Should You Stay On-Site or Off-Site at Disney

Written by Jessica Ma'ilo. Posted in Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Features, Park Wise, Walt Disney World

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Published on June 06, 2013 at 3:01 am with 40 Comments

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?

About Jessica Ma'ilo

Jessica is a special education teacher by day and blogger and Fairy Godmother Travel agent by evening. When not supervising play dates or sleepovers, she can be found creating, sewing or singing. She loves hitting the Disney Parks, and she and her family escape to the World and Land as often as they can. She can be contacted at [email protected], and you can also check out her family blog, Magic, Memories, Mayhem.

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  • 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.