A trip to Walt Disney World is not complete without a place to stay. Luckily, between the on-site resorts and the surrounding area, you have no shortage of options. At Walt Disney World alone there are 28 Disney owned and operated hotels. Additionally, there are several other hotels that are not Disney owned but are within the Disney World boundaries. There are also plenty of hotels in the surrounding area.
First, we’ll cover the Disney owned and operated hotels, also known as on-site hotels. These hotels are the ones you see in all of the Disney commercials on TV. There are several advantages to staying on site. The first is the obvious proximity to the parks. It really makes getting to the parks and other locations so much easier when you’re already close by and don’t have to worry about Orlando traffic. In addition to being close-by Disney also provides free transportation to and from the parks for hotel guests via the buses and other methods. Now it is worth saying that the buses can be slow, but they’re still free. And the monorails and boats tend to be more reliable if your resort has them. One of the biggest advantages to an onsite stay is you get to book your fast passes 60 days in advance of check-in as opposed to 30 days for off-site guests. You also get an additional 10 days to book your Advanced Dining Reservations whereas everyone else has 180 days. On-site guests do also get Extra Magic Hours at the parks, however, we’ve seen that these aren’t as much of a benefit as they once were. In the morning you still get an advantage on day guests, but at night we recommend avoiding them now since they’ve become so crowded.
Disney Hotel Categories
Disney divides their hotels into three categories, Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Value is the cheapest option and the prices typically run between $100 and $200 a night. The values are lighter on amenities, but they do provide a great option if you don’t care much about where you stay and just need a place to sleep. The Moderates are priced anywhere from $180-$300 a night depending on the time of year and the type of room (some of the moderates have special rooms). The moderates will all have upgraded amenities compared to the values as well. Most of them will have a table service restaurant and all have pools with slides. Some even feature additional transportation as opposed to the buses. The top tier is the deluxe resorts. These are the most luxurious and expensive hotels that Disney offers. Per night, a Deluxe resort will set you back at least $300 but most of the time they run upwards of $450 a night for a standard room. That price is going to get you some great amenities such as spas, signature dining restaurants, the best pools, and almost all of them feature some special transportation options. The Deluxe resorts also are often closer to certain parks.
Obviously, I don’t know your specific budget and preferences so I can’t say which category is best for your trip. That’s something only you can decide. I can, however, give you some of our recommendations in each category. Which will hopefully help you make your decision. Here are some of our favorites in each category:
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort: Art of Animation easily has the best theming of any of the values. The buildings are all beautifully done and it actually has some really good details. However, only two of the buildings (Little Mermaid section) are really “value” rooms. The rest of the resort is made up of Family suites that typically are priced in at least the moderate category and sometimes even the deluxe depending on demand. They do sleep 6 people however so for a larger group these can be a good option. Later this year Art of Animation will also be getting a gondola station as part of the Disney Skyliner service which will make it very easy to get from the resort to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. It also is worth noting that AoA has the largest pool on property in terms of square footage and the food court generally gets good reviews.
Disney’s Pop Century: On the opposite side of hourglass lake sits our other pick in the value category: Disney’s Pop Century Resort. This resort is themed to different decades from the second half of the 20th century. This resort has always been popular amongst guests, and all of the rooms have recently been renovated with a fresh new look. And this resort will also be a stop on the new Disney Skyliner service which will certainly be an added bonus to a stay at Pop.
Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter: Port Orleans is an all-around great resort. The prices run about the same as most of the other moderates, the grounds are beautiful, it has some transportation in addition to the buses, with the boat service to Disney Springs. Port Orleans also has some Pirate and Princess themed rooms if your kid is really into that sort of thing.
Coronado Springs: This one may come as a surprise but with the new Gran Destino Tower open, it’s a no brainer to recommend Coronado Springs in the moderate category. In addition to a new tower with concierge and suites, Coronado Springs also added a few new restaurants and some bridges across the lake to make it more easy to navigate. The Resorts amenities overall are more closely in line with a deluxe resort when compared to the rest of the moderates.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge: This is my personal favorite of the Deluxe resorts. And it was a very hard call since none of them are bad. What put it over the top for me was the easy boat access to the Magic Kingdom. But Wilderness Lodge has more than just that. It’s an absolutely beautiful resort with a massive lobby that greets you when you enter. The resort also boasts some great dining options, Whispering Canyon Cafe is one of my favorite places on property. It also has an absolutely fantastic pool area.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Animal Kingdom lodge provides an experience you can only have at a handful of places in the world. Wake up and look out your window and you’ll see live animals on a savannah. The resort also has one of the largest private collections of African artwork that Disney spent around $5 million putting together. And the food at AKL is fantastic. Boma Flavors of Africa is the best buffet at Walt Disney World in my opinion. And of course, the animals are amazing to behold.
Now if you’re not looking to pay Disney prices for a hotel but still want to be within the confines of Walt Disney World you do have a few options. First, you have a number of hotels on Disney Property that are operated by outside companies. These include the Swan & Dolphin, the Bonnet Creek Area hotels, the Disney Springs area hotels and the Four Seasons Orlando. These resorts give you some of the benefits of the Disney hotels such as 60 days out for Fastpass booking and Extra Magic Hours. These resorts generally have their own bus system to the parks as well. And the Swan and Dolphin are connected to Epcot and Hollywood Studios via boat. When it comes to pricing some of the resorts have rates as low as $99 a night at certain points in the year. However, it is worth noting that the Four Seasons will typically run in the Deluxe price range. Overall the partner hotels prevent a very good option for your trip.
If you want all of the benefits of an on-site hotel at the lowest price, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground is your best option. You can rent a basic campsite or reserve a spot for your RV if that suits you. It may not be the most traditional way of staying at WDW but it does give you all the perks.
Stay tuned for our next edition in the series: Fastpass+
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