Disney World On A Budget - Lodging

You have decided your family will spend your hard earned money to go to Disney World. Now for the BIG question - Do you stay in the park or out of the park?  As a budget conscious mom, this decision is very difficult.  We have stayed on Disney property and off Disney property. Listed below are the pros and cons for each choice:

Staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel: Disney offers accommodations from value to luxury in price. Since I am a budget conscious mom, I have only stayed at the value resorts and moderate resorts. For the summer of 2015 the non-discounted value resorts are priced in the $140-$150 a night price range. The moderate resorts are priced at the non-discounted rate of $220 per night. If you want to save money, plan your trip months in advance and book it when Disney first offers a sale.  Sign up for Disney Insider so you can get the latest information about sales. Keep checking the Disney World website for sales. Sign up to receive a FREE vacation packet mailed to you from Disney World. This will get you unadvertised sales mailed to your home as well as your FREE packet.  If you plan to travel to Disney in the month of June, Disney typically starts a sale around January 1st.  If you plan to visit Disney during July or August this sale is typically announced around the end of February. You need to book early so the discounted rooms don't sell out. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of staying at a Disney World hotel?
  • Advantages:
    1. You don't lose the "magic". I know it sounds kind of silly but when you leave the parks and head to the Holiday, Hampton, or whatever Inn you come back to the real world with real world problems like, traffic...
    2. Disney transportation. Disney World has a fantastic bus/boat/monorail system that does a great job moving guests from the parks to their hotel and back. This is included in the cost of your hotel.  You are picked up at a location at your hotel and you are delivered to the entrance of the park you are visiting for the day. You do not have to worry about paying for parking or trying to remember where you parked the car.  You just get on the bus/boat, or monorail and let Disney get you there.  See my blog on Disney World On A Budget - Transportation for more information about how to utilize this system.
    3. Extra Magic Hours - Every day one (or more) Disney theme parks offer Extra Magic morning OR evening hours to all Disney resort guests.  Basically if you are a guest at a Disney World resort hotel then you get entrance to the parks either an hour early or stay up to 2 hours later than non-Disney resort guests.
    4. Fastpass + Selection First - Disney resort guests get to make their Fastpass + reservations 30 days before non-Disney resort guests. 
    5. Complimentary airport shuttle service via the Disney Magic Express.  If you are flying into Orlando, Disney will pick you and your luggage up from the airport and transport you to your Disney hotel for FREE. You just check your luggage at your home airport and then the next time you see the luggage it is in your room.  
    6. Complimentary parking at Disney hotels and theme parks for Disney resort guests.
    7. Access to the Disney MagicBands.  The MagicBands serve as your room key, ticket to the theme park, as well as you can charge purchases to your room to the band. 
    8. Access to the Disney dining plans.  If you stay at a Disney hotel you can choose to purchase a dining plan for your vacation.  See my blog Disney World on a Budget - Dining Plans for more information about this option. 
    9. Resort hotel is Disney themed. The Disney hotel also has many activities planned throughout the day and evening for your family to enjoy time at the resort away from the theme parks. 
  • Disadvantages:
    1. Disney hotels cost more than neighboring non-Disney hotels around Disney World. 
    2. There is no "kids eat free" or complimentary breakfast at the Disney hotel.
    3. The restaurants in the Disney hotels tend to be expensive.
Staying Outside of Disney World: In the Disney World area you have hundreds of hotels to choose from in a wide range of prices.  For the budget conscious family the money you could potentially save may make it worth the hassle of staying off property. Listed below are the advantages and disadvantages of staying outside of Disney World. You can search for outside of Disney hotels at many sites including Expedia, Hotels.com, or Priceline. Personally I use Google Hotels to find hotels in the area and then I usually book the hotel from the hotel site.  I have read too many blogs about how online travel agencies did not book the room or the reservation was dropped or the price ended up being more than expected.
  • Advantages:
    1. Price per night - On average, it costs less money per night to stay at a non-Disney hotel. 
    2. Shuttle service to Disney World.  Many hotels offer FREE shuttle service to the theme parks, but only at specified times. 
    3. You don't have to eat every meal at Disney World thereby saving money.  Many hotels offer free breakfast or kids eat/stay free to draw guests. 
    4. If you have a car you can visit other Orlando attractions in addition to Disney World.
    5. You can get a room that sleeps more people.  Most Disney hotels sleep up to 4 guests.
  • Disadvantages:
    1. Traffic - The traffic around Disney World is a nightmare! It once took us no less than 10 minutes to turn left on International Drive. 
    2. When you stay at the Holiday, Hampton, or Whatever Inn you lose the Disney magic.  Your hotel room will look just like the hotel you stayed in on vacation last year in Topeka or was it Chicago?
    3. If you fly to Orlando, you will have to rent a car, get an Uber, or taxi to get around Orlando if your hotel does not have shuttle service from the airport. 
    4. If you plan to use the hotel shuttle service to Disney World you are limited on drop off and pickup times for the hotel. 
    5. If you drive yourself to Disney you will have to pay parking each day.  As of April 2015 parking costs $17 per day.  This is good for a full day at any Disney theme park. 
My recommendation:
After staying both off site and on Disney property our choice is to stay on property.  As for which Disney hotel is best, that depends on your family.  As I mentioned I am very budget conscious.  While I would like to stay at the Grand Floridian, I am not willing to pay the price for such accommodations. I have stayed at the All-Star Music value resort and the Port of Orleans French Quarter and Port of Orleans Riverside moderate resorts on our previous trips to Disney.  I can say hands down the moderate resorts are worth the extra money.

Disney All Star Music Resort
The All-Star Music resort seemed to have a Motel 6 feel to it.  The rooms were smaller and noisier than Port of Orleans.  The grounds at the All Star Music hotel looked trampled instead of well manicured like the Port of Orleans. The All Star resorts (Sports, Music, & Movies) all share the same bus to and from the theme parks. Port of Orleans has a dedicated bus most of the time.  The only time the bus is shared is on occasion with the sister property French Quarter. There is only one bus depot at All Star Music while there are 4 bus stops at Port of Orleans Riverside.  Both Port of Orleans Riverside and French Quarter have boat service to Downtown Disney. This is a fun, informative trip up the river with knowledgeable captains. The All Star resorts do not offer boat service.  Of the two Port of Orleans resorts we prefer the French Quarter because of its size. We prefer the smaller sized property over the massive Riverside.  An added benefit is it is a short (beautiful) walk to Port of Orleans Riverside and you can use all the amenities at that resort because it is the sister resort to French Quarter.  However, Disney does not usually run sales at the French Quarter resort so we usually end up staying at Riverside.  See my blog called Disney World On A Budget - Tips for information about requesting a room near the main building. Our room the last time we stayed at Riverside was a good 15 minute walk to the main building because I did not request a room close to the main building.
Disney's Port of Orleans Riverside Resort