By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor







The Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World



By Dave Shute

DISNEY WORLD’S DELUXE RESORTS

The Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World from yourfirstvisit.netCompared to other Walt Disney World owned and operated resorts, the deluxe resorts are distinguished by having

  • the most amenities
  • nicest views
  • best dining options
  • best transport
  • largest rooms
  • best service, and
  • highest prices.

There are eight deluxe resorts at Walt Disney World, and you really can’t go wrong booking any of them.  Whichever you stay at on your first visit will likely become your favorite.

However, for first time visitors who may never return, some are better than others.  There are fundamental differences among them in their kid appeal, and major differences in their convenience in carrying out this site’s itineraries.

Based on these criteria, the ranking of these resorts for first time family visitors who may never return is as follows:

  1. Polynesian
  2. Wilderness Lodge
  3. Animal Kingdom Lodge
  4. Contemporary
  5. Beach Club
  6. Yacht Club
  7. BoardWalk Inn

(Most of these deluxe resorts also offer on their grounds Disney Vacation Club (“DVC”) studios and villas, which are deluxe-class and for rent to the general public.

Stand-alone deluxe-class DVC resorts–that is, not associated with another deluxe hotel–include Disney’s Old Key West Resort, and Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa main resort and Treehouse Villas. The DVC resorts are ranked separately here.  If these standalone DVC resorts were listed in the above rankings, they would come in at the bottom of the list.)

KID APPEAL AT DISNEY WORLD’S DELUXE RESORTS

Kid appeal on this site is defined as a detailed and comprehensive visual environment that evokes in kids fantasy and a spirit of adventure.

Disney World Deluxe Resorts with Great Kid Appeal

Disney's Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.net

Based on this definition, there are three deluxe resorts with great kid appeal:

The first two are near-tied and head and shoulders above the third. The two Lodges, both designed by Peter Dominick, are stunning fantasias of adventure.  The Polynesian has a more subtle theme.

Kids will like any deluxe resort. But compared to the rest, these three have the greatest kid appeal–and are not shy on adult appeal either.  The Wilderness Lodge  is so striking that it’s the only hotel at Disney World that offers a tour.

It’s interesting to note that the resorts with the highest level of kid appeal are also the only deluxe resorts that don’t have convention centers…

Disney World Deluxe Resorts with Some Kid Appeal

Of the rest of the deluxe resorts, Disney’s Contemporary Resort stands out for having some kid appeal.

The overall visual impact of the Contemporary is brutalist and geometric, but the “wow” factor of the monorail cruising through the middle of the main building gives it some distinction with kids.

Disney World Deluxe Resorts with No Kid Appeal

The rest of the deluxes are great places to stay, but compared to the alternatives above have little dramatic visual kid appeal.

Stormalong Bay from yourfirstvisit.net

You could view them as almost tied, but they are ordered based on the kid appeal of their pools (the Yacht Club and Beach Club share the same pool, Stormalong Bay, above, legendary for how much kids–and their parents–love it):

DISNEY WORLD DELUXE RESORTS CONVENIENCE

Convenience rankings are based on time spent in transport in following this site’s  itineraries for first time family visitors.

The convenience ranking of the deluxe resorts is as follows:

  1. Disney’s Polynesian Resort
  2. Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  3. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
  4. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  5. Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  6. Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  7. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  8. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Because those following these itineraries spend the plurality of their time in or near the Magic Kingdom, the monorail resorts come out on top, and then the Wilderness Lodge.

Among these, the Polynesian is the most convenient, because it also has easy walking access to the Epcot monorail. The Contemporary is next for its unique walking path to the Magic Kingdom.

Disney's Beach Club Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Returning visitors, especially those with older kids, will find the Epcot resorts–the Beach and Yacht Clubs, and the BoardWalk Inn–wonderfully convenient for their walking and boat access to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge gets bad press for its relative isolation. Some of this is unfair–one site that I love (except for its material on lodging) claims that it’s a 35 minute drive from there to the Magic Kingdom!

While this claim is comically wrong by more than 15 minutes, it is still true that the Animal Kingdom Lodge is the least convenient of the deluxe resorts.

ROOM QUALITY, FLOOR PLANS AND PRICING AT DISNEY WORLD’S DELUXE RESORTS

All standard Disney World deluxe rooms come with the basics–a couple of queen beds, a TV and a dresser or two, a mini-fridge, a table with a two chairs or a two-part desk and chair, and a closet with a safe.

(For more on what you get, see this.)

What varies is how these are laid out, what more you get, and decor.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge Floor Plan from yourfirstvisit.net

The smallest deluxe rooms–at the Wilderness Lodge and the Animal Kingdom Lodge–come with little more than the basics.

See the floor plan.  These rooms sleep four, and while not as small as a room that comfortably fits two queens can be, they are not much larger.

Contrast the floor plan for the Grand Floridian.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa Floor Plan from yourfirstvisit.net

These are the largest standard rooms at a Disney-owned resort at Disney World

Additional width and length creates room for an easy chair, sofa (that sleeps another person), and desk.

Hotel designers prefer adding length to adding width, since added width increases the square footage of interior hallways that needs to be heated, cooled, furnished, cleaned, and walked down, but provides little help for the biggest design challenge–fitting in the split bath.

But without more width, there won’t be enough circulation space to fit the couch.

Disney's Yacht Club Resort Floor Plan from yourfirstvisit.netFrom a design perspective, the Beach Club and Yacht Club are exemplary for fitting everything in without either excess square footage or any sense of the furniture crowding the room or being hard to get around.

As noted above, the split bath can be the hardest design issue.  A split bath separates facilities so that two or three family members can use them at once, but in its most common design creates an eight to ten foot long hallway between the corridor door and the sleeping space–wasted square footage.

Disney’s earliest designs present a curious set of thoughts on how to split a bath.

Curious Disney World Bath Layouts from yourfirstvisit.net

See the image–the baths in the Polynesian are on the left, and at the Contemporary on the right.

Resorts built since then segregate the sinks into one space, and the bath and toilet into another. This is why the whole bath ensemble can be nine to ten feet long.

So why does all this matter?

Deluxe Room Prices vs Square Feet from yourfirstvisit.net

More square feet costs you more.  It’s a little more complicated than that, so I’ll come back to costs in a second, but for the moment see the image.

It charts standard room square feet on the vertical axis, and standard nightly room price (all prices on this page are after-tax weekday rates from the Fall price season of 2016) on the horizontal axis.

The charted points show where the deluxe hotels fall, and the red line is added to illustrate the correlation between square footage and nightly rates.

More space means higher capital and operating costs; but it also means more value, value that can be charged for.

But space isn’t the only thing going on here, as there are some correlations within the hotels themselves.

Deluxe Room Prices from yourfirstvisit.net

See the image, which orders the Disney World deluxe resorts by nightly price.

  • The three most expensive resorts are not only the three with largest rooms; they are also the three monorail resorts, the most convenient hotels to the Magic Kingdom
  • The three middle-priced deluxes are not only in the middle of the square footage pack, but are also the three Epcot resorts, the hotels most convenient to Epcot
  • The least expensive deluxes not only have the smallest rooms but are also the least convenient of the deluxes.

So the deluxe prices charge for value: for convenience as well as size.

DINING AT DISNEY WORLD’S DELUXE RESORTS

One of the best features of the deluxe resorts is the often wonderful dining venues at them.

Some of these dining venues are better for adults than for kids; moreover, for every resort other than the Animal Kingdom Lodge it’s also worth thinking about options at other nearby deluxe resorts. (The Animal Kingdom Lodge has no nearby resorts.)  Sheer variety also has its virtues.

Deluxe Resort Dining at Walt Disney World from yourfirstvisit.netSee the image for some distinctions based on these points. You can find detailed reviews of all the resort table service restaurants in the individual resort reviews.

A few comments:

  • The monorail resorts–the Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Polynesian–are just a short monorail ride from each other, so the great options at the Grand Floridian and Contemporary in particular are easily accessible from each of these hotels.
  • The two resort meals included in most of this site’s itineraries are Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary and the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness.  The next best resort meal for kids is the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge (this meal used to be in the itineraries, but I took it out a few years ago as part of a simplification exercise).  The Wilderness Lodge and the Contemporary are linked to each other and to Fort Wilderness by boat, so these resorts get an extra kick on the kids meals ranking.
  • The Epcot Resorts–the Yacht Club, Beach Club, and BoardWalk Inn–are a short walk from each other and from the BoardWalk.  Those who have park hopper tickets and enough days on their tickets also have easy access from these hotels to all the dining options at Epcot.
  • The Animal Kingdom Lodge has three great options, but is isolated from other resorts.

For more on dining at Walt Disney World, see this.

DISTINCTIONS AMONG THE DISNEY WORLD DELUXE RESORTS

  • Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Only resort with both own resort monorail stop and in easy walking distance of TTC and its Epcot monorail. Only deluxe with no fitness center–guests are allowed to share the one at the Grand Floridian. One of only a few deluxes with no spa services. Strong kid appeal. At high end of room sizes.
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Only resort from which you can walk to and from the Magic Kingdom. One of only two deluxes with no on-site child care programs. One of only a few deluxes with no spa services. At high end of room sizes.
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Shortest monorail ride to Magic Kingdom; longest back. Largest standard room sizes of WDW resorts. Best adult dining among WDW resorts.
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. One of only two deluxes whose standard rooms sleep only 4. One of only a few deluxes with no spa service. Stunning kid appeal.
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Greatest variety of dining options. However, breakfast–especially for kids–is awkward, and counter service is weak. One of only two deluxes with no beach or marina. One of only two deluxes with no on-site child care. In middle range of room size.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Only resort with close up views of many types of wild animals. (All resorts offer views of lizards.) Only deluxe with no transportation options other than buses. Only deluxe not on a lake. One of only two deluxes without a beach or marina. One of only two deluxes whose standard rooms sleep only 4. One of only a few deluxes without spa services. Stunning kid appeal.
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Best pool (shared) at Walt Disney World. Wide variety of dining options, but counter service is weak. In the middle of room sizes among deluxes.

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11 comments

1 Christina { 05.05.13 at 2:14 am }

Hi Dave!

So I am planning my family’s first ever trip to WDW for this upcoming August! 😀 Initially we were going back and forth between POR and WL and I was all set with WL. But with this new summer discount (30% off deluxes) I took a peek at AKL and OMG! The place looks beautiful! My Kids are 8 & 4 and the pool/playground look awesome for our mid day breaks! Not to mention the animals! And it will actually be saving us $. But of course my main concern is that we will be spending most of our days in the park (especially MK). Would this be a smart move to stay here? We also have a few before park opening ADRS, so I am a little nervous about how significant the “distance” is especially that we won’t have a car and will rely only on WDW transportation. Any advice you could give would be awesome! Thanks!

2 Dave { 05.05.13 at 8:07 am }

Christina, AKL and WL are comparable in their “WOW.”

The choice between the two should be price and the relative attraction of the theme to your family. You’ll likely spend about five-ten more minutes per MK trip from AKL. That’s not enough to matter if price and theme appeal are strong…With the resonance of the them to you–and the price break–I’d pick AKL.

Just to double check, your deal at AKL is almost certainly for a non-savanna view room–which means a view from your room and balcony of parking lots or such (Disney hardly ever puts AKL savanna views on sale). There’s still a million places to view the animals from outside your room–but not inside.

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3 Collier { 05.25.13 at 12:10 pm }

Here is my list of the “Top Five Disney World Resorts” based on top-notch immersive Disney style themes, extensive dining options, most convenient locations, and large fun pool complexes:

1. POLYNESIAN: Extravagant Polynesian theme, lush landscaping with fire-lit tiki torches, white sand beaches, large guest rooms (currently undergoing 2013 refurbishment to make rooms lighter, fresher, and more modern), views of Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, all guest rooms located in longhouses separated from the main building, pool with Volcano waterslide and separate quiet pool, several dining options with exquisite cuisine with Polynesian flair, Spirit of Aloha dinner show, monorail access, boat transportation to Magic Kingdom and Grand Floridian, walking distance to TTC and Grand Floridian

2. WILDERNESS LODGE: Immersive American wilderness theme, heavily wooded forest landscaping, access to guest rooms and restaurants within the same main building, views of Bay Lake and the woods, pool with waterslide, campfires, several dining options with delicious American-inspired cuisine, boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, Contemporary, and Fort Wilderness

3. BEACH CLUB: Relaxing fun beach theme, lush seaside landscaping, access to guest rooms and restaurants within the same main building, large guest rooms, views of Crescent Lake, the best and largest pool complex on Disney property – Stormalong Bay – and quiet pool as well, minimal dining options but good American and Seafood options, closest walking distance to Epcot’s International Gateway (approx. 5-8 min.), both boat transportation and walkways to Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Swan, Dolphin, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios

4. GRAND FLORIDIAN: Opulent turn-of-the-century Victorian theme, lush landscaping, white sand beaches, live music in elegant 5-story lobby, large guest rooms, views of Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, most guest rooms located in lodges separated from the main building, pool with waterslide and quiet pool, most extensive and exquisite dining options of all Disney resorts, monorail access, boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, walking distance to Polynesian

5. ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE: Extravagant African safari theme, lush tropical savannah landscaping with nightly campfires, views of savannahs with over 200 exotic animals, access to guest rooms and restaurants within the same main building, extensive dining options with a savory African flair, pool with waterslide and access to Kidani Village pool complex, bus transportation

4 Dave { 05.25.13 at 3:11 pm }

Hi Collier! Based on your criteria, I completely agree with your top 5, though I’d order them a little differently, with the weak dining you note at BC causing me to push it down the list to 4th or 5th. Nice write-up, though!

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5 Shelley { 01.24.14 at 4:58 pm }

When to visit WDW? Stay at Floridian and Nov. or Dec. 2014 when is lowest crowds?
Thank you

6 Shelley { 01.24.14 at 5:00 pm }

Lowest crowds? Which weeks in either Nov. or Dec 2014?

7 Dave { 01.25.14 at 7:51 am }
8 Mike { 02.09.14 at 5:56 pm }

Hello Dave, back again and thinking things over for this years trip. We are looking for a 2 bedroom on site to stay in October. Want to stay at our home the Grand Floridian but it seems they do not offer 2 bedrooms. Trying to stay away from busses and want to use monorail as much as possible. Any ideas? Thanks

9 Dave { 02.10.14 at 6:37 am }

Mike–Do you mean a two bedroom villa? I stayed in a dedicated two bedroom at GF in November, so I know they exist :)

10 Maurice Hall { 02.15.15 at 3:18 pm }

Do the rooms at GF all have microwaves and coffeemakers? Are the coffeemakers Keurig or other type? Do you have to ask for a small refrigerator to keep milk cold for kids?

11 Dave { 02.16.15 at 8:11 am }

Maurice, no standard rooms have microwaves. On my last visit–April 2014–the coffeemakers were not Keurigs. All rooms have a mini-fridge. See this for more: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2014/04/27/review-disneys-grand-floridian-resort-spa-2/

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