By Martha Nichols with Aladdin Travel

Thinking of a Walt Disney World vacation? One of the first questions you will face is whether to stay On-Site or Off-Site. Then, ask yourself these questions: What is my budget? How far in advance am I planning? What time of year am I traveling? How many people are in my party and what are their ages? What  type of accommodations am I wanting? Do I want a hotel room, suite, condo or house? How am I traveling? Will I have my car/rental car or rely on public transportation while in Orlando? Will I be spending most of my time visiting Disney attractions, or will I be visiting non-Disney attractions too?

Lots of stuff to consider! Let me share some pros and cons of staying off-site vs. on-site at Walt Disney World…



Budget is always an important factor in any trip. Generally, accommodations offsite will be less expensive or offer more space than on site options. If your family needs or wants space, more than a standard hotel room can offer, you will save money by looking off site at Timeshare Condos or Vacation Homes. Walt Disney World (WDW) offers Villas with 1 to 3 bedrooms, as well as suites, but they come with a hefty price tag.

If you are planning a last minute trip or during a peak holiday time, you may be more likely to find rooms within your desired price range off site.

Some off-site hotels offer perks such as scheduled shuttle service to WDW parks and other Orlando area attractions, free breakfast, or other discounts to non Disney attractions and/or restaurants.

As for disadvantages to staying off-site, transportation is a major factor. Getting to and from the parks may be more difficult for off-site guests. This is more important if one is traveling with small children or older travelers who need to take afternoon breaks from the parks. Shuttle service is limited at many hotels. Some hotels offer shuttles only at specific times (morning drop off and afternoon/evening pick up), some hotels share shuttles making the service very slow and/or crowded, and some hotels charge for using their shuttle service.

While having access to a car (either your own or renting a car) will eliminate the dependence on public transportation, off-site guests must pay for parking at Disney theme parks if they drive ($14 per day). On peak holidays parking lot(s) at WDW might be closed due to capacity.


What can I say, other than location, location, and location. With rooms starting as low as $82 per night (Value Category Resort, Value Pricing Season), staying on site is an affordable option for even the smallest of budgets. Staying On-Site, you are immersed in the pixie dust and Disney Magic. Disney is known world wide for the quality of their product and customer service. There is an attention to detail that you don’t get other places. Properties are clean and well maintained. The Disney staff is trained to provide excellent service.

WDW has one of the largest public transportation systems in the country. They have become experts in the business of people moving. Getting to and from the parks is generally easier staying on-site. This is even more important if one plans to take afternoon breaks from the parks or travel parties plan to split up for part of the day.

Extra Magic Hours (EMH) is a benefit given to resort guests allowing them access to a park either 1 hour before the park opens in the morning or 3 hours after closing to the general public. This benefit is even more important during peak holiday times when crowds have been known to hit capacity midday.

Other On-Site Benefits:

– Room-charge privileges throughout WDW and package delivery to your resort.
– Disney’s Magical Express (DME) offers transportation to/from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) and WDW Resorts for no additional cost for on-site resort guests.
– The ability to purchase one of the Disney Dining Plan options with Magic Your Way Packages.
– Disney’s Advanced Dining Reservations Window is at 180 days out. Guests staying on-site are allowed to make all of their dining reservations (up to 10 days) starting at 180 days from check-in.
– FREE parking at all of the Disney theme parks (you’ll be given a parking permit at check-in).

On-site Disadvantages:

Most of the Disney Resort accommodations are designed for families of 4. As a result, options for families of 5 or more people increases the accommodation costs and limits options. In recent years, Disney has been moving towards offering more accommodation options for families of 5 or 6 people. Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort (Moderate Category) offers resort rooms that sleep 5 (2 double beds and a trundle bed). Disney’s All Star Music Resort (Value Category) has a limited number of Family Suites that sleep 6. In 2012 Disney is opening a new Value Category Resort consisting of all Family Suites. (Disney is VERY strict about their room occupancy rates and you risk being evicted if caught breaking that policy.)

Getting to and from Orlando’s non-Disney attractions is more difficult. Disney has worked hard to attract guests and keep them (and their money) on site with all that they offer. The DME service eliminates the need (and additional cost) of a rental car, thus making it harder for guests without their own transportation to leave the property and spend their money off-site.


Special Offers & Discounts: Throughout the year, Disney will offer incentives to travelers to increase occupancy rates at WDW Resorts. While these are not guaranteed, they have become more common over the past several years due to the economy. Some are offered to the general public, some are offered to Disney Visa Cardholder customers, and some are offered to targeted individuals with PIN numbers through email and snail mail.

Disney has kept their PIN number mailing list, and how to get your name on one, a secret. There has been a lot of discussion and speculation about this. I have had luck receiving these discounts by signing up for one of Disney’s Free Planning Guide and DVD, but it is not a guarantee. Basically, go onto the Disney website and sign up for anything and everything; sweepstakes, planning guides, surveys, … The more times you give your name, email, and address, the better the chance of receiving a mysterious mailing with discount!

There are two non-Disney resorts that offer some benefits that other off-site resorts do not:

1. The Swan & Dolphin Hotels
– Located on WDW property but not owned or operated by WDW. It is considered an Epcot Area Resort because it is within walking distance to Epcot and a boat ride to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Privileges available when staying at the Swan & Dolphin Hotels:
– Access to the Extra Magic Hours at the WDW parks
– Unlimited free use of the excellent Disney transportation system (buses, boats and monorails) which connects all of the Disney resorts to the theme parks and Downtown Disney, and connects the Disney resorts to each other.
– FREE parking at all of the Disney theme parks (just show your room key).

2. The Hilton in the Walt Disney World Resort
– Located by Downtown Disney and considered one of Disney’s Good Neighbor Resorts. Privileges available when staying at the Hilton:
-Access to the Extra Magic Hours at the WDW parks
– Unlimited free use of the Downtown Disney Private Bus Service, which connects the Downtown Disney hotels to the WDW theme parks and Downtown Disney.

As always, thanks Martha for your great tips and suggestions! If you have more ideas – or want to share your on-site vs. off-site experiences – please do so in the comments!