Walt Disney World Resort Reviews: Best Values
LAST UPDATE: 5/13/13
This page provides Disney World resort reviews, including a general overview and comparisons of the various Walt Disney World hotels, and offers my personal opinions about the best values and locations you can choose for your money at the Disney resorts.
For complete details on Disney’s resort hotels, such as room descriptions and lists of every amenity at each resort, the best resource is the Resorts section of the official Walt Disney World website, DisneyWorld.com.
Disney offers various categories of accommodation at Walt Disney World:
- Value Resorts
- “Value Plus” Resort
- Moderate Resorts
- Deluxe Resorts
- Disney Vacation Club Resorts (aka Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts)
- Ft Wilderness Cabins and Campsites
The following privileges apply when staying at any of the Disney resorts (Value, Moderate, Deluxe, Disney Vacation Club and Ft. Wilderness cabins & campsites):
- Access to Extra Magic Hours
- Ability to use Disney’s Magical Express (free transportation and luggage transfers to and from the airport)
- Ability to make up to ten days of Advance Dining Reservations starting 180 days prior to check-in.
- Unlimited free use of the excellent Disney transportation system (buses, boats and Monorails) which connects all of the Disney resorts to the theme parks and Downtown Disney, and connects the Disney resorts to each other.
- FREE parking at all of the Disney theme parks (you’ll be given a parking permit at check-in).
- Charging privileges – you can charge most purchases in the Disney resorts and theme parks to your room key.
- Package delivery – have theme park purchases delivered to your Disney resort.
The regular Value resorts are All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, All-Star Sports and Pop Century. (Art of Animation, a new “Value Plus” resort, is described below.) All of the Value resorts feature huge themed icons, such as the 35-foot-tall Buzz Lightyear at All Star Movies. Pop Century has 2880 rooms and the three All-Star resorts each have 1920 rooms.
The Value resort buildings are big, brightly-painted concrete rectangles with some whimsical theming overlays. All four resorts have motel-style exterior corridors, meaning the door and window of your room face outward onto an open walkway. These resorts frequently host large youth groups. Some rooms face into courtyards that contain pools. Due to these factors, noise can be a significant issue at the Value resorts.
The Value resorts have basic amenities such as a food court, pool bar, video game room and gift shop. They do not offer table-service dining, an indoor bar/lounge, room service (except pizza delivery), on-site recreation such as boating, kids’ clubs/babysitting, health club or valet parking.
The pools are somewhat themed but do not have water slides. The All-Star resorts have two pools each. Pop Century has three pools. However, the guest-to-pool ratio is similar at all of the resorts because there are more and/or larger pools at the larger resorts.
The Value resorts are pretty spread out, so there can be a lot of walking, particularly if you don’t have a car. Wait times for the buses can be long. Also, it’s not at all convenient to eat at another resort, go to Downtown Disney, or attend special meals such as the Polynesian Luau or Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue unless you have a car.
Transportation from the Value resorts to all other areas of Walt Disney World is by bus.
The Value resorts offer complimentary wireless Internet (wi-fi) access in the rooms and select public areas. All rooms have mini-fridges.
The Value resorts are roughly equivalent to a well-kept Motel 6 with some theming laid on top. If you’re going to spend all of your time in the parks and just want a clean place to rest your head, a pool to splash in, and some fast food, you may find the Value resorts satisfy your needs. Basically, the only reason to choose these resorts is cost. If you can afford a little more, I feel the Moderates offer a lot more for your money.
The standard rooms at the Value resorts are 260 square feet and include two double beds or one King bed, for a maximum occupancy of 4 people (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib). The room decor features bright primary colors, except Pop Century, which uses a slightly more subdued palette. The rooms are small and basic; for instance, there is no closet, only an open area with a clothes rod and shelf in the bathroom.
In 2006 Disney remodeled portions of the Jazz and Calypso buildings at the All-Star Music Resort to create 192 family suites that have a maximum occupancy of 6 people (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib). To learn more about these suites, click here.
- Click here to see the full-price 2013 room rates for the Value resorts.
Best Value Choices
Pop Century is my Best Value choice in the regular Value category. It has several advantages compared with the All-Star resorts. It is newer, so there has been less wear-and-tear on everything. The decor of the public areas at Pop Century is a bit more up-to-date and the room decor is less glaring. Pop Century has fountain play areas for kids. (All Star Movies also has a fountain play area – as far as I know, the other Value resorts don’t.) Pop Century also has its own separate bus service (buses don’t stop at another resort on the way to/from the parks).
Although the basic room rate is identical at all the regular Value resorts, the hotel tax rate at the All-Stars is 13%, while the hotel tax rate at Pop Century is 12.5%.
There is really no difference at all between the three All-Star Resorts as far as accommodations. Just pick whichever one offers the theme that appeals most to you. If you will be using the Disney bus transportation, be aware that in the off-season, the three All-Star resorts share a single bus line, which departs from and arrives at the resorts in this order: Sports, Music, Movies. For that reason, if you’re staying at Sports during a slower time of year, you’re more likely to get a seat on the way to the theme parks, and your resort will be the first drop-off when returning from the parks. However, during busy times, buses are sent directly to the individual All-Star Resorts, or Sports and Music will share a bus and Movies will have its own bus.
New!Please note: All-Star Sports’ End Zone Food Court will be closed for refurbishment from 8/3/13 – 12/20/13. During that time there will be no hot or made-to-order food available at the resort. There will be “grab and go” (cold, premade) food items available at the resort at the Game Point Arcade, which will not function as an arcade during the refurbishment. For hot food and/or access to arcades, All-Star Sports will offer buses to All-Star Music and All-Star Movies. There will be one bus running all day and 2 buses during meal periods.
If you don’t mind paying a little bit more, consider Art of Animation, a new “Value Plus” resort with a few extra amenities.
- To reserve a room at a Value Resort, contact a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel.
A new Value resort, Art of Animation, offers 1120 family suites and 864 standard rooms. Art of Animation is considered a “Value Plus” resort because it is primarily composed of family suites, offers interior corridors and has a bigger, better food court. Standard rooms at Art of Animation are about $5-$10/night more than the rooms at the other Value resorts. Family suites at Art of Animation are about $50/night more than the similar (but not identical) suites at All-Star Music Resort.
Like the regular Value resorts, the Art of Animation buildings are big, brightly-painted concrete rectangles with some whimsical theming overlays and enormous icons. Unlike the other Value resorts, Art of Animation has carpeted interior corridors, which should help to reduce noise from the exterior. One side effect of the architecture, however, is that you can’t really park right by your room. If you have much luggage, I recommend using Bell Services to take it all to your room — it’s worth it for the price of a tip.
Art of Animation offers the most elaborate and unusual of all Disney’s resort food courts, called Landscape of Flavors. The food court includes a tandoor oven producing items like naan, tandoori chicken and shrimp; a Mongolian grill; gelato; coffee/espresso drinks; and a variety of “better for you” foods such as multigrain rice, buckwheat pasta and waffles, egg white frittatas, make-your-own yogurt parfaits and low-fat smoothies. The usual burgers, fries and Mickey waffles are also available. If you want even more options, you can walk over to Pop Century and visit the food court there.
The three pools (only one of which, the largest, is currently open) at Art of Animation are themed but do not have water slides. The largest pool, The Big Blue Pool in the Finding Nemo courtyard, is over 12,000 square feet with zero entry (you can walk in gradually) and an underwater sound system, and has a pool bar, The Drop Off, nearby. There is a water play area, a playground, a video game room and gift shop.
Eventually there will be two smaller pools, located in the Cars and The Little Mermaid courtyards. The Lion King wing will offer an additional play area when it opens.
The resort does not offer table-service dining, an indoor bar/lounge, room service (except pizza delivery), on-site recreation such as boating, kids’ clubs/babysitting, health club or valet parking.
Transportation from Art of Animation to all other areas of Walt Disney World is by bus. This resort has its own separate bus service (buses don’t stop at another resort on the way to/from the parks). The resort is very spread out and there is only one bus stop, in front of Animation Hall, so there can be a lot of walking. It’s not at all convenient to eat at another resort, go to Downtown Disney, or attend special meals such as the Polynesian Luau or Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue unless you have a car.
Art of Animation offers complimentary wireless Internet (wi-fi) access in the rooms and select public areas. All rooms have mini-fridges and the family suites have a small microwave as well.
The standard rooms are 277 square feet and include two double beds or one King bed, for a maximum occupancy of 4 people (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib). The room decor is Little Mermaid-themed. The rooms are small and basic; for instance, there is no closet, only an open area with a clothes rod and shelf in the bathroom.
The family suites are 565 square feet and sleep 6 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib). The floor plan of these new suites is different from the suites at All-Star Music and they are very slightly larger. There is a Queen bed in the master bedroom, which has its own private bathroom. The living room includes a full-size pullout sofa and a full-size pull-down bed that converts from the dining table. There is a small secondary bathroom off the living room. The “kitchen” is an area within the living room that has a small sink, mini-fridge and small microwave. The family suites’ decor is themed to Finding Nemo, Cars or The Lion King.
- Click here to see the full-price 2013 room rates for Art of Animation.
Art of Animation does not offer a huge number of amenities compared with the higher-level resorts, but it offers a bit more than the older Value resorts. If you’re going to spend all of your time in the parks and just want a clean place to rest your head, a pool to splash in, and some decent counter-service food, you may find it will satisfy your needs. It also offers a new alternative for those seeking Disney resort accommodations for a family of 5 or 6.
- To reserve a room at the Value Plus Art of Animation Resort, contact a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel.
The Moderate resorts are Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans – French Quarter and Port Orleans – Riverside. All four resorts feature feature extensive, tasteful theming. Caribbean Beach has 2112 rooms, Port Orleans – Riverside has 2048 rooms, Coronado Springs has 1921 rooms and Port Orleans – French Quarter has 1008 rooms.
The Moderate resort buildings have exterior corridors, meaning the door and window of your room face outward onto an open walkway, but unlike the Value resorts, the buildings don’t scream “motel.” The theming of the Moderate hotel buildings is exceptionally detailed and integrates the exterior corridors with the overall architecture very effectively.
Moderate rooms have pleasant decoration that is in keeping with the theme of each resort, but the accommodations are still small and pretty basic; for instance, there is no closet, only an open area with a clothes rod and shelf in the bathroom. In fact, there is a significant disparity in the quality of the Moderate guest rooms vs. the public areas. The rooms are just so-so; I would compare them with a themed Holiday Inn or Best Western room. However, the public areas are really outstanding and unlike anything you’d ever see outside of Disney at this price point.
The Moderate resorts have far more amenities than the Value resorts. They each offer a food court, a moderately-priced table-service restaurant (except for Port Orleans – French Quarter, which only has a food court), a lounge bar and a pool bar (except Caribbean Beach, which only has a pool bar), video game room, gift shop and on-site recreation such as boating.
The main “feature” pools are elaborately themed and include water slides and hot tubs/spas; additionally, all of the Moderate resorts (except Port Orleans – French Quarter) have unthemed “quiet pools” scattered around the property.
The Moderate resorts do not offer upscale fine dining, kids’ clubs/babysitting or valet parking. Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans – French Quarter and Port Orleans – Riverside do not offer room service, but do have pizza delivery. Coronado Springs offers limited-menu room service.
Transportation from the Moderate resorts to the theme parks and water parks is by bus, but Port Orleans – French Quarter and Port Orleans – Riverside do offer boat transportation to Downtown Disney.
The Moderate resorts have mini-fridges in the rooms and complimentary wireless Internet (wi-fi) access in the rooms and select public areas.
If you don’t plan to spend a lot of time in your room but you do want to enjoy resort amenities such as a terrific pool area, recreation and decent sit-down meals, the Moderates may be right up your alley. Be aware that the Moderates are very spread out, so there can be a lot of walking, particularly if you don’t have a car. (Port Orleans – French Quarter is the most compact, with the least walking required.) Also, unless you have a car it’s not at all convenient to eat at another resort, go to Downtown Disney (except from Port Orleans, which has a boat that goes there), or attend special meals such as the Polynesian Luau or Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.
Rooms at the Moderate resorts are 314 square feet except at Caribbean Beach, which has larger rooms (340 square feet).
- Standard rooms at Caribbean Beach include two double beds, for a maximum occupancy of 4 people (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib).
- Standard rooms at Coronado Springs, Port Orleans – French Quarter and the Magnolia Bend section of Port Orleans – Riverside have two Queen beds, which sleep 4 people (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib).
- Standard rooms in the Alligator Bayou section of Port Orleans – Riverside have two Queen beds plus a small single Murphy bed, for a maximum occupancy of 5 people (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib).
- There are rooms with King beds at all four resorts, for an extra charge per night.
Coronado Springs offers one building with Business Club Level rooms. This room type incurs an extra charge per night and includes personalized Front Desk and Guest Services, turndown service and a lounge with continental breakfast, midday snacks and evening wine (additional fee) and cheese. All Business Club Level rooms have two Queen-size beds or one King-size bed. Extra amenities include a DVD player and robes. The Business Club Level rooms offer views of the lake, courtyard or parking lot. Thanks to Mario for information.
Coronado Springs offers suites, including Junior Suites, 1-bedroom suites and 2-bedroom suites. The price of a Junior Suite is more than double the cost of a standard room, however, and the other suites are much more expensive. Click here to read more about the Coronado Springs suites.
Disney has remodeled the Trinidad South buildings at Caribbean Beach Resort to create 384 Pirate-themed rooms. There is an additional per-night charge for these rooms. To learn more about the Pirate Rooms, click here.
Port Orleans – Riverside will add 512 Royal Guest Rooms in the Oak Manor and Parterre Place buildings (buildings 90 and 95) of Magnolia Bend, with some opening in March 2012 and some in April 2012. These rooms will include ornate beds that feature headboards with fiber-optic special effects, and gold and crystal accents. Guests also can enjoy artwork and special mementos left by Tiana’s royal friends. To learn more about the Royal Guest Rooms, click here.
- Click here to see the full-price 2013 room rates for the Moderate resorts.
Best Value Choices
Coronado Springs is my Best Value choice in the Moderate category. It has several advantages compared with the other Moderate resorts. It is newer, so there has been less wear-and-tear on everything. Coronado Springs standard rooms have Queen beds, unlike the other Moderates, which have double beds. Also, Coronado Springs is a convention hotel, so it has a few extra amenities not offered at the other Moderates, including a salon, a health club, limited-menu room service and a more upscale food court.
The theming is radically different in the three areas of Coronado Springs. You can request a specific area when booking but there is no guarantee you’ll get your request.
- The Spanish-style Casitas at Coronado Springs are very peaceful, with courtyards featuring tiled fountains. Casitas Buildings 1, 3 and 2 (in that order) are the closest to the restaurants and services. Casitas Building 4 contains the salon and health club, if those are important to you.
- The Cabanas at Coronado Springs have a beachy Caribbean feeling. Cabanas Building 8A is very close to the feature pool, which may be a blessing (convenience) or a curse (noise, light). Cabanas Building 9B is closest to the marina and relatively convenient to the restaurants and services.
- The Ranchos at Coronado Springs feel quiet and secluded — some would say isolated — and feature desert landscaping and pueblo-style architecture. They look closest to the main pool on a map, but in actuality they are separated from the rest of the property by a swamp, so it can be a fairly long walk from these buildings to the pool, and a very long walk to the restaurants (almost half a mile).
Port Orleans – Riverside is another Moderate with extra value to offer. It features probably the most lush and stunning landscaping of any of the Moderates, with many meandering walking paths. It also offers carriage rides, bike rentals, a marina with watercraft rentals, and boat service to Downtown Disney. Many people consider it the most romantic of the Moderates and it is a favorite with honeymooners.
There are two sections with radically different styles at Port Orleans – Riverside; you can request a specific section when booking but there is no guarantee you’ll get your request (except if you book the Royal Guest Rooms – see below).
- Alligator Bayou is rustic, with log furniture and patchwork bedspreads. The most convenient buildings to the main services and pool are Building 14, closely followed by Buildings 18 and 27, all in Alligator Bayou.
- The Magnolia Bend buildings are reminiscent of a plantation home on the exterior, with floral/feminine decor in the rooms. Buildings 90 and 95 in Magnolia Bend are just across a bridge from the building containing the restaurant, marina and other services.
- Newly themed Royal Guest Rooms, which incur an extra per-night cost, debuted in the Magnolia Bend section at Port Orleans – Riverside in March 2012.
Caribbean Beach is the first Moderate resort Disney built, and it has larger rooms (340 sq ft vs 314 at other Moderates), so if a little extra space matters to you, that’s a good thing to know. The theming is less elaborate than at the other Moderates, though it’s still perfectly pleasant. If you love the light, bright feeling of the Caribbean, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Some rooms at Caribbean Beach have a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, so if you have kids who would enjoy that theming, this might be the resort for you. Click here for more info on the pirate-themed rooms.
Caribbean Beach is the most spread out of all the Disney resorts, so it can be inconvenient to get around. Check-in and check-out take place in a building completely separate from the rest of the resort. The food court, restaurant and main pool at Caribbean Beach are all in one central area. If you won’t have a car and/or you don’t want to spend a lot of time hiking across the huge property to get a bite to eat, consider paying the extra cost per night to guarantee a Preferred room, which will put you closer to all the important stuff.
Port Orleans – French Quarter is New Orleans/Mardi Gras themed. Some people love French Quarter for its intimate feel and compact layout. Personally it’s my least favorite of the Moderates. For one thing, it has no table service restaurant. (There is a food court only.) Imagine the Big Easy with no dining options!
This resort has only one pool, which features a Mardi Gras float-inspired dragon water slide. Kids will probably enjoy it a lot, but if you want a quiet swim, it won’t be for you. As a guest at French Quarter, you can use the Port Orleans – Riverside facilities for watercraft rentals, bike rentals and carriage rides, but it’s a fairly long walk to that neighboring resort.
The rather generic room decor is consistent throughout the French Quarter buildings, so you face no choices there. Buildings 3 and 4 are the most convenient to the food court and services; request Building 2 or 5 if you want to be close to the pool.
- To reserve a room at a Moderate Resort, contact a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel.
The Deluxe resorts are Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge and Yacht Club. All eight resorts feature unique, elaborate and even breathtaking theming. Animal Kingdom Lodge has 1293 rooms, Contemporary has 1008 rooms, Grand Floridian has 867 rooms, Polynesian has 847 rooms, Wilderness Lodge has 727 rooms, Yacht Club has 621 rooms, Beach Club has 576 rooms and Boardwalk Inn has 372 rooms.
Without exception, the Deluxe resorts are architecturally interesting, with amazing theming. Some are quite stunning and innovative, in fact. Deluxe resorts all have interior corridors. Deluxe rooms are attractively decorated in keeping with the resort’s theme and feature (at minimum) the amenities you would expect from an upmarket chain such as Sheraton or Hilton. The public areas of the Deluxe resorts inspire words like “spectacular” — they are almost unequalled anywhere else.
The main “feature” pools are outstanding. They are dramatically themed and all include water slides and hot tubs/spas. All of the Deluxe resorts offer on-site recreation such as boating, except for Animal Kingdom Lodge, which offers educational programs and live animal exhibits instead.
All of the Deluxe resorts offer a full slate of hotel services. Dining and beverage options will include at least one moderately-priced table-service restaurant, an upscale fine dining restaurant, a counter-service food option, room service, a lounge bar and a pool bar.
All of the Deluxe resorts have very nice high-end gift shops, kids’ clubs/babysitting, a video game room, health club and valet parking. Beach Club, Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Yacht Club have salons.
Transportation from the Deluxe resorts to the theme parks and water parks varies:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge uses bus transportation exclusively. You cannot walk from this resort to any other destinations at Walt Disney World.
- Wilderness Lodge has boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, Contemporary and Ft. Wilderness, but uses buses to other destinations.
- Beach Club, Boardwalk and Yacht Club are within walking distance of each other, as well as Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These three resorts also offer boat transportation to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Otherwise they use buses.
- Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian are connected by Monorail to each other, to Magic Kingdom and (with a transfer) to Epcot. Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness are connected by boat. Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Magic Kingdom are connected by boat. You can walk from Contempoary to Magic Kingdom. Otherwise the three “Monorail resorts” use buses.
All of the Deluxe resorts have mini-fridges in the rooms and complimentary wireless Internet (wi-fi) access in the rooms and select public areas.
Standard rooms at the Deluxe resorts vary in size from as small as 344 square feet at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge to as large as 440 square feet at Grand Floridian.
- Standard rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge and Boardwalk Inn sleep up to 4 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib) on two Queen beds. Rooms with a Queen and a bunk bed are also available at the two lodges.
- Most standard rooms at the other Deluxe resorts sleep up to 5 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib) on two Queen beds and a day bed.
- All Deluxe resorts except the Polynesian have some standard rooms with King beds.
For a large upcharge, all Deluxes offer a concierge option, which gives you access to extra-special service and a private lounge that serves continental breakfast plus afternoon and evening snacks and drinks.
All of the Deluxe resorts also have a variety of very expensive suites. These vary widely in terms of size, included amenities and price. If you are interested in Deluxe suites, I recommend working with a Disney specialist travel agent who can help you sift through all the available offerings.
- Click here to see the full-price 2013 room rates for the Deluxe resorts.
Best Value Choices
Wilderness Lodge is my Best Value choice in the Deluxe category. Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge are the two least expensive Deluxe resorts by a considerable margin. Usually the standard lodge rooms are at least $100 per night less than standard rooms at most of the other Deluxe resorts. Some people call the lodges the “Moderate Deluxes” for that reason. The two lodges provide all of the extra amenities offered by a Deluxe resort, plus outstanding theming.
However, bear in mind that standard rooms at Wilderness Lodge only sleep 4 and the rooms that can accommodate more people are very expensive, so this hotel isn’t a good budget choice for a larger family.
I think Wilderness Lodge is the best-themed of all Disney’s resorts. The lobby is stunning and the pool area is incredible. There are many romantic nooks and crannies throughout the resort where you can get away from the crowd. If the Pacific Northwest and the great lodges of the American West appeal to you, you will love this hotel.
Another major advantage of Wilderness Lodge is the boat transportation to the Magic Kingdom, which adds a layer of excitement that buses just can’t match. You can also take a boat from Wilderness Lodge to Magic Kingdom or the Contemporary, then transfer by Monorail to the Polynesian Resort (great if you want to attend the Luau) and you can walk or take a boat to Ft. Wilderness Campground (very convenient if you want to experience the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue).
Among the Deluxe resorts, Wilderness Lodge has exceptionally good restaurants. Artist Point, the upscale fine dining restaurant at Wilderness Lodge, just might be the best restaurant at Walt Disney World, and that’s saying something. Whispering Canyon, the hotel’s moderately priced table-service restaurant, is lots of fun for the whole family: the restaurant staff puts on a wacky floor show while you enjoy down-home fare. Whispering Canyon also serves lunch, which is nice because some of the Deluxe hotels don’t have a full service restaurant that is open for lunch.
Contemporary’s Garden Wing rooms are also worth considering, if you want Deluxe amenities at a reasonable price. At 394 square feet, Contemporary rooms are second only to Grand Floridian in size, and standard Contemporary rooms can sleep up to 5 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib).
The best aspect of the Contemporary is its location. It is on the Monorail, which connects it to Magic Kingdom and (with a transfer) to Epcot. You can also take the Monorail to the Polynesian Resort if you want to attend the Luau and a boat to Ft. Wilderness Campground if you want to do the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.
In addition to its convenient location, the Contemporary Resort embodies what a lot of people think of when they imagine Walt Disney World. The Monorail runs right through the tower and the decor screams Disney. It is also the home of Chef Mickey’s, which offers probably the best character meals at Walt Disney World; the upscale California Grill restaurant with its fabulous fireworks views; and a new restaurant called The Wave, offering healthy fare.
Tower rooms at this hotel have fantastic views (of Bay Lake on one side and the Magic Kingdom on the other) and are a shorter walk to the Monorail, but cost a lot more. If you are easily bothered by noise and like to sleep in, be aware that Chef Mickey’s restaurant in the main tower of the Contemporary can be noisy because the happy cries of small children echo in the huge atrium space. You may want to request a room on the opposite end from Chef Mickey’s if this concerns you.
Animal Kingdom Lodge is another good value choice. Like Wilderness Lodge, the theming is amazing, there are loads of amenities, and the price for a standard room is much lower than other Deluxe resorts. However, standard rooms only sleep 4, so this isn’t an ideal choice for a larger family.
If you’ve always wanted to go on safari, this is the hotel for you. It really is like visiting another continent. It’s pretty thrilling to watch exotic animals grazing so close by that you can almost touch them. If you will be bringing kids along and they are into animals, you will score big points with this hotel. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time at your resort, there is a lot to enjoy here. You could have a very nice vacation at Animal Kingdom Lodge without ever going near the theme parks.
Like the Value and Moderate resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a bit isolated and the transportation is all by bus. Fortunately you don’t share buses with any other resorts, so transportation time to the theme parks isn’t bad at all. However, if you have a tight agenda and/or plan to do a lot of hopping around all over Walt Disney World, you will want to rent a car.
Dining is outstanding at Animal Kingdom Lodge, if you like to try new things. Boma, the all-you-care-to-eat buffet, and Jiko, the upscale restaurant, both serve unusual African-inspired cuisine. You can also walk over to the Kidani Village section of the Animal Kingdom Villas, and eat at Sanaa, a mid-priced Indian/African restaurant. Personally I love all of these restaurants, but I’m an adventurous eater. If you prefer plain American food you won’t be happy at this resort. It’s not at all convenient to eat elsewhere or to attend special meals such as the Luau or Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, unless you have a car.
- To reserve a room at a Deluxe Resort, contact a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel.
The Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts (also called the Disney Vacation Club Resorts) are Animal Kingdom Villas, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club Villas, Boardwalk Villas, Old Key West, Saratoga Springs and Villas at Wilderness Lodge. All six resorts are sold as timeshares through Disney Vacation Club (DVC), but you can also rent the units directly through Disney’s reservation system, just like you would a hotel room.
These resorts feature feature beautiful theming and a variety of “homelike” accommodations. Saratoga Springs has 840 units, Old Key West has 761 units, Boardwalk Villas has 532 units, Animal Kingdom Villas has 458 units, Bay Lake Tower has 295 units, Beach Club Villas has 280 units and Villas at Wilderness Lodge has 181 units.
The theming of the Disney Vacation Club resorts is nearly on a par with the Deluxe resorts. The studio units are attractively decorated in keeping with the resort’s theme and feature (at minimum) the amenities you would expect from an upmarket chain such as Sheraton or Hilton. The 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom villas are at least equivalent to vacation condos offered by the Hilton Vacation Club or a similar outfit.
The resort buildings at Animal Kingdom Villas, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club Villas, Boardwalk Villas and Villas at Wilderness Lodge all have interior corridors. Old Key West and Saratoga Springs have exterior corridors.
At Animal Kingdom Villas (Jambo House), Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary Resort, Beach Club Villas, Boardwalk Villas and Villas at Wilderness Lodge, guests share the facilities in the adjoining Deluxe hotels, such as the “feature” pools. (They also have unthemed “quiet pools” closer to the villas, except at Jambo House.) Guests have access to on-site recreation (such as boating), kids’ clubs/babysitting, valet parking and similar services that are offered by the neighboring Deluxe resort. These Disney Vacation Club resorts do not offer any additional dining options, gift shops, bars, etc., because it’s easy to use the services located in the hotel next door.
Saratoga Springs, Old Key West and Animal Kingdom Villas (Kidani Village) are self-contained resorts with many amenities. They are similar to the Deluxe resorts, but have more limited dining options due to their distance from other resorts and the theme parks:
- Old Key West has a full-service restaurant (Olivia’s) and two takeout food locations. All of these serve ordinary American-style food.
- Saratoga Springs has a table service restaurant (Turf Club) and a counter-service restaurant/market. Both serve standard American fare. Saratoga Springs also has a walking path to Downtown Disney, where there are many restaurants.
- Kidani Village has one (exotic) full-service restaurant, Sanaa, serving lunch and dinner. The only other dining options at Kidani Village are some cold sandwiches by the pool, or room service offering the same highly-spiced foods served in the restaurant. If you want non-room-service breakfast or something less spicy/exotic, you will have to walk, bus or drive over to the main Animal Kingdom Lodge, about 1/2 mile away, where there are three restaurants, including a quick-service location.
Saratoga Springs, Old Key West and Animal Kingdom Villas (Kidani Village) have beautifully themed “feature” pools with elaborate pool slides. Kidani Village also offers a kids’ water play area. There are additional unthemed “quiet pools” at Saratoga Springs and Old Key West. These three resorts offer recreational activities, video game rooms and fitness centers, plus the full-service Spa at Saratoga Springs. Because these three resorts are more isolated than the other Disney Vacation Club resorts, I highly recommend renting a car when you stay here, and I think a car is practically mandatory if staying at Kidani Village. Old Key West and Saratoga Springs don’t offer valet parking, salons or kids’ clubs. Kidani Village does have valet parking.
Transportation from the Disney Vacation Club resorts to the theme parks and water parks varies:
- Animal Kingdom Villas, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs use bus transportation exclusively. You cannot walk from these resorts to any other destinations at Walt Disney World.
- Villas at Wilderness Lodge has boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, Contemporary and Ft. Wilderness, but uses buses to other destinations.
- Beach Club Villas and Boardwalk Villas are within walking distance of each other, as well as Yacht Club, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These two resorts also offer boat transportation to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Otherwise they use buses.
- Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary Resort is on the Monorail, which gives you access to Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Magic Kingdom and (with a transfer) to Epcot. Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Ft. Wilderness are connected by boat. You can walk from Contempoary to Magic Kingdom. Otherwise this resort uses buses.
All of the Disney Vacation Club resorts complimentary wireless Internet (wi-fi) access in the rooms and select public areas.
Studio units at the Walt Disney World Disney Vacation Club resorts are about the size of Disney’s Deluxe hotel rooms (355 to 412 square feet) and include a mini-fridge and microwave. Studios sleep 4 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib) in two Queen beds or a Queen bed and a full-size sofa bed.
There are also 1- and 2-bedroom villas that include a full kitchen (with all the basic cooking utensils, pots, pans and dishes supplied) and living room in addition to the bedroom(s), plus a whirlpool tub in the master bedroom and a washer/dryer in a closet.
- Most 1-bedroom villas sleep 4 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib), with a King bed in the bedroom and a full-size pullout sofa in the living room. At Animal Kingdom Villas, most of the 1-bedroom units sleep 5 and at Bay Lake Tower and Old Key West, all of the 1-bedroom units sleep 5. In the units with a higher capacity, here is an additional pullout single bed in the living room.
- Most 2-bedroom villas sleep up to 8 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib), with a King bed in one bedroom and two Queens or a Queen and a full-size pullout sofa in the other bedroom, plus a full-size pullout sofa in the living room. At Animal Kingdom Villas, most of the 2-bedroom units sleep 9 and at Bay Lake Tower and Old Key West, all of the 2-bedroom units sleep 9. In the units with a higher capacity, here is an additional pullout single bed in the living room.
The Treehouses at Saratoga Springs Resort have 3 bedrooms and sleep 9 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib). There is one Queen bed each of the first two bedrooms; bunk beds in the third bedroom; and a full-size pullout sofa and a single pullout chair in the living room.
Animal Kingdom Villas, Bay Lake Tower, Boardwalk Villas, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs also have 3-bedroom Grand Villas, for the ultimate in luxury and space — these can sleep up to 12 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib) and offer a full kitchen, laundry facilities and more. The exact configurations vary, but generally there is a King bed in one bedroom; two Queens or a Queen and a full-size pullout sofa in each of the other two bedrooms; and a full- or Queen-size pullout sofa in the living room.
- Click here to see the full-price 2013 room rates for the Deluxe Villa / Disney Vacation Club resorts.
Best Value Choices
Old Key West is my Best Value choice in the Disney Vacation Club category. It was the first Disney Vacation Club to be built and the units are a bit bigger than at the other DVC resorts. Yet Old Key West offers the least expensive rates of the villa resorts on Disney property. The themed pool at Old Key West is spectacular, there are nice dining options and overall it’s an extremely attractive resort with lots of stuff to do.
However, I only recommend staying at Old Key West if you will have a car. You can take a boat to Downtown Disney, but otherwise it feels a bit isolated and it’s not convenient to eat at another resort or attend special meals such as the Polynesian Luau or Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue. Also, you may have to walk long distances from some of the units to the restaurant and main pool — if you have a car, you can drive over and park near these central services.
Next best values, in my opinion, are Bay Lake Tower, Boardwalk Villas, Beach Club Villas and Villas at Wilderness Lodge. While it costs more to stay at these resorts than at Old Key West, their close proximity to the Deluxe resorts and all the associated amenities make them super-convenient.
If you plan to spend a lot of time at Epcot and/or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, pick Boardwalk Villas or Beach Club Villas, because you can walk to the theme parks from these resorts. If you plan to spend a lot of time at Magic Kingdom, pick Bay Lake Tower, which is on the Monorail, or Wilderness Lodge, which has a lovely boat ride to the theme park. In most cases you really don’t need to rent a car if you stay at one of these resorts.
The two Animal Kingdom Villas locations (Jambo House and Kidani Village) are a mixed bag. Whether you will like them or not depends heavily on your interests and plans. (Personally I love them.) They have the unique feature of the live animals, which are visible from Savannah View rooms and from many public locations. They also offer amazing theming including beautiful displays of African art, as well as unusual and exotic food choices, educational opportunities and many African-themed activities.
Most rooms at Animal Kingdom Villas have a higher capacity than the other DVC resorts (5 people can sleep in the 1-Bedroom units and 9 in the 2-Bedroom units), making them a desirable option for larger families.
However, without a car, the two Animal Kingdom Villas locations are the least convenient of all the DVC resorts, with all transportation by bus. If you have a car, the convenience problem pretty much disappears. If you do not like unusual (non-American-style) foods, do not stay at Animal Kingdom Villas, particularly the Kidani section. You won’t be happy.
My least favorite of the Disney Vacation Club properties is Saratoga Springs Resort. The location is somewhat remote and it has the smallest units of any DVC resort. The large number of villas (and their location) means long walks to the central area that houses the pool, food court and spa. Also, the theming at this resort is fairly ordinary, in my opinion.
The only major advantage of this resort is that you can walk to Downtown Disney. I recommend renting a car if you stay here. Otherwise it’s not at all convenient to eat at another resort or attend special meals such as the Polynesian Luau or Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue.
There are 409 Ft. Wilderness cabins and 788 campsites set in a wooded area of more than 700 acres.
There are many interesting entertainment and recreation options within the Ft. Wilderness Campground, including biking, pony rides, hay rides, campfires and more. You also have access to an inexpensive all-you-care-to-eat buffet restaurant (Trail’s End Buffeteria) and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show. Ft. Wilderness also has a marina where you can rent various types of boats.
Another major advantage of Ft. Wilderness is the boat transportation to the Magic Kingdom, which is a lot more fun than taking a bus. If you want to eat at (or just explore) the Contemporary Resort or Wilderness Lodge, you can take a boat directly to those resorts. To visit the Polynesian (perhaps to attend the Luau) or the Grand Floridian, you can take a boat to the Magic Kingdom or Contemporary and then take the Monorail to the resorts.
Campsites are designated as Partial Hookup (electricity and water provided), Full Hookup (electricity, water and sewer provided) and Preferred (electricity, water, sewer and cable TV hookups, plus more convenient location). Each site has a picnic table and charcoal grill. Most sites feel fairly secluded because there are stands of trees and bushes between sites.
The cabins are 504-square-foot, one-bedroom units that contain a double bed and bunk beds in the bedroom and a Murphy bed in the living room, giving them a maximum occupancy of 6 (plus one baby under age 3 in a crib). This makes them a good choice for larger families. Ft. Wilderness cabins have a full kitchen with all the basic cooking utensils, pots, pans and dishes supplied. Technically the Ft. Wilderness Cabins are categorized by Disney as Moderate resorts, but they are priced differently and the accommodations provided by the Cabins are completely different from the other Moderates.
- Click here to see the full-price 2013 rates for Ft. Wilderness campsites and cabins.
- To reserve a cabin at Ft. Wilderness, contact a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel.
- To reserve a campsite at Ft. Wilderness, call (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639).