If you’re planning a vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort, you’re probably considering whether or not to stay on Disney Property, and which resort might meet your needs the best. This article will give you a quick rundown on the perks and drawbacks of staying at a Disney resort and provide top picks from multiple price categories to keep you informed on making a selection that fits your family’s needs.
Should I stay at a Disney Resort? What are the perks?
Staying on Disney property keeps you in the magic of it all but comes with a hefty price tag – this is the main drawback. Disney has been constantly increasing the prices on all of their products and services, and resort nightly costs are no exception. There are also added fees. To start, if you want to park your car on site, it’s about (depending on the resort) $20 a day. Though this does save you from paying for parking at the parks themselves, it’s still an extra fee. Disney also no longer defaults to cleaning your room daily, meaning that some of the “magic” of staying at a hotel is lost since everything will be as messy as you leave it most days. Disney has gone back and forth offering gift cards in exchange for opting for less housekeeping, however, so you could end up getting a bit of value back. Disney’s previous free airport to resort transportation service is no longer offered, which means you’ll also have to pay for a ride to get to and from your resort hotel.
Disney resort hotels do, on the other hand, have plenty of perks. To start, you won’t have to worry about spending extra time getting to the Walt Disney World resort. Avoiding some of the annoying traffic on the nearby US-192 and State Road 535 can be a huge positive. Disney offers transportation to and from every location throughout the resort, so at worst, you’ll only be a 10 minute bus ride away from where you want to go (though waiting for a bus can sometimes take ~30 minutes). Other modes of transportation, like boats, the Skyliner gondola system, and monorails, also connect destinations across the resort. We’ll cover more of that as we get into specific resort perks later.
Another big perk is extra time in the park. Every day, resort guests can enter Disney’s 4 theme parks an extra half hour early. That means, if you arrive right on time, you can pick your top attraction and ride it before most people can even enter into the park. It is important to note that some nearby hotels have partnered with Disney and are deemed “Good Neighbor Hotels” which can also offer this benefit. Keep in mind that if your family doesn’t plan on getting up bright and early to be the first ones at the park, this benefit won’t help you at all.
The final major perk of Disney resort hotels are their pool amenities. Though most hotels have a pool, Disney’s often have multiple extravagantly themed pools that can keep you entertained for a long time throughout the day. Therefore, if you plan on spending your time in a more relaxed way, with less time in the hectic hustle and bustle of the parks, staying at a Disney resort may be worth it. The bottom line: if you want to save money or don’t plan on spending a lot of the time at the hotel, you should stay off Disney Property. If you want an all-inclusive experience, want to hop back and forth between your resort and the parks in the middle of the day, and want to feel more relaxed, you should stay at a Disney resort. In most cases, I recommend visitors stay off property and extend their vacation an extra day or two with the money they’ve saved. If you’ve decided that you want to stay on property and the prices are worth it, here’s a rundown of top resort picks.
Top Tier Pick: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Bungalows
The Polynesian is a beautiful tropical paradise of calm relaxation. It’s a large resort but stays mostly quiet. Being a deluxe resort, the price tag will be on the higher end, but it also has plenty of great amenities. To start, its main pool has an awesome water slide and has a hot tub next to it. Plus, you can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks at night from inside the pool or from your room balcony (depending on room location). Since the resort is located directly across from the Kingdom, it has the perfect views. You can hop on a monorail or boat and be at the park in a couple of minutes. Or, if you’re looking for more variety, you can easily access restaurants and dining at the nearby Contemporary and Grand Floridian Resorts. Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge are also great resort options with a relaxing “frontier” feel and are just a 15-minute boat ride away.
The Polynesian’s restaurants are also solid. Its quick service option, Captain Cook’s, has Thai Coconut Meatballs which are awesome. It also has pineapple Dole Whip and other soft serve near the pool. If you’re looking for a full-service experience, you can check out Ohana’s, which serves great Polynesian food buffet-style. Plus, while you’re there, you can learn how to Hula dance!
As the icing on the cake, the Polynesian is home to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, a tiki-themed bar with tons of character. Keep in mind that it is very popular, so you may want to check on it a bit earlier than you planned on going to join a waitlist!
Other great top tier choices:
Wilderness Lodge: Connects to the Magic Kingdom area via boat, has an awesome lobby, and is very relaxing and peaceful.
Yacht Club or Beach Club: On the boardwalk area within walking distance to Epcot. The sister resorts share an awesome pool and offer quick Skyliner access to Hollywood Studios.
Middle Tier Pick: Port Orleans Riverside
Port Orleans is split into the Riverside and French Quarter sections, though both are very similar. They’re themed after the beautiful southern charm of New Orleans. The entire area is very spread out with separate buildings, causing a completely different feel than the cramped crowdedness of the theme parks. The resort is also connected to Disney Springs via boat transportation, leaving easy access to great shopping and dining options (plus nighttime music and entertainment).
The resort has plenty of hammocks and benches to chill on as you enjoy the relaxation. For dining, there are a few options that have some charm (think the Princess and the Frog and jazz), but the best thing here is the mickey-shaped beignets!
One drawback to Port Orleans is that it’s sort of by itself, away from the parks. That means you’ll have to take a bus every time you want to get to the parks, which can be a little less reliable in terms of timing. However, it’s laid back, charming architecture and landscaping make it a very underrated pick.
Other great mid-tier choices:
Coronado Springs: With a cool Aztec pool and new massive tower (with rooftop bar), Coronado is a solid option. It is, however, a bit far from most of the resort, and only has bus transportation.
Lower-Middle Tier Pick: Art of Animation
We’re calling this the low-mid tier because Disney doesn’t really have a low tier. The cheapest you can go on property will be the All-Star resorts. However, if you’re choosing to stay at All-Star, I’d recommend just going off property and saving some money.
Now, on with the top pick: Disney’s Art of Animation. The resort is just across the way (and connected to) Pop Century, with which it shares a Skyliner gondola stop. The Skyliner connects the resort to Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach resort, the Riviera resort, and Epcot’s International Gateway entrance. This keeps navigating to the parks fairly easy and fun. The stop is along the bridge which connects Pop and Art that traverses Hourglass Lake. The lake has a long path all the way around it and is beautiful at night.
The resort itself is themed after four favorite Disney films: Cars, Finding Nemo, the Lion King, and the Little Mermaid. Each section of the resort contains huge sculptures and theming related to the area. Each area also has its own building with interior entrances to the rooms except for the Little Mermaid area. That’s because the initial plan was to extend the Pop Century resort, but Disney had to pause construction after financial issues.
Each section has its own pool, but the main pool is at the center in the Finding Nemo section. It also includes a splash pad area! Though lower tier Disney resorts don’t have any full-service dining offerings, Art of Animation gets some points in the dining category for its build-your-own pasta bar.
When considering whether to stay at a Disney resort, the cost should be your biggest consideration. If you want to save money, stay elsewhere. If you want the full-service Disney experience, go ahead and splurge on one of the top picks above!