In the first post of this series, I discussed the first critical step in planning your adult Disney World vacation, which is picking your dates. I also discussed how using a crowd calendar is critical in this step, so if that term is unfamiliar, make sure to check out the post. The second major step in planning a vacation is one of the most fun, and where budgets come into play… Choosing your resort!
I’m about to get biased, but before I do that, here are the essential questions you’ll want to ask yourself when it comes to choosing a resort:
What is my budget? (which includes the on vs off property question for some)
How much of my vacation time will be spent in the parks or outside of the hotel?
What is weather like during my stay?
Will I have the opportunity to explore the pool and outdoor areas of hotel?
Is it important to me to stay at a nicer resort, and have amenities such as nice restaurants at the hotel, pools, spa, fitness center, entertainment options, etc.?
Photo by Scott Thomas
Considering Your Budget
While I’d prefer to stay in an overwater bungalow at the Polynesian resort, $2200 a night or whatever is something I don’t have the funds to do (but it sure sounds nice). I also don’t always want to spend that kind of money on a resort.
For many of us, the resort is often the biggest expenditure for the trip, so below you will figure out how to do what is best, and some money-saving strategies.
Let me start out by stating that I am biased and I typically always want to be on Disney property, for these reasons: When I go to Disney World, I fly in to MCO.
I also do not typically leave Disney property during my trip. Thus, I don’t have any need for a rental car or my own transportation, so I love the transportation that I get from the Disney resorts. Having that bus waiting to whisk me to the parks whenever I decide I’m ready in the morning and then back at night is golden.
Staying on Disney property also means there is a free airport shuttle, called the Magical Express. No worries about taxis, ubers, or rental cars for your entire vacation if you’re not leaving property.
Photo by CL Photography
Depending on your particular plans, sometimes it is not too expensive given all the perks, compared to staying off-property and weighing in the costs of having to pay for some sort of transportation.
Value Resorts are typically between $100-$150 at time of writing.
Perks for staying on property
Early FastPass+ booking and Extra Magic Hours: Disney World resort guests can book FastPasses 60 days in advance (vs. 30); and also receive Extra Magic Hours, meaning each day will typically have an extra hour or two before or after the park closes to tour the parks. These two things can save a lot of time and allow you to see a lot more attractions during your vacation.
Dining Plans and Magic Your Way packages: typically, you cannot do a dining plan or book a vacation package if staying off-property – and a lot of people love this convenience. You should know though, it’s not always a huge savings by booking a package. It is absolutely worth itemizing all of your potential costs when looking at resorts/hotels and tickets for your trip.
The Fun Doesn’t End: Disney resorts are amazing, even the Value. The magic doesn’t stop your entire vacation. When you leave Disney World, it really does feel like you’re just a tourist in Orlando, and it’s over for the day. I personally do not like this part, and it’s a reason I usually always stay on-property.
If budget is more important than this, or you plan on spending just a few days of your trip at Disney – off-property is likely a great option for you. You can stay in very clean and convenient hotel rooms for $60-$70 a night, and even lower if you’re willing to take hits in some places.
While writing this, I decided to create an entire other post for my strategies and thoughts on staying off-property here. I discuss how I’ve stayed at clean and decent hotels for less than $45 a night in this post.
The fun…staying on-property!
This is one of the best parts of deciding my Disney trip: which resort do I want to stay at?
There are three categories of resort at Disney World: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe
Pretty self-explanatory, but that is in order of the most affordable with the least amenities, to the more expensive with the top amenities. Most people will pick based on their budget, but if you’re like me, it’s going to change depending on what you do.
If you want to skip to my top recommendation for adults per each category, check out this post.
How to choose…are you going to be in the parks almost all day, and at the hotel just to sleep? Maybe consider just a Value or Moderate.
Going to Disney for 5+ days and planning on some down time at the pool, great meals and cocktails, etc.? Consider a Moderate or Deluxe Resort/Villa.
This will give you plenty of time to enjoy your resort, lounge at the pool multiple times, and possibly dine at delicious restaurants on property, without the hassle of having to resort hop.
One reason I love staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is because I am in love with all of their restaurants and lounges. I can wake up and enjoy the Boma breakfast buffet, put in 6-8 hours at a park, return to a lovely hotel room, read a bit on my balcony, and then head to Sanaa for dinner. And then spend the morning at the pool the next day before hitting a theme park at night. Beautiful!
Moderate resorts are a great choice when Value amenities don’t cut it for you (many adults don’t like the double beds in Value, and you’ll get to queen beds at a Moderate). Moderates also offer at least one sit-down restaurant, very nice food courts, and bars and lounges.
The grounds are lovely at most Moderates as well: I very much appreciate the grounds at both Port Orleans French Quarter and Coronado Springs, particularly at night.
Tips on booking your resort
Don’t make the rookie mistake of booking your resort without an available discount, which usually happens when people book too early. Rack rates is the term for full price room rates, and there is almost always a discount via a vacation package, or room-only discounts available to the public, Annual Passholder, Florida resident, etc.
The problem with booking WDW resorts is that many discounts are not available until just months before, some not even being available until 2 months before! While these are often room-only discounts, it’s critical to know when these become available and book.
A strategy for securing the resort you want and getting a discount: if I am set on a specific resort, let’s say Port Orleans French Quarter, I will go ahead and book my trip early and secure a room at a standard rate if discounts aren’t released yet. I then will make sure to keep an eye on discounts and book as soon as those codes come out.
Disney only allots a certain amount of room for discounts, such as AP holder discounts, and they go quick.
(tip: a great way to do this is with a travel agent. Really. We get emails from Disney as soon as these codes are released, and a good one such as myself will be on top of it).
From here, all you’ll usually have to do is go in and modify your existing reservation and apply the new discount/offer. And voila! You are no longer paying full price.
My final tip of advice is for people who are vacationing for over 5+ days at a Deluxe Resort, or over a week or multiple times in a 365 day period at a Moderate resort: consider an Annual Pass and do the arithmetic to see if you can actually save money by having one person in your party purchase an Annual Pass.
Also, AP holders can book up to 3 rooms at a time, as long as they are there at check-in! Read this article I wrote to see how to break your costs down and see if there are major savings potential.
Last… My favorite resort choices:
Deluxe: Boardwalk, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the Polynesian take a tie for me. You won’t go wrong with any of the Deluxe resorts, however.
Moderate: Port Orleans French Quarter is my first pick, but Coronado Springs often offers lower prices with discounts, and does not sell out of discounted rooms as quick. I’ll also be very curious to see how Caribbean Beach looks after the refurbishment – I am optimistic.
Value: Pop Century is my absolute favorite because the refurbished hardwood rooms are beautiful, and I enjoy the food court and dedicated bus system (meaning the buses aren’t shared between resorts).
However, All-Star Music is my next pick, as the rooms are still great. Another reason to I stay at Music is because I can take any of the three All-Star buses available, as the Music is situated in the middle an is a short walk from either of the other two resorts.
I would love to hear about your favorite resorts, where you may have enjoyed staying off property, or what your concerns are when booking lodging. It amazes me at how many people weight their choices differently!