Once you’ve decided when to go, the next step is to make a decision about where you’ll stay. There’s always much controversy among Disney fans as to what’s THE best resort. But the truth is, there are lots of bests… you’ve just gotta find the best for you. Here are some facts to help you make your best resort decision…
1. Off-site Resorts
Staying just outside of Disney property can have some big benefits, especially for big families or families on a tighter budget.
Space – A majority of rooms on Disney property are capped at a five person occupancy. Yes, adjoining rooms are possible, but for families with lots of little ones, you may find more suite options off site where everyone can be in the same room.
Amenities – Many Orlando hotels offer incredible pools with waterslides, full complimentary breakfasts, sports, organized activities, and even pet services. Just because you may compromise on location, doesn’t mean you have to compromise on luxuries.
Shuttle Transportation – Most nearby hotels offer shuttle transportation to Walt Disney World parks. (But speaking from experience, you may find the shuttle service times inconvenient. Ask to see a schedule before booking if shuttle service is important to you.)
Price– Here’s the kicker. What it all comes down to for staying off-site is value for your dollar. Prices off-site are typically 60% lower (or more!) for the same or greater space and amenities. That kind of savings on lodging can add up to more park days or fancier dinners or whatever else is important to your crew.
We love Lake Buena Vista Resort and Spa – pirate ship pool, three bedroom suite with kitchen, princess/pirate makeovers, and much more for less than what it would cost for our family to stay at a Disney Value Resort.
2. On Property, Non-Disney Resorts
There are a handful of hotels located on Disney property but not run by Disney.
Swan and Dolphin – The Swan and Dolphin hotels are in the heart of WDW, on Crescent Lake among other Epcot Resort Hotels. Take a boat to Epcot, Boardwalk, and Hollywood Studios. Enjoy a character breakfast. These may not be Disney-run, but they certainly feel like it.
Premiere Resorts – These these posh resorts enjoy great transportation and may sometimes even have character breakfasts. If you’re looking to be close to the WDW action but craving a luxurious retreat, these could be a good option for you.
Disney Springs Area Hotels – Seven hotels lie within walking distance to Disney Springs. Though they will not have Disney theming or staff, you’ll enjoy easy transportation to all the Disney parks. Plus, if you’ve built up reward points from these brands, you could end up saving a bundle. Check these out:
Personal Opinion: Having stayed at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, I can vouch for the marked “Disney-ness” in the feel of these places—there’s even a Disney souvenir shop!
3. Disney Resorts
All that being said, there’s a certain indefinable magic added to your trip when you stay at a Disney Resort. And you do get some pretty great added perks…
Disney’s Magical Express – If you’re flying in to Orlando International Airport, the complimentary Magical Express bus will pick you up and deliver you to your resort.
Extra Magic Hours – Disney resort guests are treated to Extra Magic Hours in the parks—an additional hour of access just for you! (With lower crowds, obviously.) EMHs change daily, but are scheduled well in advance for planning purposes…we’ll discuss this more later.
Dining Plan – Staying on-property allows you the option of purchasing a Disney Dining Plan. There are various levels of plans…we’ll discuss this later too.
Planning Reservations – Disney resort guests have first rights to make reservations. Restaurant and FastPass reservations can be made 180 days in advance, which gives you a big advantage for popular rides and dining venues.
Transportation – Disney resort transportation is reliable, easily navigated, and relatively quick. Depending on the connections at your hotel you can travel around WDW via bus, boat, or monorail with ease. (See below for more about transportation options.)
MagicBands – Enjoy the ease of having your Magic Band wristband store all your data, including your room key, your park tickets, your dining plan, and possibly even your payment information.
Resort Levels – Disney resorts are broken up into Value, Moderate, and Deluxe levels, so it’s easy to weigh the advantages with your personal budget. Check out this quick reference guide regarding the various Disney
There is certainly a marked difference in the ambiance of the resort levels. The old saying “you get what you pay for” is true in the case of Disney Resorts. For example, Animal Kingdom Lodge feels much more grand and resort-like than Art of Animation. However, even value resort guests can hop over and enjoy some of the amenities at deluxe resorts (more on this later too).