Ranking the Disney World Hotels

by 50 Comments

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
Art of Animation Resort.

Art of Animation Resort

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:

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 12.02.21 PM

Tier 1 Matchups: Deluxe Resorts

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

dvc

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

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

value

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_panoramic

  • 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?

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
Posted on January 15, 2014

50 Responses to “Ranking the Disney World Hotels”

  • The Grand reigns supreme! It’s the property where we stay…but…I will only stay there with a big fat pin code!

  • Did you consider matching up the deluxe resorts by price? It would make sense to me to match AKL and WL, rather than AKL and BC. All Deluxes are not equal…

  • Oh man, this must have been really hard to do! I’ve only stayed at one Deluxe (Contemporary), so I can’t really weigh in on them. Though I’ve been dying to stay at the Beach Club or Boardwalk for years, I just don’t have the funds to do so. :) I have stayed at a bunch of moderates and think you did a good job with that! I must admit, though, I prefer Caribbean Beach over Coronado Springs by a landslide! I’ve been to CB a bunch and CS only once not too long after it first opened (so maybe it’s changed a bit) but at the time it seemed to really cater to the convention/business guest. I didn’t really like the food court set-up, and everything else was just okay. While on the other-hand I’ve always loved CB with their food court, main pool, and beachy feel. I suppose it’s all personal preference, though! Gah, this makes me even more desperate for a trip to Disney now!

  • Brackets are the best way to make any decision. Whenever I’m going to splurge and stay Deluxe at Disney I do a mental bracket, and I always come back to the Yacht/Beach Club. My bracket favors the Epcot resorts above all else, and the proximity to Epcot gives overall priority to the Y/B. In my bracket, being able to walk to and/or from two parks beats out monorail access. Great post!

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 10:54 am EDT

      Hi Betsy! Yacht and Beach are some of my personal favorites, too as I too have a special place in my heart for Epcot :) I agree, walking to the parks is the best – my #1 Disney resort is the Grand Californian, and that special entrance into DCA rocks my world.

  • We just stayed in a cabin at Ft. Wilderness this past weekend and, although the theming is great, the lack of counter service is unbelievable. It would only work for our family if we planned on cooking all of our own food. Plus the transportation system leaves much to be desired. You can only drive a golf cart around the resort ($60 a day to rent), or take the in-resort bus line to get to Settlement Depot where the food is.

    We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside last summer and I loved it!! We have a family of five so our options are limited as far as resort choices. The food court at POR was great and I loved the atmosphere. With the room discount at the end of August we only paid about $130 a night which was awesome!!

    It would be great to see more articles like this. Maybe something that compares resorts by price, or compares the resorts by number of guests per room. :)

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 10:53 am EDT

      Neula – thanks for your feedback! It’s always great to hear of guest experiences – the good and the bad! Your suggestions about price comparisons / per person, etc. are a great idea.

  • There is no point to this exercise. This is just your opinion. Stormalong Bay can be a nightmare for families with kids in a certain age group. You can walk to MK from the CR versus the GF. You can see giraffes outside your window at AKL. I’ve never seen fans more dedicated than Poly fans. And somehow you stuck the Swolphin in there even though they aren’t even onsite. And Shades of Green isn’t open to everyone, so why even put that in there at all. Swolphin is a cheaper alternative to those who want to stay in the Epcot area. And you don’t even mention FP+ and how SoG and S/D aren’t considered onsite? Brackets can be helpful as a decision-making tool, but reading someone else’s brackets is just a waste of time.

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 10:44 am EDT

      Hi Ann! Thanks for taking the time to comment; however, the rankings are not based solely on my opinions as I used data and user review information from the Touring Plans site, as well as categorizations from the listings, which is why I included Swan & Dolphin, as well as Shades of Green.

      I always welcome constructive criticism, but I did spend quite a bit of time on this post, so hearing that it was a “waste of time” isn’t the nicest way to say you disagree.

    • The Swan and Dolphin aren’t on site?? or “onsite” as you typed??? Doesn’t seem like you are very familiar with the property. By the way, the correct spelling is Swalphin.

      • Yeah, this was a glaring error. The Swan and Dolphin are the best value at Disney in my opinion. They offer all the benefits (walk to 2 parks, walk/monorail to MK, Disney transportation, EMH, nice accomodations, good dining, etc.) at a fraction of the cost.

  • I loved this!!! I consider myself knowledgeable about the resorts.

  • I think this post was constructive and helpful, however, cost should probably have been factored in more- I know Wilderness Lodge and Grand Floridian are both considered Deluxe- but putting Grand Floridian up against Wilderness Lodge in round two isn’t really fair considering GF is still going to be at least $100 or more greater per night- unless the price difference is more heavily weighted in the final decision!

  • Great post, that will help me make decisions in the future. My preference would have been Caribbean Beach over Coronado Springs. The convention atmosphere in the main building area evokes more of a Vegas vibe than a Disney vibe. We also recently had issues with housekeeping leaving our room open twice during a 10 day stay at Coronado. One time is an accident. Twice is just carelessness. In addition, the rooms were extremely dirty. Dust bunnies on the ceiling, and the ceiling fan was caked in dust. The attention to detail just didn’t seem to be there.

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 12:38 pm EDT

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Mike! I believe that these sort of comments definitely are helpful for others to form their opinions for future visits.

  • As a DVC member myself. My personal preferences are either the Boardwalk or the Contemporary(Bay Tower included) Usually if we are bringing family/friends with kids we’ll end up at the Contemporary because of it’s proximity to MK. Otherwise I like the Boardwalk for it’s central location and walking access to Epcot.

  • Grand should have been knocked out in Round 1. Poly has better transportation, and a better pool. One of these two amenities are probably used by 75% of visitors, while the spa is probably only used by 10% of visitors.

    I also think price has got to come into the framework. Your best resorts are either the most expensive or least likely to be discounted of their category. Basically what you are saying is- you get what you pay for.

    • by Morgan Crutchfield on January 16, 2014, at 10:07 am EDT

      Actually, Sarah, I agree with Krissy, especially right now. The entire face of the Polynesian is changing including the pool, and the GF has just completely redone theirs. Additionally, the transportation is the same for both.

      • by 999happyhaunts on January 17, 2014, at 2:05 pm EDT

        False, not the same transportation. :-) Poly has the walk to the TTC and easiest access to the Epcot monorail. I guess technically you could walk from GF to the Poly to the TTC but that’s not practical.

        FWIW, I’d rank GF top as well. I think the room are substantially nicer than the Poly.

  • I often visit the Grand Floridian when at WDW just because it is so pretty and is a nice escape from the crowds. The main thing that has kept me from taking the expensive plunge is that the sound routinely gets a failing grade from the touring plans folks. I’m a pretty light sleeper – is the sound often such a problem that it interferes with being able to sleep?

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 3:43 pm EDT

      Personally, I can sleep anywhere – and when we stayed at the GF, we were in an separate building which was pretty darn quiet. The only thing we could hear was the monorail going by :)

    • by 999happyhaunts on January 17, 2014, at 2:07 pm EDT

      I have never had an issue with the noise at GF. Certainly no more than anywhere else, at least. People do need to learn to whisper in the hallways, though!

  • I’m ALL about the value resorts as I never spend time in my room haha unless I get a deal

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 3:42 pm EDT

      :) I think that’s the thing we all have to keep in mind – different preferences will yield different staying patterns. Thanks for commenting!!

  • Love this!!!

  • Where’s the rest of the blog? No Coronado vs Port Orleans discussion.

  • Very cool way to narrow down all the resort choices. IMHO, here’s how I would consider pairing up the deluxes. Grand Floridian vs Poly vs Contemporary (so that you are more closely comparing apples to apples as far as location and transportation choices), Beach Club vs Yacht Club vs Boardwalk (for basically the same reasons), Animal Kingdom Lodge vs Wilderness Lodge (deluxes with smaller rooms), and Old key West vs Saratoga Springs (standalone villas). Room size and convenience are the determining factors for our family, and we just can’t beat the Poly.

    • by Kristina Murphy on January 15, 2014, at 6:39 pm EDT

      Those are fantastic ideas for pairing/comparing, MeLissa!

    • by 999happyhaunts on January 17, 2014, at 2:08 pm EDT

      Agree with those groupings. More apples-to-apples to compare the MK monorail resorts against each other, etc. Still a fun thought exercise no matter how you do it.

  • Hi Ms. Kristina,
    As someone who worked at three of them I will say All-Star treats cm best and Beach is the worst to work at…I will say Yacht club can be fun.

  • Great Article! While the information you provide is great, I do have to agree with you when it comes to personal preference. For example I prefer AK to BC, Contemp to BC. I say try each one and decide what you like best ;-) I agree with other posters who said a bang for your buck comparison would be a great comparison as well. If you have a ton of free time lol, ranking ALL DVC resorts as well would be great. There really is a ton of ways to break this down, having a car vs not, bus transport that’s the best, walking distance, ect ect. There’s no one way to do it to make everyone happy. You did a great job!

    • Thanks for the comment, Dawn! I agree. Lots of people have expressed that they would never pick Grand Floridian as #1, and while it is in MY top 5, it’s not even my #1 either! :)

      If you are looking for a great comparison of DVC resorts, the Disney Tourist Blog has some great posts!!

  • by Morgan Crutchfield on January 16, 2014, at 10:09 am EDT

    This is a totally wicked post, Krissy. I love the bracket comparison and think that no matter how anyone would personally pair them (because there have been some great suggestions!) it’s an awesome way to help make a decision!

  • by Ashley Warrington on January 16, 2014, at 1:06 pm EDT

    Love it! I know, with so many options, trying to weigh the pros and cons of all the choices can be tedious— I like that you’ve given it a bit more structure. :)

    I would only say that I myself find SoG to be more of an outlier— for the obvious reason, of course, but also because the pricing structure is different. Depending on the rank of the person reserving, SoG can be as cheap as the Value resorts— and their prices don’t fluctuate seasonally, as we just found out when making reservations for around Easter. (About fifty dollars cheaper than Pop!) So it may not fit as well in an overall comparison.

    Still! It was a great read. Thanks again for all the work you did to put this together!

  • Grand Floridian is the only Disney Hotel we have no interest in ever staying at besides the all-stars. Funny how opinions mix, I’d rather be at the polynesian where you can see the only thing I enjoy about the Grand Floridian and that is the Exterior.

  • Great article Krissy, a really interesting analysis! Though I’ll never understand how the grand comes out on top in people’s rankings. Maybe it was fancy when it first opened (I stayed in the honeymoon suite once in the 90s) but now it is a faded shell of itself. It’s more like a parody of a “fancy” hotel at this point catering to guests who have never stayed in a true high-end resort. I’d much rather spend my time and money at Wilderness, Beach, or Poly (once the construction is done).

  • Nice job, and a fun way to look at all resorts at one time.

  • P.S. thanks for adding SoG to your brackets,

  • Hi Kristina,

    Thanks so much for this! I am going to wedding at Disney but want to make it into a fun girls weekend too–so, opting for a quieter hotel with fewer kids, nice pools, but not overly expensive. Top considerations are Coronado Springs, Swan, Dolphin, Riverside, French Quarter. Between all of these, do you have a recommendation? And, between Swan and Dolphin, which would you choose?

    Really appreciate it! …so I don’t spend more time digging through review sites :)

    • Hi, Sara!

      Thanks for your comment. Your top considerations for a girls’ weekend are SPOT ON – seriously, can I come? ;)

      Out of the picks you mentioned, I’d say the only one I might eliminate is Coronado Springs because it is a bit further from entertainment/nightlife than the others. With Port Orleans, you are just a boat ride away from Downtown Disney, and with Swan/Dolphin, you’re walking distance to so many options: Boardwalk’s entertainment (Jellyrolls – Dueling Piano Bar!) as well as the great lounges inside S/D itself (Kimonos – sushi/karaoke!). Also, if you wanted to do a fun “dress up dinner” you have tons of great places you could try: http://www.swandolphinrestaurants.com/index.html

      Another great consideration for S/D – you (or other members of your party) may be eligible for discounts in booking (teachers, military, etc), or points (with Starwood). On the flipside, if you are planning on spending lots of time in the parks, they are not fully integrated into the new “My Disney Experience” offerings and are not part of Magical Express.

      Between S/D….I’ve actually not stayed in either (yet) but from my research, I’ve found that Swan has slightly larger rooms (and has queens vs. doubles).

      Hope this helps! Happy planning!!

  • What would recomend for a 30th wedding anniversary vacation at disneyworld. Our agent is suggesting the pop century for a 5 day visit in Sept 2014 with a king bed. The reviews suggest that you might not get a king even if you request one. Would another moderate hotel be better? Also is the meal plan a good deal? Thank you for your info.

    • Hi John!

      If it were up to me, I’d see about possibly upgrading to a moderate for something special like an anniversary. There’s definitely nothing wrong with the value resorts, but with September being a bit of a slower month, you may find a good deal. My favorite moderate(s) are the Port Orleans hotels – very relaxing atmosphere, and a great place to stroll the grounds, take the boat to Downtown Disney, and more.

      As far as a dining plan is concerned, that really depends on how much you want to plan in advance, in my opinion. If you are used to a sit down meal everyday, it’s a great way to go, but if not, you might save more by skipping it. Another thing to to consider: when in September are you planning on visiting? If it’s after 9/19 (when the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival begins) the dining plan could be worth it as you can use “snack credits” at festival booths!

      Thanks for stopping by with your questions, John, and hope you have a wonderful anniversary.