Staying on or off property?

February 23, 2023, 11:10 AM

Just curious, what is the preference for people when staying at a theme park (mostly Disney/Universal) if it's on or off property?

For WDW, my family almost always using some on-property hotel and enjoy the better transport, etc. We've stayed at a few off-property but just seemed easier there.
With my upcoming Disneyland trip, my sister managed to book Disneyland hotel, admitting cheaper spots close by but somehow staying there with the "magic" of it all was better.

On Universal, we did stay Hard Rock Hotel and enjoyed how closer to the parks while off-property another visit didn't feel as fun. I know most prefer on property but curious if others think better off it.

Replies (8)

February 23, 2023, 12:28 PM

Our family is a much bigger fan of Universal then Disney but in the rare times we've gone to a Disney park we always stay at either the Swan or Dolphin. We have elite status with Marriott so we never stay at a Disney hotel plus they are always almost double the price. For us we've never found it worth it to stay at a Disney hotel due to how much they charge.

For Universal on the other head their on site properties are very much worth it. We've tried them all but our favorite is definitely the Royal Pacific since we get express passes with it. The Universal hotels are so convenient and priced fairly with what you get it's the only time we don't stay at a Marriott hotel. We typically stay 3 or 4 nights on site then move to a Marriott after our park visits.

February 23, 2023, 12:42 PM

I 1000% prefer staying off-property in both Orlando & California. I stayed on property only once at WDW and felt more like a captive than being on vacation.

I very much prefer a rental car, being able to go where I please when I want, and not have to be on the transportation departments schedule. Getting around WDW is still a bit of a chore even with a car, but I don’t want to be tied down to just there. It’s nice to be able to go other places for both meals and entertainment (including Tampa for a few days).

In California we typically spend 3 or 4 days in Anahiem and get an off-site hotel within walking distance to Disneyland. I’m sure it’s nowhere near the experience in comparison to the staying at the Disneyland Hotel, but when the choice is between a free room via rewards points or dropping $2K on a room at the DL Hotel the choice is very easy. We always drive up to US Hollywood for a day too while staying in Anahiem. It’s about a 2 hour ride in the morning (all due to traffic) and can be as quick as a 30 minute ride back at night.

What it comes down to, is we spend minimal time in our room, so I’d rather spend my money in other areas. My eyes are closed most of the time I’m at the hotel…

Edited: February 23, 2023, 1:06 PM

I think it depends on what you're doing and how you typically plan your park days. If you're the type of person that likes to go back to your room in the middle of the day to hit the pool or just relax for a couple of hours, staying onsite can be a valuable feature. However, if you're a rope-drop to closing type of person that wants to maximize the number of attractions experienced each day, staying off-site may be more valuable depending on what resort you're at.

Here's my thinking given current rules and benefits...

Staying at WDW is EXPENSIVE (though the dropping of the resort parking charge makes the calculations a bit closer), and doesn't yield many in-park benefits. You get a 30 minute head start in the parks, which means you can rope drop each park's top attraction, but that's about it. If you really want to break the bank and stay at a Deluxe resort, you get after hours benefits on certain day, which are nice, but probably not worth the $400+/night rates. I will say that staying at a resort on the Skyliner is quite convenient (Pop Century rates are somewhat reasonable compared to off-site hotels), but you still need to take the buses to get to and from DAK and MK. The head start resort guests get on purchasing Genie+ and ILL are a bit overblown IMHO, but to get ADRs for high-demand dining experiences (like V&A's Chef's Table) can be invaluable.

At UO, staying on-site is really nice with the early park entry. Even guests at Dockside/Surfside are pretty close to the parks (you can walk or take a resort bus), and what's even better is that you can walk to CityWalk restaurants and even off-site restaurants. It is a bit annoying that even Dockside/Surfside charge for parking, but their rates are actually cheaper than nearby off-site chain hotels. The deluxe resorts at UO are unmatched in the industry in providing free Unlimited Universal Express. It's a perk that you just can't match, and when you realize it applies to both your check-in and check-out days, the seemingly high nightly rates (often over $300/night) are more than reasonable when you consider the value of Universal Express, especially that it now includes Velocicoaster.

We have stayed off-site for trips to Universal, but in general, we've always been within walking distance (lots of reasonable hotels across Kirkman or near Dockside/Surfside) to avoid having to pay parking in the garage. The only advantage I see in staying at an off-site hotel is if it offers free breakfast, because Dockside/Surfside are about the same price and allow early park access.

February 23, 2023, 1:49 PM

Me, I tend to be an "in park most of the time" guy so not caring as much for hotel but some nice WDW resorts to enjoy over the years so being able to take a break there is better. If it was me solo, likely be off-property for cost but again on upcoming DL trip, my sister wanting to splurge to make her son's first visit for his birthday special and wants the fun of monorail and such. So I can get why folks stay off-property but something fun being closer either Disney or Universal or another park to keep up the magic.

February 23, 2023, 3:38 PM

Staying off-site but walking distance to Disneyland is, in my opinion, the way to go unless you have the budget to splurge for a stay at the Grand Californian for a couple nights. Even then, while the ability to walk right into the park from your hotel is terrific, there are tons of great hotels a short walk away from the resort. It's not a strip of motels like it may have been in years past.

I agree with what most have said about Orlando, too. Staying off-site for Walt Disney World is my preference unless someone else is footing the bill. But I'll be staying on-site at Cabana Bay in September for Halloween Horror Nights, in part because of the early-entry perks and because it's such a pleasant walk to and from the resort. The rates are (relatively) reasonable; and frankly the markup you pay is worth the added convenience. I've yet to stay at a deluxe hotel, but the ability to grab free unlimited express passes has always been tempting.

Finding a decent rate near Universal Studios Hollywood can be tough, but if you book early enough you might get lucky at the Hilton that's up on the hill. That's very convenient, but prices can be pretty outrageous for what is just a moderate hotel.

February 24, 2023, 2:11 AM

Personally, I rarely stay on site at theme parks. I'm one of those open to close sorts, so as long as I'm within reasonable driving distance it doesn't matter to me whether I'm sleeping on property or off. I also typically visit multiple destinations in one trip, which is much easier to do if you're centrally located. If I were to do a trip just for Disney or just for Universal, I would probably ditch the car and stay on site, but otherwise it just doesn't make sense.

The one place I've stayed on site recently that was totally worth it was PortAventura in Spain. There, the hotels are part of a package, so we got two nights lodging within walking distance of the gate, three days of admission to the main park (though we only used two) with Ferrari World on one day of our choice, and a breakfast buffet each morning for under €300 total. As we didn't have a car and the alternative would have been staying a 30-45 minute walk away for about a third less (since we'd then need to buy tickets), on site was a no brainer.

February 24, 2023, 10:44 AM

AJ's post reminds me that we're staying "on-site" in October when we travel to Tokyo Disneyland — but staying at the Hilton that is not an official Disney resort hotel. That felt like a best of both worlds option since we'll still be very close to the resort but we're not paying a premium by staying at one of the fancier properties.

(We have Hilton status, which did factor into our decision)

Edited: March 2, 2023, 8:34 AM

We love staying off site. Usually at a large resort Like the Vistana Sheraton on rt 535 in Lake Buena Vista. I like a rental car, go wherever whenever we want.
Eat at any restaurant.

In simple terms, freedom of not being tied to one place in one area.

Now the cost is also an issue, The resort we go to is usually about 170 to 200 per night. We have checked Disney properties like Boardwalk and they 299 to 399 per night and all you get is a small room with two beds.

At the resort we get two full bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, living room, balcony… Plus Disney took away the Airport bus service and extra hours…

I guess of you were only going for a few days at Universal it could be an option….

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