If you are planning on taking a Disney vacation to Florida, you're going to have a choice to make about where to stay: You'll need to decide if you should stay at a Disney hotel or whether you should opt for non-Disney accommodations.
There's a lot that goes into this choice, so consider these issues before deciding whether to break out the credit cards and swing for a Disney room or not.
How much is the premium for a Disney hotel?
The first and most important thing to know is that you are usually going to take a bigger hit to your bank account if you stay on-site at a Disney hotel. The Disney name, coupled with the convenience of being so close to the parks, means Disney can charge a hefty premium.
Just how much more will you spend to stay at a Disney resort compared to a competitor property? That largely depends on whether you're staying at an economy or value resort versus a more premium property.
Average nightly rates at some of Disney's value-priced resorts still come in at around $150 to $225 per night depending on the resort and the season, while you could find a number of comparable — or nicer — hotels within five miles of the parks for around $80 to $100 per night.
The difference could be even more stark with luxurious properties, as luxury resorts at Disney can be well over $400 nightly while comparable rooms could be had for around $150 a night elsewhere.
What do you get for the added money?
So, is paying around double for a hotel worth it? To decide, consider the perks of actually staying at a Disney hotel.
For one thing, you're going to have the easiest access to the parks. You can often grab a shuttle, boat, or monorail to get directly to the park of your choice. This makes it easier to get to the park at opening and to stay longer so you get more value for your park tickets. You can also avoid having to take a rideshare or pay for parking if you drive in from off-site.
You can also get early access to buy individual Lightning Lanes, which allow you to pay to avoid the line on premium rides. Anyone visiting Disney can buy these individual Lightning Lanes if they choose to, but you get to purchase them at 7 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. if you stay at a Disney hotel. Often, some of the more popular Lightning Lanes are sold out by then.
You can also make dining reservations earlier than the general public, as those who aren't staying at a Disney hotel can make them 60 days in advance while you can make them for the entire length of time you're at the property for up to 10 days. In other words, you may be able to make reservations 10 days earlier than others if you're doing a 10-day stay. This can help you gain access to exclusive restaurants.
Early theme park entry and extended evening theme park hours are also available to Disney hotel resort guests, but not to others — so you can have extra time when the park is less crowded.
Weigh the benefits against the cost to decide
You are undoubtedly going to pay a lot extra for these perks, most of which don't directly save you money but which instead save you time. If you're eager to pack as much into your vacation as possible, or if these perks allow you to spend one less day at the parks and save on an entire day's tickets, staying at a Disney resort may be worth it. But, if you just want the cheapest accommodations closest to the Mouse, looking elsewhere may be a better bet.
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