Hotels Outside Disney World
If you have a large family, or are traveling on a budget, a hotel just outside Disney World may be the right choice for you. It is definitely possible to find good-quality hotels that are reasonably close to Disney, at a much lower price than you would pay than if you stay at a Disney Resort. I highly recommend shopping around to get the best rates – websites like Priceline, Expedia or Hotels.com are a good place to start.
There are just a few drawbacks to staying outside Disney World:
-Longer commuting time to the Parks. Although most hotels outside the World offer a free shuttle service, it is much less frequent and less efficient than you will find at the Disney Resorts. This can be a bit inconvenient if you are traveling with small children, and/or if you plan to return to your hotel during the day. Be sure to plan ahead for at least 1 hour traveling time each way.
-If you have your own car, or rent one, you can drive to the Parks – but then you will have to pay a $10 parking fee each day. This can add up if you plan to spend multiple days at the Parks. (When staying at a Disney Resort, parking is included at each of the Parks for free, if you decide to drive your own car rather than take the free Disney shuttle bus, boat or monorail).
-If you stay at a hotel outside the World, you will not be able to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at the Parks, and the magnificent theming that most of the Disney Deluxe and Moderate Resorts offer.
Here are a few hotels outside the World I recommend that are not only close to the Disney Parks, but are high quality, and affordably priced:
The Sheraton Vistana at Lake Buena Vista
My favorite outside the World. This is a 1,700-unit timeshare resort, about 3 miles from the Disney Parks, that also rents units by the day. If you have a large family, the Sheraton Vistana is a great choice. We rented a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit that was clean, spacious, and nicely decorated – for a very reasonable price. The full kitchen, dining room and screened balcony overlooking a lake with a fountain was a nice plus. The property includes several pools, restaurants and a general store. Just a couple of minor drawbacks: 1) The service was generally slow – it took us a full 30 minutes to check in, and when we arrived at our room, there were no toiletries – it took 3 hours for housekeeping to bring us some soap! 2) The resort is so huge, it might take you some time to find your way around – even with the map provided – signs for the different resort areas are not very clear. We ended up getting lost several times. 3) They will want to give you the timeshare pitch – offering a free breakfast and cash in exchange for sitting through a 90-minute timeshare presentation – which you can politely decline if not interested. All in all, though, our stay was a good experience – we will definitely return.
The Hilton – Downtown Disney
This is the only hotel outside Disney World that offers Extra Magic Hours to its guests. A very nice, reasonably priced hotel with lots of good restaurants to choose from (we particularly enjoyed Benihana). The décor is very pleasing, coming close to the Disney theming that you would enjoy at one of the Disney resorts. A few drawbacks are: 1) If you take the shuttle bus to the Parks, you will have to stop at several other Downtown Disney resorts to pick up more passengers before getting where you want to go – which can be time consuming, to say the least – and the buses tend to get very crowded at peak times of the day. You may end up having to stand. 2) The majority of the guest rooms are on the small side, and only accommodate 4 people. There are a limited number of junior suites available, but these are also small. None of the rooms offer balconies. That said – if you don’t have a large family, and like the convenience of being able to walk over to Downtown Disney in a couple of minutes, this is a very good choice.
The Buena Vista Palace – Downtown Disney
Also located right across from Downtown Disney, this is a pleasant, very large resort with a number of suites available – good for large families. We stayed in a decent 1-bedroom unit with a balcony. The hotel has recently undergone renovation, and it is possible to find good promotional rates. We particularly enjoyed the Watercress Café and the nice pool area. The drawbacks of staying at the Buena Vista Palace are: 1) As mentioned above, it takes a long time for the shuttle bus to reach the Parks, since it stops at multiple Downtown hotels, and 2) We found the service to be a bit lacking. We were initially given the wrong room at check-in (a standard room, when we reserved a 1-bedroom suite), and it took the staff three hours to move us to the suite we originally booked. If you’re looking for suites near Downtown, this is an ok choice, but we found the accommodations at the Sheraton Vistana to be much nicer (see above).
Two other resorts outside Disney that I recommend, but are more expensive, are:
The Royal Pacific Resort – Universal area
If your vacation plans include going to other theme parks in the area, like Universal or Sea World, The Royal Pacific is a nice choice. It’s pricier than the other hotels I mentioned above, but less expensive than a Disney Deluxe Resort. The Royal Pacific is located right across the street from Universal Studios theme park, and Sea World is also close by, with Disney about 5 miles away. The décor and pool areas are beautiful, reminiscent of Disney’s Polynesian Resort. There are several high quality restaurants to choose from, and the hotel offers a luau show on select nights. The service is great, with a staff that is efficient and eager to please.
Gaylord Palms – Kissimmee
If you want to experience luxury outside the World, the Gaylord Palms is the place to go. About 3 miles from Disney, it’s one of the few hotels in the area that can rival the luxury and décor of the Disney Deluxe Resorts. Each room has a balcony overlooking the atrium of the hotel. You could spend the entire day just enjoying the atrium, which resembles a tropical rain forest. The main drawback is, of course, the price – here, you will pay a premium comparable to Disney’s Grand Floridian. The resort caters mostly to business travelers (it has its own adjacent Convention Center), but does have programs for families with children, and provides a free shuttle to the Disney Parks. However, the rooms only accommodate 4 guests. The Gaylord Palms is best for adults who want to experience luxury in a relaxed atmosphere.