guest post by Sherry Gray
Planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando? Finding the right resort can be a daunting task because there are so many factors to consider. Should you stay at a Disney hotel, or nearby? Cost is important, and to some, the defining factor. But you may also want to consider the quality of your stay. For dedicated Mousketeer families, immersion in the Disney experience and culture is a big part of the fun. For kids of a certain age, expectations will be high, and nobody delivers the magic like Disney.
So here’s why you should consider staying at a Disney Hotel:
- Proximity is your friend. If Disney is your only destination, then the closer you are to the parks, the better. Traffic around Disney can be as bad as downtown at rush hour, and who wants to be stuck in traffic with kids at the end of a very long day?
- Siesta time. Staying inside Disney allows you to start early, return to your hotel to cool off with a dip in the pool or a nap, and go back for that tenth ride on Space Mountain (or maybe the Teacup ride) feeling refreshed. Florida is HOT most of the year, and being outdoors in the fierce sun can really wear you out – dangerously so. Off topic: Wear a good sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and find a cool spot if you start feeling shaky.
- Disney has transportation of every conceivable variety. You may be able to forego a rental car and return to your hotel by bus, train, monorail, sky gondola or even boat. Disney’s inter-park transportation is free to travel, but getting from one point to another may be time consuming and involve multiple transfers. Disney World is huge, 47 square miles, so while getting around without a car within the park is certainly possible, it might not be desirable.
- Disney’s Magical Express is a pretty cool perk. You board the plane at your home airport and when you arrive at the Orlando airport, you simply jump on a coach. Disney will claim your luggage and deliver it to your room. Bear in mind that you might want to pack some essentials in a carryon, because your bags may arrive hours after you do.
- Extra Magic Hours give Disney guests a few extra hours to enjoy the parks before and after the invasion of the unwashed hordes: an hour extra in the morning before the parks open to the public, and a few hours in the evening after public closing time.
- Fixed-rate dining plans can potentially save you money on your meals. It’s a comparative value; eating outside Disney or bringing in groceries could be far less costly, but compared to free-range foraging for meals without a package deal, it’s practically budget.
- Golf and sports. Disney offers a beautiful golf course and a sports venue that hosts youth sports, professional training camps, exhibitions and championship events for when you’re ready for some more grown up recreation.
- Expense. Years ago, Disney had only one resort price range: high. Today they offer options for nearly any budget, although to drop under $80 per night, you’ll need a camper. There are many options in an affordable $80-$150 range.
One thing that belongs in both pro and con columns is the Disney Magic. If you’ve ever ridden the “It’s a Small World” ride, you know what I’m talking about. It’s fun at first, until you realize you’re being smothered by ubiquitous Disney…sort of like subliminal messages in 70s elevator music. Bushes are trimmed in character shapes. Floor tiles are arranged in attractive advertising layout. Power lines are threaded through mouse-head shaped pole toppers. Golf course sand traps are mouse-eared. If a seagull flies over and poops on the sidewalk, it lands in perfect character silhouette (ok, I made that one up. They probably pay somebody to shape the poop after it lands). For an enthusiastic five-year-old, this level of inundation really is pure magic. Small kids will delight in finding mouse ears in unexpected locations (everywhere). Adults and older kids might be considerably less than enchanted. Depends on how they feel about Disney.
Here’s why you should consider staying off Disney property:
- Fitting your budget. First, you can find a less expensive hotel. The lowest price Disney hotel, excluding Fort Wilderness campsites, is $82 per night and reservations for lower price rooms tend to fill up well in advance. Offsite, there are literally hundreds of nearby hotels to meet any budget. You can also choose a reasonably priced all-suite hotel; suites are both rare and pricey on Disney property. Hotel rooms in the highly competitive Kissimmee area close to Disney’s West Gate can run as low as $38 per night for a very basic stay (not that I’d go so far as to recommend them). In addition to hotel cost, the choice of eateries ranges from street vendor sandwiches to five-star gourmet…or you can just hit a grocery and pick up some supplies.
- Shuttle service to all attractions. Disney is a closed environment, but offsite hotels often have shuttles that will take you to any of Orlando’s attractions like Seaworld, Universal Theme parks, water parks, and themed restaurants. Pirate’s Dinner Adventure anyone?
- Convention facilities. If you’re planning a working vacation while attending a convention or conference, a hotel on or around International Drive might be your best bet.
- Chaos factor. Disney hotels and hotel grounds are busy. If a picture of downtown Bejing sends you into convulsions, you might want to find a nice quiet hotel off the beaten path. On Disney property, the more adult oriented the property, the higher the price.
Your best preparation is in planning and research. Outline your objectives and decide what is most appealing to every member of your vacation party, and then find a compromise. Selecting a hotel that fits your budget and meets your comfort needs means less stress and a more enjoyable overall experience for everyone.