Ask which hotel to stay at in Orlando, and you’ll get a different answer every time! The answer is going to be very subjective, and will totally depend on you, your preferences, and your personal needs. I will never forget the first time I logged onto Disney World’s website back in 2001 and marveled at all of the incredible options! The theming and details in the resorts has never disappointed me, and I know folks who have enjoyed every single one of them so know right now: whichever one looks good to you, will be wonderful indeed!
Should you stay off-site? Maybe. A few situations where I would recommend “outside the bubble” to people are:
- If Disney is just one small part of your trip
- If you are traveling with a really large group and renting a house is far cheaper/better for you
- If you’ve got multiple cars so transport isn’t an issue
- If you don’t mind driving in each day, or losing onsite privledges
Now keep in mind you won’t have earlier access to dining booking (on-site can reserve length of stay at 180 days prior to arrival), extra magic hours, or ability to book fast passes 60 days in advance. You’ll also be paying to park each day, and have to deal with traffic in/out of the world. Is any of this deal breaking? For some people, yes, for others they don’t enjoy being in Disney’s “bubble” 24/7 and they are happy to leave it.
What ‘level’ of hotel should you stay in?
There are four levels of Disney resort. Note that all offer the same amenities as far as Magical Express, bus service, etc. The difference is in the details.
The top tier or Deluxe resorts have casual and fine or table service dining, most can access at least one park via monorail, boat or on foot (aka no car or bus needed), they have multiple pools, the rooms are larger, and they are truly lovely. They all have suites and club level rooms too – beware stickers shock with that! Within this category you have a kind of sub-category: Disney Vacation Club. This is Disney’s Time Share program and they have rooms almost every Deluxe resort (I believe Yacht Club is the only exception) and the rooms are larger and sleep more (in some cases) as well as some of them having laundry, kitchen, etc. Not a DVC member? You can look into renting points as one option for these.
Moderate resorts to me feel overall like an average hotel I stay at on business. They’re nice, medium sized rooms, decent pools, some edible food – but not especially memorable. The Port Orleans resort would be my pick – we stayed at Coronado once and it really felt like a convention hotel, not magical.
The Value Resorts from Art of Animation to the All-Stars are the least expensive category with smaller rooms and a food court (vs any kind of table service) for meals. The rooms are small, except for some popular family suite options. But note here – if you go for a big family suite (they do look AWESOME) you could end up spending more than 2 rooms at a moderate resort.
I would first decide on a budget, combined with personal preferences and tastes, then look into the options within that category.
How much is this going to cost?
This is going to be one of the early deciding factors for a lot of us – budget. The more you spend, the more the resort has from pool complexes with awesome slides to being able to walk from your hotel right into one of the parks to dining options to… well more about that later. I recommend plugging in some dates and getting the sticker shock over with first. It is expensive to stay at Disney. That said there are always discounts, deals, and other things that can help. But end of day- yes. It’s pricey. Be realistic in what you can afford, and what would add to your vacation delight.
So which hotel should I pick?
It’s all about priorities- like I said before you won’t make a wrong choice so long as you do your research. I will tell you which ones I’d personally recommend based on experience of my own and close personal friends who have visited.
Least Expensive, still big fun: All Star Movies. The rooms will be small and the walls thin – but if you’re a road warrior, someone who barely is in the room, or a small (2-3ppl) group I’d go for this.
A little splurge-y and cool: Art of Animation suites begin at $350. That’s the cheapest rack rate, so take that in for a moment. But if I had toddlers/preschool kids and wanted some big fun I’d totally swing for a Cars suite!
Walk to Magic Kingdom: Contemporary Resort is home of Chef Mickey’s, California Grill, they’ve got the Wave and Contempo Cafe both excellent choices for casual dining; the monorail goes directly through it… and you can walk to the Magic Kingdom! We spent a week here and we absolutely loved being a ten minute walk from main street! While some criticize it as having not a strong enough theme, we totally enjoyed everything about our stay there.
Walk to Epcot AND Hollywood Studios: Beach and Yacht club have the way superior pool complex, but we love Boardwalk! All three resorts have a boat that runs between them and the entrances to Epcot (International Gateway) and Hollywood Studios and they’d all be dreamy to stay at. Boardwalk also has the Rapunzel breakfast, Abracadabar, Flying Fish for fine dining, Ample Hills Ice Cream, and much more. Being able to walk 10-15 minutes one way and be in Hollywood studios or the other way and be in the France pavilion enjoying pastries? Heaven!
Boat rides along the Bayou: Port Orleans will get you a river cruise to Disney Springs, Beignets, and so much more! I love the New Orleans theme/feel and I know this is regularly ranked as the best moderate resort.
Some time in the Wilderness: Wilderness Lodge was the first Disney resort we ever stayed at – and it remains a favorite now! You can take a boat to Magic Kingdom, walk along a path to the Fort Wilderness (campgrounds & cabins – definitely recommended!) and so much more. It’s got a geyser, awesome food, and best of all you feel like you’re out in the woods. More than any other Disney resort it really felt like we were somewhere remote and peaceful, and we can’t wait to stay there again.
The resort I most want to stay at that I haven’t yet? Animal Kingdom Lodge. I want to look out and see the animals roaming! I want to eat at the restaurants there, and I am betting even more than Wilderness Lodge it really feels like a true escape from the hustle of Disney. They have cool tours, happenings, and so much more. Here’s hoping!
So how do you pick?
These days as Vacation Club members we look at availability! Last time we ended up on a Polynesian + Boardwalk + Universal Orlando three way split stay. I’ll talk more about split stays in a future article. It can be great – if you don’t take a long time to pack up between places and travel light. Ultimately though we consider a few things:
- Theme/cool factor
- Amenities (pool, dining options)
- Proximity to parks
- Room size/amenities
- Bed comfort!
- Our plans/intentions for park touring
As I said at the start – the key is to narrow things down based on your priorities and preferences. What is heaven to one person is a nightmare to another – and the good news is that you will find fans of EVERY Disney resort (as well as a few haters) – so the one that feels right for you will be a magical and delightful stay!