World Bus
(Photo courtesy of Vacation Club Loans)

Do you and your family stay offsite while on your Disney World vacation? Tell us about your vacation home and what you like best about staying elsewhere in the comments below.

 

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