Last week I spewed a lot of crazy talk about resort choice decision making. To briefly recap, in order to decide where to stay, you must first choose which resort characteristic you value the most. There is no right answer. Depending on your needs, you might decide to prioritize low price, good view, variety of dining options, or any of a number of other possibilities.
Can where you stay influence how much time you can spend in the parks?
Here I’ll be discussing how to decide which resort is right for you if your number one priority (or value criterion) is reducing time spent in transit. In other words, where should you stay if you want to spend the least amount of time in a bus/boat/monorail/car during your precious vacation?
Lucky for me, wacky Uncle Len Testa has already provided a handy-dandy analysis of Walt Disney World travel times on pages 388-389 of the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Thanks Len!
In performing my analysis, I’ll be running the numbers twice: the UG’s AVERAGE travel time using Disney’s free transportation, and the UG’s AVERAGE travel time driving yourself in a car. Yes, those are just averages; your actual experience may be slightly better or worse, but we’ve got to start somewhere.
To evaluate which resort necessitates the least amount of travel time, you must determine to where you’ll be traveling. Thus, your first step will be to create a trip itinerary. Let’s take my hypothetical Smith family. These imaginary guests will be at Walt Disney World for a seven day visit with Park Hopper tickets. Because they’re sensible souls, they often heed the common-sense rule to take a mid-day nap/swim break. Their imaginary travels will take them to each of the four theme parks at least once, Downtown Disney, a water park, and two evening meals at resorts. In other words, a typically busy Disney visit.
Here’s their sample itinerary:
- Day 1: Arrive at WDW mid-day. To Magic Kingdom. To Chef Mickey’s for dinner. Back to resort.
- 3 transportation moves: Resort to MK, MK to Contemporary, Contemporary to Resort.
- Day 2: Resort to Epcot. Back to Resort for nap. To Magic Kingdom for fireworks. Back to Resort.
- 4 transportation moves: Resort to Epcot, Epcot to Resort, Resort to MK, MK to Resort.
- Day 3: Resort to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. DHS to Resort for nap. Back to DHS for Fantasmic. Back to Resort.
- 4 transportation moves: Resort to DHS, DHS to Resort, Resort to DHS, DHS to Resort.
- Day 4: To Blizzard Beach. Back to Resort for nap. To Downtown Disney for dinner/shopping. Back to Resort.
- 4 transportation moves: Resort to BB, BB to Resort, Resort to DD, DD to Resort.
- Day 5: To Animal Kingdom. Back to Resort for nap. To Epcot for Illuminations and dinner. Back to Resort.
- 4 transportation moves: Resort to AK, AK to Resort, Resort to Epcot, Epcot to Resort.
- Day 6: To Downtown Disney (forgot to buy a gift for grandma). To Magic Kingdom. To Hoop Dee Doo Revue for Dinner. Back to Resort.
- Variable transportation moves: Resort to DD, DD to MK, MK to FW, FW to Resort.
This is the trickiest day. There is no direct free Disney transportation from DD the theme parks. Therefore, in order for the Smiths to get from DD to the MK using Disney transport, they’ll need to make a transfer. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the first logical bus that arrives at DD is heading to the Grand Floridian. The Smiths will take the bus from DD to the GF and then transfer to the monorail to get to the MK. At the end of the day, the trip back to the resort may have more than one leg depending on the hotel we’re considering. This is noted on the spreadsheet footnotes.
- Day 7: To Disney’s Hollywood Studios for another spin on Toy Story. Back to Resort. Depart.
- 2 transportation moves: Resort to DHS. DHS to Resort.
Obviously this is exactly not what your family’s itinerary will look like, but my guess is that will be similarly messy, with pockets of sanity (scheduling the Hoop Dee Doo on a Magic Kingdom day) and pockets of insanity (was that extra trip to Downtown Disney really necessary?).
How much time will you really save by renting a car?
And just so we get this out of the way, I’m also assuming that the Smiths are relatively new to Disney travel and are in “see it all” mode. A frequent Disney visitor might be able to optimize the travel time factor by concentrating their touring based on attraction proximity to resort. For example, personally, when I’m staying at the Contemporary, I spend most of my time at the nearby Magic Kingdom, and when I stay at the Beach Club, I spend the bulk of my time at nearby Epcot. The Smiths are more conventional guests.
Crunching the Numbers
With all their transportation moves in place, I’ve created spreadsheets of the Smiths’ time spent in transit during their vacation depending on where they stay. The first analysis looks at vacation travel time assuming that the Smiths decided not to rent a car and are using only Disney’s free transportation.
Vacation Time Spent in Transit During Sample Vacation, Using Free Disney Transportation
When I looked at the results, I was shocked. Like many Disney veterans, I’ve had firmly rooted opinions about the transportation situation. There were some hotels that I was 100% were the “good” hotels with the best transportation, and others that I’ve avoided because of perceived transportation insufficiencies. My preconceived notions were wrong.
Looking at the “Using Disney Transportation Only” chart, you’ll see that the time spent on internal Disney transportation, given this sample itinerary, ranges from a high of 14.8 hours to a low of 7.6 hours. That’s a difference of 7.2 hours – nearly an entire day’s worth of park time you’ll forfeit in travel depending on where you stay.
The transportation situation here isn't obvious.
The “loser” was Fort Wilderness where, given this sample itinerary, the hypothetical Smiths will spend 14.8 hours on transportation getting from place to place. Not far behind was the Wilderness Lodge, with an average of 14.4 hours spent in transit.
The Wilderness Lodge is my DVC home resort. I’ve stayed there many times. Never in a million years would have said it was one of the worst for transportation. It’s in the Magic Kingdom area; it’s got to be good. Right?
Um, sorry, not right at all. Clearly, when you’re measuring time spent in transit, there is a significant difference between boat and monorail access to the Magic Kingdom. For example, the Contemporary clocked in with about 4 hours less time spent in transit than the Wilderness Lodge. When following a good touring plan, that could mean you’ll have time to see as many as a dozen fewer attractions if you stay at the Wilderness Lodge instead of the Contemporary.
And who was the big transportation time winner? That’s a resort that I would never have guessed – Saratoga Springs. On the sample itinerary, the Smiths would spend only 7.6 hours of their vacation time getting from place to place. I, for one, am going to take a much closer look at Saratoga Springs when I make my next Disney travel plans.
On average, the majority of the other resorts clocked in somewhere between 9.5 and 11.5 hours of travel time per vacation. Depending on what your issues are, that may or may not be enough time to influence your choice of resort. Is a sacrifice or gain of two hours worth compromising on based on other resort advantages or disadvantages?
Let’s See if the Transportation Picture Changes if You’re Renting a Car
Vacation Time Spent in Transit During Sample Vacation, Using A Car
With access to a vehicle, the three monorail resorts come out as clear winners. Guests at the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian can take advantage of the quick monorail access to the Magic Kingdom and can also use their cars for efficient access to the other parks. Of monorail hotels, the Polynesian comes out the winner by a nose, with the guests on our sample itinerary spending just 6.6 hours in transit during their vacation.
On the high end, guests with a car would spend the most time in transit at the Pop Century and the similarly-located, soon-to-be-opened Art of Animation resorts. My big takeaway from the with-car analysis is that having a vehicle is the great equalizer in terms of time spent in transit. While there was more than a seven hour difference between the high and low resorts for guests using only Disney transportation, there was just over a three hour difference for guests with a car. If you have a car, transportation time is more of a non-factor.
Making Your Decision If Reducing Travel Time is Your #1 Priority
Based on the sample itinerary and analysis, I’ve come to the conclusion that my previous assumptions about travel time were not valid. If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said that the Polynesian has a much better transportation situation than the Pop Century. The numbers show that if you’re only using Disney transport, you may be better off at the Pop, from a transportation time standpoint. It would take some real creative thinking to justify the significantly higher cost of the Poly over the Pop based on a Disney transportation argument. (Remember that the Poly has other advantages – view, dining, room size, etc. We’re only talking transportation here.)
These numbers have also made me revisit the ever-popular no-car/car topic. With this itinerary, guests will save, on average, about two hours of travel time if they rent a car versus if they don’t, no matter where they stay. You can change the argument if you dine off site or visit other area attractions, but if you’re not going off-campus, you’ll have to do some real thinking about whether a possible savings of two hours is worth however many hundreds of dollars the rental car will cost. The answer will vary from guest to guest.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the Saratoga Springs anomaly again. This was the only resort where, using this itinerary, the guest was better off using only Disney transportation rather than making use of a car. I’ll leave it to a braver soul than I to run more sample vacation schedules to see if this holds true with other itineraries. Let me know how it goes if you choose to run your own numbers.
Choosing a Walt Disney World hotel is clearly a hot topic, often surrounded by lots of discussion and anxiety. Even in my own family, my husband and I have spent countless hours talking in circles about the relative merits of the Beach Club over the Grand Floridian (monorail/walk, Magic Kingdom/Epcot, parks/restaurants). Arrrrrgh!
In an effort to take some of the stress out of the decision making process, I’m going to devote a few posts to some serious number crunching and resort ranking on a variety of factors. My goal is to end up with some solid data to back up the opinion that resort X is better/worse than resort Y, for YOU based on what YOU value.
A view is nice, but not a consideration if your family's #1 value is minimizing price.
DECIDING HOW TO DECIDE
First a bit of background – my 15-year-old daughter Charlie has become competitive in the world of high school debate. Most of the time when she’s in debate mode I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about, but the one debate concept that I have learned from her is that in any argument you need to have a “value criterion.” The value criterion is a statement about what you value. That value informs how you decide how you’re going to decide.
In terms of Disney resort choice, some possible value criteria might be:
- Spending as little money as possible.
- Having access to the greatest number of dining options.
- Spending the least amount of time traveling from the resort to the parks.
- Having the greatest number of square feet per person.
- Having to fold my stroller as little as possible.
- Having the lowest person to bathroom ratio.
- Maximizing the number of individual sleep surfaces.
- Maximizing luxury.
- Minimizing noise.
- Maximizing recreational opportunities.
- Maximizing ease of conducting business.
- … as well as many other possibilities.
To make your resort decision, start by ranking your values. In other words, choose how you’re going to decide. There is no right or wrong answer, but you must choose which criteria are most important to you, otherwise you have no basis for your decision. For example, your first priority might be minimizing transportation time to the parks, and your second priority might be minimizing cost. A family with those value criteria will stay at an entirely different resort than a family whose values are maximizing restaurant access and minimizing noise. Also bear in mind that, over time, your value criterion ranking will likely change. When my daughters were small, minimizing stroller folding was one of my highest values. Now that they’re teens, that does not play a factor for us. The “best” resort is a moving target based on your value criteria.
The Pop is not an option if your #1 value criterion is having at least three sleep surfaces.
A quick definition of terms: In my data analysis below, I’ve defined sleep surface as any bed, daybed, or pull-out couch. Most sleep surfaces will accommodate two people (for example, a queen-size bed sleeps two), but I am only counting each sleep surface once. There are some suites with couches that do not pull out to form a bed. I did not include these in my count.
I’ve defined maximum occupancy as Disney’s published maximum number of guests over the age of three allowed to be booked in to the room. I’m not counting infants/cribs. In any instance where I mention price, this is the 2012 weekday value rate published on disneyworld.com. Yes, other times of the year are more expensive. Yes, you can often find discounts that will reduce costs. But I needed to compare apples to apples, and at any given time period the relative resort ranking should stay the same.
VALUE #1: MAXIMIZING THE NUMBER OF SLEEP SURFACES IN THE ROOM
Given the parameters mentioned above, I made the mother of all Disney World resort spreadsheets, inputting every published room configuration at Walt Disney World along with price and number of sleep surfaces.
Spreadsheet Listing Number of Sleep Surfaces at Each Type of Room at Each Resort
Let’s take the hypothetical Smith party. This is a blended family with Mom, Dad, 10-year sister, and 13-year step brother. While technically they could stay in any room with an occupancy of four, this really won’t work for them because sis and step-bro aren’t sharing a bed. They need a room with at least three separate sleep surfaces. Guests may be concerned about the number of sleep surfaces in the room in any situation where non-spousal party members are traveling together.
Using the spreadsheet, I’ll sort by the number of sleep surfaces available.
Spreadsheet Sorted by Number of Sleep Surfaces
A quick glance shows that the minimum number of sleep surfaces varies from a low of one (any room with just one king-sized bed) to a high of seven (in some Disney Vacation Club 3-bedroom grand villas). The Smith family needs a room with at least three sleep surfaces, so we’ll focus on that area of the spreadsheet.
Walt Disney World Hotel Rooms with Three or More Sleep Surfaces
Now the Smiths can see what all their choices are. The options are still overwhelming, so they need to narrow things down.
VALUE #2: MINIMIZING PRICE
The Smiths’ second hypothetical value criteria is minimizing price. They don’t want to spend more than $300 per night. So let’s sort their options with this in mind.
Walt Disney World Hotel Rooms with Three or More Sleep Surfaces, Sorted by Price
A quick glance shows that the Smiths have 5 options under $300 dollars per night: Port Orleans Riverside (with two price points based on view), All Star Music Family Suites, Art of Animation Family Suite, and Fort Wilderness Cabins.
Now, instead of a panic-inducing list of hundreds of choices, the Smiths only have five choices – a reasonable number of options to consider in a family discussion. Here are some of the pros and cons they might consider when thinking about each of the five options.
- A water view at Port Orleans might be nice.
- A stay at either Family Suite location means two bathrooms.
- The Art of Animation resort is new.
- The trundle bed at Port Orleans is small.
- The Fort Wilderness Cabins have a kitchen and outdoor space.
- Port Orleans has more dining options within walking distance.
The All Star Music Resort Family Suites have the lowest cost per sleep surface in rooms with more than two sleep surfaces.
VALUE #3: NUMBER OF BATHROOMS
During their imaginary family chat, the Smiths realized that having two bathrooms could really make things easier in the morning. They were willing to sacrifice view, the kitchen, and expanded dining options in favor of an extra bathroom.
That leaves two choices, the All Star Family Suites and the Art of Animation Family Suites. Going back to their second most important value criterion, price, the Smiths decide to stay at the All Star Music Resort Family Suites.
BIGGEST SLEEP SURFACE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
Since you are not the hypothetical Smith family, I’m including here a sort of the spreadsheet ranked by lowest price per sleep surface.
Walt Disney World Room Price Per Sleep Surface
This sort shows some things that are not so surprising: the standard All Stars rooms have the lowest per sleep surface cost. And some more surprising things: While the Art of Animation resort is less expensive than the Fort Wilderness cabins, the cabins have an additional sleep surface and a lower cost per sleep surface.
There will be more number crunching in upcoming posts. Is there something specific you’d like to see analyzed? Let us know in the comments below.
UPDATE Feb 14, 2012: Based on user comments, we’re providing a link (below) to the XLS spreadsheet so that you can crunch your own numbers. Please link to and/or credit touringplans.com if publish your own sorts. And let us know if make any killer findings. We’d love to know!
TouringPlans WDW Sleep Surface Spreadsheet