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    Disney World: Staying Onsite or Offsite?

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Should you stay onsite or offsite at Walt Disney World? There are six things to keep in mind when deciding:

1. Cost

Realistically, you should expect to pay $100–$175 per night (including taxes and fees), depending on the time of year, for a clean, safe, everything-in-working-order hotel room near Walt Disney World.

Disney’s cheapest hotel rooms compare favorably with non-Disney rooms within this price range. Rooms at the Pop Century Resort, for example, cost $166–$304 (before discounts) throughout the year, plus they have convenient transportation and perks such as separate park reservations. In addition, Pop Century has completed a major stylish refurbishment. For an incremental cost of around $66–$129 per night (again, before discounts), we think Pop Century is a better choice for most readers.

Off-site hotels and homes are often better deals for families looking for more space, or high-end lodging and service for the same money. For instance, Disney’s cheapest family suite, at the Art of Animation Resort, sleeps six and costs $428–$764 per night. A comparable room at the Sonesta ES Suites Lake Buena Vista costs around $170–$305 per night, depending on the time of year. Renting a three-bedroom condo in Kissimmee is even cheaper: around $150–$250 per night. You can afford a longer trip with those savings—a fact that more than offsets the advantage of park reservations and free airport transportation.

Similarly, the cheapest room at Disney’s flagship Grand Floridian Resort costs between about $720 and $1,085, depending on the date of stay, while the cheapest room at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando (adjacent to Walt Disney World), is within a few dollars of that. But the Four Seasons room is larger and better in every way, with restaurants generally as good as or better than the Grand Flo’s, along with superior customer service.

2. Ease Of Access

Even if you do stay in Walt Disney World, you’re dependent on some mode of transportation. It may be less stressful to use the Disney transportation system, but with the single exception of commuting to the Magic Kingdom, the fastest, most efficient, and most flexible way to get around is usually a car. If you’re at EPCOT, for example, and you want to take your cranky kids back to Disney’s Contemporary Resort for a nap, forget the monorail. You’ll get back much faster by car.

A Raynham, Massachusetts, reader who stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort writes:

Even though the resort is on the Disney bus line, I recommend renting a car if it fits your budget. The buses don’t go directly to many destinations, and often you have to switch buses. Getting a bus back to the hotel after a hard day can mean a long wait in line.

Readers complain about problems with the Disney transportation system more than most topics. The following comments from a from Columbus, Ohio, reader are typical:

Sometimes it felt like we were visiting Mass Transit World instead of Walt Disney World. More and more of our energy was devoted to planning for getting from point A to point B than there had been in the past. I’ve never rented a car on-property, but after this trip I might have to consider it.

Although it’s exclusively for the use and benefit of Walt Disney World guests, the Disney transportation system is nonetheless public, and users must expect inconveniences: conveyances that arrive and depart on their schedule, not yours; the occasional need to transfer; multiple stops; time lost loading and unloading passengers; and, generally, the challenges of using and managing a large, complex transportation network.

If you plan to have a car, consider this: Disney World is so large that some destinations within the World can be reached more quickly from off-property hotels than from Disney hotels. For example, lodgings on US 192 (near the so-called Walt Disney World Maingate) are closer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Blizzard Beach water park than many hotels inside Disney World.

Traffic on I-4 is the largest potential problem with staying at an off-site hotel, especially if you’re coming or going during rush hours. Thus, the closer your off-site hotel is to Disney property, the less risk there is in being stuck in I-4 traffic. Secondary roads, such as Turkey Lake Road, Palm Parkway, International Drive, and Universal Boulevard, can help get you around that traffic; look for shortcuts in Part Nine, “Arriving and Getting Around.”

A Kentucky dad overruled his family about staying at a Disney resort and is glad he did:

My wife read in another guidebook that it can take 2 hours to commute to the parks if you stay outside Walt Disney World. I guess it could take 2 hours if you stayed in Tampa, but from our hotel on US 192, we could commute to any of the parks except the Magic Kingdom and have at least one ride under our belt in about an hour.

3. Food Costs

Many off-site hotels’ prices include some sort of free breakfast (now prepackaged), ranging from fruit and pastries to microwavable waffles, pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Disney hotels don’t. Depending on how hungry your family is in the morning, eating breakfast at your off-site hotel can save you a minimum of $5–$15 per person per day versus breakfast in the parks.

Beyond breakfast, if you have a large family that chows down like cattle on a finishing lot, you may likewise do better staying outside the World, where food is a lot less expensive.

4. Young Children

Although the hassle of commuting to most non- World hotels is only slightly (if at all) greater than that of commuting to Disney hotels, a definite peace of mind results from staying in the World. Regardless of where you stay, make sure you get your young children back to the hotel for a nap each day.

5. Splitting Up

If you’re in a party that will probably split up to tour (as frequently happens in families with teens or children of widely varying ages), staying in the World offers more transportation options and, thus, more independence. Mom and Dad can take the car and return to the hotel for a relaxed dinner and early bedtime while the teens remain in the park for extra rides.

6. Visiting Other Orlando-Area Attractions

If you also plan to visit Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Kennedy Space Center, or other area attractions, it may be more convenient to stay outside of Walt Disney World.