Cinderella's Castle at dusk (Walt Disney World)
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World is an exciting time for most people. This is a trip that individuals or families often plan well in advance in order to make sure they can successfully book everything they need without being sold out. Lots of planning can be involved, especially for those who are detail-oriented and want to ensure they see and do everything they want to.

Personally, I'm less detail-oriented with the actual visits to the park and like to explore them on to see where the day takes us, but I do feel accommodations are one aspect of the trip which should ideally be planned well in advance. While some places you can book a room on a whim when traveling, when it comes to going to Disney, in my opinion, it's not one you really want to plan on the fly. I did this years ago and, while it worked and we had a roof over our heads and a bed, for our next trip it was much better doing some research and planning in advance.

When determining where to stay on your Disney trip it is important to keep several factors in mind. This includes: time frame, location, lodging style and budget. I learned these four items will play a significant role in planning ideal accommodations.

1. Time Frame

If you are traveling during one of the high tourist weeks or on a holiday, this is something to consider. Chances are lodging will book up quickly during peak times, and the prices will be a lot higher. Ideally, you want to select accommodations as early as possible and secure your reservation. It could put a real damper on the trip if you missed out on your dream lodging because your trip falls during a busy season and you didn't book early enough. 

2. Location

One of the wonderful things about traveling to Disney is the ability to choose from a variety of options. You could stay on property, off property, book a hotel, campground or even rent a house. Before choosing accommodations it is important to decide how close you want to be to the Disney parks; this may be dependent upon which of the parks you are most interested in.  Keep in mind, Disney has properties located throughout the resort. Once you get a general idea of what attractions you'll be spending the most time at, you may want to select accommodations based on where you'll be spending most of your time.

3. Lodging Style

Disney resorts are often a popular option and typically you can get a dining deal with your accommodations. There are several hotel and resort options right on Disney property, which is convenient if you do not want to rent a car and want to enjoy the full Disney experience.  Some vacationers prefer to experience the Disney campgrounds. Others like to stay off property and explore other attractions in the area in addition to Disney parks.

If on-site hotels are out of budget, there are hundreds nearby to Disney, but are not Disney-owned. These might be a better choice for those traveling on a tighter budget. But it can also be hit or miss (on one of my trips, it was a total miss there were much nicer places to stay), so do your research ahead of time.

Rendering of the pool at Highgrove
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Many of the towns surrounding Disney have communities where owners rent out homes to vacationers. These are ideal for large families, or for families traveling with others, because the rental fees can be split, significantly bringing down costs per family. Additionally, rental houses typically provide all the comforts of home. I've had good luck with finding off site accommodations in the Disney area. In many instances, you can rent directly from the homeowner.

The down side to this is you might have a 15 minute or a 45 minute ride to the parks, so look at a map carefully before you search out homes if you want to be near to the parks. Some advertise as "being close" to Disney, but are kind of far away.

Another option is to try out a time share. Often you can get a really good deal with nice accommodations in close proximity to the parks. But you will have to sit through a (usually) 90-minute presentation. So if time is not too big of a factor, this might be a good option.

An electric transmission tower in the shape of Mickey Mouse near the junction of Interstate 4 and World Drive in Celebration, Florida
Credit: Dough4872/Public Domain

4. Budget

Budget will likely play a primary role in what kind of accommodations to book. Once you have identified how much you can afford to spend for the lodging portion of your trip, this will help you determine your location. There are many discount websites and, while you have to be careful as some deals are not as they seem, if you dig deep enough you often might find a lower price. Keep in mind, most of Disney's accommodations are on the pricey side, but I'm told you can get a good deal with some packages. This is something I can't say through experience though.

Additionally, private home owners may be willing to negotiate and drop the weekly rates on their homes if they do not book them. After all, it is better for the owners to get some rent rather than the property remain vacant; some owners are willing to negotiate, others are not, so it cannot hurt to ask. Just watch out for hidden costs when renting a home, be sure and ask about things such as taxes, fees, pool heat and any other associated charge which may not be inclusive in the quoted price. (Tip: Often you can negotiate for the owner to include pool heat if you think you'll be spending enough time at the home to use it. Other times, you'll have to pay for this.)

A Disney trip is one most people look back fondly upon. Make the most of it. The accommodations you choose should fit your budget and yet, at the same time, meet your needs in order to have a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Your best bet is to first examine your options and then break these down to see which types of lodging suits your preferences and also fits into your price range.

Related articles:

Top 5 Disney World To Do's for First Timers: Part One Magic Kingdom
Top 5 Disney World To Do's for First Timers Part Two: Epcot

Palm trees in Florida
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