Let's face it. Going on vacation anywhere these days is expensive. People are doing anything they can to save money any way they can. But is staying at a less-expensive hotel/motel or resort off Disney property really the way to go? In my humble opinion, the answer is no.
We have stayed off Disney property before. Our first trip as a family to Walt Disney World was in 2003. We stayed at a nice chain hotel near Disney. Why? We didn't know any better. We had vacation time but little money, so we pinched the pennies as hard as we could to save up for this trip.
Don't get me wrong, the hotel was nice. We had a hot breakfast in the morning provided by the hotel. We had a full kitchen in our room, so I made us a lunch “to-go” before we left for the day using groceries we purchased once we got to Florida. I did make one dinner in our room, but we also opted to eat out a couple of the restaurants we observed on our way driving back to our hotel from Disney World. Was it magical? No. Did we save any money? NO, not really.
At that time, parking was around $10, which we paid each and every day we went touring in the Parks. In the 5 days we were at the parks, that meant $50—the cost for paying for meals out, just to park our van. Don't even get me started about trying to find a parking spot closer for our special needs girls. It was torture, pure and simple. Again, we were clueless.
Our hotel room was very small, made even smaller by our wheelchair. Our family consisted of 5 individuals—2 adults, one teen and two smaller children. Sleeping was rather tight, but doable. Our youngest actually enjoyed sleeping in the chair with the ottoman (and slept quite soundly actually). The other girls shared one bed and my husband and I shared the other.
We were told we had a handicapped accessible room. Yes, the sink was lower as were the mirrors in the room. Nothing like having to be on your knees to see in the mirror to comb your hair or apply your makeup. The dresser was smaller as well and low to the ground, but only had 3 drawers with limited space to hang up clothing and virtually no hangers. We needed someplace to store our luggage so we could move around in the room, so yep, the rest of the closet space served as a place for our luggage as well as our other things.
We had been to Disneyland many times when we lived in the Southern California area. Walt Disney World couldn't be THAT much bigger, right?? Frankly, we figured we would do two days at Magic Kingdom and one day each at the other three parks. This was all our budget would allow for at the time. We had 3 days to do something different outside of Disney. What to do?
Our hotel was very close to many other venues. Just reading the various brochures that were left in our room, we figured we would hit up Ripley's Believe It Or Not, something on the Titanic and maybe Sea World. Trying to get to Sea World one day was nuts—there was an accident and traffic was backed up for miles. So, we ventured off, by foot, to Ripley's and the Titanic exhibits.
The girls were fascinated with the Ripley's building being split in half.
We went inside, and stood in line for tickets. So many of the guests came out saying “I paid good money for THIS?! What a sham!”. We quickly realized that, well, maybe we just didn't need to put hard earned money towards this. So, we left without paying to “view” the exhibits.
Titanic was nice, but we opted not to go. Remember, I mentioned that we had special needs girls? One is in a wheelchair, and Titanic had no accommodations for someone in a wheelchair. So, once again we left.
On the way walking back to our hotel, we spotted a miniature golf place. Surely, we could do that, right? When we went in to pay, the lady working the front desk explained that they were not really set up to handle a wheelchair. Again....we sadly left.
Our hotel was nice, really it was. But you can only swim so much or visit their so-called arcade so many times. The pool was nothing more than a hole in the ground with water. It cooled us off, but that was about it. My girls are not into arcade games. Nothing much on TV, so what to do?
We did find the Sleuth's Dinner Mystery Theater (www.sleuths.com/ ) as we were scrolling through the channels on the TV one day.
Sleuth's was fun and well worth the cost and the added drive. In all honesty, while the show was a little bit risque in some areas for our younger girls, it was done in such a manner that the adult themed scenarios went right over the heads of my younger girls. Our teenager laughed and caught on right away and was able to play along and solve the mystery. I might add that it was actually Mom who caught the little nuance and fully solved the mystery—but who am I to brag. There were nice pre-show appetizers of cheese, crackers and fruit.
Our entree for the show was plentiful and flavorful. The show offers all you could drink both with fountain drinks as well as beer and wine. Yes, the theater can and will call a cab for you if need be.
When we came home, the girls talked on and on about how much they enjoyed Disney—it had so many things for them to do in the Parks. We were able to ride with our girls, and getting on or off the rides was easy. We determined that we needed to not only save our vacation money, but we needed to return and fully explore all that Disney had to offer.
We were really disappointed and more than put out that these other venues like Ripley's, Titanic and the miniature golf place had nothing to offer our family. So, we looked into a certified Disney Vacation Travel Agency and decided to book our next trip at a value resort, just to see how it would go. We also looked into staying in one of Disney's handicapped accessible rooms.
Our next trip, in 2004, we stayed at All Star Movies.
From the moment we walked into our rooms, we were impressed. We had a spot to park our wheelchair, well out of the way of the walking pathway in the room. Sinks were lower yes, but the mirrors were such that everyone could make use of them without having to kneel to do so. No more lifting our daughter, we could roll her right into the shower, transfer her, and get her cleaned without having to worry about if our backs would hold out or not. Best yet, we had a hand held shower head so we didn't have to get the bathroom and ourselves soaked as we bathed our daughter. We had ample room to store suitcases, out of the way. We felt we had been given a mini apartment, based on what we had before when we stayed at the Homeward Suites.
We spent an entire day just looking around this resort. The girls loved the larger than life Disney icons they found here.
Every area had a story to tell, a memory brought on by something the girls remembered from a specific movie or song. And the pools, they were themed. They were not just a “hole in the ground with water” but mini playgrounds all their own.
We purchased the basic dining plan, and had fun exploring new places to eat. We didn't have to go “looking” for a place to eat and hoping we could find place that had a short wait time before we were seated. We had a reserved sit down time. Food was hot, flavorful, different, and we felt like we were welcomed as a treasured guest. Best yet, the places we opted to eat accommodated our wheelchair. We never felt out of the way or in the way of other diners or our servers.
We fell in love with Disney transportation. Sure, we still had our minivan and could drive to the Parks if we really wanted to. We simply didn't find the need to drive. We took in every avenue of Disney transportation available to us. Best yet, no need to pay for any parking since we were a resort guest.
Would we ever stay off-property again? Probably not. For us, staying on property is simpler, easier, more cost-effective, and provides us the most to accommodate our special needs. We love the unique accommodations and amenities each level—Value, Moderate, Deluxe or Concierge—has to offer for our family. Yes, we have stayed at all level except for DVC, and we will remedy that this coming July.
There are so many things to do and explore within each category of resorts while staying on Disney property. But, that's another article all together. Stay tuned.