Is it worth staying on-site at a Disney Resort? Today I am sharing the benefits of staying on Disney property and 3 reasons staying off-site might be a better choice for your Disney vacation.
Making the decision to stay on-site or off-site when visiting the Walt Disney World theme parks can leave people with their heads spinning. There are a lot of pros and cons to staying on-site at the Disney hotels.
Guests need to factor in Disney vacation cost, what parks you will visit, how many days do you want to vacation, and many more decisions. Read our 7 day Disney World Itinerary to help with the planning.
One of the most important decisions you will make is where do you want to stay for your Disney World vacation. Guests visiting Disney World have two options for accomodations.
Stay on-site at a Value, Moderate, or Disney World Deluxe resorts or stay off-site at a resort or a rental like Encore Resort. There are perks to staying on-site and off-site during your Disney World trip.
Before you arrive at the parks be sure to download the My Disney Experience app, make your park reservation, and purchase Disney World tickets.
Benefits of Staying on Disney Property
On-Site Disney Resorts Keep You in the Disney Bubble
Disney Resort hotel guests that don’t want to worry about driving or leaving Disney property should stay at a Walt Disney World hotel.
The only time you are outside of Disney is to and from the Orlando International airport. Some families love this and others not so much.
Disney World used to provide complimentary transportation called Disney’s Magical Express to and from the airport but now guests are responsible for their own transportation. Two options that you can book ahead of time are Sunshine Flyer and Mears Connect. Prices vary depending on the specials available.
If you are a big Disney fan and you want all Disney all the time, an on-site resort like Art of Animation or Disney’s Riviera Resort may be a good choice for you.
Staying on-site keeps people inside the magic for their entire stay. Each resort has its own theme and has Disney touches throughout the rooms and lobby.
There are so many different hotel themes on-site that your family might have a tough time deciding where to stay. From pop culture to safari and sports to wilderness, Disney has something for everyone.
All resorts have pools and on-site dining options. There are also daily activities and different resorts offer different extras. Like at the Riviera Resort guests can participate in an art scavenger hunt.
Plus the hotels are in price tiers going from value to deluxe. Do not worry about lack of services at the values. They have less amenities then the moderate and deluxe hotels but still offer Disney magic.
Reviews of On-Site Disney Properties:
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort Review for Families
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Review with Kids
- Disney Riviera Resort Review
- Disney Art of Animation Review and Family Suite Room Tour
On-Site Guests at Disney World Have Complimentary Transportation within the Parks and Resorts
On-site guests can use the buses, boats, and Skyliner to get around the resorts and parks. Some resorts are within walking distance to some parks.
The transportation options are free and available to off-site guests too. While you can’t park at a resort then go to the park for the day, you can take the transportation from the parks to the resorts and vice-versa.
Not many places can boast boat, bus and monorail transportation. On our last visit we were able to take all three to different destinations we were visiting.
The kids enjoyed the theme parks as much as how we arrived. It was a really fun way to get around the Disney property.
Using Disney World’s free transportation options may be helpful if you are visiting a park and have dining reservations at a resort.
For example if you are at Magic Kingdom and have dining reservations at Ohana at the Polynesian you may take the boat.
Some guests choose to ride the monorail as part of their vacation experience. Guests are all welcome on the transportation.
A few things about the internal buses at Disney World. There are multiple buses running at a time but they can be late or take a long time.
Most of the time our wait is not longer than 15 minutes, but there have been times it has taken longer. For us it is a minor inconvenience but keep this in mind if you are on a tight schedule.
When driving you also have to deal with traffic and wait times. If you prefer driving and are staying on-site Disney offers complimentary parking to resort guests.
If you are traveling with small children be prepared to board the buses with strollers packed up. When my kids were small all three of them fell asleep on the bus ride back to our resort.
Three sleeping kids, a double stroller, and 2 parents made for an interesting time!!
Extra Hours at the Parks for On-Site Disney Guests
The current early access perk for on-site guests is Early Theme Park Entry. All on-site Disney guests can enter any of the theme parks 30 minutes before opening.
Take advantage of this extra time at the parks!
If you are staying select hotels like the Deluxe resorts they offer extended evening hours. The theme park will be open late to guests staying at a Deluxe resort.
These dates/hours and parks change. Check here for up-to-date information.
Lightning Lane Passes
In 2021 Walt Disney World announced they were not bringing back FastPass to the parks. FastPass was the line reservation system that was a big perk if you were staying on-site.
They replaced it with Genie+. Genie+ is a line reservation system that is made the day of your park visit. It is a paid service offered to any guest visiting the parks (off-site and on-site)
All guests can make their first Genie+ reservation at 7:00am.
If you are purchasing an individual Lightning Lane pass, on-site guests have an advantage. They can make them at 7:00am and off-site guests must wait until park opening.
Individual Lightning Lane passes are available for:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Tron (Magic Kingdom)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (Epcot)
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (Hollywood Studios)
- Avatar: Flight of Passage (Animal Kingdom)
Individual Lightning Lane passes cost between $7.00-$15.00 per person/per attraction. You do NOT have to purchase them and can wait in the stand-by line if you prefer or they are not in your budget.
Currently two attractions have virtual queues. They are Guardians of the Galaxy and Tron Lightcylce.
These are booked at 7:00am for all guests through the My Disney Experience app. Guests must secure a virtual queue time (this is free) or purchase a paid individual lightning lane.
If you are joining the queue do it at 7:00am because they run out within seconds. Often they open another group at 1:00pm but this also runs out fast.
Disney On-Site Special Offers
Special offers have become less and less available the last few years due to the pandemic and pent up desire to travel to Disney World.
If rooms are booked, Disney is not going to offer deals. As of 2023 Disney World has begun to offer more special offers for on-site guests. It is always worth checking out the current specials.
One of the most sought out after deals is the “free dining” deal. This offers the Disney dining plan as part of your resort stay.
Typically this will save you money on dining but you will pay more for your resort room.
I highly suggest pricing out your trip with different options. Free dining is very helpful if you have older kids and plan on eating at character meals.
In my opinion if you are a family that is planning on doing a few character meals during your stay the dining plan is a win.
Not only do you save yourself waiting in lines to meet characters you enjoy a sit-down meal too.
We have priced it out and it always seems to go in our favor. Some deals are not worth it and do not save you as much money as you think.
We have had good luck with the free-dining plan. You should be aware that the meal plan is included but you are paying a rack rate for your hotel room.
Disney has not offered free dining in years and I do not know if it will come back again. Always check the Disney World special offers page even after you book.
Guests can change their package if a better deal is available.
3 Reasons to Stay Off-Site During a Disney World Vacation
Disney World Resorts are Expensive(for What You Get)
Walt Disney World resorts do have a value tier and these can be considered budget, but most start at $150.00 a night in a standard room that fits 4. These rooms are not large either.
Starting at 260 square feet the value resort rooms are not meant for spending a lot of time in. If you are planning on sleeping and spending more of your time at the parks, this might not be an issue.
If you are planning rest days, meals in your room, or have young children who need naps this might not be a good fit for you. More often you can find a larger space for the same amount of money.
We have stayed off-site at Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and loved the extra space to stretch out. Plus we could stock the fridge and eat meals in our room, which saves money.
Having more space for the cost might make staying off-site worth it. Be sure to include cost of parking and renting a car when you plan your off-site stay.
If you are traveling with a large party you may want to consider renting a house. We stayed at Encore resort and there was more than enough room for a couple families to stay. Splitting the cost might be a great option.
Too Much Disney
You may enjoy the theme parks but do not want to stay inside the Disney bubble at all times. This is okay and you can still have a great vacation. Staying off-site will give you a break from all things Disney.
Visiting Other Places in Orlando
When we plan trips that involve multiple theme parks we like to stay off-site or do a split stay where we stay a few days at a Universal resort and a few days at Disney World.
Is Staying at a Disney Resort Worth It?
Staying on-site at Walt Disney World gives you a vacation from the real world. From beautifully themed properties to getting you to the theme parks, everything is taken care of.
It is worth it if you are planning on staying on Disney property for the duration of your vacation. It might not be worth it if you want to head to the beach or visit other Orlando theme parks.
Staying on Disney property is a personal decision. The benefits of staying on-site at Disney may out weight the cons, but off-site has its perks too. When planning your trip you need to decide what best fits your family and know that either way you are visiting Disney World and it will be a great trip.
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