Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 3: Square Footage

by 12 Comments

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

When your neighbor/sister/boss/dog-walker tells you that a particular Disney resort is the “best,” take that information with a grain of salt. What’s best for you might be entirely different from what’s best for them, based on your unique vacation needs. In this Number Crunching series, I’ve been taking a look at ways to quantify the resort decision process, taking some of the guesswork out of which resort is best based on various criteria. In previous weeks, I’ve looked at resort choice based on number of beds and on transportation. Today I’m discussing square footage, the amount of space you get for your dollar at the Disney resorts.

A single, park-touring commando might not care how much space is in his hotel room. He’ll be conquering the mountains from sun-up to sundown. All he needs is a bed and a bathroom, which he’ll barely see in the light of day. However, many other guests will choose maximizing the amount of space they’ll have in their hotel room as their key value or decision factor.

Guests who want to maximize space might include:

  • overseas guests making Walt Disney World their “home” for an extended stay
  • parents of small children who will be spending long hours in the room while junior is napping
  • larger-sized guests who take up physically more space
  • guests with substantial amounts of luggage
  • guests who will be using a crib in the room
  • guests who have equipment such as wheelchairs, high chairs, strollers, car seats, or other bulky items

If you’re a 300 pound linebacker with a basketball star wife and two toddlers with a crib and two strollers, technically you can book yourselves into a room at the Pop Century. But when you’re that linebacker, camped out during a nap time of a 10-day stay, you’re going to feel A LOT more cramped in your value resort room than would a gymnast-sized single mom with a petite eight-year-old at the parks for just a weekend.

What's unique about the studios here? They've got the highest price per square foot of a regular room on Disney property.

Let’s call our fictional linebacker family the Wilsons. They hate feeling cramped, thus their highest priority in choosing a resort is maximizing their room’s square footage. Our mission is to help them get the most amount of space for their money. And yes, in some circumstances it might make financial sense for a family such as the Wilsons to get two connecting rooms instead of one. For the sake of simplification, we’re going not to consider this option (connecting rooms are not guaranteed). If you find yourself in a similar situation, this is an avenue you may want to pursue on your own. Similarly, there are obviously off-site accommodation options that guests such as the Wilsons might consider; having the Disney numbers in hand will give them a starting point and a basis for comparison.

Defining Terms

I created a spreadsheet that includes each of the Disney resorts with their most typical room configurations. I added the average square footage available for each room type, as published in the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. (You can also find a wonderful visual representation of comparative room size in the TouringPlans post “What Your Get for Your Money – Resorts“.) Suites and club-level rooms are not included because a) these rooms tend to be more expensive, and the Wilsons are budget conscious and b) accurate square footage information is not readily available for all of the many hundreds of unique room types on property. Sorry folks, I had to simplify a bit to keep my brain from exploding.

I added data for maximum room occupancy. This does not include the additional child under the age of three allowed in most rooms. Obviously, if you have fewer people in your party than the room maximum, then you’ll each have a bit more living space.

Then I added room price. The price given is the 2012 rack rate published on the Walt Disney World website for weekdays during value season. Yes, it’s more expensive at other times of the year. Yes, smart shoppers can often find discounts. Regardless of these factors, the relative room ranking should remain consistent.

For those wishing to play along at home, here’s a downloadable version of the basic spreadsheet so that you can create your own data sorts. Fun, eh?

Walt Disney World Resort Room Square Footage Spreadsheet

Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage

Our first look is a ranking of rooms available at WDW, strictly by size. With an initial glance, there aren’t many surprises here. Rooms range from a serviceable 260 square feet at the value resorts to a gargantuan 2,491 square feet at a BoardWalk Grand Villa. Here are the rooms shown by size:

Room sort by size, page one. Click to enlarge.

Room sort by size, page two. Click to enlarge.

PDF version of Sort By Square Footage

Generally, the progression of size moves predictably from value to moderate to deluxe. What this sort allows you to do easily is see the size ranking of the deluxe resorts. There’s considerable variation between the Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodges, at 344 square feet, and the substantially larger 440 square feet at the Grand Floridian. That nearly 100 sq. ft. difference is the size of typical home office or child’s bedroom. You can park an ECV and a double stroller and a crib in that space and still have more usable living area than you would at the AKL.

Of particular note in the straight size sort, you’ll see that both the Fort Wilderness Cabins and the value resort family suites have more room than the Grand Floridian, by a factor of almost 20%. If maximizing space is your primary value criterion, then it makes sense to look more closely at those options.

Sort Room By Price Per Square Foot

It’s great to know which rooms are the largest, but that won’t matter much if you can’t afford the room. As a next step, we’ll look at rooms ranked by price per square foot.

Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page one. Click to enlarge.

Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page two. Click to enlarge.

PDF version of Resorts Sorted By Price Per Square Foot

When looking at resorts ranked by price per square foot, the utility of the All Star Music Family Suites becomes immediately clear. The price per square foot is in line with the other value resorts. For just pennies per square foot more, you get an additional bathroom and a kitchenette. Score! The price per square foot is also much lower at the family suites than at the somewhat similar Fort Wilderness cabins.

Of additional note is the stellar price per foot ranking of the one and two bedroom villas at Old Key West. These rooms beat out the price per square foot at the new Art of Animation resort, as well as all the other DVC villas. If you’re looking for space and villa amenities, Old Key West gives you plenty of bang for the buck.

Generally, the highest price per square foot will be found in the DVC villa studio rooms, with the Bay Lake Tower studios coming in dead last at $1.22 per square foot. If you just want space and a microwave, try the family suites. If you want deluxe amenities, a standard room at a deluxe resort is a considerably more cost effective use of space. If you’re paying cash rather than using DVC points, think long and hard before booking a villa studio.

Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage Per Person

Another way to look at rooms is by square feet available to each person. Again, if you have fewer people in the room, you’ll have more space. This look considers space available at maximum room occupancy.

PDF version of WDW Resorts Sorted By Square Feet Per Person

Square footage per person sort, page one. Click to enlarge.

Square footage per person, page two. Click to enlarge.

The big finding here is that you’ll get the least square footage per person not at a value resort, but in the five-person trundle bed rooms at Port Orleans Riverside. Packing five people into a moderate will feel slightly more crowded than having four at a value. Similarly, having five people in a deluxe room at the Yacht or Beach Club will feel equivalent to having four in a moderate at Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, or Port Orleans French Quarter.

For six-person rooms, the family suites have a wee bit more space than the Fort Wilderness Cabins, and as noted above, the suites have a better price per square foot.

Something Else to Consider

I have not mentioned outdoor space as a factor in room size. In practice, having some dedicated outdoor space can make your indoor space much more habitable. Nearly all of the deluxe resorts have patios or balconies to which the adults might retire while the children are falling asleep. The Fort Wilderness Cabins and the Saratoga Springs Treehouses, while large on their own, become positively palatial when you consider the associated outdoor picnic and lounge areas. Even rooms at the moderate and value resorts can feel larger if you request a ground floor room and bring a chair outside your door for a little evening reading and people watching.

However, as nice as it is to have the great outdoors at your feet, I caution you against placing too much emphasis on this. Having a balcony might be wonderful. It might also be perpetually wet, or buggy, or below 50 degrees, or well over 100 degrees, depending on when you visit. Check historic weather trends before factoring outdoor space into your personal equation.

Making Your Decision

Given their analysis, our hypothetical Wilson family decided to book a family suite at the All Star Music Resort. As a family of four, they could stay at a regular value resort room, but given their large spacial needs, they decided that they’d be much more comfortable with a suite. The Wilsons decided that the low cost per square foot and the high square footage per person (because they’re do not fill the room to its maximum occupancy) made the family suites a good value for their vacation.

So Disney peeps, if you were in their situation, would you make the same choice? How important is the space factor in your resort decision making? Are you secretly wondering how much it would cost to feed the children of a linebacker and a basketball star? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
Posted on February 29, 2012

12 Responses to “Deciding Where To Stay At Walt Disney World, Number Crunching Part 3: Square Footage”

  • I like that you have factored in the new art of animation family suites. Note: There is a price difference between these suites and the other all stars family suites. And there’s NO size difference too. No real reason other than newness and much more supply to justify the higher price at AoA.

    That means that while the family suite is cheaper than a FTW cabin, it’s usually practically not cheaper than art of animation (which isn’t heavily discounted currently).

    So, bottom line: a fort wilderness cabin when more heavily discounted compared with an art of animation suite or all star suite will be about the same $/sq ft. But the FTW cabin provides a much better kitchen and parking situation and outdoor space. Also FTW is much more accessible to magic kingdom with the boat ride.

    Another consideration: These are not apples to apples comparisons. A useful way to use the data would be to filter on only those hotels within the budget or need. You just can’t compare the rack rate on a 3 bedroom DVC property with the rack rate a value resort.

    Here’s my general conclusion: More than 4 people: stay in an off site vacation rental if you’re there for a week for best bang for the buck. Must stay on property with a larger party: try for fort wilderness cabin. Its bed set up and usability is better than the family suites if you have more than 4 people.

    Gotta love real numbers put up for quantitative analysis.
    Great article.

    • Thanks for the feedback.

      Yes, it is good to highlight that the new Art of Animation family suites are significantly more expensive than the equivalent room at All Star Music. For research purposes, I just booked an AoA room this morning for opening day and was somewhat staggered by the cost – more than some deluxe rooms are in a different season. This makes the cabins a deal in comparison.

      Personally though, I’m not going to be staying in a cabin with my family. My house-full of girls needs more than one bathroom.

      I included the actual spreadsheet so that readers could slice and dice the numbers themselves. For example, deleting all the villas to make visual comparisons easier.

      And having the numbers in front of you makes evaluating the Disney options vs the off site options that much easier.

  • This is a terrific article, and a great example of the type of numbers driven analysis for which touring plans is known. Keep up the good work!

  • by disneydadben on March 1, 2012, at 11:38 am EDT

    A note on those with young children sleeping in pac-n-plays. My family and I stayed at Coronado Springs in September while I was there for a conference. We have a 2 year old and a 10 year old. The sink area with closable doors was a great place to put the pac-n-play for the little one. She went right to sleep every night when we closed the doors and the rest of us could stay up later. If you can get a discounted rate, I think that would definitly be worth the upgrade price from a value.

    • Yes, that little “bonus room” in some of the moderate resorts can be very helpful for guests using cribs. You just have to be veeeery quiet when using the facilities at night :-)

  • Great article – keep up the data driven analysis. Granted, I still at the Poly for reasons that are mostly irrational – but this is still great information!!

  • I still often stay at the Beach Club. That’s my go-to choice when I’m prioritizing dining or relaxation. If I’m prioritizing value, then that’s an entirely different story.

    And thanks for the kind words.

  • Great analysis. I tried to do this before we went last Autumn, and ended up at a 1 bed apartment at Saratoga Springs after we got a good deal. There was a big increase in space over a studio for relatively little difference in price. Its also good having separate rooms to sleep in from the kids so you can have some privacy, and you can manage kids naps without having to sit reading a book in the bathroom.

  • Very helpful. I think this is great work. Thank you for providing this analysis and data. I wish I had thought of this.

  • by chris frantz on March 12, 2012, at 10:58 am EDT

    I am going to Disney World first week in Dec of 2012. I normally stay on site but ususally only have 2 of us, me and my grandaughter. This year is different. We have 3 adults and 3 children going. Yikes! I thought maybe 2 rooms at the value resort would be affordable. I stumbled across the Wyndham Bonnet Creek timeshare rentals. I am going to give it a shot and see how this works for us. 3 bedroom 2 bathroom 1300 square feet of living space for under $900. Too good of a deal to pass this up. I am crossing my fingers I will be happy. They have tons of shuttle times all day to all parks and downtown Disney. I guess many of the condos have a view of the fireworks.

Leave a reply, your thoughts are welcome!

Want a cool avatar next to your comments? Add one at Gravatar