Five Disney World Resorts to See During Your Vacation

©Disney
©Disney

Resort Hopping is one of my favorite things to do at Walt Disney World! Visiting the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, and The Polynesian Village Resort are as much on my trip to-do list as Pirates of the Caribbean or devouring a Mickey Premium Bar. That being said, I feel that guests who skip the resorts, or who don’t know they are allowed to visit the resorts, fail to achieve the full Walt Disney World experience. So for those who don’t know, anyone is allowed to visit the Walt Disney World Resorts, even if they’re not a guest of that resort or of any resort on property. But why should you? That’s what I intend to address in my five Disney World Resorts to See During Your Vacation!

© Sarah Graffam
Grand Floridian lobby

The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Let’s start with Walt Disney World’s flagship resort, shall we? The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa boasts a Victorian Florida theme and is Disney’s take on luxury and sophistication. But no need to worry about feeling out of place or having rambunctious kids in tow. While the Grand Floridian Resort is like stepping into an old fashioned postcard, this is a Disney World Resort after all!

How to Get There

If driving your own car or a rental car, the Grand Floridian Resort is located at 4401 Floridian Way in Orlando, Florida, just off Seven Seas Drive.

Free transportation to and from the resort consists of Disney Buses, Ferry Boats, and the most famous mode of Disney transportation of all, the Monorail! A 1 mile walking path between the resort and the Polynesian Village Resort is also provided, offering views of the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Wedding Pavilion, and the Magic Kingdom Park in the distance.

Why You Should Visit

The Lobby

A number of Walt Disney World Resorts boast awe-inspiring lobbies, and the Grand Floridian’s lobby is at the top of the list! In addition to a grand staircase, a cage elevator, and enchanting Disney-inspired tilework under your feet, the Grand Floridian’s 5-story lobby is topped with stained glass domes and massive chandeliers. Tip: For the holidays, a life-size gingerbread house and a towering Victorian Christmas tree occupy the lobby and are must-sees!

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The Grand Floridian’s women’s boutique

Live Music

Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, a live pianist and the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra alternate playing popular turn-of-the-century tunes and Disney songs!

The Shopping

The Grand Floridian Resort offers more shops than any other Walt Disney World Resort, which is why it’s one of my favorite locations to hunt for resort exclusive merch, Disney Dooney and Bourke bags, and that perfect souvenir to take home.

The second of three, count 'em THREE, desserts
The second of three, count ’em THREE, desserts

The Dining

The Grand Floridian Resort is famous for its fine dining destinations. Victoria and Albert’s, winner of AAA’s Five-Diamond Award, is the ultimate splurge and setting for a special occasion. Other options include Citricos, Narcoosees, and the Grand Floridian Café. For families with little ones, 1900 Park Fare offers a buffet with character interactions, and the Garden View Tea Room offers a traditional English tea each afternoon.

The Spa

Need I explain? Senses, the Grand Floridian’s Resort’s spa, is the best way to recover from a long day at the parks with options and packages ranging from facials to massages to body treatments to nails and even kids services! Learn more about Senses packages and prices here.

The Polynesian Village Resort

The Polynesian Village Resort offers guests a South Pacific paradise all while in the middle of Central Florida! An original Walt Disney World Resort, the Polynesian Village is a fan favorite resort and sits across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom.

polynesian
Mural of the Polynesian Village Resort

How to Get There

If driving your own car or rental car, the Polynesian Village Resort is located at 1600 Seven Seas Drive in Orlando, Florida.

Free transportation to and from the resort consists of Disney Buses, Ferry Boats, and Monorail. The Transportation and Ticket Center sits next door to the resort and can be accessed by a walking path.

Why You Should Visit

The Dining

The Polynesian Village Resort is one of the best places to be when you’re hungry. You simply can’t go wrong with the resort’s luau, the Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, or ‘Ohana, Captain Cook’s, or the often underrated Kona Café. The Polynesian Village Resort is also home to the visually stimulating and interactive Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, modeled after the original Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel in California.

Pineapple Lanai
My idea of paradise

The Magical Views

The Polynesian Village Resort offers a fairytale view of the spires of Cinderella Castle making its beautiful beach one of the best places to watch Wishes from outside the Magic Kingdom Park!

Pineapple Lanai

Dole Whips are one of Walt Disney World’s most famous treats and can only be found at certain locations. If you don’t want to wait in a long, long line to satisfy your Dole Whip cravings, head to the Polynesian Village Resort’s Pineapple Lanai. It’s a walk-up counter just off the lobby serving up Dole Whips and Dole Whips Floats with little to no wait!

Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Perhaps one of the most unique resorts in the world, Animal Kingdom Lodge is about as close as you can get to a stay at an African wildlife reserve without ever leaving the United States. Animal Kingdom Lodge consists of two campuses: Jambo House and Kidani Village. Jambo House is the main resort building while Kidani Village is home to the resort’s DVC Villas. Both buildings feature incredible African architectural touches, views of live African wildlife, and more!

Photo - Disney
by Disney

How to Get There

Animal Kingdom Lodge is more removed than the other Walt Disney World Resorts, but features close proximity to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.

If driving your own car or rental car, Animal Kingdom Lodge is located at 2901 Osceola Parkway in Bay Lake, Florida.

Disney Buses are the only form of free transportation offered to and from the resort. However, a walking path and free shuttles are provided for those traveling between Jambo House and Kidani Village.

Why You Should Visit

The Animals

Animal Kingdom Lodge’s claim to fame is its views of live African wildlife. If you’re unable to stay at one of the resort’s Savanna View rooms, Jambo House’s Arusha Rock, located just outside the lobby, offers fantastic views of the animals and Cast Members are often nearby to answer any of your questions. There are a number of locations throughout the resort offering views of the animals as well. If you’re not visiting the Animal Kingdom Park during your vacation, Animal Kingdom Lodge is the perfect alternative and is completely free!

Giraffe running at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Savannah
© John Kivus

The Lobby

While both resort campuses are impressive, Jambo House’s is massive and one of Disney’s best! Why? In addition to its size and a wall of windows looking out over the savanna, Jambo House’s lobby boasts tribal shield chandeliers, a thatched ceiling, a mud fireplace, and a waterfall system flowing down to the lower levels of the resort.

The Dining

Animal Kingdom Lodge’s restaurants offer cultural dining experiences with African-inspired menus coupled with a few traditional dishes too. Boma – The Flavors of Africa is one of the most popular buffet restaurants at Walt Disney World, and both Sanaa and Jiko – The Cooking Place consistently receive rave reviews are considered some of Disney’s finest.

AKL_boma_zebradomes_Bricker
Bricker – Zebra Domes

Zebra Domes

There are many reasons to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Zebras Domes are definitely one of them! Zebra Domes are one of the best desserts ever and exclusive to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. They consist of Amarula Cream Liquor mousse in a light white chocolate shell atop a thin sheet of cake. They are famously unlimited on the dessert buffet at Boma – The Flavors of Africa, but anyone can pick up a pack of Zebra Domes at The Mara, which I may have done a time or two or three…

The Contemporary Resort

The Contemporary Resort’s A-frame design is iconic and sits famously next door to the Magic Kingdom Park! It’s one of the original Walt Disney World Resorts, accommodating guests since 1971, but still looks and feels sleek and modern.

Contemporary Resort
by Disney

How to Get There

If driving your own car or rental car, The Contemporary Resort is located at 4600 North World Drive in Orlando, Florida.

Free transportation to and from the Contemporary Resort consists of Disney Buses, Ferry Boats, and the Monorail. Also, since the resort sits next door to the Magic Kingdom, guests can walk to and from the park via a short walking path.

Why You Should Visit

The Monorail

The coolest thing about the Contemporary is that the Monorail runs through the middle of the resort building! Guests are picked up and dropped off inside the resort and it’s so fun to see the different Monorails zipping overhead.

The Dining

The Contemporary Resort has a number of fantastic dining options, such as Chef Mickey’s and the California Grill. Chef Mickey’s is one of the most popular character meals on property and the California Grill is known for its fine dining at the tip top of the resort with views of the park and Wishes!

Contemporary_ChefMickeys1
Chef Mickey’s

Magic Kingdom Views

Due to the Contemporary Resort’s close proximity to the Magic Kingdom, it offers truly spectacular views of the park. Some guests visit the Contemporary just to watch Wishes from a different vantage point or if they want to enjoy some Disney magic for free!

The Five Legged Goat

The showpiece of the Contemporary Resort’s lobby is a 90 foot tall mural by Mary Blair, the Imagineer behind the iconic look and style of “it’s a small world” attraction. This mural, however, focuses on area of our small world, the Grand Canyon and American Southwest. The mural also contains a humorous detail that’s always fun to hunt for… a five legged goat! Can you find it?

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort is themed after the grand national-park lodges of the American Northwest, and those visiting the resort will find that Disney has captured the majesty of the parks and mountains and recreated it at Walt Disney World! This resort is the perfect, peaceful retreat from the heat and bustle of the parks, all while still offering plenty to do and discover.

©Disney
©Disney

How to Get There

If driving your own car or rental car, the Wilderness Lodge Resort is located at 901 Timberline Drive in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Free transportation to and from the Wilderness Lodge Resort consists of Disney Buses and Ferry Boats. Even though this Magic Kingdom Resort is not Monorail accessible, there is a 0.75-mile walking path to and from the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

Why You Should Visit

The Lobby

Wilderness Lodge’s cavernous, eight story high lobby is my personal favorite and awes me each and every time I see it. There is so much to see, such as the resort’s Grand Canyon-inspired fireplace, huge teepee chandeliers, towering totem poles, and a bubbling spring with a footbridge that flows on outside and into the Silver Springs Pool! Tip: Wilderness Lodge has towering lodge-inspired Christmas tree each year that practically scrapes the rafters and is a must-see if visiting during this the holidays.

WildernessLodge
Details like Wilderness Lodge’s spring make it one of the Disney World Resorts to see during your vacation!

The Dining

Wilderness Lodge is one of my go-to dining destinations at Walt Disney World with restaurants like Artist Point and Whispering Canyon Café which more than delivers a Wild West experience. Territory Lounge is one of my new favorite retreats for its tasty appetizer menu and cozy atmosphere, and Roaring Fork’s array of Mickey Waffle breakfast platters are truly the best way to start a day at Walt Disney World. Tip: Whispering Canyon Café is currently home to the 10-Gallon Challenge Sundae, a mountain of ice cream and other sweets served up in a plastic cowboy hat!

© Sarah Graffam
by Sarah Graffam

Fire Rock Geyser

Located between the Silver Creek Springs Pool and the shores of Bay Lake, Fire Rock Geyser launches water into the air every hour just like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful.

Boulder Ridge Villas

Formerly known as the Villas at Wilderness Lodge, the Boulder Ridge Villas are Wilderness Lodge’s DVC Villas. This wing of the resort has its own building with a lobby that’s worth a look. There’s also plenty of quiet corners and an abundance of rocking chairs too. Just off the lobby is the Carolwood Pacific Room that celebrates Walt’s passion for trains and the railroad history. This room also contains games for the whole family to play!

As you can now tell, the Disney Parks don’t have a monopoly on the Disney magic! There is plenty to discover and enjoy at the Walt Disney World Resorts, but keep in mind that the five resorts I’ve listed are only the beginning! Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club, the Boardwalk Inn, the Art of Animation Resort, and more are definitely worth checking out as well. So be sure to carve out some time to do a little resort hopping during your vacation to see all that Walt Disney World has to offer!

Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

9 thoughts on “Five Disney World Resorts to See During Your Vacation

  • November 14, 2016 at 8:16 am
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    I am so glad you posted this! Thank you! I have been thinking about resort hopping for the first time for our upcoming trip. What rules do you know of for guests visiting from other resort hotels? Is parking always free? Is there anywhere you cannot go or things you cannot do? Are restrictions heavier in busy times?

  • November 14, 2016 at 11:04 am
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    Great questions! The only rule for guests visiting other Disney resort hotels is that they are not supposed to use the resort’s pool. In fact, some Disney resorts have gates around their pools and a Magic Band must be scanned in order to enter. Parking is free at the resorts but you may be asked at the gate your reason for visiting. I’ve never been turned away for saying that I came to check out the resort or to dine at one of the resort restaurants; but if this is a concern for you, you can always use Disney transportation to reach a Disney resort hotel. No one will ask if you’re a resort guest or have you scan your band to visit. Other than that, anyone can visit a Disney resort hotel without restrictions and have a great time! Hope you enjoy your first resort hopping experience and thanks so much for commenting!

    • November 14, 2016 at 11:49 am
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      Resort parking, always a hot topic.! The only time I parked at a resort without an ADR on recent trip, told the gate we were eating at Contempo, (which was true) and were let through no problem, no magic band scan,etc. Always loads of legitimate stories of people being turned away, but personally never had a problem. Plan B is valet parking so be ready if things get sticky at gate, $20 or thereabouts gets legit all day parking and you can even take your valet ticket to another resort on same day at no extra charge. Enjoy! (PS the little boat at back of CR to FW and WL is a treat.)

      • November 14, 2016 at 1:33 pm
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        Your mileage may definitely vary as far as parking. You will probably need to show a drivers license at the gate if you are not a resort guest. At the Contemporary, with an ADR, I was issued a 3 hour parking permit. One evening I was turned away at the Boardwalk, so I drove around to the Beach Club. Evidently the parking was restricted to resort guests or those with ADRs. The security guard there winked and said since I had young children and would be using a stroller, he would allow me to park. My kids were 8 and 10! Last spring at the Polynesian around midday I told the guard we just wanted to pop in for Dole Whip. She told me the resort was very busy and I could not park if I was not a resort guest. I then asked if I could just drop off my family and she allowed me through. The lot was half empty, and I found several 30 minute parking spaces, which I then utilized. I was a little aggravated that the guard did not even mention the short-term spots. So, parking may be restricted based on time of day, season, or the whim of the person working the gate.

        • November 14, 2016 at 9:26 pm
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          Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m thinking that maybe the time of year is what makes the difference? Thanks for commenting so others can know what to expect!

          • November 15, 2016 at 7:49 am
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            Thanks for the guidance Savannah and everyone!

  • November 14, 2016 at 1:44 pm
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    Since the notion of resort hopping can be a bit overwhelming, I thought I’d share the touring plan I came up with for my group last year. On our Christmas Party day mid-trip, we slept in and recovered a bit, then set out as follows:
    1. Lunch and browsing at Disney Springs (easy access from any Disney Resort).
    2. Bus to Wilderness Lodge. Explore.
    3. Blue Flag boat over to the Contemporary. Explore.
    4. Resort monorail to the Poly. Explore and stop by Trader Sam’s.
    5. Resort monorail to the Floridian. Explore and grab dinner, as Gasparilla Island Grill is much better than any quick service in MK.
    6. Resort monorail to Magic Kingdom for the Christmas Party!
    I’ve still never been to AKL, but this was a fun and efficient way to hit all those resorts on our way the evening’s festivities.

    • November 14, 2016 at 9:04 pm
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      Great touring plan, Andy! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • November 15, 2016 at 12:46 am
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    I was in Orlando for a conference when Hurricane Matthew came. I’m a HUGE Disney fan local to Disneyland and have always dreamed of visiting the WDW resorts. I’ve looked them up online and had my wishlist. That Thursday the conference was cancelled so I toughed out some rain and drove my car rental to Animal Kingdom Lodge, had lunch at Sanaa, & shopped at the store. Then I went to Art of Animation. My flights were cancelled 2 days in a row so on Saturday I went to Magic Kingdom. By 3:30, I finished and took the ferry to Grand Floridian and visited the lobby. Then I walked the beach path to Polynesian and shopped and had dinner at Kona Cafe. I took the monorail to Contemporary Resort then back to Magic Kingdom! As a result, I’m determined to return with the family in 2019 and plan on staying at Polynesian Resort!!!

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