Planning Your Disney World Trip: Where Should I Stay?
After asking When Should I Go? and When Do I Book? I usually answer the Where Should I Stay? question. This is complicated, and you will see posts on each of the resorts eventually, but for now I want to give you an idea of what to look at.
First, I always recommend you stay on property if you are planning on pretty much only visiting Disney World. If you want to visit Universal Studios or Sea World or any other theme park I recommend you take a few days before you start your Disney trip and stay at a Universal Resort and experience that separately. Several times I have tried very hard to save money by staying off property. Now, this may have to do with our likes and dislikes when vacationing, but once I added up transportation and parking costs, out of pocket food costs and the experience loss of not staying in the Disney Magic 24/7 it was truly a lose/lose situation for us. Once we stayed off property for a pre Disney Cruise trip and I used Priceline. I was patting myself on the back for my great money saving finds until I added it all up and realized I could have saved money by just staying with a Disney World package at Coronado Springs!! I could have saved more money over my offsite accommodations if I had just stayed at a value resort on property.
There is only ONE time I recommend you stay off property, and that is if you have a (very) tight budget and a very large family and NEED house like accommodations with your own private pool, kitchen etc. Then I recommend something like All Star Vacation Homes. But you MUST budget in the cost of a rental car (if you flew) and $17 a day parking and must consider all food costs separate. You may find a suite at a DVC property is not too far off from an off property stay in price.
There are several perks to staying on property which is why I would never consider an off property stay: FREE transportation to and from the airport, FREE parking at the parks if you have your own car (saves $17 a day), Fastpass+ Reservations open up 60 days out when offsite guests get them 30 days out, 180 +10 day rule for dining reservations, automatically get MagicBands (which are SUPER convenient), ability to purchase a Disney Dining Plan, Can take much less time to get back to your room for an afternoon nap, Extra Magic Hours at the theme parks, and #1 is total immersion in the Disney Magic!
Now… lets talk Disney Resorts! There are approx 4 kinds of Disney resort accommodations. The one you choose is dependent on these factors:
The size of your family
The type of accommodations you want on vacation
Location, location, location… yep, this is kind of like real estate!
1. Value Resorts : These are what they sound like, a great value! Value resorts at Disney are set up in a motel fashion. They have large variety filled food courts and most important for your kids of all ages they have larger than life brightly colored icons pertaining to the theme of the resort. The rooms are smaller (only double beds here and King beds are a non guaranteed request) and the grounds are a bit more sparsely landscaped but they do the job. They thrill your kids and give you a nice place on property to lay your head at night. They also have some pretty neatly themed pools. If you don’t mind smaller rooms and want to excite your younger ones with the themes this is a perfect place to stay if you are on a budget!
Art of Animation falls into my “sort of” category. Disney bills this as a value resort. No doubt the Little Mermaid rooms are solid values, which are standard sized rooms and are amazing for the price level since they are so much more heavily themed. The rest of the resort is Family Suites that will sleep 6. These are not the cheapest option! Sometimes you can get two moderate rooms for less than a family suite price, but they are pretty amazing and very well themed.
The Campsites at Ft Wilderness are a unique choice if you have any type of RV and want to take it with you to Disney World. There are the proper hook ups, an amazing camp ground with fantastic recreation and each site will accept 10 guests!
-The resorts in the value category include: Pop Century, All Star Movies, All Star Music, All Star Sports, Art of Animation (sort of), The Campsites at Ft Wilderness
2. Moderate Resorts: These resorts are a step above the value resorts. Although they are still motel type entrances (you enter from the outside) the rooms are a bit plusher and the grounds are more meticulously themed. Unlike the value resorts where they just want to WOW you with their big icons, the moderates attempt to take you somewhere and immerse you. They still have fantastic food courts with lots of counter service options, but they also have a nice smaller table service restaurant. The pools are well themed and include neat water slides. What I like best about these resorts is they have 2 Queen Beds or a King Bed with the exception of Caribbean Beach which is still double beds. The pools are nicely themed and usually include a water slide. A downside for some is the size of them. Riverside, Caribbean Beach and Coronado are all quite large. If you are worried about walking too much once you arrive back at your resort, then book a preferred room, the extra cost is worth it!! Better yet, the costs to upgrade from value to moderate is not usually more than $300-$600 for a week’s stay.
Ft Wilderness Cabins is in a “sort of” moderate category… they are the most expensive of the moderate accommodations but they can sleep 6 adults! There is also a small kitchen and a living room. The grounds are large but you really feel like you are out on a camp site, you just get beds, electricity and running water.
– In the moderate category: Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs and Ft Wilderness Cabins
3. Deluxe Resorts: These resorts are my favorite. Hands down they provide the best comfort and intricate theming for accommodations you will find. These are hotel like resorts where you will enter your room from an inside hallway. The pools are usually well themed and include cool water slides. These are a “you get what you pay for” situation. Disney Deluxe Resorts are not inexpensive, but they just feel so luxurious. The grounds are smaller than moderate resorts and in some cases are mostly inside one large interconnected building. Some deluxes have small grounds with separate buildings. The beds are extra comfy, many of the deluxe resorts have spas and other great features. The counter service places can be smaller, but only because the table service restaurants are the main dining feature. Many deluxe resorts will also have world class signature dining experiences. If one of these is in your budget, don’t think twice about it. Especially if your stay is 4 nights or longer. It can cost an average of $1000-$1500 more for the week to upgrade to a Deluxe Resort from a moderate.
These resorts are all about location! Their prices are based on how convenient they are to the parks. If you want to stay Deluxe but want to keep your costs down look into Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge first.
-Deluxe Resorts include: Wilderness Lodge , Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Boardwalk, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian Village
4. Deluxe Villas : These resorts are Disney Vacation Club properties, but anyone can book these! They include villas that are studio, 1 bedroom and 2 bedroom. Old Key West and Saratoga Springs have only villas on their property and the other villas are attached or sitting next to other Deluxe Resorts. These are great if you want a kitchenette, want more room, or just like the most lush accommodations Disney provides.
-Deluxe Villas include: Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary, Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo and Kidani), Beach Club Villa, Boardwalk Villa, Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Villas at Grand Floridian, Villas at Wilderness Lodge, and (soon) Polynesian Village Villas
Do you have a large family of 5 or more? If you want to stay in 1 room, your options are more limited. These include: Art of Animation Family Suite- sleeps 6, All Star Music Family Suite- sleeps 6, Beach Club/Boardwalk Resorts-sleeps 5, Contemporary-sleep 5, Fort Wilderness Cabins- sleeps 6, Polynesian-sleeps 5, Port Orleans Riverside-sleeps 5, Yacht Club-sleeps 5
One thing ALL Disney resorts have in common is transportation. Values and Moderates are mostly all bus transportation. Animal Kingdom Lodge is also only bus transportation. Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter have boat transportation to Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) and bus transportation everywhere else. The other Deluxe Resorts have a combo of boat, bus and monorail transportation depending on their location on property. Any way you slice it though, you should not worry about getting around property no matter which resort you choose. The only reason to think about this is if you don’t want to potentially take up to an hour traveling to Magic Kingdom. If that is a concern you will want to budget for a Deluxe Magic Kingdom Resort, like The Contemporary Resort or Polynesian Village Resort.
All resorts also have food! Some have larger counter service places and some have more table service, but you WILL be able to get food at your resort and if you also purchase a dining plan the eateries WILL be included on the plan.
Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with staying on Disney Property. The most important factor is the Disney Magic. Having stayed both on and off property I can vouch for the fact that staying off property is just not near as magical. When you go on vacation you want to get away. To me, the nearby chain hotel is just not escaping. Especially if you are purchasing a Disney World package, the prices are probably not as high as you think. I always tell my clients that of course you CAN spend $10,000 on a package, but you don’t have to! There are affordable choices for all budgets.
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