Now that you’ve officially decided to plan a vacation to Disney World it’s time to decide where to stay. As you start to look into all of your options, you feel extremely overwhelmed. Trust me; this is a totally normal feeling. Between the 27 hotels on Disney property in addition to the hundreds of hotels in the surrounding areas, there’s a lot to choose from. Even if you’ve been to Disney World before, stick around! You may learn a thing or two about the differences between all of the resorts.
First, I will briefly address off-property resorts. Frankly, I’m not a fan. This is 100% a personal preference but speaking from a lot of experience, you’re better off staying on property. You may receive a cheaper price on your room on the outset (although I would argue that Disney’s value resorts are the same price, if not cheaper, than many of the hotels off-property) but you’re losing out in the long run. And here’s why:
When staying off-property you are not eligible for the Disney Dining Plan, something I am a huge advocate for.
You will not receive a complimentary magic band which links all tickets, dining experiences, credit cards, and FastPasses together. If you would like to utilize this technology, you must purchase a band at one of the parks.
You are not eligible to participate in Disney’s Extra Magic Hours where the theme parks open early or stay open late for Disney Resort guests.
Guests staying on property can book their FastPass experiences 60 days in advance. If you are not staying on property, you can book 30 days in advance. By then, most of the top attractions will be booked.
While many off-property resorts do offer transportation to Disney, they are not as frequent or reliable (and sometimes not included in your cost). At Disney, there are free buses that run at a minimum every 20 minutes. During peak hours (park open and close) they run closer to every 10 minutes. They take you directly to the parks and have a streamlined bus stop close to the entrance. Off-property buses are stuck walking farther and waiting with everyone staying off-property, regardless of hotel. It’s a jumbled mess after a fireworks show or big event.
For those guests staying at some resorts (including those surrounding the Magic Kingdom, Port Orleans, etc.), you also have the opportunity to utilize other forms of transportation (depending on your location) such as boat or monorail.
Disney has also recently introduced the Minnie Van service through Lyft offering hotel guests a quick, individual way to get to the parks. Operated similar to Uber and Lyft, families can feel confident in their experience knowing they are being taken around property by a Disney Cast Member.
You are not privy to the same level of customer service offered by Disney World cast members. Cast Members go through rigorous training in customer service and guest interactions. It is our top priority. You are #1 during your stay on Disney property. That’s not to say you won’t receive great service elsewhere, but it’s not prioritized the same way and I have not experienced the same level of consistency.
There are a few exceptions to these rules; the hotels at Disney Springs Resort Area do enable guests to enjoy some (not all) of these perks. These hotels at Disney Springs are the Best Western, Hilton, Doubletree, Holiday Inn, B Resort, and the Wyndham. Staying at one of these hotels enables you to experience Extra Magic Hours and 60 day FastPass booking. Currently, these perks are only guaranteed through December 2019.
Look, you can stay off-property and still have a magical vacation. I’m simply here to tell you that I believe you can have the best, most magical, full Disney experience by staying on-property. If you disagree, well I’m sorry to stay this is where we part on this post. Head over to some of my other posts for other great Disney content! For those of you still with me and staying on-property: moving on!
Here’s a list of all of Disney’s Resorts by level:
All Star Music
All Star Movies
All Star Sports
Art of Animation
Fort Wilderness Campsites
The Cabins at Fort Wilderness
Port Orleans Riverside
Port Orleans French Quarter
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Swan & Dolphin*
Star Wars Hotel*
(Swan & Dolphin are part of the Boardwalk Resort area at EPCOT. They are not technically owned by Disney but are operated as if they are. Guests experience all the perks and amenities that other Disney resorts experience. Star Wars Hotel is coming soon in conjunction with the opening of Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios.)
Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas
Bay Lake at Contemporary
Boulder Ridge & Copper Creek at Wilderness Lodge
Beach Club Villas
Villas at Grand Floridian
Old Key West
Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
Saratoga Springs & Treehouse Villas
Rivera Resort (Coming Soon)
I’ll kick off the Disney Resort piece of this post by letting you know that I have physically visited to every single resort on property. I have also stayed on at least one of each level of resort:
All Star Music
All Star Movies
Port Orleans French Quarter
Deluxe Villa Resorts
Different levels? What does that mean? Disney World breaks their hotels into four different levels: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas. For the purpose of this post, I will group the Deluxe and Deluxe Villas together because the Deluxe Villas (with the exception of Saratoga Springs/ Treehouse Villas and Old Key West) are located on the property of the Deluxe Resorts.
As you’re probably guessing, the Value resorts are the cheapest option and costs go up from there. And you’re right! But cost isn’t the only difference. The rooms are slightly larger the higher the level but truthfully, there’s not much of a difference in what’s inside the rooms. The main difference between the levels of resorts is the property and its offerings. A Value Resort has more rooms that are closer together, a basic main pool with one or two smaller pools, and a food court. Moderate Resorts offer more space between rooms and buildings, a nicer main pool, a food court, at least one full service restaurant, and often a café and resort activities such as bike or boat rentals. Deluxe Resorts include higher quality of everything in the lower levels (such as nicer pools with slides) plus additional full service restaurants (and typically a character dining experience), additional resort activities such as parasailing, closer proximity to the parks or Disney Springs, and added transportation options such as boats and monorails. Some Deluxe resorts have special offerings too. For example, the Polynesian offers as Child Daycare for parents looking for an adult night out and the Animal Kingdom Lodge houses animals right outside your room.
Let’s talk about price. The 2018 hotel price range per night for each level is below. If you’d like a specific breakdown for each resort and each time of the year, please follow this link.
Art of Animation (suite style) - $127-$519
All other Value Resorts - $97-216
Fort Wilderness Campground - $75-189 (depending on the camper hookup you are looking for)
Fort Wilderness Cabins (suite style) - $364-568
All other Moderate Resorts - $364-568
All Deluxe Resorts - $359-1213
As you can see, prices greatly vary. You will spend more for peak times including holidays and special events, weekend stays as opposed to weekday stays, how many people are staying in your room, and what kind of room you would like. Rooms closer to the main building with a pool view will cost more than rooms with no view towards the back of the hotel property.
Now that we’ve gone over price, how do you know which hotel is right for you? There’s no right answer for this question. Anyone can enjoy any hotel. The best choice for you comes down to your budget, the time of year you’re traveling, and the experience you’re hoping to have. I am going to run through some example scenarios of what works best for different situations.
1.) A couple (or small family) is spending a long weekend Disney World, approximately 4 days. They want to cover as much of Disney World as they can. They don’t come here often (or they’re first timers) and want to see as much as they can in their short window frame. They have a smaller budget and want to get the most out of their money.
They should stay at a Value Resort. They will most likely spend most of their time at the parks seeing everything. They will not spend much time at their hotel and therefore, they do not need all of the upgraded hotel amenities.
2.) A family with young children (ages 3-6) is visiting Walt Disney World for 7 days. They are spending approximately half of each day in a theme park. The young ones need breaks during the day for naps and rest. The parents would like to experience some of the fine dining options around the resort and the kids love spending time by the pool. The family has been saving for a long time and their budget is unlimited.
This family should take advantage of a Deluxe Resort, such as the Grand Floridian. Deluxe resorts offer the dining options that will satisfy the parents with upgraded pools and features the kids will love. Since the family will spend a decent amount of time at the resort, spending money on a Deluxe resort makes sense.
3.) An older couple is visiting Disney World. They have been a few times before but still enjoy spending time in the parks. They want a healthy balance of hotel amenities and park time. They enjoy nice dinners but nothing overly fancy. They enjoy taking long, scenic walks. Their budget is within the middle range.
The couple should stay at a Moderate resort, such as Port Orleans Riverside. A moderate resort would offer them plenty of scenic walking space and casual, but nice dining options. Since their time will be balanced between hotel and park, the moderate resort offers a great middle ground for their stay.
Here are some overall thoughts on which hotel to choose for your family:
If you have the money, the upgraded resorts are beautiful options with closer proximity to the parks and greater amenities. If you’ve got it, go for it. I’ve never said no to a nicer hotel, have you?
That being said, if you plan on spending all your times in the parks, you’re best use of money is a Value Resort. There’s no point in spending more money on something you won’t use.
If you’ve got a big family or a lot of people in your party, I highly recommend looking into the Villas, Cabins, or Art of Animation. These hotels offer multiple room setups that are made for larger groups.
If you prefer a quieter, more relaxing vacation experience the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts may be a better option for you. Although, I’m not sure you’ve 100% chosen the right place for your vacation in general. As anyone with Disney World experience will tell you, it’s not the most relaxing place.
All this being said, you can have a great experience at any Disney World hotel. Their offerings, customer service, and experiences are truly world class. If you’d like to chat about what would work for you and your family, drop me a line over at my contact page. I’d love to help!