Thursday, July 16, 2009

On-Site of Off-Site? That is the Question

In my previous post (the travel tip of the week), I touched on some things that a person needs to consider when deciding whether or not to stay on Disney property or off Disney property when visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida.

I want to be more detailed in this post and look at some of the pros and cons of each side of the question.

First, let's look at the pros of staying off-site or off Disney property. Naturally cost is the largest pro for this decision. You will pay less per night when you stay off Disney property, no question about it. The amount you save will vary naturally by the level of off-site accommodations that you choose. Some like to stay in a nice 4-star hotel which would be the equivalent of staying maybe at one of Disney's Deluxe Resorts (which I will touch on in a bit) and when you compare the 4-star to the Deluxe price, you will most likely see a savings, depending on the time of year. For example...the Gaylord Palms in Orlando is considered to be a 4-star resort hotel near Walt Disney World. If I compare its price to one of the Disney Deluxe Resorts (i.e. the Animal Kingdom Lodge) and pick a date range in late September, you will see that it is not really a savings for staying at the Gaylord Palms because it has a nightly rate of over $267 per night and the Animal Kingdom has a nightly rate of $244 per night. But if you then look at the Hilton Orlando Resort, which is a 4-star resort, you will see that you can save quite a bit if you are willing to reserve a non-refundable room at $99 per night. But again it is a preference thing. The Hilton Orlando Resort will not offer the same experience as the Gaylord Palms or Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you are more concerned with price and less with what the hotel offers, then you will always save money by staying off-site when it comes to the hotel costs themselves.

Another pro for staying off-site would be food costs. Staying off Disney property does give you the flexibility of eating some of your meals away from the parks which will no doubt save money if you indeed do that. Again this can vary and is subject to preference. If Character Meals are not that important and if you are willing to leave the parks to go find a place to eat, then it can work and you can save money but you will sacrifice time in the parks to do that. This pro can be negated though if you are visiting Walt Disney World during a time that Disney has offered the free dining plan to its resort guests.

The other pro for staying off-site would be a rest of the senses. Some people like to have a break from everything that is Disney and staying off Disney property can give your senses a break. You are surrounded by Disney everywhere you look when you stay on-site and it can be a little much for some folks, especially during a longer stay.

Ok...that pretty much covers the pros of staying off-site. Now let's examine the cons. Transportation as a whole can be classified as a con for staying off-site. Here is what I mean by that. When you stay off Disney property, you will have to arrange your own transportation from the airport to the hotel which can cost anywhere from $30 to $60 each way depending on the distance that your hotel is from either Orlando International or Orlando's Sanford Airport. This also means that you will be in charge of getting your luggage and carrying it with you to the transportation area of the airport (I will explain why that is a con later on). Assuming you have not rented a car, you will also have to deal with off-site transportation round trip from your off-site resort to the parks. This can be a substantial time constraint for some. Off-site buses do not run as frequently to the Disney Parks which means the time spent waiting for a bus is greatly increased or at least can be. That equates to potentially less time in the parks and more time standing and waiting for the next bus. If you doubt that, please read the comment in my previous post from a traveler who has experience with off-site transportation.

If you rent a car, you have to factor that in to the overall cost of the trip when you are comparing the cost of off-site versus on-site. Depending on the size of the vehicle, a car rental can cost an additional $250-$350 for a week's stay in Orlando. You also have to add in parking costs at the parks. Those staying off Disney property have to pay an additional $10 per day for parking at the parks. Again...that has to be factored in. A week's stay can cost an additional $50-60 just for parking.

We touched on the idea of less time in the parks because of off-site transportation, but we also need to point out that non-Disney resort guests do not have access to Disney's "Extra Magic Hours." Each day one of Disney's parks will open an hour early or stay open a few hours later than normal park hours and only Disney resort guests have access to the attractions during those hours. Disney Cast Members will check to see if you have a Disney resort room key before they will let you in line during evening extra magic hours and they will not allow you entrance into the park during morning extra magic hours. During peak crowd seasons, extra magic hours provide Disney resort guests a great opportunity to ride the more popular rides during less crowded periods which is benefit that is hard to put a dollar figure on. Another con is that you have a harder time getting reservations at some of Disney's more popular restaurants. Resort guests can make an advance dinner reservation up to 10 days out from their scheduled arrival day at 90 days out. This means that resort guests will have access to reservations earlier than a non-resort guest potentially and will also mean that the popular restaurants may be booked up by the time you are able to make your reservation as an off-site guest.

For the sake of space and attention span, I will quickly move to the pros of staying on Disney property. Some of these are obvious since they correlate to the cons of staying off-site so I will just mention some of them again. There is the pro of getting access to extra magic hours and the pro of having a better chance at getting your desired on-site restaurant reservations. There is the pro of having access to the Disney transportation system throughout the Disney property. Buses run every 20-30 minutes from the resorts to the parks.

Then there is the pro of Disney's Magical Express which is free for all Disney resort guests who fly into Orlando's International Airport. You have the ease of letting a Disney representative get your bags at baggage claim and delivering them to your resort room. All you have to do is check-in with the Magical Express desk, board your bus and head for your resort.

Then there is the pro for staying on-site of being surrounded every day by the magic that is Disney. Disney Cast Members are trained to make sure you have the best Disney experience possible and while there are exceptions at times, they truly know how to make you feel like you are truly at the "happiest place on earth."

Another pro would be that you can buy souvenirs at any of the park gift shops or at Downtown Disney and have your packages delivered back to your room at no additional cost.

Again...the real negative for staying on-site is the costs as it relates to resort room costs and food costs. But when comparing the 2, you need to make sure you calculate the costs for each like what we have discussed to see what the real differences are before making the determination that off-site is going to save you and your family any money.

I have helped clients look at both scenarios and book both scenarios. No one can tell you what is best for you unless they know what is the most important part of your trip (i.e. cost, time in the parks, relaxation, food etc).

I hope this has helped shed some additional light on the question and please leave comments, experiences etc and let me know if there are any other questions you might have.


El Rata said...

Thanks for the thorough pros-and-cons analysis of staying on-site or off-site. I had a question about something you said:

"Resort guests can make an advance dinner reservation up to 10 days out from their scheduled arrival day at 90 days out"

I must confess, that statement confused me! Are you saying that resort guests can make dining reservations MORE THAN 90 days out of their scheduled arrival, or that ONLY resort guests can make dining reservations 90 days out from their scheduled arrival? Maybe you can give us a concrete example?

Thanks! said...

Good Question. Here is the best way to describe it: As a resort guest, if you have a 10 day vacation planned, once you get within 90 days of your arrival date, you can make reservations for any day during that 10 day stay. A non-resort guest for the same length stay could only make reservations at the 90th day for 1 day. They would have to call back every day to get the next day's reservation made. That makes it difficult to get the more popular restaurants for sure.

Here is another way to see it for the resort guest: I am checking in on the 1st of October and I am 90 days out now. I can make reservations for a date range up to the 10th if I am staying 10 days. A non resort guest can only make reservations for the 1st of October in that same example.

I hope that helps.

El Rata said...

Oh, ok, got it. That's pretty much how I thought it worked, it's just that I didn't know it was "capped" at 10 days (in case the length of the stay is longer than that). Good to know!

Hehe, well, sometimes even THAT doesn't help you get the dining reservation you want! On the day 90 days prior to my September vacation, I called to make a reservation for the Chef's table at Victoria & Albert's for the next-to-last day of my 10-day stay, and I *still* could not get it! (The only thing I could have done differently is to get up at the crack of dawn to be one of the first callers of the day, but I didn't expect that to be an issue when calling 90 days out for a vacation in September).

So yeah, I can imagine how people staying off-site simply can never be able to compete for those really hard-to-get dining reservations! :-)

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