Deciding Where to Stay at Disney World

You don’t have to be a kid to want to spend time at Disney. Although having kids certainly makes the experience a bit different. For the past three years, we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to attend Walt Disney World as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. We’ve always extended our stay beyond the days of the conference because, well, it’s Disney. Any excuse to stay longer warrants use of said excuse.

There are a variety of places to stay at Disney in different price levels and with different themes. - SahmReviews.com

A lot of people ponder the idea of staying at a Disney Resort (AKA “On Property”) versus at a location offsite. We’ve researched offsite properties but ultimately recognize that the benefits of being on property greatly outweigh any savings that we might find staying elsewhere. The biggest advantage is transportation. Not only do you receive complimentary shuttle service to/from Orlando Airport  via the Magical Express (no matter what time your flight arrives or departs) but there is transportation to get you to/from the other Disney locations, too. The most obvious is the monorail but there are also buses available that coincide with park hours and complimentary taxi services to get you to the less common locations like Disney Golf Courses.

The past two years, we stayed at deluxe properties and value properties. This year, we decided that since our stay was a full 11 sleeps in Disney dreamland, staying in a variety of properties was our goal. Specifically, at least three nights in each level of property (excluding Deluxe Villas, Campgrounds and Vacation Club properties) to really get a feel for the pros and cons of each type. When experiencing all within in the same trip, it’s easier to see the differences! Disney makes moving between properties extremely easy; check out of your room and leave your luggage with the cast members at the bell desk. Let them know your destination room, they’ll advise you what time your bags should arrive at your new hotel then head off as you normally would for the day. When you are ready to return to your hotel, just head to your new resort instead. Your bags should be waiting for you when you arrive. Easy peasy.

One thing that is common to all properties is that towels and wash cloths aren’t just towels and wash cloths. Every visit we’ve ever had to a Disney resort of any level has included some kind of special welcome. Believe it or not, I look forward to seeing what the room cast members set up to greet us with!

Here are some specific details about the properties we stayed at during this trip:

Contemporary Resort is one of a variety of places to stay at Disney in different price levels and with different themes. - SahmReviews.com

Contemporary Resort

The Contemporary Resort is a deluxe property and sits on the monorail making access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot a piece of cake but also includes buses to other properties. The rooms are luxurious from the decor down to the toiletries.  It also features sit down restaurants and a fun pool with a water slide. In the past, we’ve stayed at the Grand Floridian as well as the Yacht Club with similar characteristics.

Disney's Yacht Club is a deluxe resort with arguably the BEST pool of all the resorts. - SahmReviews.com

Yacht Club

The main pool at Yacht Club is one of our favorite pools of all the Disney resorts and has awesome access to both Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  In general, the deluxe properties tend to be more formal in design, decor and landscape while still maintaining the theme of the specific property. They also are home to some of the nicest sit-down restaurants.

Caribbean Beach Resort is relaxing and tranquil with jogging paths and a cool pool! - SahmReviews.com  Caribbean Beach Resort is relaxing and tranquil with jogging paths and a cool pool! - SahmReviews.com

Caribbean Beach Resort

Caribbean Beach Resort is a moderate level resort that offers multiple pools, both a sit down restaurant and food court and bus stops throughout the property to reduce walking time. This was our first experience staying at a mid-level resort. The property surrounds a lovely lake with a scenic walking path. It’s an extremely large property so there are multiple smaller pools throughout and beaches along the way also. As with all the properties we have stayed at, there are special activities scheduled daily. Our girls thoroughly enjoyed the after-dinner marshmallow roast on the beach.

The rooms are spacious, include a coffee pot and refrigerator and a large vanity area. We didn’t have a need for the laundry facility since we had already done all our laundry at the prior property but it was close by if we needed it. The closest bus stop was also just a short walk from our room. From what I have researched, the moderate level properties tend to be a good cross between the Deluxe and Value properties with the main distinguishing factor being the divided bus stops to ensure that everyone has a reasonably short walk.

Pop Century and Art of Animation are value properties filled with festive decorations, multiple themed pools and activities to excite the entire family. Each features a large food court with a variety of food types and one primary bus station for each property. The dedicated bus services offers easy access straight to most parks and attractions as well as Downtown Disney. There’s only one bus stop at each value property but the walk to get you there is filled with character.

Art of Animation offers family suites with buildings, rooms and grounds designed after various animated movies. - SahmReviews.com

Art of Animation

Art of Animation provides the option of both standard rooms as well as family suites. While the value properties don’t offer the same “feel” as a deluxe property, they certainly offer something that those properties don’t: a family-friendly, fun and festive decor.

Art of Animation offers family suites with buildings, rooms and grounds designed after various animated movies. - SahmReviews.com

Don’t get me wrong, the deluxe properties are beautiful but the value properties have themed-pools and decorations throughout that even the youngest child would recognize and appreciate. The small details, like the light disguised as a pearl on the headboard in the Little Mermaid rooms, that make it extra special. If you happen to stay at Art of Animation, be sure to hit the main pool. We got a kick out of the fact that different music was playing underwater than was playing above water. Although I wasn’t able to find it on the official WDW website, after swimming in it, I’m pretty sure it’s a salt water pool.

Stroll through the decades at Pop Century Resort with decorations like Rubik's Cube stairwells and computer inspired swimming pools. - SahmReviews.com

Pop Century

Oh yeah… and a resort that offers a pool shaped like a keyboard near a staircase shaped like a Rubik’s Cube and hula hoop in the lobby is a winner in my book any day.

Stroll through the decades at Pop Century Resort with decorations like Rubik's Cube stairwells and computer inspired swimming pools. - SahmReviews.com

There are a number of each range of properties tailoring to specific themes and offering different amenities. To find what property is best for your trip, check out all the Disney Resort choices before committing!

3/14/2016 Editor’s Note: We’re excited to share that our list was featured on Trekaroo as part of their comprehensive list of 15 Expert Tips for your Disney vacation. With information like ours about selecting a hotel to food, tours, pictures and more. Stop by their post and check out all the tips then enter to win one of two Disney vacations! 
Learn how you can win one of two trips to Disney! - SahmReviews.com #trekarooing #sendme2disney

215 thoughts on “Deciding Where to Stay at Disney World

  1. Wow, what a lot of great information, I could hear all the excitement, I look forward to our family seeing it to!

  2. I am firmly in the “must stay on property” camp – there are just so many “extras” that make it worth it. The very first time my parents took me to Disney, we split our time between the Contemporary and the Polynisian. Since then I’ve stayed at all the All-Stars, Caribbean Beach Resort, and Port Orleans. Next on my list are the Grand Floridian, Pop Century, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge!

  3. There are so man choices, but staying at a Disney property is so convenient. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside last time, and had a great time.

  4. There are so many Disney resorts and they are all great for different reasons. We alway stay at the All Star Sports Resort though. It is a value resort, but with my boys it keeps them entertained the best when mom and dad need a break from walking for a bit.

  5. I am with you! We own Disney Vacation Club so regularly stay deluxe but there is something about the Value Resorts that keep up making excuses to stay there. We LOVE All Star Sports and like to stay in the football building so the boys can go out and play after a long day in the parks.

  6. There are just a few resorts left on my list that I haven’t stayed at. Art of Animation, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk and Ft Wilderness are all we have left. There are many I would stay in again and a few I hope to never stay at again (and one of those is a deluxe!)

  7. I’ve stayed at a number of the resorts there in the past, from the campground to the Grand Floridian. While it is a bit more expensive then off-property accommodations, staying on property is very convenient if you’re going into the parks.

  8. Seeing as how I live at Disney World and have my entire life I am pretty good at this game as well. My favorite hotel is by far the Yacht and Beach club because they have the best pool.
    For kids I would agree the AoA and the other Value resorts are nice. AoA is especially good because of the rooms. But my second runner up is ALWAYS Fort Wilderness Lodge. I’ve stayed there no less than 4 times and can’t get enough.

    Great post guys!

  9. We’ve stayed off-site before, but the next trip I plan will be in a Disney hotel. There are so many benefits that outweigh the little bit of savings.

  10. We’ve stayed at all the Value Resorts at WDW, and I would definitely recommend to stay at Pop Century. I know it’s usually a little more expensive to stay there than at the other Value Resorts, but I think it’s worth it. The number 1 thing that we liked the most was that you don’t have to wait for the buses to pick up other guests at other value resorts first (the other All Stars share buses) so it saves you time. Also we have just had better service and quality there overall.

  11. We always stay offsite, mostly because we get spectacular car rental deals and like to explore Orlando and beyond (we often head down to Tampa Bay for a hockey game). In addition we typically travel as a large group, so renting a villa or house makes best sense for us. All of that being said, we hope to try a resort the next time we head down. We’d love to try Art of Animation, I know my daughter would LOVE it.

  12. We have yet to visit Walt Disney World, but you give such a good review of each property. There are so many different options. It helps to have a first hand account of the amenities and decor. Thank you!

  13. We try to stay somewhere different each year, although we have our favorites and many repeat visits. We’ve worked our way through all the Values, all the Moderates, but only one of the Deluxe (Grand Floridian). Hope to hit them all one day!

  14. I love that map at the top of the post – so helpful for me to see the bigger picture in where they sit in relationship to everything else!

  15. Great tips! We are staying at Caribbean Beach Resort in April, I picked it because I think we will be spending a lot of time at the resort since we have a young daughter and a lot of reviews said it had the best pool out of the contemporary resorts!

  16. Thanks for the information, you provided a lot of great info! It certainly is helpful in making the best choice! Thank you again!

  17. Great reviews & if I ever make it to Disney, I’ll be coming back here to reread the reviews before we make our final decision. Thanks!

  18. Great information! We stayed at Art of Animation in a Nemo suite (my personal favorite movie!) and it was excellent! We are only a family of four, but the extra space the suite provided for us was necessary since it was our home for the week. The pool was so much fun (I didn’t go underwater since it was December and 55 degrees out, but my kids enjoyed swimming in it!) and I loved that they had laundry facilities for us!! I really want to stay at the Polynesian the next time we go!

  19. This is so helpful: I love all the photos! My dream is to stay in the park someday, it’s on my bucket list 🙂
    Would be over the moon to win one of the trips for my little family <3
    xoxo

  20. Deluxe or bust (says someone who’s never stayed at a Deluxe….) but seriously I feel like Port Orleans provides a Deluxe experience with a minimal “motel” feel.

  21. I’ve been reluctant to spend the extra money on an on site room but now I think it will be worth it! Thanks!

  22. Great Tips! The one and only time my family went we stayed off property in a rental house. I would LOVE to stay somewhere like the Art of Animation. I would love to take my kids to Disney World again. My daughter has EXTREMELY bad anxiety and a few years ago we had taken her to Disney World but she was so upset by everything the whole time she didn’t get to experience anything and we spent most of our time hiding away while she cried. Would love to take her back now that she has been in therapy and has learned the tools to overcome these panic attacks (she’s been other places she has put her practices in use) her goal is to one day go back there and overcome fears she has had.

  23. We stayed at the Art of Animation when we went to DW for our first time 2 years ago. We would love to go back and try on of the Deluxe resorts now that our kids are a bit older. 🙂

  24. We stayed at Carribean Beach Resort and would do it again in a heartbeat! Our kids loved the pool, but it is a little bit of a long walk from the rooms to the main pool, and the internal bus system takes a little longer than some resorts.

  25. I have learned so much tonight from reading all these blogs, Thanks for all the info. Can’t wait to go to Disney!

  26. my thought though is, how much time do you really want to spend in your room when your awake? your flippin’ visiting DISNEY WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO why shell out the big bucks for the pricey digs? it’s unfortunate there’s not a motel 6 you can just pay for a clean bed, shower etc. then hit the parks!! or am i the only one who thinks like this???

  27. I personally like staying on site, only because of the amenities and proximity to the park. That being said, I love this article! When planning for Disney Vacations with a group of people, I tend to go overboard. I youtube the hotel rooms, the hotel itself, how far it is from each park, pricing for each season, and what would be good for us. It’s actually quite fun and gets you excited!

  28. I’ve stayed at many different resorts at Walt Disney World but never a value resort. I may have to try it next time. Great idea to switch hotels during your stay!

  29. In the past I had stayed off the property and had only seen glimpses of the onsite resorts when we got off the train for a peek. I think the Grand Floridian would be my style.

  30. We never got to stay in a resort when my family went when I was a kid. This is something i not only want to be able to do for my children but also to experience it myself.

  31. This is really interesting–thanks for talking about the differences! My daughter would love the value properties.

  32. We stayed at Walt Disney World Dolphin when we visited Disney in 2014. Even though we had most of the same perks as Disney hotel guests, we’ll definitely do a Disney hotel the next time.

  33. We stayed at Pop Century when we went to Disney World. Not going to lie- the beds were horribly uncomfortable! I hope they’ve improved since 2011.

  34. Thank you on letting us know whether to stay on-site at a resort or on the outskirts. I feel as though if we are get a chance to go we would probably have to stay onsite. I heard of the special welcoming. The more amenities and perks being onsite with most of it being included.

  35. We’ve gone five times and only ever stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter. We’ve visited most of the other resorts but always come away feeling like they just don’t appeal to us like the French Quarter does. I’m glad that there are so many options available to choose from, everyone should be able to find their perfect “fit” when comes down to where to park your family for a week.

  36. We stayed at arts of animation very nice,clean,refrigerator,nice amenities daily.2 pools we lived one in back close to our room,quieter remember that you cannot get meal deal if u book online

  37. I’m having a touch time deciding where we want to stay for our trip at the end of the year. So many choices!

  38. We had a huge splurge vacation a few years ago and got to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was a total “bucket list” trip, so the next time we go, we’ll have to be a lot more thrifty! We’re leaning towards Port Orleans, at this point, but it will be a couple years before we can go again!

  39. Next trip my family will be staying at Art of Animation, never been to it and we are super excited to be staying there. I have a two year old BIG Cars fan, and my daughter love Ariel. So it’s a win, win! Cant wait to splash in the pool and it’s neat that the music plays under the water too 🙂

  40. Love the article. We have enjoyed the value resorts too. They have fun places to take pictures and if you want to go to the parks all day everyday it’s just great. If you will stay at the resort more it may be fun to try the ones a little more expensive to enjoy.

  41. We love staying onsite. It’s so convenient and magical. You can’t go wrong with any of the resorts. They are all unique and great!

  42. Thanks for the great info! We’ve never been to WDW, but hope to go in 2+ years or so. It looks like staying on property would be best for our little family.

  43. I loved your photos! I think I would like to give the Art of Animation a try. I know it’s one of the newer resorts and people seem to really like it.

  44. I definitely think staying on property is worth it in terms of ease of travel and not leaving the magic. Consider renting DVC points to stay at a Deluxe — oftentimes the rental cost is no more that the rack rate at the moderate hotels.

  45. The Mermaid rooms at AoA are great, but really hard to book last minute. I tried and tried! Renting DVC is good too, if you want to experience at monorail hotel at a reasonable price.

  46. I believe that staying at one of the resorts is half the fun of going to DisneyWorld. We love just to tour all the resorts. Each one is special in it’s own way. It’s a great way to decide where you might want to stay on your next visit.

  47. THese rooms look amazing. We are military and stay at shades of green but I would love to stay in one of these resorts one day 🙂

  48. Wish the All-Stars had bigger beds than a full size because the themes are much more child friendly. We can’t fit comfortably, so will always do moderates for the queen beds.

  49. Someday I would love to be able to say I’ve stayed at all of Disney’s hotels! Thanks for this post! 🙂

  50. We stayed at the All Stars Music, and found it very affordable in April, when they often have a discount promotion on…..it was about 135 a night, and we enjoyed being right on the grounds….shuttle buses were easy, but aim to head out early…before 9, to see more of the parks with less lines.

  51. I can’t wait to try Art of Animation some day, it looks like such a fun resort. We stayed at Pop Century the last time we were at Disney World.

  52. We love staying at the Disney resorts! We stayed off site once and will never do it again if I can help it. We have stayed at the Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge and Art of Animation, and loved them all! We were able to stay at the AoA for under $100 a night in the summer on our last Disney vacation, and what a great resort. I want to try them all!

  53. Wow, these look like awesome places to stay! When we went to Disney, we stayed off the resort but next time I’d like to stay at one of the Disney Resorts.

  54. We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Resort, and it was amazing. We could look out the window and see the animals walking around. Fun themed decor, too.

  55. We’ve stayed at almost all of the resorts. It’s hard to choose but Yacht Club is our favorite!

  56. This makes me get even more excited about going! I seriously can’t wait for the day my family gets to enjoy this!

  57. I have an 8 year old and he loves Pop Century! It is budget friendly and fun for kids. We do book the preferred room so it is close to the main building. Pop Century is huge and you could end up quite far from the main entrance.

  58. Very true Disney has so many resorts that once you decide to stay onsite there are so many different options to choose from. You posted some great information about the different places you can stay. I find that the resorts themselves can be just as interesting as the parks. When we do stay onsite we try to visit a couple of them each time and check out their facitilities.

  59. great tips on where to stay!! my son seen the disney map and asked me to print it up for him so he could put it on his wall!!! cant wait till one day i can afford to take my kids.. ill have to win the lotto.. but then ill have to have money to play the lottery

  60. This is fantastic because when we go, I definitely want to stay on site, but have absolutely no idea how to choose a resort. Thanks for the info!

  61. When I recommend to someone what resort they should stay at on WDW property, I say Pop Century Resort. The reason is that there is one bus that goes there and makes one stop. If you stay at the All Star resorts, there are 3 stops each time. At Carribean beach, there are many stops around that resort because it is so huge. Plus, the Pop Century resort rooms tend to have sales and bonuses like Disney Dining, where the Mermaid suits at Art of Animation and the All Star Movie resort don’t.

  62. As much as I would love to stay on site, it’s just way too expensive, even the value resorts are overpriced for what they are. We stay off site or rent a house nearby

  63. Staying at a resort seems much more interesting than staying somewhere else. I wish we had done that when I was a kid. My parents had friends nearby though so we stayed with them.

  64. Can’t get enough Disney. I would love to take my girls to either the Pop Century or Art of Animation – in fact I remember when it opened and have been wanting to stay there with them – I think they would love the Art of Animation – but i think they would be more interested in Disney than the hotels! Thanks for this info – there are so many hotels there that someone would need to know and stay at each to understand them and that would take about a year! Just sayin!

  65. Woah Disney World Overload!!! I never really even looked into a trip to Disney World since the tickets are really out of price range for my family. Thanks for all the tips about each location! Hopefully one day I’ll be able to use the tips and make an easy trip planning!!!

  66. The park is HUGE!! Definitely helps to do some research and pick the best place to stay. Thanks for the advice!

  67. It sounds like there really isn’t a bad choice! I heard that the value resort rooms are noisier–was this your experience?

  68. We have stayed on Disney’s Resort properties several times and love it! I couldn’t imagine not staying at one of the resorts for our Disney vacations@

  69. pop century looks awesome. This is the most difficult decision to have a great place , transport, and priced right. Great read.

  70. There are so many great options where to stay, thanks for sharing. I dream one day to be able to take my kids here.

  71. Thank you for such a great post! I love that you went to three different types of Disney hotels all in one visit to give a similar perspective. It sure looks as if they all have their perks. I also love the fact that there was different music playing underwater – so cool!

  72. Really great info!! Thanks so much!! I’ve stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Gran Floridian but I didn’t pay for those trips. Now that we are taking our own little one, I’d like a cheaper option. Love the info! Thanks so much!! Xo

  73. Polynesian Resort was a favorite place to stay at Disney World for our family. Spacious rooms and grounds, exciting environment, natural surroundings (even if fake), and proximity to the monorail.

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