So why not dive right in with the most subjective topic of my posts? Before I start, just a disclosure that I travel a lot and formed strong opinions about hotels, traffic, beds, staff, and other love / hate facets when living away from home. So take this for what it is, an opinion – your mileage may vary. Right away you have two choices 1) in the park or 2) outside the park. For most people this decision is determined largely by vacation budget. There are logistical benefits to staying inside the park that I will touch on in a different section that might compel someone to consider in-park resorts. For the majority of folks or first-timers they will stay outside the park.
Technically there is a third option of RV / trailer, and I know someone who does this annually and loves it. It’s not for me so I have no advice in this area.
For my latest trip I stayed outside the park and again was confronted with two options either North or South of the park. In my case, I stayed in both locations. On the North side of Disney World is a mass of popular hotels and restaurants. This holds initial appeal due to more well known chain restaurants (Unos, Chilis, etc.) and hotel conglomerates (Marriott, Hyatt, etc.) for road warriors with points / status / miles for free stays. A tip for those traveling on miles / points with kids – if possible always select FIVE persons when reserving the room. This will generally prevent you from being stuck with one bed and a fold out for the kids (unless you want that). Another tip – if your room is not a suite, you can request a small refrigerator for drinks & food for free from most hotels. They have to provide them for quests who need to keep medication chilled. So, to the North, the world is your oyster for most folks except for one tiny thing – traffic. It sucks. One can expect heavy traffic aournd park open & close times. At night, it can take almost an hour to get from Magic Kingdom to the Palm Parkway. Venturing in the general area can be an exercise in frustration due to all the lost tourists driving while staring at their phones wondering where to turn.
To the South of the park you can find a few low-cost (scary) motels but also a few timeshare resorts with open rental apartments and amenities such as pools, golf, etc. In general they will cost roughly the same as the common chain hotels on the North side of the park. Some of the decor can be throw-back – hot tub next to king size bed and mirrored walls – but you also get large rooms, full kitchen, and washer / dryer. The bonus for this area is almost zero traffic at park close. From car to door in ten minutes. Also, from a logistical standpoint if you want to leave during the heat of the day and swim / siesta, it’s much easier to do so. Note – your restaurant selection is quite limited. You will find yourself either cooking (which is hard to do if you stay late for Disney’s shows) or eating in the park which can either be pleasant and expensive or frustrating and moderately expensive (more on this to come). There are restaurant options, however, further South on I4 / SR-400.
For me? If I were staying on points, the North location is a no brainer though personally I might opt for farther away from the chaos. The closer you get to the park the more limited your room availability for points stay due to hotels being close to capacity. If I were paying and opted to not stay in the park, the Southern area works for *me* as I don’t care eat at the same locations as home, and I have the option to cook should weather turn for the worse.
Now, would I rather pay inside vs outside the park? Stay tuned!