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

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.

There is another very important factor that affects how people feel about Disney: Money.

The thing is, Disney IS wonderful, and no one is a bigger fan than I am, but at the same time, it is also a ruthless, cold-hearted money making machine!

Someone once described Disney World as a people-trap built by a mouse! It is designed to entice you in, and keep you there, spending your money the whole time. As you experience the marvel that is Disney World, if you are like me at all, you can’t also help marvel at the skill with which the place is designed to suck up money off you every second.

To maintain my sanity, and a sense of balance, I have learned to take Disney in bite-sized pieces which don’t empty my wallet before I can realize what’s happening.

Many of our guests have shared with me that they love staying in the peace and tranquility of our villas, which is easy to understand. But I’ve been surprised at how many stress that they like being treated like they are important and appreciated. And that it matters to their host that they receive value. For them it provides a nice contrast to the Disney money machine, and it helps them to enjoy their vacation!

They receive great accommodations, at a great price and value, and no one is constantly presenting them with more opportunities to spend more money. It’s a very important bonus to them.

A chance to step back, recharge and renew.

If you haven’t explored our website in detail, you may be unaware that our son worked at Disney World as a cast member for 18 months. We have been visiting Central Florida since 1997, and we know the resort very well… inside and out, having taken behind the scenes tours, and visited so many times I have lost count. I love Disney! I am a crazed rabid fan! I can tell you so much trivia about Walt Disney and Disney World that I’ll bore myself in the process!

I have learned however, that when it comes to Walt Disney World, it is absolutely wonderful to leave the craziness behind, escape to somewhere outside the tourist zone, and really rest up before tackling it again.

You see, a ‘vacation’ to Walt Disney World is an amazing experience.  It is exciting, exhilarating, educational, fun, entertaining challenging, and motivating! But it is hardly restful. To me, if you don’t feel like you need a vacation after visiting Disney World, you haven’t done it right!  So in order to experience all of the real magic that is Disney World; meaning the theme parks, water parks, and recreational, shopping and dining attractions, it is great to be able to get away from it and get well rested in between your attacks on this mecca of fun and entertainment.

Now don’t let what I’m saying here scare you away. While expensive, compared to just about any other form of entertainment on the planet, Disney World actually does offer tremendous value – so set aside the funds to do it right, and do it without guilt – BUT, your husband will love being able to escape the resort, truly relax, and not feel like his wallet is being drained every second! Trust me on that one.

One of our first guests described Breezy Oak Villa as the most relaxing place he had ever been on a vacation, and it truly is!  There is an absolute joy that permeates the place. And it is just what you need to not feel ‘trapped by the mouse!’

Important tip: Here is a great idea!  In the midst of a hectic, exciting and fun trip to Disney World, plan to spend a day in the middle of your trip, doing nothing but relaxing at the villa and enjoying the pool. If your kids are anything like ours, years from now it will be a special memory for them that they will cherish, just like all of their time at the theme parks! With time, those park memories will all meld together and become harder to pick out as time marches on. But your day at the villa will be a cherished family memory that everyone will remember all on its own. That’s magic! A quiet day, just enjoying the pool and relaxing, refreshes everyone, eases tensions (every family has them) and renews everyone for the rest of their holiday.

Of course, having separate bedrooms at the villa gives everyone a place to relax and be on their own when needed. That is a different kind of vacation ‘magic’, but is something you have to experience to understand. And you can’t get it at a hotel, even a Disney hotel!

So when staying at one of our villas, you don’t give up much magic… and you get to experience an additional, different kind of holiday magic, that helps make the first kind even better!

This may all sound too good to be true, but trust me on this. Once you experience it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The only way to know it, is to experience it. We did, when we first stayed in a vacation rental on our second Disney trip, and it knocked us over so much, we bought our first vacation home!

I can assure you that the villa magic is just as real as the Disney magic is real.

I know because I’ve experienced it for over a decade now, as have our guests. For many of them (some who have come back as much as five times!) it is just as real, and for some… even more important to them than the magic that Disney provides!



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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.