That is the question.
I’ve known people I couldn’t convince to stay onsite for anything, and this is certainly not a post for you. This is not posted as a debate.
If you are vacillating between the pros and cons of onsite versus offsite, let me just tell you to quit…
You will not get the same experience staying offsite. Period. It’s the difference between a “theme park vacation” and a “Disney experience.” Disney takes the prize in hospitality and theming with a touch of magic that you just don’t really get with your hotel chains or renting a condo or cottage offsite.
If you really think you are going to save a whole heck of a lot of money staying offsite, when you factor in car rental, parking, magic bands, versus the array of 25 Disney resorts at varying price points, you certainly won’t be saving enough to make it worth staying offsite, in my humble opinion. (Unless, of course, you land FREE accommodations offsite. ...can't beat FREE!)
(Understand that I don’t work for Disney, and I can book offsite just as easily as onsite.)
Why stay onsite?
1. The experience - none does it quite like Disney. It's surreal. You are putting yourself in "the Disney bubble." If you don't want it, you have to ask yourself if this vacation is a good idea. Are you doing it for that once in a lifetime trip for the kids? Stay onsite. Go big or go home. Do it for your kids (you may even be pleasantly surprised yourself). Don't half do it.
2. The dining plan - You don't have to buy into the dining plan, but that option is only available to onsite guests. It is nice not to have to worry about paying for your meals. There's something to be said for an all-inclusive, already paid for vacation. It's especially nice when that "free dining" promotion pops up.
3. Proximity to parks - Walt Disney World is huge with 4 major theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, over 25 resorts... I know my family enjoys a midday break to get out of the crowds (at the peak time of day for crowds and heat) get off our feet, consider swim or a nap.
4. Disney Transportation - it's so nice to hop on a bus, monorail or boat and land right near the park gates.. All Disney transportation is pretty darn reliable and very regular. You don't have to worry about parking and shuttles, etc...
5. Free Parking - free parking throughout WDW should you have a car.
6. Magic Bands - they are included with the room (offsite guests can purchase them)
7. 180 day + 10 reservations - Make all table service dining and experience reservations at 180 days prior to the arrival day. You can make reservations 10 days into your stay, so you can make reservations up to 190 days in advance! This gives you leg up on some of the difficult to get reservations!
8. Disney's Magical Express - Complimentary airport shuttle to your Walt Disney World Resort.
9. Yellow luggage tags - The complimentary luggage program where you put special, yellow Disney luggage tags on your luggage when you check them at the airplort, and it will arrive directly in your room... (they get it from the plane... you don't have to pick it up... nothing.)
10. Extra opportunities - Be Our Guest Quick Service Lunch Fast Pass Option (only available to resort guest)
(Note - Be Our Guest Quick Service no longer accepts FP+, but you can now make a quick service reservation at the 180 day + 10 window.)
11. 60 day FP+ window - The Fast Pass Plus window for resort guests opens at 60 days (30 days for offsite guests)
12. The ability to charge to your room. Basically, you could get away with not carrying anything into the parks... just wear the Magic Band... charge everything to the room. Have any souvenirs sent back to the resort...
Why would someone want to stay offsite? It's true. You can get a bigger room for your buck offsite. That's it. Knowing this... Would I ever choose to stay offsite for a Disney vacation? No!!! Do it for your kids (you may even be pleasantly surprised yourself).