Walt Disney World: Places to Stay

This post took a lot of research and a long time to write.  I had to wait for Chris to put in his opinions before I could publish it and we’re both such perfectionists we read and re-read a hundred times before we felt it was good enough.  We’re pretty happy with how it turned out and we hope that this will help people plan a memorable and less expensive trip for their family!
(Chris’s comments are in blue and mine (Teresa’s) are in purple)
If you’ve ever looked into a Disney Vacation you will know that hotels are expensive.  Sometimes, even their “value resorts” don’t really seem like a value with the money they charge.  But if you know when to go and where to stay you can definitely get the biggest bang for your buck!  Let me give you some hints!

Getting Started:

1.  Start planning your vacation at least three months in advance.

If you are looking for time of year to go this can help as well. 
2.  Check this Disney website to find deals for your trip!  They usually put them on the site two to three months in advance!  And you’ll want to jump on the deals…20-30% off of a hotel can mean huge savings for you and your family!  You can also find (sometimes) great dining deals too!  
3.  Start looking at airline deals right away!  If you live in VA (or anywhere south of there), you may find that driving down to Florida is cheaper (make sure you bring plenty of snacks and toys for the little ones!).  However, you may also find some really great deals on airfare if you start looking early enough.  And there are some airlines who will give you a credit if they drop their prices after you’ve booked!
4.  Disney always has promotions for a family of four.  Keep a lookout for that deal!  I’ve seen it on tv and heard it on the radio before.  The cheapest one that has ever caught my eye is $79 per person per day.

Why Stay on Disney Property?

1.  If you fly, Disney transports your bags from the airport to your hotel room free of charge!  They also have a free shuttle service (their Magic Your Way bus) that will take you directly from the airport to your resort (no rental car fees!).

These things are really the biggest discriminators when it comes to selecting your hotel when flying to Orlando. If you have to pay for a taxi or rent a car to get to your hotel you might find you might save money by staying at the park. There’s no price value associated with the transport of your bags, it’s really how much you value your time.
2.  By staying at a Disney Resort, you are also eligible for each parks Extra Magic Hours that either means the parks open early or stay open late. 
Chris and I love that Disney offers this because we always visit the Magic Kingdom during their nighttime Extra Magic Hours.  You don’t have to deal with all the strollers, young kids, and crowds that they have during the day and you can go on all the rides you want with only (usually) a 10 minute (or less) wait time.  It’s awesome.
This is another really hard thing to put a value on. During Summer/early Fall you can exhaust yourself pretty easy being out in the heat and this may not be worth it. You might also find it easy during these months to head back to the hotel to take a nap during peak heat hours.

3.  If you buy a souvenir early in the day, you can have the store send it back to your room.  It’ll end up getting there two days later but you won’t be carrying around a ton of shopping bags while trying to keep up with your kids!

I believe you can also have the bags sent to the front guest services area for later pickup. However, I believe this has to be done by a set time well before the park closes. I know most people will want to experience the park, then towards afternoon/evening they might go shopping, you will either have to wait until you are ready to leave or carry bags around for the rest of the day without this service.
4.  Disney offers shuttles to and from the parks all day long!  You don’t have to worry about remembering where you parked your car at the end of the day and you also don’t have to pay for parking at the parks!  All you do is hop on the bus and it’ll take you wherever you want to go.

Again, this can save you money if you would otherwise have to rent a car or bring your own (and have to pay for parking everyday)

What Disney Resort is Right for You?

There are many different options for where to stay at Disney.  

There are the:

Deluxe Villas
Deluxe Resorts
Moderate Resorts
Value Resorts
Disney Campgrounds
Other Select Deluxe Resorts

Chris and I have stayed at a few different ones in each category.  They are:
Animal Kingdom Lodge – Deluxe Resort
Grand Floridian Resort and Spa – Deluxe Resort
Caribbean Beach – Moderate Resort
Pop Century – Value Resort
Contemporary – Deluxe Resort

We really liked staying at the Caribbean Beach because not only is the price somewhat reasonable but the rooms and nice and comfortable.  There are also private beaches with hammocks and chairs that you can sit at during the day, numerous pools in the vicinity, and one huge pool for the kids to play in (complete with water slides and other features!).  This resort is located near Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
The only “issue” I have with it is that it takes a while to get the the parks if you’re taking the resort buses.  Since the resort is so big there are six different stops so if you’re at one of the last stops before it heads out to the park, there may not be any room for you and you’ll have to wait for the next bus (which can take a while).
I like this one the most. I tend to like rooms that are cold, icebox cold. Of all the resorts we’ve stayed at (Pop Century, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Animal Kingdom) this was the only one that had air conditioning without a temperature setting with the lowest setting of 68.

Both the Grand Floridian and Contemporary Resorts are very expensive.  If you do not book a room at the Contemporary at least five months in advance they will not have a spot for you.  Both of these resorts are on the monorail system and are extremely close to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Parks.    
I loved staying at both of these resorts and can not complain about either of them.  If you can swing it, stay on the club level because you’ll get free breakfast, snacks, and (adult) drinks later on in the evening.  There is also water, juice, and coke drinks available all day and night.  It’s a little more expensive but definitely worth it!
The club level is nice but the perks for staying there aren’t typically worth the price unless you are staying for a unique occasion, we did for our engagement and wedding, but if you’re looking to save money, the price of snacks and drinks is probably not worth the difference.

We did not like the Animal Kingdom at all.  We thought we’d be able to see different animals from our windows (what a disappointment!) and it was a very long bus ride from the resort to the parks.  This resort is close to the Animal Kingdom park but very far away from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios.
If you’re looking for something cheap the Pop Century isn’t a bad option.  They have three pools on their lot and different sections of the hotel represent different eras (1950’s – 1990’s).  This resort is usually very crowded (it’s the biggest resort on Disney Property) and that means you may or may not get a seat on the buses when traveling to the parks.  It also means you may have to wait through two or three buses until you can actually get a spot to go back to your hotel after the park closes.  This resort is located near Epcot and Hollywood Studios.        
There were a few things I did not like about this resort.  (1) It was overcrowded.  I hated having to wait so long to get on a bus to get back to the resort at the end of the night.  Especially when I was tired from being out all day and all I wanted to do was sleep.  (2) The beds and pillows were extremely uncomfortable!  I had a really hard time sleeping because everything was so hard.  (3) The beds were full/queen sized and it made it extremely hard to share a bed with Chris.  Maybe this wouldn’t be a problem for anyone else but it was very uncomfortable for us.

Staying off Property

If you’d rather stay off property there are a few hotels that would work.  Some do have the park buses that will take you to and from the Disney Parks (free of charge).  These hotels are: 
You can find more hotels at Marriot, Hilton, and other sources.  Just make sure they have complimentary shuttles to and from the parks!  Also, most of the above hotels are right beside Downtown Disney.  
There are downsides to staying at an off property hotel though.  (1) You pay daily for parking on their lot (you will not be charged for that with Disney).  (2) You have to get yourself to the hotel from the airport on your own which means you’ll be paying daily for a rental car.  (3) It’s a bit of a drive to the parks.  Be prepared to sit on the bus for a while!  (4) If you decide to stay at a hotel without shuttle service to and from the parks, you’ll be paying to park your car at the park (which, I think, is about $12 a day).  (5) You’ll be spending a small fortune between rental car costs and all the parking expenses from the parks and hotel.   
So there you go.  Chris and I compiled all our wisdom from the past three years on where to stay and this is what we came up with!  We hope that this information will help people who are trying to plan a trip to Disney but didn’t know where to start.  
Stay tuned for more Disney posts! 

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