So, you’ve decided to stay on-site at Walt Disney World.  Now comes the fun part (for some of you)…where to stay?  There are three levels of resort at Walt Disney World, with the deluxe level offering standard hotel rooms, as well as villas.  All levels are very distinct and have their pros and cons.  Let’s take a look at Disney World hotel categories.

Disney World Value Resorts

There are five value resorts at Walt Disney World, All-Star Music, Movies and Sports; Pop Century and the newest member of the resort family, Art of Animation.  Family suites aside, these will offer the lowest priced rooms on property.  However, they will also be the smallest and most basic.  Family suites tend to be priced closer to moderate level rooms but offer more space and two bathrooms.  Having two bathrooms can definitely justify the higher price tag for some travelers.

Standard room at Art of Animation

As far as resort amenities, these properties feature larger than life, colorful icons throughout the grounds.  You definitely know you’re at Disney when you come face to face with Crush or Lightning McQueen.  This can be a huge draw for families with young kids.  Pools will feature a few fun options and, again, the larger-than-life theming (hello, giant bowling pin pool!), but you won’t find water slides at the values.  Recreation options are typically limited to the pools and a playground here and there.  Dining options at the values consist of a food court that gives a variety of options, and the typically all-pleasing pizza delivery is available.

Guitar Pool at All-Star Music
Guitar Pool at All-Star Music

Another big factor in the values is their proximity to the parks.  Unless you have your own vehicle, your only option when staying at a value resort is to use the bus system.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan.  I’d hop one if I had to, but, especially when leaving the parks in the evening, the buses can be a disaster.  That said, in the mornings and afternoons, we’ve had decent luck with timeliness and comfort when having to use them.

Get Resort Wise: While the price tags are smaller, so are the rooms.  Remember this when packing for your vacation.  There are no actual closets and very little space to store luggage in the standard rooms, so pack light.

Disney World Moderate Resorts

The four moderate resorts at Walt Disney World include Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter; Coronado Springs; and Caribbean Beach.  Disney also includes the Cabins at Fort Wilderness in their moderate category, although they are quite a bit different than the typical moderate resorts.  Moderate resort prices are in the median range, and the rooms offer a little more comfort.  Beds are bigger, decor is nicer and you do get a little more space.

Royal Room at Port Orleans Riverside
Royal Room at Port Orleans Riverside

These resorts offer quite a bit more in terms of amenities than the values.  The grounds are larger and offer more to do.  With water as a feature, boating and water craft rental are available, as well as biking.  Of course, the pools at the moderate level are well-themed, and the main pools will feature a water slide.  Dining options are more varied with at least one table service in addition to a food court.

Again, the main transportation source here is the bus system.  However, both Port Orleans resorts offer boat transportation to Downtown Disney.

Coronado Springs
Coronado Springs

ŸGet Resort Wise: The moderate resorts cover a lot of space and rooms tend to be very spread out.  This may seem ok at first but will look a whole lot different at 10:30 P.M. with two sleeping toddlers.  Consider bringing or renting your own stroller if you‘re planning to use one in the parks.  Anyone with kids knows that once they reach that limp noodle stage of sleep, it’s a struggle to get anywhere much less hike across your resort in the Florida heat after a day at Magic Kingdom.  Likewise, if a member of your party has mobility issues, consider a scooter or request/book a preferable room location.

Disney World Deluxe Resorts

For our purposes, again, I’m combining both the typical rooms and the villa resorts.  The deluxe category features the largest variety of hotels boasting the Grand Floridian/Villas (coming soon!), the Polynesian, the Contemporary Resort/Bay Lake Tower, Wilderness Lodge/Villas, Beach Club/Villas, Yacht Club, Boardwalk Inn/Villas, Animal Kingdom Lodge/Villas, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs.  These resorts feature the largest standard rooms on property, as well as the largest price tags.  Standard rooms will typically offer queen beds and possibly bunk beds or daybeds depending on the resort and room booked.  Villas will offer one or two bedrooms, as well as studios and grand villas, and kitchenettes/kitchens.  The rooms also feature patios or balconies and indoor corridors.

Master bedroom at Boardwalk Villas
Master bedroom at Boardwalk Villas

You will find the most amenities at the deluxe resorts.  All feature pools will showcase a water slide and some pools offer cabana rentals.  Rental of water crafts and bikes, including those oh-so-fun surry bikes, is available at most resorts.  Dining options at the deluxes typically consist of a couple table service locations with a counter service restaurant, too.  Villa resorts will tend to have a larger variety of grocery-type items in their gift shops.  Private dining aka room service is also offered at these hotels.

Standard room at the Contemporary
Standard room at the Contemporary

Deluxes also offer some of the nicest views on property.  Can’t get much more magical than gazing at Cinderella Castle from your patio.  For those resorts not theme park adjacent, such as Animal Kingdom Lodge, they have their own special brand of room views.  Waking up to giraffes nibbling leaves outside your balcony isn’t too bad, either.

Location is the main selling point for us as far as deluxe resorts go.  The ability to catch a monorail, boat or even walk to a theme park is invaluable to our family.  Depending on your resort, you may have to rely on bus transportation to the parks, but you have the ability to choose not to with more than half of the deluxe properties offering multiple transportation options.

Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Disney’s Polynesian Resort

Get Resort Wise: Deluxe properties can cost a pretty penny, so if you choose to stay at one, take some time to enjoy your home away from home and soak up the atmosphere.  There’s plenty to keep the family busy (or not) for an afternoon at these hotels, so schedule a down day and relax.

What’s your favorite resort at Walt Disney World?  Why?

  • coneheads

    I just don’t think Art of Animation qualifies as a Value. The only standard rooms are in the little mermaid section which is the least themed and so far from the food court/amenities its almost quicker to eat at Pop Century. It was supposed to be a sister resort to Pop but now they go out of their way to make sure anyone staying at Pop feels unwelcome at Art of Animations amenities. The bridge might as well have its own Checkpoint Charlie with a guarded gate.

    For us as AP’s who usually stay 3 days or less two connecting rooms are cheaper and better suited for us. Maybe if we were staying a week or more the family suite would be better but it’s hard to justify the expense (considerably more than two standard rooms with less sleeping space as well, they only sleep six as far as I can tell). No one in our party has any desire to cook or even bring breakfast items like cereal or pastries while on vacation.

    • It’s definitely a value resort, although family suites do outnumber standard rooms as opposed to other values where the opposite is true. You definitely won’t be cooking too much in a family suite, though, as the kitchenette includes just a microwave, fridge and sink, as opposed to full kitchens at the villas. I’m with you, though, we’ve cooked exactly one time at Disney. Spaghetti in our Treehouse Villa. It was nice to have a home-cooked and “free” meal, but we had to carve out time to do it.

      Luckily, Disney offers lots of options to appease most travel groups.

  • poohmeg

    Good call on highlighting the differences in transportation – I’m never doing value or Animal Kingdom Lodge again without a car – I would rather go every few years and end the trip with pleasant memories of the parks and activities than go once a year with the main takeaway being a renewed gratitude for the good quality of my home city’s public transportation system.

    And actually as we’ve looked at it, with DVC point rentals or using Starwood points for the Dolphin or Swan, we can do deluxe for a moderate price (or less) and have those walking, monorial, and water transportation options that make the trip so much more pleasant. So that’s the direction we’re taking from here on out – and I also want to agree with coneheads above that while I totally understand the appeal for parents of little ones at the picky eater stage, I have no interest in cooking while I’m at Disney, either!

    • As much as we LOVE Animal Kingdom Lodge, that’s one of the main reasons we haven’t stayed there as often as, say, the Polynesian.

      Renting DVC points is a great way to stay deluxe without breaking the bank!! I’ve done the Dolphin once, and while it was a nice room and an even nicer price, we enjoy being smacked in the face with Disney 24/7. Just didn’t get that Disney aura at the Dolphin.

  • KENfromOC

    For the past few years whenever Kevin Yee suggested staying at a non-Disney World resort was a better value, I always opinionated back that he was crazy. Because he lived within the area he didn’t understand someone coming from another state, spending a week, and wanting that total “Disney package”. While that is still true, I am now seeing things differently. We have some good friend with two kids under 7 who, like us, are die-hard Disneyland fans with premium Aps, and they opted to stay at the off-site Marriot resort – a far better value indeed.
    We may go to WDW next summer so I am already checking hotels and resorts out. With Disney, it is almost impossible, at least online, to book that much far ahead (July 2014). And those family suites at Art of Animation are nearly $300! (The WDW room reservation web site is horrible and very confusing).
    In contrast, I can already book a room at the not-even-opened-yet Cabana Beach Resort at Universal for less than $200! The Hilton at the Hotel Circle area of WDW (Lake Buena Vista area) is also less than $200 for a suite. And the nearby Carib Resort (an Embassy Suites affiliate) is about $135 for a suite (and free breakfast!).
    Yes- We’d still have to rent a car and consider that cost, but then we have the ability to drive to Universal and NASA if we choose (unlike we did back in 2005 when we stayed at Key West Resort). And yes, we’d give up the wonderful Magical Express service that Disney has (it was to check our bags in Orange County, CA, and have them appear in our room later that evening!)
    I’m not saying for sure which way I would go here. The Disney Resorts do offer a lot, and staying within WDW is great indeed. But, I now see how Kevin’s past articles make sense…..
    Just like we are die-hard Apple fans, the iPhone is no longer a no-brainer choice with all the great Android phones – Even the new Google Nexus 7 tablet has a huge value margin over the iPad Mini – And like Apple, Disney needs to up the value quotient and offer more —-Soon!

    • Johnny

      I have stayed at both the Marriott Orlando World Center and Hyatt Grand Cypress. Both are stunning hotels with beautiful pool areas, excellent dining, loads of amenities and not far from Disney property.

    • First, I definitely agree with you about the new and “improved” Disney site. Augh! It’s awful!!

      I think it all comes down to what works for each individual traveler. Like I mentioned earlier, when we’re at Disney, we like to be AT DISNEY. We don’t want the break from the magic. We’ve got Mickey heads in our pupils at that point. Haha!! We tend to resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going to drop some cash, so we’re thinking more about experience than outgo. There really is no right or wrong place to stay. As long as you adjust your expectations to your surroundings, you’ll be happy almost anywhere.

      • StevenW

        The only way to be truly 100% Disney and still remain in a respectable budget is a Disney cruise. The food, shows, and room are all included.

        The Disney land pricing is exorbitant and ridiculous when everything is factored into the price. On-site makes more sense if you have a way to balance out the expenses like have a rental car (you must be able to visit Target or Walmart for shopping), rent or own a timeshare resort (cook and eat some meals in your room and enjoy a day or two away from the parks or at another theme park).

        Having done the ALL Disney thing, I really thing it is overrated. It’s find if you can afford it, but I must question WHY? Why is it necessary?

        It is fine that you want to drop some cash especially for those that have the cash, but Disney is a state of mind that doesn’t always need to be spent in cash. For myself, I live in Southern California and Disney is a easy 15 minute ride away. I love it, but I am an occasional visitor. This is made easy for the fact that I always find myself in the company of Disney by accident. It is no coincidence that I see it so much that to see it more is almost like I need a break. Disney in small doses will make the heart grow fonder.

      • Well, since this column is about Disney Parks properties, Disney Cruises aren’t really what we’re covering here. Thanks for your opinion on that, though.

        There’s not right or wrong way to “do Disney.” I’m not really interested in what other people can or cannot afford (except, of course, my guests, whom I try to match up with accommodations that work with their budgets) as far as Disney immersion. We obviously don’t think it’s overrated to lose ourselves in our vacation, and neither do thousands of other people. Is it necessary? No, but neither is a Disney vacation. We do it because we want to do it.

      • StevenW

        I can’t mention Disney cruises while others can mention DVC and Dolphin and Swan and they don’t even fit in the category of Value, Moderate and Deluxe.

        Whether or not you’re interested in discussing these things, well why not talk about it? I enjoy discuss these matters.

      • You are perfectly free to comment on whatever you like, but it’s not something I will be covering in this column or discussing in the comments.

        I did discuss DVC and Swolphin because they are bookable resorts for guests staying on Walt Disney World property, which fits into the subject I’ve brought to the table this week.

      • redrhino54

        Ive done both, on and off Disney property. If I plan on doing other parks or attractions, I stay off property, but if im planning on doing just Disney, im staying on property. One winter, we were in Florida working for 2 months, we stayed in Kissimmee, got weekly rates, and then would spend our free time by getting rooms on property, keeping the weekly. Although the weekly was an old style motel, it was clean, bug free, had a fridge and microwave, and cheap….lol

  • sjdimon

    Since we only visit WDW every 5 to 7 years, we save up and stay at the Contemporary. The location is perfect for us, as we can catch a Monorail to the MK or TTC (Epcot is our favorite park). We catch a Bus to DAK and DHS, which is fine. I would prefer not to deal with a car or parking – so I would tend to opt for staying “on-site”. We have stayed (years ago) at the Disney Inn (no longer an option as it is now “Shades of Green”), Polynesian (Beautiful resort) or the Contemporary (our first choice). We try to stay during “value” weeks so that we can get a discount at the Hotel.

    • KENfromOC

      Defiantly a huge benefit to staying at an on-site Disney resort for sure. If only, as in years gone by, there was an easier way to get off-property to the other activities in Central Florida.
      One trip I went with a friend was in 1997 and we did rent a car (although we stayed at Port Orleans). Not only did this give us an ability to drive out to NASA, but also over to the City of Celebration across the way to see that community and have dinner there.
      But as many have said, as nice as the Magical Express is, it is really a way for Disney to sort of hold you captive!

      • Yes, to hold you and your wallet captive! 😉

      • TheBig2na

        I don’t understand the holding you captive part? I grab a cab to Universal Every time and If i thought I would travel outside of that I would rent a car. However I can see how it would entice more people not to get a car and stay there, but if you want to do other things it isn’t difficult to get away.

      • It’s definitely easy to get off property. Heck, there’s even a shuttle to the on-site car rental from the hotels. That said, DME is most definitely a business move. Some people aren’t going to want to deal with renting a car, so they just hop the Mickey bus and stay (and spend) until it takes them back to the airport.

    • Great location!! We’ll be there for part of our October trip this year, and I can’t wait! We’re normally Polynesian people, but I got a great deal at the Contemporary.

  • Big D

    Even though I usually stay in the Epcot area (either Boardwalk or Dolphin) I ALWAYS rent a car just because the Disney transportation has become such a pain. I hate waiting for the friendship boats to go to Epcot or Disney Studios because they usually take 45 minutes or so when I could drive there in 5 minutes. I usually will either do two parks in a day or at least go back to my hotel for a while, and in the middle of the day it can take a very long time to wait for a Disney bus or boat. I normally don’t stay in the Magic Kingdom area since that is the park that I will visit the least (being a local Disneylander), but I had a chance to see the Wilderness Lodge the last time I was there, and I really liked it, so next time I go I’m going to stay there. I liked the log cabins, and I totally want to do the horseback riding next time, but I also like the hotel amenities like the restaurants and the pool, so I’m still debating about that.

    By the way, as awesome as a savannah view room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is, it should be noted that the rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are significantly smaller then the rooms at any other Deluxe Resort. I believe the rooms at the AK Lodge are the same size as a room at a value or moderate resort.

    • KENfromOC

      Just checked the rates for Dolphin and Swan – Wow, much less than a Deluxe Disney Resort ($239 for standard view) and yet I would assume you’d get all the amenities (transportation, ticket packages, etc.) Now that’s the way to go! And you can walk to both Epcot and the Studios. Glad I read your post!!!

      Do those resorts offer the Magical Express option?

      • The prices are great at the Swolphin! I stayed with a teacher discount last year and was upgraded, so I had a deluxe balcony room for less than $200 a night!

        You do get most of the perks of staying at a DO&O resort. You can use Disney transportation and Extra Magic Hours, and a stay can be booked as part of a package. Disney’s Magical Express isn’t one of the perks you receive there, though.

      • TweedlDum9

        How did you score a teacher discount? Through your union office?

      • Big D

        They don’t offer Magical Express, so you have to either rent a car (there is a car rental at the Dolphin — I think it’s a Hertz but not 100% sure) or book a shuttle w/Mears at the Orlando Airport when you land. And also because they are not a Disney hotel, you also can’t get the meal plan either. However, because I tend to stay in Westin hotels whenever I can anyway, I much prefer the Dolphin (more than the Swan, because that’s where everything is — restaurants, great espresso bar, and laundromat) to a Disney hotel, which is essentially a Westin hotel and has all of the amenities, including the heavenly bed, heavenly bath, the spa, and in my opinion much better staff then any Disney hotel. There also are usually not a lot of kids, which is great for the pool, since I’m always concerned that a pool full of 500 kids (which is what you get at a Disney hotel — ESPECIALLY a Value Resort) means lots and lots of bodily fluids. The Dolphin has a very nice pool with a waterfall, as well as a beach, and pedal boats for rent. In my experience, the pool is usually not that crowded, and it’s easy to score a pool chair, unlike the Boardwalk or Beach Club.

    • The only time we don’t have our own car (either rental or our personal car) is when the little one and I head to the World on our own. And we really miss it! Again, we always stay in the Epcot or Magic Kingdom area, so it’s not too bad, but Animal Kingdom and especially Downtown Disney can be a pain.

      Animal Kingdom lodge rooms are definitely a bit smaller than most of the deluxe resorts (definitely not as small as a value!), but I’ve found there’s still plenty of room for a family of four.

      • Teacher discounts are available to the general public for booking (similar to the military discounts). You’ll be asked to show proof of employment (teacher ID, pay stub, etc.) upon check-in.

  • DobbysCloset

    Jessica, when I had a “real” dog my only choice would have been Wilderness, but now that I have a Trained Service Chihuahua, I would be open to staying anywhere. As a single adult who loves swimming, is there a resort with a pool for adults that you’d recommend?

    • I didn’t mention the Swan or Dolphin in the article, but it’s been mentioned a few times in the comments. They have a FANTASTIC pool area!! I was very impressed, as I had never ventured back there until my stay last year. The Yacht and Beach Club pools are very nice, as well. With most of the crowds being drawn to Stormalong Bay (which is great!), the other pools are fairly mellow. The quiet pool at the Boardwalk Inn is also very secluded and was not ever very crowded when we were there. Wow…I didn’t realize I was such an Epcot resort nerd!

    • The Saratoga Springs also has a great pool for adults and a full spa as well. Plus boat and walking distance to Downtown Disney. Major perks for adults!

      • Great suggestion! Especially with the recent refurb, the Saratoga Springs pools are awesome!

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    I like Pop Century because I love pop culture. Of the moderates though, I’ve stayed at both Port Orleans resorts and preferred Riverside over French Quarter because I love the room decor in the Alligator Bayou section. Never stayed at the deluxe as they are WAAAAAY out of my budget but one day I’d love to stay at the Polynesian.

    These days though I just stay off-property because I visit WDW by myself most the time (not married and no kids) and am usually only in the room to sleep, so just something inexpensive, clean and comfy works for me.

    • My little guy was just asking about a stay at Pop Century because he was reading about it in a WDW book. We may give it a go on one of our “just us” trips as part of a split stay.

  • DisWedWay

    I usually always stay at the Grand Floridian, as I love that Architecture and had some friends who designed it. The smoked gator tale relish they serve and fresh bread goes well with a bottle of Silverado on its beach, watching the electrical water pageant parade if they still have it. I would love to try the Wilderness Lodge if they reopen River Country for a complete Frontierland like package with a stop at Pioneer Hall for a meal and entertainment. Transportation was an issue brought up and would love to see the steam trains brought back and connect the Wilderness Lodge to the rest of River Country and Fort Wilderness.

    • Wouldn’t that be fun? The water pageant is still very much alive, and I can definitely see how that scenario is a great end to the day.

    • DobbysCloset

      Dobby’s ears perked up when I read “smoked gator tail relish.” He’d relish smoked anything, especially if he doesn’t have to catch it and even more especially if what he’d have to catch is an alligator!

  • GhostHostJeff

    I feel like the bus system at Disney is great! I’ve never had any issues with them, yes there maybe a wait at the end of the night after MK, but other then that we had no issues and a pleasant experience.

    • That’s awesome for you!

    • TheBig2na

      I have to agree. They are moving thousands of people around all day without many long waits. One thing we have incorporated into our trip is cabs. Some nights it just isn’t worht the wait and getting a cab a few times a trip isn’t a huge expense. But I don’t know what people expect from the transportation system? Busses are going to be packed at open and close, as are boats and monorails. Even cars get stuck in traffic at those times of the day.

      • We almost always have our own car, so it’s not often an issue. That said, there’s far more capacity and frequency in our experience with the boats and monorails, and when those are your transport options, there’s a decent chance you could walk to your resort if the wait is too long for your liking. If the bus is your only option (aside from hopping in a cab), you’re stuck until there’s a bus with room for you.
        We’ve never had too much of an issue with traffic, but if we’re in gridlock at WDW, I’d much rather be in a car with my park-smelling family and friends than 50 strangers, some of whom have their arms raised holding onto the rails (if you catch my drift). Besides, we can ride buses at home if we wanted, when we’re at Disney, we’re totally taking advantage of monorails!
        The buses, though, are perfectly acceptable modes of transportation around the resort. They get you from A to B. We’re just not super fans.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    I just love the moderate Resorts, particularly the French Quarter. I like the blend of theme and lower cost. Although, for a splurge, the Deluxe are really some great hotels, particularly Animal Kingdom Lodge.

  • billyjobobb

    We were there in February and stayed for the first 3 days at All Star movies.

    When we got there the computers were down so they couldn’t check us in. They sent us to our room (we had asked for a king size bed) we got 2 full size beds. The room was totally gross. The carpet at one time had been textured, but the areas where you walked were just matted down real bad. The shower never stopped dripping, and the drawer in the table between the bed wouldn’t stay shut. We finally took to using a band aid to keep it closed.

    I can honestly say it was the seediest hotel I have ever stayed in. Even below a motel 6. And it was $125 a night.

    • That’s no good! Guess that’s a case of your travel party paying for location.

  • holierthanthoutx

    Having stayed at all classes of resorts and then becoming DVC members, we’ve stayed everywhere. There are more distinctions among resorts than are listed here.

    We’ve been disappointed with standard rooms in some of the Deluxe resorts. The size of the standard rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Floridian was really no bigger than the standard rooms at the moderate resorts. They might have been a *tiny* bit bigger, but it wasn’t really noticeable.

    On the other hand, the “original “resorts — the Contemporary and the Polynesian — have much larger standard rooms.

    The value resorts also proved to be quite different. The Pop Century Resort was nice, clean, and fun when we stayed there, but the All-Star resorts were just awful. Dirty, run-down, just ugly.

    Since we’ve been DVC members, we’ve never had to worry about any of that ever again. All the DVC resorts are nice, and each has something special to offer — animals outside our room at Kidani Village, walking distance to the Magic Kingdom at the Bay Lake Tower, proximity to Epcot at the Boardwalk or Beach Club, and the HUGE rooms at Old Key West. Saratoga Springs holds the least appeal to us, as it doesn’t seem to offer anything that we’re interested in, but we’re trying it out this fall anyway.

    Off-property hotels? Never!

    • Obviously there are a lot more differences than I can cover in a brief article (hence, the title), but I wanted to get the “biggies” out there for information’s sake.

      Sorry you’ve been disappointed. That’s never fun on vacation. We tend to do a little research before we book our resorts so we know what to expect going into it.

      Saratoga Springs has great pool areas and nice, albeit slightly “plain” (by Disney standards) decor. If you don’t think you’ll like it, I’d suggest a split stay so you’re not disappointed daily but you’ve got another resort under your belt.