The Not-So-Great-Resort-Debate: On or Off Property?

I started to write about all the factors one should consider when selecting a resort hotel. I jumped right in with one of the first big questions: On or Off Property? After hacking away at my keyboard for awhile, I realized this one question deserved a whole post of it's own. So enjoy my rather one sided debate about whether or not to stay on Disney property, and check back for other factors to consider when selecting a resort...

I must admit to being a big fan of staying on property, in fact, I have a big bias in that direction. There is something comforting about being in a secure little Disney bubble. It is comfortable. It is familiar. It is convenient.

There are, however, other more tangible perks to staying on property that you should consider before making a final decision:
  • Extra Magic Hours - Extra Magic hours give you extra time in the parks. At least one park a day will either open one hour early or stay open three hours late for resort guests. While the park with the Extra Magic hours in the morning tends to be a lot busier the entire day, the evening Extra Magic hours do not tend to draw the same crowds. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, it may be a good plan to take advantage of the early opening at one park and and then move on to a less crowded park for the remainder of your day.
  • Disney's Magical Express - The Magical Express is one of the best deals around. You say goodbye to your luggage at your local airport (hopefully for only a few hours!) and hop on an Orlando bound plane. When you land, just follow the signs to the Magical Express buses, check in, and you will be whisked away to your hotel. No baggage claim or car rental necessary. Your bags will magically appear in your room a few hours later! Just remember to carry on anything that you think you may need within a few hours of landing... important medications, park tickets, sunscreen, comfy park clothes or a bathing suit would all be good choices!
  • Free Parking - All resort guests can self park free at resorts and parks. If you drove your own car, or rented one when you arrived, you can save $14 per day in parking fees by staying on property. If staying off property, be sure to add your hotel's parking fee, if any, to your theme park parking free to get your total daily parking fee.
  • Advanced Dining Reservations - As a Disney resort guest you get an additional perk when making your ADR's.  Instead of making your reservations 180 days in advance for each reservation (calling every day for several days in a row) you can make all of your reservations at one time, 180 days from your check in date.  Disney calls this the 180 day +10 plan.  You can make one call and make your reservations for the next 10 days of your trip.  This can give you a 190 day window for some reservations - a HUGE advantage if you are trying to book the hard to get Le Cellier or Cinderella's Royal Table! 
  • Disney Transportation - Disney transportation is really pretty cool. Yes, sometimes there can be quite a wait if you are coming or going at a busy time. Yes, it can be crowded. And there is certainly nothing more frustrating that watching a loaded bus take off for the Magic Kingdom just as you breathlessly arrive at the bus stop! Overall, Disney transportation is a good thing. It is amazingly efficient, free, and will get you where you need to go in a reasonably timely fashion. Put away your road maps and don't worry about telling every one in your party where you parked in hopes someone will remember. Just hop on a bus, boat, or monorail, relax and review the first few items on your touring plan so you are ready to hit the ground running when you arrive!
  • Key to the World Card - Is it a room key? A park ticket? A credit card? Why it is all of the above! It is so nice to have everything on one card. If you do not want to allow your children charging privileges just let the front desk know when you check in. Also, it is a good idea to have a "Keeper of the cards" in your party. Hand over your card after you enter the turnstile and then send that person off at a brisk pace to obtain a Fastpass for everyone in the group while everyone else walks at a relaxed pace to the first attraction.
  • Package Delivery - No need to haul your purchases around the parks all day or worry about how you are going to keep your newly purchased goodies dry as you zoom down Kali River Rapids. Just ask that your package be delivered to your resort gift shop. No fuss no muss!
  • Dining Plan - If you purchased a package deal for your travel, you have the option of taking advantage of the Dining Plan (or it's Quick Service and Deluxe) cousins. The dining plan is easy to understand and is very convenient. If you are smart about how you spend your credits, it will also save you a lot of money. It is also nice to have a pretty good idea of what your food costs will be before you ever arrive.
  • Refillable Mugs - If you are a Coke addict...and I do mean Coca Cola...then a refillable mug may be right up your alley. Purchase a mug at your resort for around $14 and you can get as many refills at your resort as you wish. Grab a drink as you head out to the parks for the day and another when you come in for a break, and by all means bring that mug with you when you head out to the pool! The longer your stay, the more cost beneficial your mug will be. Now you have an excuse to stay a few more days! The best part about the refillable mug is that it is will fit nicely in your suitcase and will bring back all of the fond memories of your trip every time you use it.
  • It is affordable...or not! - If you must adhere to a strict budget or if you have saved for a splurge there is a hotel for you.
  • Child Care - It's a vacation for Mom and Dad, too! Stash the kiddos at one of the kids "clubs" offered by some hotels and enjoy an evening out. It is a bit expensive, but can you really put a price on a romantic stroll around the World Showcase after Illuminations? Or a peaceful and quite dinner at Victoria and Albert's? It will be a fun night for all.
  • Freedom to separate - You child may be old enough to do some exploring on their own, but not old enough to drive your rental car. Your toddler may need a nap, but your older child is just dying to see the parade. Staying on property and using Disney transportation allows everyone in your group to come and go as they please.
  • It is just cool. - Enough said!
Well, since I said this is a debate about staying on or off property, I should probably mention some benefits to staying off property.
  • Cost - While there are a range of price points for Disney hotels, you can almost certainly find a less expensive hotel off property. Even if you factor in rental cars and parking fees, you may still come out ahead by staying off property. You could also find a posher hotel with better amenities for the same price that you would spend on a Disney hotel.
  • Car - Having a car can be nice. You can get around on your own schedule. Want to head to the outlet mall for some cheaper souvenirs? Need to stock up on some bottles of water at the grocery store? Need some bandages for that blister on your foot? It is nice to be able to hop in your car and take off.
  • Convenient for other Day Trips - If Disney World is part, but not all of your Orlando vacation, it may be more convenient to stay off property.

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