Are you looking for the best place to stay when you visit Walt Disney World? There are many choices from on-site resorts, nearby hotels, and vacation homes. Here we will go over the particulars of each and give you the good, bad, and ugly of them all.
On-site vs. Off-Site
The first question you will likely ask yourself when planning your vacation to Disney (besides how in the world you will pay for it) is where you will stay. There are lots of options. There are over 30 options on Disney Property alone. There is the Swan and Dolphin that are not Disney properties, but have some of the same perks including Extra Magic Hours. There are off-site hotels that give you the same amenities (or more) but often cost far less than a Disney Hotel. There are vacation homes that you can rent and get all the amenities of home and more than triple the space of a hotel. And finally, you can buy a DVC property or buy DVC points from a member.
The biggest reason to stay off-site is price. Nice hotels, motels, and resorts as well all surround the gates of Disney World. Some are five to ten minutes away while others are closer to 30-45 minutes away. By staying off-site, you will spend more time in the car each day, and if you did not drive to Disney, you will have to rent a car. Be sure to consider if the extra expense of renting a car, gas, and extra headache of getting back and forth to the parks on your own. If you stay onsite, you can use free Disney transportation to get anywhere you need to go. The math sometimes still works better to stay offsite, but it is something to consider. Depending on what amenities are important to you, offsite might work best. There are several hotels in Downtown Disney, vacation homes, and others that offer superior amenities for the price when compared to Disney. If staying off-site, I recommend staying at the Swan and Dolphin, using an All-Star Vacation Home, or staying in one of the hotels in Downtown Disney not owned by Disney.
There are literally dozens of options for you if you decide to stay onsite, so I will go over those in more detail here. Basically, all lodging at Disney World breaks into four categories: value, moderate, deluxe, and DVC. There are variations in each and some overlap between categories, but those are the four main categories. So let’s get into this further.
All-Stars (Sports, Movies, Music), Pop Century, Art of Animation
Value resorts are the cheapest category of Disney Resorts. The ad says that they are big on everything, except the price. This is at least partly true. Each resort features larger than life icons that greet you as you pull up. Each has essentially the same amenities. You have clean but small rooms at 260 square feet. For most of us, our living rooms at home are larger than this, so it is a tight space for two people, let alone four. That said the rooms are generally well taken care of. You have access to several pools at each resort, a food court, gift shop and arcade. The values do not have any table service (sit-down restaurants). Also, your only option to get to/from the parks is through bus transportation. There is no monorail or boat access from these resorts. Still, when you consider that the price can be half of the cost of a moderate and a fifth of the cost of a deluxe or DVC, the value is still there, and you get the same perks as someone staying at the Grand Floridian.
Our Top Pick in Values: Pop Century Resort
Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Fort Wilderness Cabins, Port Orleans French Quarter, Port Orleans Riverside
Moderates give you everything you get in the values, but it is a huge step up. Yes, the price nearly doubles in many cases, but if you want your resort to feel more like a resort, it is worth the cost. Moderates have great theming, green spaces, sit-down restaurants, feature pools, hot tubs (some of them), recreation, and more options getting to and from the parks. They are generally better and more centrally located than the value resorts and give you better access to play and food. The rooms are also much larger at over 350 square feet. The decor in the rooms is better themed and of higher quality.
Our Top Pick in Moderates: Port Orleans French Quarter
Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, Boardwalk, Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian, Polynesian Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Yacht Club
The highest level of Disney resorts is the deluxe category. At more than 400 square feet, these rooms are large enough to keep from feeling cramped. Most of them will sleep five thanks to a pullout couch in the rooms. Almost all of these rooms feature either a private patio or balcony whereas the other categories only have exterior corridors. This is also the only category of rooms that have interior doorways. Everything is “plussed” here. The resorts tend to be larger with more intricate details, great recreation, amazing feature pools, and the best dining anywhere on Disney property. They also tend to have the best location with direct access to the monorail and walking distance to Epcot, or better options to get around. The service is easily better at these resorts than at any other. However, keep in mind that this all comes at a premium with rooms generally starting at $350 per night.
Our Top Pick in Deluxe: Polynesian Resort
DVC-Disney Vacation Club
Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club Villas, Boardwalk Villas, Grand Floridian Villas, Old Key West Resort, Polynesian Villas, Saratoga Springs Villas, Wilderness Lodge Villas
DVC is Disney’s version of a time share. There are resorts built specifically for DVC entirely such as Old Key West and others that have DVC inside of them. Basically they come in studios or villas. Studios are basically are large hotel room with a small kitchen or kitchenette. Villas have one or more bedrooms in addition to full kitchens. Even though they are a time share, people can sell their points for the year to anyone, so you can often get a decent deal on great rooms. Disney will also rent them directly if rooms haven’t booked during that time frame. So you don’t have to be a member to stay at DVC. One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have daily housekeeping. It’s like most extended stay place. You can call and request it, but that you won’t get it each day without a fee. However, they really try to make you feel at home in these places, and some of them are located in the most desirable locations at Disney. If you need a lot of space and want to stay onsite, this is the only way to go.
Our Top Pick in DVC: Bay Lake Tower