Where to Lay Your Weary Head
by Kim Sutherland, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the December 4, 2007 Issue #428 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Planning a Disney vacation is certainly not for the faint of heart. Decisions need to be made on dozens of issues: who will go with you, what you will do on what days, where you will stay, when you will go, how many days/options you will need on your ticket, etc. What I'd like to talk about is the "where you will stay" decision -- and readers everywhere now draw their lines in the sand!
Through my childhood and teenage years, my parents cultivated the love my sister and I have for the Mouse through many on-property visits. We never considered staying off-property and loved the benefits that came from staying at Mickey's house, which are numerous. Disney resort guests have the exclusive privilege of Extra Magic Hours, which allow extra time in the morning and/or evening at certain parks on specific days. Room key cards can be encoded with park passes and also give the guest the option to charge restaurant and shop purchases to your room. Purchases made inside Walt Disney World can be shipped to your resort room free of charge. Resort guests also can receive complimentary transportation to and from Orlando International airport via Disney's Magical Express bus service. This service, coupled with the free transportation to the parks, can eliminate the need to rent a car on vacation, if Disney is your only Central Florida destination. This is a very attractive notion to those who are nervous about navigating the World's vast, albeit well-marked, landscape. Many guests (especially parents of young children) appreciate staying on property for the convenience of being able to return to the resort for a midday rest or dip in the resort pools. Resorts on the monorail line appear to be extremely popular for this reason (among others). Additionally, one bus, boat, or monorail ride is all that's required to return to one's resort at the end of the evening, unlike off-property guests who must, in many cases, take the tram to the parking lot and then drive to their hotel or rental property, or else be ready to board an off-property hotel shuttle that may or may not have several stops to make on the way back, and is only available at certain times of the day.
Perhaps the most sentimental of reasons I've heard for staying on Disney property is the fact that when you stay inside Disney World, the magic doesn't stop at the turnstiles. It carries over into the resorts. From the lobby to the bathroom in your resort room, there's no space you will find without a Mickey (hidden or otherwise) to remind you that you are in the middle of the magic.
In addition, the number of different resorts located all around the Disney property allow for virtually any budget. Value resorts have sometimes been listed for under $100 per night during low seasons. Of course the trade-off here is that the value resorts tend to be the furthest away from the theme parks, and buses often make several stops within the resort (and possibly at a neighboring resort) on the way to and from parks. This makes value resorts somewhat inconvenient for early theme park dining reservations or for families with young children who are tired and find a lengthy ride back to the resort after park closing to be difficult.
My upbringing as an on-property kid was challenged in my 20s when something dramatic happened in my life -- namely, my parents stopped subsidizing my vacations! It was at this time that a friend proposed the unthinkable -- staying off property to save money. As the words came out of her mouth, many emotions and sensations flowed through me. Yes, I fear I was even a bit nauseous at the notion. I felt as if I were a traitor to the Mouse for considering spending even a millisecond off Disney property. Once my initial shock and dismay were over (to my friend's relief), I was calm enough to listen to her well-reasoned, well-researched, and well, downright sensible explanation to the benefits of staying outside of Mickey's house. Indeed there are benefits! Who knew?
My dear friend proposed that the four in our travel party rent a vacation home in the Kissimmee area as a cost-effective alternative to staying in the park. I hadn't even realized this was an option, but she assured me that there were hundreds of condominiums and single-family homes in developments and resorts available for rental at affordable prices. Furthermore, renting vacation properties is something that our British Disney pals have been doing for years -- making their three- and four-week holidays extremely affordable.
What my friend found was a home in one of the older developments in Kissimmee that boasted three bedrooms, two full baths, a fully equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, and in-ground swimming pool for the same price as a room at an on-property value resort. "So how does this save us money?" I asked. The answer was that the home's nightly cost was for the entire home, not per person or per couple. So I threw caution to the wind and told her to book the house. The result was a relaxed atmosphere and a fun venue to spend time with friends but still maintain privacy.
Since that trip, my (now) husband and I have rented homes in Kissimmee on our last four Disney vacations (including our honeymoon!). The benefits that we've found are numerous. First, we have the option of eating in when we want. Nearly every breakfast we had (with the exception of our required stop at the Kona Cafe for Tonga Toast) was eaten in our vacation home's kitchen. We even managed to cook two dinners at our home with the help of the provided crockpot that did the work for us while we played in the parks all day. When we don't want to cook, we have the ability to try one of the numerous Orlando area restaurants often at a fraction of the cost of a table service meal in the Walt Disney World Resort.
Additionally, most homes have at least two bathrooms. At no time were we arguing for whose turn it was to shower. The private pool (usually enclosed in a screen house) is also a major draw for us. There's no 10-minute trek to get to a resort pool that may or may not have an available lounge chair and may or may not be too crowded to actually be able to swim. The pool at your vacation house is always open and always has a chair available just for you! The benefit that parents will most likely find to be the most valuable is the fact that children have space to roam. After spending time hopping in and out of strollers and holding Mommy or Daddy's hand all day, my son just loves the ability to run and jump and play freely in the vacation home. Many homeowners provide toys for little ones. Some also have game rooms in the garage. I was pleased to find that in addition to cable TV, the last home we rented had free internet access and a multitude of pool toys to keep my 3-year-old content.
Do you get that Disney feeling when you walk through the door of your vacation home? No, admittedly you don't. However, many vacation home owners are Disney fans like ourselves and go out of their way to decorate at least some of the bedrooms in their homes with Disney themes. I look at it this way -- if I don't feel the Disney magic in my vacation home, I'll feel it the moment I drive under the Walt Disney World sign on my way in for a day of fun with the main Mouse! I can deal with not having a towel animal lovingly crafted by a Mousekeeper, or my bed made and trash emptied on a daily basis (normally you do not get housekeeping during your vacation home stay). The space, savings, and convenience that renting a vacation home offers to my family is worth it to us.
Vacation properties come in many sizes with a multitude of amenities. Some people prefer the convenience of a smaller and less expensive condominium located in an off-property resort, offering some of the same amenities as single-family homes, and even additional ones, such as golfing and other resort activities. Some of the higher end and more expensive properties boast seven and eight bedrooms. Doing research to find reputable homeowners and management companies (hired by homeowners to rent and maintain the property) is essential. Do your homework! Decide the type of property that's best for your travel party. Check with the Better Business Bureau for past complaints, and ask for references.
My sister, who is at the Polynesian Resort this very moment, would find it more enjoyable to be audited by the IRS than to "lower" herself to stay off Disney property. She sees my enjoyment of staying in a vacation home as a defection from our family's values and a personal affront to every Disney-loving mouseketeer on the planet. I think she may have even mentioned how I should sell my measly but beloved 12 shares of Disney stock. Truth be told, I'm insanely jealous that she's at the Polynesian. It's a beautiful resort, and I'd love to stay there sometime when my husband and I can get away (hmm... so I guess that would be 15 more years until my son leaves for college!). In the meantime, I can get more bang for my Disney vacation buck by staying off-property... and there's nothing wrong with anything that lets you enjoy more Disney!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Guest Columnist Kim Sutherland first visited Walt Disney World in 1978 with her parents and younger sister. She's since been "twenty-something" times and continues to shed a tear each time she hears the Voices of Liberty sing "Golden Dream" and sees Merryweather (her favorite character) in a parade. Kim lives in Tiverton, Rhode Island, with her husband, Bob and their 3-year-old son. She's a special needs teacher for 4th and 5th graders with emotional disorders.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Many people also enjoy and save money staying in off-property hotels and motels. Watch for an upcoming feature examining the merits of staying at one of the numerous off-property hotels/motels in the Orlando area.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.