We have been visiting Disney World for close to 40 years now. One decision that always needs to be made is where to stay on a Disney World visit. Most Disney visitors would prefer to stay onsite if at all possible. There are dozens of choices on property these days. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which Disney hotel best suits your needs. Sometimes the best lodging for you may not be on Disney property at all.
When we first traveled to Disney World, we stayed in a hotel on Orange Blossom Trail. At that time the hotel was a great choice. It had nice rooms, a nice pool and it had come highly recommended by a friend. I don’t think the hotel exists any longer. For one reason or another, we later decided on another hotel that was not on Disney property. This was a hotel with the word International in its name and it was on International Drive. Once again this hotel met our needs very well. International Drive was a good location and the hotel catered to international travelers, so there was a good chance you would meet some interesting people.
Hyatt on International by Leonard J DeFrancisci
We were very happy with our International hotel until one fateful trip when we were able to make reservations at the Contemporary Hotel at Disney for a couple of days on the front end of our trip. After spending time at the Contemporary, we moved to our International hotel for the remainder of our trip. As you might imagine, we were a bit disenchanted with the International at that point. I’m not sure if this hotel still exists – if it does, I think it has a different name now.
We have stayed at other hotels on International Drive since that time and still consider it a good location if you are looking for a nice hotel for a nice price. There has been a great deal of development along International Drive and many new hotels have opened along this stretch. If you don’t mind heavy traffic from International Drive to the Disney front gates, you might consider a stay in this area.
The other thing we have done while visiting Disney is stay in a condominium nearby the parks. If you have ever visited the Orlando/Kissimmee area, you have probably been approached about taking a tour of a timeshare. There are a lot of timeshare properties in the area. We are timeshare owners and we have taken advantage of our ability to trade our unit for one near Disney on several occasions. Compared to the price of staying in a nice hotel near Disney, or staying in a Disney hotel, a timeshare condo is a great value. You usually have at least two bedrooms and a kitchen. You can save a lot of money when you have a kitchen available. Once again, traffic can be the big bugaboo for staying off property.
Swan by Peter Dutton via wikimedia commons
As I stated earlier, a lot of visitors to Disney World want to stay on the property itself. You have a lot of options available to you and there are perks to staying onsite. We have stayed in some of the Downtown Disney hotels in the Lake Buena Vista area. Seven of the hotels there are official Disney hotels and offer shuttles to the theme parks and water parks. You will be within walking distance of Downtown Disney, which is being reworked and renamed Disney Springs this year.
The Swan and Dolphin hotels offer another “almost” Disney experience. Both hotels are five star resorts and offer many Disney benefits including shuttles to the park, on-site ticket sales, character meals in their restaurants and the Extra Magic Hours option for your trips to the parks. We haven’t stayed at either hotel, but did visit with one of our sons when he was there for the Baseball Winter Meetings a couple of years ago.
We have not stayed in every Disney hotel, but we have stayed in just about every level of hotel at one time or another. We have enjoyed each hotel and recommend you choose your hotel based on your budget. When Disney World opened, the Disney Company had zero hotel experience. I don’t think you can say that any more.
The first Disney hotel we ever stayed in was the Contemporary Hotel. This is the hotel with the monorail line passing through the lobby. Staying here is a little bit like spending the night at a hotel in downtown Manhattan. It is a hotel that never sleeps. If you like the hustle and bustle of people coming through your hotel and hundreds of people shopping in the shops and eating in the restaurants, then this is a good stop for you. You cannot beat the convenience of the monorail, but be warned, the lines can be a bit long. If you have your children with you, try to get in a line at the front of the monorail stop. If you are lucky, you can ask and get to ride with the driver. This is a great experience for the kids (and you) and a wonderful spot for the views, especially if you are on board when the fireworks start in the park.
Monorail by BestofWDW via wikimedia commons
Other hotels on the monorail line are the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. We have not stayed at either location, but another of our sons stayed at the Grand Floridian and we did visit him there. We have been in the lobby of the Polynesian many times, and though it has changed over the years, it is still a great stop to exit the monorail and wander around the premises.
We haven’t stayed at the Wilderness Lodge or the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but both locations are on our wish list. Neither hotel is on the monorail, but both hotels are fun stops when you are checking out the different Disney World properties. We especially like visiting at Christmas time to see all the decorations. We have enjoyed breakfast at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and it is a good place to get a free look at some of the animals in the Animal Kingdom Park.
When we stayed at the Port Orleans Resort it was called Dixie Landings. That will tell true Disney World fans just how long ago that was. Port Orleans is one of the more moderately priced Disney hotels. As with everything Disney World does, it is very comfortable and a good place to stay. All the hotels on Disney World property have free transportation to the parks. We recommend any of these moderately priced hotels for your Disney visit.
Port Orleans by kathika via wikimedia commons
I remember the first time we drove over to view the “new” Disney budget (Disney calls them value) hotels. These hotels are themed as All Star Sports, All Star Movies, All Star Music, Art of Animation, and Pop Century. On our first visit we peeped inside one of the rooms and could not believe how small it looked. I think at the time I commented that it was about the size of a room aboard a cruise ship. I don’t know if they somehow got bigger or if my perspective changed, but the rooms are actually pretty normal sized for a value branded hotel. Since the original opening, the resorts have added family suites which are a really nice value for your family.
One thing I need to mention concerning the different Disney Resorts is that each one has a really nice swimming pool. All of the pools are themed in one way or another and are large enough for plenty of guests to enjoy. We like to take a break from the parks around midday and come back to our hotel for lunch and a dip in the pool. This is a nice refreshing break from the crowds in the park and helps us prepare for a late afternoon or early evening visit to our favorite park.
All Star pool by Fadesga via wikimedia commons
We have stayed in one of the Disney Vacation Club properties, which are Disney’s timeshare resorts. Our visit was to Old Key West, one of the earlier ones. I would love to have a timeshare on Disney property and highly recommend staying at one of the Boardwalk Villas or one of the other sites recently opened at some of Disney’s deluxe hotels.
I almost forgot about Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campgrounds. We have camped here in a pop up camper and our boys stayed in a tent one trip by themselves. We have also stayed in one of the “cabins,” which are actually manufactured homes. These are nice when you want to rough it with a touch of luxury.
So there you have it. Not a very inclusive sight into where to stay when visiting Disney World, but a view from someone who has been visiting for many years. Wherever you decide to stay when you visit Disney World, I hope you have a great visit.
Please remember that you do not need to see every park or ride every ride in one day and also remember that it isn’t much fun for your little one once she gets tired.