On our recent trip to Walt Disney World, we split our stay between two hotels that both cost about $100 per night. We stayed four nights at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, which is on Disney property. For the last two nights of our trip we moved over to the Springhill Suites in Marriott Village, which is located a few miles from Disney property.
The first question many people ask when they begin planning a Disney vacation is “Should we stay on property or off? It was so helpful to compare the experience of staying at an on property Disney resort with staying off property for the same price on this trip!
In this post I’ll share our experiences at both hotels, what you can expect to get for $100/night on and off property, and my recommendation for where to stay! This post isn’t sponsored or underwritten and just contains my honest opinions based on MANY trips to Disney World.
On Property for $100/Night: Disney’s Value Resorts
Disney resorts are split into three main categories: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. The rack rates (i.e. nightly rates without any discounts) at Disney’s Value resorts start at $100. During most times of the year you will pay more than that, but you can easily get rooms for around $100 when you combine discounts and book through Orbitz (read all about this money-saving trick in this post!) For comparison, Moderate resorts start around $16o per night and Deluxe resorts start at $300 per night.
Here’s what to expect when you stay at a Disney Value resort:
- A clean, functional room with two double beds. Most rooms at Disney’s Value resorts have two double beds (some accessible rooms have one king bed). I find the rooms to be very functional, with a small table and two chairs, a mini-fridge, flat screen TV, plenty of storage, and a curtain that separates the bathroom area from the rest of the room. The rooms are on the small side (about 260 square feet), though are the same size as what you would expect from any mid-range hotel chain such as Radisson. I personally think the rooms are comfortable for up to two adults and two kids under 10. I wouldn’t suggest trying to fit more than two adult-sized people into these rooms, however!
- Fun theming and remaining within the “Disney bubble”. I think the Value resorts are the most fun out of all resorts at Disney World. Around the grounds of the resorts you’ll find huge “icons” of characters and items associated with the resort’s theme. There are Disney touches everywhere you look, including hidden Mickeys in the rooms and around the resort. The overall atmosphere at these resorts is fun and family-friendly, and the resorts are always clean and well-cared for. Staying at Disney resorts definitely keeps you inside the “Disney bubble”, meaning that you will have little to no contact with the outside world. This may be a good or bad thing, depending on how you feel about Disney!
- No resort or parking fees. There are no additional charges associated with a stay in a Disney resort hotel. Many off-property hotels charge a “resort” fee in this area, which can range from $5 – $30 per night. Expect many hotels to have parking fees as well, which can range from $5 to $20 for self-parking. Plus you will pay $20 to park each day at the Disney theme parks if you aren’t staying at a Disney resort hotel.
- Transportation to and from the theme parks and airport. This is a huge perk of staying on Disney property. First of all, you are never far from the parks. Second, you can rely on Disney bus transportation to take you to and from the theme parks without worrying about parking, traffic, directions, and remembering where your car is parked. On this past trip, we seriously never waited more than 5 minutes for a bus to appear. And third, you get complimentary transfers to and from Orlando International Airport on the Magical Express coach buses. We almost always take advantage of this service and don’t rent a car. You can read more about the value of Disney transportation in this post.
- Fun pools – but no slides or hot tubs. The pools at the Value resorts are large and well themed, and some even have features like bubblers or water sprayers. But you won’t find any features such as water slides or hot tubs at the Value resorts. These amenities are available at all of the Disney Moderate and Deluxe resorts, but not at the Values.
- Food courts that are open from 6 am to midnight every day. Every Disney Value resort has a food court that serves quality food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In my experience the snacks and convenience items at the food courts are WAY overpriced, but the entrees represent a very good value. So if you bring your own snacks and breakfast items, you’ll get great value and quality at the food courts.
- Magic Bands. Everyone on a Disney resort reservation gets one of these free wristbands which functions as your room key, park ticket, charge card, and more. I have fully embraced the ease and simplicity of the Magic Band. I love not having to worry if I have my wallet and room key when I leave my room since the bracelet functions as both.
- Disney’s legendary hospitality. Disney “cast members” (as the employees are know as there) regularly go above and beyond to ensure guest satisfaction. I have experienced excellent customer service at all of the Disney resorts, and the Values are no exception. I’m never worried about running into a disgruntled employee out to ruin my day. And if anything ever goes wrong (which of course it sometimes does), cast members will bend over backwards to make it right for you.
- Other Disney resort perks. There are a few more perks of staying at any Disney resort that are worth mentioning. First is the ability to book FastPass+ 60 days before you arrive, as opposed to 30 days if you aren’t staying on property. On this past trip I found that folks have caught on to the convenience of the new system and that there were many attractions that had no FastPass availability at the 30 day window! SO if you want to avoid long waits at the hot ticket attractions, it really helps to have the advance booking window. You’ll also get access to Extra Magic Hours and the ability to take advantage of the Disney Dining Plan, which can be a great deal during a free dining promotion.
It is likely clear by now that I think the Disney Value resorts overall provide an excellent vacation experience. They are not all created the same however… I have stayed at all Values (except All Stars Sports) and Pop Century is by far my favorite (read a full review of this resort here). It’s one downside is it’s size, so be sure to request a room as close to the main building as possible, or you might have to walk 10+ minutes just to get your coffee in the morning. Now, on to what you can expect from a $100/night resort room at a hotel off of Disney property.
Off-Property for $100/Night: Springhill Suites in Marriott Village
Disney resorts were completely booked on the last two nights of our trip (it was the weekend before Thanksgiving) so I looked at off-property hotels. I was actually able to use some lingering Delta SkyMiles to book two nights at the Courtyard Marriott Lake Buena Vista in Marriot Village. When I checked Orbitz, the room rate was right around $100 per night after tax for this resort.
When we arrived and checked in, there were no rooms ready, so we were offered a room at the Springhill Suites next door. This was an upgrade to a larger room and we were still permitted to use the pool at the Courtyard, so we took it. I think if you shopped around, you could easily find a similar room for $100 per night during most seasons within a few miles of Disney World.
Here’s what to expect when you stay off-property for $100 per night:
- More space in the rooms. Expect to get more space for your dollar at off-property hotels compared to Disney hotels. We stayed in a stylish “studio suite” with two double beds and a pull-out couch. This room was 420 square feet with a living room area that was separated from the bedroom area by a half wall. This room could accommodate a larger group, though I would warn against trying to have an adult sleep on the pull-out couch as it was VERY uncomfortable! We were very pleased with this room.
- More amenities, such as fancier pools and hot tubs. Many off-property hotels in the $100/night range will feature pool areas with more bells and whistles that the Disney Value resorts. You might find waterslides, zero-entry pools, indoor/outdoor pools, and hot tubs. We really enjoyed the indoor part of the pool at the Courtyard Marriot because it got too cold to swim outside the last two days of our trip. I also LOVE hot tubs so this feature was a big plus!
- Free “breakfast”. Many hotels around Disney World offer free breakfast as a perk. We ate the free breakfast at the Springhill Suites and it left much to be desired. There were waffles (including a Mickey-shaped waffle maker), cold cereals, yogurt, eggs, sausage, toast, bananas, and oranges. The food was lackluster, especially compared to what we had just had at Pop Century. I personally would rather pay for my food and get better quality instead of icky powdered eggs and sad sausages, but that’s just me.
- Resort fees + Parking fees. Research the additional fees charged at any off-property hotels, as most charge either a resort or a parking fee. Sometimes they are hefty, such the $27/night resort fee plus $17/night parking fee at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista. There was a $10 per day self-parking fee at the Springhill Suites which didn’t apply since we didn’t have a car.
- Hospitality that is spotty at best. I’ve stayed at lots of hotels from almost all major chains, and I have to unfortunately report that hospitality at most $100/night hotels will be spotty at best. For example, when we opened the door to the Springhill Suites room we were assigned at check-in, it was clearly not ready – pillows and blankets were all over the floor and bags of trash were piled at the door. My daughter though this was hysterical, but I didn’t appreciated having to haul all of our bags back down to the lobby to be assigned a different room. The lady at the check-in desk asked to see a printed copy of my room reservation, which I haven’t been asked for since the internet came about. And when we went to use the pool the next morning around 9 am, we found that our key wouldn’t work, and had to wait 15 minutes for a custodian to unlock the doors, which apparently was supposed to be done when the pool opened at 7 am that morning. I know I would never encounter any of these issues at Disney resorts, which have a famous reputation for exceptional hospitality and customer service.
- More time & hassle getting to and from the parks. And here is the biggest difference between staying on- and off-property to me. You will spend significantly more time and money getting to and from the parks when you stay off-property. First of all, many resorts within a few miles from Disney will advertise that they have a shuttle service that runs to and from the parks. It turns out that the shuttle service from Springhill Suites consisted of one bus that made three trips each morning to the Transportation & Ticket Center (where one parks to visit the Magic Kingdom). From there you had to take Disney transportation to all of the other theme parks. There were three different times you could be picked up in the evening, and you had to make a reservation to ride this bus at least a day in advance. This “shuttle” would only be feasible for a small number of guests. If you drive yourself, you will have to navigate the roadways around Disney, wait in line to get into the parking lot, pay $20 per day to park, and have a 10+ minute walk just to get to the ticket counters. We opted to take Uber and Lyft to and from the parks, which added additional cost and hassle. I was missing Disney transportation within a few hours of moving resorts!
So there is my summary of what you can expect from a $100/night hotel on Disney property and off. Though we had a larger room and more amenities at Springhill Suites, staying at a Disney Value resort offered a far superior vacation experience for my family.
We can stay at a hotel with a nice pool anywhere, but when we visit Disney we want to get around easily, have extra time in the parks, and soak up all of the Disney magic possible. I don’t think we will be staying off-property any time again soon.
And if you are driving your own car and staying at an off-property hotel with hefty resort and parking fees, you also could end up paying well beyond $100 per night.
What do you think? Do the benefits of staying at a Disney resort outweigh the added space and amenities you’ll find at off-property resorts for you? Please leave a comment below!