By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.

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The Tightwad’s Guide to Staying Off-Site at Walt Disney World

By Dave Shute

This page is part of the series The Tightwad’s Guide to Walt Disney World


Disney's Pop Century ResortI’m fairly firm elsewhere that you should stay at an “official” Walt Disney World resort. (See this for a list of these.)

There are many reasons for this instruction. For tightwads, the most relevant are that

  • Staying in an official resort lets you use Disney’s Magical Express for airport to resort transportation, and Disney’s transportation system for on-site transportation, and thus avoid ground transportation and rental car costs, and
  • If you do all the meals in the suggested itineraries of this site, you will save a little money by signing up for the Disney Dining Plan, which is only available if you stay in such a resort

However, some of you will pay no attention to my advice, and others will have really good reasons to save money by staying offsite.

Walt Disney World Airport-Hotel Taxi RatesParticularly good reasons would include

  • Those who both are driving to Walt Disney World, so will have no use for the Magical Express, and have no intention of doing anything close to the number of recommended meals of this site, and thus won’t benefit from the Dining Plan
  • And/or large families who can’t find affordable enough choices among this site’s options for large families looking for low-cost accommodations at official Walt Disney World resorts

Given that, below I share some thoughts on staying off-site.


1. Target your search in the Highway 192 and/or the Downtown Disney Resort Areas.

You can find great hotels all over the place in Orlando, with hundreds within a reasonable distance of Walt Disney World.

The value of targeting these two areas is simple: from almost any place in Walt Disney World, you can find directional signage to 192, and directional signage to Downtown Disney.

Walt Disney World is much more complicated than many first time visitors imagine, and your first few days of finding your way around will be made simpler by this signage.

  • The street address of hotels on 192 will include either “Highway 192” and/or the words “Irlo Bronson Highway.”
  • The street address of hotels in the Downtown Disney Resort Area will include “Hotel Plaza Boulevard.”

2. Expect to pay half to a third less than what you would pay for  roughly) comparable official Walt Disney World resorts

“Comparable” here means in terms of room quality.

The more inexpensive off-site hotels are likely to be older, less impressive, less delightful, and much less well landscaped than the Walt Disney World resorts. That said, they are quite a bit cheaper.

Howard Johnson Maingate East Efficiency RoomFor example, I am writing this from an efficiency room at the Howard Johnson Maingate East (see photo).

For $42.50 a night I have much more space than at Disney’s Pop Century resort, which had a value season rate of $82 a night the other night when I stayed there (both rates weekday pre-tax).

My efficiency also includes a mini-fridge, a two-burner stove, a microwave, a sink, and utensils to support the kitchen, none of which comes in a room at Pop Century. (Rooms at this Howard Johnson without the kitchen are going for $32.50 a night…)

Now, to be clear, the rooms at Pop, while quite a bit smaller, look much better, have better pools, landscaping, and overall delightfulness, and come with the benefits of staying on-site.

But for many, and especially those with cars, half the price will win!

3. Buy and use Testa and Sehlinger’s The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014 to more closely target your hotels.

This book includes the most comprehensive guide anywhere to off-site hotels at Walt Disney World. The material beginning on page 222 (in my edition; pagination of its “Hotels Outside Walt Disney World” section may vary by printing) alone are worth the price of the book for intending to stay offsite.

Use its material on prices, quality, distance etc., to develop a target list of hotels in the 192 and/or Downtown Disney Resort Area geographies.

4. Work at finding a discount.

You will almost certainly be able to find a discount for one or more of the hotels on the list you created in step 3.

If your list is large, start looking for good rates at or   The Unofficial Guide lists a number of additional internet resources that focus specifically on the Orlando area.

Once you have narrowed your list and found some reasonable rates, check the individual websites of the hotels you are interested in. These days you will often find the best rates often on the hotels own website.

You do not need to call the hotel for its best rate. Almost all hotels provide better rates on the internet than over the phone—to encourage internet booking, which is much less costly for them than phone booking.

5. Get some help for when it’s ok for you to stop looking for good rates.

One of the more frustrating parts of looking for a deal is knowing when it’s ok to stop—that you are not likely to find a better deal than what you have found so far.

One way to find out how good your deal is is to buy a subscription to the paid part of (page down to “The Best Hotel Deals on the Net”) and use their Disney World hotel rate comparison tool.

As they describe it, the tool will “… tell you how good the rate is as compared to other times of the year, and we’ll predict whether the rate is likely to go up or down during the next week.”


You can find multiple-bedroom vacation homes available for short-term rentals in the Orlando area for a fraction of the price of what you’d have to pay to stay in some of the large family options at Walt Disney World, even counting your rental car costs.

Use The Unofficial Guide for key tips and tricks to start your search.

Then go to, and to,, and other sites recommended by the Unofficial Guide to search and book.



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1 John Weir { 12.31.12 at 4:35 pm }

Staying at a Disney resort is a magical experience, especially for a first visit to Disney World. However, for a large or extended family we found a rental home to be the perfect solution. In fact, we liked it so much we bought it! (See When we travel with two or three we will still stay in a Disney resort or the Dolphine, but a loaded up house is great for 6-12 people.

2 Dave { 01.01.13 at 8:05 am }

Hey John, thanks for weighing in! I’m with you that there are no good onsite answers for large families or groups on a budget! See this:

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3 Kari { 03.23.13 at 10:25 am }

We will be at Disney on April 6th. We are staying off-site and had questions about Parking. Can I park at one of the resorts and take the Disney bus? For example we have reservations at the Contemporary for Chef Mickey can we leave our car there at go straight to the park?

4 Dave { 03.23.13 at 2:34 pm }

Kari, that’s considered bad form, as you are then possibly keeping someone with a later reservation from parking for their meal…

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5 Keith B { 08.13.13 at 11:07 pm }

Hi Dave,
How much time would staying at/near the hojo maingate cost me vs. staying at AS Sports? Couldn’t book a different resort for Oct stay..

6 Dave { 08.14.13 at 6:58 am }

Keith, that HOJO has been bought by somebody else and re-badged. I think it’s either a Rodeway Inn or a Claremont. Anyway, hotels around that area–if you are driving–or only about 5 minutes further than Sports for all visits except MK. Because you have to park and then get a ferry or monorail at MK (whereas the Sports bus simply drops you off right in front), MK is about 20-30 minutes more…

7 Anna { 08.24.13 at 6:12 pm }

Hi!! So we have a 3 yr old and a 14 month old … We know that hey will not mar full days at the parks and so have planed to possibly stay at the Sheraton Vistana villas on a friends recommendation because there I so much to so there and we will not feel like we have to go the park everyday. Any thoughts for as as first timers?

8 Dave { 08.25.13 at 8:36 am }

Hi Anna, I’m sorry but I focus on much older kids…

9 Chris C { 05.06.14 at 1:43 pm }

Dave…we are doing a quick trip into Orlando and will only have time for 1 full day at the Magic Kingdom. We have a car, and the park stays open until midnight the day we are going. I’m a little wary about booking 2 days essentially at a Disney Hotel just for 1 extra magic hour from 8am to 9am at MK.

So i guess my question is, once you pay $17 for parking, we can come and go into Magic Kingdom as we please right? You don’t have to pay for parking twice if you want to come back later in the day…correct?

What advice to you have to give for a single day visit to 1 park like the Magic Kingdom?

10 Dave { 05.07.14 at 12:27 pm }

Chris, yes–pay once, keep your receipt, and it’s good all day. I don’t have a one-day plan, but see Josh’s here:

11 Beth { 12.27.14 at 9:40 pm }

We are planning our first trip to Disney in 2015 with our two kids who will be 9 and 7. Unfortunately it will have to be around Thanksgiving. We have two options: either the weekend before 11/19 to 11/24 (Thursday to Tuesday) or the week of staying a little past – 11/27 through 11/30. Both appear to fall into super busy… Any recommendation to which might be the better choice?

12 Dave { 12.28.14 at 9:06 am }

Hiya Beth! Of your options, the good days around Thanksgiving will be 11/19-11/21 and 11/29 and 30. 11/28 will be ok. So there’s some weight to the earlier version, especially if you can arrive the evening of the 18th

13 Terrie Skidmore-Barnes { 07.20.16 at 9:08 am }

Check out Dave’s Vacation Club Rentals for a good price on one of the tree houses.

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