Skip to Content

Is it worth it to stay onsite Disney World? (Or is offsite better?)

HomeIs it worth it to stay onsite Disney World? (Or is offsite better?)
Is it worth it to stay onsite Disney World? (Or is offsite better?)

It doesn’t take long when you’re planning a trip to Orlando to come across information that mentions the benefits or the perks you receive when staying onsite at Disney World.

While some benefits may provide varying levels of convenience, others can be the difference between being able to snag a ride (without a long wait) on a popular attraction or not.

Since every trip is different, it is important to understand exactly what the benefits are so that you can determine if the onsite benefits outweigh the cost of staying on Disney property vs. staying offsite at a often much less expensive option.

Let’s take a look…

8 perks onsite guests receive at Disney World

While there used to be more, there are still 8 perks that are worth mentioning for onsite guests:

7 am Individual Lightning Lane Selections

Now that the old FastPass+ service has been discontinued, Disney has officially launched their new Disney Genie and Genie+ services, plus you now have the ability to pay-to-ride on select attractions with their new Individual Lightning Lane selections.

If you are unfamiliar with the new Genie+ system, you’ll definitely want to take some time learning about it. Here are some of our best resources to help you with that:

But if you are just trying to decide if staying onsite will give you an advantage when using them, here’s what you need to know:

When it comes to Genie+, both onsite and offsite guests have nearly equal benefits, since both groups can snag their first Genie+ selection at 7 am.

But, when it comes to the Individual Lightning Lane selections, guests staying onsite will have a huge advantage because onsite guests can also make their Individual Lightning Lane Selections at 7 am, while offsite guests will have to wait until the park officially opens to make theirs.

And, although there are only 2 attractions in each park that are eligible for this pay-to-ride service, as you can see from the list below, it includes some of the most popular attractions at each park:

Magic Kingdom

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Space Mountain (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)

Epcot

  • Frozen Ever After (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

Hollywood Studios

  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Animal Kingdom

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (frequently moves to Genie+ during busy times of the year)

Because of their popularity, it isn’t unusual for attractions to be out of Individual Lightning Lane passes before the park even opens up, which means if you are staying offsite and want to ride, you’ll have to use the standby line.

And, since staying offsite also means you won’t be eligible for Early Theme Park Entry, you can expect to find that the line will likely be quite long.

Off-site alternative:

If you are staying offsite, you should still try for an Individual Lightning Lane pass right when the park opens up. But, if they are all gone by the time you are eligible to book, your only option will be to use the standby line (or in the case of Cosmic Rewind, you will also want to try for a spot in the Virtual Queue since there is no Standby Line right now).

Keep in mind, however, that for most of the popular attractions, the first hour and the last hour of the day tend to see some of the lowest waits. You may still have to wait quite awhile, but it won’t be as long as what you’d find during the middle of the day.

Dining reservations at 60+10 days out

All guests visiting the Walt Disney Resort can make dining reservations at 60 days out.

But…

space 220 restaurant sign epcot

…guests staying on-site have the advantage of being able to make reservations at 60 days for up to 10 additional days.

For most visitors, that additional 10 days will cover their entire trip.

Value of this benefit:

This perk can be very beneficial if you’re hoping to snag some of the most coveted reservations.

Since on-site guests are making reservations 60+10 days into the future, some of the most popular reservations, like dinner at Space 220 or some of the character meals, will not be available at 60 days since on-site guests have a 10-day head start.

Plus, this also means that as long as your trip isn’t longer than 11 days, you’ll only have to wake up early once to make dining reservations, and can you really put a value on added sleep?!

Off-site alternative:

Guests staying off-site make their dining reservations 1 day at a time, exactly 60 days out from the day they’d like their reservations, for each day of their trip.

Learn more:

Free parking at your resort and the theme parks and complimentary transportation between resorts and parks

If you stay on-site at Disney World and decide to drive to the parks, parking is free both at the Walt Disney World resorts and at the theme parks.

If you prefer to let Disney do the driving, depending on where you are coming from and where you are headed, you will have the option of using buses, watercraft, the Disney Skyliner (gondolas), or the monorail to get around.

Value of this benefit:

Obviously, saving $25/day for parking at the parks is a nice perk.

In addition to the savings on parking, though, staying on-site and having access to Disney transportation to get you from your resort to the parks has additional non-monetary value, such as making it easier for groups to split up without worrying about dropping members of their party off and picking them up.

Off-site alternative:

Off-site guests pay $25/day to park at all 4 of the major parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Parking at Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and self-parking at Disney Springs is free.

If you have a meal scheduled at one of the resorts, you can park there for free as well.

Off-site guests also have access to all of Disney’s transportation (buses, watercraft, Skyliner, and monorail) for free once on property, so if you want to Park Hop, you’ll be able to do that without having to move your car from one park to another.

Learn more:

Early Theme Park Entry

While Extra Magic Hours are no more, onsite guests still have the opportunity to enter the parks early with the new Early Theme Park Entry.

Early Theme Park Entry works similarly to Extra Magic Hours, but they aren’t identical.

There is only a “morning” option for Early Theme Park Entry (unlike Extra Magic Hours which could be in the morning or at night) and instead of the benefit being at 1 park per day, Early Theme Park Entry is available at every park, every morning and allows onsite guests to enter the park 30 minutes early.

Disney has said that this new benefit is part of the big 50th Anniversary Celebration, but no word on whether we will see it extended past that.

Value of this benefit:

We very rarely recommended Extra Magic Hours because of how they drove crowds to a park. But, we feel the opposite way about the new Early Theme Park Entry.

The simple fact that it is available at all 4 parks means that we don’t see the same crowd issues we used to with the old system.

Off-site alternative:

At this time, there are no free alternatives for guests staying offsite. Disney used to have paid ticketed events that allowed for early entry. However, those have not returned since the reopening.

Learn more

Extended Evening Theme Park Hours

Although Early Theme Park Entry is available to all guests, Extended Evening Theme Park Hours are only available to guests staying at Disney Deluxe Resort Hotels, Disney Deluxe Villas, and other select hotels (Swan, Dolphin, Swan Reserve, Shades of Green).

In order to access this perk, you’ll need a valid Resort ID, valid admission and a theme park reservation for the same park on the same day. (Or a ticket or annual pass with the Park Hopper option, provided you entered the park where you made your reservation earlier in the day.)

Off-site alternative:

At this time, there are no free alternatives for guests staying offsite. However, Disney does offer some nighttime After Hours events that you can pay to attend.

Learn more

Resort room charging privileges

Disney offers handy room charging privileges for guests of its resorts.

This means that you can charge your purchase back to your room while shopping and dining at most places on property.

Disney purse and gift shop at Disney World

To make it even easier, the same MagicBand or Key to the World card (which is basically your hotel room key) that gets you into the parks is what you use.

It is important to note that when you check in to your resort room, a hold for the amount due at check-in plus $100 for incidental expenses will be placed on the credit card you have associated with your room.

As you charge items back to your room, if your balance exceeds the initial $100 being held, additional $100 holds will be placed on the credit card incrementally.

The credit card hold should not exceed what you currently owe plus an additional $100, although sometimes the holds can take a while to “fall off.”

Value of this benefit:

The main benefit of this perk is simply added convenience.

It can be pretty darn easy (maybe TOO easy) to just scan your MagicBand instead of having to dig for your wallet.

Off-site alternative:

Unfortunately, if you are staying offsite, there isn’t any alternative.

Since charges are going towards an account associated with your resort room and not immediately to your credit card, even if you purchase a MagicBand or bring one from a previous trip, etc., it will not work.

Only on-site guests have this perk.

Being inside the Disney bubble

Many Disney World fans refer to the idea of staying on property as being inside the “Disney bubble.”

Poly beach looking at Grand Floridian

It means immersing yourself in all things Disney, from staying on-site to dining on-site to playing on-site.

Value of this benefit:

It depends on what your expectations are for your trip.

Do you want to immerse yourself in all things Disney and Disney World, or do you just want to go to the parks and relax at a resort off-site?

Do you want to step off your plane onto Magical Express and never get behind the wheel of a car during your vacation, or do you prefer to drive yourself around?

The value of being in the Disney bubble is different for everybody, and may even change from trip to trip.

Off-site alternative:

You are either in the Disney bubble or off-property. However, there are many lovely off-site resorts, hotels, and private villa rentals that can provide a fabulous “less Disney” experience, especially if the idea of being on Disney property 24/7 sounds overwhelming for you.

Location & staying on-site at Disney World

Like in real estate, many people feel like one of the best perks of staying on-site at Disney World is location, location, location.

Boardwalk

Depending on which resort you choose, you may find yourself able to walk to a Disney park – something you can’t do if you stay offsite.

Value of this benefit: 

Many families with little ones find the convenience of walking or hopping on a boat (or bus, gondola or monorail) to be their favorite perk worth the extra cost associated with staying at a Disney resort.

If you know you’re going to spend most of your trip in the Magic Kingdom, for example, staying at one of the resorts located on the monorail makes a lot of sense.

Off-site alternative: 

There are several hotels, including some in Disney Springs, that, even though not as close as staying on-site, are still very convenient (and often less expensive).

If you do stay offsite, though, you should definitely plan on having a car (so factor that into your cost) since the shuttles advertised often run on inconvenient schedules that may impact your touring plans.

Learn more:

VIDEO: Is it Worth It? Staying Onsite vs. Offsite at Disney World

Onsite vs. Offsite

When researching where to stay, you’ll likely find yourself focusing on 4 different things:

  • location
  • convenience
  • price
  • amount of space

All of those are important. But for you – which is the most important? Because whatever your answer is will likely drive your decision.

  • Typically, if the price is the main driver, you’re going to find much better deals offsite. And if you have reward points, you’ll likely even be able to use those at the surrounding hotels, too (which is something you can’t do at a Disney resort). 
  • When it comes to space, there are some fantastic onsite options (that come with price tags to match). But there are also many offsite ones, too – most of which are much more budget-friendly.
  • But – when it comes to location and convenience, hands down, your onsite options will nearly always be your best bet.

And when it comes to Disney World vacations – especially if this is your “once in a lifetime trip,” we think it is worth it to stick to onsite for the location and convenience alone.

Art of Animation

Plus, if you’re making a once-in-a-lifetime Disney trip, a Disney resort with Disney theming is kind of like the cherry on top.

Why we usually choose to stay onsite

What do you value?

Not all perks or benefits will have an equal value to every guest. 

And with travelers visiting from so many different parts of the world, it was nice to have a hefty list of perks that went beyond the location aspect a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel offered. And in the “before times,” most guests could find at least 1-2 things on the list of perks and benefits that made the cost of the onsite room “worth” it.

But, at least right now, the list of perks is a lot shorter. And it makes sense that for some guests, losing some of the things that made it easier to justify the price now makes it easy to move their business offsite.

What matters the most to you and what you consider a good value for your money may not be the same for the next person.

It’s the location and convenience for us

We can sum up why we frequently choose to stay onsite in just a couple of words: location & convenience.

We don’t do it every visit. But, we are suckers for the location and convenience that the onsite resorts offer.

First of all – in most instances, you aren’t going to find resorts with any better locations than the onsite resorts. Of course, there are resorts like the Swan and Dolphin that are suitable options, too. But, Disney beats just about everybody else when it comes to location.

And, we love that there are so many free and convenient transportation options onsite (like bus, boat, monorail, Skyliner). Not only does that make getting around easy, but it also makes things a lot more simple if we split up our group.

Skyliner

Add room service and easy-to-access dining options, and onsite not only checks a lot of the boxes of things that are important to us, but it also wins our heart.

Perks that are suspended or no longer offered

At the time of the initial closure back in March 2020, these were the perks that anyone staying onsite could expect to have:

  • FastPass+ reservations at 60 days
  • Dining Reservations at 180+10 days out
  • Free transportation between the airport and your resort
  • Resort Airline Check-In 
  • Free MagicBands
  • Free parking (at the parks) and complimentary transportation between resorts and parks
  • Access to purchase the Disney Dining Plan
  • Access to Extra Magic Hours
  • Resort room charging privileges
  • Resort package Pick-up

And, since the reopening, the list looks more like this now:

  • FastPass+ reservations at 60 days (Genie+ has replaced FastPass+)
  • Dining Reservations at 180+10 days out (Dining Reservations are now 60+10 days out)
  • Free transportation between the airport and your resort (No more free transportation or Magical Express as of January 1, 2022)
  • Resort Airline Check-In (Suspended, with no word on whether it will return)
  • Free MagicBands (You now have the option to pay for a MagicBand or to use your phone)
  • Free parking (at both the resorts and parks) and complimentary transportation between resorts and parks
  • Access to purchase the Disney Dining Plan (The Disney Dining Plan has been suspended, but we do expect it to return)
  • Access to Extra Magic Hours (Extra Magic Hours have been eliminated and have been replaced with Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Theme Park Hours)
  • Resort room charging privileges
  • Resort package Pick-up (It was back for a bit briefly, but Disney has said the service has been suspended again. We do expect it to return in full sometime in the future.)
  • NEW Park Pass Reservations for the number of days on your ticket. This mainly impacts Annual Passholders because, without a resort reservation, you can only make Park Pass reservations for 3 days at a time.

**********************

Have other thoughts or questions about staying on-site at Disney World? Feel free to chime in with your comment.

Related News
Heather Thomas

Andrea

Saturday 20th of November 2021

If I’m staying at the Hilton Signia, which has Disney Resort perks, does the 60 + 10 day restaurant reservation apply?

Mia Stewart

Monday 15th of July 2019

I like how the article explains that staying at an onsite hotel can be easier to be able to travel between the park and your hotel, especially if you are spending most of your trip at Disney world. My husband and I are going to Disney world this year and we are so excited and we are trying to decide if we want to stay in a Disney hotel or off-site. Knowing that it is so close to stay in a Disney hotel, we will make sure to stay on-site at Disney world.

Michelle

Monday 13th of May 2019

Can I use the Magical Express going only one way, or does it have to be a round trip?

Shannon Albert

Tuesday 14th of May 2019

Sure! You can use it one way.

PegP

Saturday 14th of April 2018

We always stay on the resort property and have never considered staying anywhere else. A major factor is the transportation. Since we fly, it's nice to have them pick our luggage up for us and deliver it to our resort. Not to mention not having to rent a car. It's nice to leave the driving to them.

But the resorts offer amenities that you won't find at off-site hotels. The pools always have activities for the kids (and adults if they choose). Whether it's out of the pool, like hula hoop contests or in the pool (they gave the kids inflatable balls to toss around), there's always something. Once, they had a tie dye shirt activity. You paid for the T-shirt and the kids could tie dye it. They started with doing the first tie to show the kids how it's done. Then the kids were on their own, choosing which colors for which tied area. Then they tightly wrapped it in plastic wrap so it wouldn't leak. After 24 hours, you unwrapped and rinsed it. We were SO surprised to see that the initial wrap done by the Disney cast member turned into a Mickey head! Made the best souvenir!

Every resort, from Deluxe to Value offer the Movies Under the Stars every night, too. It's a free thing to entertain the kids as they sit under the stars watching a Disney movie. They do nightly campfires, too, where the kids (and adults) roast marshmallows at the fire. There's just so many activities for the kids that you don't have to spend your entire time at the parks in order to be doing something.

And one last thing, the pools! Disney has the greatest pools for kids. Starting at the moderate resort level, most all pools have slides. But even at the value level, the pools are really cool with things Mickey spouting water. Most have a kiddie water play area, too.

Taylor

Wednesday 20th of January 2016

Which coupons/deals are included in the booklet you receive when staying at a Disney Resort?

Comments are closed.