Disney World in Orlando, Florida, covers an area roughly the same San Francisco, and if you're new to the Parks experience, you might think Disney on-site accommodation is the only option. But if you want a more relaxed Orlando experience, one that's gentler on your wallet and gives you added perks such as a private pool, renting a villa in one of the resort communities just off highway US27 may be the best option.
The US27 runs north-south, lying to the east of Orlando and the Parks. It's an easy drive to Interstate–4, linking you up to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Seaworld as well as Disney World.
In the last few decades the road has grown from a deserted highway flanked by orange groves to a community of private villa resorts with a string of restaurants, malls and shops. Renting a villa here offers space, peace and quiet and a taste of Florida proper.
One of the main attractions of renting on the 27 if you're visiting Orlando is the accommodation choice. The sheer range of villas available means that whatever your budget and requirements, you're likely to find an affordable villa to match. Because the villa resorts are just that little bit further from the Parks, it's possible to find cheaper deals if you're on a budget, and easier to find last minute accommodation.
Luxury at affordable prices at Highlands Reserve just off the US27...
That extra distance to the Parks is not necessarily an issue, depending where you are on the US27. The Highlands Reserve resort is a 15-minute drive from Disney World, 30 minutes from Orlando International Airport and 50 minutes from Sanford Airport. If you want to see more of Florida than just the inside of the Parks, parks like the Lake Louisa State Park are nearby, and it's a couple of hours to the beaches of the Gulf Coast.
Renting a villa just off US27 also offers more in the way of space and privacy than an on-site hotel may, making it a good choice for families and larger groups. Villas often come with a private pool, communal play areas and sometimes other shared facilities. Self-catering facilities mean you can buy your own food - eating out in the Parks can be eye-poppingly expensive, so this is a basic way to make a saving.
Going for a private villa off-site may be the right choice for you if you would rather have a break from non-stop Mickey and friends – leaving the Parks at the end of the day lets you escape the crowds and wall-to-wall theming.
There are malls, restaurants and golf courses on the US27 – many properties on the Highlands Reserve resort are within easy walking distance of the Publix supermarket in Berry Town Center...
The I-4, which will take you straight to the Disney Parks, is usually the best route for avoiding the traffic, delays and red lights that snarl up the smaller roads at busy periods. The nearer you are to the 1–4, the quicker your journey to the Parks is likely to be – from the villas at the bottom end of US27, you can be parked up and Park-ready in 15 minutes.
Although staying in a private villa on the US27 is a great way to experience Orlando, there are some elements of the Disney experience that you won't have access to that are worth considering before making a final decision.
The first consideration is transport. Within the Parks, Disney shuttle buses are on hand to take you to and from your hotel, but if you're renting on the US27, you'll need to hire a car. Orlando is built for four wheels, and a car is really the best way of getting around. You could potentially use taxis, but a hire car is a much more flexible option.
If you're driving to the Parks, you'll have to contend with traffic – the I-4 and smaller roads can all be busy at peak times. And when you get there, you'll have to pay for parking, which is a free perk if you're staying in Disney accommodation.
You'll also have to make some concessions when planning your daily itinerary; to make the most of a day at the Parks, the general advice is head there early to beat the crowds, then take a rest break in the afternoon at your accommodation. But if you're staying off-site, this will be more difficult as it will mean exiting the Park and driving back. If you have young kids, you may need to schedule your days so that you spend either a morning or afternoon / evening in the Parks, depending on the events you want to see, heading back to your accommodation for the rest of the day to relax.