Welcome back to So You Want to Go to Disney?
In the first segment, we discussed when to plan your trip. So, now that you have a good idea of when you want to go, the next step is to pick a place to stay. The options are unlimited and this will be nowhere close to comprehensive, but we’ll do what we can.
Part 2: WHERE TO STAY
Fair warning: A trip to Walt Disney World is gonna cost money. Thousands of money. Especially during peak times. So, be prepared for this reality. But there are still ways to make it a better value. I’ll break down 4 major options here:
– Staying On-Property
– Staying Off-Property
– Disney Vacation Club
– Staying with Aunt Wanda in Tampa
Staying On-Property at Walt Disney World affords all kinds of benefits ranging from free transportation to extra time in the parks and is our go-to option for experiencing the full-range of Disney magic. Not everyone can pony up the cash to stay at the Grand Floridian or invest in Disney Vacation Club, so Disney has an option for just about every budget. There are a number of Value Resorts available that are more cost effective, but still make for fantastic experiences. But, as you will quickly find out, a LOT depends on your party’s size and needs. As well as things like proximity to the parks, ease of transportation, dining options…there’s a lot to consider.
For instance, we love the Pop Century Resort for its theming, proximity to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, great pools and its reliable buses (and future gondolas?). But it only allows 4 people in a room. So, for us, that’s great, but for a family of 6, it’s out. Across Hourglass Lake, we also love Art of Animation for it’s even BETTER theming and all the reasons listed above. AofA is better for larger families as it mostly has family suites with a limited number of high-demand 4-person rooms also available. This makes it a less cost-effective choice for us, but it might be perfect for another, larger group.
It goes on an on: Value Resorts. Moderate Resorts. Deluxe Resorts. Suites. Cabins. Villas… You can pretty much pick anything from a dirt-cheap campsite and sleeping in a tent (Fort Wilderness) to a hyper-modern luxury room that looks directly down into Magic Kingdom (Contemporary Resort). It really depends on what you value in a room – which, at the end of the day, is really just the place you’re going to pass out every evening – and how much you want to spend.
Likewise, it’s important to note that not all resorts have the same perks. At some, you can walk right onto the monorail and take it to Magic Kingdom or EPCOT. Others have shared buses that may make multiple stops before reaching its designated park. Some don’t offer buses to certain parks at all, but rather boats. (We’ll cover more details on this in a future transportation post.) Some have ample, convenient dining options. Others, more limited or remote. Some are enormous and require quite a bit of walking to get to dining or transportation. Research and customer reviews are important when choosing which resort you ultimately want to book.
Sidenote about staying on-property: One of the great benefits we have found in paying the extra money to book an on-property resort is that you can book your room, park tickets, flight, dining package, etc. all at once. For us, the experience begins when we check our bags at the airport and don’t see them again until they show up in our hotel room. It’s important to remember that, if you opt for the full on-property package, you are paying for the experience, not just a place to sleep.
For those who don’t care about the “magic” and just want a bed and a toilet, there are plenty of Off-Property options available. Nice ones, at that. Pick a national hotel chain and there will likely be one in Orlando. The city is a huge tourist destination and most of the hotels will offer some sort of transportation to and from the various parks. Or you can rent a car and have total freedom. It really depends on what you need/want.
Hotels in the vicinity of Disney Springs can have all the benefit of proximity to WDW properties…at a much lower cost per night. Likewise, hotels in the SeaWorld/International Drive area offer decent access to Disney and great proximity to SeaWorld and Universal Studios as well. There is no shortage of options if you look. Travel aggregate sites like Kayak and Hotels.com can be very useful in finding the best options at the best prices.
Disney Vacation Club could have its own post (or book) as it entails MUCH more than just “getting a nice room at Disney World.” It’s basically Disney’s version of a time-share that requires members to invest/buy points that can be used at various Disney properties (and a number of NON-Disney properties) around the world. Pros: Access to great villas all throughout Walt Disney World and beyond. Cons: It’s pricey. So, is it worth it? If you can afford it and plan on multiple trips to Disney Properties a year, perhaps. If not, best to look for other solutions.
As for the final option, if you happen to have an Aunt Wanda that has a place to crash for free in Tampa or anywhere else in central Florida, go for it. You don’t have to immerse yourself in the resort 24 hours a day to enjoy a day trip to Magic Kingdom or EPCOT.
Again, the type and location of hotel room you are looking for will vary greatly on the exact needs of your group. There certainly are no wrong answers…only slightly less expensive ones.