Friday, February 11, 2011

Disney Question: How Much Money Do I Really Save Staying Off-Site?

If you have ever planned a trip to Walt Disney World or if you have ever even mentioned that you are starting to plan or think about a trip to the “House of Mouse,” then inevitably you have had people parachute in and try to convince you why you should do x, y or z.  And I guarantee that you have had some try to tell you how staying off-site will save you mucho amounts of moolah. 

Well...let’s put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard and really look at some numbers to really see if that is true.  The hardest thing to do with any price comparison is to make sure you are comparing tangerines to tangerines versus making a claim and in reality you have compared spuds to cantaloupes.  So I am here to help clear the muddy waters of Disney resort versus off-site pricing.

Here are some assumptions I have made for this comparison:

6 night stay
6 day Magic Your Way base ticket
2 adults and 2 children (ages 9 & 7)
Value level accommodations
Driving to Walt Disney World
Dates during Disney’s non-peak period (September 18-24)

So let’s start with staying off-site.  As I said, in order to make a statement that you think it is cheaper to stay off-site, you have to do your best to make sure your off-site hotel/motel is at the same level as the one on Disney property.  So I looked at different options and determined that the Clarion Hotel Maingate would be similar to one of Disney’s value resorts (I even went lower just to be safe).  Their base rate was $47+tax for 6 nights in late September.  So the total for 6 nights including tax was $321.68.  And to be fair to those who like to use discount ticket sites, I priced a 6 day base ticket through one of the more popular sites and the total for 2 adults and 2 children came to $937.81.  Then, if you are driving and staying off-site, I added in parking for the day at any of the Disney parks.  Parking costs non-Disney resort guests $14 per day, per vehicle so the total for parking would be $84.00.  The last cost figure that I felt needed to be added in is that of breakfast.  Even if you are a non-Disney resort guest, you will still most likely eat at least 2 meals in the parks so those would be the same for resort and non-resort guests. So in my opinion, the only meal where pricing could be different is that of breakfast.  The Clarion does not offer free breakfast so I used fast-food pricing just because it would be the cheaper option.  I may be off a tad, but I estimated that a family of 4 would spend about $6 per person for breakfast at a fast-food venue.  So $6 per person for 6 days would come to a total of $144 for breakfast for non-Disney resort guests. 

So if you now total up the figures above for staying off Disney property, you would come to a total of $1487.49 for the family of 4

Now...on to the Disney resort option.  I priced my favorite value resort, the Pop Century, and I added in the 6 day Magic Your Way base ticket as a part of the Disney package.  The total for the package for 6 nights, 6 days comes to $1574.10.  Parking for Disney resort guests is free so no added cost there.  But I assumed that the resort guests would at least eat breakfast at the resort.  Using an average, a quick service breakfast would cost about $10 per person so the total cost would be $240 for the family of 4 for the 6 days.  So again...adding it all up, you come to a total cost of $1814.10.

Now subtracting the cost of the non-Disney resort option from the Disney resort option, you see a savings of $326.61

Now some will say...we could pack our own breakfast food and not have to eat the fast-food breakfast.  That is correct and would also apply to staying at a Disney resort.  Some might argue...we could probably stay cheaper than the Clarion.  Yep, you would be right, but power to ya if you want to make your family stay in something that costs less than $49 per night in Orlando.  And the on-site guests could argue back that staying at a Disney resort offers more amenities than the Clarion such as a the very large food court at the Value resorts with more than just fast-food options and also the Disney gift shop at each resort.  Nevertheless, I have chosen what I think offers a fair comparison and I really think I was generous by choosing the Clarion.

But (you knew there was a but coming), there are things that have value that do not necessarily show up on a spreadsheet.  For much is your time worth?  Off-site guests do not get access to Disney’s “Extra Magic Hours” where they keep a park open late or open one hour early only for Disney resort guests.  Is it worth the extra $326 for you to be able to access the parks during much less crowded times where you can ride some of the more popular rides and have much shorter wait times?  How much more time are you willing to spend driving to and from the parks when you stay off-site?  More time in transit means less time in the parks which is the largest part of the total cost of your trip.

When you book a an off-site hotel/ticket deal, you will not be in a position to take advantage of any Disney deals that could possibly save you a lot more money.  Disney usually offers deals throughout the year for such things as free dining, room-only discounts, or “kids stay and play free” which would save the family of 4 in my scenario potentially more than the $326 they would save by staying off-site or at least be the same cost.  Those package deals are only available for those who stay on Disney property.  Even if you book a package that does not have a special attached to it, your travel agent (shameless travel agent plug) can watch for those deals and get them applied (when applicable) to your existing Disney vacation package.  If you book an off-site deal, your deal is what it is.

I know I am not touching on every aspect of staying on or off-site, but I hope you see that sometimes the savings is not as large as people try to get you to believe and sometimes the savings is not a real savings at all when other factors are taken into consideration.

Questions?  Comments?  Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Feel free to chime in and give me your opinion.