The 10 Best Disney Resorts at Disneyland or Disney World

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Having spent more time in Disney parks and more time staying in Disney hotels then any non-Disney employed person really has the right to, I thought I’d list my favorite Disney theme park resorts in order. The Unofficial Guide does a wonderful job of comparing hotels by value, room size, and many other considerations. My list doesn’t take value or any scientific factors into account at all! This is simply the list of the 10 hotels that I most enjoy staying in when visiting a Disney park.

In some cases, only certain room types or views merit making the list. Paradise Pier, for example, made the list, but only a theme park view room. I wouldn’t put the standard rooms in my top 10 at all. Some other hotels didn’t make the list that I’m sure some of you will find questionable. I can hear it now, “What! The Grand Floridian Resort is Disney’s flagship resort on the East Coast!! How can it not be in the top 10?” The Grand Floridian, while beautiful and in a great location, is just too stuffy for me! I feel underdressed in shorts! Even in my own room!

So here it is. The 10 hotels that made MY list of best Disney park hotels.

1. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Grand Californian at Disneyland Resort is my favorite resort on either coast. I’ve stayed in both the villas and the hotel section and fell in love with both. It’s an absolutely stunning hotel. The lobby takes your breath away and the rooms don’t disappoint. The proximity to the parks and Downtown Disney District is unsurpassed by any Disney hotel on either coast. I have stayed in rooms with views of all types and wouldn’t turn my nose up at any of them. One of my favorite views actually isn’t even the theme park view which costs the most. For me it’s the Downtown Disney view. I absolutely love standing on my balcony and watching the people go by underneath. You can see the fireworks from several of those rooms and hear the live music below. I love it! I’m staying at the Grand Californian again in about 4 weeks, and I am counting the minutes!! Tip: Take time to go to an animation class in Hearthstone Lounge—it’s free and just a short walk from the parks.

2. Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Disney BoardWalk Villas The BoardWalk is in one of the best locations at Walt Disney World. Being able to stroll into Epcot’s World Showcase or catch a boat to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a benefit unlike any other. The rooms are light and airy and large. Okay, I admit it, the giant clown face pool is a little creepy so some may question why this made it above the Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Beach Club Resorts which have a similar location and better pool. My answer would be because of the BoardWalk view rooms. Standing on your balcony and watching jugglers, musicians, and other acts below your room is awesome. All the hustle and bustle of the BoardWalk at night just adds to the excitement we feel of being at Disney World. Tip: Definitely make time to spend an evening on the BoardWalk watching the live entertainment and/or renting a family-sized bike!

3. Disney’s Contemporary Resort/Bay Lake Tower – I’ll lump them together and say that the Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower are both absolutely amazing. First, of course, they have an awesome location! I’m very big on locations for hotels as you may have guessed by my top 3. I love walking to the Magic Kingdom or taking the monorail. It’s the perfect location for families who plan on spending most of their vacation riding Dumbo or Space Mountain. It’s also wonderful that so many great places to eat are located inside: Chef Mickey’s, The Wave, and, of course, California Grill. Even the Contemporary Contempo Cafe is good! The Contemporary used to take a lot of flack for its décor not being Disney enough. Since the rooms were redone, however, I think the décor is beautiful and upscale. I feel like I’m staying in the lap of luxury when I’m there and that’s how I like it! Tip: Schedule a dinner at the California Grill about an hour before fireworks start atMagicKingdom and watch them from the top of the hotel!

4. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Beach Club Resort – Yes, another great location! I put both of these resorts in the same number because they are attached and share a pool. But not just any pool, the best pool at any stateside Disney property! Bar none. My teenage daughter spent her most recent Disney World vacation in that pool.  Seriously, you can’t even say she visited the parks a lot, because the parks were a very minor part of her trip compared to her love of Stormalong Bay. The rooms here are terrific, the location is perfect, and the restaurants are yummy, (Beaches and Cream!) but the highlight is the pool.

5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – While I think the whole resort is worth a visit, and the room décor in all the rooms is beautiful, the savannah view rooms are really the highlight here. Yes, you can see the animals from locations all over the resort, but there is absolutely nothing like waking up to a giraffe right outside your balcony. Even the teenagers jumped out of bed for the first sightings of animals in the morning. Well, maybe the teenagers didn’t jump, but they weren’t as sad as they are at other resorts when we wake them up in time for park opening. And the Grand Villa we were fortunate to stay in with our entire extended family a few years ago? Oh. My. Word. It was the best vacation suite we have ever stayed in and the ambiance was out of this world! The only thing the Animal Kingdom Lodge does not have going for it is the location. The location is so-so unless you want to spend a lot of time at the Animal Kingdom, in which case this is your closest option. The resort itself, however, is absolutely wonderful, to include great restaurants (Jiko, Boma, and Sanaa) and superb pools! Tip: Go out one evening to watch the animals through night vision goggles that the hotel provides!

6. Disneyland Hotel – Back to the West Coast for my next choice! The Disneyland Hotel. I love the Disneyland Hotel. The new pool is awesome, as are the new dining/entertainment choices (Trader Sam’s, Tangaroa Terrace) and the new lobby decor, but really the highlight here for me is the headboards. Those headboards kept me entertained for hours. Carved out of mahogany, at the flip of a switch you get a fiber optic fireworks show and an instrumental version of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The headboards alone are worth the price of the room. Tip: Check out the models of classic Disneyland attractions in the lobby of each tower.

7. Disney’s Polynesian Resort –I admit it, the Polynesian needs some work right now, but if you believe the rumors, it’s about to get it! And it has huge potential (just take a look at Aulani)! It’s still got a great location with quick monorail rides to the Magic Kingdom, and fireworks and the Electric Water Pageant from the beach at night. Plus, that dreamy South Pacific atmosphere. The pool area is inexplicably lacking a hot tub, but the pool itself is excellent. So, partly for sentimental reasons, this was my honeymoon location 23 years ago (altogether now, “ahhhhh”), and partly for promises of what’s to come, this makes my top 10. Tip: Definitely try the Tonga Toast for breakfast (Google it if you’ve never heard of it)!

8. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside in a Royal Guest Room – Yes, one moderate resort made the list! I like the atmosphere and rooms at Port Orleans Riverside, but it doesn’t blow me away. What did blow me away, however, was the first time I went into a Royal Room. The Royal Rooms take Riverside to an HNL as my family says. A “Hole Nutha Level”. The Royal Rooms are just gorgeous! Gorgeous! As a girl at heart, I love that these rooms are themed for the Princess inside every girl/woman! They’ve got headboards similar to the Disneyland Hotel, rich gorgeous colors, and imaginative artwork that work perfectly in the room. These rooms are going to be hard to come by once everyone discovers how awesome they are! Tip: Take advantage of the seven pools and two waterslides you have access to when staying at Port Orleans!

9. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel with a Theme Park View – All of the Disneyland hotels have location going for them, and Paradise Pier is no exception. The rooms are cute with slight Disney touches, but what really makes this hotel special is the theme park view rooms. The theme park view during broad daylight is enchanting! Never mind the view at night when all the park lights are on! You even get to see World of Color from a completely different perspective. I have stood in my room getting a little teary eyed while Simba called for Mufasa during World of Color (who hasn’t?)! The theme park view rooms really make Paradise Pier a great place to stay. Tip: The quickest way to the parks from Paradise Pier is to cut through the Grand Californian!

10. Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – Art of Animation has two distinctions on this list: it’s both the newest resort and the only value resort. I think Art of Animation is a much needed and very well done resort. It fills a niche that Disney World needed so badly, rooms for bigger families who couldn’t afford a villa. The suites aren’t cheap by any means, in fact you can usually get two rooms at Disney’s Pop Century Resort for less, but the suites have the added benefit of a kitchen and dining room area. The whole resort is beautifully, if not somewhat garishly, themed. But what child doesn’t love a garishly themed resort (can you say hello huge Crush and Mr. Ray)? Tip: Go underwater in The Big Blue Pool to hear Dory and some other beloved Finding Nemo characters!

How about you? What is your favorite resort at Disneyland or Disney World?

 

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Posted on July 20, 2012

44 Responses to “The 10 Best Disney Resorts at Disneyland or Disney World”

  • by Pineapplewhip on July 20, 2012, at 2:26 pm EDT

    Love this article and your “criteria” for judging, this is the type of opinion that helps me make a decision. We haven’t taken the family to Disney World yet so this is helpful. So glad to hear the Grand at DL made the top of your list, weve stayed at many hotels on and off property and keep coming back to the Grand, don’t want to stay anywhere else. Love it!

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 20, 2012, at 4:36 pm EDT

      Thanks, Pineapplewhip! I’m glad this helps with the decision making. The Grand Californian is absolutely at the top of my list. I keep going back over and over and over and over… :)

  • Tammy — no Wilderness Lodge Villas? We are hoping to stay there next year…. husband wants some peace and quiet and days away from the park doing relaxing activities. I’m hoping this will be a good choice for us.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 20, 2012, at 4:41 pm EDT

      Hi BagsMom! My husband said someone was going to mention Wilderness Lodge! We did just stay there in September. I have no problem at all with Wilderness Lodge, it’s just not one of my favorites. The location is great, we loved the boat trip to the Magic Kingdom. The lobby and grounds are beautiful. It’s the room decor that just wasn’t my style. When I’m on vacation I don’t like to feel like I’m camping, even upscale camping. I want my room to feel luxurious! But I have many many clients who love the Wilderness Lodge and go back year after year. Many people absolutely love the Wilderness Lodge and the price is right for a deluxe resort. I also hear the rooms are being redone, so once those are finished, I’m sure I’ll be trying it again!

    • We absolutely LOVE Wilderness Lodge (WL)! You will not regret staying there. I have 2 boys & my husband is an avid outdoorsman, so it is perfect for us. You can also see the water pagent from certain rooms too. BUT Beach Club really is the best in my eyes because of the pool, location & it just feels luxurous. WL has a pretty good location (you can take the boat to the Contemporary to catch the Monorail, take the buses or just take the boat to the Magic Kingdom). We will be going to Grand Californian next summer & I expect to fall in love with it.

  • I wish more of these resorts had options for a family of five. We stayed at the Polynesian last year and loved it! The convenience of taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom was awesome! And we loved the ability to walk to the TTC to catch the Epcot monorail too. We’re hoping to stay at AOA next year. My youngest is really into Cars right now and he would love it! We may visit the AOA resort while we’re in Orlando this year to check it out.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 20, 2012, at 4:42 pm EDT

      I know, Neula. Disney World is definitely lacking in rooms for 5. They need more options there! Art of Animation is perfect if your youngest likes Cars though!

    • Have you seen the new page “Rooms for 5 Guests or More” on the Disney site? Value, Moderate and Deluxe all listed: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/planning-guides/in-depth-advice/groups/

      • by Tammy Whiting on July 20, 2012, at 6:52 pm EDT

        They do have options, Marlene! Not enough value or moderate options in my opinion, but they are trying! :)

        • Yes, definitely Art of Animation is a great Value Resort addition!
          At the other end, all 1 Bedroom VILLAS at Bay Lake Tower and Animal Kingdom (the newest DVC properties) sleep 5:
          “All Villas have a master bedroom with a king-size bed and a bathroom with a whirlpool tub, a living room with a queen-size sleeper sofa and single-size sleeper chair”

          Yes, not an inexpensive option, but…
          taking advantage of the full kitchen, including oven, microwave, refrigerator, etc. (and washer and dryer) can save quite a bit of both time and money.
          We eat breakfast in the room, packing cereal/oatmeal/etc. in checked luggage, and buying 1/2 gallons of milk while there.
          We freeze some water in small disposable water bottles each night, and add cold water from the refrigerator on our way out in the morning.
          We bring snacks, Annie’s Shells & Cheese, etc. and at least one dinner collapse in the room (heating up whatever leftovers we couldn’t finish and froze or refrigerated from the few prior days, and Annie’s Shells!).

          • by Tammy Whiting on July 21, 2012, at 8:07 pm EDT

            I absolutely love the 1 bedroom villas at BLT and AKL. I am so glad they started adding those sleeper chairs to the villas.
            When we’re in a villa, it sounds like we eat similarly to you. Cereal and snacks in our luggage, and we buy milk once we get there.

  • by Heather Louise on July 20, 2012, at 6:44 pm EDT

    I grew up 45 minutes away from Disneyland and I bring my family to Southern California to visit my parents every December. We try to go to Disneyland every year, but because we stay with my mother, we have never even thought about staying at a hotel. Last trip I took a stroll through the Grand Californian and now I am sold. It was just beautiful and the fact that you can walk right into DCA from the hotel is a huge benefit. Now I have to find a way to let my mom know we might not stay with her the whole trip this December!

  • I have to disagree with the Contemporary being so highly ranked. I stayed there in June 2012 with my 3 year old (club level) & it was the worst environment in which to try to sleep. If the people weren’t screaming with the M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E music every 30 minutes at Chef Mickey’s (from 6am to 10pm), you were bombarded by the water pageant (around 9:30pm) music and lights. Call me crazy, but I like to actually nap/sleep on vacation at my resort.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 20, 2012, at 8:01 pm EDT

      That’s too bad, Jilly Boo! I couldn’t hear Chef Mickey’s from my room at all! We were fairly high up, maybe that’s why. I will say on one trip we were in the garden wing and we were shocked by how loud the water pageant was. I didn’t hear it during my last stay in the tower though.

  • Tammy, what a great article! My Wife and I were excited to see 3 of the places we have stayed at, and the 1 scheduled for our upcoming trip (Bay Lake Tower) on your list! When we bought into DVC, there were some points we HAD to use or lose on the resale contract, so we used them for a Disneyland Hotel trip, and it was so awesome! You are right on! Thanks for this fun report, keep ‘em coming!

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 21, 2012, at 11:07 am EDT

      Thanks, Boxing Guru! You will love Bay Lake! And I’m so glad you were able to stay at the Disneyland Hotel too! Not a bad thing to do when you have to use your points! :)

  • Omitting the Grand Floridian entirely on the grounds of “stuffiness” impairs this entire list’s credibility. This is MY opinion.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 21, 2012, at 11:12 am EDT

      I knew someone was going to take issue with the Grand Floridian being omitted. It’s okay, obviously people love it or it wouldn’t consistantly have high occupancy levels at some of the highest prices on property. It’s got a great location and beautiful grounds. And to clarify, I don’t object to it because it’s stuffy in general. I don’t mind stuffy at all in certain contexts. I just don’t like being somewhere stuffy when I am in shorts! It makes me feel underdressed, and I HATE feeling underdressed. :)

  • And I think that most everyone gets that this is a list of your personal favorites, based on your taste as an individual. To me, it’s just fun to read what other people do and don’t like.
    For a more objective list of ratings with very specific criteria, people can (and I do) consult the UnOfficial Guide — or as I like to call it, my Disney bible.
    I think this is a very fun article. More! More!

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 21, 2012, at 4:49 pm EDT

      Thanks, BagsMom! I agree, I’m always interested in what other people like and why. The Unofficial Guide is hands down the best place to go for objective reviews!

  • I’m stuck with a POR Royal room and it’s additional price. That was the last room available with “free dining” besides Caribbean (no thanks)and Fort Wilderness (more $$ anyway).

    I guess on one hand, I’m glad you think it is really nice, to me, it looks tacky. Crossing my fingers, so I’ll be blown away – with my 5 and 7 year old boys and hubby.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 21, 2012, at 8:03 pm EDT

      My motherly intuition says a 10 year old boy would be completely disgusted by the Royal Guest rooms. :) I think yours, however, may be young enough to appreciate it. I would have picked it over Caribbean and Ft. Wilderness too.

      • Aren’t those Royal rooms super far away from everything? I thought that was why they themed those rooms in the first place, to draw people into the less desirable rooms.

        • by Tammy Whiting on July 23, 2012, at 10:09 pm EDT

          Actually the Royal Rooms aren’t far away. I like their location actually. Here’s a good map if you scroll down a little. The Royal Rooms are in red:
          http://www.portorleans.org/riverside-info.php

          You may be thinking of the pirate rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort. They are about as far as you can get from the main area. Disney was definitely trying to draw people out there. My opinion on those is that they’re adorable and worth the walk, but that’s another blog! :)

    • I loved POR because it was peaceful for early morning walks & to get coffee at the Riverside Mill. The 7 pools (between Riverside & New Orleans) were so much fun with the kids! This is the resort that made me fall in love with WDW because we were upgraded from a value resort. We previously always stayed with family 45 min. away. Now when we go we have to stay onsite :)

  • I wish I could say that I’ve stayed at all the WDW resorts so that my decision would be based on experiences at all the resorts but I haven’t:( I have stayed at All Star Sports for 3 nights which was entirely too long. I REALLY disliked it. The grounds were ugly, the cast members were unfriendly, the room was uninviting, the food court was not clean and there was no shaded area to stand/sit under while waiting for a bus. Port Orleans French Quarter is my favorite moderate resort. I love how quaint it is, the pool is my son’s favorite at WDW, the boat ride to DtD is so much fun and the food court has good dinner options. PO Riverside is nice but too large. The bayou is preferred over the mansions. Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jambo House, is gorgeous! The smells are devine

  • Darn, accidentally hit the post button. I shall continue…the smells are devine, looking at animals from our savannah room was breathtaking, the rooms are tastefully decorated. Getting to the food court is ridiculous due to it’s location. Saratoga Springs food court offerings were horrible, the rooms were ugly, I did like the fact that the rooms entered into from the outdoors instead of a hallway, being able to walk to DtD is a major perk. Lastly is my beloved Wilderness Lodge, my absolute favorite. I love waking up to the sound if the boat horns coming from Bay Lake, I’m not crazy about the rooms as they are too dark, the beach area is very peaceful, there is a serene trail that takes you to Fort Wilderness, the quiet pool is quiet, the fitness center had everything I desired, the quick service restaurant is so-so, the lobby is breathtaking, I live the boat ride from WL to MK, renting searays from the dock is and taking them out on Bay Lake is more fun than one should be allowed to have, the cast member, Ignez, at the pin cart in the lobby is a hidden treasure and the grounds are magnificent. I’m sure I am forgetting a reason or two more but I think you get my point. Wilderness Lodge, the best resort on property according to me :)

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 22, 2012, at 2:20 pm EDT

      Erica! What a great write up of your likes and dislikes! Thank you for taking the time to do that. I agree whole heartedly with some. You also summed up your favorite, Wilderness Lodge, very well. The resort has some wonderful amenities, the lobby is beautiful, the location, etc. My only complaint is the rooms. And since they are being redone, it could become the perfect resort!

  • by TampaLeslie on July 22, 2012, at 4:25 pm EDT

    I don’t understand why the Polynesian is priced so high, when I constantly see reviews that it needs updating. Is it the tropical atmosphere.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 22, 2012, at 6:42 pm EDT

      That’s a valid question, TampaLeslie. I think it’s priced high mainly because of location. Staying on the monorail is awesome. The tropical atmosphere is great as well as the room size. It’s a great resort and I love staying there, it’s just time for an update in my opinion.

  • I’ve never stayed at art of animation, but from its description I wouldn’t lump it in with any of the others. It’s still got that value feel! But now it comes with a deluxe price. Plus there’s nothing to like about the location except that from a driving perspective it’s close to everything but MK and AK and blizzard beach.

    I agree with every other opinion. I’d substitute in Fort Wilderness!! It’s an awesome campground. (so in comparing other campgrounds it is awesome). Good location for magic kingdom access.
    Nice pool. Best resort outdoor movie venue…

    And you can stay there in either a cabin or camper.

    It’s a way I prefer to integrate some “savings” as opposed to the compromises at AoA (AoA has no hotub? Counter service? Motel feel… Bad location with only bus service)…

    Plus FTW has lots of history. It’s an original.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 23, 2012, at 4:19 pm EDT

      Good points, Ron! Art of Animation does has a slight “value” feel, but there are at least two things that make it different for me. One is the fact that the rooms open to hallways instead of opening outside like the other values. Another is the sheer room size. Yes, there are suites at All Star Music, but they are downright unattractive and not laid out nearly as well.
      I agree with your feelings on Fort Wilderness to a point also. It’s got a good location, neat grounds, etc. The one downside, and it’s a big one for me, is the transportation. If you don’t have a car, transportation there can be a nightmare. Busses just to catch busses. Or a bus to catch at boat. It’s just too much waiting and time lost in transit for me.
      It does have a lot of history though, I agree. :)

      • But if you do have a car, it’s one of the MOST convenient places to stay. The car parks right at your cabin or camp site. That’s a HUGE plus after all that walking at EPCOT. And you can still drive to the parks and park for free. When you have to run to CVS or wal-mart, it’s also quicker to get in the car and go. It’s much more like a mini-”home” than a hotel.

  • Since this is an unofficial guide crowd (tending toward the analytical) I’ll comment that: it’s a lot of $$$ to spend on most of these hotels. (Other chat rooms would excoriate me for the “analysis”. Note it’s just an analysis. I think that these properties are nice.)

    I met a person staying in BLT (bay lake tower) and he said it was cheapest option on the monorail for them on that stay.

    He said “it was good deal”. But he only visits about once every 3 years.

    As someone bit with the Annual Pass bug (even though it’s kind of a long trip), I have gone 5 times in 1 year.

    With that kind of frequency, value resorts, fort wilderness, off-site condos, and distressed DVC points rental is the way I roll out of necessity.

    People who complain that WDW is SOOOOO expensive probably stay somewhere on this list.

    Disney can be done a lot cheaper than people realize.

    (Although I was deluding myself a few times as it probably is about $800 per vacation on average (that’s driving cost — no hotel on the drive –; AP tickets already purchased last time; off-peak times of year; brought grandma along and she helped defray/split some of the costs; $800 isn’t cheaper than just staying home.)

    I would not trade only going once every 3 years (but getting a nice hotel) and going much more often.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 23, 2012, at 4:37 pm EDT

      It’s true! I did not pick the cheapest resorts by any means. I picked my favorites. As I mentioned and you alluded to, The Unofficial Guide does an excellent job of a more analytical view based on room size, value, etc.

      I also agree you can go to Disney and not spend as much as some would think. We’ve stayed in the value resorts, we’ve stayed offsite at Disneyland many times, we’ve done a lot to minimize costs so we could stretch our vacation, go more often, or even go at all at times! Have we still had great vacations on those trips? Absolutely! :)

  • Staying at any of the DVC resorts by renting points is cheaper than staying at a Moderate resort (most times) – just sayin’. ;)

  • I just like the helpful info you supply in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and check once more here regularly. I’m fairly sure I will be told many new stuff proper right here! Good luck for the next!

  • I am trying to plan a trip with my 10 year old son and 17 year old niece. I would like to be close and have a nice place with a good pool and good food. What do you think is best for them? As you know they have outgrown needing themes. They just want to be close to the Magic Kingdom.
    Thanks for all this helpful info, this will be our first time to Florida in October. Thought it would be fun there since they have outgrown trick or treating.

  • Hey, Coronado Springs is another great option!!! Cheaper than a deluxe, beautiful, peaceful grounds, it’s just a great place to stay!!!