The Allure of Bargain Shopping for a Disney Vacation…is it worth it?

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

There is no doubt that the cost of a Walt Disney World vacation can bring sticker shock to even the most affluent of travelers.  It’s also why many begin seeking out better deals through booking engines.  However, if you’re getting the notion that staying off of Disney property might save you some substantial money, you may want to take a closer look.  Transportation costs, hidden fees, time and stress, all become major factors, not to mention the age of your children and the “gear” required to cart them along.  Let’s just compare the basics:

 1.  Transportation:  If you’re staying off property, you are going to need a car rental.  This can run you anywhere between $320 – $450 per week, depending upon the car you choose.  This figure does not include added Collision insurance or Loss and Damage Waiver fees.  Some rental companies even charge extra for car seats. Many off-site hotels even charge per night for parking (approx. $12) while a few claim to be “free.”  However, to drive to, and park your car at any one of Disney’s Parks, you will pay $25.00 per day.  If you plan on taking advantage of your off-site hotel’s complimentary shuttle, don’t plan on staying to see any fireworks as most of these shuttles have their latest pick up times before show time, and their run times during the day are very limited!

Waiting for your off site shuttle

Comparatively, if you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can pick up complimentary transportation from and to the airport via Disney’s Magical Express.  They also pick up your luggage and deliver it to your room.  Getting around the entire Resort gives you several options for transportation (i.e. Monorail, bus, ferryboat, water taxi, and Skyliner coming in September), all of which will get you between Resort Hotels, Parks, and Disney Springs, at no extra charge.  If you must have your car with you, there is a per night fee of $25.00 at your Resort, but the fee is waived at the Parks should you decide to drive yourself.

Disney’s Magical Express

2.  Hotel Stay:  Navigating a hotel stay off-site should come with a “buyer beware,” neon sign.  Those low rates really catch your eye, and for good reason.  They intentionally show you that bargain rate for $75 – $100 – – then the fine print comes in and hits you.  What they don’t tell you about is the nightly “resort fee.”  This fee can range, but is on average about $30 per night.  Then, there’s the tax, and of course, the parking fee, and none of these were listed in that initial rate I saw taunting me.  For packages you may have sent ahead of time, they charge a $3 handling fee, and $25.00 per 100lbs. per package.  The takeaway on booking an off-site hotel – – add at least $50 to that base price to get the real picture, and if you have more than four people in that room, plan on a little more. 

Caribe Royale

Now if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, the price is the price.  No resort fee to add in.  If you are mailing packages to your Resort ahead of time, the fee is $6 per package.  There is also a $25.00 per night parking fee for your car, but again, it’s waived if you choose to drive to the Parks yourself.  You can stay at the Parks until they close if you like, and enjoy special early opening hours, or late night hours only available to Resort Guests.  If you’re buying those souvenirs, you can charge them to your Resort account with putting a credit card on file, and request  to have any purchases you have made while at the Parks or Disney Springs, delivered  to your room at no extra charge.   Did I mention that if you go during a busy time of year, Disney Resort Guests have first priority for entry? Oh, and if you’re booking a room with tickets and/or Dining Plan, you only put down a $200 deposit, and get to finance your vacation until you pay it off 30 days before you leave.   Which leads me to my next point….

3.  Tickets:  If you’re looking to stay off-site, chances are, you’re looking for those deals on tickets, too.  Okay, so you get those tickets.  You link them to your My Disney Experience app.  You cannot book any FastPasses until 30 days before your trip, and there are no complimentary Magic Bands unless you want to purchase them on your own ($15 each for the basic ones).  You can always go with the paper or card tickets instead,  but if the Parks reach capacity, off-site guests will be the first to be denied entry even if they have a ticket.


If you decide to stay on Disney property, you may be able to get lucky on catching a room and ticket offer.  Even if it’s not initially offered at the time you decide to book, one might come along and be applied to your reservation at a later date before your trip.  Either way, you will get your Magic Band which will link your room, tickets, dining, purchases, FastPass reservations, and other things all in one convenient little bracelet.  Again, Disney Resort Guests also get priority when entering the Parks, even when it gets crowded. 

4.  Time and Stress:  I put these two together because in Disney, time IS stress if it’s not handled right!  If you’re staying off-site, you have to take the time to drive to the hotel, drive from hotel to Parks, deal with possible traffic and bottlenecking coming and going, time to park, time to gather your things, time to get the Tram to the boat, from the boat to the entrance of the Park, time in line for baggage check.  After all of that, now you’re already a little stressed out.  You enjoy the Park, it gets hot and the kids are cranky,  tired and hungry.  If you’re off-site and you want to go take a break, you have to go through all of that again to leave, and then again to return in the evening (if you’re even up to it at this point!). 


Now picture this:  You’re staying on Disney property, and you take your preferred  Disney transportation method to the Park.  Right there you have eliminated parking, Tram and trying to remember if you parked in Goofy, Donald, or one of the Seven Dwarfs.  You get to the Gate that much faster, go through baggage check, and you enjoy the day until it gets too hot, and everyone gets hungry, cranky or tired.  At that point, you just hop on your complimentary transportation and go to your Resort for a dip in the pool, something to eat, perhaps even a nap.  Best of all, you’re still immersed in the Disney magic!  Now you get to hop on your transportation and head back to the Park for more fun in the cooler evening hours and close down the Park with the “Kiss Goodnight!” 

Apples to Apples:

To give a real comparison, I took a hotel that I have personally stayed at and know to be clean, safe, reputable and comfortable.  I based the cost of my stay for a family of 5 (2 Adults, 3 Children), with travel dates of August 8 – 15, 2019.  This hotel is really close to the Main Gate of Walt Disney World, and had an advertised rate of $100 per night.  That rate quickly turned into $153 for five people.  I also chose the lowest grade of a SUV car rental with a pick up and drop off at Orlando International Airport, opted in for the added insurance, and only one driver.  No gas or car seats were included in this price.  Here’s the breakdown:  Hotel (room, taxes, resort fee, nightly parking) $1,536.36 + rental car $458.91 + Disney parking fee for 6 days $150.00 = $2,145.27.

For Disney, I used the same dates.  I didn’t add in a car rental since I wouldn’t need one.  I was able to find a non-discounted, room only, at a Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort – Preferred Room (MODERATE, NOT VALUE), all taxes and transportation included, for $1,845.03.

That’s a $300.24 savings if you stay at a Disney Resort!  If I were to purchase my tickets from a reputable source, I can get a 1 Park per day, buy 4 days and get 2 days free (no Water Parks), for 5 people (4 adults, 1 Child)  for $2,213.24.  From Disney, I can get Summer One World Tickets for 6 days, same categories, 4 days at the Parks AND get 2 Water Parks for $2,332.35!  I could save $119.11 and skip the Water Parks, but why?  Even with the “other” ticket seller, I’m still saving $181.13, a lot of time, and a lot of stress by staying at a Disney Resort.

Everyone has different circumstances, and deals and offers may vary.  The bottom line is that you cannot always trust those initial “bargain” offers.  Always read the fine print, do your research, and really add up all those hidden expenses before you decide.  More importantly, save yourself the time and stress and discuss your options with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner Agency like Dreams by Design Travel – – they have the experience and can guide you on getting the most out of your vacation budget. Thanks for reading! ~~~Debbie Benson

Debbie Benson

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