Looking for a way to save money on accommodations when visiting Disney or beyond? Airbnb is a great way to rent a home or apartment while traveling. This post offers tips for the Airbnb first-timer, anecdotes covering our experiences with Airbnb, and the best ways for using it to save money when traveling to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, elsewhere within the United States, or even in Europe and Asia.
For those unfamiliar with Airbnb, it’s essentially a community that allows you to rent a place to stay–or rent out your own place–from another person. Like Uber, it’s part of the developing “sharing economy,” which is a total misnomer because you’re actually paying for the lodging, but whatever. We’ve used Airbnb several times over the last few years, and have had positive experiences with it. You can save a ton of money using Airbnb, which is a big part of why we recommend it! (You can also use my sign-up link for a free credit your first time using Airbnb!)
We just returned from a visit to Tokyo Disneyland during which we rented Airbnb from 3 different people, and all of the experiences were great. In fact, every experience we’ve had with Airbnb has been great. That, coupled with hearing about their disaster response to help people in Japan connect with free housing during the Kumamoto Earthquake while we were there convinced me that I should finally do a post on the service.
Our biggest motivation for using Airbnb is saving money. While traveling to Japan on our recent trip, we had a party of 4. It’s common for Japanese hotels to charge per person, or not offer rooms for 4 people. In addition to this, we were visiting during Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festivals) season. This is a popular tourist season with Japanese travelers, so hotel rates were significantly higher than normal, especially on weekends.
Due to this, we ended up booking 3 Airbnb stays for the trip. We used it for our trips to Osaka and Kyoto, and over the weekend near Tokyo Disneyland. In both Osaka and Kyoto, we chose it instead of hotels to stay nearer to points of interest and have an authentic “local” experience. (In 2 of the 3 places, we stayed in traditional “tatami” rooms, which was cool and unique.)
Our Airbnb in Osaka was a converted coffeehouse, complete with a bar, booths, and industrial sink downstairs (see photo above) and bedrooms upstairs. In Kyoto, we were able to book a spot that was a 2-minute walk from Fushimi Inari (and its rail station), our favorite shrine in Japan. Not only were these Airbnbs significantly cheaper than hotels we could’ve booked, but they were far more convenient. This is a big part of why we love Airbnb for international travel.
Then it was on to Tokyo Disneyland. We stayed in a hotel for our weekdays there, but hotel rates typically shoot up over the weekend (due to local tourists visiting the parks), so we switched to an Airbnb a couple of miles from the parks in Urayasu for the weekend.
We were 4-minutes by foot from a rail station here, making this perfect for spending time in Tokyo proper over the weekend (and visiting the awesome Studio Ghibli Museum). It also enabled us to get back to Tokyo Disneyland fairly quickly.
There are many Airbnbs conveniently located to Tokyo Disneyland, so this is a great option if you’re heading to Japan and don’t want to pay exorbitant weekend hotel rates (Friday and Saturday prices are often double–or more–Sunday through Thursday rates). All of the Airbnbs we used in Japan provided free MiFi pocket units, which would have provided further savings had we not already rented MiFi units (since we also stayed in a hotel, which doesn’t provide them).
In the past, we’ve also stayed at Airbnbs in France while visiting Disneyland Paris and Sarah has used Airbnb elsewhere in Europe while attending a friend’s wedding. Our experiences have been universally great, and much cheaper than booking a hotel. In addition to being cheaper, we like using Airbnb because it’s easier to do laundry (make sure to book a unit with washer and dryer). Although we normally don’t cook on vacation, being able to prepare our own meals was also a plus in France as we were right by a market.
We have yet to use Airbnb while traveling to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, but the idea is the same there, and there is tons of availability in both Anaheim and Orlando. Especially during peak seasons or runDisney weekends when occupancy and nightly rates are high, looking to Airbnb could be a great way to avoid paying exorbitant nighty rates.
With regard to Walt Disney World, I’d look for a rental just outside of the property. My personal preference would be near Celebration (on the south side), but if you’re planning on visiting Universal Orlando Resort or SeaWorld, going for the Doctor Phillips or east side of Walt Disney World might be a good idea. As mentioned, we’ve never used Airbnb at Walt Disney World, but likely will for the Walt Disney World Marathon next year. Even Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler uses Airbnb when visiting WDW…and we all want to be like Steven Tyler, right?! 😉
If you’re visiting Disneyland Resort in California and will have a rental car, I’d highly recommend looking beyond Anaheim for places to stay. Seal Beach and Huntington Beach are each 15 miles from Disneyland Resort, and other nearby beach cities like Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are charming towns with stunning stretches of coastline along Pacific Coast Highway. There are some good, resurgent parts of Anaheim, but otherwise the beach cities are typically far prettier and nicer areas.
As for other general tips, here are some things to consider before renting with Airbnb:
Create a thorough profile. Hosts will typically review your profile before accepting your request, so don’t go with a blank avatar, no reviews, etc., and expect to be accepted. Just as you probably (hopefully?) wouldn’t open your house to a total stranger, neither will most of them.
Message potential hosts with questions before booking. Not only will this provide you with helpful info, but you’ll also build more of a rapport and comfort with the host. They are undoubtedly screening guests and likewise look to messages to build trusts with potential guests. (We usually inquire about how check-in works, as we often arrive late.)
Rental types vary. From the size of the property to whether you’ll have someone’s entire house or one bedroom (or maybe just a large walk-in closet!), make sure to use filters on Airbnb to get exactly what you want.
Hosts vary. Some are out-of-town during your stay (or are “professional” hosts) whereas others are renting out a room in their own home where they live. You can find hosts who are totally “hands off” (or not present) or ones who will chat with you nightly and show you around during your stay. Book with one who matches your preferences and personality.
Trust, but verify. When telling relatives about Airbnb, some of the first words that always come up are “scam” and “safety.” Yes, it’s possible to get scammed on Airbnb, and safety concerns are likewise valid. With that said, you are highly unlikely to have any issues. Horror stories do exist, but they are the infinitesimal minority. Read host reviews, don’t pay cash or wire transfer (forbidden under Airbnb’s policies, anyway), and use a little common sense and you’ll be totally fine.
Keep an eye on cleaning fees. Think of these as the “resort fees” of Airbnb, which can make a lower-priced base rate end up costing more in total than a higher rate.
Don’t book last minute. Save for some “instant-booking” properties (which often cost more), many rentals will require a bit of back and forth before you’re able to book. Don’t expect to grab something same-day or even only a week in advance. (We actually shy away from the instant booking spots because we question why someone would let you book without screening…is it such a dump that they just don’t care, or what?)
It’s not a hotel. This should be patently obvious given all of the above, but it’s really important to remember. There is no nightly turndown service, no room-service, etc. You’re staying in someone else’s home–respect it like you would your own. (Not that you should disrespect hotel rooms…) After all, you’re being rated as a guest, too.
Don’t just look for the Airbnb closest to your point of interest in raw miles. Also consider nearby transportation hubs (especially important when traveling abroad in locations with robust rail systems). Staying in a spot 2-minutes from a rail station but 10 miles away from a point of interest can be better than somewhere 10-minutes from a station but 5 miles from the point of interest. This is especially true if you won’t have a rental car.
Overall, we have found Airbnb to be a great service that offers a way to experience a destination like a local, and to save money. For Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the latter is definitely going to be the stronger draw, as you can get some serious deals as compared to hotels. While all of this can be intimidating to the uninitiated, Airbnb is safe and pretty simple to use once you get the hang of it! Beyond the Disney parks, we highly recommend it for international travel!
Since the foundation of Airbnb is community, we think it’d be great to get some feedback from readers who have used Airbnb at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or beyond. Have any specific properties you’ve used near the parks that you’d recommend? Any experiences to report? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!