One of the biggest expenses and first decisions you need to make with a Disney World Vacation is where you decide to stay. So this week we're starting a series covering the many options.
First, let's talk about Disney-owned versus non-Disney resorts. Often referred to as the "on-property versus off-property" decision but that's a bit of a misnomer because there are a handful of resorts that are technically on Disney property but are not owned or operated by Disney employees. The one resort that falls into this quasi-Disney category that I think most of you who read my blog regularly would be interested in is the Shades of Green...aka the military resort. It is an AFRC (Armed Forces Recreation Center) and as such requires a military ID and current LES print out upon check in. Price-wise the Shades of Green nightly fees are based on military or civilian grade (in addition to active duty, Guard and Reserve members, some DoD employees and foreign military service members are eligible to stay). To make a reservation you can either go to the Shades of Green website or just call 1-888-593-2242. Although, Shades of Green is not owned or operated by Disney their guests can still enjoy some of the same perks of staying at a Disney-owned and operated resort. Speaking of which, below are a list of the benefits to saying at a Disney-owned resort.
*Package delivery...when you buy a souvenir in the parks but don't want to carry it around all day, you can have Disney send it (FOR FREE) back to your resort's gift shop
*Extra Magic Hours...every day ONE park will EITHER open an hour early OR stay open up to three hours late only for resort guests (Shades of Green guests are eligible for this perk...they are the ONLY non-Disney-owned resort guests eligible for extra magic hours)
*Disney's Magical Express...if you fly into Orlando International Airport (from another airport within the continental US) and stay at a Disney-owned resort, Disney will mail you luggage tags a few weeks before your trip to attach to all your checked luggage so that when you arrive in Orlando, all you have to do is get on a bus. A couple hours after you arrive, your bags will be delivered to your room. This is FREE resort amenity offered, just be sure to let Disney know your flight itinerary if you don't book your airfare with your Disney package
*Free parking at all Disney Parks...otherwise it's currently $14/day but if you hop from one park to another, the original fee is all you pay...one price per day regardless of how many parks (Shades of Green guests are eligible for free parking at Disney parks with a valid SoG guest ID)
*Disney's internal transportation system...they'll bus you from your resort to any of the parks. The buses come frequently enough that, in our experience, it's been rare to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes for a bus and usually it's closer to 5 minutes. There's also the monorail between Epcot, Magic Kingdom and the transportation/ticket center as well as boats to and from Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney for resorts along the water way (Shades of Green and many other "off-property" resorts also have a busing system to get their guests back and forth from their resort to the parks)
*Disney Dining Plan is ONLY available to resort guests staying at Disney-owned and operated resorts. Also, it is offered from time to time as a FREE package inclusion for their guests which can certainly offset the additional cost of staying at a Disney resort. To be honest, the dining plan is probably the biggest reason we stay at Disney-owned resorts. Whether or not it's included as a free package inclusion, it's just really convenient to go and know we don't have to budge X amount of money per day for food...it's already been taken care of
*Convenience. It might sound silly but when you stay at a Disney-owned resort, everything can be on your "Key to the World"...it's your room key, your dining card (if you are on a Disney Dining Plan), your charge card (if you decide to add charging options to it-not required and not recommended on kid's cards) and during extra magic hours, it's how you show you're a Disney resort guest
There are only three real downsides I can see to staying at a Disney-owned and operated resort.
1-Price. You can almost certainly get the same amount of space/amenities...if not more, for less than you will pay for a Disney-owned and operated resort.
2-Inconvenience to other non-Disney parks like Universal Studios or Sea World. Unless you bring your own vehicle or rent a car, you'll pay a significant fee for taxi service to another non-Disney park.
3-Finding someplace to stay if you have a large family. There are suites for families of six or less, some villas in the DVC resorts can hold those extra large families ($$$!) and you can always book multiple rooms but Disney really doesn't have many options especially for larger families on a budget.
In the end, it comes down first to what you can afford as a family and then what you want. Staying "on-property" certainly has it's perks and rooms start around $100/night but if you're a larger family or a family on a tighter budget, staying "off-property" might be a better fit. One of my favorite planning sites, Allears.net has a list of preferred "off-site" properties with some great discounts.
Over the next few weeks, we'll cover your various Disney Resort options starting next week with Disney Value Resorts.