downtown_disneyFull disclosure – I’m on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, but I am totally unbiased when it comes to giving families the best advice for their situation. The truth is, what’s best for one family may not be the best for another.

One question I get frequently from friends and acquaintances is whether it’s better to stay on property at Walt Disney World, or better to stay at a nearby hotel. Disney hotels do tend to be more expensive, so it really comes down to whether or not the benefits are enough value to your family to be worth the extra cost.

Staying at a Disney hotel provides the following benefits:

Access to ground transportation and luggage transfer to and from Orlando International Airport via the Magical Express, as well as transportation to the parks from all resorts

This is a huge benefit if it means you won’t have to rent a car, because car rentals plus gas can add to the cost of your trip. Plus, it’s a lot easier to navigate through the airport with kids if you don’t have to worry about picking up your luggage at baggage claim. However, some families do prefer to drive from park to park. Is this a benefit for you? Think about what you’d prefer to do.

Access to Extra Magic Hours (early hours before the parks open, or late hours after the parks close)

Some Disney visitors prefer to actually SKIP the parks with extra magic hours because they are more crowded. I agree to a point, but actually visit the EMH park only during those hours, and park hop to another park during the main part of the day. The question for your family is – will you visit the parks during these hours?

Access to the Disney Dining Plan

If, and this is a big if, you are planning to eat more or all of your meals at Walt Disney World, chances are, one of the three dining plans will be worthwhile for your family. Personally, I won’t be visiting without the plan again – we save so much money using it!

Proximity to the Parks, and Theming

If you have never visited the Walt Disney World Resort before, prepare to be shocked at how large it is – remember that people actually run marathons through the parks. The resort actually is on two separate counties. It’s huge. So, while you’ll be close staying on property, it’s not THAT close (unless you are staying at a resort that happens to be near a park (like the Beach/Yacht Clubs and Boardwalk near Epcot, or monorail loop hotels near the Magic Kingdom). For me, the bigger benefit is the theming and service at each of the hotels. You’ll truly feel the magic the entire stay.

There are also three separate pricing categories for the hotels – value, moderate, and deluxe. All three categories offer these benefits listed, so really consider your budget carefully!