Why stay off-site? Here's one good reason!

by MousePlanet Sponsor, contributing writer

Why stay off-site? Here's one good reason

Many of our readers maintain that they will never stay at a hotel off of Disney property. What's more, they'll only stay at a Disney-owned hotel. There are many reasons for that. But some readers wonder whether they should try staying off of Disney property—whether they would get better value for their money if they were to stay elsewhere, even whether they'd enjoy staying elsewhere more than staying on Disney property. Today, we'll explore one option.

The Gaylord Palms Resort, a MousePlanet sponsor, is a luxury resort that you can visit for a moderate price. In fact, through March 10, 2009, you can book a stay for most nights through the end of September for less than you would pay at the discounted room rates for the same night at a Disney moderate resort. Compared to the $124 per night at a Disney moderate, the Gaylord's special is $119 per night for MousePlanet readers (link).

But how luxurious is this luxury resort? Well, let's take a look around.

As you enter the resort, you're greeted by a huge antique birdcage in the entry foyer. To your right are the registration and concierge desks, to your left are the bell stand and the transportation lobby, and straight ahead is the St. Augustine atrium, the largest of three atria and the home of the Castillo San Marcos fort and the wedding gazebo.

A huge antique birdcage greets you as you enter the lobby.

The registration area is to the right of the lobby.

The Castillo San Marcos is the huge centerpiece of the St. Augustine atrium.

The St. Augustine atrium is also home to the Sora Sushi Bar, Villa de Flora Mediterranean restaurant and Auggie's Piano Bar (where you can find Yehaa Bob Jackson, also known for his nights at the River Roost Lounge at Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort). A group of young alligators lives in a pond, along with some turtles, and you can watch gator feedings three nights each week. Feedings are conducted by experts from nearby Gatorland.

The wedding gazebo overlooks the back half of the St. Augustine atrium.

The alligators are fed three times each week by experts from Gatorland.

Sora is an upscale sushi restaurant located adjacent to the entrance to the St. Augustine atrium from the lobby.

To your right is the Everglades atrium. Here you can find the Old Hickory Steakhouse signature restaurant, along with dense foliage evocative of the famous swamplands. The buildings surrounding the atrium are also the location of the Canyon Ranch Spa Club and the hotel’s fitness center.

Turning right from St. Augustine, you enter the Everglades atrium.

You can choose to walk through the Everglades along the upstairs promenade, with a view of the guest rooms.

You can also walk downstairs, through the misty "swampland."

Upstairs is the entrance to the moss-draped Old Hickory Steakhouse.

Exiting the atrium to the outside, you come upon the South Beach Pool area. Here you'll find an adults-only pool and two hot tubs, surrounded by a bocce court, a sand volleyball court, a nine-hole putting course, a croquet lawn and more recreation options.

The exclusive South Beach Pool allows for adults-only recreation and relaxation.

The nine-hole putting course provides some challenges for those willing to take a shot.

Back inside and across the St. Augustine atrium is the Key West atrium, reminiscent of the funky atmosphere of the southernmost point in the Continental U.S. There's a Marlin dock where you can pose with a big catch and an open area themed to Mallory Square, and from both of those you can get a great view of the 60-foot-long, twin-masted schooner S.S. Gaylord. On board the ship is Sunset Sam's Bar, and alongside is Sunset Sam's Fish Shack, a great seafood restaurant.

You enter the Key West atrium through the funky Duval Street Traders shop.

The Marlin dock lets you pose with your "catch."

Mallory Square has décor reminiscent of the original.

The S.S. Gaylord actually houses Sunset Sam's Bar.

Sunset Sam's Fish Shack is adjacent to the S.S. Gaylord.

Stepping out on this side of the resort brings you to Clearwater Cove, a family-oriented pool with a play area for little children, a zero-entry pool with a giant octopus water slide, pop jet fountains, and more. Between here and the South Beach Pool area, there's the Emerald Bay wing of the hotel, on the far side of the St. Augustine atrium and home to the H2O Sports Bar & Grille.

The Clearwater Cove pool has a spacious pool area.

The Clearwater Cove playground has a variety of sea-themed play apparatus.

If you're holding an event at the resort, in addition to the banquet facilities in and around the Castillo San Marcos, you have a choice of meeting rooms and ballrooms in the Emerald Bay wing, as well as a huge convention center that’s across the pool areas from the main hotel building.

The Market Square shopping area occupies the lower level of the Emerald Bay wing, and houses Auggie's Piano Bar, a Disney merchandise shop, and more.

But that's just the hotel. How about custom-made mattresses in your room? A doorbell system with an LED display for Housekeeping so that they don't try to enter the room if you're still in there? Two dual-line phones with speakerphones (one of which is wireless)? Full room service is also available, and if you'd rather eat out but let the kids relax in the room, in-room child care is available through Kids Nite Out.

The Castillo San Marcos provides a great deal of atmosphere to the St. Augustine atrium.

Here's one that we particularly love. The in-room safe is not only large enough to accommodate full-size laptops, it's also got built-in electrical outlets so you can charge them while they're locked away! Oh, and high-speed wireless access is available throughout the resort.

The walkways through the resort have the feeling of being outside, yet never experience rain or extreme temperatures due to the atria.

The Gaylord Palms prides itself on its "Consider It Done" attitude. Not only does each of the resort's 1,500 STAR employees focus on meeting the diverse needs of every guest, you've got a "Consider It Done" button on your guest room phone. Pushing the button will get you answers to your questions and resolutions to any issues that you may have.

And all of this at a price below that of a Disney moderate resort?

The St. Augustine buildings peer through the atrium's foliage.

If you'd like to get in on the $119 per night rate, time is running out. While you can book reservations for discounted stays through the end of September, you have to make the reservation by Tuesday, March 10. You'll need to click the links from MousePlanet.com (like this one), because the discounted rates aren't available through Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels.com, or even the Gaylord's main reservations office. It's only available through select special partners like MousePlanet.com.

If you're ready for a luxury adventure at a moderate price, the Gaylord Palms is ready and waiting for you.