Stay onsite at Disney or not?

Walt Disney World: Stay onsite at Disney or not? Meal plan at Universal or not?

From Christine Chadwick
Posted July 13, 2012 at 1:10 AM
We are doing a family trip to Florida this October. It will be my husband, myself and our 3 kids (7,9, 12). The plan is to do 8 to 10 days at Disney World and 2 days at Universal.

My question is do we say on site at Disney or rent a condo or house off site?

I think there is free dining plan during the dates that we are planing to be at WDW.

Also, is it worth doing the meal plan at Universal?


From Russell Meyer
Posted July 13, 2012 at 8:37 AM
Having 3 kids probably means that you would need 2 rooms or would need to stay at one of the on-site suite hotels. I've heard great reports on the new Art of Animation resort, but unfortunately that resort does not qualify for the free dining promotion. In my opinion, the Free Dining Promotion would be the only reason to stay on site, so you would need to work through the calculations to see if it's cheaper to stay on site or off. Parking at the four Disney theme parks costs $14 per day, which would need to be figured into your calculations (on site hotel guests get free parking at all of the parks in addition to the busses). Also note that the level of free dining you receive as part of the promotion is tied to the level of the resort you stay at. Moderate and deluxe resort guests get the standard Disney Dining Plan, which includes one counter service meal (@$12 value), one table service meal (@$30 value), and one snack (@$4 value) per night per guest (@$46 total value per person per night), while value resort guests get the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan, which includes two counter service meals and one snack per night per guest (@$28 total value per person per night).

Personally, I think 8-10 days in WDW is a bit of overkill, even for first timers. You will start getting sick of the place after day 6, even if you do expand out to the water parks, Disney Quest, and the golf courses. The parks are not very crowded in October, and you can expect to be able to see all of the major shows and attractions in each park in a single day. I highly reommend using some of those extra days at Sea World, Busch Gardens Tampa (an hour west of Orlando), Kennedy Space Center (an hour east of Orlando), and/or an extra day at Universal. Expecting to spend one day in each park and having an extra day to "float" is more than enough when the parks are not crowded unless you plan on doing some of the special events (EPCOT F&W Festival or Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party) or tours (Key's to the Kingdom, Around the World Showcase, Backstage Magic, etc...---honestly if you haven't booked one of those tours yet, they're probably already sold out) that can disupt a normal touring day.

The Universal Meal Plan can be a bit of a rip off. It limits you to certain restuarants within the park and only provides minimal savings unless you're a big eater (it's an all-you-can-eat plan). It's probably a little nicer in the summer when the parks are open longer and the temperatures are warmer and the need for unlimited lemonade is much greater. I've considered it in previous trips, but I just can never figure how I can eat $30+ ($23 for the one-day/one park pass and $9 for the drink) of bottom-of-the-barrel theme park food in a day. However, if you know you're going to eat 3 full meals in the park over the course of a day, it might be worth it. Both Universal parks have some really nice restaurants that don't participate in the Meal Plan that are far nicer and more desireable to eat at (Mythos, Finnegan's, Lombard's, and Three Broomsticks) than the Meal Plan locations (Mel's Drive-in, Monster's Cafe, International Food and Film, Louie's, Cirucs McGurkus, Comic Strip Cafe, Captain America Diner, and Burger Digs).

From Kelly Muggleton
Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:03 AM
Hi Christine - welcome.
Russell has some excellent advice there! Definitely agree wholeheartedly on the Universal dining plan.

I can't offer much advice on staying onsite at Disney (having never done it myself in 21 years of visits!) but wondered - would you consider splitting your stay? Stay onsite for half the time to do the Disney parks and take advantage of extra magic hours, and then stay perhaps in the 'International Drive' area (just off the main drive may be better - it is for me). This will make you much more accessible to Universal/Seaworld/getting on the I4 to Busch/Kennedy. It may be a bit much with 3 kids - having to pack up etc.

Just a thought....

From Russell Meyer
Posted July 13, 2012 at 9:13 AM
Personally, the Magic Hours are nice, but are easily circumvented by smart off-site guests (off-site guests should always avoid magic hour parks). To me the only values to staying on-site would be the free parking, which in this case would be reduced by the need for 2 rooms with only one car for the family, general proximity to the parks compared to most off-site hotels, and the free dining plan, which is only really valuable if you're willing to stay at a moderate or deluxe resort so you can get those table service meals to use for character meals (like Akershus or Chef Mickey's) or fancy buffets (like Boma or Hollywood and Vine).

From Brian Emery
Posted July 13, 2012 at 10:31 AM
We always stay off site just to get away from the parks… You should plan 2 rest days on your vacation.

We enjoy several resorts in Orlando area. The Sheraton Vistana Resort and the Sheraton Vistana Villages are great.

The Sheraton Vistana Resort on the RT 535- Vineland RD – Lush resort, 7 pools - the rooms have full kitchen, 2 bedrooms with 3 beds, 2 full bathrooms..

Sheraton Vistana Villages on International drive is newer, really nice rooms but the resort is smaller than the Sheraton Resort on RT 535.

Disclaimer - I do not own stock in Starwood hotels..

Have a Great Vacation..

From Scott B
Posted July 13, 2012 at 11:38 AM
Many people don't realize, but there are lots of great vacation homes that you can rent when you are traveling to central Florida.

Years ago my wife and I, and her two brothers all rented a house near downtown Disney. It was a great home with an in ground pool and hot tub. Sometimes that can be a lot cheaper than a hotel. You can still visit all of the Disney hotels too if you still want to check them out. Hotel hopping is a great free thing to do. Nothing like checking out hotels, snooping around and grabbing a meal at their restaurants.

A few years ago, my in-laws bought a vacation home (future retirement home) about 10 miles from Downtown Disney. So we just stay there whenever we go.

From Orrin Carstarphen
Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:05 PM
Port Orleans standard rooms will accomodate 5 guests. My family of 5 did the free quick-service meals last summer and loved the fact that we didnt have to worry about budgeting our money for meals. Even with the quick-service plan you get plenty of food. In fact on the day we checked out we still had almost all of our snack credits left and we stocked up in the gift shop on treats before leaving. At the hotel you can use your refillable cups for drinks and save your drink credits for the park.

From Mike Saperstein
Posted July 13, 2012 at 2:16 PM
Have to speak in favor of on-site, assuming you can find a room for 5.

There is a "magic never stops" feeling of staying on-site that is extremely different then when you stay off-site. This may not be a big deal to every family or guest, but it is to mine. It encompasses everything from meals at the hotel, shopping, swimming pools, odd-and-end stuff like arcades, and sometimes even your room or the TV channels and promos (ex: my kids love "Stacy's 7 Must-Do Disney Attractions, and recorded a lot of it onto their iPods to "remember the magic", etc.).

We have stayed at the All-Stars and Pop Century many times (value), Coronado Springs and Port Orleans (moderate), and also Grand Floridian and Dolphin once each (deluxe). Even in the Dolphin which is not a WDW-run hotel, there was still a consistent feeling that you were always "in the magic". And though the hotels aren't as nice or luxurious, the All-Stars are super-fun and immersed "in the magic".

Last time we were there we had some non-Disney stuff to do off-site -- and there is clearly an immediate disconnect for our family once you drive beyond the outer WDW gates.

The other perks are also nice -- extra magic hours, free parking at the parks, transportation if you want it (which is particularly useful when going to Magic Kingdom), shorter commute to the parks than from most off-site hotels, etc.

Yes, the cost of staying on-site is higher for this than in most off-site hotels. But for our family it is definitely worth it. For others it's not.

You'll have to figure out if this is something that seems important to your family.

(BTW -- so jealous, 8 days in WDW!! :-)

From Christine Chadwick
Posted July 13, 2012 at 6:48 PM
Thanks everyone for your input!

After reading all of your different comments I'm leaning towards renting a condo or house for the 12 days that we will be in Florida. I know this means that we will be missing out on the Magic Hours but I'm sure we will still enjoy our trip.

If anyone has recommendations for places they have stayed at I would love to hear them :)

From Brian Emery
Posted July 15, 2012 at 5:51 PM
A friend of mine has a condo near Disney. He usually rents it out pretty cheap.


From Russell Meyer
Posted July 16, 2012 at 7:14 AM
Don't worry about missing out on the Magic Hours. They can be a curse as much as a blessing. If you're not an early riser, it can be a real challenge to get a large family up and to a park a 8 AM. The evening Magic hours are pretty nice, particularly at MK, but if your kids have a pretty set bedtime, it's going to be a drag to keep them up super late only to turn-around and get up extra early the next morning. Some on-site guests become slaves to the Magic Hours. For many, it's just easier to avoid the Magic Hour parks and dodge the on-site hotel crowds.

BTW, October rooms are really filling up. We were checking around after making our reservations for October, and found many of the resorts completely booked during the last 2 weeks of October.

From Scott Henderson
Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:45 AM
We are looking to head over in late 2012. Any advice on suggestions for private rental homes? Looking for wider Disney area dont care if its too far out so long as has private pool.

From Don Neal
Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:56 AM
Hi and congrats on your upcoming visit to Disney World! We have gone 4 years in a row and stay off-site each time at a local condo. It's a great value and let me tell you that having three kids of my own it was a life saver. The ability for each kid to have their own beds in two different rooms, their own showers, and such let alone my wife and I having our own space was great! Also the pool and play areas were nice for days we wanted to come back early from the parks and if you want to go to Universal, Sea World, or the beach, you are good to go.

From a cost standpoint, I have done the numbers every year to calculate Disney deals against Flying, renting a car, and staying at the condo. Even with a free meal plan, the cost for a family of five to stay on site has always made Disney more expensive than staying at the condo. We get an amazing deal on ours. If you click the link below and let them know I sent you, they will be sure to give you a great deal as well.

For food, we eat breakfast at the condo, then do counter service for lunch, $4 for a snack, and then do a moderately priced table service meal. And then we do one really nice Table Service meal while there at one of the nicer more expensive places.

We have stayed as long as 11 days before and let me tell definitely want to break it up a bit. Go to the beach, visit one of the natural springs, sleep in one day, go to the pool, go do putt-putt. If you spend every day at the parks for that long, it will definitely detract from the experience as amazing as Disney is.

From Scott Henderson
Posted July 18, 2012 at 2:43 PM
Thanks. Nice looking place. Never stayed in Emerald before but stayed at Windsor Hills a few times. How does Emerald Island compare? Also, anybody used this website Found on Google.

From Don Neal
Posted July 19, 2012 at 5:29 AM
I haven't stayed at Windsor but here's what I like about Emerald (given that we have stayed at the same unit on all four trips).
- Gated Community
- Pool is 4 units down from us
- Tiki bar at the pool
- Premises are always clean as well as the pool area
- Pool and hot tub are good size
- Front gate security is always friendly
- Entrance and fountain area are really beautiful
- Nature trails are nice
- Lots of wildlife around (lizards, otter, snakes)
- Nice play area for the kids
- Not extravagant but not simple, just right.
- Just 2-3 miles from Disney property
- Outback, Buffalo Wild Wings, Taco Bell, and Giordono's just around the corner.
- Townhouses are spacious and perfect for our family of five. (the one we stay in is 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath with cable in all rooms and wifi)
- And the best reason of all....I pay less than $100 a night all the time and as little as $68 before.

From Orrin Carstarphen
Posted July 19, 2012 at 2:21 PM
Owners live locally so if you have any problems they will take care of you.

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