If you don't count a three year stretch when my family stayed at different resorts in the Disney Village Hotel Plaza (on-property, though not Disney-owned resorts) the last time I stayed off-site when visiting Disney World coincided with the time when President Reagan was shot, so it's been quite a while. As a child, I enjoyed my two stays at the Howard Johnson's Main Gate, which was located on US 192, just outside the Disney property line, but being a child I didn't take copious notes on those trips. I remember spending a lot of time in the swimming pool, using the putting green, and ending most days in the game room. As a kid, you couldn't ask for much more. As an adult, things like safety, efficiency, quiet, cost, and comfort become more important. I put those to the test with a three night stay at the Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista early in March, 2015.
review of the Clarion, but for less than half the price I would have paid to stay at Disney's cheapest hotel (one of the All-Star Resorts) during the same time period I got a larger, more comfortable room, with better amenities, including a microwave and coffee maker. Internet access was not as fast as I've grown accustomed to in recent Disney visits (which has improved considerably in the last year or two) and noise reduction was downright poor, but after the first night I was so tired that I probably could've slept in the middle of the highway, so that turned out not to be a problem. The pool area wasn't as well-themed as any Disney value resort, but it also wasn't as crowded during the day. Service certainly wasn't Disney-caliber, but beyond checking in I had no direct dealing with the staff, so that didn't affect my stay. Overall, I'd consider my hotel experience to be a slight upgrade over a Disney value resort at a considerably lower cost.
WHAT DID I MISS?
You do lose out of a number of conveniences when staying away from Disney property, namely:
• No Disney's Magical Express transportation to and from the airport
• No Disney Resort Airline Check-In / Bag Check
• No 60 Day Window to Make FastPass+ Reservations
• No Extra 10 Days to Make Dining Reservations
• No Free Parking on Disney property
• Limited Bus Transportation to/from the Parks
• No Access to Extra Magic Hours
• No Additional MagicBands
• No Room Charge or Package Delivery to Resort with Disney Purchases
• No Priority Access to the Parks on Peak Days (only applies around Christmas, New Year's, and Independence Day)
WOULD I STAY OFF-SITE AGAIN?