Does It Pay to Splurge on a Disney Resort Stay?
We compared lodging onsite to a budget hotel to help you get the most bang for your buck.
So you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World! You’re likely dealing with the age-old question: Do you splurge and stay on-site at a Disney resort or do you save money and stay off-site at a budget hotel? Turns out, the choice isn’t quite so black and white. And, in fact, staying on-site may just be cheaper.
For the purposes of this story, we’re comparing a 5-night, 6-day vacation at a Disney Value Resort and an off-site budget hotel. Keep in mind, other Disney resorts may be more expensive and provide different amenities and themes, and off-site resorts may be further away from Disney and offer more or less amenities. Of course, it’s possible to spend more or less in either category, but we’re all about getting your best bang for your buck. We chose two wallet-friendly, convenient options to compare.
On-Site Resort: Disney’s Pop Century Resort
What’s the resort like? In true Disney fashion, this on-site resort, which is located in the Wide World of Sports Resort Area, is designed around a theme. Pop Century takes guests back through time to unforgettable fads of the 1950s through the 1990s, whether you opt to sit by the sprawling 1960’s Hippy Dippy Pool, which offers complimentary movie screenings (there’s also a kiddie pool area with a pop-jet water fountain nearby), the smaller 1950’s Bowling Pool or the 1990’s Computer Pool. There’s also a one-mile jogging trail around the resort complex, a fun play area in the 1970’s section and a video game arcade, plus free Wi-Fi.
Cost for 5 nights: $495+. Standard rooms, which can sleep up to four adults, start at $99 per night during low season and fluctuate up to $182 per night during peak season.
Cost of Transportation: $0. Not only do Disney resorts provide complimentary transportation and luggage delivery to and from Orlando International Airport, but there’s also free self-parking available at the resort and at all theme parks, should you choose to drive. Even better: Complimentary bus transportation stops at Disney’s Pop Century Resort and takes guests throughout Walt Disney World to all the theme parks, water parks, other resort hotels and the Downtown Disney area. Once inside the theme parks, there’s complimentary resort transportation, from motor coaches, ferryboats and the legendary monorail.
Cost of Dining: The resort alone offers three dining options on-site, from the Silver Screen Spirits Pool Bar to the massive seven-station World Premiere Food Court, which serves up classics like waffles, pasta, flatbread and salads. In-room pizza delivery is also offered when you just want to cozy up in bed with the family for movie night. For something a bit more all-inclusive, resort guests can choose a Walt Disney World Magic Your Way vacation package that includes a Disney dining plan. There are three choices, but we think the most cost-effective and flexible package is the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining, which includes one table-service meal, one quick-service meal and one snack per person, per night at over 100 select restaurants. There’s also a quick-service and snack-only meal package and a large option that includes three meals and two snacks per person, per night, at any combo of 100+ table-service and quick-service restaurants. Each guest will get an unlimited-refill resort refillable drink mug with both of these packages.
Other Perks: Staying at a Disney resort provides numerous exclusive amenities you won’t find at off-site hotels. Some of the best perks include:
- Extra Magic Hours: Every day, resort guests can beat the crowds at one theme park by entering an hour early or staying late. And, even when theme parks are over-crowded, Disney resort guests are never turned away.
- Resort guests can have park souvenirs delivered to their hotel, rather than lugging them around all day.
- Resort guests receive complimentary MagicBands (which can be customized with your name and choice of seven colors), which provide access to Disney theme parks, unlock your hotel room and check you in at FastPass+ entrances.
- Guests of select Disney resorts, including Pop Century, get first access to reserve a limited number of Disney FastPass+ attractions, shows and more per day up to 60 days before you arrive.
Off-Site Budget Hotel: Hampton Inn Orlando/Lake Buena Vista
What’s the resort like? Located in the heart of Lake Buena Vista, less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World, this Hampton Inn provides guests with easy access to SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure. There’s an outdoor pool on-site, plus 24-hour tea and coffee service in the lobby, which serves complimentary cookies in the evening. Also in the lobby, guests can conveniently purchase their theme park tickets at the Disney Service Desk. Guests will also receive free Wi-Fi, plus a microwave, refrigerator and coffeemaker in their room. There’s a business center and fitness studio on-site, as well.
Cost for 5 nights: $495+. Standard rooms, which can sleep up to four adults, start at $99 per night during low season and fluctuate up to $189 per night during peak season.
Cost of Transportation: $100-$162. While there is complimentary self-parking at the hotel, there is no shuttle to take guests to and from the airport, so you’ll either need to rent a car or take a taxi. According to Cheapcarrental.net, the average daily rate to rent a car in Orlando is $27 per day (that’s $162 for 6 days), while taxis run around $50 each way from the airport to the Lake Buena Vista area. Fortunately, once at the hotel, you won’t have to worry about getting your family from the hotel to the theme parks, as a complimentary shuttle is offered several times per day, and will take guests to and from the hotel and Magic Kingdom Park, Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. However, this option provides less flexibility, as the shuttles don’t run from 12:15-3:50 p.m., so taking a mid-day break for naps is not an option. Once inside the park, you’ll be able to take advantage of Disney’s free resort transportation (the motor coaches, ferryboats and monorail).
Cost of Dining: There is no restaurant at the hotel, so all dining has to be off-site. However, the hotel does offer free hot breakfast daily, or you can grab a complimentary “On the Run” breakfast bag during weekdays to take with you on way your way to the park. For lunches and dinners, you’ll either have to pay full resort prices at the parks, or venture off-site to a restaurant. Though you might be able to save by eating at cheap fast food spots, you’ll have to drive to get there, so that could also increase the price.
Other Perks: No additional Disney-related or money-saving perks.
The Verdict: Disney Value Resort wins! The nightly rates are nearly identical, plus you’ll save at least $100 in transportation costs (unless you’re driving yourself to Orlando), and get a host of extra perks offering convenience, flexibility, exclusive access and a more complete and magical Disney experience.
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