Info on how you can decide where to stay at Disney World and how to pick the best resort for you:
“Where should I stay?” is certainly one of the top questions people ask me when they decide to take a Disney trip. And it’s overwhelming since Orlando has so many hotel and resort options. You might have many questions running through your head, such as…
- Are the deluxe resorts worth the money?
- Can’t I just stay off-property and spend less?
- Which resort has the best pool?
- Where can I stay that’s close to Hollywood Studios?
- What are the benefits of staying at Disney resort?
There are lots of things to consider when deciding where to stay at Disney World, so I thought I’d put some of those together into a blog post for you so you can figure out how to choose your Disney resort to stay at on your next trip!
On property vs. off property
This is a pretty popular topic, and there are good reasons for staying both on property and off property – you can read in more detail all of the pros and cons in this blog post. I’ll touch on this in the below topics as well, but as travel becomes more expensive I know people are more interested in budget options. I’m not against staying off property but there are a lot of things to keep in mind if you go that route and I just like to know that people have an idea of what they’re getting into.
Deciding which resorts you can afford
It’s best to start here, because if you fall in love with a Disney resort but you won’t be able to afford it that would be a bummer! In terms of resorts, Disney has a lot of options. In general, you can look at the following categories for these budgets:
$125-250/night: Value resorts (All-Stars, Pop Century, Art of Animation)
$225-400/night: Moderate resorts (Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans)
$350-600/night: Deluxe resorts (Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Animal Kingdom Lodge)
$450-800/night: Deluxe resorts (Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Yacht and Beach Club, Boardwalk Riviera)
A lot depends on the time of year as well. Visiting during a less popular time, like September? You’ll be looking at the lower end of those price ranges. Heading to Disney for spring break? Expect to pay the upper end or even higher for times like Christmas and New Year’s.
If you have the money to spend but you’re wondering if it’s worth paying more for a moderate or a deluxe, there are many things to consider but you absolutely get more for your money. It all depends on how important things are like convenience and location, space, food, themeing, transportation, and more. We’ll cover all of this below.
Disney value resort or off-property?
I didn’t include price ranges for off-property options above because there are so many and they vary so widely. Most people who want to stay off property do so for one of 3 main reasons: because they want to save money, because they have a bigger group that needs more space, or because they are only doing Disney for a few days and want to do other things in Orlando/Florida.
When I work with clients who are on a budget and are just looking for a standard hotel room for 2-4 people, they pick a Disney value resort. They are usually not that much more expensive than a decent off-property hotel and offer the convenience and perks of a Disney stay.
While you could certainly book a Motel 6 for less, and some people do go that route, you may not be saving as much as you’d think.
Flying in? Consider the fact that you’ll have to rent a car or pay for a Lyft/Uber each day.
I don’t recommend using shuttles that hotels advertise they run to/from the theme parks. There are usually a lot of requirements with these (for example, they might stop at several nearby hotels to pick people up, they only run once or twice a day, or they drop you off at the Ticket and Transportation center so you still have to take a bus from there to your desired Disney park).
In addition to a rental car (or if you’re driving down and will have your own car), you’ll have to pay for parking at the theme parks – which is up to $20/day. It will also take you longer to get to the parks. Many people don’t realize how big Disney is (40 square miles!). While some hotels advertise being just 2 miles from Disney, they are talking about from the entrance gates to Disney World – from there it can be another 10-20 minutes to actually get to the theme park.
For the most part, if you’re looking for a standard hotel room and you’re on a budget I would strongly suggest that the slightly higher price for a Disney value resort is well worth it vs. a standard off-property hotel.
But we’re driving down, not flying!
If you won’t have a car with you, I strongly recommend staying on property. Getting to Disney from anywhere else without a car is inconvenient and can add up.
If you will have a car, off-site might be an option. Make sure to look at all parking fees involved at hotels and theme parks before deciding it will save you money. If you’re thinking about renting a car you’ll need to factor in those fees as well.
Like staying organized? Consider vacation planning printables – 41 pages of trip planning, including a budget worksheet, guide to characters, trip comparison worksheet, info about the Disney Genie system, daily itineraries, packing checklist, and much more.
Remember: Size matters
Another factor to consider is how many people you are traveling with or staying with. Anything larger than a group of 4 means you have to do a little research into what might be best for you. I’ve written a full guide about traveling to Disney with 5 or more people, but I’ll share some brief ideas here.
- If you have a family of 5: There are moderate resorts that are standard hotel rooms that sleep up to 5 – these are going to be your cheapest option (Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside). You can also get more space with a family suite at Art of Animation or a cabin at Fort Wilderness.
- If you have a family of 6: The family suites at Art of Animation are a great option. You can also sleep 6 in a Fort Wilderness cabin, but there’s only one bathroom vs. two at Art of Animation. You’ll find family suites at All-Star Music as well. They’re not quite as nice as Art of Animation but they are a good budget option. Sometimes it’s also more affordable and convenient to book two standard rooms at a value resort.
- If you have a group of more than 6: A number of the Disney deluxe resorts have suites or villas that sleep anywhere from 5-12. You can also do 2 (or more) standard hotel rooms pretty much anywhere and request adjoining or nearby rooms.
You get perks staying at Disney resorts
Are you the type of person who will use the extra perks of staying at a Disney resort, like early theme park entry?
This has already started for Disney resort guests, and I think it’s pretty underestimated just how useful this is going to be. All Disney resort guests will be able to get into the theme parks 30 minutes early. If maximizing your theme park time is important to you I suggest thinking about how important early theme park entry might be for your plans.
If you’re off-site and you show up right at park opening, the major attractions will probably already have lines of 40+ minutes thanks to all the Disney resort resorts arriving earlier.
Those staying at Disney deluxe resorts get another perk right now – extra evening hours. While this isn’t every park every night, each evening one of the parks stays open for an extra hour just for guests of deluxe resorts. This is a huge advantage if you want to do some of the more popular attractions and you’re a night owl, and something to consider when you’re deciding where to stay at Disney World.
Which theme parks do you want to visit?
If you’re looking at Disney resorts and you want to be close to a certain park, there are some where it’s easier and quicker to get to those places. Where will you be spending your time?
- Magic Kingdom: Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge
- Epcot: Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Art of Animation, Riviera
- Hollywood Studios: Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, Art of Animation, Riviera
- Animal Kingdom: Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney Springs: Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Port Orleans
Yes, Disney resorts are well-themed
What sort of “feel” do you want from your resort? Some people think of it as just a place to sleep at night, and that’s totally okay!
Others want to use vacation time to relax in addition to the theme parks. Some families prefer over-the-top Disney themeing while others prefer something understated. Luckily there are choices for everyone and it’s pretty incredible how well-themed the resorts are.
Where to find the magic of Disney
Maybe you have kids who love all things Disney (or maybe you just love Disney!). For many, if you’re going to Disney World you want to be all in, including the hotel. There are some great choices for this, but the top one has to be Art of Animation.
The whole resort is all about Disney animation, and there are four different sections with themed rooms. There are family suites that are themed after The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars, while the standard rooms are themed after The Little Mermaid. Disney characters are everywhere and the pool is Finding Nemo themed.
The All-Stars are also fun places with a big Disney vibe. While they’re not solely focused on Disney, of course it’s incorporated in a lot of ways, especially at All-Star Music or All-Star Movies.
If you still want a healthy dose of Disney but you’d prefer a moderate or deluxe hotel, some options have a more subtle Disney theme. For deluxe, the rooms at the Polynesian have recently been redone with a Moana theme, and the Contemporary got an Incredibles makeover. Princess fans may enjoy booking a “Royal Room” at Port Orleans Riverside, which has princess themeing.
Tropical and Relaxing
Perhaps the thought of going to Florida for you means you want to embrace more of an “island feel” with a tropical drink in your hand and palm trees all around. The Polynesian is the epitome of that, with several themed bars, a gorgeous beach area, Hawaiian-inspired food, and a Volcano pool.
You could also try Caribbean Beach, a moderate resort with bright colors, sand, palm trees, and a pirate pool.
Another favorite of mine is Old Key West, which gives you that Florida feel. It probably felt the most relaxing of any of the Disney resorts I’ve stayed at, and you can leisurely take a boat over to Disney Springs from there.
Maybe you’re ready to treat yourself and you want that feeling of luxury. Nothing feels fancier than the Grand Floridian, the flagship resort of Walt Disney World. I remember growing up and feeling like it must be the fanciest hotel in the world when I saw it.
Several other great deluxe resorts will give you that luxurious feeling if you aren’t feeling the vibe of the Grand Floridian. The Yacht Club is a gorgeous location with more of a nautical feel. The new Riviera Resort is stunning and has vibes of Italy and France.
And if you’d like something that feels a bit fancier but you don’t have a deluxe budget, I’d highly recommend Coronado Springs – especially if you stay in a room in the Tower. It’s a conference hotel so it has a more adult feel to it and lots of amenities that you’d normally only find at the deluxe resorts.
When it comes to something truly incredible and unique, I can’t speak more highly of Animal Kingdom Lodge. I might be a bit biased, as this is my personal favorite Disney resort, but I’m blown away every time I’m there.
It’s one of the places where I’m tempted not to go to the theme parks and just stay at the resort. Waking up in the morning and being able to have a cup of coffee on your balcony overlooking the savanna is somewhat surreal.
Even if you don’t book a savanna view room, you can see giraffes, zebras, and all sorts of other safari animals from so many different public viewing areas. For me, being in my hotel room and looking out the window to see a giraffe is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
Where will I find the best pool?
I know some people love their pool time, and the Disney resorts have some great options. All moderate and deluxe resorts have pools with a water slide and a hot tub (value resorts still have nice pool areas but they don’t have these extras).
The best pool on property is the one at the Yacht and Beach Club, which has its own name (Stormalong Bay). It’s enormous, with lots of swimming areas, and an amazing slide. It has several hot tubs and even a lazy river.
Other hotels have some great pools as well, of course – the Polynesian’s pool is a lot of fun with the volcano slide, and the Boardwalk has a fun slide too (and they changed the themeing so the slide no longer looks like a creepy clown!). I’ve heard good things about the pool area at Wilderness Lodge too. Coronado Springs is another highlight for pool lovers with lots going on – not to mention the biggest hot tub on Disney property.
From pizza to pasta to fine dining
If you’re a foodie like me this might be an important one for you! There are so many options of places to eat around Disney World, including in the parks and at Disney Springs, but it’s often nice to have some choices right at your hotel. That way you can have your meal and you don’t have to travel after (or you can start the day with a nice breakfast right there before heading out for the day!).
Those who just want the basics will be fine with the value resorts, which have standard food courts, but if you’d like more dining options where you’re staying there are some places that stand out for me as having great food offerings.
I’m a sucker for Coronado Springs thanks to the food options there – it’s quite large and has a lot of restaurants and places to eat! If you’re looking for a more casual sit-down you can visit Rix. Three Bridges just opened a few years ago and it’s one of my favorite spots. It has a great atmosphere, amazing drinks, and the best burger I’ve eaten at Disney.
While Caribbean Beach doesn’t have quite as many choices, the dinner I had a Sebastian’s Bistro was delicious and surprisingly affordable!
The Polynesian and the Grand Floridian both have a lot of restaurants that are quite good (plus you can walk between them and/or take the monorail). The Polynesian has Kona Cafe and ‘Ohana, plus their quick service location of Captain Cook’s that’s one of my favorite quick service places.
The Grand has a quick service as well, but it also offers the Grand Floridian Cafe (excellent breakfast and a great dinner too), Citricos, Narcoossee’s, the Enchanted Rose Lounge (delicious small bites here), and the super fancy Victoria and Albert’s.
The Yacht Club, Beach Club, and Boardwalk are all right in the same area and you can find some tasty options there too. Highlights include Yachtsman Steakhouse, Beaches and Cream, Flying Fish, Trattoria al Forno, and Ale and Compass. Not to mention everything you’ll also find within walking distance at the Swan and Dolphin!
Finally, if you are a more adventurous eater the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge are some of my favorites. Sanaa is probably my favorite restaurant in Disney World (don’t skip the bread service!). You’ve also got an African-inspired buffet at Boma, plus a signature restaurant with African cuisine at Jiko.
To Disney World… and beyond
Do you have plans to visit anywhere else while you’re in Orlando? Some people also want to fit in Universal Studios, Sea World, Discovery Cove, Kennedy Space Center, or even a trip to the beach.
Depending on how long your trip is and what else you’re thinking of doing, when you’re deciding where to stay at Disney World you might consider hotels outside of Disney – or even doing a “split stay.” This is one of my favorite things because you can stay at a Disney resort for half your trip and then go somewhere else for the second half. I highly recommend it if you want to do more than one day at Universal Studios.
If you stay at Disney resort while you’re at Disney you get the perks for the theme parks there, and then if you’re at a Universal resort you get other perks for their parks when you’re staying there.
The right resort can minimize anxiety and stress
It’s no secret that many people are willing to pay for convenience. Would you rather save some money but spend more time getting around places and figuring out logistics, or would you be willing to pay a bit for being near everything and not have to worry?
Transportation in particular can feel stressful, especially if you’re coming from off-property. Staying at a Disney resort makes it easier. And if you have a certain park you’re going to frequent you can stay at a Disney resort close to that park (sometimes even within walking distance).
I deal with some bad anxiety, and the thought of having to call a Lyft to get around (especially when traveling solo) or relying on another mode of transportation is not my favorite. I also don’t love driving or dealing with traffic so I’d rather not rent a car if I can avoid it while on vacation.
But if you’re someone who wants to optimize every dollar and enjoys figuring those sorts of things out, that may not factor in.
Yes, it’s a lot to think about. But maybe some of those questions buzzing around your head now have some answers. My hope is that you have a better understanding of the resorts and what to decide when you’re figuring out where to stay at Disney World. And I can promise you one thing: wherever you end up, you’re sure to have a magical trip.
How did you decide where to stay at Disney World? Which resorts look most appealing?
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