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When I hear someone talking about an upcoming Disney trip, my first question always seems to be “Where are you staying?” In my TADA process, Accommodations is second – but the first fun part in the planning process.
It’s more than just picking a place to keep your stuff and sleep at night. As in most major undertakings, there are layers of decisions to make.
Let the compare and contrast begin!
On property vs. Off property
This discussion centers on location of your hotel. On property refers to the approximately 16 Disney operated resort locations within the property of WDW. Off property refers to locations that are outside of WDW Resort boundaries. To make things difficult, there is an in-between level of hotels located ON property in the Downtown Disney area – more on those later.
Walt Disney World is an innovator in so many areas of entertainment and guest experience. Theming in parks, restaurants and hotels is top notch. One area I believe Disney has lacked is in the progression of hotel amenity. Let me explain – at the high level of on property hotel room, you can spend $400-$600 per night and NOT have a kitchenette in your room. While you can find a kitchenette in even a basic room for $99 at a highway off ramp stop, Disney seems to have dropped the ball on updating basic room amenities. Keep this in mind when searching for a room. Having said that, an off property hotel more often than not will have “kitchen” amenities. I believe this to be a perk to off property.
Cost is another perk to staying off property. I have stayed at a few hotels off property on Friday or Saturday nights because they are cheaper than staying on property. So Friday or Saturday we would arrive and check in at an off site hotel, hit the parks and check in on Sunday at our “Disney home.” Across the board, staying off property is a less expensive cost. I hesitate to say value – everyone vacation’s differently so it might not be the best value for your travel party. For my family, one or two nights off property to get our feet wet and ease the transition into vacation-mode is a value to us.
If you are a larger group, you can choose a vacation rental home. I haven’t done so, but I know many families rent fully-furnished homes (some with a pool) at pretty impressive rental rates.
There are down sides to staying off property. When my family travels to WDW, we are looking to escape the real world. Off property hotels lack the theming that makes you feel like you are somewhere magical. Off property hotels generally do not offer transportation to the parks. If they do, it can be unreliable or inconvenient. We generally drive to the parks on our days off property – again, feeling like the real world!
The parks offer “Extra Magic Hours” to resort guests. Each day a park stays open 2 hours later or opens one hour earlier – just for resort guests. You might not care, but if it’s a busy time of year, those extra hours can make a difference. During a quiet time of year, those extra hours can give you more time in a park that might have closed at 6 pm normally.
Are you flying to WDW? How would you like to get a FREE ride to your hotel? Resort guests can also take advantage of the Magical Express. You arrange your ride online before you arrive at Orlando International Airport. You disembark your plane and head down to catch a bus to the appropriate resort. Disney will grab your luggage and bring it to your room for you.
Did you buy something at the parks? Who doesn’t? But do you want to carry that bag all over the place with you the rest of the day? Of course not. Resort guests have two options for merchandise. The items can be sent to the front of the park where you can pick them up as you exit OR the packages can be sent to your resort (not your room). I tend to shop as we are LEAVING a park, but I have forgotten this tip a few times and have used the ship to resort option many times.
I mentioned hotels near Downtown Disney. These are the Hotel Plaza Resorts. They are located on property, but are independently owned and operated. These hotels will offer their own transportation but you won’t be able to use extra magic hours (The Hilton is the only exception). Most guests staying at these hotels will still use a car.
There is one more grouping of hotels that seem to be getting some attention lately. There was a patch of land in the Disney property that was not owned by Disney. The owner either refused to sell or was asking more than Disney wanted to pay. Either way, this little chunk of land ended up being sold to another developer who created The Bonnet Creek Resort….this area is within Disney property and has a few resorts within it. I have friends that swear by these properties. I am too Disney-fied to ever stay here, but I do want to mention they are close to the magic, have great transportation and seem to treat their guests well.
Staying on property brings us to another layer of decision making. Disney has divided its resorts into Value – Moderate – Deluxe and Villa. You’ve probably heard of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). While it is a members time share, anyone can book a villa (studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom or grand villa) at any of the DVC resorts. I add that as an option though UBER expensive to pay outright.
Room rates are determined by time of year and level of resort. Extra amenities – mini fridge – are complimentary at moderate and deluxe resorts but have a fee at value resorts. Any special requests you might have should be made at the time of reserving your room.
Now you have to decide how you vacation. Are you a top of the line or nothing? Then I suggest a deluxe resort. Are you the family that only needs a room to sleep and shower? Go value. Don’t know what you are? You’ll want to do some research, but you can’t go wrong with a moderate level resort.
All the resorts are themed as you would expect. Staying at the Polynesian? You will receive a flower lei and stay in a resort building named after a South Seas Island. Staying at All Star Movies? Expect to see bedding and wall art to reflect Disney film classics (I stayed in a Herbie the Love Bug room once). At the Wilderness Lodge, it might be located in Central Florida, but you’ll feel like you stepped into a lodge in the Pacific Northwest.
What are the differences among the levels of resort?
Cost – Value start at $100, Moderate $160, Deluxe $300, Villa $300-$1,000 (depending on size).
Room size – Value 260 sq. ft. no balcony, Moderate 314 sq. ft. plus balcony, Deluxe 436 sq. ft. with balcony, Villa 355 sq ft – 2,100 sq ft
Dining – Deluxe and Villa resorts will have several counter service and table service options
A value resort is the simple room resort. You need a place to stay because you can’t be in the parks 24 hours straight. Your needs are minimal and you value time in the parks over time in a hotel room. This is a popular option with groups – cheerleaders and foreign travel groups. Be sure to ask your travel guide how to request the best location for you! These hotels are the All Star, Pop Century and the Art of Animation. Pop Century and Art of Animation are the first value resorts to receive the amenities upgrade of a family suite. They took two rooms and combined them to have a kitchenette and a separate living/sleeping area. Take advantage if you can!
A moderate resort offers a little more space, a bit more detail in theming. The Coronado Springs Resort fits in this category, but it caters to conventioneers more than families FYI. Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach are lovely. Looking for a Villa at a Moderate cost? Consider Ft. Wilderness Cabins. I recently advised a family with 4 kids – teenager, twin girls and a son with disability to stay here and they LOVED it.
The Deluxe level is truly high end living. The three hotels on the monorail line near Magic Kingdom fit this category. You are paying a lot of money, but you’re right on the monorail line. The EPCOT hotels in this category have parks within walking distance and at EPCOT, there’s a second entrance to the park near World Showcase in case you did walk over. Animal Kingdom Lodge is truly unique. The rooms offer a view of the savannah. You can sit on your balcony and watch animals grazing below you. That’s what I said – see animals outside your window. It’s like going on Kilamanjaro Safaris without a line!
I have given you a LOT of information today. Two most important things:
- decide on or off property
From there, you’ve got most of the work done. So by next week we should all be ready to talk about Where to EAT!!!
Are you ready to plan your Walt Disney World Vacation? Contact us today by calling 877-825-6146 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be delighted to help you plan!