Disney is expensive, and it's only natural that you want to find ways to cut your expenses. For some families, it's the only way that they can go, for others, they might not care about staying at a Disney resort, maybe they visit often, or they just want a place to rest, and some, there are just so many in the group, it makes more sense to rent a house. No matter which way you do it, there will be good things, and a few uhhhhhs. It's best to think carefully about what is best for YOU before you decide.
In order to help you decide which way is going to work best, we've outlined a few of the things to think about
On Property, you'll have a choice of either a restaurant/food court breakfast that you'll need to buy, or else a quick meal in your room, or on the way to the bus stop.
Off Property, if you've managed to find a place with free breakfast, that might just help out with the overall budget! No matter if you like a big meal, or just a snack, it's already included in the price of your room!
Rental: You'll have access to a few more kitchen tools and perhaps even a larger refrigerator to make meals, be it sit down or on the go.
Parking at your hotel/resort/rental
When you stay at a Disney Property, parking is always free. It's free to park at the resort, and it's free to park at the Parks if you take your own car. Of course, you can always use the free Disney transportation too.
Off property visitors are going to need to pay for parking, possibly at their off property resort, AND at the theme parks. When planning your trip, be sure to calculate that into the number of days you plan to stay. For an example, the BLAH LAG charges $ a night to park your car, .That's quite a huge chunk out of the vacation budget when you think about how you're going to have to pay to park at the theme parks as well!
It's definitely sneaky to charge these extra fees. The Orlando Sentinal did a report back in 2016, saying 129 hotels were charging “resort fees” to cover things like WiFi and parking.
Parking at the Disney Parks
If you stay On Property at a Disney Resort, you will not have to pay to park at any of their theme parks. If you are staying off property, you'll have to pay $20 for a standard parking spot, per day, or $40 for a preferred parking spot. Some other hotels do offer shuttles to the parks, but the time you wait can vary wildly, and there's not always the frequency of pick ups. If you rent a house, of course, it's likely you will need to take your own vehicle.
Meals don't have to be eaten at the parks, and honestly, there's nothing easier than heading back mid afternoon for a snack or a late meal. At a Disney property, it's pretty easy and convinient to grab something, but the same goes as you are leaving in your own vehicle and passing by numberous places. There's not really a savings one way of the other, it's just your personal preference. Meals inside of the parks really aren't as expensive as you would think, there's a wide variety of things to get in the $10 or less range.
While you can rest anywhere, with your own transportation you do have the luxury of driving yourself back whenever you want, without waiting for a shuttle to pick you up. I find though, that I like to rest a bit on the Disney bus, and that restores me enough it's an easier walk from the bus stop to my room, and even back again to the food court to fill my mug. We personally find it restful to let someone else do the driving in an unfamiliar area, but those of you with huge strollers, large families or not staying close by really might perfer to drive.
The pool will vary at Disney Properties depending on what level resort you are staying at. Value resports have no water slides, for example. If a deluxe pool is something that is important to your family, you might want to check out the pool at the place you are thinking of staying at first, to make sure it's going to fit your needs. We've found that the pools at the Value on property resorts are more than wonderful, with huge splash pads or splash pools, multiple pools per resort, (Pop Century has 3, and a splash pag, for example) and have poolside games and movies but some friends of ours refuse to stay anywhere that doesn't have a waterslide. That's important to them, so they make sure to check for it.
If you want your resort to scream I'M AT DISNEY!!! (at least on the outside) then you'll want to stay on property. If you just want a place to rest your head, or maybe a more spa like surrounding, well, you also might want to stay at Disney, in one of the moderate or deluxe resorts, or you might be fine staying off property. Off property, you are unlikly to get any Disney themeing, however, if you are renting a house, it's possible that you could get some thememing, to help you stay in The Bubble.
The Bubble is the experience of being at Disney and not leaving it once until your trip is over. Many people enjoy that, myself included. Even though the inside of our resort doesn't scream DISNEY WOOO the theming is still fun, and we really enjoy the touches of Disney everywhere we look, plus going to the gift shop or food court whenever we want. You might not like that though. Maybe you go so often you just don't care, or maybe you don't want to be staring at a giant mouse everywhere you turn, that's totally fine! I would suggest though, if you have NEVER stayed on property, AND if you have small kids, just try it, at least once. There really is something special to be said for staying in The Bubble.
So there's a few things to think about when you are choosing where to stay. Run the numbers, take into consideration your meal needs, but also parking and resort fees. There's nothing to ruin a vacation like the shock of added expenses on your first day. Do a little research ahead of time, and be prepared!