Staying onsite vs offsite, even with free dining


Well-Known Member
Can someone help me understand how most can afford to stay onsite? I'd like to try it once. We have never stayed onsite. I know some premium resorts go for $3,000/night. We have six in our party and usually split the cost of a pool home just off 192. 3 bedroom/3 bath/private pool/full kitchen, etc. It comes out to be about $1,200 for 10 days. Onsite we would possibly have to get separate rooms. We drive from PA, so we don't have airline ticket costs or car rental costs. Just the fuel down and back. You really can't beat it staying offsite ... or can you???


A legend.
Premium Member
In the Parks
You're unlikely to be able to stay "cheaper". The difference, in my view, is the immersive Disney experience. If you got two rooms at a value resort and free dining the costs might work out close, factor in free parking and less driving it should work out the same or maybe cheaper. You have to do some of the math for your situation and time of year you want to go.
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Susan Savia

Well-Known Member
We have always stayed offsite. Our room for 8 nights is under $500, 1 mile from the parks and offers many amenities that Disney does not such as free high speed internet, newspaper, door parking, etc. It doesn't matter to us that our bedspread does not have Mickey Mouse all over it, or in the wallpaper. We only need a clean room and bed. As AP holders parking is free and we are not wasting time waiting on crowded hot busses. Regarding the free dining, we only eat one typical meal a day, usually a light breakfast in our room, maybe a burger at noon and then we dine out when we leave the parks. Someone who requires 3 meals daily, the plan might work better for them, but it would be too much food for us. It sounds like your rental home is perfect for your group.
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Active Member
The old onsite vs offsite debate. As someone who has done both, yes it is cheaper to stay offsite. You get more hotel for your buck and you can eat much cheaper. As Monty said staying onsite you get the whole Disney Experience. The benefits of staying onsite out weigh any negatives, IMHO. The Free Dining offer is just another plus to stay onsite as is EMH. If the crowded buses bother you rent a car and drive yourself around
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New Member
You're unlikely to be able to stay "cheaper". The difference, in my view, is the immersive Disney experience. If you got two rooms at a value resort and free dining the costs might work out close, factor in free parking and less driving it should work out the same or maybe cheaper. You have to do some of the math for your situation and time of year you want to go.

I agree. Once you leave the parks for a day it's back to the "real" world. When you stay onsite I always feel like I'm still inthe magical world of disney.

Another main reason I stay onsite is because of the magical express. I fly down so that really helps. What I would pay for 2 cab rides to and from the airport would be more than what I pay for a room at one of the value resorts.

Tho it's no doubt that what you would pay for a value resort for 10days would be almost as much as the offsite condo's etc, but like someone else said then there is the $13 a day for parking, gas etc.

Oh and susan, yes the busses are usually crowded, but never hot! it's usually the exact opposite, freezing cold! sometimes too cold!!
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My parents have a timeshare at the Marriott that they stay in. They eat less in the parks, have more space and a kitchen. So they can save a lot. They also have APs so they don't have to pay for parking. I didn't mind staying there until I started staying at Disney.

It really comes down to what you want from the vacation. We love being immersed in Disney. We love the themeing of the hotels and we find the EMH invaluable. The last time my brother stayed with my parents he found the loss of the EMH very frustrating.

But not everyone wants, needs or even likes that. You have to look at your situation and then do the math. Do you cook a lot? Would you use the EMH? Do you pay $13/day for parking? What kind of deals can you get (sometimes the room savings can be significant)?

The dining plan is a whole different issue. People are very divided on whether it's worth the money. Free dining isn't really "free." You have to pay rack rates for your room. Sometimes the room only discounts are a better deal. For us, the dining plan doesn't really make sense for us because of the way we eat. So you really need to think about what you eat and do the math. I'm sure we spend about the same as the dining plan costs, but we eat what we want (appetizers, split entrees, etc.).

I've read that certain values have suites, there are also the cabins at Fort Wilderness...Are you splitting $1200 for the 10 days or is $1200 each for the 10 days?
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Well-Known Member
On-Site vs. Off-Site; aka The Great Debate

The simple answer of which is better? It depends. LOL

Personal preferences, budget, party size... it all factors in. In the case of a large family on a tight budget, staying off site will most likely be cheaper. With a free dining plan, you might work out to be close enough cost wise to stay on site... it all depends on your travel dates, etc.

For some, like me, staying on site and being 'in Disney' with all of the extra little Disney things is worth the added expense. Something about being in the magic round the clock makes the vacation that much more special.

Either way you go, the point of your trip is to have fun, and have a great, memorable experience. Decide what is most important to you, do a little planning, then go and have an awesome time! :wave:
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If you ever go longer than just a week, you could always try staying at a Disney value resort for the first week to try it out and the second week rent the home that you're used to and see the difference yourself. We've stayed onsite a lot and offsite when we've had a timeshare that would swap into Disney or elsewhere if we had a big group going. Both experiences are totally different. We'd also like to try renting a house while we're there sometime just to see what it would be like and would probably be a little easier having 2 littles ones (2nd one comes in December!!!).

Mikeymouse, who do you rent through? Is there a website or something I could take a look at for future travel? Is that $1,200 total or is that how much your share to pay is? Are the pools heated????
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New Member
As someone else said, it depends. From strictly a cost standpoint, you may be better offsite... BUT you said it's $1200 for 10 days? Then, you have to buy food on top of that. Even if you are really frugal, you'll spend at least $200-300 on food for 6 people, right? That's $1400-1500 minimum for room/food. On top of that, you have to pay to park (assuming no APs), and gas money for getting around. That's another $150 for parking and--to make it easy--let's say $50 for gas. So, you're up to $1600-1700.

If you got two value rooms with free dining, how much are they? $80/night? So, 10 days/9 nights would cost you 9 * 80 * 2 = $1440 (+tips when necessary). That covers beds, parking, transportation onsite, and food.

Of course, IT DEPENDS on what you want to do and how you roll. We are in our room long enough to sleep and that's it. So, a value room is okay. If you plan to hang out in your room/house, you probably want something bigger. Of course, I don't see much point in going all the way to Florida just to hang out in a room.

I think when you fly to Florida, it's even more lopsided on Disney's side. Then, you have to add in the cost of a rental car.

On the other hand, if you don't get free dining, you may be able to save enough making your own food or eating offsite to offset things like parking and gas, BUT there is also the inconvenience of leaving the parks, cooking your own food, cleaning it up, etc.. When I'm on vacation, I'd rather let someone else wash the dishes.

Also, if you have a large enough group, the Disney transportation allows for part of the group to go back to the room or somewhere else without really affecting the rest of the group.

I am a penny pincher, but I am a big fan of being onsite. Of course, I'm also a big fan of free dining--the last 2 times we've gone. In fact, I don't know if we'd go WITHOUT free dining (once again, that's a calculation that each set of travelers has to make when comparing against other possible discounts, but it works out well for our family).
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New Member
I would have to agree with the others here. It all depends on your food cost, $13.00 per day parking, park tickets etc. We are also from Pennsylvania and have driven and flown on different occasions. We stay on-site except for a select few times when hotels in our price range were not available. BAD IDEA!!! After the debacle we had with a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel a few years ago we decided to never stay off property ever again. Since then, that hotel was dropped from the program. There is NOTHING like the Disney magical experience that an on-site hotel offers (especially with a package from a travel agent like AAA).

This year it is costing us $60.00 each way for airline tickets direct flight into Orlando and $60.00 per day for each person which includes park tickets, hotel and food (free dining plan) for a total of about $1800.00. True, we cut corners by not having a car, but the Disney transportation system including Magical Express shuttle to and from the airport and our hotel makes up for it. We don't have to worry about looking at prices on the menus for food because it's all included. AAA also offers many "perks" when booking through them such a exclusive storytime reading by Disney characters in the Magic Kingdom, a free round of mini-golf per room, 30 minutes of arcade time at your resort, discounts on merchandise and Planet Hollywood at Downtown Disney, discounts on watercraft rentals, a free parking pass per room (if you drive) and AAA only parking areas at all theme parks.

When we factored all of the "extras" any savings you might get by staying off property is vastly outweighed by staying at a Disney Resort Hotel.

I would be glad to answer any specific questions you might have based on our experiences. Have a Magical Stay!
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Well-Known Member
I don't really think it's a difference between who can afford it or who can't, it just comes down to what works best for you, and what you're willing to pay for. As my Disney vacations are usually just DD & myself, I just feel safer staying on property and leaving the driving to Disney. And, I like to immerse myself in that whole "Disney Magic" feeling I get from staying at the resorts. I like the convenience of being able to pop back to the room in the afternoon if we need a break. To that end, I do what I can to be able to stay on-site. We have a change jar, brown bag our lunches, work overtime when it is offered, drive the same car until it falls apart. Sometimes it might mean 2 years between trips instead of once a year. I just do what I have to do to make it happen. Just my 2 cents......
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A Long Time DVC Member
Here is the reason that I never stay off park anymore:

First is that when I am on Vacation I want to do what I want to do and not have to worry about others. So if my kids want to go back to the room and relax and I still want to ride one more ride. They take the bus back and my wife and I meet them at the pool later. Once the kids where 12 years old we stated this. I would not feel safe sending a 12 year old to an off site hotel.

Second is that I never have to get in my car. People that know me know I love/hate the Disney bus system. But to me it is better than driving a car.

Third I like doing Disney things at night and it is so easy to get to the hotel and than head back out in the evening.

Forth is that someone in my group always wants to go somewhere else on in WDW. Well no problem, they take one bus and we take another. Maybe we will park hop and meet them for lunch.

Last we go once a year and are now DVC members. You can not stay off park in as great a rooms for the money we spent on DVC. My kids are now out of college and our also DVC members along with many of my friends. We also have a great time at WDW.
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Well-Known Member
In the Parks
I could never stay off-site. I've stayed on Hotel Plaza Blvd. once before and won't ever again. Staying off-site just doesn't seem "Disney" to me.

Disney is my therapy, it's my escape, it's my passion. I want to be immersed in Disney 24/7 and the only way I can do that is by staying on property. I stay at Pop Century, I'm usually a solo-traveler and I can afford it :shrug:

It's all about budgeting!
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Well-Known Member
I have never stayed offsite so I do not know the cost savings but I always stay in the values, and to me the vacations I book seem extremely cheap and affordable. After the prices I have seen, I find it hard to understand why people prefer offsite. I guess it's just what you think is affordable.
Last year in October I got 7 nights with 4 people for somewhere in the $400's per person (I can't remember the exact #). I booked with Mouse Ears Vacations and about two months or so before the trip they found a promotion for me that saved each of us around $100. Now that price is for the room and the tickets. I saw a post up above where they said their price for offsite for 8 nights was $400. So then don't they have to buy their tickets for a few hundred? Or was that $400 for everyone and not per person?

This year in September there is only me and my mom and it ended up being $575 per person. I won't get any further room discount, but I am getting the free dining which will save me at least $200 if not more. And I realize that the price I am paying for the room is more but that is mostly because I don't have 4 people to split it between this time. And also I take the free dining as an excuse to eat at places I never would have actually went to and paid for. They may be getting me in the room a bit more but I have already paid for that, so now I can go and enjoy the dining without worrying about more money.
To me that is extremely cheap for a week's vacation.
We stayed at a resort in Mexico for a week and it was $1250 a person. And that didn't include any excursions. But it did include food.
I would rather go to Disney then Mexico anyday. We went to Mexico because it was our honeymoon and my husband doesn't want to go to Disney :( and he prefers to sit on a beach all day.

Of course flights are extra to these amounts,
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Well-Known Member
I'll throw my own two cents in here... (I don't often chime in on the on-site vs off-site debate)

First off, I'm a big advocate for staying on-site.

I've stayed both on-site and off-site. My on-site experience has been limited to Value and Moderate resorts. My off-site has been timeshares a few times, two nights at a Hotel Plaza Blvd hotel before our on-site reservation started, and a few stays with friends that live 20 minutes down the road.

As others have said, when you stay onsite, even at the Value resorts, you're surrounded by Disney 24/7. But when you're offsite, you're thrust into the real world when you leave property. This is especially true when you're staying on US192. With all the tourist-trap souvenir stores, cheapo mini-golf places, fast food and chain restaurants, it kinda "cheapens" the overall feeling of the vacation. It kinda makes it seem like you're driving to your local Six Flags park or just another amusement park. When you stay on-site, you never see any of that, and it makes it feel like the all-encompassing vacation that Walt had in mind when he planned the Florida Project.

When I stayed at Orlange Lake Country Club (a nice timeshare, BTW) and with my friends in Davenport, I couldn't wait to turn off 192 and onto Sherberth Rd to get onto property.

Though I will admit, this "real world shock" is much less for the couple of resorts along Route 536 just on the other side of I-4 (Marriott World Center and Caribe Royale, I believe) because there isn't as much "junk" along that stretch, I think just a gas station and a small strip mall.

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We've stayed offsite the first 4 times we went, and found the accommodation (3 bed villa, pool etc) fab, and ideal for a family who want to explore the whole area and not just WDW. Eating dinner at offsite restaurants, or doing a BBQ around your pool is much cheaper. Add to the cost though, the petrol, travelling time and parking fees and for newbies -the hassle of driving on the 'wrong' side of the road.
The last 3 times we've travelled as a couple - money has been easier, and we only have ourselves to please, so we've pushed the boat out and stayed at AKL and BC. We find that we relax from waking in the morning to going to bed at night, even if we drive to a park or resort the parking is included, and when we do go offsite to a mall or other park, we can't wait to 'come home' for dinner and maybe take in some fireworks.
One little thing last year summed Disney resorts up for me - I woke very early and looked out of the curtain to see some CMs raking the beach (at the BC), hoovering the paths and wiping the benches before everyone woke up. People work very hard to maintain the magic.
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