I send a note to you now letting you know that we have not ever stayed on property, I only have this off property experience to share. I've done a lot of research and talked to people though about their on property experience, so I have a little info to compare. Hope this helps.
Our kids each had a room, but they decided to share one together. The decorations just made things more fun.
We loved being able to have our own space, not have to be quiet like in a hotel room. Our kids are up early so it was nice not having to shush them all morning before others may wake up. We loved having the ability to shop for groceries (we went once to Wal-Mart the first day, it's 2 minutes from the condo) and pack lunches and eat breakfast at home. We saved SO much food money that way and ate healthier.
This was the largest pool at the property, a 5 minute walk or 1 minute drive to the pool house. There is a water slide, lots of shade and sunny areas. It was perfect for our pool days.
Below is the pool that is directly attached to our condo! THIS was the #1 thing we looooooved about staying off property. Every night after the sweaty exhausting days at the parks, we'd put the kids to bed and head out for a dip in the pool or hot tub. It was a daily date night for us! We never would have been able to do this if we'd been on property, as you share a pool with others and can't leave your kids behind in the hotel room of course. This was such a perk for us. We had our kids swimming in the mornings, at night before bed, etc. It was awesome.
We didn't mind renting a car. Yes, it was money, but it's affordable and allowed us the opportunity to go to other locations that we were planning anyway, like visiting my uncle at his place in Lakeland and like heading over to Disney Springs. It also meant we were NEVER waiting for a bus or other transportation to take us back home. We simply got in the car.
Yes, we paid money for parking daily, that's an expense. To us, with a stroller, it was worth it. If we didn't have a baby and stroller, I'd say the tram parking and taking a bus is fine. But for us with a stroller, cooler, baby stuff etc it was just fine having a car to pack and unpack each day.
We had a big huge deck area to eat outside, an indoor kitchen area and bar stool counter top where we did breakfast most days. Also a dining room table that we didn't even use. The condo was immaculate, the cleanest I'd ever seen. They provided towels, blankets and sheets, toilet paper and dish soap to start, dishwasher, laundry machine etc. This was awesome with kids. We did all of our laundry before we left for home so that when we got home we didn't have to do anything!
This condo had four bedrooms, plenty of space.
We loved staying here!
The pros and cons of staying OFF Disney property:
- Private pool- We loved this for evenings to spend time solo and relax without a zillion people around.
- Meals- We could make dinners a few nights, lunches daily for the parks with our cooler we packed, and breakfasts at home are WAY cheaper than going anywhere else. Because we made our meals, we ate a lot healthier than if we'd eaten out every meal for every vacation day.
- Less crowded- When you are on property you are always in lines, in crowds, with others. There is enough of a large crowd when visiting the parks, we DO NOT want to be in a line or crowd when eating three meals a day, using restrooms, getting in the pool etc. For us, this worked better for more privacy and a quieter, less busy experience.
- Car- We like having our own transportation to get to different restaurants, a store, and to visit my uncle in another town. We liked at the end of a tiring park day we did not have to wait for a bus. One night, we waited for a bus from Epcot to Port Orleans for dinner at a resort... it took an hour from the moment we got in line for the bus, waiting for bus, riding bus, off bus and in line to get food at Port Orleans... it was such a long time with tired kids.
- Space- We are not the family that could pile up in a hotel room and call it good. Our kids need space to fall asleep, otherwise they're up for hours talking if in the same room. We have a baby and then big kids, going to bed at different times. We want time to talk to each other after our kids are in bed. For us, a hotel room would not allow us these opportunities, so being off property where everyone can have space from one another is helpful.
- Cheaper- It's a cheaper nightly rate to stay off property. Yes, we added some more to our bill with a car and parking at the parks, but it's still cheaper overall.
- Easy to have guests- It's easier to invite guests to visit us and spend time in our pool when off property vs on property where they need bands etc.
- Laundry- We essentially could bring less luggage with us next time we go to an off property condo because we could do laundry there. If we stayed in a hotel, everything would need to be reused and have enough outfits for each day, so it's nice knowing being off property with laundry machines we could cut in half what we packed.
- Can't FastPass until 30 days out- If you stay on property you can get FP options for park rides 60 days out, so you can get more rides you want. However, I'll say that even doing this 30 days out, we were only unable to get ONE ride we wanted- 7 Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. I got EVERY other ride we wanted- Pandora, Frozen Ever After, etc.
- Packing food nightly- It took us 15-30 minutes every night to pack our cooler and lunches for the next day. It was not a huge thing, but was one more thing to deal with. To us, it was worth the money we saved, knowing we did not have to wait in food lines at the parks- which took people between 10-40 minutes from what we saw, no thanks! It was worth it also because we ate a lot healthier. We also could give our kids snacks throughout our day wherever we were, instead of having to find another food location and stop to eat.
- Security line- People who stay on property tell us about how nice it is to go through a smaller and quicker security line at their hotel before heading to the parks. This saves time when they arrive at the park. For us, the security lines took us 5-10 minutes max staying off property, so the same amount of time people spent staying at hotels. We found this to be totally a nonissue. I put it in the con section to be fair to those who think it's a perk on property.
- Rental Car- Of course paying money for this and parking and gas. We used a half a tank of gas the entire trip, including driving to see my uncle an hour away. This was not a huge issue. It is more money though to rent a car than take free busses from the property, however you pay a lot more nightly rate to stay on property than off so to us it's a wash.
- No activities- On property there are all kinds of activities for kids like face painting, crafts, games, movies etc. We don't get that off property. However, you are welcome to visit any resort you want so can participate in some of those anyway. For us, the parks were enough. We did not need more activities. We needed rest!
- Expensive character meals- If staying off property you cannot get the Disney dining plan. This means you pay out of pocket for character meals. They are EXPENSIVE! This was one thing I want to consider again if we go, perhaps staying on property for a couple of days to get the dining plan for those character meals, wondering the savings there.
- Wal-Mart trip- We had to spend 1.5 hours shopping at Wal-Mart the day we arrived to get our food for the week. This was tiring and not something you prefer to do on vacation, but it was not a huge thing. We got two carts, split up the list and went separate ways to gather everything we needed.
- Disney planner- IF you stay on property you can access a Disney planner who knows everything and can help plan your entire stay. This is a HUGE perk of course, especially for a first trip if you don't know much about where you are going. We did not get this and had to do lots of research. I can see how this would be helpful to have.
Overall, for us we preferred being off property. It worked great for us. We loved where we stayed, having our own private pool and mostly escaping the LARGE crowds on property and everywhere associated with Disney. It was nice being separated from that and having our own privacy. We definitely intend to stay off property again in the future. I have said though I'd like to stay on property for two nights to just see what it's like, the experience and how different it is. Animal Kingdom Lodge is definitely on my list- what a cool place.
Wherever you stay, it's going to be fun and awesome. It all depends on your family and what works for you for whether on or off property will be helpful to you.