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Trip Planning 101: Deciding Whether to Stay On Disney Property or Off-Property

This is probably one of the most controversial decisions that many guests make and discuss.  Deciding to stay on Disney property or at a location off-property is a tough one.  I have put together a whole checklist of questions to ask yourself.  I recommend that you use your answers as guidelines to help you make the best decision.  Rank the importance of each of the items so that you stay somewhere that meets your most desired and important needs for your vacation:


9 – Will you be driving?

Editor’s Note: Disney will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals January 1, 2022. Disney will continue to operate the service for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels for arrivals throughout 2021.

If you will be driving for your vacation, then you have a vehicle to get you where you need to go on property with ease.  You’ll also have access to all kinds of restaurants, grocery stores and more without worrying about getting around or taking shuttles and taxis.  In all fairness, many off-property resorts also have bus services that you will take you to many of the theme parks around the area for no charge, including Universal, Sea World, etc., but you will have to research this as they may not go to all locations or have limited time available that will still result in paying for the transportation.  If you fly and you aren’t staying on Disney property, you may also have to pay for an airport transfer to and from your hotel.

When you stay on Disney property and fly, the airport transfer, Magical Express is included so you won’t pay extra.  You also have free transportation to get all around Walt Disney World at all hours of the day, and it is super convenient for guests. Consider what is most convenient for you based on your vacation habits!  If you are driving and prefer to drive around to get to places regardless of the transportation, then Disney transportation won’t be a benefit for you and won’t be the deciding factor.

A Note from Chad:

One last thing to keep in mind, if you are driving and stay on property, Disney now charges a nightly resort parking fee. This change at Disney has been the most unpopular we’ve ever seen. We’ve read many comments from folks saying they will now stay off property to avoid the resort parking fee. However, what most people may not be considering is that you will not avoid paying for parking by staying off property. You will now have to pay for parking at the parks, which is more expensive. Staying off property may be the right decision for you, but don’t do it because of the resort parking fee. Unless you are an annual passholder or DVC member, you will pay for parking one way or another.

8 – What kind of accommodations do you prefer?

Do you prefer nice, roomy accommodations but have a tighter budget?  If you stay off property you can usually find houses, condos, and suites that are cheaper than many Disney resort stays.  With these types of accommodations, you can get a whole lot more room for the money.  These stays also usually include a kitchen or other features, too.  At Disney, you can also get these accommodations, but they do usually run $400+ per night and only sleep 4-5 people.  Larger groups can be accommodated, but the price tag starts going up.  You can usually get a lot more when it comes to the value of the room when you stay off property as opposed to on property.  If you prefer accommodations that are surrounded by Disney nostalgia, history, and magic but can give a little on the actual value of the size and amenities of the room, then you definitely don’t want to stay off property.  The value resorts on property can meet just about any budget.

7 – Do you plan to visit locations outside of Disney property?

If you plan to spend your entire vacation on Disney property then it would likely make a lot of sense to go ahead and stay on property so that you are right in the middle of everything. If you only plan to spend part of your time on property, then it may make more sense to try to stay centrally located between all of your activities to make it easier to get from place to place as you enjoy all of the different parks and locations.

6 – Will you be traveling with a large group?

If you are traveling with a large group of people, it can get very costly to stay on property.  You would either have to stay in several different rooms or stay in one of the deluxe villas, which are on the expensive side.  A large party would likely be better off renting a house or a large condo where there is a full kitchen, laundry services, multiple bedrooms, and room for everyone to spread out.  You can have a lot of these amenities at the deluxe villas on property if budget isn’t an option.  Your budget will likely be the deciding factor for this one.

5 – Do you like to be immersed in the Disney magic and experience?

Are you a Disney junkie?  Is it really important for you to be surrounded by all things Disney and get the full Disney experience?  If so, then there is no question that you need to stay on property.  When you stay on property you are surrounded by all Disney all the time and it is an amazing experience.  If this isn’t as important to you as some of the other things we have discussed then this definitely won’t be the deciding factor for you to help make your final decision.


4 – Do you plan to use the Disney Dining Plan?

Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, dining plans are temporarily suspended.

If you are a fan of the Disney Dining Plan or think that it will be of great value to your family based on your planned eating habits on vacation, then you will definitely need to stay on property.  The Disney Dining Plan is only available to Walt Disney World resort guests, so if you aren’t staying on property you won’t be eligible to get it.  Be sure to do the math and weigh out the benefits to help make your decision and determine if this is valuable enough to help weigh on your decision.  It is really nice to have an all-inclusive vacation feel and to be able to budget and pay for your meals in advance.

3 -Are you on a tight budget?

It is very likely that your budget is going to weigh heavily on the decision that you will make.  If you are on a tight budget but have high standards for your room and accommodations, then you should definitely look into options off property to see how they stack up to the Disney rates and rooms.  I do believe that Disney stays work within most budgets, especially with the value resorts, so weigh out what the must-haves are for your stay and then map out which options give you the most of them within your budget.  This will definitely help you make the final decision.

2 – How early do you make your dining and FastPass reservations?

Editor’s Note: During the phased reopening of Walt Disney World, FastPass+ is temporarily suspended and the dining booking window is 60 days.

Do you care a great deal about getting your desired dining locations and FastPass+ selections?  Resort guests get to start making dining reservations for their entire stay at 180 days prior to the date of their arrival.  Non-resort guests can also make dining reservations at 180 days prior, but they can’t make them for the entire stay.  They have to wait each day in order to make the reservations, which could mean the difference between getting a desired location and time and not.  Popular reservations like Be Our Guests go extremely fast, and the resort guests have a big leg up on getting them ahead of other guests.  The same goes for FastPass+ reservations. Disney resort guests get to make their FastPass+ selections 60 days before the date of their arrival, while non-resort guests have to wait until 30 days in advance to make selections. Popular attractions like Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are usually already gone by the time the 30 days come around.  If securing these types of reservations is important to you, then you definitely want to consider a stay on property.

1 – Are the additional perks that resort guests receive of value to you?

Resort guests get various other perks.  Resort guests also get booklets of freebies with discounts at restaurants on property, arcade time, miniature golf discounts, and more.  These little perks can add up to a little bit of savings, especially if they were activities that you already planned to do participate in.  These perks are definitely worth consideration when you make your final decision.

If you decide to stay on Disney property, we highly recommend speaking with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner to ensure you are well taken care of and get all the discounts available to you. We personally book all our Disney trips (and we do Disney a lot) with Magical Vacation Planners because they are the best and we trust them. For more details and help booking your vacation, call 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also get a no-obligation, FREE vacation quote by clicking here.  Their services are free to you and they can answer any questions you may have.

For a no obligation, FREE Quote on a Disney vacation package, please contact our travel partner Magical Vacation Planner at 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also request a FREE quote online by Clicking HERE.


About Christy Caby

Hi! I’m Christy, and I am a wife and mother of 2 young boys (ages 5 and 2). I first fell in love with Disney when my mom took me when I was a child. After that I proceeded to go to WDW for my senior trip with my friends, and I completed a year in the Disney College Program (working in merchandise at Mickey’s of Hollywood at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). I shared my love of Disney with my now husband and sucked him in. He proposed at Disney, we honeymooned at Disney, we started bringing our boys before they were born and then as early as 8 weeks old. We then continued to vacation to Walt Disney World 2-3 times per year. We decided that what makes more sense than just moving to Orlando so that we could live the Disney life and be here for all of our favorite events and seasons every year. That is exactly what we did! Now we are at the parks a couple times a week and go for most events and major holidays. We can’t get enough and get to experience Disney in a whole different way. I love to share this love and passion for all things Disney with the world and hope that I can help others appreciate the magic that Walt Disney World has to offer!