By TMoM Team Member Sarah Blackwell
The first question anyone asks when they hear you are heading to Walt Disney World is, “Are you staying on or off property?” When I started researching a trip for my husband and two children last fall, this question caused me quite a bit of stress. If I don’t stay onsite am I shortchanging my family just to save a few dollars? Does the Disney hotel price tag really justify the free parking? Will this one decision ruin our entire trip and cause our children to despise us?
I can now confidently say, no, your decision about where to stay in Disney will not ruin your entire trip nor will it turn your children against you. My family just returned from a weeklong trip and it was one of the best weeks of our life. And, gasp!, we stayed offsite. In case this decision is keeping you up at night, here are the reasons we decided that an offsite hotel made the most sense for our trip to Disney.
With our resources, the best we could do on Disney property was the budget option-a single room with two double beds. By staying offsite, we could upgrade to a suite. We had our own bedroom with a king size bed, the kids had a separate bunkbed room, and we had a living room with a kitchenette. This means that at night, after a long day catering to the whims of two small children, my husband and I could turn on HBO, open a bottle of wine, and relax! Our hotel was located right outside the Disney gates so the commute was five minutes. Plus, we still had a waterpark and pools the kids could enjoy. I know some argue that you don’t spend enough time in your room for it to make a difference where you stay but I disagree. I think a good night’s sleep might be some of the most important time you spend at Disney. Trust me, you won’t survive the trip without it!
There is a misconception that if you don’t stay at a Disney hotel you will miss out on all the “extras” that Disney offers. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. We made Fastpass reservations in
advance and were able to reserve times to experience all the rides we wanted. If you stay offsite you can still purchase the Memory Maker package. We made our dining reservations 180 days in advance, like everyone else that would be traveling to Disney at that same time. And by paying less for our hotel, we could say yes to so much more inside the park! When my kids walked into a gift shop at the end of the trip I was better able to stomach the total bill knowing that extra money was available. We got to have breakfast in the castle one day and dinner in the Animal Kingdom with Mickey-two meals with extremely high price tags that our budget fortunately allowed for. I know that I would have had a harder time justifying our spending while we were in the park if I was paying extra to stay at a Disney hotel.
We spent nine hours in the Magic Kingdom with our eight-year-old and our five-year-old on our first day. It was maybe one of the best days in our family’s short history. The magic of walking your children through the gates and onto Main Street, seeing the castle standing out against a clear Florida sky, watching their faces when they see Mickey Mouse in person for the first time-those are priceless memories. To be completely honest, I was close to tears of joy most of that first morning. But when we left that evening and went to a local Orlando restaurant where there were no lines, minimal small children, no Mouse Ears, and no bubble machines I felt like I had just dug my way out of prison and was breathing free air for the first time. I love Disney World and I was just as wrapped up in all the hype as my children but I believe there is only so much of it that a person should take. I really believe we would have all been wiped out if we had been surrounded by the Disney magic, not to
mention the Disney crowds, 24 hours a day for a week. It was so refreshing to leave all things Disney behind for a few hours and reset before our next day in the park.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind is there is no right or wrong way to plan a Disney World vacation. No matter where you stay, whether you are in the most expensive room on Disney property or if you are staying at a small motel miles away, your trip is going to be magical for your family. If you are lucky enough to be with the people you love most in this world, you don’t need all the extras-you have the magic right there with you!
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