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1 Park, 2 Perspectives: Staying On Campus vs. Off

EPCOT BOUND: Though our resort parking pass was good throughout Disney World, we stuck with the free buses, under the assumption that we'd be dropped off much closer than where we could park. We assumed right. After waiting about 10 minutes in the Pop Century depot, near the lobby area, we hopped onto a bus and were deposited a few hundred yards from the Epcot ticket booths about 15 minutes later.

THE DAY AT EPCOT: Disney resorters get a great perk -- each day, one park opens early for hotel guests. It wasn't Epcot the day we visited, but it didn't matter. We arrived shortly after the park opened to find the place virtually empty.

Disney's Pop Century: Baloo and other giant icons are a highlight. (©Walt Disney Co.)

Accustomed to lengthy queues for even the most tedious attractions (sorry, that boat ride through the veggie gardens is a drag), we were surprised to find no lines in Future World, the World's Fairs-ian pavilions that make up half the park. We bolted from one attraction to another, actually walking onto Disney's newest star, the barf-bag-inclusive Mission: Space. Once was enough for that, but we rode Test Track three times in a row and would have jumped on again if it weren't 2 p.m. Time to chill.

Buses constantly depart from Epcot to the resorts and other parks, perfect for Disney guests who want to take a break. After a quick walk to the Epcot depot and a 15-minute return trip to Pop Century, we were in our room and fast asleep. We awoke to thunder rattling the walls and sheets of rain obscuring our parking lot view, but Epcot's World Showcase awaited. Driving to the bus stop, about as far from our room as possible, would have been an enviable option, but after finding the car earlier, we'd parked it where we knew we could find it again.

Next to the bus stop.

AFTER THE FIREWORKS: Once again, we turned to the Disney buses to get us back to the room. This could have gone one of two ways -- either a steamy, snail-paced line clogged with cranky children, their exhausted parents and intoxicated boomers who'd downed a few too many margaritas in Mexico . . . or not. Fortunately, we dawdled a bit after the spectacular park-closing IllumiNations show, so by the time we limped to the bus stop, the line was relatively short, spirits were high and three buses were waiting. Again, the commute from park to Pop was about 15 minutes.

BOTTOM LINE: We love the attention that Disney pours into its resorts, and although costly compared with most off-campus offerings, they're usually worth the extra money just for those great Mouse touches, free transportation and proximity to the parks. And face it, you can't eat breakfast with Goofy at the Ramada off I-4. But we'll think twice before spending $55 or more at a Value resort, when you can get a lot more for your money (a bigger room, nicer pool, free breakfast) at a chain hotel a few miles away. We'll just drive ourselves around.

-- John Deiner

Off Site: Comfort Suits Orlando

BOOKING: The International Drive area is chockablock with chain hotels, with easy access to Universal Orlando, Wet 'n Wild and numerous other attractions such as Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium. We figured being off the Drive itself would be a welcome respite from theme park overload, and though we'd have a car, we looked for hotels with shuttles to Epcot in case we couldn't face the traffic.

We wanted a double room, breakfast and a good-size pool, all for $55 for a Friday night, before tax. Comfort Suites Orlando, booked on Quikbook.com, fit the bill.

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