Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 1: Getting the Most Sleep Surfaces Per Dollar

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Choosing a Walt Disney World hotel is clearly a hot topic, often surrounded by lots of discussion and anxiety. Even in my own family, my husband and I have spent countless hours talking in circles about the relative merits of the Beach Club over the Grand Floridian (monorail/walk, Magic Kingdom/Epcot, parks/restaurants). Arrrrrgh!

In an effort to take some of the stress out of the decision making process, I’m going to devote a few posts to some serious number crunching and resort ranking on a variety of factors. My goal is to end up with some solid data to back up the opinion that resort X is better/worse than resort Y, for YOU based on what YOU value.

A view is nice, but not a consideration if your family's #1 value is minimizing price.

DECIDING HOW TO DECIDE

First a bit of background – my 15-year-old daughter Charlie has become competitive in the world of high school debate. Most of the time when she’s in debate mode I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about, but the one debate concept that I have learned from her is that in any argument you need to have a “value criterion.” The value criterion is a statement about what you value. That value informs how you decide how you’re going to decide.

In terms of Disney resort choice, some possible value criteria might be:

  • Spending as little money as possible.
  • Having access to the greatest number of dining options.
  • Spending the least amount of time traveling from the resort to the parks.
  • Having the greatest number of square feet per person.
  • Having to fold my stroller as little as possible.
  • Having the lowest person to bathroom ratio.
  • Maximizing the number of individual sleep surfaces.
  • Maximizing luxury.
  • Minimizing noise.
  • Maximizing recreational opportunities.
  • Maximizing ease of conducting business.
  • … as well as many other possibilities.

To make your resort decision, start by ranking your values. In other words, choose how you’re going to decide. There is no right or wrong answer, but you must choose which criteria are most important to you, otherwise you have no basis for your decision. For example, your first priority might be minimizing transportation time to the parks, and your second priority might be minimizing cost. A family with those value criteria will stay at an entirely different resort than a family whose values are maximizing restaurant access and minimizing noise. Also bear in mind that, over time, your value criterion ranking will likely change. When my daughters were small, minimizing stroller folding was one of my highest values. Now that they’re teens, that does not play a factor for us. The “best” resort is a moving target based on your value criteria.

The Pop is not an option if your #1 value criterion is having at least three sleep surfaces.

DEFINING TERMS

A quick definition of terms: In my data analysis below, I’ve defined sleep surface as any bed, daybed, or pull-out couch. Most sleep surfaces will accommodate two people (for example, a queen-size bed sleeps two), but I am only counting each sleep surface once. There are some suites with couches that do not pull out to form a bed. I did not include these in my count.

I’ve defined maximum occupancy as Disney’s published maximum number of guests over the age of three allowed to be booked in to the room. I’m not counting infants/cribs. In any instance where I mention price, this is the 2012 weekday value rate published on disneyworld.com. Yes, other times of the year are more expensive. Yes, you can often find discounts that will reduce costs. But I needed to compare apples to apples, and at any given time period the relative resort ranking should stay the same.

VALUE #1: MAXIMIZING THE NUMBER OF SLEEP SURFACES IN THE ROOM

Given the parameters mentioned above, I made the mother of all Disney World resort spreadsheets, inputting every published room configuration at Walt Disney World along with price and number of sleep surfaces.

Spreadsheet Listing Number of Sleep Surfaces at Each Type of Room at Each Resort

Let’s take the hypothetical Smith party. This is a blended family with Mom, Dad, 10-year sister, and 13-year step brother. While technically they could stay in any room with an occupancy of four, this really won’t work for them because sis and step-bro aren’t sharing a bed. They need a room with at least three separate sleep surfaces. Guests may be concerned about the number of sleep surfaces in the room in any situation where non-spousal party members are traveling together.

Using the spreadsheet, I’ll sort by the number of sleep surfaces available.

Spreadsheet Sorted by Number of Sleep Surfaces

A quick glance shows that the minimum number of sleep surfaces varies from a low of one (any room with just one king-sized bed) to a high of seven (in some Disney Vacation Club 3-bedroom grand villas). The Smith family needs a room with at least three sleep surfaces, so we’ll focus on that area of the spreadsheet.

Walt Disney World Hotel Rooms with Three or More Sleep Surfaces

Now the Smiths can see what all their choices are. The options are still overwhelming, so they need to narrow things down.

VALUE #2: MINIMIZING PRICE

The Smiths’ second hypothetical value criteria is minimizing price. They don’t want to spend more than $300 per night. So let’s sort their options with this in mind.

Walt Disney World Hotel Rooms with Three or More Sleep Surfaces, Sorted by Price

A quick glance shows that the Smiths have 5 options under $300 dollars per night: Port Orleans Riverside (with two price points based on view), All Star Music Family Suites, Art of Animation Family Suite, and Fort Wilderness Cabins.

NARROWING FURTHER

Now, instead of a panic-inducing list of hundreds of choices, the Smiths only have five choices – a reasonable number of options to consider in a family discussion. Here are some of the pros and cons they might consider when thinking about each of the five options.

  • A water view at Port Orleans might be nice.
  • A stay at either Family Suite location means two bathrooms.
  • The Art of Animation resort is new.
  • The trundle bed at Port Orleans is small.
  • The Fort Wilderness Cabins have a kitchen and outdoor space.
  • Port Orleans has more dining options within walking distance.

The All Star Music Resort Family Suites have the lowest cost per sleep surface in rooms with more than two sleep surfaces.

VALUE #3: NUMBER OF BATHROOMS

During their imaginary family chat, the Smiths realized that having two bathrooms could really make things easier in the morning. They were willing to sacrifice view, the kitchen, and expanded dining options in favor of an extra bathroom.

That leaves two choices, the All Star Family Suites and the Art of Animation Family Suites. Going back to their second most important value criterion, price, the Smiths decide to stay at the All Star Music Resort Family Suites.

BIGGEST SLEEP SURFACE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

Since you are not the hypothetical Smith family, I’m including here a sort of the spreadsheet ranked by lowest price per sleep surface.

Walt Disney World Room Price Per Sleep Surface

This sort shows some things that are not so surprising: the standard All Stars rooms have the lowest per sleep surface cost. And some more surprising things: While the Art of Animation resort is less expensive than the Fort Wilderness cabins, the cabins have an additional sleep surface and a lower cost per sleep surface.

There will be more number crunching in upcoming posts. Is there something specific you’d like to see analyzed? Let us know in the comments below.

UPDATE Feb 14, 2012: Based on user comments, we’re providing a link (below) to the XLS spreadsheet so that you can crunch your own numbers. Please link to and/or credit touringplans.com if publish your own sorts. And let us know if make any killer findings. We’d love to know!

TouringPlans WDW Sleep Surface Spreadsheet

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Posted on February 8, 2012

26 Responses to “Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 1: Getting the Most Sleep Surfaces Per Dollar”

  • Hello, Smith family? Put Dad and step-bro in one bed and Mom and sis in the other. That won’t help with the second bathroom issue, but if you can manage with just one that increases your options without upping your cost.

    • They are a hypothetic family. In their hypothetical world, bro is the biological son of Mom and sis is the biological daughter of dad. They don’t want to sleep in the same bed as their new step parents. Or whatever. The point is that there are plenty of situations where you’re traveling with someone but you don’t necessarily want to share a bed with them: in-laws, sorority sisters, cousins, etc. This helps folks like that sort out their options.

  • Cool article! Very helpful way of thinking about this.

    I think some Port Orleans Riverside rooms actually have 4 sleep surfaces, though, because some rooms have a trundle bed:
    http://allears.net/acc/faq_dxl.htm

  • This topic is more of an eyeball test rather than number crunching exercise for me. Once you need space for five adult-sized people or you need more than 2 double beds, costs get out of hand.

    I judge my hotel choices by square footage per person for my room, then my personal space of the common areas of the resort (Do people get into my personal space while I’m out and about more than I can deal with it.) My first choice for space is FW Cabins. The value for your beds and outdoor space can’t be beat and the logistics to get around don’t bother me much.

    • Of course most people (including me, in many circumstances) “eyeball” the decision. Choosing the resort that “feels” right to them based on a number of factors. I’m just trying to put some solid numbers behind some aspects of the decision.

      Your top value criterion is personal space and you don’t value transportation ease as much. I’m planning on doing something similar with square footage in the next few weeks. I’ll be interested to see where the cabins fall in the quantified rankings.

  • Love this! Thanks for putting it together!

  • I did the same types of spread sheets for our up coming trip in October! There are 6 of us going (me, my husband, 2kids, my aunt and my mom) so sleep surfaces, price, space and transportation were our top 4. Unlike your data I also included vacation rental homes and renting vacation club points. We narrowed it down to 6 choices that were made up with vacation point rentals, deluxe resort, moderate resort and vacation home rental. We each ranked our choices and tallied our scores and the vacation rental home off site won out but just barely over wilderness lodge.

    • Your strategy to add off-site options to your decision completely makes sense. However, with so many thousands of off-site choices, I thought my computer might explode if I tried to factor those into the spreadsheet :-)

  • by Margaret D'Andrea on February 9, 2012, at 5:09 am EDT

    Dear Hypothetical Smiths,
    Have you considered getting 2 rooms? Often having 2 rooms is more economical than the family suite option. You get the 2 bathrooms. You get a bonus sleep surface. If a kitchenette is not important to you, then this might be the way to go.

    • Yes, of course two rooms is an option. Having the numbers in front of you makes it easier to see where it makes sense to try making that work.

      One thing to consider about the two room choice – while Disney can often make connecting rooms happen. They do NOT guarantee that you’ll have connecting rooms if you request them. I personally have been in a situation where connecting rooms were requested but not received. Then I was in one room with kids, while my husband was in another room with kids. They were young and we didn’t want to leave them alone in a hotel room. During this trip it was almost like we were on separate vacations. If you want 100% ensure that you’re together, then you need to choose one room instead of two.

  • This is great! Moneyball for Disney!

  • Thank you. I appreciate the feedback.

  • Hi Erin – This article is great! This is exactly the detail of planning I do when I go to WDW. There is SO much to consider when you’re planning a trip. It can very quickly get overwhelming, especially for folks who are doing it for the first time. You’ve done a great job of laying it all out here.

    There is one other option that the Smith’s should consider. If they rented DVC points for a stay at Old Key West, the cost would only be $351, which is a savings of $84 over Disney’s rate – that really adds up over several days too.

    $351 is over the $300 budget, but if you consider what a family of 4 would save just eating breakfast in the room (which they could easily do with a full kitchen), plus the discount they would get at many of the Disney restaurants, that would more than cover the $51/day. Throw in what they could save on airline luggage fees by sticking with carry-on bags and using the in-room laundry – now that 1 bedroom at Old Key West is looking pretty good!

  • Great article. You plan and choose options a lot like me! Any information coming about renting Disney Vacation Club points? I am curious about the value of that. Our family of 5 can’t keep staying at the value resorts much longer. Thanks!

  • Fantastic analysis — nice job Erin!

  • I can’t believe you have this spreadsheet. I am officially now your biggest fan! I am eating chocolate cake from my “I <3 Spreadsheets" mug as we speak.

  • Thanks for the feedback. And where can I get one of those mugs :-)

  • Would you be willing to share the .XLS file for us to play with/do our own sorts/filters on? If not, thanks anyway for the helpful PDFs!

    • Excel spreadsheet link has been added at the end of the post. Let us know what you do with the numbers!

      • Thanks, will do.

        BTW, the link says it is an .XLSB file, but it downloaded as a .ZIP for me.

        I was able to open it fine though by renaming it as an .XLSB. Maybe it was my browser (IE8 on my work laptop)…

  • I can’t get this to open on my MacBook. Is there another link to this in Numbers? Thanks!