One of the first questions that will arise when you begin thinking about a Disney vacation is where to stay!
As soon as you start researching, you’ll find that Disney has a collection of their own hotels. Their hotels are broken down by category: Deluxe, Moderate and Value, with Deluxe hotels being the most expensive, highly themed and convenient to the parks, and the Value resorts being a bit farther away and less decorated.
For your reference, here is a list of the resorts by category. To see a specific resort, just click on it - I’ve linked them all to their Disney website pages for you.
Deluxe Resorts: (Highly themed & closest to the parks)
The Contemporary Resort & Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary Resort
The Polynesian Resort
The Grand Floridian & The Villas at the Grand Floridian
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Beach Club Resort
Yacht Club Resort
There are also the Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels, which are not totally owned by Disney but do receive Disney benefits, like transportation to the parks.
Moderate Resorts: (A combination of theme and value)
Port Orleans - Riverside
Port Orleans - French Quarter
The Cabins at Fort Wilderness
Caribbean Beach Resort
Value Resorts: (Affordable with transportation via bus to the parks)
Art of Animation (suites available)
All Star Sports
All Star Music
All Star Movies
If you begin looking at options close to the parks that aren’t a Disney hotel, there are still plenty to choose from! One of the most well liked resorts seems to be Bonnet Creek. While driving into the park on our last trip I spotted Bonnet Creek and it’s very close to the entrance. Our condo resort was only about 10 minutes from Magic Kingdom and Bonnet Creek was even closer. There are also several mainstream hotels in the area - if you have points at one of them, cashing those in for your Disney trip could equal a great savings for you!
When we went on our first family vacation to Disney, my husband, who had never been to any Disney theme park or resort could not understand why I would be willing to pay a little more for a much smaller room (our three bedroom condo was significantly cheaper than a standard room at the Polynesian). We ended up at the condo.
We are headed back in a few months (Nov 2014) and we will be staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge (he now gets why I only want to stay onsite!). When I was younger we stayed at the Contemporary Resort, and for our trip in 2015, we will be staying at Bay Lake Tower.
I say all of that so that you know that I’ve been on both sides of this debate. Here is my list of Pros and Cons for each:
Pros for staying off-site:
- Generally more affordable
- Still close to the parks
- Depending on the hotel, a free continental breakfast
- Splitting your time with non-Disney parks? It might be better to stay in between the locations
- When renting a condo or home you will be able to have separate bedrooms for anyone traveling with you
- Potentially staying at a discounted rate by using hotel member points
Pros for staying onsite:
- Extra magic hours
- Free transportation to and from the parks via monorail, boat or bus
- Free dining plan (when available
- Themed rooms (I wish I could elaborate more on this, but that’s another post. For now, check out the above links to see how awesome Disney rooms are).
- Closest hotels to the parks
- Mousekeeping (Disney’s version of housekeeping - they go above and beyond and often to little things like make towel art that just adds a little something extra to your trip)
- The “feel” of never really leaving the magic of Disney (again, hard to explain until you’ve been there)
Cons for staying off-site:
- Oftentimes, you will be a bit farther from the parks
- Regular, un-themed hotel rooms
- When you leave the park you feel like you’ve left the magic behind
- Paying out of pocket for the Disney Dining Plan (which is optional but worth pointing out)
- Possibly less helpful employees (we had this experience, personally. Disney cast members have always gone above and beyond in our experience, while the condo we stayed at did not).
Cons for staying onsite:
- Cost! It can definitely be more expensive, especially if they aren’t offering the free dining plan or 30% off during your dates. I do want to point out that some credit card points will allow you to cash in for stays at Disney resorts. Check with your card company for more information.
I don’t want to over-inject my personal thoughts and opinions into this article, but I do want to talk for a minute about the “feeling” of staying onsite. If you have never been to Disney it is hard to explain and to justify the cost of their hotels. Are they all brand new with sinks made of gold? Absolutely not. In fact, some people would say that a few of their hotels need a bit of a facelift!
However, Disney has impeccable attention to detail. Everywhere you look are hidden Mickey’s. They carry their themes all the way through each guest room, the hallways, the lobby and just about everywhere else you’ll be. You really feel like you haven’t left the park. It’s unlike any other vacation I’ve ever gone on, where you might leave and go do something really fun, but then come back to a regular old hotel and feel that adrenaline rush fade away. In my experience, you stay pumped up and excited the whole time you’re there because you aren’t truly leaving!
Whatever you decide, I hope that this list will aide you in the decision making process!
Leave me a comment and let me know your experiences with Disney and off-site hotels! I’d love to hear from you!