in a vacation rental ‘off-site’ vs. ‘on-site’ at a Disney Resort: What happens to the ‘magic’?

Staying in a vacation rental ‘off-site’ vs. ‘on-site’ at a Disney Resort: What happens to the ‘magic’?

I received the following question from a prospective guest a few weeks ago.  It covers a lot of ground and turns over a lot of worms!  Her question:

“I’m curious about one thing, most families go and stay on property with Disney (we did our first time too) and claim that there is something “magical” about it. While we did feel very well taken care I’m not sure that it was exactly “magical”.  I feel that your vacation rental property will be great for my husband who dread crowds, busy restaurants, and sub-par yet-expensive dining, but I wonder if we are taking the magic away from the kids…  When you go to your properties in Florida and you go to Disney do your kids get the same experience as kids on property would receive?”

(Note: Most families DON’T stay on Disney property because most can’t afford it! There are far more places in Orlando to stay outside of Disney World than in it! The idea that a trip to Disney World means staying at an on-site resort is an oft-quoted and repeated myth perpetuated by Disney’s marketing machine and the travel agents who make money off of it!  So let’s kill that idea right off the bat!  Okay… taking a breath… I’m calming down now…)

This is a good question!

And there are lots of things to consider in answering it, so bear with me. I want to cover it completely and be totally fair about it, so in this post we’ll focus on the question of Disney “magic” at the resorts. Hopefully someday I’ll get around to sharing some additional information about staying on property vs. in our villas that I don’t cover here. There is lots to think about!

There are some benefits to staying onsite at a Disney World Resort, along with some negatives, but even these aren’t clearly defined – each has its good and bad, and a lot of how you evaluate these things depends simply on how important they are to you. There isn’t always a definitive answer.

But first off, let’s address a very important point: Where does the magic come from?

Once you are inside the theme parks (and in many ways, even before you get inside the theme parks) there is absolutely no difference to your experience of them based on where you spent the night before. The parades look exactly the same, the music sounds exactly the same, the shows are exactly the same, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion are exactly the same… No one asks to see your ID or where you slept the night before. The park experience is exactly the same! (And no, Extra Magic Hours, now discontinued, were never THAT great a big perk, as arriving far earlier than most people can drag themselves out of bed on vacation, to a park that you can walk around in but has half the rides and attractions not open yet, sounded far better than it turned out to be!)

So, let’s consider that if one takes a trip to Walt Disney World, and enjoys the four theme parks for five days (the amount of time I think it takes to see and do everything in them), and perhaps a half-day at one of the water parks and the other half at Disney Springs, where does the Disney ‘magic’ that one experiences come from?

If you stay at a Disney resort on the property, and spend your days doing all of those activities, what would be the split between where the total magic you experience comes from? Does it come from where you’re sleeping at night, exhausted and tired with a smile on your face? Or from your days, having a ball in the greatest theme parks in the world?  This is obviously subjective, and different people will feel differently about it, but I don’t think it unreasonable at all to suggest that by far the most Disney magic is going to come from your time in the parks, not in a Disney hotel room… If I had to put a split on it I would say probably 90% comes from the everything besides your accommodations.

And if that estimate is correct, then someone staying off site, in a non-Disney resort or other accommodations, is going to experience 90% of the Disney Magic from their trip, as someone who does stay on site. That 10% is probably not that big a sacrifice, and likely wouldn’t even be noticed much.

Even with that, those people staying off site are not necessarily losing out at all! And here’s why: They get to experience a different kind of magic, something extra, that people staying on site never do!

Dare I say it… they may even get more out of their trip in total than the Disney fan who stays on site. Stay with me, as I’ll explain that below.

But first, back to your question about the much vaunted Disney “magic” at the onsite resorts.

Is it really Disney Magic at the on-site resorts, or something else?

In my opinion, the Disney “magic” at the hotels is mostly a sales pitch (sorry Walt!) to justify charging two to three times the cost of a comparable room anywhere else. Mostly, the “magic” is simply Disney theming, which means mostly decorating… and like all styles, it can easily get to be too much.

(See a direct comparison between a Disney Value Resort Hotel Room (sleeps 4), and Breezy Oak Villa (sleeps 8), which cost almost exactly the same per night! Ah… that’s not even close to true anymore. The Disney Value resort rooms are much higher!)

So as far as taking something away by not staying at an on-site resort; let me use an example to illustrate what staying at a Disney resort can be like:  What is your favorite treat in the whole world?  Your absolute ‘weakness’…  Let’s say, for the sake of this example, it’s ice cream.  Now imagine that you get to have the unlimited run of a great, well-stocked ice cream shop! You can have and eat anything you want, all day, every day!  Well, it would be great for about the first four hours, and two or three huge sundaes, but after that… you would start to get sick of ice cream! I think anyone (except a five-year-old) can understand that.

The same thing can easily happen with Disney.

For many people, a trip full of days in the parks can be too much Disney. Just like beloved ice cream, even the biggest fan can only handle so much of it before it rather quickly starts to become more than they care to experience. Piling on Disney theming when outside the parks, in a manner that can leave you feeling like you can’t escape it, can easily lead to Disney overwhelm.

For Disney’s most rabid fans it’s tough to believe, but for some people a WDW trip leaves them feeling like they want to run away and never return! It’s kind of a deep dark secret of Disney’s success.

It’s true! You can easily get too much of a good thing, so staying off property actual helps keep the real Disney “magic” more magical!

Find out exactly why in Disney’s Dirty Secret.

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About the author:Rob Peters is the Site Administrator, Blogger and Chief-Touble-Maker on When not online, he is managing his terrific vacation rental properties in Florida, or admiring his three adult kids and loving his wife Donna.