Unfortunately, hotel prices at the Walt Disney World resort have become unattainable for many visitors achieve, and don’t offer the fancy amenities you might expect your magical vacation to entail. Staying at Disney will grant you close proximity to the parks, easy access to Disney’s free transportation systems, and a little extra time in the park. However, many nearby resorts offer almost the same exact perks, better resort amenities and service, and save you a bunch of money! This article will give you a concise rundown of why staying off Disney property might be best for your family, and some ideas on the resorts to check out when planning your vacation.
When I’m planning someone’s Disney vacation, I often recommend visitors stay close by Disney, but avoid staying on the resort itself. The money saved from making this decision can be better spent on in-park experiences, dining, or simply more vacation time overall! If your vacation time allows, you will get a lot more bang for your buck by staying at a cheaper resort, extending your vacation time to get more days in the park or just more days to explore the whole Disney resort is a great idea. There is also lots to see and do around central Florida, whether its going to the beach, exploring nature, or seeing a sporting event.
If you think staying off Disney property might be a good idea for you, the following will provide some suggestions from various price categories that can help you get a good idea of your resort options. Make sure that you consider both the pros and cons of each resort! The biggest thing to remember is that you are probably going to spend almost all day in a park during your visit. If you want to maximize your Disney time, that’s the way to do it! If that’s the case, then you won’t have a lot of time to spend relaxing at the resort or indulging in its amenities. Consequently, it wouldn’t be worth your money to splurge on a nice resort. On the other hand, if you have a large family, need more breaks, or are planning a long enough vacation to include some relaxation days, a better resort could be well worth the money.
You should also keep in mind how you will be getting to and from the parks. If you are only going to use Lyft/Uber transportation, you’ll need something as close to the resort as possible to avoid higher costs traveling to/from the parks each day. Ideally, you will have access to your own car or a rental car (usually the cost to rent is worth it). It costs $20 to park your car each day at the Disney parks (or hotels, so the fees are sort of unavoidable). Many resorts have free shuttle transportation to and from the parks. These busses can be very helpful, but sometimes they are only dispatched at certain times throughout the day. Having to stress about being out in front of the hotel (or park) at the right time can be taxing to deal with for an entire vacation. They may also only operate in the morning and night, leaving you stuck in the parks and unable to make a trip back to the resort during the middle of the day. Complimentary resort shuttles vary in their service times, so be sure to check before booking!
Resorts Not Owned by Disney That Are Still Within Walt Disney World
Before getting to truly off-site hotel resort options, you should be aware that there are some resorts that lack the Disney name that are practically the same thing. These options include the Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resorts, the Four Seasons Orlando resort, and the Bonnet Creek Resorts.
The Four Seasons Orlando is the most exclusive and luxurious resort option available. The hotel itself is within the vicinity of Disney’s Golden Oak community, which a fancy neighborhood of expensive homes to the east of Magic Kingdom on Disney property. The resort has tons of amenities which include a nice golf course, an infinity pool, signature dining options, Disney character dining, and an expansive lazy river and water play area. It also grants you the same early park access that any Disney resort comes with! If you are searching for an exclusive and willing to pay the money for it, this resort will be a good option.
The Bonnet Creek Resorts are a series of hotels (from recognizable names) that are located almost directly in the center of Disney property. These resorts include a Wyndham, Hilton, Marriot, and Waldorf Astoria. All of the hotels range from luxury to mid-level (for Orlando standards) and have distinct amenities and features. Overall, the pool areas of the resorts are awesome, especially at the Waldorf Astoria and Hilton’s Signia resort. Huge winding lazy rivers, water play areas, and lots of nooks and crannies in which to relax and soak in the sun. Unfortunately, these resorts also have resort fees that can add up over a longer vacation stay. These excellent amenities do come at a cost though, as resort fees and parking can add up. The resorts are also just a couple of minutes away from Disney Springs, which offers tons of entertainment, shopping, and dining options.
Close Off-Site Hotels
There’s another group of hotels that aren’t quite on Disney property, but close enough to almost count as such. They offer a great balance of being in the Disney bubble and being easily able to venture out for other experiences. Many of them are in the category of Disney’s Good Neighbor Hotels program, which offer the same early park access perks Disney hotel guests receive.
Off-site Disney Springs resorts are within walking distance of the shopping and dining district. These resorts are highlighted by the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, which is an awesome mid-budget pick. It offers a lot of the same perks as the resorts mentioned so far without such a hefty price tag. There are also other hotel choices in the same area, including a Holiday Inn, Double Tree Suites, the B Resort and Spa, and a Wyndham.
Flamingo Crossings is located on the opposite side of Disney World, closest to the Animal Kingdom Park. It is home to the newly constructed Disney College Program Housing, which is a campus community for the kids who intern at Disney (and fill in all the base roles in their workforce). Since there’s a lot of building going on, a lot of stores and dining options have moved in, making it a great place to stay. The area has multiple hotels, including a Residence Inn, Spring Hill Suite, a Fairfield Inn, and a Hilton. These hotels should include names you’re more familiar with, and amenities you also may be more used to seeing. Though there’s nothing particularly incredible about these hotels, they still offer solid amenities like complimentary breakfast (something you don’t get at Disney). Note that the hotels with suites offer larger, often split rooms than a standard hotel room. To get that at Disney, you’d have to be spending even more than the base prices for a deluxe accommodation. If you’re looking for some privacy when in your room, these suites are a good idea to look into.
Generally Good Off-Site Options
As we venture a little bit farther away from the House of Mouse, there are tons more options available for you to choose from. To give you a bit more help on what to pick, here are some of the best options available. Keep in mind that even though these resorts are away from Disney, they’re all easily within 20-30 minutes of the parks (though you might run into some stressful traffic at times).
As a general rule of thumb, options on International Drive are okay. It’s in between Disney and Universal and has a lot of touristy things to see and do. Hotels on State Road 535, US 192, or US 27 are also valid options. US 192 is also very touristy but has a couple of access points to Disney. Hotels like Caribe Royale and the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress both offer a great mix of amenities.
AirBnB/VRBO private rentals are also a must for you to consider. The prices on renting an entire home/condo often beat the nightly rate at a hotel and offer you far more space and privacy. You can also pick out any options you’re willing to pay more for, while avoiding those you don’t. Maybe a house with a fancy private pool or hot tub is more valuable to you than having a water play area for the kids. You can also have a full kitchen or grill!
As a reminder the place you choose to stay should depend on what you are looking to get out of your vacation. If it’s to run around in the parks all day and do the most you possibly can with limited time, there’s not point spending a lot of money for a nicer stay. If you have extra time or need extra space, staying in a nice rental home might grant you the best value for your money.
About the Author:As a local and former Disney Cast Member, I know EVERYTHING there is to know about Disney World and the company. I have a masters degree and frequently write within my full-time job. I write articles for fun and to ensure people get the best information or opinions they can on all things Disney!