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.