Disney Vacations: On-Site or Off-Site?

21 08 2009

During my recent visit to Disneyland Resort Paris I decided it would be a good idea to stay in one of their value resorts- the hotel Santa Fe- and it made me ask myself a question, with the current economic climate is it really worth paying that bit extra to ‘stay in the magic’?

Many Disney fans swear by staying on-site, whether it be in Hong Kong Disneyland or Walt Disney World fans argue there’s nothing better, at least quality-wise, than a Disney resort. They do have a valid point, Disney do offer a lot to their guests in all their hotels, no matter how cheap or expensive. All guests get Extra Magic Hours in the parks which run them and most Disney resorts around the world offer free shuttles to the parks and complimentary breakfast, even if it is only a basic continental offering.

It’s also true that Disney’s luxury hotels are very good, some of the best hotels in their respective area’s. Disney also offer that service you simply don’t get outside of the park, for the most part you can expect to be greeted by a friendly face in and around the resorts if you’re a guest. Of course this does raise the question, how much of a price can you put on service with a smile?

The sticking point for me with a Disney resort is always the price. When planning next years Orlando trip I had considered staying on-site at Walt Disney World but that was soon put to an end when realising the price was considerably higher than something of similar quality off-site, around £200 more expensive, nearly half the price of the entire trip for a single person. That’s big money, money that will cover the cost of my park tickets easily so is there any real justification for staying in a Disney Resort with these prices?

I’ll focus on Walt Disney World. The Resort currently offers a free dining plan to anyone who books over a 7 night stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. This seems relatively good, food can be expensive and this cuts down on that cost. Walt Disney World Resort guests also get to take advantage of free shuttle buses to the four Disney Parks, two Disney water parks and Downtown Disney as well as other locations on-property. I’ve already mentioned the service and Extra Magic Hours, it is good and it may be worth paying a bit extra for.

These are the main advantages of staying on-site at Walt Disney World. There are others, including the range of activities and events that are on-site which you’ll be close to, but the points listed above are the main reasons guests would chose Walt Disney World Resort over staying off-site. Take away the dining plan and you could say the other points are the reason for staying on-site at the other Disney Resorts over staying off-property.

There are disadvantages to staying on-site of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be an arguement between the two options. The first one is what I’ve already mentioned, the price. Disney Resorts are expensive and can make a vacation very expensive, especially if you’re also paying a high air-fare. For example when I last checked a 10 night stay at an All-Star Resort in Walt Disney World for 10 nights, including flights from the UK was £818. For a similar quality hotel off-site, the EconoLodge on International Drive the price is £515. Are Disney’s good points really worth the difference?

Another major problem with staying on-site is that transportation off-site is relativley scarce unless your planning on paying for a taxi to where you want to go, which can be expensive. This really forces you to hire a car, which is an additional cost on top of what you’re already paying extra for the Disney Resort stay. Admittedly this isn’t a problem somewhere like Paris, where transport between the Disneyland Resort and the city is good but in Walt Disney World it is much more of an issue.

Off-site the main advantage is the price, as mentioned. Being off-site also gives you a bit more freedom, you can chose where youy want to stay and chose a location that’s close to everything. For example International Drive in Orlando has lots of great restaurants, shopping and visitor attractions so staying there can be very handy. Many hotels also offer shuttle services to all the parks. In Orlando a number of the hotels offer complimentary shuttles to Disney, Universal and SeaWorld meaning the need to hire a car is minimal if you’re in a good location.

Of course off-site can mean longer commutes to the parks which involves extra planning to ensure you make the most out of your day. Most peoples trip plans also take into consideration Extra Magic Hours and not having them at a Disney Park means you’ll either have to face longer lines when the park opens to the public or you’ll have to totally re-evaluate your conventional park touring plan. As I mentioned earlier the dining plan at Walt Disney World should also be taken into consideration.

For me there’s two answers to the debate. The first answer is for the customers on a budget. Off-site is simply a better option. You’re not going to get amazing quality in a Disney Value Resort so why spend the extra money when there’s a similar hotel for a cheaper price off-site? It also may mean your cutting down the cost of transportation as you can find a well-price hotel in a well positioned area, such as International Drive in Orlando.

The second answer to the question is for those who want a no-holds-barred brilliant vacation experience, regardless of the budget. If this is you consider staying on-site. The Luxury/Premium Disney Resorts are outstanding and offer so much to guests, it’s really worth the price you pay unlike the value resorts. Car Rental shouldn’t be out of your price range so go ahead, spoil yourself and enjoy the brilliant service and quality as that’s what Disney do best.

Sorry this blog was mainly based around Orlando, but it’s the best example for the points I’ve been trying to illustrate.

M. Owen

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