Transportation - When you stay on property, Disney provides free Magical Express transportation to and from the airport as well as free transportation to and from your resort to the parks and Downtown Disney. If you stay off property, you'll have to think about how you will get to and from the airport and to the parks. One of the options would be renting a car. Car rental prices in Florida are among the most expensive in the nation and you'll also have to pay for parking at the parks and maybe at your resort. A second option that may work for you if your hotel provides free transportation to the parks via their own shuttles, is to simply arrange for transportation through Mears or another private company to get to and from the airport. There is a range of options that private companies provide from a communal van / bus (cheapest) to private cars / limos. A word of caution about free transportation from your hotel to the parks though - most will likely take you to the Ticketing and Transportation Center, not directly to the parks. From the TTC, you'll have to catch another bus to the park of your choosing. This can make for long travel times so keep this in mind if you have small kids. We stayed off property in 2011 with some friends at the Hilton on I-Drive and as a group of four adults it wasn't that bad to manage. However, I don't know that I would feel the same way toting small children, strollers, and diaper bags through multiple transportation changes.
Extra Magic Hours / Disney Dining Plan - This perk is extended to guests staying on Disney property and to a few off-site hotels. If you're a Disney novice and not familiar with it, on select days some parks will open an hour early and stay open later for guests. It's worth checking into if you enjoy the EMH benefit. For me, EMH are nice but would not be a deal breaker if I could save several hundred dollars staying off property. The Disney Dining Plan is only offered to guests staying on property. If this is something that is important to you, you won't be able to take advantage of it while off property.
FastPass+ - This is probably one of the biggest considerations right now if you are looking to score hard to get FastPass+ times. Resort guests have the ability to begin booking 60 days in advance of their reservation while guests staying off-property can only start booking 30 days in advance. For my upcoming trip, I began booking FP+ times at the 60 day mark and their were some I couldn't get. I would imagine times and attractions may be limited for guests staying off property who are at a disadvantage.
The Disney Experience - This is a biggie for me. I loved our Hilton hotel when we were there. The pool was beautiful, food was great, room was wonderful and had a great view of Epcot. On top of all of that, it was free with Hilton points we accumulated and we were upgraded to a suite since Dan travels so much for work and has Diamond status at Hilton properties. However, I missed Mickey. Again, I haven't stayed off property much so maybe other hotels have more Mickey touches then the Hilton, but it didn't "feel" like Disney. Especially now that I'm traveling with a little mouseketeer in tow, I enjoy being immersed in pixie dust and it's not the same staying off site.
|The pool at the Walt Disney World Hilton on I-Drive|
So, is staying off site the right choice for you and your family? It depends. There are certainly plenty of options that are cheaper then staying on property if that is your number one concern. Don't forget to calculate any extra transportation costs that you may incur though. I'm sure we'll stay off property again in the future, but my preference is to be on property whenever possible.