If you’re planning your first trip to Disney world, you’re in the right place. This is part three of my Disney Planning Guide, with an overview of where to stay at Disney World. You’ve planned and prepped your trip, you have an itinerary all built, and now, you need to book those hotels. This post focuses on all things Disney accommodations, including the different resort options, and what you should look out for.
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I probably sound like a broken record here, but before you book a hotel, you need to determine your budget and goals for the trip. If you haven’t yet gotten through planning your trip – these articles might help first:
If you know where you want to go and you have a little bit of Disney knowledge, you’re probably ready to book your hotel.
Define your budget
Your budget will be the biggest factor in deciding where to stay at Disney world. Depending on when you go, some of the “value” level resorts are incredibly expensive. For reference, when I looked about a month before our stay, The Art of Animation was $400 per night. It definitely didn’t feel like a value!
If you know you want to spend less than $125 per night, you probably aren’t staying on property. I was looking during January and February for a late February trip, so I didn’t plan far in advance, which probably drove the cost up. However, I’ll give you some price ranges for reference when I was searching:
The Polynesian was $6,000+ for the week (deluxe). Disney website says from $495+
Animal Kingdom Lodge $450/night (deluxe). Disney website quotes from $350+
The Swan/Dolphin $400+/night (moderate)
Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter $220+/night (moderate). Disney quotes from $227+
Art of Animation $400/night (value). Disney quotes from $157+
Decide if you want to stay on or off property
If you want to stay on property, look far in advance of your trip to see if prices are cheaper. We’ve had friends plan on staying at value resorts and I don’t believe they paid crazy expensive rates.
If you don’t mind staying off property, you have a little more flexibility on the lower end of the price range. Although there is a Four Seasons in Orlando, you aren’t required to book the $400+/night hotels if you’re willing to stay off property. You can also book with points, but we’ll get into that more later.
A big benefit to staying on property, especially if you’re at a hotel on the monorail line, is the convenience. If you have a toddler that needs to nap, it’s way easier to hop back on the monorail than take the tram to your car, drive out, park at the hotel, and then get ready for the nap. Only to do it all in reverse back for an evening at the park.
The on-property resorts really give you the true Disney experience, with characters in many of the hotels, decorations based on the Disney theme, and even early access to the parks from most places. However, you’re going to pay for it.
Additionally – if you’re staying at a Value resort or The Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ll be taking a bus either way. It’s still super convenient to just hop on the Disney shuttle, but I didn’t realize that not all hotels are on the monorail line. I just didn’t want anyone to be surprised if they book something and realize Disney uses buses, a monorail, and ferries to transport guests between the parks.
Determine if you’re getting a car
We stayed off property and it was crucial to have a car. We didn’t realize it until the day before we left because almost all the hotels have “Walt Disney World shuttles.” What they don’t tell you is that they may only drop off at one park, and you’ll have to use Disney transport to get to your final location. As mentioned above, all the Disney parks aren’t connected by a monorail. This means you could take a shuttle to the hotel drop off park, then need to get on another bus, ferry, or monorail to get to the park of your choosing.
It took us almost an hour to get into the parks every morning and our hotel was less than 15 minutes away. If you were going on an off-property hotel shuttle schedule and then using Disney transport in between, you could easily spend 2+ hours getting to and from your chosen park.
The Dad’s Guide to WDW is an awesome resource, and since he’s an expert I trust his opinion on a car rental.
The short answer. You don’t HAVE to rent a car. But it’s really a lot more convenient.
On-Property Disney Hotel Classes
As you’re planning where to stay at Disney world, it’s helpful to know that on-property Disney resorts come in three separate hotel classes. They’re categorized by price and are grouped into value, moderate, and deluxe.
These are the hotels that won’t break the bank. The Disney website says they start at $112+ per night, but they’re all a bus ride away from the parks. I don’t believe any are connected to the monorail, but if you want an economical place to stay and still get a true Disney experience, this is a good bet.
The moderate hotels are priced accordingly. You won’t find any of the $400+/night options in this group. Without being on the properties, these looked like nicer 3+ star hotels. In some of the blogs I read, rooms at these resorts were easier to come by because people are usually focused on minimizing cost with value resorts, or saving and splurging on a deluxe experience.
These are most likely the resorts you’re envisioning when you think about a Walt Disney World Vacation. Mickey in attendance, grand Disney scenes in the rooms, etc. It also doesn’t hurt that The Grand Floridian and Polynesian are one monorail stop away from The Magic Kingdom. However, you’re going to pay for it. These rooms go for $350+/night, and when you book closer in to the trip end up at $600+/night.
This is just the tip of the iceberg with WDW hotels. I love this guide from mousehacking detailing the hotel options, and why each is their favorite in each category.
Where to stay Off-property at Disney World
I love a good value. If I feel like I’m getting a deal I’m a huge sucker. Travel is no exception. Of course I started looking to see where we could stay in Disney World that I could book with credit card points.
The only “on property” hotels that accept booking with points are the Swan and Dolphin. They aren’t actually owned by Disney, but are part of the transportation line so you get all the benefits of being on property, and can book with points.
Just don’t think it comes for free. When I looked, the Swan/Dolphin was 50,000 points per night – so you’ll need to pay for that convenience.
We looked at a couple of other options off property, but ended up booking at The Embassy Suites.
The Sheraton Lake Buena Vista also looked good, but ultimately we were sold with the free breakfast buffet, separate room, and mini-kitchen at The Embassy. The Sheraton looked like it had a nicer outdoor pool area, but since we didn’t plan on staying at the resort a lot it wasn’t a huge sacrifice.
Both of these hotels were only 25,000 points per night, and we used our Chase Ultimate Rewards to book, and just paid the difference on the card.
If you haven’t checked it out, Richmond Saver’s post on How to go to Disney World for Free is awesome and was where I started when looking for savings tips.
Not points related, but you should definitely check out the deals on Mouse Savers before you book a trip. They have a ton of great hotel discounts that change frequently.
I hit this above pretty hard, but if you’re planning to use hotel transportation to get to Disney, you’ll need to look at the shuttle schedule and drop off locations to make sure that it’s worth it. The hotels we looked at only ran three shuttles in the morning, one at noon, and again in the evening.
Without knowing how naps were going to go, whether or not we’d have meltdowns, or if we’d just be pooped, I wasn’t willing to leave it to chance and just take the shuttles. I factored in one way of an UBER every day for flexibility, and with a car seat it just made sense to rent a car.
Additionally – most hotel transportation off-property doesn’t have a free airport transfer, so you’ll need to factor this into the calculation when deciding whether or not to rent a car.
There are many AirBNB options in Orlando, and many of them are much more affordable than on-property resorts. Normally, I’m a huge AirBNB proponent. If we’d gone with an infant, I’d definitely have recommended this to have a full refrigerator, kitchen, etc.
However, in our first trip, I wanted to be able to ask the concierge questions if I needed to, and we ended up booking with points which dramatically reduced the cost of our trip. That said, if we went with multiple children and wanted to cook in at all – I’d recommend this option if you’re willing to stay off property.
There are hundreds of accommodation options at Disney – so the most important part of booking the right place is to understand what you’re looking for. If you want a luxury experience but book a value resort, you might be disappointed. Similarly, you might end up paying way too much for what you need if you just book at the Polynesian. There’s a lot to think about when planning a Disney vacation, but hopefully the information above helped clarify the different hotel options to choose from.
Feel free to reach out with questions!