Sunday, March 26, 2017

Benefits of staying at a Disney resort . . . or not

Here and there, I've mentioned Disney planning tips but I've been thinking of pulling together a comprehensive post listing out the steps I take when planning a vacation.  One of those steps is deciding where to stay and weighing the benefits of staying at a Disney resort or offsite.  Because that discussion can be lengthy in and of itself, I'm creating a separate entry here to provide you with thinking points in determining whether or not it's worth it to stay at a Disney resort.


Benefits of staying at a Disney resort
It's in Disney's best interest for its park guests to also be its resort guests.  Why?  Revenue.  And not just revenue earned from hotel charges.  Guests who stay at a Disney resort are more likely to eat at Disney restaurants, shop at Disney stores and spend more time in the parks, which will result in an increase to my first two points.  When you choose to stay at a Disney resort, you almost feel like you're in a bubble and there's really no need to leave that bubble.  Disney doesn't want to make it easy for you to visit SeaWorld or Universal because then you'll be spending your money there instead of at Disney.

Staying at a Disney resort can be expensive so if one were to simply weigh the cost alone, choosing to stay offsite would most likely be more cost effective.  Because of this, Disney has incentives to make staying at a Disney resort more appealing than staying offsite.

Free transportation to and from the airport
Last year was the first time we used Disney's Magical Express and admittedly, I was skeptical.  I have to tell you, I was quite pleased with our experience.  The cast members were extremely efficient and friendly.  Magical Express will even take care of retrieving your luggage for you so there's no need to waste time waiting by the luggage carousel.  You just head right over to the busses and Disney will take care of the rest.  (Note that it may take up to 3 hours for your luggage to be delivered to your room so pack bathing suits, or other items you may need when you arrive in a carry-on bag.)

Using Magical Express saves you from renting a car or paying for taxi service.

Free transportation to and from Disney parks
Once you're at your Disney resort, you can either take a Disney bus, ride the monorail or simply walk to a Disney park.  It's all free.  If you do have your own car and you decide to drive to a Disney park, the standard parking fee of $20 is waived.

Jump start on Advance Dining Reservations
Anyone can make an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) for a Disney restaurant 180 days in advance. But when you are staying onsite at Disney, at that 180 day mark, you can make ADRs for the first 10 days of your vacation.  So if your vacation begins on a Monday, 180 days from that Monday, you can log on and make ADRs for your entire vacation (up to 10 days.)  This gives you a huge advantage and the ability to snag popular ADRs.

Earlier booking window for FastPass+
When you're a guest at a Disney resort, you are able to make your FastPass+ reservations 60 days prior to the start of your vacation.  Not staying at a Disney resort?  You need to wait an additional 30 days.  FastPasses, in my opinion, are such a huge timesaver and should be carefully thought out and used to your advantage.  Time is money!

Extra Magic Hours
These are designated hours prior to the park opening to the public or after the park closes to the public where only guests of Disney resorts are allowed access to the park.  The hours and which park vary so you'll need to take that into account when you're planning but this can give you an advantage of touring with fewer guests.  Tomorrow, Monday, Animal Kingdom will open at 8:00 AM to Disney resort guests.  The park opens to the public at 9:00.

What are the benefits of staying offsite?
Lower costs.  This is the main reason given as a reason to stay offsite.  Many guests to Disney parks stay offsite because it saves them money.  There's no shortage of hotels and homes for rent in the Orlando area.  I have friends and family who have rented homes and quite enjoyed the benefits of having their own place.  With a full kitchen, you can save money by cooking meals and/or having the ability to prepare food to bring the parks.  Some simply prefer to have their own pool, and peace and quiet after spending the day at Disney.  Nothing wrong with that.    

What should you do?
Maybe you have hotel points to use or you plan to spend half of your vacation at Universal.  There are so many variables at play.  Whatever your plans may be, only you can make the decision of where to stay for your family.  My goal in presenting this information is to provide some thinking points.  Now, we've always stayed onsite at Disney.  Our main reason for doing so is to reduce the amount of time spent traveling to and from the parks and our resort.  For us, it's worked out and we've been happy with our decision.


BreezieGirl said...

Great post! I will second the benefits of the ADR booking, FP+ booking, and Magical Express. I'll also say Magic Bands are a huge benefit too.

I'm quite sure that the timing of my visit and the location of resort played into this, but I didn't find the transportation to the Parks any faster than from where our VRBO rental was. We did the weekend days at Disney during my trip (and I do just have the one experience so grains of salt and all that) because I was running the Princess Half. Then, we moved off-site to a nearby home rental.

For us, with 7 adults and a toddler for five days, it was less than half the cost of staying on-site at a value even if we'd squeezed into 2 rooms (and even with parking fees and car rentals) for lodging. We did save on food that way too though with breakfast "at home" and packing snacks/lunches to bring. Our little one was still little enough that he napped in his stroller just fine. Personal circumstances will always play a role in "what is better."

We did do a single day trip to Universal, but we went when we checked out of Disney and returned to the VRBO. It was an easy drive and not too far, so you could easily cab it if you wanted a day and were staying on-site.

Melanie said...

I'm a Disney freak. We go every year. Actually I should say I drag my husband there every year ( he is NOT a Disney freak). I love being in the bubble so we always stay onsite. I feel like Disney is pricey anyway you slice it so may as well stay on property and take advantage of the perks. But it really comes down to personal preference. I love reading your Disney posts.

Kate said...

We stayed in the Cabins at Fort Wilderness because I needed a kitchen (we're vegetarian and my son is autistic so has a lot of dietary issues) and my in-laws insisted on staying on site (and they were paying so their call). It was definitely worth the extra cost because it was easy to take the little kids back for a nap mid-day and my FIL (who walks with a cane) could easily go back to the cabin and rest. Also, my kids really liked taking the boat over to Magic Kingdom and it was definitely more scenic than the bus!

Englishrose said...

We actually stayed at their RV park at Camp Wildnerness during our year long trip around the country. We still had the transportation but were able to also cycle around and drive to local supermarkets to shop. We met up with some great people who obviously do it every year and ( we were there from New Years Eve for 2 weeks)- they set up Christmas decorations - the inflatables. It was pretty amazing. So if you have an RV or access to one ( we don't any more) it's worth considering too and the camp fees were pretty reasonable. Sites were large and wooded enough that you didn't really feel you were in a big place, wild turkeys and deer wandered around too.

Tracie Richey said...

Your readers in the military will want to look into the Shades of Green Resort. We have enjoyed our stay there every time and it's located next to the Polynesian Resort on Disney property. We value getting to and from the parks without using our car. We also value the reduced ticket prices available to military guests ( use their guest services counter inside the resort for special package prices). As much as we would like to stay at a Disney resort to experience the themed rooms, the frugal side of me chooses the Shades of Green every time - could be because we have a family of 10.

Lisa H. said...

Love reading your blog--and living vicariously through your vacations! Not sure if you mentioned this in a previous post, but we learned this recently when booking a trip to the Aulani: there are better deals available through the Disney travel agents than online. I happened to call just to ask a few questions and suddenly had a way better deal. (I got an even better deal than that when I asked if there were deals for season pass members. I live in Los Angeles and it turned out that by buying the least expensive pass we still saved money because of all the other great benefits at the resort!)

It's funny, too, reading about Universal because I have to remind myself that you're talking about the Florida Disney. Universal here in LA is a couple hours away from Disney.

Speaking of Disney: are you still going through clothes to sell? With our upcoming trip to the Aulani it would be fun to have some Disney outfits. Any 4T available? Daisy Duck in particular? :)