Not so very long ago, in this very blog, I said that I strongly preferred staying on property at Disney World because it's more magical.
I'm ready to say now, after our second try staying off property, that I can really see some non-magical but still important upsides to staying off property, particularly with a baby and/or a bigger family. I'm no longer willing to make a blanket recommendation that everyone should stay on property if they can swing it financially. We had a really good off property experience this time around, and I'll be mightily conflicted next time we go about which route to take.
How about some pros and cons?
Pros of staying on property:
1. Disney transportation: this is potentially a very big deal if you fly in. We drive, so it's not as big of a deal for us. We don't need to rent a car either way, and we tend to drive more often than use the buses even when we're on property. If you're lucky enough to be staying in a monorail resort or in one of the walking distance to Epcot resorts, this is an even bigger deal. Also, even if you drive while you're staying on property, you don't have to pay for parking anywhere. And the cost of parking every day for a week is nothing to sneeze at ($14/day, I believe).
2. Proximity: not actually as clear cut as you might expect. Some of the places off property are pretty much as close to the parks as some of the farther out on property resorts. You can easily find somewhere less than a 10 minute drive from Disney property. Again, if you're able to stay in a deluxe resort very close to Magic Kingdom or Epcot, things are different.
3. Extra magic hours: if you're staying on property, you can stay late or arrive early to certain parks on certain days.
4. MAGIC! You're just more immersed in the whole experience if you're staying on property. You forget the outside world exists. Everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful. It's impossible to buy gum (true story: they don't sell gum on Disney property). This can be a great thing, if you love magic, or a bad thing, if you're a black-hearted, cynical human being. Just kidding. Not everyone wants magic 24/7, and that's okay.
5. Free dining (and other discounts): this is the one that usually reels me in. If you go during the off season, when great discounts are being offered to on property guests, on property prices can start to compete pretty well with off property. You can always save money by staying somewhere off property with a full kitchen and making most of your own food, but if you plan to eat out most of the time either way, free dining can really close the on vs. off property price gap. For a few years it seemed like it was all free dining all the time more or less, but now it looks like it's headed back to just being offered for short periods in the fall.
Cons to staying on property:
1. Price: this is the big one. Really, if you have unlimited funds, get yourself a room (or two! if you have kids) at the Polynesian or the Beach Club or somewhere and have a great time. But most people don't have unlimited funds, and Disney hotels cost more. Lots more. The cheapest hotel room you can get on property is at one of the value resorts. The lowest those rates get are $85/night + tax. You might be able to get 15% off on top of that, assuming you aren't doing another discount like free dining. That's for a nice, clean, but tiny hotel room with 2 double beds, maximum 4 people (plus a baby in a crib; you can't put a rollaway in there). For the same price, you can get a nice 2 bedroom condo with a full kitchen 5 minutes from Disney property. Or for half that you can get a decent, no frills hotel room close by.
2. Space: I talked about that a bit up there, but, yeah....if you want room to spread out, you can get it (affordably) off property.
Personally, I am normally a stay on property and suck up all the magic kind of person. But being able to leave the parks when it got crowded and hot, come back to our big ol' rental house and let the big kids swim while the baby took a nap....that was really nice. As was being able to eat a lot of meals at the house, because eating out twice a day with a 4 month old is not exactly relaxing.
We were also able to save money on boarding the dogs by finding a place where they could come with us (except for Fiesta; she stayed with my mom. But my mom only keeps small dogs, which leaves out Lucy and Gable).
We were really pleased with the house we rented, so I'll give them a shout out. We stayed at Luxury Stay Rentals 4 bedroom house in Indian Creek (they also have a 5 bedroom in the same neighborhood). The house was nice and well maintained, rates were reasonable, their local property manager was friendly and helpful, and it was pet friendly (the property manager also does petsitting, so they can come and walk your dog during the day for an additional fee).
As for what we'll do next time? After I wrestle with the internal conflict? Yeah, I don't know. When Abe is older and we're back to being able to do all day in the parks without a break, using the room mostly just to crash at night, I might well be back on property. Especially if we go during free dining. I am a sucker for all the magic, after all. But it will be a tough choice.
And now....Day Two! Our Animal Kingdom day and also Milo's 10th birthday! We were there for both Ari and Milo's birthdays.
First up we stopped by Guest Services for a birthday button. They're FREE
and they don't even check that it's really your birthday. But it was. Milo's birthday.
He wanted to ride Expedition Everest as many times as possible for his
birthday. I think we made it to four. I told them to look scared so I could
take this hilarious picture.
No one can accuse Animal Kingdom of not being themed enough. This is from the Everest queue.
Safari--the lion was out!
Flights of Wonder: baby's first bird show
Finding hidden Mickeys at Conservation Station
Also petting a goat.