Disney Hotels: Picking A Disney Hotel That Matches Your Travel Style

by on June 5, 2017 29 Comments

Filed under: Resorts, Trip Planning, Walt Disney World (FL)

Contemporary ResortYou may recall I recently did an article on how the time of year you visit Disney can make a mammoth difference in your experience. After this one, one of the bigger variables that can impact the way you plan for your trip has to do with lodging. Disney hotels run the gamut from the barest of bare-bones accommodations — campsites — up to luxury hotels. Add to that the numerous off-site lodging options that are available to you, and the uninitiated can get into the weeds fast. The decision is further complicated by the reality that not everyone that travels to Disney intends to use their hotel the same way. Read on to learn how to pick accommodations that align with the trip you’re wanting to plan!

The Basics

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Disney hotel tiers are broken down into Value, Moderate and Deluxe (and Deluxe Villas, which are larger versions of Deluxe rooms with extra amenities such as washer/dryers, full kitchens, and living rooms and a higher level of finish). Starting at the top tier, Deluxe resorts are the largest, usually have multiple dining options (many of which are signature dining) and have the most elaborately themed common areas and rooms. Several Deluxe resorts allow you to take a monorail, boat, or even walk to one or more theme parks, and provide a great deal of convenience.

On the opposite end of the price spectrum are Value resorts. While the common areas and rooms are still themed, the rooms are smaller and your on-site dining options are typically going be limited to food courts. Moderate hotels fall between the two, with more elaborate theming, larger rooms, and access to more dining options, but I can’t think of a single Moderate hotel restaurant that I would consider destination dining. Also, none of the Moderate or Value hotels are walkable from any of the theme parks — you’ll have to use Disney Transportation or a car (or Uber) to get around.

When thinking about these tiers, it’s more useful to think of them as compared to the other Disney properties as opposed to trying to compare them to non-Disney properties. Deluxe properties are considered “luxury” hotels by Disney standards, but it would be wrong to equate the rooms themselves to that which you might find at true luxury hotels elsewhere. The rooms are fine, but the level of finish is just not up to the standard set by chains like Four Seasons.  

Four Seasons Orlando

Four Seasons Orlando

Incidentally, Four Seasons now has a hotel on Walt Disney World property, and it is the only true “luxury” resort at Walt Disney World that would maintain that status elsewhere. While it’s often comparable in price to a Deluxe and caters to similar travelers, it’s really more of its own tier because it is the only 5 Diamond resort in Orlando. For more information on the Four Seasons, check out this post. Suffice it to say, however, that if your only criteria in picking a hotel is staying at the most posh hotel available to you, you should start (and probably end) your research with the Four Seasons.

It will be easier if we get this out of the way early: while the official Disney hotels are priced up and down the pricing spectrum, they are almost universally priced higher than comparable accommodations off-site. There are several advantages to staying at Disney hotels that can justify the price for many, such as Extra Magic Hours, proximity to the parks and not needing to rent a car, and free parking at the parks, but you should be aware going into this exercise that especially after you get beyond the Value tier of hotels, the prices can head north quickly.

The Starting Point: Where Do You Usually Stay

Any time someone asks me where they should stay when they visit Walt Disney World, there are a number of questions that I have, but the first — even before budget — is ”what sort of hotel would you stay in if you were going somewhere other than Disney?” It’s useful, because it helps establish a baseline of their expectations — if someone is accustomed to staying at the Red Roof Inn, there’s not a lot of utility in talking about the various tiers of hotels, you can narrow things down pretty quickly:

 

If You Usually Stay At Start Your Research
Home Rentals Deluxe Villas or Off-site Vacation Rentals
5-Star Properties Deluxe (including Four Seasons)
Mainstream Flagship Hotel Chains (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood) Moderate or Deluxe
Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn, etc. Moderate or Value
Super 8, Motel 6 Value or Off-Site
Campground Fort Wilderness

 

Now before anyone heads to the comments to lambaste me, far be it for me to suggest that someone that usually stays at the La Quinta wouldn’t feel right at home at the Grand Floridian. Unless you’re looking to radically alter the way you travel, however, this should be a good starting point for identifying properties that are consistent with your travel, style if nothing else.

 

What Sort of Vacationer Are You?

Disney’s All-Star Music Resort

Another thing that will have a significant impact on where you book your stay has to do with how you like to spend your time on vacation. There are essentially two extremes: on the one hand, you have the “commando” style travelers, those that show up at the parks well before they open, churn through FastPasses, and essentially never stop moving until they crawl back into bed at the end of the night. As you might imagine, if your plan is to use your room as a place to sleep and nothing else, it’s tough to justify spending a huge premium for amenities that you won’t be taking advantage of. Many “commando” travelers lean towards Value resorts because they aren’t paying a ton for the room, but still have the benefit of being relatively close to the parks (as compared to off-site accommodations)

On the other end of the spectrum are people that really embrace the “resort” aspect of the Walt Disney World Resort, who view the parks as one of several things to do, and are just as likely to be hanging out at the pool or parasailing over Bay Lake as they are riding it’s a small world. If this is your mindset, it’s a lot easier to justify the price point of the Moderate or Deluxe, because you’ll actually be taking advantage of those enhanced amenities for which you’re paying a premium. The more your normal vacation involves lounging around a resort, enjoying leisurely meals and relaxing, the more you’re likely to see the value in a higher tier of Disney hotel.

Most travelers, of course, fall somewhere between the two extremes, and you should give some thought to how you travel when selecting your Disney hotel. Generally speaking, however, the more time you plan to spend at your hotel, the more it makes sense to devote a good chunk of your vacation budget to your accommodations.

Pool Time

Disney’s Yacht and Beach Clubs share Stormalong Bay

Are you someone that relishes time at the pool? All Disney hotels have pools, but they are not all created equal, and pool quality is one of the most significant distinguishing features among the hotel tiers. Generally speaking, when you’re paying for a higher tier hotel, one of the things you’re paying for is a nicer, more elaborate pool. Stormalong Bay, for example, is more like a small water park that is shared by Disney’s Yacht and Beach Clubs — it is generally understood to be at least among the nicest, if not THE nicest, pool complex at Walt Disney World. If pool time is going to be a significant component of how you spend your time, it might be worth considering staying at a higher tier of hotel to take advantage of the better pools. In general, Deluxe pools are nicer than Moderate pools, and the Moderate pools are nicer than the Value pools (although the pools at Port Orleans Resorts are rated higher than many Deluxe pools, making them a great value if the pool is a major draw). Certain features, like whirlpools, are not present at Value pools at all. Consult our pool rankings for more details on where the various pools fall on the spectrum. 

Disney hotel pools truly offer something for every taste, but let me offer this very specific pool-related warning: much though I love the Atlantic City vibe of Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, I am unlikely to stay there on a trip where I intend to do any swimming at all, and that is 100% because of the murder clown that maniacally belches slide-goers out into the pool:

To each their own, however.  I digress.

Fine Dining & Nightlife

With the transition from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs, Disney World’s entertainment and shopping district has seen a metamorphosis from glorified outdoor mall to a legit standalone destination. There is some truly exceptional dining at Disney Springs these days — Morimoto Asia, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ and The BOATHOUSE are all standouts, but there are many more worth a visit — and particularly if you’re a foodie, you might find that you want to spend a fair amount of time over there during your trip.

If this sounds like you, you should be aware that there are a few resorts that make it MUCH easier to get pop over for a bit, which could be the difference between you having to carve out an entire evening to visit Disney Springs and just popping over for a bit at the end of your evening. Saratoga Springs allows you to walk there, and there is also boat service to Disney Springs from that resort, Old Key West and both Port Orleans resorts (which are Moderate hotels). There are also several non-Disney hotels in the Disney Springs area.

Park Access

Crescent Lake hotels like the Boardwalk allow you easy access to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Boardwalk

While there aren’t enormous differences between the hotels in the Value and Moderate tiers, the same is not true of the Deluxe Disney hotels. One of the primary benefits of some of the Deluxe properties is proximity to one or more parks, but some Deluxe properties aren’t particularly close to any parks, and Walt Disney World is spread out enough that none of them are close to more than two parks. If you’re staying at a Deluxe primarily because you want the added convenience they bring to getting to and from the parks, give some thought to which parks are going to get most of your attention and target a resort that will make it easy to get there:

 

  • If you’re going to spend the bulk of your time at Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary is the only resort that allows you to walk back and forth to the park. The Grand Floridian and Polynesian also have easy access to Magic Kingdom via the monorail or boat, and the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness both have boat access to Magic Kingdom.

 

  • If you’ll be spending a lot of time at Epcot (for example, if you’re at Walt Disney World during one of Epcot’s many festivals) and/or Hollywood Studios, the Yacht and Beach Club, the Boardwalk and the Swan and Dolphin all allow you to walk or take a boat to the rear entrance of Epcot.

In this same vein, it’s worth noting that a few Deluxe properties and all of the Moderate and Value properties require bus service to all of the parks and accordingly do not add any real travel convenience to the experience. These include Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, Four Seasons, and Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village. Many people assume that Animal Kingdom is walkable from Animal Kingdom Lodge, but even though they are physically fairly close to one another, there is no way to travel between them on foot, so you’ll be reliant on a vehicle of some sort.

Home Rentals

Photo courtesy of Tom Bricker.

When you travel, do you prefer an experience more like a home than a hotel room? A space with common areas to relax, real kitchens, and laundry facilities? If so, you really have two options: you can stay in Disney’s Deluxe Villas, or you can stay in a vacation rental off-site. You can find Disney’s Villas at all of the Deluxe resorts except for the Yacht Club, and while they are configured more like a “home” than a hotel room, with seating and dining areas, separate bedrooms, and a generally higher level of finish as compared to the traditional hotel rooms, they are nevertheless still part of a hotel, and have access to the same amenities you would have at any Disney resort, like pools, sundry shops and restaurants.

If you’d prefer to have more privacy, or additional amenities like a game room, home theater, more than three bedrooms, private pool and the like, your only option would be an off-site vacation rental. There is simply nothing on Disney property that provides those sorts of amenities in a stand-alone property.

So, what is your travel style, and how does it impact where you stay when you travel to Walt Disney World?  Let us know in the comments!

 

Posted on June 5, 2017

29 Responses to “Disney Hotels: Picking A Disney Hotel That Matches Your Travel Style”

  • Very insightful and informative.

    On a side-note, during an early May trip to Boardwalk my son asked why the crazy clown was throwing up kids!!!!! That thing is creepy.

  • I’ve stayed on property too many times to count. Last time we went for the Deluxe Villa by purchasing someone’s DVC points at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Wow, what a huge upgrade! We’re doing it again this year, and now the Moderate resorts are spoiled for me…

    • by James Rosemergy on June 5, 2017, at 10:44 am EDT

      Yeah, the DVC rooms will completely spoil you, especially if you’re able to get them at that price point by renting points!

    • We are doing the exact same thing and staying at Animal Kingdom’s Kidani Village on points. We wanted a Deluxe hotel without paying the price through Disney. We leave in two days and we are beyond excited. We are planning in a few resort days for the kids so where we were staying payed a huge factor for us!

  • Lots of great planning guidance for picking your Disney Hotel. The one thing that I might add would be the size of your travel party. We are a family of 5 and that has always been a big driver of where we could stay. I think there was an article back in February on the TP Blog that discussed that topic, although I can’t seem to find it now! Since the kids are teenagers now we do prefer to stay in a deluxe villa. Eating breakfast in the room is always our style and we rent houses or stay in timeshares when not at Disney. We love BWV (crazy clown pool and all). We are staying at Bay Lake Towers for a few nights at the beginning of our trip. We love being able to walk to Magic Kingdom and then when we move over to BWV walk to Epcot and DHS.

  • Yes, one of the biggest factors that most guides completely omit is determining how many beds you need. I believe Disney doesn’t have any rolllaways, which means that if you need more than 2 beds for your family, you are hunting to find rooms that fit everyone.

    • by James Rosemergy on June 5, 2017, at 12:29 pm EDT

      Spoiler alert, this may very well be discussed in more detail in the next installment of the series… 🙂

      • Oh Good!!!
        We are a family of 5 as well and I am always trying to assess where we can stay. Especially with some of the DVC remodels going to studios that sleep 5.

        • Yes, Disney has rollaways. But the DVC studio rooms that sleep 5, IMHO, are the best way to go. In fact, even something like Animal Kingdom’s value studio rooms would be fine with 2 adults, 2 kids, and a toddler in a pack and play.

          One of the big perks with the DVC and Deluxe resorts is that you have a balcony. Last time we went, my wife and I had drinks and chatted on the balcony literally every night once the kids went to sleep.

    • We got a roll-away at Coronado Springs in 2015, but I can’t get any reliable info on which resorts offer them and which don’t. That would make a huge difference in where we book!

  • Great summary. I have a feeling I’ll be sending links to this article to people when they ask me where to stay 🙂

    Another factor to consider: do you like a view of the parks/fireworks/electrical water pageant? Only monorail resorts afford all three though partial views of Epcot or Hollywood Studios fireworks can also be afforded from some of the Crescent Lake resorts.

  • by James Rosemergy on June 5, 2017, at 2:23 pm EDT

    Thanks, and great point regarding the water pageant. That can really be a double-edged sword, too — it’s a cool thing to be able to see at your resort, but it can also make it tough to get (or keep) younger kids in bed when it’s obvious that there’s something interesting happening right on the other side of the curtain. I know I’ve had that issue before…

    • To Dizwire’s point, I believe along with the tree removal required of the on-water bungalows at Wilderness Lodge that park and firework views have been opened up there too.

      I hear you, brother, on getting kids to bed during the Electric Water Parade. Once that music trickles in, you might as well have given them a Coke.

  • I have only stayed in Moderates but I wonder about the quality/size of beds at Value resorts. Are they only double beds? Similar comfort in mattress and bedding?

    • by James Rosemergy on June 5, 2017, at 5:56 pm EDT

      They are indeed double beds rather than the queens you get in the moderates (although the Value suites will have a queen in the main sleeping room). As for the quality, your mileage may vary — I’ve personally experienced really comfortable and really uncomfortable beds up and down the room tiers — but generally speaking, the linens and everything are going to be nicer the higher the tier.

  • When my family and I are at Disney World, we want to feel like we’re totally immersed in Disney. That means being at either the All Stars, Pop or Art of Animation Hotel. They may be the Values, but they’re also the purest Disney hotels.

    • I agree. I love the “over the top” decor and feeling as if you are totally in the Disney bubble. I stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter one time, and even though it was a beautiful setting, I missed the “Disney”.

    • Lou, I agree 100%. I’ve stayed at many deluxe resorts and both Port Orleans locations too. They do have their benefits and I’ve enjoyed them all but for pure Disney, nothing beats Pop and Art of Animation in my opinion. Good point sir!

  • We like staying on property but for the past 4-5 years we’ve been renting houses in the Indian Creek area south of US 192. About the same cost per night as a Value resort but we get 3-4 bedrooms, 3 baths, king in the master, and a full kitchen. They have lots of other amenities depending on what the homeowner has upgraded.

    • by James Rosemergy on June 6, 2017, at 4:20 pm EDT

      Yeah, from a pure “value for the physical space,” it’s tough to beat offsite rentals, there’s just nothing at Disney that’s comparable for the money. There is more to it than just cost, of course, but that’s a big draw for a lot of people, especially for extended trips with larger groups.

  • Great article! One factor that you didn’t mention is the length of your trip. It is the main driver for us – 3 days sharing a hotel room is lovely but 3 weeks sharing a single hotel room is my idea of hell (no matter how ‘deluxe’ the resort is!).

    • by James Rosemergy on June 6, 2017, at 4:27 pm EDT

      A great point, and a great example of why a lot of people that do extended stays will stay in offsite rentals. It’s tough to wedge yourself into a basic hotel room for a long time, but the longer you stay, the more you start to feel the premium that you have to pay for a suite, villa or other room that will give you the space you need if you’re staying onsite…

  • Oh god the clown slide. Now I will say I think it’s a really fun slide, and it’s not so bad during the day. But we had a pool view One bedroom once, and we were at *just* the right angle for it to feel like the clown was staring into our window at night. Needless to say, the bedroom drapes were closed for most of that trip.

    • by James Rosemergy on June 6, 2017, at 4:24 pm EDT

      Oh boy, I wish I could unread that. The clown was already pretty troubling, but thinking about that, whew…

  • There are some really good points here. You sort of glossed over the pros and cons of on versus off site, but of course there are several blog posts here that discuss that. I’m a dyed in the wool ON-siter, so this was a perfect discussion of the topic for me, LOL.

    The most important first thing for any Disney Vacation, and of course the blog mentions it time and time again, is to *make a global list of what one really wants to do and what’s important. Attractions, hotel needs, food, transportation, everything.* Then prioritize the short list of “musts for this trip this time* and also the “really would likes”. It’s very likely that this list will point to one or two resorts over others, given the considerations described above.

    Will you be discussing back up plans for if the resort you reallyreally want is unavailable, in another post?

  • Might be worth adding that business travel road warriors set on racking up as many hotel loyalty points as possible should check out the Swan and Dolphin, which let you earn/redeem Starwood points while giving you most of the on-site perks. The rooms will also be more in line, amenity-wise, with what those travelers are used to.

  • Very good article! I know I’m in the minority here but I will #standwithclownpool. It’s a fun slide, even for me and I’m 6’1. The slides at the moderate pools are just too small for us big guys!