Disney Hotel vs Offsite HotelDon't be confused by Disney nomenclature. They call non-Disney resorts "offsite" even though they are RIGHT ON SITE and in fact can be closer than a "real" Disney hotel. It works like this. Some hotels in the resort area are owned by Disney. Those are the ones they push heavily (of course). There are other great hotels in the park system that are cheaper, right there, and have pretty much all the benefits.
Let's go over exactly what you Disney pushes as the added features of staying in a Disney Hotel, and what the reality is.
Price / Quality
Disney pushes just how high quality their rooms are for the price, and how this magical Disney Touch is not something you will get elsewhere. Now, if you're staying at a luxury hotel like the Animal Kingdom Lodge with giraffes right outside your window, that is probably true. You are probably getting your $400/night benefit if you love giraffes. However, if you stay at the "low end" (but still $90/night) All Star suites, you are in for cheap rooms, thin walls, screaming kids keeping you up all night, and no restaurant at all - just a food court. For the same money you can have a much better experience elsewhere. There's no Disney "win" on this count - make sure you consider ALL hotels in a given price range, Disney vs non-Disney.
As mentioned, some Disney hotels don't even have a restaurant or lounge in them. Of course, some have top notch restaurants. The same is true for non-Disney hotels. You need to investigate the hotels to get the actual details on food offered. Remember that some Disney hotels - All Stars for example - are 1/2 hr away from anything else. If you want food, you have to wait for a bus and take a long ride to get there. On the other hand, if you stay at the Grosvenor (non-Disney), you can walk down the street to Downtown Disney. Sure, you don't have to be a food hound - but it's critical you eat healthily multiple times a day. It's what keeps your body working properly, to last the long days at the park.
Much has been made about the "free" Magical Express. Remember of course that nothing is free in life! You are paying for it with your hotel price. It could easily be that you get a much better deal by getting a different hotel then paying the $30 each roundtrip for a normal shuttle. Say you stay for 5 days. That's $6/day you're paying for the shuttle part. If you save $6/day on your hotel, you are already ahead of the game.
Extra Park Hours
Disney also pushes heavily the extra park hours. Every day, ONE park is open EITHER early or late. So Monday the Magic Kingdom might open an hour early. Saturday, Epcot might stay open 3 hours late. What this means is you have to fit your schedule to their "extra hours" schedule. However, it's even more insidious than that. There are of course *thousands* of people in the Disney Resort Hotels. Pretty much every person chooses to go to the park that has the extra hours. The parks are very far apart so most people don't park hop - they just go to one for the day. So think about it. This means that when Epcot has their "extra hours" day, pretty much every single person in Disney hotels is choosing to go there. The place is jam packed with people during ALL hours - and the other parks are much quieter. If you in fact go to the *non* extra hour parks, your lines are so much shorter that you gain, in line time and aggravation, easily those extra hours back. Many travel planners I know deliberately say to go to the opposite parks that are open late for that specific reason.
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