98?r so of travel agencies are going to run the exact same price as Disney. There will be a few that have a fee for booking with them, but most do not. I've been using an agent that doesn't charge anything and she does a much better job than the agent I had a few years ago that did charge.
Disney offers the same price as an agent, an agent does not run more or less. However, with an agent you get more service, if any promotions come out they will change your reservation to get you the discount etc.
My recommendation would be to go with a Disney specialized agent, they offer a lot of benefits to you and make the planning much easier, especially if this is a first visit. A few things my agent does:
1). Books all my dining
2). Books all my tours, as well as transfers and insurance
3). Gives recommendations, tips and ideas
4). Types everything up and gets everything in order before sending it on to me
5). Watches for codes and discounts
6). Sends a gift for my booking
This is just the beginning of what an agent can all do for you. I don't know if you have ever booked with Disney before, but a lot of times I've found that Disney will add or take little things away, have little mistakes, etc. Also, if you book on your own you have to find out answers to questions on your own. Some things Disney is able to help with if you call them (but you do have to call and wait for an agent, etc.) or you have to search around online, get books, etc. The info may be outdated or incorrect and then you may have a problem.
If you were to price with Disney and then check with an agent, the price should be exactly the same. You may even find the agent is less, in some cases. However, the benefits and service you get is priceless and having ease of mind with your vacation makes things a lot easier for you.
I've been to Disney so many times that I've lost count now and I still use an agent just to avoid the stress and headache of booking on my own.
Now, whether or not to stay onsite really depends on each situation. Since you have a party of five, you will either need to get two rooms or get a room that will accomodate five, so it will be a little more expensive for you.
The best resort is going to be different for each situation and party, what you are looking for, it also depends on what you are wanting to spend, etc. I'm not really sure who you will be traveling with, what you want to spend, etc.
Here are some of the benefits of staying onsite:
1). Better transportation- Especially if you are travelling with younger kids or older adults that need to rest in the middle of the day. Many offsite hotels, if they offer a shuttle (if they don't that is an additional cost you will have to pay) only run in the morning and in evening. You usually need to schedule the shuttle, etc. It can also be a long ride and take away a good portion of your time at the park. Onsite transportation is fast and easy, and it runs all day. Depending on where you would stay you have different transportation options, all resorts offer buses, some of them offer boat transportation and three offer a monorail for transportation.
2). You can take advantage of the Disney dining plan. This plan can save you 40?ff of your food and you get to eat at the nicer restaurants that you may not eat at otherwise. It is a great deal.
3). I'm not sure when you are going, but Disney offers promotions for just about every date of the year. Unless you are going in the next few weeks, you should still be able to get a promotion for your dates. Currently they are offering free ticket upgrades, but they often offer free dining, especially during value season. So if you add up the saving there, you will more than likely be spending less, or possibly a little more than an offsite hotel, but you get all of the extra benefits and probably a lot more included.
4) The Disney touch- When you stay at Disney you know you are going to be staying at a nice place. I've gone past some of hotels that offer lower rates, and in some cases the same rates as Disney's hotels, and I think I would be afraid to go inside. Most of them aren't very clean, they can be a few miles away, etc. Also, you get the Disney service. If there is a problem, Disney will go above and beyond to try and fix the problem and do everything they can to make up for it. Even in cases where it isn't even their problem, they try their best to compensate in some way.
5). You can charge purchases to a room card so you don't have to bring your credit cards and cash with you everywhere you go.
6). Parking is free at your resort and you will also get free parking for the theme parks and some of the other places on property.
7). You packages can be delivered to your room. I know this doesn't sound like much now. But when you are in the parks, it is hot, you've been there all day, your tired and you have a ton of purchases to carry around, put on the bus, take back to the room (especially if you have kids that have purchases and/or diaper bags, strollers, etc.) it is nice to be able to make your purchase and then let Disney deliver it to your room.
8). Disney also offers Magical Express. Now, this isn't the best service and it does have some room for improvement, but it is also free. So that is another $100 or so dollars that you can save just for your transfer to and from the airport.
These are just a few of the benefits. I think that if you actually figure out your costs, everything that is included, etc. you will probably find that an offsite hotel actually ends up being more and you don't get all of the benefits. Most people think they are saving a ton of money by staying offsite, but they don't figure in the costs for everything else, or consider other benefits. After everything is said and done, I can almost guarentee you can save money by staying onsite, and you know you have a good room and things like that.
The problem with offsite is that you really don't know what you are getting into until you get there. With Disney hotels, you know they are going to be a good quality hotel. Reviews can be very hard to go by, a nice hotel may get a lot of bad reviews, but a bad hotel may get good reviews, it all depends who stays there, how they review it and what their experience was. Sometimes, no matter what the hotel does, one little thing can turn a review into a really bad one.
The best thing to do is go to a site like Trip Advisor, they are pretty good for reviews and find some of the better ones in Orlando. Also, look for higher star resorts in books from places like AAA. Even the Disney good neighbor resorts are not all fantastic, so be sure to do your research first if you stay offsite.
The value resorts are the least expensive, but also are more popular for young kids and groups (Also, unless you have a 2 year old in the party, you will need two rooms). The resort can be noisy and the rooms are a little small. However, the big icons at each of the values (All Star Sports, Music, and Movies and Pop Century) are always a huge hit with young children. Generally, children like the values more than the more expensive resorts just because of these icons. If you don't plan to spend much time in the room, then the value should be fine for you, it is a clean room, with everything you need, a nice pool and an inexpensive place to eat. Values are low cost and whimisical.
For a larger room, and a resort that is a little more quiet, I would go for a moderate (Again, you will need two rooms hear, unless there is an infant, however, Riverside does accomodate five). You get the extra space, a few extra little things and there are usually fewer kids. French Quarter is usually a big hit with children as well because of the great pool. The moderates are going to be about double the cost, depending on the situation, but I think it is well worth the cost, especially if you will be traveling without children and/or want a quiet environment that is a little more laid back and relaxing.
The deluxes are more expensive, but offer more benefits right at the resorts, such as more dining options, and better transportation (except for Animal Kingdom) The best part about the deluxe resorts is that they have more onsite, so you don't have to go outside of your resort as often and they also offer more transportation options, so you can usually get where you are going a little quicker. Each of the deluxe resorts offers a benefit, Wilderness and Animal Kingdom are the least expensive, Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Club have boat transportation and you can walk to EPCOT. Then Polynesian, Contemporary and Grand Floridian are the most expensive but have the monorail. Of course, these are just a few of the benefits. The deluxes are the best when you are wanting luxury and the absolute best Disney service offered, but really, the service is fantastic at all the Disney service.
You also have your villas and then the Wilderness Cabins (really nice with five people since you have more room). This is if you are wanting more space and/or a kitchen. Also, the All Star Music resort now offers a family suite with a small kitchenette if you are needing a fridge or anything like that, you can request medical fridges or pay to have a fridge in regular rooms as well. If you need more space, but don't want to spend as much as the villas, you have the Wilderness Cabins. They have actual cabins you can stay in, or you can stay at the campgrounds in your RV or tent.
All the Disney resorts are great and they each have their own benefits, it just depends on which offers the most to you and which is in your price range.
Hope this helps!
Answered By: tech_fanatic - 6/10/2007