30 Days of Disney ~ Save Money by Staying off Property

The following is a guest post from Tiffany. Tiffany King is a homeschool mom of four kids, ranging in age from 17 years to 6 years old.  She’s been married to Jim for twenty one years.  On her blog, Eat at Home she shares recipes for everyday food for busy people.

Our Most Relaxing Disney Vacation

You know what I used to think of people who stayed in a rented house or condo at WDW?  I thought they were crazy!  They were missing all the magic of staying on-property.  They actually cooked on vacation to try to save a buck.  They had to make their own beds.  On top of it all, they drove to the parks!  And paid for the privilege to do so.  I would never do that.

We had been to WDW three years in a row on the Free Dining Promotion.  It was how we afforded to stay on-property.  Then came 2008 and we couldn’t travel during the dates for Free Dining.  Cuts had to be made in our WDW vacation budget in order to be able to make the trip.  Suddenly, we were one of those crazy families with an off-site trip planned.

That vacation turned out to be the most relaxing of all our trips.  We traveled with my sister’s family and my parents, 13 of us in all.  We rented a 7 bedroom pool home in Emerald Island.  Here’s how the family ranked renting the house versus staying on-property in a value resort.

Relaxing Vacation – 5 Stars – From family dog-paddle contests in the pool, to naps, to meals together, the house provided relaxation for all of us.  We had room to spread out during our afternoon breaks, which meant the breaks really did re-charge and energize us.

Driving to the Parks – 3 Stars –
This can go either way – sometimes it’s easier to drive, sometimes not.  It was nice to have our own car and not need to wait in yet another line for transportation.  Pulling right up to the house and not having to walk all the way back to the room made everyone happy.  Travel to Animal Kingdom took about 10-12 minutes.  Epcot and DHS took about 15 minutes. Getting in and out of the Magic Kingdom is a little trickier when driving your own car, because you need to park at the TTC and still have to take the monorail or ferry across but it can be done.  That whole process took anywhere from 35 minutes to nearly an hour the time we ran into monorail trouble.

Breakfast in the House – 5 Stars – When staying on-property, we always sent someone to bring breakfast back to the room to eat while we got ready for the day.  This time it was nice not to have that long walk or to try to juggle eating in the room.  The food court was fun the first day, but it lost some magic each consecutive morning.  At the house, breakfast was relaxed and yummy.

Dinner at the House – 5 Stars – My mom prepared and packed food on dry ice for our dinners.  She planned it so that we just had to assemble the meals, not really cook them.  She brought a crock pot that we used several times.  By using the shopping service We Go Shop to get groceries delivered we avoided having to run out for items that wouldn’t travel well.  Sitting down to eat together at the house was more relaxing than being in a Disney restaurant and generally took less time.  Everyone pitched in to clean up so it only took minutes after dinner and we were ready to roll out to the parks again.  It also allowed us longer afternoon breaks because there was no restaurant reservation time to make.

Nights at the House – 5 Stars – It was great to have extra bathrooms to get kids ready for bed.  King-sized beds and separate bedrooms made the adults happy.  My oldest daughter had a room to herself, since she is the only teen girl in our group.  We didn’t have to hear people running outside the door or being loud at the pool, keeping us awake.

“Magic Feel” of the House – 4 Stars – I give this a 4 because some of the people in our group didn’t think it felt quite as “Disney-ish” as staying on-property.  I didn’t choose a house with lots of Disney themed rooms, although houses like this do exist.  To me, the house felt tropical and vacation-y.  We didn’t get those famed towel animals or come back to cleaned rooms, but I didn’t feel the need to really clean either.  Having the extra space made up for the fact that we didn’t make the beds.  Also, having the washer and dryer handy was wonderful.  It kept the laundry from piling up and we actually went home with clean clothes instead of dirty mountains to add to Mt. Washmore.

So are you ready to plan your off-site trip now?  Here are some tips to get you started.

Search vrbo.com for rental homes/condos – Search the Kissimmee neighborhoods of Windsor Hills, Emerald Island Resort and Formosa Gardens.  These are close to WDW and get good reviews.

What to look for:

1)    The obvious – find a house/condo with the number of beds and baths you’ll need.
2)    Especially if you’re traveling with a large group and plan to eat meals together at the house, make sure there is enough dining seating for everyone.  Our house had a table that seated 6 in the kitchen area plus a table that seated 8 in the dining room.
3)    Houses range from being standard to offering a wide array of amenities.  You might want special Disney themed rooms, baby equipment, pool, game room, gas grill, video games…
4)    Look at the check in/check out policy to be sure it’s reasonable.  Most places ask you to put all the used towels in one central location or maybe start a load in the washing machine, clear all food from the pantry and fridge, take out the trash.
5)    Email the owner with any questions.  Their correspondence with you will give you an idea of how it will be to work with them.  Ask how problems with the house will be handled (for instance, if the air conditioner goes out or a bathtub drain clogs up).
6)    Read over the terms and conditions closely before agreeing to rent.  You want to be sure of all rules, how security deposits and payments are handled, how you will gain access to the property (keys or keyless entry).

Start packing your suitcase!  It’s going to be a great trip!

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  1. This year we went ONLY because my sons made it to the Superbowl, hosted at Disny’s ESPN center. They were required to stay on property (and so my hubby stayed as well) and we stayed off property to save money. Guess where half of the team would come hang out…in our condo. Their hotel rooms weren’t neither as nice. WE love staying off property (unless it’s one of the 5 star resorts which is out of our price range. 🙂

  2. I love staying on site, but the price you pay for such a small room isn’t worth it with kids. I like being able to have my own room and not have to be cramped up. I also LOVE the pool in rental homes.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Inspired from your recent disney post’s the other day I started looking on my own for different places to stay and I found this website that I thought I would share:


  4. Jen – I’m with you, I love staying off-site, but I can’t compare it wih a deluxe resort. That’s out of my price range too, but I’d like to try it someday!

    Nancy – You’re right; you get so much more for your money off-site.

    Jennifer – Thanks for sharing the website. Good luck in your search for a vacation home.

  5. When we were planning our 1st trip to Sea World, we discovered that it was cheaper to rent a house than a hotel/resort. We’ve used a local Orlando vacation property company that has all it’s homes within 5 miles of WDW. The homes we have rented have been gorgeous! My in-laws went with us last time and they couldn’t believe the house we got for the price we paid.

  6. I am really enjoying your series. We’re huge Disney people, and I love reading other people’s views of WDW and their experiences.

    We’ve stayed off property before at an AFVC property, and those trips end up being the most stressful.

    One of the main benefits to staying on-property is that groups can break off during the day without having to worry about transportation to/from the condo. It was really great with our older family members and those with young kids because they could get back to the hotel in 10 minutes to rest/nap, and the rest of us were able to stay in the parks or park hop without messing up the transportation situation. It kept everyone happy to know they could do what they wanted, when they wanted.

    And, when you add in a rental car (if you’re flying into the area), gas, parking, and time on the roads, we found that we weren’t saving as much money and spending far too much time in the car. It is much easier to hop on the monorail or a bus at 10pm than have to go to the parking lot and battle crows out of the park, then down the highway back to the hotel.

    We still eat breakfast in the room and pack snacks for the day to save money in that respect.

    More power to those who have been able to make off-property stays work! We haven’t been able to, and the price we pay to stay on-property (especially with Shades of Green there) has been more than worth it to us, even if it means staying one day less.

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