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Is It Better Or Worse Staying Offsite When Visiting The Orlando Theme Parks?

July 5, 2022

Perhaps you’ve seen the latest post where I wrote all about our experience staying offsite, at the Reunion Resort, in Kissimmee, FL.

But, what I didn’t mention is how it effected our vacation. Did losing our Perks at Disney and Universal Studios make a difference? How does Genie+ work for someone not staying at a Disney Resort? And did our trip still feel magical outside of the “Disney Bubble”?

Losing Our Perks

Obviously, Theme Parks use Perks as a way of convincing you to stay at their Hotels vs their competitor’s.

As a family who only stayed at Disney Resorts for our family trips to Florida, losing what Perks were left (RIP Magical Express), was something I wasn’t sure I’d like.

The globe at Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Orlando

Not staying at a Universal Studios Hotel means giving up certain conveniences like:

  • Sending merchandise you purchased in the Parks to your Hotel
  • Early entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Free Unlimited Express Passes (This is only a Perk at Universal Premier Hotels)
  • Using your room key in place of a credit card (otherwise known as Charging Privledges)

I omitted “Free Transportation” because on-site transportation is always free, no matter whether you’re staying offsite or onsite. So, I never counted this as a Perk at Universal Studios or Walt Disney World.

Did we miss the Perks?

Honestly, we didn’t. Sure, getting to the Parks early is great. But, we’re traveling with a baby. So, when we arrive to the Parks is dictated by his schedule, for the most part. If he wants to sleep in, we let him.

As for the other Perks, they really didn’t apply to us. We didn’t buy many souvenirs. Plus, we had the stroller to store them in. And we never charge anything to the room.

The Hotels that fall within our budget don’t qualify for the Free Express Passes, even after my Travel Agent discounts. So, that was never an option for us.

Cinderella Castle during the 50th Anniversary

Walt Disney World

At Walt Disney World, the Perks include:

  • Sending merchandise you purchased in the Parks to your Hotel
  • Early Entry (and/or late entry for Guests staying at a Deluxe Resort)
  • Ability to book Dining Reservation for your entire trip 60 Days prior to check-in
  • Using your MagicBand to charge food, merchandise, etc
  • Booking Individual Lightning Lane selections at 7AM

Did we miss the Perks?

In some ways, yes.

Just like Universal Studios, there are some Perks we never use anyway. So, it made no difference if we had them or not. But, there were a couple Perks that we absolutely missed.

What we didn’t miss

Walt Disney World is bigger and busier. So, getting into the Parks early to get on a few of the attractions with little to no wait is great and something I suggest everyone does at least once. But, is it a necessity? For my family, it’s not.

I also never use my Magicband to pay for anything in the Parks. It’s far too easy to lose track of how much your spending when a purchase is just a tap away.

That’s why I use Gift Cards. How much I spend is limited to how much is on my Gift Card. This includes everything from souvenirs to meals. My bank account always thanks me for that.

Mickey waffle at Boma, in Disney's Animal Kingdom
What we did miss

Advanced Dining Reservations (or ADR). Not only is it more convenient to book all at once, I think it gives you a better chance of getting the Reservations you really want.

We don’t make too many Dining Reservations. But, there was one restaurant I really had my eye on. Being limited to the “60-day ONLY” rule, I feel like I may had been able to get it if had we stayed on property. Why? Because of the “60 day plus 10” rule.

There is often a misconception about what this actually means. Some interpret it to mean that if offsite Guests can book at 60 days, then onsite Guests can book 10 days earlier.

In reality, it just means that while everyone has to wait until 60 days to book their Dining Reservations, Disney Resort Guests are able to book for their entire stay (with the cutoff being 10 days).

Since we normally travel for 7 days, I save popular restaurants for the end of our trip, since that’s when they’re more likely to be available. In the past, this has helped me secure restaurants almost a week before offsite Guests even had a chance to book.

But, since we were staying offsite, we were forced to look at only the Reservations that were available 60 days from that date. And let me tell you, there wasn’t much.

The other big Perk that I absolutely wish I had was the ability to book Lightning Lanes at 7AM, instead of waiting for the Park to open. Not staying at a Disney Resort absolutely had an affect on our trip.

However, there’s a lot more I have to say about this, so I’m saving Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes for it’s own category.

Queue for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

Using Genie+ when staying offsite

Is there a difference between staying on property and staying offsite when trying to use the Disney Genie?

Yes!

But it doesn’t mean that it’s a total disaster and you shouldn’t get it just because you’re not staying at a Disney Resort.

Individual Lightning Lanes

As of today, the 4 Individual Lightning Lanes are:

  • Magic Kingdom – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Epcot – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
  • Hollywood Studios – Rise of the Resistance
  • Animal Kingdom – Flight of Passage

The plan is to go back to 2 Individual Lightning Lanes per Park on August, 7, 2022. I’m not entirely convinced this will happen. But, if it does, hopefully it won’t be for long.

If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, you’re able to purchase these Attractions starting at 7AM. But, if you’re staying offsite, you can’t purchase them until the Park opens.

On days Parks aren’t opening until 9 or 10AM, this means losing 2 or 3 hours. And since popular Attractions can sell out in mere minutes, you don’t really stand a chance.

Refresh, refresh, refresh

How many of these Attractions did we get to ride? We were able to ride 2 of the 4 highly popular Attractions: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Flight of Passage But, had we wanted to wait in line for Rise of the Resistance, we could have easily gone on all 4 by simply refreshing the app.

Rise of the Resistance rarely gets additional Lightning Lanes during the day. But, it’s not impossible to see Individual Lightning Lanes pop back up, even if they were previously sold out.

In fact, that’s how we rode Flight of Passage. I was refreshing the page and suddenly a time for 20 minutes later popped up. It stayed open for about 5 minutes before they were sold out again.

Despite the 2 hour line outside, my son and I practically walked on.

I also saw Seven Dwarfs Mine Train show up quite a bit on the app, as well. Had we been in Magic Kingdom at the time, we would have easily been able to get on with a minimal wait time.

Storm Trooper in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
Rise of the Resistance

To be honest, losing the ability to book all Individual Lightning Lanes at 7AM was what I was most upset about. But, I knew Rise of the Resistance would be the hardest, regardless of where we stayed.

And I believe staying offsite absolutely affects your experience with this Attraction.

Traveling with an 8-month-old, neither my husband nor I was willing to wait 2 hours in line. So, the only way we’d ride was if we could somehow get an Individual Lightning Lane, despite the $15 per person upcharge.

Yes, we were willing to spend $60 for us and our 2 older kids to ride. It was all in the budget.

As much as I refreshed the App, I never saw Rise of the Resistance come back up for purchase. And honestly, I wasn’t surprised.

With how popular this Attraction is, if getting a Lightning Lane is a “must do,” you pretty much have to stay at a Disney Resort to get one.

Screenshot of Virtual Queue and Genie+ for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure

My Gameplan for Using Genie+, Lightning Lanes, and Virtual Queues When Staying Offsite

  1. Wake Up Early
    • This is non-negotiable. The window opens up at 7AM.
  2. Have Friends And Family Linked To You
  3. Purchase Genie+
    • You can’t select Lightning Lanes until it’s purchased.
    • There is a cost of $15, per person, per day PLUS tax
  4. Unclick Any Friends And Family That Won’t Be Riding
    • Have your account ready to go! Don’t waste valuable time sorting out who is riding and who isn’t. This can be the difference between a low numbered Boarding Group and not getting one at all.
  5. Get Virtual Queues First
    • Virtual Queues are FREE, and does not require you to purchase Genie+. So, Guests will want these before the paid options.
    • As of today, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is the only attraction with a Virtual Queue.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is brand new, with no Standby Queue. The only way you’re able to ride is with a Virtual Queue or a Lightning Lane.
  6. Get Your First Genie+ Selection
    • Everyone can make regular Genie+ selections at 7AM.
    • Top Picks in Hollywood Studios: Slinky Dog Dash and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
    • Top Picks in Magic Kingdom: Jungle Cruise and Peter Pan’s Flight (plus Splash Mountain once the closing date is announced).
    • Top Picks in Epcot: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Every After, and Test Track
    • Top Picks in Animal Kingdom: Kilimanjaro Safari and Na’vi River Journey
  7. Check For Available Individual Lightning Lanes
    • You don’t need to be in the Park. But, the Park has to be open.
    • Once you’ve purchased your Lightning Lane, they can’t be refunded. Make sure the time works for you.

Did Our Trip Still Feel Magical?

When you’re inside “The Disney Bubble,” it’s easy to forget that the outside world is just on the other side of that giant Walt Disney World sign.

Life is stressful. So, even if it’s just for a few days, it’s nice to not have to worry about bills, the mortgage, drama at work, or whatever else is stressing you out at home.

When you’re an adult, “Magic” is more than Princesses, Mickey pretzels, and Attractions. It’s those carefree moments when you’re just happy being with the people you love.

So, does that “Magic” get ruined when you’re pushed out of the “Disney Bubble” and into the real world?

No, it doesn’t.

I’d be lying if I said that this trip was exactly the same as all those other trips when we stayed on property. Of course it was different. But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Despite the traffic, parking fees, and no Disney Gift Shops to walk to when everyone else in your family is sleeping, once you step foot on Disney property again, the feelings that you associate with being in a Disney Park is there.

Balcony at Reunion Resort

Did Staying Offsite Have An Affect On Our Trip?

I’d have to say yes. But, the impact wasn’t so huge that I would never consider staying offsite in the future.

Although we didn’t get to eat at the restaurant I had wanted to and we didn’t get on Rise of the Resistance, we still had a great time.

After all, I got to ride Velocicoaster, Hagrid’s, Cosmic Rewind, and Remy in a matter of days! And more importantly, I got to see the smile on my son’s face when he saw Mickey Mouse for the first time.

Even if I did nothing else, I still would have gone home happy.

Baby's first time seeing Mickey Mouse

It’s easy to look back at all the the things you wanted to do, but didn’t have time for. But, I choose to be grateful for the things we were able to do.

We chose to stay offsite simply because we needed more space. And this was the way we could get what we needed within our budget.

Unless this is your once-in-a-lifetime trip and you want to do as much as humanly possible, then maybe staying at a Universal Studios or Walt Disney World Resort would be better.

But, for most people, you’ll have a great time, no matter where you lay your head at night.

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Hawaii Destination Specialist

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