Vacation home rentals near Walt Disney World have become a popular way to stay in large accommodations near the parks with private pools, game rooms, full kitchens, laundry, and other features. In this post, we share photos from inside luxurious and themed houses, offer thoughts on reputable companies, and thoughts on whether vacation homes are right for your WDW trip. (Updated July 27, 2020.)
It’s increasingly obvious that guests are looking elsewhere to get better value for money. This much became clear to us in reading the hundreds of comments in response to our “Is Walt Disney World’s On-Site Advantage Disappearing?” Keep in mind, that was published at a time when transportation, Extra Magic Hours, and FastPass+ benefits still existed.
With Walt Disney World’s reopening, some of these perks were temporarily suspended, along with the Disney Dining Plan and other reasons guests typically cite for staying on-site. At this point, the primary benefits to staying on-site are expanded access to Disney Park Pass inventory, which has thus far proven unnecessary, plus proximity to the parks and transportation. The actual benefits of those perks are debatable…
For one, the capacity of transportation is reduced during Walt Disney World’s phased reopening. Using the Skyliner, monorails, or boats is one thing–but buses are an uncomfortable hassle and waste of time. Accordingly, we are currently recommending that most, if not all, Walt Disney World guests rent a car for at least the remainder of 2020. That alone pretty much undermines the transportation and proximity advantages.
On top of that, when staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you’re necessarily in shared accommodations. This means there are public spaces where you’ll encounter other guests, and amenities will have reduced capacity due to physical distancing. At pools or even in elevators (where capacity has been cut) this can be a pain–or present health safety concerns.
Obviously, if you rent a private vacation home, these concerns are obviated. You don’t need to wear a face mask in common areas or while lounging around your pool, because there are no common areas and your pool is private. This provides greater comfort, privacy, and peace of mind.
The biggest thing of which you need to be mindful in the short term is cancellation policies. Be sure that whatever you book has a flexible cancellation policy, that you purchase travel insurance with full coverage (most polices won’t help), or that you’ll take the trip no matter what. Many people got burned when the parks first closed, and while we don’t believe that will happen again, quarantine rules could be an impediment to your travel plans.
Even before Walt Disney World’s phased reopening, many readers already have made the move off-site, whether it’s to hotels at Disney Springs, options at Universal that offer perks at those parks, or other nearby hotels. Another option growing in popularity is vacation home rentals, whether that be via large booking engines like Airbnb or via specialized Disney sites like Incredible Vacation Homes.
We first learned about the option to rent a house near Walt Disney World while listening to the (now defunct) WDW Today Podcast and hearing ad pitches for (the also now defunct) All Star Vacation Homes. It all sounded a little too good to be true: arcades, home theaters, private pools, countless bedrooms, and so on. But it was true. The homes were really as-advertised, with reasonable prices that were a fraction of comparable on-site hotel prices.
Since then we’ve used Airbnb extensively with great results around the world, including months at a time. That’s pretty much been our go-to, but usually for smaller flats or apartments. Rentals near Walt Disney World are a totally different ball game, as most are newly-built houses (the term mansion is apt for many of them) for the express purpose of rentals. (Airbnb is actually not the best option near Walt Disney World, for reasons we discuss below.)
In other words, when you rent one of these, you’re not staying in someone else’s personal home some random week they are out of town. These houses exist solely for the purpose of being rented, and are operated much like a hotel.
So, I decided to do some research, visiting the resort areas like Windsor Hills, Champions Gate, and Reunion. This gave us an excuse to tour some of those homes, and also meet with the team of folks at Incredible Vacation Homes who operate and run day-to-day operations at the company.
Beyond the size and themed areas of the flagship houses available for booking at Incredible Vacation Homes, the biggest surprise for me was the size and scale of the business. They have curated a sizable home inventory of Disney-centric homes, and are partnered with a management company offering a dedicated team and 24 hour customer service.
While we were touring the homes, staff vehicles were zooming around attending to other homes, getting them ready for guest check-ins. I don’t know what I was expecting–probably something a bit more disorganized and informal. That’s definitely not the case.
I was also surprised by the variety of accommodations offered by Incredible Vacation Homes. In addition to the lavish and spacious multi-bedroom homes with every amenity you can imagine, there are also smaller homes. More interesting to smaller parties looking for a quasi-hotel experience, they have 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo units in the Reunion Grande Luxury Hotel Tower. These units actually offer views of Walt Disney World, and the fireworks at night!
To my surprise, this is not atypical for the big players in the Orlando-area vacation rental space. Doing further research about vacation homes around Walt Disney World was a bit daunting. The various rental outfits seem to be in a race to the bottom to create the least coherent descriptions, stringing together a slew of spam-like keywords they believe will please the almighty Google gods.
Once you cut past the messy search results and begin delving into the pages of the respectable rental companies (including reviews from actual guests), there’s a lot to like. I found 6 different companies in the Walt Disney World area that I would consider to be reputable.
That’s just in doing research for this article; there very well could be other exemplary under-the-radar businesses that I’m missing. In combing the reviews, guest experiences are generally very positive–on par with crowd-sourced reviews for Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World.
There are a handful of other agencies, including Go Disney Vacations and Emerald Island Rentals Orlando that have good ratings, and I wouldn’t hesitate to rent from any of them if we were in need of such a property. In addition to all of these being legit and trustworthy, they are also in places where such rentals are legal, which is very important. Developments including Reunion, where Incredible Vacation Homes is based, were created with such rentals and mixed-use in mind. This is not true of places where many other rental options are located.
Accordingly, I would exercise extreme caution in using other options, especially newly-established ones. Along with the explosion in Central Florida’s real estate market has come a lot of questionable investors and attempts to make a quick buck. Many HOAs are now banning short-term rentals and cities are attempting to discourage Airbnb and other fly-by-night rental companies.
There are horror stories of Airbnb guests near Walt Disney World getting kicked out of their accommodations halfway through their trip because their rentals were illegal. As for renting from the credible and legal vacation home rental companies, we personally have zero hesitations whatsoever.
The point is that these Walt Disney World-centric vacation home rental companies are even safer, as they have direct control of and access to the properties, real-time support, and physical storefronts/offices in the area. They are basically like a hotel, but instead of their inventory consisting of individual rooms, it consists of entire houses.
Like hotels, they also have reputations that are inextricably intertwined with the properties, whereas Airbnb is decentralized and is only a booking service/engine; it doesn’t take a reputation hit when an individual property receives a poor review, nor does it have the means of offering a real-time solution, beyond a refund.
As for the pros and cons of vacation homes, we cover the basics in our Off-Site v. On-Site at Walt Disney World article. Beyond that, the biggest strength of vacation homes is in the size of the accommodations. If you’re looking at price per square foot, nothing any hotel of comparable quality offers at or near Walt Disney World can touch vacation homes.
Other upsides include free parking, having a full kitchen, laundry, game rooms, private pools, and whatever other features the specific home you book has. Many of the aforementioned communities where the homes are located are gated, ensuring safety, and have shared common areas, like pools and water play areas on par with those at some Walt Disney World resorts.
The biggest real downside is being off-site and having to drive or use Uber/Lyft.
However, you figure that adds $25/day to your Walt Disney World vacation budget, and gets you private transportation from your door-front to the parks in about the same time (if not less) commuting from the All Star Resorts via Disney transportation–at a per square foot price that’s lower than even the All Stars.
Nevertheless, it should also be noted that vacation home rentals are not for everyone. As much as I enjoy having a good freakout a la Kevin McAllister in Home Alone and running all over a mansion, one of these houses would be total overkill for just Sarah and me. We like our space, but don’t need that much.
Even if we did need more space, we like the hotel experience–and are particularly suckers for staying on-site at Walt Disney World. As we noted in the above-mentioned ‘Disappearing On-Site Advantage’ article, the nostalgia and emotional pull of staying on-site is incredibly powerful for us.
However, your mileage may vary on that, both in terms of your party size and how much emotional or nostalgic weight there is in staying on-site. If you have a party of 4 or more and want nice and spacious accommodations, vacation home rental near Walt Disney World might be perfect for you. This post basically serves a primer to the ever-growing rental market in Orlando, cuts through the fluff, and provides insight into what to expect from these homes. Basically, if you’re in the market for the best vacation home rental near Walt Disney World, use Incredible Vacation Homes or one of the other handful of companies discussed in this post, and avoid the rest
Have you ever rented a vacation home near Walt Disney World? Which company did you use? What did you think of the experience? Would you recommend it to someone else? What do you perceive as the pros & cons of renting a vacation home as opposed to staying in a Walt Disney World resort? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!