Orlando really is the holiday destination that has something for everyone, and chances are you won’t be in your accommodation all that much because will be so busy getting out and about and having fun. That said because there is so much choice when it comes to accommodation, it can leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. We have been lucky enough to stay in three very different options during our times in Orlando so I wanted to write this post as I think it could be really helpful to people deciding what kind of accommodation to stay in.
To give you a little bit of background into our stays in Orlando, the first time we went we stayed in a hotel a few miles away from Disney and more recently we stayed for the first time in Disney accommodation for a few days followed by a week in a villa. I should start by saying that we loved all three options and they all have their advantages, so I think it totally comes down to your preference. I am going to talk a little bit about each one and what I liked about it.
STAYING AT A DISNEY RESORT
Chances are if you are going to Orlando you may well be paying the world’s most loved mouse and friends a visit. I’ll be honest and say that up until a few months ago it was my dream to stay at a Disney World Resort. I don’t know why, I just loved the idea of being on site and surrounded by the magic 24 hours a day. On our recent trip we stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort which is classed as a Magic Kingdom resort for three nights, before moving on to a villa for the next portion of our trip. We truly loved staying in a Disney resort and would absolutely do it again.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
There are some distinct advantages for staying in a Disney on site resort (if you are doing Disney of course!). These are-
- First access to Fast Pass Reservations
If you want to do Disney properly then you need to get on board with Fast Pass. I have briefly mentioned Fast Pass before here, but essentially get three fast passes a day (you can choose your fast passes before you travel by signing in on the Disneyworld site or via the My Disney Experience app and I hugely recommend doing this as the most popular attractions slots fill up fast) and then once you have used them all up, you can head to machines in the park to get another one (And keep doing this until the park closes). Some fast passes book up months in advance, for example the new Avatar ride etc, but if you can get them they save loads of time. Here is where the advantage comes in- you can book from 30 days in advance if you aren’t staying in a hotel and 60 days if you are staying at the Disney resorts. As an example we got a fast pass for Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios and we got on the ride within ten minutes, but the standby queue was over 90 minutes long. It’s great to get the first dibs on the fast passes by having a resort reservation .
Having the best time at Hollywood Studios.
- Free Great Transport Services
We were so impressed by the free Disney transport when we stayed at the Contemporary Resort. Disney’s Contemporary Resort is actually the nearest hotel to the Magic Kingdom so you can hop on the monorail and it gets you there (or to Epcot) in minutes, but also the buses to the other parks and Disney Springs/The Boardwalk/waterparks etc were great too. They are so regular and there are really easy to navigate signs displaying what time the bus is due to arrive to take you to which park. Also Disney has an array of water transport too which the girls found really fun. I was worried it would be really time consuming waiting around for transport but it is fast and convenient (Just as a side note you pay $20 a day to park your car).
Resort guests also have the option of taking Disney’s Magical Express from the airport to their hotel for free along with their luggage. It is also worth noting that we do love the option of renting a car as we feel that it gives us the best experience especially when doing all the other things Orlando has to offer. If you are driving or decide to rent a car, resort guests do not pay for parking at the hotel or in the theme parks, which can be a significant savings over the course of your stay.
- Free MagicBands
Your MagicBand is your access to all things magic. It acts as your key to your hotel room, you can book your fast pass through it, pay for food (as long as you link a credit card) and use it save your photos when a cast member takes a photo of you. Resort guests get free MagicBands, which can be customised which is fun for the children. If you customize your bands at least 10 days before your visit, they will be shipped to your home (US residents only) but if you are in the UK you can pick them up at check in. For the customization, you get to pick the color of the band and can add a name or nickname to the inside of the band for easy identification, it’s also a great memento of your trip.
- Extra Magic Hours
However much you say you will take it easy before you go, once you are in Orlando you can’t help but become a die hard Disney fan. One of the other benefits of staying on site is extra time in the parks. At least one park each day hosts Extra Magic Hours (you can find out which ones by looking at the Disney Experience app)— either an hour before the park opens or two hours after the park closes, and this is just for resort guests. More time in the Disney Parks = The best thing ever.
- Ease and Location
Full on Disney days can get tiring especially if you are travelling with young children and of course by staying on Disney property you will be in the best location. For example where we stayed at the Contemporary Resort you can walk to Magic Kingdom in less than 10 minutes. This meant that we could go for a bit and then come back and have a bit of down time before going back out again, and it was one of the reasons we purposefully booked there. Next time we go I would quite like to stay in one of the more themed Disney resorts (I adore The Boardwalk Inn and the Beach Club Resort as we have been there a few different times for food) but for location you just couldn’t beat the Contemporary Resort. Regardless of where they are, they are all on Disney property which means it is perfect for a bit of afternoon down time. We also had a view of Magic Kingdom Fireworks from our room and it was INCREDIBLE.
Walking to Magic Kingdom from our resort.
- The Magic
I don’t know what it is, but there really is something about staying on a Disney resort that just means it is non stop magic. And 24 hour a day magic is something I could definitely get on board with. Anyone who has been to Disney World (even the biggest cynics) will tell you that as soon as you arrive you realise that the magic is indeed real and by staying on site you get even more of it. The hotels are so incredibly themed, with their own special Disney touches, character breakfasts and friendly cast members. If you stay on site you never have to leave the Disney bubble.
Having fun at Chef Mickey’s.
Family shot at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
STAYING IN A VILLA
Since going to Orlando this most recent time, we are now absolute villa converts. I was initially a little worried about a villa, thinking perhaps it would lack the atmosphere of staying in a hotel or resort, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We stayed at Encore Resort in Reunion (a few miles from Disney) and the villa itself and indeed the whole complex is absolutely beautiful. What is great about Encore Resort is that you get all the advantages of a villa (which I will list below) but you also get that resort vibe as it has it’s own amazing pool and club house with restaurant/games room etc. It really is the best of both worlds.
Welcome to our crib- our amazing villa at Encore Resort.
So what do I reckon the advantages are to staying in a villa?
We are slightly on the bigger side when it comes to family size. And in a villa you get so much more space than if you were staying in a hotel room. Everyone knows that whole scenario when it comes to having young children- you put them to bed and then you have to sit in the dark reading your book by phone light or you go and sit in the bathroom like we have done on many occasion. Of course you don’t need to do that in a villa, there is oodles of space and you have your own living area to relax in during the evening. Better still get one with more bedrooms and invite the whole family along or go with friends.
- All the amenities of a Resort but with the luxury of more space.
In certain villas, like Encore Resort, you get all the amenities of a hotel resort too. Encore had it’s own clubhouse with restaurant, games room, bar etc, as well as as sporting facilities, daily activities and an incredible pool complete with slides and splash zone too.
The incredible pools at Encore Resort
- Own Pool
One huge advantage of staying in a villa is that with most you might get your own pool and if you stay somewhere like Encore you will get the best of both worlds as you will get your own pool plus have access to the amazing resort pool too. There is something so lovely about having a sunset swim in your own back yard or relaxing by the pool with a glass of wine once the kids are in bed. Orlando is so full on it is definitely nice to have some chill out days by the pool, and it’s even better if it is your own private one. If we were ever at home in our villa then our girls weren’t far from the pool.
We loved the luxury of having our own pool in our villa.
- Self Catering
This was quite an important one to me and I presume it will be to lots of people and is indeed a huge factor in deciding on hotel v villa. Orlando is only as expensive as you make it in some respects and you can definitely come away and have an affordable holiday if that is what your budget allows. But one big expense is food because it certainly isn’t cheap, especially in the theme parks. We found that when we were staying last year in an off site hotel that it was things like breakfast that cost a lot of money. We almost felt justified spending money on a nice dinner or lunch because we were on holiday, but bar the odd treat brunch, we found that we were spending almost $30 a pop and that was just on a couple of muffins and a juice from the express cafe in our hotel.
Staying in a villa means you have the luxury of cooking as much or as little as you like. We had budgeted for food and so didn’t cook a main meal in our villa, but we ate breakfast there most mornings and it was so much cheaper grabbing some essentials like bread and cereal from the local Walmart, rather than having expensive breakfasts each day. If you are staying in Orlando longer than a week you could definitely have a BBQ or cook some of your own meals, and a villa is great for that flexibility.
You would think getting more space and the luxury of things like private pools would mean that villas cost a lot more than hotels. Bizarrely more often than not that isn’t the case, especially if you go with family or friends as it works out cheaper the more people you have contributing to the villa. It’s definitely worth looking around as you can get sone really great deals.
- Not Too Much Disney
I know I hear your cry, when can too much Disney ever be a bad thing? Of course it can’t, but Disney is just one thing (albeit big thing) Orlando has to offer. Shock horror some people might want to come to Orlando and not do Disney, or they might want to be too Disney-ed out. A villa is the perfect solution to that because staying off site means you can dip in and out of the magic and also focus on all the AMAZING other things Orlando has to offer.
STAYING IN A OFF SITE RESORT
So perhaps a villa and staying at a Disney resort itself aren’t tempting you? What about staying in an off site hotel resort? Orlando has hundreds from which to choose from whatever your budget, whether thats low cost no frills rooms to grand luxury hotel resorts. I think one big thing to point out that probably out of anywhere Orlando is somewhere that you really won’t be in your hotel room very often at all, it’s not like a beach holiday where you will spend a lot of time at your hotel. I personally think there is no point for example in getting breakfast included etc at the hotel because you are going to want to at least a couple of the days sample what Orlando has to offer in the way of breakfast. We have been lucky enough to stay at both the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek and also the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa and both were excellent, just a few miles away from Disney and not far from the rest of the action too.
The amazing pool at Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa.
But what are the benefits of staying in an off site resort?
- Something to suit all budgets
Orlando has so many rooms and it really does have something to suit all budgets, whether you literally just want to bed down in a clean but basic hotel room for the night, or whether you want a bit more luxury. We stayed for one night in the Comfort Inn on International Drive which has really reasonable room rates (always better if you book as far in advance as you can) and it was clean, comfortable and in a great location. I think often people think Orlando is going to be a ridiculously expensive holiday, but there are definitely ways of keeping the costs down, and booking a budget hotel for the duration of your stay is one of those ways. However if you do have a bigger budget you can get some luxurious and incredible hotels.
- Free Parking/Free Transport
A lot of the times hotels will have free parking so you could hire a car and they also offer free shuttle buses to the major Orlando attractions, including the malls, Disney, Universal and Seaworld.
- Less Themed
Whether you are going to Disney or Universal, or both, staying in an off site resort will mean that it will definitely be less themed than staying on site. But you can still dip in and out of the action every day. A lot have incredible pools as well if you want a day relaxing after all the fun.
If you aren’t tied to staying in a villa or Disney Resort, you can definitely have your pick of location as Orlando has hotels absolutely every where. Whether you want to be close to the action in Lake Buena Vista, in shopping and fun central on International Drive or a little bit away from the action in beautiful surroundings like Celebration, you are bound to find your ideal spot by staying in an off site resort.
So which would I choose?
Having been lucky enough to try out all different options and depending on my budget, if I had to choose which I would do I would definitely to a bit of a multi stay. I would stay for maybe 3 nights in an on site Disney Resort and then go and spend 7 nights in a private villa like Encore Resort, or if we were were lucky enough to go for two weeks I would definitely do a week in an on site Disney Resort and then a week in a villa. I just think then it gives you the best of both worlds. That said it doesn’t mean I don’t like the off site hotels as they are also great, but that would be my personal preference for my family.
Have you been to Orlando before- where is your favourite place to stay?
Good luck deciding where to stay, the planning is definitely part of the fun! Where ever you end up staying you will have the best time.
NB: Thanks to Visit Orlando for helping support our holiday to Orlando. All words, photos, videos and opinions are entirely my own and they haven’t asked me to write about anything- all content has been decided by me. You can follow them over on twitter, instagram and Facebook, plus download their amazing app to help you plan your trip here.