Staying off site makes sense for a lot of families visiting Disney World, especially those on a tight budget. I’ve written before about how we rented a condo off site which saved us over a thousand dollars over renting multiple rooms at an on site Disney resort.
However, Disney offers plenty of value for the premium you might pay by staying in an on site Disney resort. And a reminder – if you stay in one of their value hotels, you might not even pay a huge premium. You can score a value at $100/night which negates any savings from staying off site (but whether a value makes sense for your family or not is another matter altogether).
Still, I wanted to know what benefits on site Disney resort guests received. I actually booked a room at Port Orleans: Riverside, a moderate hotel, for four nights before #DisneySMMC began. This was my own money (minus the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit, cha-ching). The four nights came out to around $190/night all in, though I could have gone as low as $165 if I hadn’t booked the river view room.
I didn’t look (because I didn’t want to move hotels), but I probably could have booked an off site property for like $100/night or so. Staying at Port Orleans: Riverside meant no kitchen, no extra room, etc., things I really enjoy about having my own apartment. Still, I definitely see how the $65 extra dollars a night can be worth it: here are some reasons why (in chronological order).
No rental car needed thanks to Disney’s Magical Express (estimated savings: $18/day)
I honestly felt some apprehension about using Disney’s Magical Express bus service. Disney’s Magical Express provides transportation to and from the airport for guests staying at Disney resorts. I’d say the Magical Express presents a ton of upside.
If you’re checking bags, you can check them all the way to your hotel room with many US carriers. That means you say goodbye to them at bag drop and say hello to them the night of your arrival in your hotel room. The amount of stress that saves a dad like me dragging two young kids along is unquantifiable. Amazing!
Secondly, while you do have to wait in a line to get on the bus, I’ve always had to wait in line getting a rental car at MCO so that’s a wash. AND you don’t have to worry about driving or carrying a million quarters with you for the stinking SunPass! Still, make sure you bring plenty of food/water/activities for the kid since the bus can take over an hour (each bus drops at multiple properties).
Good travel hackers probably can score a car rental for $15-$18/day, factor in gas and tolls and Disney’s Magical Express might save you $18/day. (Here’s where the commenters come out and say they can score $5/day rentals – great! Please write a guest post.).
Magic bands are included AND you can go straight to your room (estimated savings: $15)
Disney World’s magic bands are amazing. You can use those magical bands to get into your room, pay for stuff, add pictures to your Photopass, and much more! (OK, maybe that’s it). I seriously loved having a magic band, I didn’t need my wallet for anything and it just felt freeing to tap to pay for everything (much like the Octopus card in Hong Kong).
But the best part of having magic bands at an on site Disney resort? Online check-in. Basically, you can check in from the My Disney Experience app before you even get on your flight. You’ll receive a notification e-mail when you can get into your room. If said e-mail comes before your Magical Express bus arrives at the resort, you can walk straight to your room like we did. Or, since you aren’t worrying about bags, you can go straight to the parks.
While hotel chains like Hilton offer online check in, you still need to go to the front desk to grab your keys (though I think some hotels have keyless entry? IDK). It’s worth about $15 for me to go straight to my room without waiting in another line. I didn’t count the cost of the “free” magic bands because chances are if you’re staying off site you wouldn’t spend the thirteen bucks to get them.
Great pools and activities for kids (estimated savings: one day’s park admission)
The majority of on site Disney resorts are well themed and a pleasure to walk around. I’ve visited a bunch but only stayed at Port Orleans: Riverside as an adult so I will just talk about Riverside and French Quarter (we walked over there a bunch of times).
I can confidently say my daughter and son probably could spend an entire afternoon at the pools. Quiet pools, central pool, doesn’t matter – these pools just scream fun. Whether it be water slides, buckets of water pouring on your heads, or Mardi Gras themed floats in the water (French Quarter), it’s just fun to spend time at the pool.
Riverside also had a great playground where we spent some time. There’s entertainment in and around the resort, you can just take a nice stroll, or ride the boat to Disney Springs. You could spend an entire day wandering around Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter and not get bored. If I personally was staying off site, I probably wouldn’t take a day just to lounge around my hotel, so I estimate this benefit to be worth one day’s park admission, which, admittedly, could cost as little as $10.
Still, the fun in the themeing at Port Orleans: Riverside actually can be pretty hard to quantify.
Free Parking at theme parks (estimated savings: $20/day)
Obviously if you didn’t rent a car you don’t need to worry about this. But if you did rent a car, parking at theme parks is free for guests at on site Disney resorts. This saves you a quantifiable $20/day (but of course negates the rental car savings). Of course, annual passholders also have waived parking fees (and bear in mind that getting an annual pass makes financial sense for repeat visitors more often than you think).
Don’t forget, you don’t need a car because of Disney’s Transportation system. You can ride free buses to and from the parks and to many other areas around Walt Disney World. We used this system extensively and while I heard that Port Orleans: Riverside had spotty bus service; our experience didn’t reflect that. Lost backpack at bus depots notwithstanding, of course.
If time is money, time saved is money saved (estimated savings: whatever hourly rate you value your time at)
One of the savings from staying at an on site Disney resort is tough to quantify: time. If you spring for a deluxe resort, you are within walking distance to the parks. This saves a ton of time, especially if you have young kids. You can walk home to take a nap instead of worrying about public transportation, spending “just an hour” in the park doesn’t feel like a colossal time investment – these things are tough to quantify.
But as any parent of young kids will tell you, time is precious. A trip to Walt Disney World requires a significant investment and that can often lead to a lot of stress. Staying at an on site Disney resort relieves some of that stress by freeing up your valuable time. I’m probably not doing a good job of explaining this, but I just felt more relaxed staying at Port Orleans: Riverside than I did off site. And while I’m a bit rusty on my personal T-rate, that’s very worthwhile.
Bonus savings: Use Amazon Prime Now to buy drinks and snacks
Disney World has these pretty neat souvenir cups that you can basically refill everywhere. That’s pretty useful to get your Diet Coke fix on, but you can do better than the $18 these would cost for the length of your stay. For a $5 charge you can use Amazon Prime Now to get all sorts of groceries delivered to your resort (or any grocery delivery service really). You can of course do this if you’re staying off site as well, but you’re likely to have a car in that situation.
I enjoyed staying at an on site Disney resort much more than I expected. Overall, I’d say for the $65 extra per night it would have cost to stay at the most basic room at Port Orleans: Riverside, I received at least $25/day in value. Honestly, that’s probably a conservative estimate since renting a car probably costs on average closer to $30/day.
Personally, the decreased stress, fun theming, and enjoyable ambience of the hotel more than made up for that extra $40/day, but obviously your mileage may vary. Every family has their own unique situation and you can’t go wrong as long as you try to do what’s best for your family.
What does everyone think, did I miss any benefits of staying at an on site Disney resort? Let me know!