As we embark fully into the summer travel season, I thought it fitting to write a little bit about the different hotel options at Walt Disney World, along with some extra details on my personal favorites. (And some candid thoughts on the others.) I always, always, ALWAYS recommend staying on-site. (A few top reasons for that recommendation: free transportation to and from the airport, access to the dining plan (which I also fully recommend), free transportation during your entire stay, Extra Magic Hours, complete immersion into the theming of a fantastic resort…. just to name a few things…)
Over the years, I’ve been able to stay at many of the wonderful resorts on Disney property. And in most cases, if I didn’t stay there, I toured the property and I ate at a restaurant there! 😉
But let’s keep this relatively short and to the point.
Disney categorizes its resorts by price point. But along with increased price comes bigger room size, better theming, and closer park proximity.
First – a list of the categories and the hotels in those categories.
All Star Music
All Star Movies
All Star Sports
Art of Animation
The newest addition to this category is the Art of Animation resort. This resort does have regular rooms, but it’s mostly made up of family suites. All Star Music resort also has some family suites as well. A family suite is your only option if you want a Value category room with more than four people in the same room. Disney is very strict when it comes to room capacity. Were it me, and I was going to stay value, I would choose Pop Century or Art of Animation. The All Stars are where many school groups stay. I will say no more of that. The value category is a great option for those on a tight budget who want to still take full advantage of all the perks that staying on-site has to offer. However, if you are a couple going to Disney without children, I would definitely steer you away from this category, unless it was your only financial option to be able to stay on site. (Ever been to an elementary school cafeteria? Yeah, that’s the feel at the value resorts.) As to the theming, it’s basic – lots of large icons and statue-type items to fit the themes. (The All Stars are pretty clear as to what the themes are. Pop Century has sections that highlight each decade of pop culture, and Art of Animation has sections devoted to The Little Mermaid, Cars, The Lion King, and Finding Nemo.)
Large icons at the All Star Music Resort…
(Themed around the different islands of the Caribbean. Some rooms even have a pirate theme.)
Port Orleans French Quarter
(Like the French Quarter of New Orleans around Mardi Gras)
Port Orleans Riverside
(Stay in a stately southern mansion, or out in the bayou. Some rooms are categorized as Royal Guest Rooms, based on Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”)
Fort Wilderness Cabins
(Self contained, multi-roomed cabins at Fort Wilderness campground.)
Quite often, you can stay at a moderate resort for just a little more than the price of a value – when that happens – DO IT! Your rooms will be larger, your resort will have better theming, and it will feel exponentially less crowded. (I can’t emphasize that enough – you won’t have that crazy crowded feeling like you get at the values.) I’m a big fan of Caribbean Beach in the moderate category. The different villages are based on different islands. Each village has a pool, plus you have the large main pool with an awesome water slide and even a kids’ play area. All the moderate resorts will have bigger main theme pools, and have water slides at those main pools. The moderates also have better food courts than the values, and have sit-down restaurants as well. Coronado Springs is a big convention hotel, so it’s a great place for an adults-only trip. If you have a family of 5, you can either stay at Port Orleans Riverside, or a Wilderness Cabin. (The other moderates top out at four to a room.) The wilderness cabins can sleep up to 6.
Caribbean Beach Resort – one of the village areas…
Here’s a map of the Caribbean Beach Resort…
Deluxe Resorts (by area):
Magic Kingdom area:
(Lush, tropical, south Pacific feel. My favorite monorail/Magic Kingdom resort.)
(Victorian marvel which evokes Palm Beach’s golden era. Disney’s flagship property.)
(Sleek, modern, and the monorail runs right though the lobby.)
(Evokes the majesty of America’s wild northwest and great national parks.)
(A relaxed beach-y feel with light airy rooms – and it’s right next to the back entrance to Epcot! Shares the mini water-park, “Stormalong Bay,” with the Yacht Club Resort.)
(The older, more refined, classic sibling of the Beach Club. Shares the mini water-park, “Stormalong Bay,” with the Beach Club.)
(Think turn of the century golden era of the New Jersey shore – Atlantic City. It also has the famous Clown Pool!)
Animal Kingdom area:
Animal Kingdom Lodge
(There are literally exotic animals (giraffes, zebras, watusi cattle, ostriches) outside the balconies of most rooms, tons of animal viewing areas, and a lush tropical pool area. Did I mention the animals?!?!?)
I’m going to go right to listing the Deluxe Villa resorts as well. Disney has its own timeshare type of resorts (Disney Vacation Club, or “DVC” for short. I am a member of DVC myself, and when I go to Disney, I stay at the DVC resorts with my timeshare points.) When these rooms are not booked by members on points, regular guests can book them on cash just like any other room. Many (but not all) of the Deluxe Resorts also have DVC rooms in them or in buildings adjacent to them. The bottom room category accommodations in villas are larger than regular hotel rooms, and you can go up to 1, 2, or 3 Bedroom Villas. The 1, 2, and 3 bedroom villas have full kitchens, with separate dining and living rooms, and often multiple bathrooms. Regular villa rooms have kitchenettes.
Deluxe Villa (or “DVC”) Resorts:
Animal Kingdom Villas (Two resort buildings: Jambo House and Kidani Village)
(Animals, animals, animals! Some of the best dining on property. Lush tropical common outdoor areas. Two amazing pool complexes. ANIMALS!)
Old Key West
(DVC’s original resort. Feels just like you’re in Key West. Pastel buildings, palm trees, laid back and spread out resort.)
Bay Lake Tower
(Along side the Contemporary Resort next to the Magic Kingdom. Sleek modern styles. Lots of concrete.)
Beach Club Villas
(Adjacent to the regular Beach Club Resort – right next door to Epcot. Access to Stormalong Bay.)
(Adjacent to the Boardwalk Inn – quick walk to Epcot, lots of nightlife along the Boardwalk itself.)
(Fashioned after the racehorse town in upstate New York – across the water from Disney Springs , aka: the former Downtown Disney.)
The Villas at Wilderness Lodge
(You guessed it – this one is adjacent to Wilderness Lodge – get the majestic feel of the grand Pacific Northwest!)
Villas at the Grand Floridian
(Built next to and with the same grand Victorian era feel of the rest of the resort.)
(Villas at the Polynesian Village Resort – currently finishing construction. Not only will they offer regular studio villa rooms, but also over-the-water bungalows as well!)
What’s so great about the Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts? Well, not only are you closer to one or more of the parks, you also have the largest rooms AND the BEST theming. You can completely lose yourself in the grand theatrical experience that Disney creates – down to every tiny last detail.
Here are my thoughts on some of these resorts in the Deluxe category.
On a travel agent trip, I stayed at the Polynesian and just love it! I have also not only eaten here on MANY occasions at their great restaurants, but I also just come here to hang out or take a break from the Magic Kingdom on a hot day – the property is lush and tropical, has one of the best gift shops, and it serves my favorite drink at Disney – the Lapu Lapu. (A tasty alcoholic concoction served out of an actual pineapple that will knock you down with just one serving. Mmmmm…. No seriously, this is strong stuff!) Hop on the resort monorail from the Magic Kingdom for a bar break on the 2nd floor of the main Ceremonial House. You can also have an awesome fireworks viewing from the resort beach every single night! I love this resort! By far the best one on the monorail!
As much as I love the Polynesian, I actually love Animal Kingdom Lodge and Villas even more. (Although the Polynesian would be a VERY close second.) It is my absolute favorite place to stay in Disney World, hands down. Period. The first and main building, Jambo House will take your breath away when you walk in just from the sheer majesty of the lobby. Shooting off from the lobby are various animal viewing areas in almost every direction. You are able to see the animals in SO many places here! (They even have free night-vision goggle viewing every evening!) And if you have a Savannah View room, you can just walk out on to your balcony and watch the giraffes and zebras walk by. (In addition to all kinds of other awesome critters!) The animals LIVE on the Savannah. They do not go into special buildings at night. They are always out there. The only time they may be in the separate animal upkeep building is for a short period in the early morning hours, when they can go in (voluntarily) for extra food and vet inspections. (They are called in via the sound of clicking wood blocks – learned that while taking the on-site safari!) The restaurants in these two buildings are essentially some of my absolute favorites on property. Jiko, Sanaa, and Boma are all not to be missed! Yum, yum, yum! Here’s a little budget trick for Animal Kingdom Resort and Villas – the standard rooms here are tied with the Wilderness Lodge for cheapest Deluxe rooms on property. But for an extra few bucks a night, you can go from a Standard View (aka parking lot view) to Pool View for a MUCH better experience and only spend a little bit more! I highly recommend this option. Now if you want Savannah view, I won’t lie, that’s gonna cost you a lot more. But remember – there are TONS of animal viewing areas ALL around the resort – even along the pool area, so you don’t NEED to have a Savannah view to have a great animal themed experience here.
Beach Club Villas (and Resort) are great because of their proximity to Epcot. (Yacht Club and Boardwalk are an easy walk away as well.) You are literally a five minute walk from the International Gateway – aka, the back door to the Epcot park – smack dab in the middle of all the countries in World Showcase. (This entrance lets you into the park in between the France and UK pavilions.) Perfect for going into Epcot on those evenings where you just want to chill, or hit up some of the bars in the different countries. (Have a Guinness in the UK, a Grand Marnier slushie in France (my fave!), or a tasty tequila in Mexico!) Speaking of drinking in Epcot, staying in one of these nearby resorts could be a great idea for those who want to “Drink Around the World.” (Essentially attempting to have a drink at each of the 11 countries that make up World Showcase. Although be warned, this experience is not for the faint of heart! Or stomach. Or liver.) Staying in an Epcot resort is also a great choice if you are going during the Food and Wine Festival every fall – even MORE countries to sample drinks from! (But the resorts book up FAST for that time period. Plan WAY in advance.)
Old Key West and Saratoga Springs are the cheapest DVC resorts. And if choosing between those two, I would recommend Old Key West. The rooms here are going to be the biggest of all the DVC resorts, as this was the original DVC resort proper. The Table Service restaurant here (Olivia’s) serves up some great food options! But the resort itself is spread out – be prepared to do some walking.
Bay Lake Tower is just too modern/sleek/concrete for me. Plus, the pool area is really small. Not worth it to me for the proximity to Magic Kingdom. Although if you think you will spend most of your time in Magic Kingdom, it may be a good choice for you.
The Wilderness Lodge is a great alternate option for those that want to stay in the area of Magic Kingdom, but not spend as much. This resort is NOT on the monorail – you have to take the boat to Magic Kingdom. But the resort is awesomely majestic and has a nice pool area.
A few other thoughts to keep in mind…
There are THREE resorts on the Magic Kingdom monorail: Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary/Bay Lake Tower. That is it. No other resorts are on the monorail. (You can walk from the Contemporary/Bay Lake Tower into Magic Kingdom if you don’t want to wait for the monorail.)
You can walk into the back of Epcot from the following Disney resorts: Beach Club, Yacht Club, Boardwalk. You can also walk to Disney Hollywood Studios (former MGM) from these resorts as well, but it’s a farther walk. Boardwalk is the closest to Disney Hollywood Studios.
You cannot walk from the Animal Kingdom Lodge/Villas to the Animal Kingdom park. But it’s literally a four minute bus ride. Animal Kingdom Lodge to Magic Kingdom park is the longest distance to travel on property – but it’s only a 20 minute bus ride. Not a big deal.
You can walk to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) from Saratoga Springs.
You can take a boat from Old Key West to Disney Springs.
You can take a boat from Port Orleans to Disney Springs.
You can take a boat from Wilderness Lodge to Magic Kingdom. (Actually, even the Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts offer boats if you so choose that option.)
ALL the other resorts require taking buses to the different parks.
You may see info about the Swan and Dolphin resorts in the Epcot area. These are not technically official Disney resorts. You do not get free transportation to and from the airport. You cannot book the Dining Plan. The only thing you get is the free in-park transportation and access to the Extra Magic Hours. (Plus good proximity to Epcot.) Just so you know the facts about these resorts – weigh the various factors when deciding on whether or not to stay here.
Here are some pics from the Deluxe category. If you have any questions about any of these resorts, let me know!
(And remember, booking a stay at Disney at ANY of these wonderful resorts through me costs you the exact same price as booking it yourself through Disney, only you get all my help along the way if you book through me!)
***updated December 2015