When you plan a Walt Disney World vacation, one of the biggest choices you’ll face is where to stay on your trip. While there are dozens of hotels located throughout the Central Florida area, many guests opt to stay on property at one of the Disney World resorts in Orlando Florida. These Disney resorts offer a convenient location, among other great benefits.
With different themes, prices, locations, food options, and amenities, you’ll have a lot to consider when choosing a Disney resort hotel. This guide to Disney resorts should help you to consider your options and choose the perfect Walt Disney World resort for your family vacation.
This post was originally written in 2019 and updated in 2020. Please read this post with current changes at Walt Disney World which may change the information below.
I am a former member of the Disney Parks Moms Panel and have been on some complimentary press trips at Walt Disney World, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you.
If you are looking for reviews of a specific Disney resort, scroll to the bottom to see all of the resorts that we have reviewed here.
A Guide to Disney Resorts at Walt Disney World
Disney Resort Categories
There are three different resort categories within the Disney World hotel portfolio. Because price can often be the most important factor in choosing where you stay on vacation, you’ll probably want to look at the resort categories first when choosing your hotel.
When choosing a resort, start with the specific category, and then look at the theme. We also like to choose our Disney resort based upon the location. Some of the deluxe resorts are very convenient for specific theme parks. If your vacation plans revolve around a specific theme park, you may want to take that into consideration.
If you are on a budget but want to stay on-site, Disney value resorts are a great option. These resorts are on the property at Walt Disney World but are at the lowest price point. Despite the lower price, they are still a great option for families who are visiting the parks and want to stay at a Disney hotel.
They offer the same on-property benefits to guests as the other Disney properties, although typically, they are a bit further away from the theme parks. Disney value resorts all have food courts, as well as pools, and other family activities.
There are currently five different Disney value resorts (although three of them are All-Stars resorts).
Disney moderate resorts are a good budget compromise. They have slightly more upscale amenities than the value resorts but are offered at a lower price than the deluxe resorts.
The moderate resorts are generally a bit larger than the deluxe resorts, although the French Quarter section of Port Orleans is small and quaint. There are lots of activities and amenities at these resorts, including pools, restaurants, fishing, movies, etc.
Disney moderate resorts include:
For a real treat, consider staying in one of the deluxe Disney resorts. These premium resorts have beautiful themes, wonderful amenities, and great locations – several right near the theme parks.
Even within the deluxe category, prices vary, so you’ll want to do some research before committing. Amenities vary as well.
The Disney deluxe resorts offer lots of great amenities – including huge pools, water slides, spas, salons, table service restaurants, and more. Some of the deluxe resorts have a pull-out couch that can accommodate an additional person – but check with the specific resort for confirmation.
Disney resorts in the deluxe category include:
There are also some resorts that are within the Disney grounds but aren’t official Disney hotels. These include the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, and the Disney Good Neighbor resorts. These resorts offer some (but not all) of the same benefits as the Disney World resorts, so they are definitely worth considering.
Disney Resort Benefits
Families who choose to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel often make the choice based upon the benefits offered, in addition to the convenience. So, what are the benefits of staying on property at Walt Disney World?
Note, some off-property resorts may offer some of these benefits, so you’ll want to check directly with them (some of these benefits have changed in 2020)
Transportation: Guests at a Disney hotel can take advantage of the free Disney’s Magical Express, which travels from the Orlando International Airport and your resort hotel. Because of this, you won’t have to rent a car, if you don’t want to – but of course, you still can. You’ll get free parking at the theme parks, but will have to pay for parking at the resort.
In addition, there’s complimentary transportation throughout the resort that can take you to the different theme parks as well as the water parks. These run continuously throughout the day and can be very convenient.
If you are staying off property, your hotel may offer transportation to the parks. Often, however, this is on a set schedule so you’ll need to make sure it fits into your plans. In some cases, you’ll need to reserve your spot in advance.
Once you are on property, regardless of where you stay (on or off property), you’ll be able to use Disney’s complimentary transportation to park hop to the different theme parks.
MagicBands: Guests staying on property receive complimentary MagicBands in advance of their trip. You can also opt to upgrade to a premium band (with a design on it) for an additional fee.
MagicBands can be used to open your Disney resort door and charge purchases to your room. They also can store your park tickets and FastPass reservations.
Off property guests can choose to purchase MagicBands separately. They can be used for park tickets and FastPasses but can’t be used for purchases. You can either buy them online (the Disney store offers them here) or at one of the Disney gift shops. MagicBands can also be reused as long as the battery is still good.
FastPass+: Guests staying on property at Walt Disney World are able to book their FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance of their check-in date. This can be a huge benefit, especially because off-property guests can’t book them until 30 days in advance. (note that FastPasses are not available in 2020).
With popular rides, like Avatar Flight of Passage, those extra 30 days can make the difference between getting a FastPass and having to wait in the standby line.
Extra Magic Hours: Extra Magic Hours are offered to on property guests. These special hours occur when the park opens early or stays open late exclusively to on property guests. When my kids were younger, we especially loved the early Magic Hours, because my kids were up so early in the morning anyway. (Also not available in 2020)
Many families will find that the dining plan does save them some money, but it’s important to do some research to make sure that it’s right for your family. It’s only offered for on-property guests, however.
Disney Resort Locations
Walt Disney World resort is a huge property. Even when staying at a Disney resort, you still may have a long commute to the park you are visiting for the day. However, some of the hotels are very convenient for specific parks.
If you are looking to be near the theme parks, a few resorts are good choices. Disney’s Contemporary Resort is located on the monorail and is within easy walking distance of the Magic Kingdom.
There’s also a walking path that will be built at the Grand Floridian that leads to the Magic Kingdom (but it’s not there yet).
The Boardwalk, Yacht Club, and Beach Club are also a short walk away from Epcot’s World Showcase entrance. They are also fairly close to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There’s also a boat that can take you to either of the parks from those resorts.
If you rent a car, or drive to the resorts, you’ll have to pay for parking at the hotel. However, you will receive free parking at the theme parks. Driving can definitely shorten the amount of time to get to the resort, but keep in mind that you may be parking a far distance from the front entrance of the park. Trams are offered to take you to the ticket counters.
Disney Resort Amenities
As mentioned above, the amenities offered by the Disney resorts vary based upon the category of hotel chosen. Despite the category, however, you’ll find that all of the Disney hotels have fantastic themes that can be so fun for families.
While I have loved all of the Disney resorts I’ve stayed in, I do have a few favorite themes:
Animal Kingdom Lodge: You can see animals right from the savanna view rooms at this beautiful lodge-themed resort. My kids absolutely loved it when they were younger. There are also savannas located throughout the resort if you don’t have a savanna-view room, or if you just want to explore.
Wilderness Lodge: Modeled after the beautiful lodges of the Pacific Northwest, this resort is cozy and warm. I just love staying there.
Art of Animation: If you love animation, especially the four shows that are featured here, you’ll definitely want to stay at the Art of Animation. As a bonus, this resort also offers family suites that can give you a little extra room.
Port Orleans: The very first Disney resort we stayed in as a family is Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter resort. It’s such a great option for families who want to save a little bit of money.
Disney’s Beach Club: This resort, located near the Epcot World Showcase entrance, has a fun East Coast beach resort vibe. We love how relaxing it is, and the pool can’t be beaten.
Disney’s Polynesian Village: Stay in the next best thing to a Hawaiian resort at this hotel, located on the monorail loop.
Amenities vary throughout the resorts but typically include things like themed pools, arcades, water slides, restaurants, fitness centers, spas, salons, and more.
As you’d expect, the deluxe resorts have more of the premium amenities but all of the value and moderate resorts offer fun themed pools. My two favorite resort pools are the Finding Nemo themed Big Blue Pool at the Art of Animation and Stormalong Bay at the Yacht Club/Beach Club.
Depending on your plans, you may even want to plan to spend a day at the resort, without visiting a theme park. It can be a great way to save money and take advantage of your resort’s amenities.
Disney Resort Transportation
Guests at the Disney resorts will have lots of different Disney transportation options, depending on where they are staying.
Buses are the largest form of transportation and go between the parks and the resorts, as well as to Disney Springs and the water parks. Buses also travel between parks if you are park hopping.
The monorail has several loops and travels to Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Resorts on the monorail are the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian.
Boats are also offered at select resorts, including the Contemporary, the Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, Port Orleans, Saratoga Springs, the Boardwalk, the Yacht Club, and the Beach Club.
A new form of transportation, Disney Skyliner, opened in 2019. These are available at the new Disney Riviera Resort, the Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios.
Minnie Vans are available at Walt Disney World as well, but these are offered for an additional fee. They are a good option if you don’t want to wait for transportation or are traveling on a route that isn’t easily accessed via Disney transportation.
Disney Resort Reviews
While we haven’t stayed at all of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels, we’ve stayed at many of them. Here are our reviews of the hotels: