Is Staying at a Disney Resort a MUST?

A lot of people who have vacationed at the Walt Disney World Resort may tell you that staying at a Disney resort hotel is the only way to have the ultimate Disney vacation experience. And yes, we agree that staying at a Disney resort is nice… if you can afford it.

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Disney hotels offer lots of amenities, include complimentary transportation to the theme parks, and they have wonderful pools, a variety of dining options,  and lots of other activities. Each one is themed a little differently and they are very well kept. You feel immersed in the Disney magic when you’re staying “on property.”

BUT… Disney resorts are not inexpensive. Especially if you’re thinking of a stay at a higher-end resort, like the Grand Floridian. So will it really ruin your vacation if you don’t stay at a Disney hotel?

What are the benefits of staying at a Disney Resort? 

I stay at Disney resorts for many reasons, starting with the free transportation both to and from the airport and to and from the parks.

Disney’s Magical Express can whisk me from Orlando International Airport in cool, classy comfort — they can even handle my luggage so I don’t have to lug it around, it just shows up at my hotel!

Pop Century Bus Stop

Once I’m settled in, I know that I can throw on my favorite Disney gear and hop on a bus to one of the parks in no time. Staying at a Disney resort hotel makes it fairly easy to get around. You cannot beat the location — they are on Disney property!

Also, Disney Resort guests have access to Extra Magic Hours! This means you can get into a theme park an hour before its official opening time, or stay an hour or two after it officially closes. Crowds are typically much smaller during Extra Magic Hours, which means that wait times are much shorter, which is always a plus!

Another benefit of staying at a Disney Resort is that you can book your FastPass+ experiences a full 60 days ahead of your stay. If your goal is to ride all the newest, most popular attractions at the parks, this advantage is extremely valuable. Those staying outside of Disney property can only arrange their FastPass+ experiences 30 days out.

Staying at a Disney resort also makes you eligible to purchase a Disney Dining Plan. These plans can help you budget your dining expenses and sometimes save you money. In fact, Disney occasionally offers “Free Dining” — that is, you can add a dining plan to your hotel reservation for free, which means even greater savings. If you’re staying at a non-Disney hotel, you can’t do the Dining Plan add-on.

Arguably the biggest reason to stay at a Disney resort is that it provides you with the TOTAL Disney experience. What I mean is, you never leave the magic from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave. You experience that amazing Disney service and attention to detail even after you walk out of the theme parks. From the shapes of the pools, the food that is served, to the room decor,  everything screams Disney — and I mean that in a good way! For a true Disney fan, this just adds to the experience.

Each resort has its own fun Disney theme or twist. The Art of Animation features underwater Disney music in its main pool. Disney’s Beach Club  and Yacht Club share the amazing mini-water park Stormalong Bay, as well as an old-time soda shop, Beaches & Cream. Wilderness Lodge re-creates the feeling of the Pacific Northwest and has an actual geyser. Animal Kingdom Lodge features room views with live animals on its savannas. Need I go on?

Beaches & Cream Soda Shop

Check out all of our Disney Resort Hotel Fact Sheets to find all the unique aspects of these accommodations!


What are the benefits of NOT staying at a Disney Resort? 

Truth be told, I have been to Disney quite a few times without staying at a Disney resort hotel. The main reason? There are SO many options very close to Disney property for nearly half the price. In addition, a lot of the off-property hotels offer larger rooms and special deals, like discounted rates or “Kids eat/stay free”! And who doesn’t like FREE?

Many of these accommodations have their own shuttles to the theme parks and they have a wide range of amenities, including pools, spas and dining options, as well. And guests of some of these hotels even enjoy many of the same advantages as those at Disney resorts. That’s right — the seven Disney Springs Resort Area hotels on Hotel Plaza Blvd. offer their guests 60-day-in-advance FastPass+ and access to Extra Magic Hours, all at a fraction of what you’ll pay at a Disney resort.

If you’re traveling with a group of people, another option to consider is renting a house in the Orlando area or staying with an Airbnb. For one thing, it can be difficult to find a Disney resort with enough adjacent or connecting rooms for your party. At a vacation home, you can have more space, a full kitchen, more bathrooms, access to a private pool, all at a more affordable cost.

If you are on a tight budget, or are not planning on spending all of your time at the parks, then staying off-property could be the best choice for you.

If you want to escape the busy-ness of Disney or to need time away from that Disney feeling altogether, then I would also suggest staying off-property. The hotels off-property are often not as crowded and you won’t have to wait in line outside of your resort to get onto a bus to go to the parks! You can just hop in your car, or an Uber, and go!

As you can see, while staying at a Disney resort might make your vacation more magical in some ways, it could also break it — or at least break your budget. Staying off-site might just be the difference between being able to afford the trip and not going at all, so don’t be discouraged from looking into those non-Disney accommodations!

Do you stay on or off Disney property when visiting Disney World? What is your favorite Disney Resort? Let us know in the comments below!

Be sure to check out our Rate and Review section to learn which resorts are AllEars.Net Readers’ favorites!

Remember! When you’re in Disney tag us @allearsnet in your photos!

Subscribe to the AllEars® newsletter so you don’t miss any of the latest Disney news!

Click here to subscribe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

11 Replies to “Is Staying at a Disney Resort a MUST?”

  1. One reason why I prefer to say in the Disney hotels is that on most trips I get a major migraine and I have to go back to the hotel and crash for a few hours (take meds, sleep, etc.). I can take the Disney buses to get back to the hotel. While sometimes the buses don’t come as frequently as I might like, it is fairly simple to do.

    My wife and daughter can continue to enjoy the parks, and I can join them later. If we had driven to Disney, I either would have to take a cab/lift/uber back to the hotel, or my family would have to interrupt their fun and get me to the hotel and then come back.

    From what I’ve read, the shuttles from the hotels tend to have less frequent stops during the middle of the day, so I might be stranded waiting for an hour or so. The Disney Springs hotels might be better than the hotels completely off site in this regard.

    Another issue is my wife now needs to use an electric scooter (ECV) at the park. She can walk a few minutes, but anything longer she needs the chair, and she has an electric chair at the house and just got the conversion van to allow her to drive once again.

    I rent a scooter from an external supplier, and they drop it off at the hotel before we arrive. On the trip before I started renting the scooter, she was in agony just going from bus stop to where we could rent the scooters for the day (particularly at EPCOT). The Disney buses are set up to handle scooters. Whether a random hotel shuttle has the necessary straps, etc. to handle a scooter, I don’t know.

    In terms of the Disney Dining Plans, we sometimes celebrate major birthdays at mouseland. When my father turned 80, he had us trek down to WDW. We would typically eat breakfast and lunch on our own, and then gather for supper and maybe something after that. The DDP allowed everybody to eat regular meals rather than trying to stretch meager funds to each breakfast or lunch. Sure, in the normal situation where you have a single family, and everybody goes together, the DDP may not save money, but it is useful in some places.

  2. We have only stayed off property once, and never again. I always recommend to our friends to stay on property. The value resorts for those that are price conscience. I would say to really review hidden costs if choosing to stay off-site. The cost of transportation to and from airport, cost of parking fees if you have a car, how much time standing in lines if you cannot obtain fast passes, just the time in morning and evening to get to and from the parks.

    We like to be immersed in the magic. That is why we love WDW. Disneyland park is nostalgic and 10x better than MK, but something about seeing the outside world takes that away. WDW you feel the difference once you drive under that welcome sign/arch.

  3. The perks of staying in a Disney Resort far outweigh the extra cost. Hotel shuttles run at odd times and leave the parks early, or you have to drive and pay for parking.
    And even finding a comparable hotel for half the price isn’t that easy. Area hotels charge way more than they should for what you end up with.
    Stay on grounds whenever possible.

    1. Agree! We have always been fortunate enough to stay at the Poly or Contemporary and nothing can beat the location and convenience of the transportation offered at these resorts. Yes, it costs a little more, but we always chose a standard room and have always gotten a discounted rate, when offered. WDW is now always crowded and to be close and save time in getting to and from is a cost savings in itself. This year, we are staying at Port Orleans, we are bringing our dog, and am a little worried about just having bus transportation?. We got a great rate, even with the $50/night added for the dog and the parking charge! Love Disney and have always stayed onsite and will continue for many visits to come 🙂

  4. In 1986, we stayed at the Kings Motel on 192. It was highly recommended in Steve Birnbaum’s Official Guide To Disney World. Boy was he wrong. We stayed there one night and then ran to the Holiday Inn. For the next few years we stayed at various hotels in Downtown Disney.

  5. We stayed at cheap offsite motels when I was a kid but after our first onsite stay at Shades of Green we’ve always stayed onsite. Being able to just hop on a bus at the end of a long day is what really convinced my grandpa, as opposed to searching for the car and then trying to navigate out of WDW and back to our motel in the dark. Shades of Green is our home resort as my aunt is retired Army but we have also stayed at ASMusic & Coronado Springs.

  6. While I agree staying on a Disney property is pricey at times, it does pay off to plan ahead and research. We are fortunate to be a military family so Shades of Green is normally our place to stay. If you want a Disney experience check for discounts. Disney runs a promo a couple times a year on room rates. Last November (for Spring break) I booked All Star Music for less than the Shades of Green military resort. That being said, Kissimmee offers great rates (some under a $100 a night depending on time of year) at over 200 hotels that offer shuttle service. Also, if you have a smaller child, it pays to know that children under 3 do not require a ticket for entrance to the parks or for rides. I realize that Disney can be expensive, between hotel rooms, food and spending money but it does not have to be. I have no problem staying off property when I travel there with my husband and grandchildren. Trust me when I say, they are not going to care what their room or bed (providing it’s clean) looks like after 12+ hours running from ride to ride and fighting crowds of people. There are so many ways to save money at Disney, the problem is too many parents are worried their children won’t have fun if they don’t stay on property. The simple truth is, they will and with planning you won’t have to empty your saving account to give them that experience. Have a magical day.

  7. I have vacationed at WDW 33 times staying at 12 different Disney Resort Hotels. I’ve only stayed at an off property hotel twice and would not do so again(my parents lived in the area so we did do many times at there home).

    Disney resorts are clean and the staff has always been great. Transportation is free and reliable although not as timely as it should be. The themeing is great and that adds to the whole experience. Yes we are Disney geeks and proud to be so.

    We also enjoy hitting the pool bar or lounge after a long day at the parks with no worry of driving or having to call a cab or Uber/Lyft. I do feel Disney is very close to pricing the resorts out of a lot of peoples budgets. And that is sad.

  8. The author writes, “I know that I can throw on my favorite Disney gear and hop on a bus to one of the parks in no time.” Apparently this writer hasn’t read the article currently open for viewing on this site mentioning that guest were resorting to Lyft and Uber because the transportation system is getting slower than slow. So which article is “fake news” and which is real?

  9. Curious as to why Disney would allow the Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels to offer the same perks as those offered at Disney Hotels. Seems like staying and paying Disney Resort prices should guarantee perks that other hotels should not be able to offer.