Wondering which of the deluxe Walt Disney World properties is worth the big bucks? It largely depends on style and location; some are built around the Magic Kingdom, some are adjacent to the other theme parks. While the Magic Kingdom resorts are easily serviced by monorail, we urge families to pick the resort closest to their favorite park to minimize the walk/ride time. Take note that Disney’s Yacht Club resort is now welcoming dogs, up to two dogs per room, for a fee. Another perk is the Skyliner aerial gondola that opens in October 2019 to transport guests between Hollywood Studios, Epcot and the Caribbean Beach Resort among a few other properties — a really fun way to travel.
What Disney World luxury resorts have in common
Each offers business services, a gym or workout facility and family activities, such as outdoor movies, lobby storytime and supervised crafts areas. On the concierge-level floors (a premium rate), families can enjoy a lounge stocked with continental breakfast fixings, snacks, beverages and evening desserts, in addition to having a helpful concierge staff; a good choice for extended families who want a place to meet up.
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Most of these resorts have new condo wings that are part of the Disney Vacation Club; full service units with kitchens are a good option for multigenerational families who may want to prepare meals. Many have a supervised childcare facility (for a fee) for ages 4 to 12-years that operates a themed dinner show so parents can go out. While these are staffed by trained Disney cast members, private babysitting service is available through the local Kids Nite Out (800/696-8105) service of Orlando.
The deluxe hotels have fantastic lobbies, costumed staff, and a variety of restaurants ranging from fine dining venues to ethnic outlets, family-style places where character breakfasts and dinners are held, and a fast food/deli with take-out or eat-in snacks. Larger rooms with two queen beds and a seating area with daybed typically accommodate families of five. While all have pools, often with waterslides, we are pleased to note that lifeguards are on duty at posted hours to keep them extra safe. To learn more or book your stay, contact a travel agent, visit Walt Disney World online or call their agents at 407/934-7639.
The Contemporary was designed in a slick urban style back in 1971 to play up the arriving and departing monorails of the “future” which still pull right into the fourth floor. Over time, it added convention facilities and several renovations later, its 633 rooms, 23 suites and 428 villas are up to par with stylish four and five-star hotels the world over. Spacious rooms with two queen beds have plush duvets, a work desk and a seating area with a comfy daybed. Large bathrooms with marble floor tiles have twin vanities; and high-tech touches such as plasma TVs and a computer in each room (keyed to Disney online planning tools) seem, well, contemporary. The Bay Lake Tower has elegantly contemporary Disney Vacation Club units with kitchens, washers and dryers. Club Level guests in Atrium Club and Tower Club rooms receive personalized concierge service and access to a lounge for continental breakfast, midday snacks and evening wine, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Regular rooms range from ground floor garden-view ones to one and two-bedroom suites with balconies and Magic Kingdom views to high-rise “urban” and very large units in the central tower.
Just as the 90-foot-tall mural by Disney legend Mary Blair celebrates the Grand Canyon and the American Southwest, the pricey 15th floor California Grill is the go-to celebratory place because of its excellent California cuisine and great Disneyworld views. There are two heated pools with slide and whirlpools, plus an active marina, where one person Sea Raycers, pontoon boats, speed boats, and adult or kids’ fishing trips can be arranged. Guests can also enjoy outdoor movies and a running trail. Parents of toddlers should note that this is the first stop on the monorail after the Magic Kingdom, so after a long day, you’ll be the first ones back. If your kids are too old to spend their entire visit in MK, however, you’ll have to wait for a boat or bus that circles a few hotels in this area to visit the other parks, and that can be a long trip.
Disney’s Polynesian Village
The Polynesian Village, designed with South Pacific Island theming along the beach of Seven Seas Lagoon, charms kids with the luaus, lobby waterfalls, thatched roofs and lush gardens that were redone in 2015. There are 478 guest rooms, six suites, 20 glamorous and romantic over-the-water bungalows, and 360 deluxe studio villas in the Disney Vacation Club Resort. Many rooms overlook the large marina, Seven Seas Lagoon or a small sand beach, where you can watch nightly fireworks at Magic Kingdom.
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Families with toddlers will appreciate the Great Ceremonial House meeting hall and the outdoor pools, gathering places with a Moana vibe. A Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto serves up tiki cocktails near the completely renovated Nanea Volcano feature pool area. Kids will like the children’s water play area, a fastfood snack bar and Club Disney, the childcare center for parents who want to try out Trader Sam’s. By the way, families flock from other resorts to the nightly Luau or “Spirit of Aloha” Dinner show, where food is said to be secondary to the showmanship of music and dance from Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Hawai’i and New Zealand. The in-house ‘Ohana is a family-oriented all-you-can-eat grill buffet around an 18-foot wide fire pit — fun at dinner, especially when the coconut races begin. Disney characters do appear at certain meals but we’d save that treat for the Grand Floridian.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
This red-roofed, white Victorian great house, inspired by San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado and other classic oceanfront resorts from the turn of the century, delivers classy service with the grace of yesteryear. Between its grand double staircase and waterfront chapel, it has been the site of countless weddings. Expensive but terrific seven-course dining at the gourmet Victoria and Albert’s, an elegant style that satisfies guests with or without kids, a big wellness spa and a perfect location — a brief boat, bus or monorail ride from Magic Kingdom — make it WDW’s top resort. There are 842 bright airy rooms, 25 suites and 147 Villas — some with Magic Kingdom views — that feature marble bathrooms and contemporary furnishings in beige, with some Oriental touches and rose or celadon green accents. Garden view rooms are the cheapest category, but some such as the lovely #7218 have a wonderful view and an extra spacious layout. The real splurge here are the suites: one-bedrooms units with a king, a pullout sofabed, and two baths or the two-bedroom ones for extended families, with even larger and grander villas available through Disney Vacation Club. Some wings have an attentive concierge service and others a special guest lounge for multigenerational groups to meet up. Facilities include a large arcade, lots of shopping, an Alice in Wonderland themed pool, playground and lots of organized family activities, like cruises on the Seven Seas Lagoon. Among the several dining venues is one which does a daily afternoon tea party, and another poolside one for snacks and grill. In addition to afternoon pool games, there’s evening story times and an afternoon orchestra in the lobby.
Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas
This resort, built in 1996, may be the most popular for families with teens because of its location, within walking or ferry distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios; buses serve the other theme parks. Young children especially will be entranced by the lobby’s huge model carousel which rotates every hour, the Boardwalk themed like a seaside village, and the lake. Prettiest when illuminated at night, the Boardwalk meanders from an Atlantic City stroll-or-sun-along-a-boardwalk theme to the carny atmosphere of Asbury Park, with jugglers and other street performers. This is another of the deluxe properties with Disney Vacation Club units, 532 compact studio through three-bedroom units in a salt water taffy-colored vacation
community. The 378 traditional hotel rooms have fun, nautical decor; many have balconies, many are connecting. If you have lots of family, go for the three-bedroom units that sleep 12. The second floor tea and coffee lounge plays old radio dramas while guests try their hand at classic board games. The Boardwalk features several restaurants (Flying Fish Café is very good), cafes and clubs, but because it’s popular at night and can be noisy, families with younger kids will prefer a back facing room.
Disney’s Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts
Two sister resorts, side by side and near Epcot and overlooking the Boardwalk Inn, are also very popular, if somewhat similar in facilities. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort goes full nautical, with 623 tasteful rooms and suites, many overlooking the 25-acre Crescent Lake. The New England-style clapboard buildings have bellmen in captain’s uniforms, hardwood floors and brass railings that evoke the seashore resorts of the 1880s. All rooms are large and well furnished, with French doors that open onto porches or balconies with a water or garden view. There are two restaurants, two bars and some shops; the distinguishing featured is a lighthouse by the small marina. At Disney’s Beach Club Resort next door, the atmosphere is brighter and more casual in a beach cottage way. There’s wicker furniture aplenty, and best thing ever: the Stormalong Bay swimming pools with three lagoon areas and a waterslide that all guests can use. The Beach Club has Disney Vacation Club Villas, a health club with steam bath and sauna, fitness rooms, a restaurant, bars and a popular ice cream parlor.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
The thatch-roofed Animal Kingdom Lodge is stunning, with public spaces that pay homage to the folk arts and fabrics of Africa. Surrounded by an elaborate habitat, the 955 rooms have upscale safari decor with splashes of “The Lion King,” hand-carved furniture and mosquito netting. Public areas and balconied rooms face a 46-acre savanna of free-roaming mammals and flocks of tropical birds. The hotel’s 5th and 6th floors are Disney Vacation Club ownership units, and there are more Vacation Club Villas next door, facing another 21 acres habitat hosting 30 species of animal — great for larger families. Deluxe facilities include a wellness spa; zero-entry pool with a 67-foot-long waterslide; large arcade and daily wildlife programs, such as flamingo feeding and nature talks. In addition to lobby storytelling and character meals, cast members at the dining outlets are “Africa Ambassadors” who answer guests’ questions. The front desk distributes an Wildlife Field Guide for check-off viewing; bring binoculars and a flashlight for night-time “safaris.” After dusk, storytellers recount African folk tales by the outdoor firepit. The mobility-challenged will prefer rooms in the central lodge. Some doubles have a queen bed and two bunks, and two-bedroom suites sleep up to eight. Concierge level guest rooms have extra perks, including exclusive access to special early morning safaris or guided wildlife excursions, for an additional fee. Keep in mind that you don’t need to pay a premium to visit the hotel’s many animal viewing areas, and its Animal Kingdom location puts the lodge far from the other theme parks. Simba’s Cubhouse holds nightly movie and play events for ages 4-12 so parents can dine out; there’s Pumbaa’s Fun and Games arcade, a pool and the Hakuna Matada Playground to enjoy together. Restaurants downstairs include the The Mara quick service outlet, the more upscale Boma and Jiko and, by the Villas, Sanaa for Indian inspired fare.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Copper Creek Villas & Cabins
Inspired by turn-of-the-century national park lodges, the log pillars and rustic charm of Disney Wilderness Lodge remind us of the timeless Grand Californian at Disneyland. (Have the kids keep their ears open for signs that the geyser is going to erupt!) The 727-room hideaway features a spectacular six-story lobby, replete with teepee-topped chandeliers, totem poles, an 82-foot-tall stone fireplace and a bubbling hot spring that expands outside the building into a roaring waterfall. Select rooms carefully as the central elevator bank can make a walk to your room seem endless, especially after a long day at the parks. Family perks include story time in the lobby, outdoor movies, pool games, and shops in the lobby for pin collectors, artists and more. The Whispering Canyon is the fun full-service restaurant but there’s a grab n’go shop, plus fast food options.
New to the property are beautiful Copper Creek Villas and Cabins from Disney Vacation Club. The location is also near Magic Kingdom (just a boat ride away) and right on Bay Lake, making lakeview units seem a world apart. Ranging in size from deluxe studios to 26 waterfront cabins with wraparound porches, they come in a variety of configurations suited to multigenerational family groups. All have nature-inspired design elements and soothing stone and wood furnishings.
Walt Disney World Options
Regardless of your budget, if you’re a real Disney fan, you’ll want to stay at a Walt Disney World Hotel because of the perks on-site hotel guests get. Here are our reviews of the top Disney World hotels in other price categories:
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