My first trip to Disney World was back in 1982, and I stayed off-site. Let’s be honest: There weren’t the options that we have now and it was more common.
We stayed at a Days Inn-style hotel that had a pool. You drove into the Magic Kingdom, or Epcot that opened that year, and would ride a tram to the gates. It wasn’t that bad and we didn’t really know any different.
There were on-site options, but they were limited to the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian, Fort Wilderness, the slightly newer Village Resort, and Golf Resort. Not quite the network of hotels we are used to today.
Fast forward to today. A majority of the people who visit the Disney World resort stay at on-campus hotels because of the multiple options available for transportation to the parks. Other perks include being immersed in the “Disney World Experience” and getting early admission to the parks.
My family decided to take a quick trip to Disney World to see all of the 50th-anniversary setup and Christmas decorations in early November of 2021. My first inclination was to splurge and spend two nights in an original resort. With this being a short trip, the cost would be a lot less in my thoughts. Unfortunately though, both the Contemporary and Polynesian were not available.
We looked at other options in the resort with the most reasonably priced option being Pop Century. The other family we were traveling with had five in their group and their costs were going to be pretty high for this property, so this led us to look off-campus.
Lodging Near Disney World
With the work of our Disney World Vacation Planner Jason Davis, we located a hotel: the Homewood Suites in the new Flamingo Crossings area outside the West gate. Flamingo Crossings is also the home of a brand new Target, multiple hotel choices, and the Disney College Program’s new dorms.
We arrived at the Homewood Suites on Thursday evening to find our Disney World tickets awaiting us at the desk. The first question I asked was how often the shuttle runs to Disney Springs. I learned at that moment there was not a shuttle available and that the shuttle that was promised to take us to Disney World only ran a few times a day and would cost $10 per person. We were a little shocked to learn that we would be driving to the parks the next two days and paying to park. Parking would be $25 per vehicle or $50 per vehicle for a premium spot.
The hotel itself was nice. We were able to park in the front and unload our luggage. Plenty of luggage carts were available, which is not always common. There was also an easily accessible parking deck available that accommodated my large truck with a couple of inches to spare.
The room had two queen beds in one room and a fold-out couch in the other room. The sink was separate from the bathroom shower and toilet, which made it easier for multiple people to get ready in the morning. The hotel had a very popular, but well-stocked, breakfast buffet included in the cost of the room available each morning. Make your own Mickey waffles, which you know I did.
Because we stayed off-campus, we were not able to activate Genie Plus until the day of our visit. This means we were unable to book our first experience until the day of. Also, Lightning Lane experiences were unavailable till the same day. Some of the more popular experiences like Rise of the Resistance were sold out meaning a nearly 3-hour wait to ride.
Dining Near Disney World
We didn’t book any dining experiences in advance but didn’t have any major issues eating where we wanted as long as we were willing to wait. The first night we waitlisted at Rain Forest Cafe in Disney Springs for a table for nine. It took about an hour, but we were seated.
The second night, we were in Epcot and had looked at multiple options for dinner. Trying to find something that would accommodate our group (and add in that we did not have a reservation) can be tough. We decided to try our luck and went to the Coral Reef restaurant.
The person at the door greeted us warmly and when we inquired about a table was told we would have one in the next 20 minutes. We waited less than five minutes to get a table for nine at the Coral Reef restaurant located at the Living with the Seas pavilion. This provided an amazing view of the aquarium as we ate dinner. Eating fish while watching fish.
If the restaurant looks familiar, you may have seen it while watching “Boy Meets World.” Cory tries to get Topanga’s attention from inside the aquarium. Learn more about that episode here.
The third night, we rolled the dice to see if we could get into Ohana at the Polynesian Resort, a restaurant that is normally booked well in advance. Our backup plan was to eat at Captains Cook’s in the same building if that didn’t work. We arrived and were told that we could put our name on the list but would not be given an approximate time to return.
We walked around the resort and about 40 minutes later my phone vibrated. We had a table for nine! We enjoyed our family-style meal of steak, chicken, and shrimp while watching the fireworks over the park out the window. Even the music playing in the park is played over the speakers in the restaurant!
There were definitely differences to staying off-campus at Disney World. Ones that, despite how nice the hotel was, were big enough that I would only stay on-campus from now on. The walk each evening to our car in the parking lot was the worst part of the trip. You are tired, your feet ache, you just want to lay down, but you can’t. That reason enough is why I wouldn’t do it again.
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