Walt Disney World 101: Hotels
There are so many differences when planning a Disney World trip. For starters, the size of Disney World is incredible. The entire property is actually bigger than the city of San Francisco. It includes 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 2 golf courses, 2 mini-golf courses, Disney Springs, and around 30 hotels (not all Disney). Not to mention all backstage and storage areas! Here is a guide to deciding on a hotel for your Disney World vacation.
On or Off Property?
First decision you need to make it whether to stay on property or off property. If you ask me, I will ALWAYS say stay on property!! The benefits are so incredibly worth it to my family. These benefits include the Magical Express, MagicBands included in your stay, the ability to charge to your room via band, 60 day window for booking FastPasses, transportation, proximity, extra magic hours, and the experience to name a few. Off property will either require you to drive to the parks and pay parking fees or take a taxi/uber. Some hotels provide transportation onto the property, but it is very limited and will take you to the Ticket and Transportation Center where you will then transfer to Disney transportation. We have always loved staying on property and highly suggest doing so on your vacation.
Where should I stay?
Disney has many options when it comes to staying on property. To make it easy, they divide them into three categories; Value, Moderate, and Deluxe resorts. It is pretty self explanatory and there are great options within all of them! Prices can range from $65 a night at the campgrounds to $2500 a night at the Polynesian Bungalows. There is a price point almost anyone can swing, which I love.
Value, Moderate, or Deluxe?
The easiest way to see what is in your price point is to check on Disney World’s website. They have deals they run almost all year long, some are better than others. One of the most popular packages they offer is Free Dining during the fall time. They advertise these deals on their site, be sure to check them out before booking. I have stayed in all three categories and will provide my thoughts on each one later on.
Value resorts are not anything fancy, but they do have some hidden gems. There are five resorts plus the campgrounds. They are very large and hold a lot of people, so they tend to be continually crowded. But they have multiple pools and spots to eat to help alleviate this problem. When tour groups or cheer/dance groups are visiting, they tend to stay in these resorts as well, just something you may want to be aware of. They are generally clean and a great way to save money on your Disney vacation.
Moderate resorts are the most common choice for people. There are five resorts in this category as well. The rooms and resort as a whole are usually nicer than value resorts, but will be very large as well. The Caribbean Beach is so large in fact they have an internal busing system. The pools are generally better and have more to do and a lot of these resorts have activities at them as well.
Deluxe resorts are the most expensive, but also some of the most incredible. Deluxe resorts have a major draw to them and that is location. Almost all deluxe resorts are in very close proximity to parks, so it removes a lot of transportation time. There are eight deluxe resorts total. Another major draw is these are smaller resorts and you typically do not have to walk very far to your room from the lobby. There are generally more food and shopping options here as well.
Generally I suggest staying at a moderate resort for almost any trip. I have a hard time justifying staying at a deluxe resort unless I happen to get a really great deal. Values are great, but there is sometime special about a lot of the moderate resorts that we have loved. A majority of these hotels have rooms that can accommodate families of five with suites and club levels that can hold more. There is also Disney Vacation Properties you can stay at which include kitchens and are more “timeshare” than hotel room feels. No resort has a free breakfast unless you are club level, but all have food options available for purchase.
I have stayed at seven of the Disney hotels before, each have their own pros and cons. Here are my experiences.
All Star Sports/Music
Let’s call these resorts the “motel” of Disney hotels. They aren’t anything super spectacular, but you do get all the benefits of staying on property. Would I stay here again? Only if it was my last option before staying off property.
Swan and Dolphin
These resorts are “technically” not Disney. They are a hybrid hotel on property. They have some of the regular benefits that a Disney hotel has, but not all of them. The hotels themselves are very nice inside, even if the outside is butt ugly (in my humble opinion). The pools here are incredible and the location is prime. These hotels are Starwood owned, which is now under the Marriott umbrella. I would stay here again, I would just pretend the outside wasn’t so terrible.
Port Orleans: Riverside
This resort is incredibly beautiful, but very large so you will most likely walk a lot to get to your room. The rooms themselves are decent, but not anything overly fancy. (Remember how much little time you spend in your room). This is a common place for families of five to stay, but the fifth bed is actually a pull down bed that is meant for a young child. Unfortunately for my family, we did not know this beforehand and my 14 year old, 5’9” brother was forced to sleep on the bed. He lovingly called it his “diaper deck” bed. It wasn’t my mother's favorite, but overall it is a quality resort. Be sure to check out the Princess rooms if you consider booking here.
This is one of the biggest resorts on all of property and isn’t too fabulous, but it is better than a value resort. They are going under a refurb soon which will help. I would stay here before a value, but would prefer something a little nicer.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
This has probably been my favorite resort I have ever stayed at. During my time as a Cast Member, my family and grandparents came to visit. Having the discount I did, we decided to stay here and it was so worth it! The resort is beautiful and the backside of it is an open area where the animals from Animal Kingdom roam. If you have a room on the backside, you can wake up to animals right by your window. Isn’t that so cool?? I would love to stay here again. The only downside is the distance from the parks except for DAK.
I have a huge bias here because this was my home location for work. My family stayed here for one night before our cruise as a splurge and my heart was so happy. The resort is in the best location possible. You can literally walk into EPCOT from your hotel! It also hosts the best pool on all of Disney property, Stormalong Bay. Even if you don’t stay here, you should be sure to check it out. I would stay here again in a heartbeat if I was rich… anyone want to help me out there?
When booking, you want to do it around 6 months in advance if not more. Disney World is big on advanced planning. Be sure to utilize My Disney Experience for all of your planning, it will be very beneficial. Hopefully that gave you some insights to hotels for your Disney World trip.
Do you have a favorite resort to stay at?