When planning a trip to Disney, inevitably (especially after seeing the prices), many will ask themselves if they should stay on or off property. Here’s my take, and a recommendation if you want to stay off property.
Disney offers many options for staying on property, from affordable value resorts to much more expensive luxury resorts like The Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. In choosing a Disney property, you can also opt for the meal plan. If you plan on staying on property I strongly suggest you get the meal plan, especially if you have older children, who are constantly hungry, or children, like mine, who are always looking for a snack. Disney food is expensive if paying out of pocket, but makes much more financial sense in the form of a meal plan. The meal plan also saves you from lugging around snacks, sandwiches, and drinks all day, which although nice to have as an option, could be difficult if staying on property with no kitchen or car, to get to a store.
The last time we visited Disney we stayed at the Wilderness Lodge, one of Disney’s luxury properties and I promise you it did not disappoint. My family, a family of five, took on the added expense of getting a villa since my daughter was still not sleeping through the night and we wanted a kitchen, so we wouldn’t have to worry about First Son’s food allergies, which turned out not to be an issue at Disney. But at that time, we didn’t know how wonderful Disney would be handling food allergies.
While my family did not get the meal plan that stay, my sister’s family and my parents, did. In fact, at the time, it was included in their stay as a special Disney promotion, something that was not available to us because we were staying in a villa. My parents thought it was very worthwhile. My sister, at the time, felt like she spent too much time at sit down meals, which were included in the meal plan. She felt all the time spent dining, wasted precious park time. However, since staying off property and purchasing lunch and snacks in the parks, she is convinced of its value.
In staying on property you are also immersed in the Disney experience from the start of your vacation until the end. There is a complimentary shuttle to the hotels and once on property, the Disney “magic” can be felt everywhere. Obviously, you don’t get this when staying off property.
Staying on property also comes with other perks such as extra park hours at rotating parks, meaning you get in before everyone else, and free transportation via boat, monorail, or bus, to the park entrances. This may not seem like a big deal, but if your parking at the Magic Kingdom and you want to be at the gates for opening, you had better leave your hotel an hour early. Not only does it take time to get to the park, but then you have to park, wait for a tram, go to the ticketing center, and then take either the monorail or boat over to the Magic Kingdom, which is still a mile away. It’s a hike, and not a pretty one when it’s crowded, especially when your leaving the park after the fireworks (with a puking child, see previous post).
So, staying on site has its advantages.
But, there’s advantages to staying off site as well. First of all, you get more for your money. When we were pricing out vacations, this time around, for the same amount of money we could have either gotten a room at the Port Orleans, one of Disney’s moderate resorts that could accommodate my family of five without having to get a suite, or a three bedroom time share at the Marriott Imperial Palm, where we ended up staying. Sometimes, bigger is better.
Our condo was very nicely appointed, modern, clean, and spacious. We had three bedrooms, one with a king size bed, one with a queen sized bed and pull out couch, and one with two twin beds. The couch in the living room also pulled out to a bed. Each bedroom had a flat screen tv as well as the living room, and the kitchen was fully stocked (not with groceries, but kitchen wares). This extra space not only made sleeping much more pleasant, but on this trip, especially, with everyone getting sick, made a world of difference. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have been in one small room with Little Lady vomiting throughout the night. No one would have been able to sleep. We also had a washer and dryer, which came in very handy.
Marriott’s Imperial Palm villas is on the Orlando World Center Marriott grounds, which includes a golf course, hotel, and spa. The property is large and the amenities are numerous. The main pool, at the hotel, has a luxurious feel, with a new, casual poolside restaurant. We ate lunch there, our first day, and it felt like we were at a tropical resort. Even though the current pool area is very large, Marriott is in the process of building a family friendly pool area, think slides and lazy rivers. Although they were in the middle of construction, this is no way affected our stay or the beauty of the area. I’m just sorry we missed it, but then again, I don’t think we could have gotten my kids to leave the hotel if it had been completed.
Several nights we enjoyed dinner at one of the restaurants in the main hotel. The food was good and the service fine. This is an advantage over the Disney dining plan. In all the places we ate, this time and last, I can’t say we ever got a great meal at Disney. I also enjoyed being able to eat breakfast in the room before heading out for the day, and being able to pack snacks that I knew the kids would eat, that didn’t cost a fortune.
Although our hotel was just a short ride down the road from Disney, the time it took to get to Magic Kingdom seemed excessive. This, like I mentioned before, is because the parking lot is located so far from the actual entrance. The trip to Epcot, however, was fairly easy and quick. Parking, though, at $14.00 a day is a bit steep. The good news, the parking is transferrable to the other parks throughout the day.
So, there you have it. Staying on Disney property is a wonderful thing, that comes with many perks. It creates an ease to your trip since it doesn’t involve renting a car or worrying about parking, and in a way, makes the trip much more “magical.” The better the hotel you can afford, the better the theming and amenities. If your looking for that Disney experience, or if this is your first time visiting Walt Disney World, I strongly suggest you stay on property.
Staying off property offers more for your money and I think better geared towards those that don’t plan on spending every waking minute of their vacation in the parks, larger families, and those with older kids. I know one family that always stays off property. They also have five people in their family, but when they go to Disney, which they do frequently, they usually only spend three days of their week in the parks. They also enjoy visiting Sea World and Universal, which are not part of Disney. The rest of the time they want to be at the pool and relax. Staying off property offers them much more for their money.
Whatever you choose, there is no wrong answer, it’s a vacation, relax and have fun!