Disney on a Shoestring: Lodging

Lisa Fritscher July 21, 2014 No Comments

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Port Orleans Riverside

The official Disney resorts, such as Port Orleans Riverside, are beautiful but pricey. Thanks to Michael Gray for the excellent photo!

There is no question that Walt Disney World is an expensive vacation destination. Yet many people feel priced out of the Disney market due to a simple lack of information. While it will never be as cheap as a week at the motel down the street, you can use quite a few cost-cutting measures to maximize your fun while minimizing the hit to your wallet.

Official Walt Disney World Resorts
The question of whether to stay on site or at a nearby non-Disney property rages constantly on Disney fan forums across the Internet. The major advantages of staying on site are Disney’s Magical Express and Extra Magic Hours. If you fly into Orlando International Airport, Disney’s Magical Express buses will deliver you and your luggage to your official Disney resort free of charge. You can then use the internal transportation system to get around, making it unnecessary to rent a car. Extra Magic Hours are special operating hours early in the morning and late at night during which one of the Disney theme parks is open only to Disney resort guests. In addition, those who drive to Walt Disney World or rent a car do not have to pay for parking at the theme parks.

Fans of the Disney resorts also talk about being immersed in the “Disney magic.” Many people feel that their vacations are a bit more magical when they do not need to leave Disney property at all. Certainly, wakeup calls from Disney characters and Hidden Mickeys around the resorts add an intangible benefit that increases the perceived value of staying on site.

The Walt Disney World resorts are very nice, especially in the Moderate and Deluxe categories. The cold reality, however, is that at every price point, an official Disney hotel room costs more than a comparable room off site. For shoestring travelers, staying on site is rarely the most cost-effective option. However, discounts are regularly offered for Florida residents, annual passholders and members of the military. If you can find a good discount, you might decide that the convenience is worthwhile.

Shades of Green

Shades of Green is a deluxe military retreat with bargain prices.

If anyone in your party is an active duty or retired military member or Department of Defense civilian, and you want to stay in a deluxe resort, Shades of Green is a reasonable option. At well over $100 per night, it is far from the cheapest option in the area. However, it is a former Disney deluxe resort that is now an official military retreat. The room sizes and amenities are on par with the Disney deluxe resorts at only a fraction of the price. Shades of Green participates in Extra Magic Hours, and runs its own buses to the Disney parks and entertainment areas on a frequent schedule. However, if “Disney ambience” is important to you, be aware that Shades of Green resembles a traditional high-end resort. It is not filled with character décor.

Downtown Disney Hotels
Just past Downtown Disney, Hotel Plaza Boulevard is lined with seven hotels that are in the gray area between official Walt Disney World resorts and other local options. The hotels run the gamut in price points and level of amenities, but at every level, they generally cost less than the official resorts but more than properties that are further away.

Note that of the seven, only the Hilton participates in Extra Magic Hours. However, all offer Disney character merchandise and tickets, frequent shuttle service around Walt Disney World, and excellent views of the parks. My personal favorite is the Best Western Lake Buena Vista, a surprisingly inexpensive yet very nice resort where you can watch the nightly fireworks from the comfort of your balcony.

Off Site Considerations

The Fountains

The Fountains is just one of many off-site condo options.

As you might suspect, the area surrounding Walt Disney World is packed with virtually every hotel and motel chain you could imagine. Condos are also a wildly popular option, available both through time share companies and nightly rentals. Another option, especially for big groups, is to rent a private home. Many local companies specialize in vacation home rentals, which can be significantly less expensive than renting two or three hotel rooms.

Of course, not all off site properties are comparable. Because the market is so crowded with options, it is crucial to thoroughly familiarize yourself with a particular property before making a reservation. For example, many hotels offer shuttle service to Walt Disney World, but some provide this service only once or twice a day at times that are not convenient for many travelers. Likewise, some properties claim to be “close to Disney” or “in the Disney area,” when they are actually many miles of heavy traffic away from Walt Disney World. Use a map program to find out exactly where a particular hotel is.

Be sure to consider the cost of gas and parking. As of 2014, parking for the theme parks is $15 per day, while Downtown Disney parking is free. Some people buy at least one member of their party an annual pass in order to take advantage of discounts, which include free parking.

Kitchen facilities can save you a significant amount of money if you have time to eat some meals in your room. However, it is silly to invest in a room with a full kitchen if you just want to refrigerate some milk or juice. If you will be at the parks from dawn until long after dark, a small refrigerator in the room will probably suffice. Many properties provide a refrigerator and microwave for free or at a nominal cost, but some do not. Always clarify exactly what is included before booking a room.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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