You can, without a doubt, stay in a hotel offsite for much cheaper than a Disney hotel. However, in my opinion, the benefits of staying onsite far outweigh the cost.
By staying in a Disney-owned hotel, you do NOT need to rent a car for your stay. Disney buses will pick you up at the airport and drop you off right at your hotel, and then take you back to the airport when your vacation is over. There is also an extensive bus system that runs from every Disney hotel to every theme park and Disney Springs. These buses run approximately every 20 minutes, usually more often during peak times (park open, park close, etc).
Disney has a few different levels of hotels on property.
- All Star Movies
- All Star Music
- All Star Sports
- Art of Animation
- Pop Century
- Cabins at Fort Wilderness
- Carribbean Beach
- Coronado Springs
- Port Orleans French Quarter
- Port Orleans Riverside
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Beach Club
- Grand Floridian
- Wilderness Lodge
- Yacht Club
- Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Beach Club Villas
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Grand Floridian Villas
- Old Key West Resort
- Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Treehouse Villas
Value hotels are basic rooms, about 250sq feet. We stayed at All Star Music on our first trip in 2016, and it was fine. It was a very basic motel-style room with 2 double beds (that were a little on the firm side). The theming is bright and fun, and all of the pools are themed (but have no waterslides). There are only quick service options for food at any of these, and will cost you between $105-$150 USD per night (sometimes more during peak seasons).
Moderates are slightly larger rooms, a little over 300sq feet. The entire resorts are nicer when it comes to decorations and the landscaping.
Deluxes are beautiful (with the price tag to match). The rooms are larger, the food options are much more upscale. Some of them are along the monorail line for transportation to the Magic Kingdom, while others are along boat routes to certain parks, or even walking distance. They contain 2 queen beds or 1 king bed.
The deluxe villas are similar to the deluxe resorts, except they are part of the Disney Vacation Club. Each studio villa contains a small kitchenette, with a coffee maker, microwave, toaster. They typically contain 1 queen bed and a pull-out sofa, with the exception of Old Key West which contains 2 queen beds.