Are you thinking about your next big adventure to Disney World? One of the first decisions you need to make is “Where are we going to stay?” There are so many choices within close proximity to the parks that it can be totally overwhelming trying to compare hotels. Before you go down that rabbit hole, the first thing you need to consider is whether you want to stay on Disney property or not.

Personally, I always stay on property because I prefer the overall experience and value. Recently, I tagged along on someone else’s trip who found a crazy cheap deal for an off property hotel they found on Groupon. How could we go wrong? It’s just a quick trip and we told ourselves that we will hardly spend any time in the room. We all came back saying that we will never stay off property again! We missed all the perks we love about staying at a Disney Resort, and felt it wasn’t worth the money we saved.

Now don’t get me wrong– there are some really amazing, beautiful hotels surrounding the Disney parks. I think the point is to look at why you are going and what you hope to get out of your vacation. This is not a one size fits all, but more of a what size fits best. So as you consider where you want to stay for your next Disney World vacation, it’s important to understand what comes with staying at an on property resort vs. staying off property.

The Disney Bubble. This may just sound ridiculous if you’ve never stayed on property before, but once you have, you know. If the sole purpose of your vacation is to visit Disney World and not just to see a park for a day or two, then there’s something really special about everything you experience to be a part of Disney from the moment you arrive. All the different pieces are made to work together which just makes it a more seamless experience.

Room Charging. Guests at Disney hotels can set up a credit card online that will enable you to charge purchases that are made anywhere on Disney property (not just the parks) to their hotel. If you are using a Magic Band, you just set up a pin number and you can use it to pay for everything. I love that the Magic Band opens my room, charges everything, links my photos together and has my dining reservations. I don’t have to carry a wallet!

Transportation. I can’t remember the last time I had a car at Disney World. Disney’s Magical Express picks you up at the airport and takes you to your resort. Although this free perk will be disappearing in 2022, for most families, a paid alternative will still be significantly cheaper than renting a car for the duration of your visit. No worrying about missing your exit or dealing with traffic.

Once you are at your resort, you have access to the entire Disney transportation system that runs between all the hotels, parks and Disney Springs. You can take your pick of monorail, skyliner, boats, and buses to get around. The Disney shuttle buses run about every 20 minutes. They begin running before the parks open and continue hours after closing. Some off property hotels advertise that they have shuttles but these are shared by multiple hotels. Pick-up’s and drop-off’s are very limited and many require reservations. If you find yourself stuck with a toddler having a melt down at 2 and your shuttle isn’t until 7, you are in a pickle. Many off-property hotels also charge for their bus service so be sure to know ahead of time.  If you are paying $5 per person per ride, it can really add up.

I always liked that if part of our group wanted to leave a park we could. Nobody is stuck in one spot. You can come and go as much as you like. Disney transportation has dedicated traffic lanes and drop off spots nearest to the parks. We usually make better time than if we were driving. And after a long day in the parks, it is so much easier to get on the bus and not have to think about driving back while the little ones fall asleep in your lap.

Extra Magic Hours. These vary but it generally allows Disney resort guests to enter early or stay later than everyone else.

No daily resort fees. Be aware that most hotels off Disney property charge a “resort fee” that usually is not included in the pricing you see when you reserve your room. Most people discover it when they are ready to check out. Many of these hotels also charge a parking fee so you’ll have to pay to park at the hotel and the parks. Although Disney resorts also charge a parking fee for guests who bring vehicles, once you pay it, you don’t have to pay to park at any of the theme parks.

Book your room for only $200 down. Disney resorts allow you to book a room and ticket package for only $200 down and it’s refundable! If you book an off property hotel, you will need to pay for your tickets in full and they are non-refundable.

Early dining reservations. Disney hotel guest can make dining reservations (and other experiences) 60 days + up to 10 days into their vacation. Especially during peak seasons, this is the only way you may be able to snag those very desirable spots. Although they are not available yet, another favorite perk is being able to add a Disney Dining Plan to your vacation. These are very popular with families!

To me, there really isn’t any comparison with staying at a Disney Resort when I am going on vacation at Disney World. I love the Disney bubble. I love the feeling that my Disney vacation has started as soon as I get off the plane in Orlando.

Make sure that you “do the math” before your next vacation so that you can get the best match for your family. I would love to help you!