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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Guthrie

Planning for Disney - Top 7 Tips for Deciding Where to Stay!

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Tips for first timers

Saratoga Springs - DVC Property

All right all you Disney goers out there planning your first vacation to Disney, I’ve got some tips for you to get started but remember, it is a magical vacation so try not to get too caught up on the details and trying to plan a PERFECT vacation. FOCUS on the MAGIC Disney brings and know that plans will change once you get there. Mine always do and thats ok.

Riviera Resort - DVC Property and Owners

I‘ve been sharing tips with a friend of mine who is taking her family for the first time to Disney. She suggested I write a blog and share my tips on deciding where to stay. Booking where to stay is the first thing you need to do when planning your trip so start investigating options early. If booking a flight, look at flight costs first and find a time when flights are a good price and property is available at that same time. Once you find what you are looking for that meets your budget, book it. Several resorts and airlines are still allowing no change fees. The pandemic put this into action and many are still honoring this. As Delta told us on the phone the other day; "We are doing no change fees and no cancellation fees indefinitely for now." That's great news for travelers!!!

7 Tips for Deciding Where To Stay

I’ve been traveling to Disney from our home in Michigan almost every other month for the past three years staying both on property and off property. I've read hundreds of articles and watched just as many videos on Disney properties. I’ve also stayed on and off Disney property from small rooms to large homes and no choice is wrong, it’s all about your party size, your style and prefefence for getting around once you’re there. Not knowing where to stay and what will fit your families' needs is stressful! Let's face it, you are spending a lot of money investing in a once in a lifetime magical vacation. When you are there, you want your stay to be as stress free and comfortable as possible - without breaking the bank!!!

Celebration by Marriott - Autograph Collection Hotel

What have I discovered through all of my visits?

  1. We Ended up Becoming Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Members. In August of 2020 we decided on making a permanent investment in annual family trips with the grandkids to Disney and empty nester weekend get aways. During the pandemic we decided to take a portion of our savings and put it into DVC. Dis me all you want about that decision but we LOVE our decision! It gives us the peace of mind knowing we have many options to choose from regarding where to stay on property without having to budget for it or use points from other hotel loyalty programs. We can't afford a second home in Florida but we can do this and we figured it was the next best thing for warm MAGICAL getaways. As I sit in our villa at Old Key West writing this while watching the sun come up over the golf course, we know this was an excellent decision. Message me on becoming a DVC Member, it’s free and I’m happy to help.

  2. Even as DVC Members, We Don't Always Stay on DVC Property. New Years' Eve in 1998 was the first time we took our kids to Disney Land and then subsequently to Disney World in 2000. Both times we stayed off property using hotel reward points my husband earned through work. I never even heard of DVC until 2019! Since those first trips with the kids, my husband and I have gone as a couple, several times, using his hotel rewards points. This can be a great option as there are many hotel chains very near Disney. If the price is around $100 a night, I typically choose to pay for the stay and earn points rather than use points for the stay. When you earn bonus miles or points for booking with a credit card that offers bonus points, the earned incentives through a great rate is worth more and possible future stay. I’ve stayed at dozens of beautiful properties for free through my husband’s earned rewards programs.

  3. Stay Off Property With a Large Group. We started more frequent MAGICAL getaways in 2019 when my brother and I decided to take our family’s to Disney for Christmas. Because my mom has limited mobility, I began extensive research visiting Disney multiple times before planning our park day visits. As far as the parks, I knew this could be her one and only visit and I really wanted it to be magical without a ton of barriers for her. As far as the stay, it did not take much internet surfing (do people say that anymore?) for my brother and I to decide that staying off property in a large home accommodating all of us was the least expensive route and best option. Even a Disney Villa does not have the space needed for 15 people; unless you want to be in separate lock off rooms. The max capacity for a Disney Villa is a three bedroom villa for 12 people and one child under age three. For our big family getaway, we stayed off property at Championsgate. We rented through VRBO and rented ONE YEAR IN ADVANCE to take advantage of early, better pricing and lock in a place to stay. Without that, we would have been out of luck. As the year went by, waiting for our trip to begin, we kept an eye on pricing and watched it climb over the year to double what we payed. Renting through a rental agency guarantees the rental and gives peace of mind knowing you won't lose the stay and your money.

  4. Balance When Staying On or Off Property is Right for You. There is a balance between personal preferences, how many people are going in on the cost of the stay, and what you feel the return on investment will be for the cost to benefit ratio. Staying with extended family members in a vacation home nearby helps spread the cost out. This can save a significant amount of money, especially if you have three or more parties you are sharing the costs with. The downside? It is off property and a little bit inconvenient to drive on and off property. Staying on Disney property is more expensive but it is also way more convenient. On property you can walk outside your door and hop onto Disney transportation real quick or easily drive without having to get off property. It also gives you the benefits of early park hours and Disney transportation everywhere on Disney property. This is a huge savings vs. rental cars and car services everywhere. If your party has many adults who need individual spaces, renting off property is way more economical.

  5. Good Neighbor Hotels are Great Options! We've stayed at many Good Neighbor hotels. These are hotels that are not on Disney property but offers guests staying at these resorts, most of the same benefits anyone staying on property would receive. The cost can be significantly less as well. There are some Good Neighbor hotels located on Disney property, making transportation to and from the parks much easier. My favorites are the Swan and Dolphin hotels because they are on property right next to the Boardwalk, you can reserve dining at their hotels through the Disney app and more importantly, you can walk, skyline, or boat to Hollywood and Epcot (my favorite parks).

  6. Atmosphere Plays a Role. My husband and I are empty nesters with two grandkids, grown children and nieces and nephews. We’re not into high excitement nightlife and we don’t feel the need to have Disney themed rooms explode in our face. We prefer the more subdued Disney theming and lower key atmospheres which is one of the reasons we chose Riviera Resort as our DVC (Disney Vacation Club) home resort. We also like to take a nap during busy park days! Property that is lower key allows us the opportunity to do that. Our favorite resorts are Riviera (obviously), Old Key West, and Saratoga. Check out the theming at each property and decide on if that is a right fit for your family. I remember our first trip with the kids to Disney World was in a value hotel and I’ll never forget wishing it had some Disney magic theming inside.

  7. Don't Stress Over FOMO! Ultimately, this is your vacation and YOUR money! Don't stress over every detail and if you have planned the perfect stay or not. Enjoy the decision you make and roll with anything that may come your way. You'd think this is easy for me to say and give advice on but it's not. I've spent hundreds of hours stressing over where I'll stay and if it's a right fit or not. Even as I’m sitting in our 942 square foot full kitchen villa at Old Key West writing this and wondering if we should switch our one bedroom 813 square foot villa at Riviera to here with the grandkids when we bring them, I stress. But I know I shouldn’t because kids don’t care. They don’t stress out about that. They want a playground and a pool! What kind of pool doesn’t matter. I've been frustrated over having to stay on property at a location other than my home resort and I've been frustrated at costs, and off property planning I've had to do. Planning puts enough stress on you that you don't need the added fear of missing out (FOMO) when researching where to stay. As my 8 year old grandson said when we entered our room at Riviera; "Grandma, this place is awesome. You should buy this place."

DVC Owners - Riviera Three Bedroom Villa

Funny he should say that!

Benefits of being on Disney Property (as of this blog):

  1. Early entrance to the parks,

  2. On site access to Disney transportation,

  3. Ability to use Magic Band to pay for most everything and access to resort room,

  4. Disney magical atmosphere,

  5. Ease of going back and forth to the parks and Disney Springs,

  6. Safety and Security of being on property,

  7. Always clean and well maintained,

  8. All the comforts of home starting with one bedroom villas and larger.

Riviera Bar Riva - Celebrating my birthday

If you don’t think transportation matters; think about half your party wanting to park hop or take a nap or end the day early and having to drive some of them back and forth or end the day early for everyone. I’ve seen families have complete meltdowns over this. You can also use your magic band to purchase merchandise at the parks and Disney Springs and pay for dining. This is super helpful when you have your hands full and can scan your band on your wrist instead of digging out your cc.

Easy Transportation on the Disney Skyliner

Benefits of being off Disney Property:

  1. A break from all the Disney action,

  2. Much more economical,

  3. Large groups are accommodated better in a rental home vs. Disney villa,

  4. Some properties are Good Neighbor hotels, giving you some of the benefits of staying on property (not using magic band to pay and access hotel room) without the higher cost,

  5. Escape from being on Disney property 24/7.

Remember, once you decide to go and how many are going, the next step is to decide where to stay and book way in advance of your trip to secure your stay. It can be changed later which is way easier than not having a room and trying to book last minute. Have a Magical Vacation!

Christmas at Magic Kingdom 2019

Deborah and her family are DVC Members who frequently travel from Michigan to Disney. Deborah has traveled dozens of times with her husband to Disney and all over the U.S. She frequently flies to Florida on solo trips to visit her dad and Disney; making her Mickeygander trips magical.

Deborah is a Disney aficionado who travels from her home in Michigan on weekend trips to Disney several times a year. She helps families, couples and solo travelers plan weekend trips to Disney and other U.S. destinations.

Follow Deborah on Instagram. All pics are copyrighted and her own.

Follow Deborah’s Mickeygander adventures on social media and subscribe to her blogs.

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