Are you planning a trip to Disney World? Great! Plenty of fun awaits you and your travel buddies. Before you get there, however, you'll need to make plans, including hotel reservations.
There is a dizzying array of lodging choices. You could choose to stay onsite at one of the many Disney World hotels or off of the property. In almost every case, you'll find a cheaper nightly rate for comparable accommodations—in some cases considerably cheaper—away from Disney. But, you should consider overall costs, including car rental, gas, and parking, as well as the time and hassle it would take to travel between an off-property hotel and the Disney resort.
Also, consider the following perks when you determine the value of staying on site:
MyMagic+: Learn how to pre-plan your visit, minimize lines, and maximize fun by taking advantage of the free program. And get this: Guests staying at the resort's hotels get to make FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance of their visit (in contrast, non-hotel visitors can make FastPass+ reservations up to 30 days in advance).
Note that starting January 1, 2021, the resort stopped issuing complimentary MagicBands. They can still be purchased for an additional fee, however. The devices can store all of your park info, including park passes, FastPass+ reservations, and your credit card info for easy charging. The resort says that some time in 2021, the My Disney Experience app will add functionality that will replicate MagicBand features for smartphones.
Free ground transportation: Guests staying at Disney World hotels can board complimentary Disney's Magical Express buses at the Orlando Airport that take them directly to their resort. And they can avoid the baggage carousel since Disney delivers luggage directly to guests' hotel rooms. On the return trip, which is also free, guests can save time at the airport by checking their luggage and getting their boarding passes at their Disney hotel.
Update: Note that Disney World plans to end its Magical Express service and stop offering complimentary ground transportation starting January 1, 2022.
Extra, exclusive time at the theme parks: Disney World hotel guests can jump-start their day by getting into the parks before the general public.
Update: Note that Disney World ended its Extra Magic Hours program when the resort reopened in the summer of 2020 after the pandemic outbreak. The program used to allow on-property guests the opportunity to visit select parks on specified days an hour before the general public. It also offered its hotel guests extended hours in the evening at certain parks on specified days. The company now says that it will be permanently ending the program and instead allowing Disney World hotel guests (along with guests of other partner hotels) to enter all of its parks 30 minutes before the general public. The resort says that the new early entry program will start some time in 2021.
Dining packages: Hotel guests can add a dining plan to their stay. Sometimes (generally during off-peak periods), Disney World offers “free” dining plans for hotel guests.
Get the Full Disney Experience: By staying on property, you'll be completely immersed 24/7 in all things Disney. You'll get the Mouse's legendary service, and you'll be surrounded by the themes developed by the Imagineers for your hotel as well as at the parks (and everywhere else you go at the resort).
Other Perks: Guests at Disney World hotels can use the monorails and other resort transportation (as can everyone else), purchase packages that include park tickets, and take advantage of free package delivery to their hotel rooms.
OK, you've decided to stay at the Disney World hotels. But, which one?
Staying at Disney Value Resorts
You'll get stripped-down accommodations along with a decent price at the Value Resorts, but you'll still get a potent dose of Disney whimsy as well as all of the general benefits of staying on property at Walt Disney World.
Expect over-the-top themed design, nice pools, fast food, and an arcade. Don't expect table service restaurants (although you could dine anywhere throughout the resort, including at higher-level Disney hotels), a fitness center, a lounge, valet parking, a hot tub, or other amenities found at higher-priced resorts.
Disney's Art of Animation Resort is a particularly intriguing option because it offers family suites as well as traditional hotel rooms. Also, the food court has some creative, delicious choices.
Disney Value Resorts include:
- Disney's Art of Animation Resort
- Disney's Pop Century Resort
- Disney's All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney's All-Star Music Resort
- Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Staying at Disney Moderate Resorts
As the category implies, Disney's mid-level hotels strike a balance between the amenities and prices of its Deluxe and Value resorts. As compared to the Value level, expect a bit more space and a better finish in the rooms, more attention to the Moderate resorts' themeing and more varied dining options, including table-service restaurants. Also, you'll get small, but appreciated features such as hot tubs and bike rentals.
In 2019, the Coronado Springs Resort introduced the Gran Destino Tower. It offers 545 rooms, including 50 suites and club-level services. The tower features rooftop dining locations, Tolédo – Tapas, Steak & Seafood and Dahlia Lounge, that offer commanding views of the parks and the resort.
Disney Moderate Resorts include:
- Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney's Coronado Springs Resort
- The Cabins at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney's Port Orleans Resort
Staying at Disney Deluxe Resorts
For its top-level resorts, such as the Polynesian, Disney puts on its (four-fingered) white gloves and delivers high-end amenities with at least a hint of luxury. This category offers the most number of resorts, each with its own backstory and a high degree of themeing.
The Deluxe Resort locations also offer prime locations, especially the three highly coveted "monorail hotels:" the Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Polynesian. Disney's Deluxe level includes features such as spa services, a fitness center, valet parking, character dining, and gourmet restaurants.
Disney Deluxe Resorts include:
- Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney's Beach Club Resort
- Disney's BoardWalk Inn
- Disney's Contemporary Resort
- Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney's Wilderness Lodge
- Disney's Yacht Club Resort
Staying at Deluxe Villa Resorts
Disney has made quite a splash with its interval ownership properties (also known as timeshare), which it calls the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). But you don’t have to be a DVC member to stay at a Deluxe Villa Resort. Disney World lodging guests can sample the spacious accommodations by booking a stay.
The home-away-from-home villas offer amenities such as kitchens, washers and dryers, multiple bathrooms, and other conveniences. Configurations range from one-room studios to multi-bedroom villas that can accommodate as many as nine guests. They also offer all of the high-end features as Disney's Deluxe Resorts.
In 2019, Disney World introduced a new Deluxe Villa Resort, Disney's Riviera Resort. As it name implies, it draws inspiration from Europe and the Mediterranean and has a 20th-Century look and feel. It is located along the route of the Disney Skyliner, the resort’s gondola system that was introduced in 2019.
Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts include:
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village\Jambo House
- Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney's Beach Club Villas
- Disney's BoardWalk Villas
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort
- The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney's Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney's Riviera Resort
Staying at Disney World Hotels not Operated by Disney
There are some third-party hotels on the Walt Disney World resort property. One of them, the Four Seasons Resort, is a true luxury property and offers amenities and service that surpass Disney's own Deluxe Resorts (and, as you would imagine, luxury-level prices as well).
Other choices include the high-end and striking Walt Disney World Dolphin and Walt Disney World Swan hotels located near Disney's Hollywood Studios as well as the range of "official" Disney World hotels in the Disney Springs area. All include free transportation around Disney World. Guests at the Swan and the Dolphin can take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours benefit (but not those staying at other non-Disney properties). None of the non-Disney hotels offer the complimentary Magical Express airport transportation.
Walt Disney World hotels that are not operated by Disney include:
Disney Springs resort area hotels include:
- B Resort Lake Buena Vista
- Best Western Lake Buena Vista
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- Doubletree Suites
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
- Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista