If you ask us, both Ryan and I will always advocate for staying at an on-site resort when visiting Walt Disney World. I won’t go into the details here as to the many reasons why (that’s for another blog post), but to sum it up neatly, we love to stay in that Disney bubble and we think staying on Disney property is part of what makes a vacation at Walt Disney World so special.
Once you have made the decision to stay at a Walt Disney World resort you now are faced with the daunting task of choosing from over 25 resorts on Disney property.
We have stayed at resorts in all three resort tiers (Value, Moderate and Deluxe) and we’ve always had wonderful vacations and great resort experiences. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right, or a less-right choice for you when it comes to making the final decision of where to book your stay.
Your resort is where you return each night to relax and reflect on the day you’ve just had and what lies ahead. You may choose to spend a day or two solely at your resort during your vacation. You want your resort to be a place you’re excited to be. That makes it a big part of your Disney vacation experience.
I wanted to put together this “How to Pick a Walt Disney World Resort” guide to bring your attention to aspects of the resorts you may not consider at first, but they might play an important part in your resort stay.
Cost is very likely the biggest factor when deciding where to stay. It really is one of the first things you should hash out when it comes to planning your vacation.
The Walt Disney World website easily allows you to browse the resorts and their prices, but it’s handy to know what kind of budget you’re working with ahead of time.
A crucial thing to remember (how could we forget!) is that all the prices are in US dollars. You can use the handy Canadian to US dollar exchange rate tool on Google to get a pretty good idea of what you’ll be paying in Canadian dollars, but keep in mind that the exchange can change. It’s always best to budget more than what you need, just in case.
We tend to plan far in advance, so we can save up for our vacations. This is especially important if we are looking to save for the higher priced Deluxe Resorts. Often, we opt for a split stay so we can afford a Deluxe Resort for a couple to a few nights after we’ve spent the majority of our stay at a Value Resort.
We also recommend checking out our Money Saving Tips, for any budget conscious travelers.
There are certain givens when you’re thinking about what accommodations you require. Things that you can’t change, but will impact the type of resort room or experience you may need.
How many people are in your party? Do you have 5 people? If so, there are only certain rooms that will accommodate that number of guests, such as the 5th sleeper room option at Riverside and Caribbean Beach.
Do you need a resort with an elevator, because if you do, Caribbean Beach unfortunately doesn’t have elevators available to the second floor of their resort buildings.
Are there only two of you traveling? The recently refurbished rooms at the Value resorts are a great option because the second bed in the room is a murphy bed, giving you more space in the room when folded up into the wall.
Investigate the room capacity and what each room category offers at the resorts you’re considering to ensure you make the best choice for your family.
Realistically, how much time will you be spending at your resort? This is an important one and will impact a number of decision-making factors, such as what portion of your entire vacation budget will you be willing to spend on the resort.
Do you plan on just sleeping at the resort and spending the majority of your day at the parks? Will you take a break most days at the resort? Do you want to spend at least a full day at your resort, relaxing and using the pool?
We have often opted for a Value Resort because of our budget. On most of our trips, we also tend to be in the parks for most of the day (often from open to close). For those trips, it doesn’t make sense for us to put the majority of our vacation budget into a Deluxe Resort, and we would even question a stay at a Moderate Resort as well.
Our Pick for when we spend most of our time at the parks:
- All-Star Movies
- Pop Century
Our Picks for when we have resort days:
- Polynesian Village Resort
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Port Orleans Riverside/French Quarter
While it’s not important to everyone, Ryan and I think resort theming is a big deal for us. Theming is what we find sets Disney resorts apart from off-property resorts. You want to have a good initial reaction to the theme when looking at where to stay.
Do you want obvious Disney theming? Would you prefer a more subtle theme? Do you want to feel like you’re in another part of the world when you’re at your resort?
The resort tier will determine the level and type of theming. Value resorts have a great deal of Disney theming with large statues and icons around the buildings. Even though the theming isn’t as Disney-centred at the Moderate and Deluxe resorts, they still can be immersive and transport you to somewhere else in the world.
Our Favourite resort theming:
- Polynesian Village Resort
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Port Orleans – Riverside
- Caribbean Beach
- Art of Animation
All resorts have shuttle busses running to Disney Springs and the parks, but some resorts offer more transportation options.
There are resorts with Monorail service. The Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian have Monorail stations at each resort. The Resort Monorail line takes guests around the Seven Seas Lagoon with stops at the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center, where you can switch to the Epcot Monorail line.
A number of the resorts offer boat service to Disney Springs or to some of the parks.
The newest member to the Disney transportation family is the Skyliner. The gondola system links the Caribbean Beach Resort, Pop Century and Art of Animation Resorts, and the Riviera to both Hollywood Studios and Epcot, depending on which line you’re travelling along.
Transportation isn’t always a deciding factor for us, but we have developed a love for the Disney Skyliner. That could sway us from staying at an All-Star resort to staying at Pop Century, or make us choose Caribbean Beach over Coronado Springs.
Our favourite ways to travel: The Monorail and the Disney Skyliner
The closer the resort is to a park, the higher the price tag. This truly wasn’t a ‘perk’ we considered to be that big of a deal until we stayed at the Contemporary. Being able to walk to Magic Kingdom in under 10 minutes was nothing short of magical! Now that the Grand Floridian is getting a walkway to the Magic Kingdom as well, it’s another perk for the higher price tag.
The Deluxe Epcot Resorts (Disney’s Boardwalk, Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts) have a short walk to a separate entrance into the World Showcase at Epcot.
Resorts that are located along the Disney Skyliner lines have slightly faster travel times to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is the main Skyliner hub, which makes it one of the shortest travel times to both of the aforementioned parks.
That being said, if you’re okay with a 15 or 20-minute drive to the parks, the Value and the rest of the Moderate Resorts are great choices. Sometimes it is nice to feel a little more removed from the bustle of the parks. 15 minutes isn’t really that long of a bus ride.
Our favourite resorts proximity-wise:
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort (close to Magic Kingdom)
- Caribbean Beach Resort (Disney Skyliner and located centrally to all the parks)
We highly recommend researching the dining options at the resorts. If you’re okay with quick-service meals in a cafeteria-style setting, then Value and Moderate resorts will be perfect for you, especially if you don’t plan on eating much at your resort.
If you want sit down, table service and lounge options at your resort, the Deluxe Resorts will be the best pick. Coronado Springs and Port Orleans – Riverside are currently the only two Moderate Resorts home to table service restaurants in addition to the quick-service options.
Some of the best dining on Disney property can be found at the resorts. This is another factor that definitely adds to the cost of staying at a Deluxe Resort, but remember you don’t have to be a guest at the resort to dine there.
Our favourite resort dining:
- Kona Cafe (Polynesian Resort)
- California Grill (The Contemporary)
- Everything POP Shopping & Dining (at Pop Century…for the Dole Whips)
Pools & Amenities
Moderate and Deluxe resort main pools have a slide for guests, which adds an extra element of fun. The pools at the Value resorts do not have slides and tend to be on the simpler side, though they aren’t without theming and a few basic water features.
The Deluxe resort pools have a zero-entry option, which was a big plus for us when we stayed at the Polynesian with my dad. My dad is blind and had not been swimming since he lost his sight a few years ago. The zero entry into the pool made him feel comfortable and confident when entering an unfamiliar situation. So, depending on the needs of your party, there may be certain aspects of the pool or the resort that appeal to you or will make your trip more enjoyable.
Some resorts have recreational amenities beyond just pools. French Quarter has horse carriage rides, some resorts have boat rentals, bike rentals, fishing and a slew of other options (many for an extra fee though).
If you want to spend time at your resort near/in a pool or doing other activities, explore the recreational amenities and the pool options at the resorts you’re considering.
Our favourite resort pools:
- Ol’ Man River Pool (Port Orleans Riverside)
- Stormalong Bay (Disney’s Beach + Yacht Club Resorts)
There are a multitude of things to consider when picking a resort for your Walt Disney World vacation and this list may seem overwhelming or make it sound more complicated than it is. There will be some of these items that don’t matter as much to you as they might to other people so they won’t play a big part in your decision making.
Once you have your basics covered (i.e. enough sleeping spaces for everyone in your party), the rest is completely up to your taste and what you’re hoping to experience. There aren’t bad resorts at Walt Disney World, each one just has a unique styling and set of offerings for the guests. We’ve had great experiences, no matter which resort we’ve had the opportunity to stay in.
Picking a resort is one of our favourite parts of planning a Walt Disney World trip. It’s home base for the duration of your stay, so you want to pick the best choice for you. That being said, we enjoy trying different resorts all the time, so while you may have your favourites, there’s always the promise of another vacation where you can look forward to trying something new.