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On a Budget? Why I Choose Disney's All Star Resorts Instead of the Local Hotels, 10 Reasons

Updated: Mar 12

Disney's All Star Value Resorts

Like many travelers, I get sticker shock every time I visit Disney World even though I am an annual passholder and I am a Disney Vacation Club member. And every time, I sit down and try to figure out ways to save money.

This blog article is about comparing the lower level Florida (Orlando, Kissimme, Lake Buena Vista, Bay Lake) hotels with the Disney All Star value resorts, not the luxury resorts (hotels, timeshare, vacation ownership properties) in the area.

Disney's All Star Resorts sign
Disney's All Star Resorts Entrance

But although I have a couple of vacation ownerships, the points don't last forever and then it's time to pay for lodging. So, now it's time to decide where to stay. I will always choose Disney's All Star Resorts, if I am on a budget (which is 95% of the time). On the surface, the prices seem much higher than some of the budget hotels in the area, namely on International Drive, Roads 192, 535 or I-4. There are other areas, but these are the closest to Disney (and Universal).

Also consider Universal. I like the two resorts I have stayed in (Endless Summer and Cabana Bay) and they have great on-site benefits. The Endless Summer Resorts are great but I would rather drive to Universal and stay in one location since I'll spend more time at Disney.

There are 3 All Star Resorts: Sports, Music and Movies. Each resort has 10 themed buildings based on Disney media (movies, TV shows, animated series and music). Also, except for a fitness center and a sit-down restaurant, each resort has a scaled down version of the major amenities of their moderate and deluxe resorts. You don't feel cheated at all.

Anyway, I have found out the way to save money has NOT been by staying off Disney property. It's just not worth it. I'd rather get a couple of less snacks or less souvenirs and put the money to the hotel. And here are the reasons why. It's all about the consistency:

1. Price. Yes, even though it seems that the hotels near Disney are cheaper, it's not aways true in the long run. Hotels near Disney (and Universal and Sea World, for that matter), charge the going rate based on demand, the time of year and more. In fact, some of them may charge more than the seasonal rate at the All Star Resorts for much less product.

2. Transfer from the airport to the hotel. Yes, the free Magical Express has, poof, disappeared, but the company that was running the buses, Mears, has picked up the slack, although for a fee. For about $40 round trip (check for any discounts they may offer), they provide the same service taking you to and from MCO to your resort. Sounds expensive? Figure out the cost of renting a car per day, getting insurance, paying the toll (yes, there is a toll from MCO to Lake Buena Vista), gas and the parking fee an off-site hotel will charge and well, you get the idea. It might be cheaper, it might not be. But for me, I let them do the driving or a few days.

Mears Connect sign, MCo
Catch the Mears Connect in the same place as the old Disney Magical Express, MCO Airport

3. Safety. The hotels in the area seem to be hit or miss. On the plus side, some of them go overboard about security so much that you feel nervous about the area, especially the hotels on International Drive. It makes you wonder when you see triple locks on the doors and multiple warning signs in the parking lots. If you do stay off property, I recommend lodging that is hotel style, meaning the rooms enter from inside the building, rather than a motel, where the rooms enter directly from the street. And some of those hotels, particularly on 192, have doors that are directly on the highway. Not safe, not to mention noisy. Meanwhile, the All Star resorts have one main gate. If you're driving, just swipe your Magic Band and you're on your way.

Disney's All Star Resorts room
Disney's All Star Resorts room

4. Resort fees. I personally think they should be illegal. Hotels advertise their amenities and then charge extra for them, whether you use them or not. Some hotels charge a separate fee for parking and one for the resort fee. Of course, some hotels do offer a complimentary breakfast and Disney does not, so there is a plus in their favor. And Disney does not include microwave ovens in their value resort rooms, like some hotels do (but there is a microwave in the food court for guests).

5. Cleanliness and maintenance. Not every place is perfect but Disney does a great job. This is because they own and operate their own resorts (there are some affiliated hotels on property). The hotel business, in general, is a franchise business. Most hotel companies do not own nor operate the sites, especially the lower brands. And the owners can change brands when their franchise agreement ends. What may have been a Choice hotel one year can be a Hilton site the next. And although the owners are supposed to maintain standards, they are not all honest. And they sometimes cut corners, like cheaper furniture, shabby bedding, stained shower caulking, rooms that need a paint job or some serious maintenance, like holes in the walls or AC filters that have not been changed.

Broken tiles in hotel room
Unnamed hotel on US Route 192

6. Amenities. Each All Star Resort has two pools, a play area for younger kids, arcade (extra cost), guest laundry (also, extra cost), parking (currently back to being free), activities, food court, gift shop and a bar for the adults (usually right outside the main building). There are no fitness rooms, just a running trail. The off-site hotels may have a fitness center, but usually it's a tiny area with one treadmill and one exercise cycle. Some hotels have restaurants on site and some have free breakfast. Many of the hotels are within walking distance of area restaurants, especially the ones closer to the parks. For Disney, there is a McDonald's within walking distance of the All Star Resorts.

Disney's All Star Music's main pool
Disney's All Star Music's main pool

7. Disney extras. Guests staying at Disney resorts have an opportunity to have extra hours before or after the official park hours. And their concierges can get into Disney's system to fix issues such as linking guests, adding a Magic Band, making sure your hotel and park reservation are linked, helping to make park or dining reservations (if needed) and more. The other hotels have a way to buy Disney tickets but for more advanced issues, you will have to go to guest services at one of the parks or at Disney Springs. And don't forget, there is the package delivery system (buying stuff at the parks and having it delivered to your hotel). Furthermore, on check-out day, you can store your luggage and either enjoy the parks or swim at the hotel. There are showers and changing rooms near the pools.

Package Pick-up Station Disney's All Star Movies
Package Pick-up at All Star Movies

8. Transportation to the parks. Although the Magical Express is no more, Disney Transport is alive and well. Check the app or the display boards for the buses from the All Star Resorts to the parks and to Disney Springs. For the other amenities, such as the golf courses, Blizzard Beach or dining at one of the other resorts (yes, you are free to make dining reservations at the upscale resorts), check with the concierge desk for information.

Catch the bus at Disney's All Star Movies to Disney Parks
Transportation area at All Star Movies

9. Accommodations. The rooms are a bit small for a group of four. They have been redesigned, though. The tables now pull down to be the second double bed, leaving more space in the room when its up. And the famous Disney dual bathroom system still somewhat exists: the sink is outside of the bathroom and that area has a divider for privacy while dressing. Underneath the beds, the suitcases store perfectly. But, most people do not stay in the rooms long enough to feel any inconvenience.

Standard Room at Disney's All Star Resorts
Standard Room at Disney's All Star Resorts

10. Disney atmosphere and ambiance. Except for Universal, no other theme park can literally put you into the scene like a company that makes movies and TV shows. And no amount of cardboard cut-outs or posters will make you feel like you're in a Disney resort without actually being there. (PS, if you don't want to be hit over the head with all that Disney-mania, the Disney higher priced resorts are more subtle). The outside world seems shut out, like it is supposed to be when you are on vacation. The real world is more than alive and well when you stay off property, sometimes not in a good way.

Disney's All Star Music
Rock and Roll Section at Disney's All Star Music

So there you have it, my reasons for always trying to choose a budget Disney World value resort compared to staying at so-called cheaper lodging off-site. As the cliche goes, you get what you pay for, one way or another.

Disney's All Star Music
Disney's All Star Music Calypso section

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Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

All photos and videos created and copyrighted by Marcia Crayton, unless otherwise noted.


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