How to choose a hotel for your Disney World vacation depends on your specific plans

You have finally decided to take your vacation to Disney World and naturally your first step is to find a hotel or a resort to stay at. This is where you need to start.
Disney World's Magic Kingdom - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. Photo courtesy Ashley Schwarz
Disney World's Magic Kingdom - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. Photo courtesy Ashley Schwarz /

Recently I spoke with a Disney cast member about all things Disney World. It was a casual conversation but one thing I learned was this, the most common question he was asked about more often was where to stay.

There are a lot of options if you are planning to go to Disney. You could stay at one of the on-property Disney resorts or you could stay at a non-Disney on property resorts. You could stay at an off-property budge hotel or one of the more expensive off-property resorts.

Each has their own list of advantages and disadvantages. So how do you decide before you cave in an call a travel planner to do the entire thing for you? Start with what you plan to do at Disney World.

The simplest of decisions you need to make is what are you wanting to accomplish?

If your biggest plan is to "rope-drop" the parks and hit them when they open, you are likely going to find it much more beneficial to stay on property at a Disney resort. The reason is simple, almost every day, one of the four parks has early entry times for Disney resort guests.

Those extra minutes, typically 30 minutes prior to general public opening give you plenty of time to get in and experience low wait times for even the top attractions. In addition, you get a full 30-minute head start on the Disney app to join virtual queues for several big attractions that require them. This will not only guarantee you a queue spot but also get you on the attraction earlier in the day releasing you to do more later.

Another common question is what if your plans are to flip the script and instead of rope-dropping, you want to stay late? This too should give you a better experience if you are on property.

Extended hours are typical for all park guests but after a long day that may end well after 10:00 pm, hopping a bus or other transportation option to your hotel is a great way to unwind without having to put your own foot on the gas pedal.

Disney provides transportation from every one of their resorts to the parks and while some off-property resorts do as well, they often come with a single final cutoff for their resort guests and if you miss that final bus, you are on your own. The same is in reverse with opening hours at the park.

Of course, if you are looking to save money and don't mind the driving, staying off property makes the most sense. Hotels and resorts off property can be hundreds of dollars different than a Disney resort. Yes, they come mostly with a lot less comfort, security, and other perks depening on what you choose but Disney resorts can run on the low side around $175.00 a night for the cheaper resorts like an All-Star to well over a $1,000 for the higher resorts, per night.

If you don't intend to jump in early or leave at closing, off property makes a lot of sense but watch for hidden resort and parking fees at those resorts as they can add a lot to your daily costs. Some as much as $50.00 which then puts you in a Disney resort range. Plus you have to pay for parking, that will cost you $30.00 a day.