Yes, it’s true. You can thoroughly enjoy Disney World while staying offsite. I know because I’ve done it several times… but I also know that the die hard Disney fans will have a hard time with this post, I get it but let’s just try to have an open mind…
First things first, Disney has phenomenal accommodations. I love the extensive variety of themed resorts that are on the Disney property. They are comfortable, cleverly planned out and provide guests with convenience to the parks and other Disney attractions. Over the years we have stayed both on site and off site numerous times. There have even been a couple of vacations that we stayed on site for a couple of nights and then a week off property while still enjoying the Disney parks. We actually had our cake and ate it too!?!
A note on transportation: We usually drive to Orlando. We live in Virginia so it is easy for us to hop on I95 and head south. Once in Orlando we have our car to be able to travel back and forth from the parks. We also buy groceries as soon as we get checked in to our resort, there is a very convenient grocery store just around the corner from where we stay to make it a relatively quick process. You will have to pay for parking once a day at Disney, but if you are staying off site chances are that you will be spending less for your accommodations and still be coming out financially ahead. Disney is now charging guests that are staying on site for parking at the resorts, so either way you WILL pay for parking if you drive. If you are unable to drive a car, you will need to factor in the cost of a rental car. Many off site resorts provide their own transportation but I don’t recommend them, they are typically not an efficient way to spend your time.
The reason we started staying off site is that my parents bought into a time share program which included the Marriott resorts. They offer discounted “Friends and Family” rates for time share owners, so we can really save money and get a much larger room. The time shares are typically one or two bedroom villas with full kitchens and living areas. Now, I know what you’re thinking…. “I don’t have a timeshare – nor do I want one”… I understand completely, but even if you paid the regular nightly prices offsite, most off site resorts would be considerably less than the Disney Resorts.
The most important thing to remember when staying offsite is to factor in the time it takes to get on and off the property. We usually stay at one of the Marriott Vacation Club resorts that are not very far outside of the Disney property. While, we have to make sure we plan out our travel time if we have a dining reservation or need to be back in the park for a show or use our fast passes, we have never had a problem.
The key to any Disney vacation whether on or off site is planning!!
FASTPASS and DINING: For those staying offsite, you can still reserve fast passes but you will have to wait until 30 days prior to your trip. You will also want to make your Disney dining reservations for your favorite places to eat just like you would if you were on site, just don’t forget to factor in your drive time.
EAT BREAKFAST AT RESORT: Unless you have a Disney dining reservation for breakfast, just eat at your resort. It will save you so much money. We have a kitchen where we stay but many resorts will also offer a free continental breakfast – take advantage of that. If you don’t have a kitchen or continental breakfast, I suggest buying simple breakfast pastries and items you can eat in your room before heading out for the day.
ARRIVE EARLY: This is seriously one of the most important things to do especially when staying offsite. You can get so much more rides done at the parks if you arrive just before opening and are one of the first ones in the park. Don’t forget at Magic Kingdom it will take you longer to park your car and get to the entrance than at the other parks.
TAKE BREAKS: We usually leave the park sometime between 11:00 and 2:00 pm. This is when the parks are usually at their peak with the crowds and it’s really hot if you’re there in the non winter months. Getting out of the Disney crowds for a few hours during the hottest part of the day is extremely refreshing! Once back at our resort we will make a nice lunch and eat it by the pool, enjoying the resort. Once we’ve eaten and had some time to relax by the pool we are rejuvenated and super excited to head back to the parks for the evening.
EAT DINNER (or at least one meal) IN THE PARKS or DISNEY RESORTS: Because we eat breakfast and lunch at our resort, we always eat dinner at the park. Sometimes we will have a breakfast reservation so we will just adjust our schedule a bit to try and only pay for one meal a day. It is really fun to plan where we will eat each evening for dinner and the food digests so much easier knowing we’ve saved money by not eating the other two meals in the park!!!
ENJOY THE DISNEY RESORTS: We love exploring the resorts!! Don’t be afraid to take the monorail and get off at some of the stops. I like to make dining reservations at the Disney resort restaurants because they are a little less hectic and can be a fun change of pace while still on site. If nothing else, grab a cup of coffee or snack and enjoy a stroll around some really amazing and gorgeous resorts. Many of them are easy to access via the Disney transportation. And, Yes, you can use Disney transportation even if not staying on site.
Bottom line is that if you are trying to save some money and want to go to Disney but need to stay offsite, you will still have a blast! You may even enjoy it more than you think. Do a little homework and make sure you’re not too far away from the magic, do your planning ahead of time for your vacation like you should do anyway and please don’t be afraid of the non Disney properties!!!!