Probably some of the most spirited debates among Disney vacationers is about hotels and resorts. Many are advocates for saving money by staying “off-site” while other swear being immersed inside the Disney property is essential to getting the whole experience. Here are some entry level tips to get your started:
- There are three levels of Disney Resort Hotels: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. As you can imagine, the amenities and details increase (as does the price) with each level.
- As mentioned below in the “Travel” section, one of the big advantages of staying on Disney property are the bus and boat systems that travel from resorts to theme-parks and back non-stop during operating hours.
- All in all, any level of Disney Resort Hotel is more than adequate to stay in as they are clean and well cared for. If a value level room is what you can afford, it will be a great home-base for your vacation. If you plan to spend as much time relaxing by the pool than at the parks, maybe look to upgrade the room to a moderate or Deluxe.
- The Biggest advantage of Deluxe resorts is the location. They are all located within walking distance of at least one park, and the resorts close to Magic Kingdom are a quick boat or monorail ride away from the front gait to MK.
- DEALS: Disney runs different promotions during low seasons to fill up their hotels as much as possible. Be on the lookout for “Free Dining Plan” deals (Described in the “Dining” section of this blog post) or 30% off hotel stay deals. If these promotions are added to your dates after you book, Disney is always great about adjusting you to the new deal or lower rate.
If only teleporting existed, we wouldn’t have to worry about getting there. Until then, here are a few things to consider:
- If traveling by plane, and staying at a Disney resort hotel, don’t forget to book Disney’s Magical Express at least 30 days in advance of your trip.
This is complimentary and Disney will send you special tags that when you check your bags, you don’t have to pick them up at the Orlando airport… they’ll show up right to your room!
- If traveling by car, consider choosing a halfway point to break up the drive. It can be a lifesaver on the 1st and 2nd day once you arrive. If you are a Disney resort guest, you get free parking at any of the Disney Theme Parks. If traveling from the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast, we like Florence, SC as a stopping point.
- Complimentary bus/boat transportation is provided back and forth from the theme parks to the resorts for Disney resort guests. Please keep in mind that you cannot go from one park to another on a bus… nor can you go from one resort to another. Only parks to resorts and vice-versa.
Walt Disney World is dining destination…
huh? I thought it was just kiddie rides and meeting Mickey Mouse!?
Nope… Disney is home to one of the best dining experiences in all of the Southern US (Victoria and Albert’s) and a bunch of restaurants that are way higher class than anything in your hometown… But, don’t worry, there is plenty of theme park food too…
- Like the hotels, there are three levels of dining at WDW: Counter Service, Table Service, and Signature dining. Or in Disney Dad speak…Theme Park, decent-to-great restaurant, and expensive high-class meal.
- Disney does each level to their high standard, but not all restaurants are created equal from each category. In Part 1 of this blog post I made a note by each theme park what my preferred dining experiences are. The counter service at Animal Kingdom is definitely superior to that at Magic Kingdom. The World Showcase in Epcot has a plethora of wonderful table service options, but you won’t find that many at Animal Kingdom… etc…
- Character meals are a huge deal and happen all over Disney property. The most famous is Chef Mickey’s (located in The Contemporary resort). Most of these meals are decent buffets with the real star being the characters that continually walk around as you are having your meal. Research which characters are at which meal. Mickey is not at all of them!!
- As mentioned above, Disney has several pre-paid dining plans. They are absolutely not worth the cost to pay for. Getting a “free dining” promotion is obviously another story. But, to pay for it used to be an ok deal. Now it simply doesn’t make sense. It seems like their free plan is getting less and less anyway, so it’s value may be going away.
- Disney’s Deluxe resort hotels are home to wonderful table service and signature dining. Ohana at The Polynesian resort is a personal favorite. Many love the food (and the view) at The California Grill atop the Contemporary. These may, or may not be options that overwhelm you on your first or second trip.. But definitely keep them in mind for later. Same goes for Dinner shows like “The Spirit of Aloha” and “The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue”.
I hope this guide has given you enough information (but not too much) to get started planning your Disney vacation. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, that is understandable. Don’t let it become a stressful thing because you could show up to Disney tomorrow, without any planning, and still have an incredibly magical vacation.
As always, if you have any comments or questions, please add them to this conversation below…