One of the most important factors in planning your Disney vacation is choosing your resort.  You don’t want to end up in Barbie’s Dream Projects, like we did when I traveled with my high school choir for Magic Music Days back in the late 90s, but you may not want to get over-Disneyfied, either.  So while you may be ready to wing it in the parks, it definitely pays to do a little research and find out what works for you when looking for your home away from home.


I lived my early years near Camp Pendleton in Southern California, so I grew up with Disneyland day trips.  Being locals, we never “stayed the night at Disney.”  Now that I’m on the planning side of things, I knew I wanted to stay on-site for the kids’ first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.  We chose the historic Disneyland Hotel.  We really enjoyed our stay, and we plan to stay at the Grand Californian this summer.  However, staying on or off Disney property won’t make or break your trip to Disneyland.

Why You Should Stay On-Site at Disneyland

1. Disneyland Resort Guest Benefits
Early park entrance allows Disney resort guests to get a jump on the crowd.  We got quite a few attractions done when we took advantage of this offering.  I’m also a shopper, and the ability to send our treasures back to the room is a perk I love!  Plus, we always know we’ll be taken care of when we stay at a Disney property.


2. Disney Magic
Call me cheesy, but there’s just something about being surrounded by the magic during your entire vacation.  Our room at the Disneyland Hotel was exactly what I imagined a Disney hotel to be like as a child from the swirls on the carpet to the musical headboard.

Why You Should Stay Off-Site at Disneyland

1. Cost
If you’re traveling on a budget, you can save a bundle by looking at non-Disney hotels.  If you’re a member of a hotel loyalty club, you may be able to snag discounted or even free nights depending on your program.

2. Location, Location, Location
Believe it or not, some off-site hotels may be a little closer to the park entrances than some of Disney’s own.  For those that aren’t, the locations are very comparable to the on-site hotels.

Get Resort Wise: If you decide to stay off-site, consider staying at a Good Neighbor Hotel.  These are typically in very close proximity to the parks and have the Disney stamp of approval.  Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer a list of Good Neighbor Hotels.


Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is a whole different ball game when it comes to where to stay. Disneyland Resort is about 510 acres. Contrast this to Disney World, which has  43 square miles (over 30000 acres), which makes an off-site hotel not such an easy alternative.  Additionally, Walt Disney World offers a much larger selection of resorts from which guests can choose.

Why You Should Stay On-Site at Walt Disney World


1. Disney World Resort Guest Benefits
Disney World also offers extra magic hours to their resort guests, allowing them to enter a Disney park an hour early or stay up to two hours late on select days.  Disney World continues to keep my shopper side happy by delivering purchases to the resorts.  Disney World guests also have the option to add one of the Disney dining plans to their package, which can save up to 25% on your meals throughout your stay.


2. Convenience
Before you even arrive at Walt Disney World, you’re enjoying the convenience of being a resort guest.  If you’re flying into Orlando International Airport, Disney’s Magical Express will not only transport you to and from the airport, but they will also retrieve your bags from baggage claim and deliver them to your room.  Once on-site, Disney transportation will get you pretty much wherever you need to go from your Disney resort hotel.  Disney vehicles run continuously throughout the day, as opposed to some off-site options that may only run a few shuttles to and from the Ticket and Transportation Center or parks.  The complimentary buses, monorails and water crafts are available to all guests once on property.  Some resorts are even within walking distance of the theme parks.

ŸGet Resort Wise: If you plan to rent a car or will be driving to the Most Magical Place on Earth, remember to obtain a parking pass, as your reservation includes complimentary parking at the theme parks.

3. Again, the Disney Magic
Like I said, there’s just something about being surrounded by the magic 24/7 during your vacation.  Even more so at Walt Disney World, as the property is so large. You could easily go an entire week without seeing the “real world.”  With typically fantastic customer service and cast members ready and willing to help make your stay more magical, we always feel our choice to stay at a Disney resort hotel is the right one.


Why You Should Stay Off-Site

1. Cost
Again, cost is the number one factor here.  Even value resorts at Walt Disney World can bust your budget once you start adding tickets and dining.  This is especially true if traveling with a large party.  Renting and splitting the cost of a vacation home will usually end up being a much more economical choice than paying for several rooms on property or staying in a Disney Vacation Club Villa.

2. Proximity to Other Orlando Attractions
Believe it or not, there are actually other things to do outside those pixie-dusted gates of Walt Disney World.  If you plan to spread your vacation among other attractions in the area, you may prefer to choose a location equidistant to your favorite stops.

Want to be closer to the magic at a lower rate and a more mellow atmosphere?  Consider the Swan, Dolphin or other non-Disney owned and operated hotels on property.
Want to be closer to the magic at a lower rate and a more mellow atmosphere? Consider the Swan, Dolphin or other non-Disney owned and operated hotels on property.

3. Rest and Relaxation
Like I said, I totally get geeked out by all Disney all the time, but I understand how that can definitely be overkill for some vacationers.  Staying off-site can allow you to get away from all of the wonderful over-stimulation Walt Disney World has to offer.

You can probably tell that I’m an on-site gal, but what about you?  Do you prefer to stay on or off property and why?

  • clewandowski

    On site! Disney is my escape from the real world and I refuse to see any part of it while I’m there!

    • Haha! Aside from our traditional jaunt to the Disney outlets in Orlando, we tend to feel the same way.

  • eicarr

    WDW has much bigger hotel and admission deals every year that boosts bookings and park attendance figures. They’ve underbuilt the DL resort hotels and feel fine charging primium rates for their overbooked hotels that give essential early entry to Cars Land(which arguably might be worth the extra $150-$500 more per night over other motels with a 5-10 min walk to the park gates).

    • We haven’t seen the new Cars Land yet, and that’s exactly our plan for this summer. We’re really excited!

    • met19

      the extra 150-500 a night is totally worth getting early entry into carsland. i rode radiators springs once during early entry, along with soarin or toy story. and was online and got a fp for radiators as soon as the park opened- and that line was 5-10 min for me versus the crowd that was waiting for entry.

  • Staying onsite is MUCH more important at Walt Disney World than it is at Disneyland. I nearly always stay at one of the WDW hotels. Although there are some fantastic hotels just off property, including some great options at Universal and next to SeaWorld, Disney World has the best variety of options which offer all the WDW perks.

    While the Disneyland Hotel is neat and the Grand Californian is beautiful (and practically located inside of California Adventure) you can get a nice MiceChat partner hotel room for under $100 a night which is off property and which is still closer to Disneyland Park than the Disneyland Hotel itself.

    • CCS

      Dusty, can you name a couple of these MiceChat partner motels, please. I know that Howard Johnson is one. The rates have begun to creep up along the Harbor Bouelvard, Katella Avenue, Disney Way and West Street corridors, but they’re still a good deal and WALKABLE (even with kids and strollers).

      • DobbysCloset

        In 2009 I stayed at the Quality Inns & Suites on Manchester and spent my money eating at Napa Rose. No pool, despite photos — it’s there but not heated. Motel-style where rooms open onto the outdoors, not a corridor and walking distance to D-land.

        The next time I visit I will be wanting room service wherever it is I stay. The Chihuahua has horrid table manners.

  • So true! I haven’t stayed off property at Disney since I was a kid. Being on property there is really a must-do for us.

    I have to admit that while in the morning the walk through Downtown Disney from the Disneyland Hotel to the parks was exciting, it was a little daunting after a day of Disney fun (and walking).

  • tofubeast

    I’ve done Good Neighbor at DLR, because the Disney hotels at DLR are quite pricey for my budget. But at WDW, I always stay on-sight. By the time you factor in the perks, and the free parking/transportation, it’s a no brainer to me. I also like the variety of hotels to choose from in terms of cost/experience. My friend recently stayed at a hotel off-site. She complained that the shuttle would do picks up with 2-3 hour gaps in between. She finally resorted to just paying the parking fee and taking her car. So for the cost of parking and ease, the money she saved by staying off-site quickly disappeared.

    • We had friends with exactly the same experience. Even before I was a travel agent, I was talking up the perks of staying on-site to them. They called mid-trip asking about car rental because, get this, the shuttle did one run in the morning when the parks opened and one in the evening. Couldn’t believe it!! The ended up having to grab a taxi (ouch!) on more than one occasion.

  • jcruise86

    Some would frown at this (particularly those paying $250-400 a night), but as locals we’ve enjoyed many hours in the beautiful Grand Californian lobby without ever staying there. We love the Christmas carolers and my daughter loves sitting in a sturdy, leather seated, kid-sized rocking chair by the fire place listening to a storyteller. We’ve had many meals at this hotel and here I am plugging it’s beauty again now, and–of course–we make it even more attractive and friendly 🙂 , so don’t feel like we’re ripping off poor Disney too badly.

    At WDW we loved staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (with a rental car) and might try the Wilderness Lodge (partly with Disney Visa Rewards Dollars) if we return. We got an unbelievably low AKL rate because we were supposed to stay at Pop Century, but it hadn’t opened in time, so they gave us a deal at the at that deluxe resort for under $100 a night. (Did we set a deluxe resort record low rate for the last 15 years?) This was about 12 years ago.

    Haven’t felt inspired to return to WDW since then because we’re so close to Disneyland.

    • I don’t know why anyone would frown at that!! The lobbies are meant to be enjoyed! We often tour the resorts and just relax in the lobbies (in fact, we hung out at the GC for a while, and it is gorgeous!).

      There was a big group of value resort patrons who ended up getting bumped up to DVC resorts a few years ago at WDW. I mean hundreds! Too bad you can’t plan stuff like that. 😉

      • jcruise86

        Maybe if you book a room in an ambitious WDW value resort 11 months in advance for the week it opens and hope they’re late. 🙂

  • Tielo

    When my family and I go we always rent a home somewhere near the parks. We always stay for about 6 weeks and it would be very expensive to stay on property for that amount of time.
    For about 1000 dollars we rent a home for a week (often cheaper) and a car. We have 4 or 5 bedrooms, all with our own TV’s and at least 3 bathrooms. We also have a private pool.
    We can keep our medications cool, shop for food, drink and snacks at the local supermarkets and can relax after a busy day of going to the parks of shopping without sitting on each others lap. Added bonus is living in an American home when you are from Europe.
    Regularly we visit the hotels at Disney and other big and fun hotels in the neighbourhood (like Gaylord) to soak in the atmosphere but we are always glad to go “home”.

    • I can definitely see where off-site would be the most economical (and spacious!) choice for you. I’d love to do a tour de resorts for six weeks, but I don’t know how my bank account would feel about that.

  • disneytom

    For years, WDW Disney resort/ticket packages were not “values” per se, they just included features that were convenient such as tickets, meals, activities, etc., but you rarely save money. Now, since ticket prices have been so jacked up, this dynamic now changes if you are a careful consumer. When Disney offers free dining or has gift card booking offers, it might just be a compelling proposition to stay on-site because you save money on the overall vacation.

    But, sans a discount, you have to really decide if staying on-site is worth the money.

    • I agree. Disney has some sort of promotion running during a good portion of the year, so you can often save quite a bit if you know to keep an eye out for those.

  • ttintagel

    Staying on-property and not having to drive is one of the top three reasons I choose a WDW vacation over other destinations.

    • Definitely nice to have someone else get you around the World, isn’t it?!

  • gboiler1

    I always cringe at friends who go to WDW and think about staying off site. It really depends if you are doing anything other than Disney.
    Sometimes they get a deal on a vacation home rental or only want to do a little Disney.
    For me I’m fine with leaving the driving to someone else. The bus system has never failed me and the atmosphere on site is a big part of it.
    Plus who wants to battle traffic and pay for parking!

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    I usually stay off-site when I visit WDW. I have a specific hotel I stay at every time that’s inexpensive, the rooms are clean and the staff is friendly. It’s also a Disney Good Neighbor hotel. With this hotel/chain, I’m a member of their rewards program, so every stay I earn points to redeem for free nights (and this particular chain gives you free nights for under 10,000 points).

    I have stayed on-property a few times and while the hotels are nice, I’m usually back at my room just to sleep, so all that extra stuff is worthless to me. I can get from park to park easier using my own car and since I have an AP, I don’t have to shell out for parking every time.

    But I’m also a “local” so most of my WDW visits are day trips unless I find a really good rate at my usual hotel or have enough rewards points for free nights, then I’ll stretch it out to a long weekend.

    • We’re the opposite. We always take a day or two to relax and hang out at the resort. The kids love the pools and activities on the beaches and in the lobbies, etc. I can definitely see where it would make more financial sense to stay off-site if you were just sleeping at your hotel.

  • snookers

    Here is a quick question. I am a DVC member and usually stay on site at WDW and do the World. After having done this for a few years, we are thinking about planning the opposite… staying on-site at WDW, but renting a car and spending most of our time exploring other Orlando attractions (especially with the latest WDW price hike, ouch!). Since we get our villa on-site “for free”, it didn’t seem to make sense paying to stay elsewhere. Has anyone tried this and how successful were you?


    • Yes. If you have a car, staying at WDW but traveling to the other attractions in Orlando is easy. But also consider that you can use your DVC points to book exchange properties outside of Disney World. There are some really nice ones near SeaWorld which might make it easier for you to visit that park and Universal. But I’ve had no problem driving all over Orlando from our WDW base camp. 🙂

    • I’ve had several DVC friends do this (or just book and do resort stuff and not parks at all), and they loved it! Makes all the sense in the World to utilize your DVC points. 😉 Have fun!

  • Big D

    For Disneyland, it doesn’t matter, it’s just whatever your budget allows, and whatever is important to you. For me, if it was a real special occasion and I could afford it at the time, I might stay at the Grand Californian (because the hotel is that special), but otherwise I don’t seem myself staying at the Disneyland Hotel or the Paradise Pier hotel since I live 10 miles away. But for Walt Disney World, with two exceptions, I would not even consider going unless I could afford to stay at a moderate resort or nicer. I am a big fan of the Swan & Dolphin (and I’m a Starwood Preferred Guest, so I have definitely redeemed my points for a couple of free nights there), but I can’t stand the value resorts (I don’t have kids myself, and even though I actually like kids, the value resorts are just too many out-of-control kids everywhere you look for my taste). The one time I stayed off property was at the Celebration Hotel which actually is about as far away from Epcot / Disney Studios / Animal Kingdom as the Magic Kingdom resorts would have been. I’ll probably try the Gaylord once just because it is such a unique hotel, but I think I what I would do then is stay 2 nights at the Gaylord and the rest of the time on property at a Disney resort. It’s just not worth it to me to save money by staying off-site, only to spend half of your vacation dealing with the transportation to and from the parks you want to visit.

    • Thanks for your input! I tend to agree with you (except I can’t stand looking at the Swolphin…great inside, though!). It really just comes down to preference and budget for both resorts, but it’s hard to beat the convenience of on-site in Florida.

  • daveyjones

    for WDW, on-site is a significant advantage.

    for disneyland (where i stay overnight several times a year), i just can’t see it being worth it. granted, i don’t have kids, and my partner and i both smoke. the motel 6 main gate, just off the 5 freeway, offers smoking rooms, a pool and hottub, and rates that vary from $50 at off season times to $100 or so at peak times per night. add that it takes less than ten minutes to walk to the entrance plaza, i couldn’t imagine paying what the disneyland hotel and grand californian charge per night.

    we do the parks, we go back to the room and fill up the ice machine for our drinks, throw on a DVD (their flat screens have inputs to connect a laptop) and light up in style. what’s not to love?

  • ChrisNJ

    You really need to decide this on a case by case basis. On my last trip to WDW I was traveling with my young Nephew so I wanted to make this a young boys dream trip. We stayed at Art of Animation in a Cars family suite. Did he love it – yes. Would I stay there without a child – nope. Will he want to stay there once he hits 10 – doubtful. If they build a Minecraft resort then he’ll want to stay there (fyi that’s a videogame).

    For my recent trip to Disneyland I stayed at Sheraton Park Hotel with a park view. It was less than half the price of the DL hotel rooms without views, was within walking distance, and allowed me to not feel $$ guilty about extending the trip to visit Universal Hollywood again. And I also got to experience the DL hotel public areas so it was a win-win for that trip. While I’d like to stay at GC someday – the reviews of bad room locations and noise scare the heck out of me. I do like the DL hotel rooms.

    When people ask me if they should stay on-site I begin by thinking about their budget and then what they are trying to accomplish. If cost is no matter I say stay at Disney or Universal. If they can’t afford moderate resorts or above or visiting non-Disney parks I suggest off-site. If they are financially struggling I suggest they don’t go at all. I know I’m a bit harsh. Disney is expensive so they will only come back complaining about the cost or the motel style rooms. Best to save them and me the hardship. 🙂 Believe it or not – I do a lot of defending Disney to friends who ask why I go all of the time. I don’t need any of them having a bad experience on their own trip.

    • Oh, believe me, I have a seven year old boy…I know Minecraft all too well. My kiddos love staying on-site anywhere, but they love the Poly, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, but, yes, if Minecraft hotel were to pop up somewhere, look out!

  • xboxtravis7992

    At Disneyland my family has always stayed off site. It is easy to enter from the Harbor Entrance, and the crowds are usually smaller on Harbor since visitors don’t need to contend with people coming in from the tram routes. Also our family has been able to secure at least one Magic Morning Entrance per trip through our booking agent (Get Away Today) despite the fact we were on a off site hotel. Plus a Harbor hotel is cheaper than a Disney hotel.

    Now WDW, that is a different beast entirely…

  • BriarRose13

    As some one who worked in WDW twice and visted with family as well, I stay off property. It’s cheaper, (my family also uses our marriott rewards to pay for hotels), we can stay in a villa (two rooms and a kitchen/living room for way less and get more space). The amount we save more than pays for the rental car for all, and we save money by eating breakfast in the room and packing snacks. I also hate disney transportation, as someone who lived their once without a car and once with, their buses are so slow, and I would spend half my time waiting for the bus to show up. I love being able come and go (park hop) in a timely manner. I also know for a fact the buses don’t take the fastest routes, they reduce congestion by taking longer, sometimes weird routes. As someone who likes to see as much as I can without wasteing time (i’m not going to WDW to relax sorry), I love to drive myself. Plus there are the best outlets in the US in Orlando and other fun places to visit too (those other theme parks, i know they aren’t disney but they can be fun too and favorite food/bar bahama breeze anyone….). If you like, visit the resorts for a meal (and park there to avoid park parking costs) before going to the parks and that’s all the resort magic I need (to be fair I worked Resorts Finance for a while at WDW so I know the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all….). 🙂

  • tgdiver

    My grown daughter and I go to DL several times a year (annual passholders), and we stay offsite. I’m a Hilton member, so get great rates at the HGI or Hampton down Harbor. Only a 5-minute drive, and my pass gets me free parking. I do love the on-site hotels, but really can’t afford the prices. One day, maybe we can buy into the DVC and have dream vacations!

  • billyjobobb

    Disneyland, stay wherever you want. We like the candy cane just because it’s cheap, and super close without being gross. A few of the ones across from the gate are kinds scary.

    We made our first trip to Disney World in February. For Christmas we were gifted with a week at Bonnet Creek. I have never in my life thought about buying a timeshare but we were close. It was so perfect. Giant lake. Full kitchen, jetted tub…..

    But we couldn’t add time to our stay, so for the first 3 days we stayed at an all star resort. I have to say it was one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in. Double beds, rotten carpet and the shower wouldn’t stop dripping. Cheesy decor…… And that free transportation was packed. In the mornings we often had to wait for the next bus when the first one was full.

    No matter where you stay in Florida, get a car. And drive to the grocery store. On site meals for a week can cost you a ton, and they aren’t anything special. Before we got there we didn’t realize how large the place was.