The important question to ask yourself when planning a Walt Disney World vacation is where should you stay? There are many factors that go into this choice. We break down each one of them.
When Should I Go? Should I Stay On-Site or Off-Site? Perks for Staying on Disney Property The “Magic” Factor of Staying On-Site Transportation Considerations Tips for Saving on Disney Property Value Season and Accommodations for Large Groups Camping Options Best Value at Other Resort Categories
When Should I Go?
Before you choose where to stay, you need to determine when you are traveling. Disney resorts are least expensive during off-peak times of the year. Those times are usually when schools are traditionally in session and not around holidays. Reserving a Walt Disney World room during off-peak times can cost up to 30% less than during holidays and other busier times of the year.
Disney hotel rates vary not only by seasons but also by days of the week. Guests may pay a higher weekend rate on Friday and Saturday nights than during the rest of the week. Rooms are priced nightly so that the rate can vary nightly throughout your stay.
In addition to the overall lower prices during off-peak times, Disney is much more likely to offer special promotions during slower periods, reducing the cost of your vacation even further. Don’t expect to see any special offers or promotions from Disney during the week of Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas through New Year’s Eve!
TheMouseForLess Tip: For a complete analysis of the best time to plan your visit, read our Choosing Vacation Dates Guide.
Should I Stay On or Off-Site?
With the number of tourists who travel to the Orlando area every year, the variety of accommodations is large and growing, both on and off Disney property. There are several things to consider when choosing where to stay for your vacation. While some guests enjoy staying off-site for their vacation, there are several perks to consider when making the decision. In addition to a list of perks for staying on Disney property, also consider “The Magic Factor” and transportation issues when choosing where to stay.
There are also select non-Disney-owned or off-property hotels, such as the Swan and Dolphin hotels, Disney Springs hotels, and Good Neighbor hotels. These can be booked directly through Disney with limited packages and a few Disney extras. Hotels located in Disney Springs may be able to take advantage of a few limited Disney perks such as Early Theme Park Entry, package delivery from parks to resorts, and free parking at the parks. These perks will vary for hotels or hotel groups, and be sure to check on resort fees that might be charged on top of the advertised rate.
Just because there are discounts offered on hotels, resorts, and properties surrounding the Walt Disney World Resort, doesn’t necessarily mean they are all good deals. Choose where to stay wisely. Reserving through an automated booking site could result in a hotel stay that is non-refundable and can’t be changed. Off-site hotels can also be lesser quality with infrequent refurbishments, poor service, and less than desirable cleanliness. All of the Disney resorts and non-Disney owned hotels located on Disney property ( Disney Springs Area and the Swan and Dolphin) are of superior or excellent quality. We recommend using the services of a Disney Specialized Travel Agency to book your hotel. A Disney Specialized travel agent will be able to give you invaluable advice, and provide free rate quotes upon request with no obligation to reserve.
Perks for Staying on Disney Property
There are several great perks available only to those staying on Disney property that can help maximize the value of Disney room costs. Some of these perks include:
- MagicBands can be purchased at a discount before your vacation
- Earlier access to reserve Lightning Lane for attractions that typically have a long wait
- The ability to make Advance Dining Reservations for 60 days plus the next ten days all at once
- Access to Early Theme Park Entry each morning for all resort guests and Extended Evening Park Hours for guests at deluxe resorts.
- Complimentary transportation to theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs
- The ability to charge meals and purchases back to their room using MagicBands
- Some resorts are now pet-friendly or offer a discount on pet boarding
- The ability to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.
These can be important benefits for your party and can also save you time and money.
“The Magic” Factor of Staying On-site
The story goes, while strolling through Disneyland one day, Walt Disney saw a Frontierland cowboy walking through Tomorrowland. Disturbed by this sight, Walt felt it ruined the Magic. When he decided to build a second park, Walt vowed that problems such as the cowboy, and view of area businesses from the Disneyland park would not occur. Walt Disney World Resort was created with this philosophy in mind. From the Utilidors running under the Magic Kingdom hiding the operations of the park to out-of-the-way access roads and invisible areas for delivery trucks, all of Walt Disney World Resort is a stage meant to immerse visitors in the magic.
Tucked amid undisturbed greenery surrounding its borders, Walt Disney World is comprised of 47 square miles of theme parks, water parks, restaurants, Disney-themed resorts, lakes, recreation, unique shopping options, spectacular entertainment, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and sports venues meant to lock the outside world out. Some swear that the freedom from sights and sounds of everyday life does transport guests into a fully immersive experience — every resort from value category to deluxe offers detailed theming. The full Disney experience from the moment you arrive on the property for your vacation to the moment you leave to return to the airport should be considered when you are deciding where to stay on your trip.
While some hotel properties in the Orlando area may offer great deals, transportation is often an additional expense that gets overlooked. Choosing where to stay needs to also factor in transportation to and from the airport (if you are flying) and to and from theme parks during your stay.
If you are considering staying off-property, consider the added time and money of getting to and from the parks. Some off-site hotels supply free shuttle transportation to and from Disney parks, but many do not. Others contract shuttle transportation and pass the cost on to hotel guests. The least expensive off-property hotels and motels usually don’t have any transportation at all.
Even if free transportation to the Disney theme parks is available, it’s often limited and can cut into park time or keep visitors at the park all day. For example, you might have one shuttle in the morning and one coming back in the evening, and it only goes to one location (rather than all four theme parks). If this is the case, guests will need to transfer to Disney transportation to get to their final destination for the day. This can take a significant amount of time from your day.
If you choose to drive to the parks, consider the cost of renting a car, gasoline, and theme park parking. Vacation planners should also consider that Orlando’s traffic can get very congested, burning even more time and fuel.
Guests who are not staying at a Walt Disney World resort will pay a fee to park at the theme parks. Theme park parking is free for Disney resort guests.
Private transportation can be arranged from a number of Orlando transportation companies via Towncars, SUVs, and private limos. Most can carry up to 6 guests for a one-price charge. They also provide round trip transportation to and from Orlando International Airport, as well as from resorts and hotels to area attractions.
Another option is to take a ride share service, like Uber or Lyft. There are drop off locations at each of the four theme parks, as well as at the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, and Disney Springs. If you’re looking to just get around the Walt Disney World Resort property, consider taking a Minnie Van, which are connected with Lyft.
For on-site guests, resort to theme park transportation runs about every twenty minutes (beginning an hour before park opening and ending an hour after). The frequency of transportation allows on-site guests to easily return to their resorts for an afternoon nap or swim and return to a park later in the day. While most transportation for Disney resort guests is via bus, some resorts offer monorail, boat, or even gondola transportation as well.
TheMouseForLess Tip: For information on getting around Disney and to area attractions with or without a car, visit our Car Rental page.
Tips for Saving Money While Staying on Disney Property
If you decide to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, you still have plenty of options for saving money and getting the biggest bang for your buck.
Value Resorts and Accommodations for Large Groups
Walt Disney World offers a category of resorts for the value-minded traveler. Disney’s All-Star Resorts and Disney’s Pop Century Resort are the least expensive on-site Disney-owned hotels. They offer clean, well-themed accommodations. Stay during a less-traveled time of year, and this can be a true value. To find when the rates are at their lowest, visit the Rate Guide for your resort of choice.
For larger families, Disney has added Family Suites to it’s All-Star Music Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation. Disney Value Resorts can accommodate four people plus one child under 3 (Pack-n-Play Cribs are available).
All-Star Family Suites can accommodate up to six guests plus one child under 3 and come equipped with a kitchenette with microwave, small refrigerator (4.3 cu. ft), and coffee pot for simple in-room food preparation. There are two full bathrooms with sink and vanity outside of the bath/toilet area. The bedroom has a queen bed and the living area a full-size pullout sofa, plus convertible twin ottoman & convertible twin chair sleepers (for a total of 4 sleep surfaces).
For comparison purposes, the price of an All-Star Family Suite is about slightly more than for two Standard Value Resort rooms and approximately the same price as two Preferred-Value Resort rooms (located closer to food courts and Disney bus stop). Reserving two Value Resort rooms will offer more space and will accommodate a larger family or group (8 plus 2 children under 3) but without the ability to prepare light microwaved meals. Connecting resort rooms are available but can not be guaranteed unless the number of children outnumbers adults. For example, if there are two adults and three children with two rooms, you’re guaranteed connecting rooms. But if there are three adults and two children, you can request connecting rooms, but it’s not guaranteed.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort opened mid-2012. The resort is categorized as a “Value” resort and features both standard rooms and family suites that sleep up to 6. Amenities at this resort surpass other Disney hotels in the Value category and include Interior hallways in all but “The Little Mermaid” building; one of Disney’s largest pools complete with underwater sound; an extensive food court on a par with sit-down restaurants; and extensive theming in every room! Both rooms and family suites offer more space than other accommodations in the Value Category.
Pricing on all of the All-Star Resorts standard rooms is the same at each resort, with Pop Century and Art of Animation Resort standard rooms running slightly higher. However, tax on Pop Century and Art of Animation rooms is only 12.5%, somewhat less than the 13.5% guests will pay at the All-Star Resorts and Family Suites. Additionally, discounts, when offered, are seldom available for the All-Star Music Family Suites and frequently available for Value Resort rooms, making them even more economical. In the end, which option works out the least expensive for a larger group, 2 Value resort rooms or a Family Suite, will depend on several factors. These factors include the number of people in your party and how many are adults (18 and over), location of the Value Resort, meal budget, and discounts that can be obtained.
TheMouseForLess Recommendation for Best Value Resort:
Disney’s Pop Century Resort for its eye-popping iconic sculptures, extra amenities not found at the All-Star Resorts, park bus transportation that isn’t shared with other resorts, access to the Disney Skyliner, and convenient location between Disney Springs and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
TheMouseForLess Recommendation for Best Resort For Family of 5:
Port Orleans Riverside Resort for its two-story faux-log guest houses of Alligator Bayou with pull-down beds, allowing families of five to stay in one room comfortably. The resort also offers a host of amenities and recreational opportunities you won’t find at a Value Resort. To see the room capacity for other resort rooms, see our Room Occupancy Guidelines page.
Camping offers a low-priced option for staying on Disney property. Campsites that include partial hookups are available, as well. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground includes a host of amenities, including swimming pools, boat, and bike rentals, horseback riding, fishing, hayrides, petting zoo, nightly movies, and more. Additionally, the Campground offers some great Halloween and Christmas activities during those holidays that you won’t find at other value resorts. The decorated golf-cart parades and campsites are attractions in and of themselves.
If the campground theme is appealing, but you don’t own a camper or camping equipment, you can still stay at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Cabins cost more than a Moderate resort but less than a Deluxe resort. The cabins can sleep six, making them a good “moderate” choice for larger families, and there is no charge for extra adults! The cons are that unlike the All-Star or Art of Animation Family Suites, Fort Wilderness Cabins only have one bathroom. Additionally, privacy is limited, with a single bedroom having both a double bed and a bunk bed. There is also a double fold-down Murphy bed in the living area.
Camping or staying in a Fort Wilderness cabin also offers the ability to cook full meals, making it another budget-conscious choice. Cabins come with not only a completely equipped full kitchen with table & chairs, full-size fridge, microwave, stove, oven, toaster, dishwasher, coffee maker, and a complete set of cookware. As well as dishes, silverware, and assorted other kitchen utensils, but there is an outdoor a grill as well. And, housekeeping does the dishes for you! Discounts, when offered, are seldom available on Fort Wilderness Cabins. The other drawback to staying at Disney’s Fort Wilderness is if you don’t have a vehicle. Relying solely on Disney transportation will eat up a more significant portion of your vacation time than at any other Walt Disney World resort hotel.
Other Resort Categories and Added Value
There are three other classes of resorts offered by Disney, Moderate resorts, Deluxe resorts, and Deluxe Villa resorts. Deluxe Villa resorts have limited availability to the general public and are mainly reserved for Disney Vacation Club members. When not booked to capacity, however, rooms and suites can be reserved through Disney. DVC accommodations consist of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Each includes some kitchen or kitchenette for cooking, an in-room washer & dryer for one-bedroom units and above. They are sometimes offered to the general public at a discount during one of Disney’s special promotions.
Along with the price increase on room rates and other fees, each class of Disney resort offers an upgrade in amenities for guests to enjoy. It’s difficult to put a “value” on dining and recreation opportunities, time spent traveling from your resort to the parks, bathroom space, privacy options, noise factors, and just plain luxury. What is important to one individual may be negligible to another. For example, a family of four with two large adults may find that, even with the savings offered at a “Value Resort,” the sleeping conditions in a regular full-size bed won’t work. Each family will need to discuss and have some idea of what these “value factors” are worth to them when budgeting for a resort.
Value Resorts go a long way in minimizing cost, but they offer the least in-room square footage (260 sq ft.) and are often overrun with children and noise. They offer bland room views, don’t have queen-size beds, and are located farther from the parks and thus require longer commuting times.
Value resorts offer only food courts and limited room delivery (mainly pizza) as dining options. Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa resorts each have at least one sit-down restaurant on property. All classes of resorts offer a gift shop and arcade, with the Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts typically having several specialty shops. Value resorts also differ in recreational opportunities. While each Value resort has several swimming pools, only Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa resort pools have pool slides. Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts also offer other recreation, such as bicycle rental, watercraft rental, hot tubs, and more. These vary by resort.
For example, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort, a Moderate Resort, offers all of the amenities just mentioned, as well as themed princess rooms, horse and carriage rides, a fishing pond, and boat transportation to Disney Springs. What sets the Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts apart from all others is the number and caliber of dining opportunities. As well as onsite spas, health club facilities, kids clubs and children’s’ activities and programs, tennis courts, room service, valet parking, dry-cleaning services, concierge’s desk, spectacular views, and a host of other upscale amenities.
Pricing is also more varied at Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts, with the offering of various views, room types, suites, and preferred locations. For the most part, prices at the Moderate resorts are similar, except for the Coronado Springs Resort, which also offers various levels of suites not available at the other Moderate resorts. Prices at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts can also be vastly different depending upon the convenience of location. Those resorts located on the monorail route near the Magic Kingdom and in the EPCOT area, within walking distance of both EPCOT & Disney’s Hollywood Studios parks, being the most expensive.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort and Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort offer the best value in pricing in the Deluxe Resort category but are less conveniently located. There are additional fees for more than two adults in a room at Disney Value, Disney Moderate, and Disney Deluxe Resorts. Disney’s Deluxe Villa resorts do not charge for extra adults. There is no charge for children under the age of 18 staying in the room with a paying adult at any of the Disney resorts.
Visit our Resort Guides for a complete list of Walt Disney World resorts, room rates, resort rate seasons, descriptions and amenities.
To see all current discounts on Walt Disney World rooms and vacation packages, visit our Current Code Page. Booking incentives, discount checking, and expert advice can lower the cost of staying at a Disney resort even more. To see all of the benefits of booking your vacation with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, visit our Disney Travel Agent page.