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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!