As a former Cast Member, current Annual Passholder, Disney Vacation Club Member, and frequent visitor to the Walt Disney World Resort, there are questions that I am routinely asked:
- “What’s the best time of year to visit?” To which I reply, “Simple! Check the Crowd Calculator!”
- “Where can I find the best deal on tickets?” To which I reply, “Simple! Check the Ticket Calculator!“
- “Where is the best place to stay?” To which I reply, “Well….”
You see, among the almost-30 on-site resort choices, to countless off-property hotels, vacation villas, and other accommodation opportunities, guests have a plethora of considerations when it comes to choosing the right Disney World hotel. In an effort to simplify it all, however, I’ve corralled the on-property choices and pitted them against each other, in a play-off style, using content provided by the Touring Plans site and personal experience. Although I personally believe it all boils down to a matter of preference, this ranking should provide a basic foundation in comparison building.
Tier 1 Matchups: Deluxe Resorts
Based on user ratings, this matchup is a close one, as the Beach Club takes a one-point lead over its opponent. Although both resorts feature elaborately themed guest rooms and common areas, the big differentiator in rankings was simply location. Within walking distance to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and situated in the entertainment and dining mecca of the BoardWalk area, the Beach Club provides a much more central point than the somewhat tucked-away Animal Kingdom Lodge.
In 1971, Walt Disney World opened with just four main elements: the Magic Kingdom, Fort Wilderness, the Polynesian Resort and the bold new Contemporary Resort. While it is debatable as to how “contemporary” the Contemporary is, its appeal is undeniable. Comprised of the main Contemporary resort building, the Garden wing, and the towering Bay Lake Tower addition, it is the only resort within walking distance to the Magic Kingdom. Additionally, the Contemporary boasts two very different, and popular dining experiences: Chef Mickey’s and the California Grill….and what about that cool factor of the monorail passing right through the middle?
Fans of the BoardWalk Inn may point out that its location, across the lake from the aforementioned winner of the last matchup, the Beach Club is also a lovely location – which it is, however, the widespread layout of the resort is also infamous for its endless hallways and unique lobby decor.
Neighbors on the Seven Seas Lagoon, these two deluxe heavy-hitters serve not only as guest favorites for resort stays, but for their plethora of fine dining options. Guest ratings are neck-and-neck for these two, but the Grand Floridian receives a slight edge not only due to its “flagship resort” status, but also, for its luxurious amenities, such as a full-service spa, state-of-the-art fitness center and picturesque wedding pavilion.
Immersive theming characterize both of these resorts, from simple decor, to their signature dining experiences, yet in this matchup, it is the combination of a completely transportive nature, coupled with an undeniable sense of nostalgic Disney magic that give the Wilderness Lodge a definite leg up in the competition.
Opened in 1994, the rustic early-1900’s feeling of lodges in the Pacific Northwest blend seamlessly with neighboring Fort Wilderness, yet with its location off of Bay Lake, it remains within close distance (and boat accessibility) to the Magic Kingdom.
Both of these category closers share a unique distinction; you see, although both are categorized as Deluxe resorts, neither are owned/operated by the Walt Disney Company (Swan & Dolphin are Starwood resorts, and Shades of Green is operated by the U.S. Armed Forces). Comparing these two was perhaps the most challenging, as they cater to more specific guest populations, yet with the big picture in mind, a high number of appealing dining options (on-site and within walking distance) and availability of special booking discounts catapult Swan & Dolphin into the lead.
Tier 1 Matchups: Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Villas
Sprawling, with expertly manicured lawns,sparkling pools, and recreation opportunities, these two standalone DVC resorts offer unparalleled opportunities for relaxation…and frustration. Coupled with their expansive footprints are common complaints of unreliable bus service, long walking distance between common areas and guest rooms/villas and confusing layouts…yet, they both garner their share of fans. Although Saratoga Springs boasts itself as the only Disney resort within walking distance to Downtown Disney, OKW takes the edge…and here’s why: as the first DVC resort built, the rooms at Old Key West are some of the roomiest available on property, and if you bring your car, you can park right next to your front door!
Tier 1 Matchups: Moderate Resorts
Moderate resorts are great choices for a wide range of guests: families, couples, groups of friends…and in the case of Coronado Springs, even convention guests! While both of these moderate resorts offer comfortable guest rooms (Caribbean Beach even has Pirate-themed rooms), Coronado Springs has a slight lead due to its elaborately themed swimming area, fitness and business centers.
Perhaps this is an unfair matchup, as the experiences garnered from Port Orleans and Fort Wilderness exist in almost completely different categories (hotel versus cabins), but as a major fan of both of these moderate “resorts,” I’d say these are a very close contest. With that in mind, I’d be more apt to recommend a stay at Port Orleans (French Quarter or Riverside) to a first-time visitor, since the unconventional aspect of staying in a cabin on a Walt Disney World Vacation might add an element of complication to someone unfamiliar with Disney World property and transportation.
Broken down one step further (Riverside vs. French Quarter), French Quarter would be my preference, as that end of the collective Port Orleans is smaller, and feels more intimate, but for families that would prefer a sit-down dining option (FQ only has a food court) or those interested in the ornately decorated “Princess” rooms, Riverside is a great option, too.
Tier 1 Matchups: Value Resorts
A three-way matchup, essentially between five different properties? Okay, this might not sound fair, but really, we’re comparing two complexes: the All Star, and the Pop/Art. You see, All-Star Resorts were the first in the “value” category, offering economy-priced accommodations on the south end of property. While they function well as clean and neatly appointed facilities, they also carry the distinction of large group bookings, often for tour groups and sports teams. Art of Animation on the other hand, opened later (Spring 2012), and has addressed many of the early concerns of value resorts with increased dining options in its food court, larger guestrooms, and the inclusion of family suites (note: All Star Music has also added family suites to their line up, doubling the square footage from a standard room). To top that off, the rooms and common areas feature familiar character motifs and theming, from the pool areas, to guest room furniture.
Tier 2 Matchups: Deluxe & DVC
- Beach Club vs. Contemporary
Although both the Beach Club and Contemporary boast easy walking distance to theme parks, incredible dining experiences and the option for standard guest rooms or DVC villas, Beach Club pulls ahead with its beautiful Stormalong Bay, an exclusive access privilege reserved solely for Yacht & Beach Club guests.
- Grand Floridian vs. Wilderness Lodge
Despite the fact that the youngest guests may not grasp the theming of the Grand Floridian, there is certainly something special about the Victorian aura that wafts through the air at this resort, especially with experiences such as their Afternoon Tea. Additionally, the Grand Floridian boasts more fine dining options than any other resort on property, and Disney World’s only AAA 5-Diamond Award dining experience, Victoria & Albert’s.
- Swan & Dolphin vs. Old Key West
Location once again triumphs in this resort matchup, as Swan & Dolphin leaps forward. In addition to its convenient spot on the map, an all-star line-up of dining options abound, with nationally recognized restaurants like Shula’s, Todd English’s bluezoo and Il Mulino.
Tier 2 Matchups: Moderates
- Coronado Springs vs. Port Orleans
As previously mentioned, Coronado Springs caters to convention and business guests – which is a positive, when it comes to extra amenities, but on the flipside, may be a negative, too. Whereas convention guests may be attending catered events, non-convention guests lament a lack of dining options over its large grounds. Port Orleans, on the other hand, provide several dining options over both the Riverside and French Quarter “sides,” and with its connection to Downtown Disney via Sassagoula boat service, a whole new world of dining, shopping and entertainment is unlocked (note: busses are also available).
Tier 3: Champion
- Grand Floridian
Love it or hate it, the Grand Floridian rises to the top of this resort ranking, as the best all-around resort. Although it may not be the best value on property, this 40-acre Victorian seaside resort is certainly the finest. Unparalleled guest service, diverse recreation options, availability of some of the most indulgent spa services and easy accessibility (monorail, boat and bus) are all hallmarks of this imposing facility. With nightly stays starting at $488, however…would you expect any less?
So, there you have it – an in-depth look at all of the resorts, stacked side by side. Do you agree with my matchups? What would you change?