Many travelers opt to stay “off-property” on a Walt Disney World vacation. Staying in a non-Disney hotel means losing out on a few Disney perks, but the compromise often makes sense for many families, for a variety of reasons. However, staying off-site means that travelers need to plan a bit more to select the best transportation choices. Learn how navigate your way through Disney while staying off-property with these transit tips.
Transportation Tips for Off-Site Hotels at Disney World
There are a million and one things to plan for a Disney vacation, but one of the biggest planning decisions is deciding where to stay. Disney owns and operates 25 hotels “on-site” but there are hundreds of off-site hotels in the nearby Orlando area to consider. Many families choose to stay off-property to have access to extra space, cheaper rates, or certain amenities not offered by the Disney hotels.
If you do choose to stay off-property at Walt Disney World, one of the most important things to think about for your vacation is transportation. On-property guests have access to the Magical Express to get them from Orlando airport to their hotel. They can also make easy use of the Disney transportation system to get between the parks and their hotel.
Off-property hotel guests need to do a little extra transportation planning. The good news is that there are a lot of options at Walt Disney World even when staying off-site. Here are a few tips for considering all of your choices.
Pick the Right Hotel
A huge part of having a successful transportation experience at Disney World is picking the right hotel in the first place. If you pick a remote location just to save a few dollars a night, you may well find yourself spending those dollars (and then some) to get around efficiently on your vacation.
While most Disney hotels are closer to the parks than non-Disney ones, there are quite a few non-Disney hotels in strategic locations that can set you up for transit success. Before you pick any of them, do some research. Do they offer a shuttle system to make your life easier and save you from driving? How often does it run? Does it cost extra? Does it go to all the Disney theme parks or just to the Transportation and Ticket Center? Investigate all these kinds of logistics before making your choice to save serious time on vacation.
For maximum convenience, consider one of the hotels located on Disney property but that isn’t owned and operated by Disney. Often these hotels have both a great location and a hybrid status that brings additional perks. During my last visit, I had the chance to tour one of these properties, the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, which is adjacent to Disney Springs. The hotel offers a shuttle system shared by the Disney Springs area hotels, meaning guests have a direct and easy route to each of the Disney parks. The Wyndham’s prime location as the closest hotel to Disney Springs also means you can walk to the shops and restaurants available there and not even need to use transit at all. Convenient and environmentally friendly! (Plus, your kids and your wallet will love that it has a very reasonably priced character breakfast three days a week.)
Also consider the Swan and Dolphin hotels located on Disney property. The Swan and Dolphin are located on the boat route connecting Hollywood Studios and Epcot, so they are even served by some Disney transportation. Similarly, the Four Seasons Orlando (also on Disney property) has a regularly-scheduled shuttle to each of the Disney parks that is rarely crowded and is highly reliable.
BYOC (Bring Your Own Car)
Many Disney guests don’t like to rely on shuttles and instead simply prefer to drive to the Disney parks each day. If you are driving to Disney from home, you’ll obviously bring a car along with you. But if you fly into Orlando, a car rental is needed. Luckily, Orlando has cheap and easy car rental choices.
Just remember that when heading to Disney destinations with your own car, you’ll need to budget for parking fees ($20 per day per car at the parks, as of spring 2016). If you are going for a longer trip, consider an annual park pass which includes free parking. You may be able to break even or even save money if your trip is more than a week long. Also remember that if you are planning to dine at a Disney hotel restaurant, Disney hotels will let you park for free.
Even if you’re driving to Walt Disney World from home, it might make sense to rent a car for the trip. It saves mileage on your own vehicle and may give you more space or better features than what your own family car offers. A few of my fellow TravelingMoms did just that for our most recent Disney retreat, borrowing some of the latest Ford family-friendly cars to make the drive. Many of these vehicles come with a lot of impressive technology to make the trip more comfortable and safer, including adaptive cruise control, a lane-keeping warning system, a blind spot indicator and more. My old clunkers of cars back home (the newest of which is a 2007) definitely don’t offer this kind of a ride.
Use Disney Transportation
While Disney’s Magical Express from the airport is only available to Disney resort guests, all other Disney transportation services – monorails, shuttles, and boats – are free to use for anyone. Even if you are staying off-site, the Disney transportation options are at your disposal for getting around during the day. Use these services to get to a hotel restaurant for a dining reservation or for park hopping in the middle of the day. Using the Disney transportation in combination with several other transit options usually makes the most sense for off-property guests.
Uber and Lyft
Riding-sharing services are taking many major cities by storm. I’m happy to report that they are alive and well in Orlando. Uber and Lyft are both cheaper alternatives to the Orlando taxi monopoly. I used both services multiple times during my last Walt Disney World trip and found a huge time and money savings when I needed to get somewhere quickly and couldn’t wait for a shuttle. I’d recommend having both apps on your phone so that you can look for the service that has the cheaper rate as well as the shortest wait. I found, for example, that Lyft was charging 2x surge pricing one morning before park opening but that Uber was only charging 1.2x. Although I generally prefer Lyft, choosing Uber for that trip was a no-brainer.
Just remember that Florida law requires car seats or boosters for kids five and under, so Uber and Lyft are not a great option for families with little ones. If you have a child old and big enough for a booster (four years and 40 pounds), consider investing in the BubbleBum inflatable booster seat. It is small enough to fit in a purse or backpack when deflated. I’ve use this product for several years for my seven year old for taxi rides when we travel. It would work well for ride-sharing services with slightly older kids.
The Final Word on Off-Property Transportation
In short, there are a lot of transportation options for guests staying in non-Disney hotels on a Disney vacation. Just like with nearly everything at Disney, planners will be rewarded. Do your research so you won’t have to spend that much time in transit and can instead get on with your vacation!