By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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The Basics: Where to Stay at Walt Disney World

By Dave Shute


There are three basic decisions to make about where to stay on your Disney World visit:

  • What level of amenities (and thus relative price) you looking are for,
  • Whether or not you stay in a Disney-owned resort, and, if not in a Disney-owned resort,
  • Whether or not you stay in one of the few third party resorts offering key Disney perks.

The decisions are interrelated because at any amenity level you will pay more—at the higher amenity levels often much, much more—to stay in a Disney-owned resort.

The Basics - Where to Stay at Disney World from


There are some key perks that often make staying at a Disney-owned resort the better choice—especially for first-time visitors. I strongly recommend that first-timers stay in a Disney-owned resort.

The most important of the perks for staying in a Disney-owned resort are these:

  • Being able to book a few key paid components of Disney World’s new set of replacements for its former FastPass+ program earlier in the day than almost anyone else, helping you get low wait access to the most popular rides.
  • Access to free extra time in every park every morning that most other guests can’t use via Disney World’s new Early Theme Park Entry program, which replaces its old Extra Magic Hours offering. (Those staying in the most expensive Disney hotels also get extra evening access.)
  • Reliable park transportation with proper hours.
  • Earlier access to the most popular dining reservations.
  • Access to the Disney Dining Plan which can save some families a bit, and lets others control their budgets.
  • Free parking at the theme parks, free parking at the resort hotels, and no resort fees.
  • Fun theming and good convenience


Being able to book paid individual access to two rides each day earlier in the day than almost everyone else can book them, as part of Disney World’s new replacement for its former FastPass+ program, helping assure your access to some of Disney World’s most popular rides.

The non-Disney owned Swan, Swan Reserve, and Dolphin also offer access to such earlier-in-the-day booking, as does Shades of Green. All other lodging options get no such special treatment, so if you stay in one of them you will only be able to book paid individual access to two rides at the time the park the rides are in is open. Thus, those staying in a Disney-owned resort (or another eligible hotel) have earlier access to what may be a limited pool of purchasable access to these rides.

Access to extra time in the parks that most other guests can’t use. Disney’s Early Theme Park Entry Program (“EE”), which replaces its old Extra Magic Hours program, allows guests staying at a Disney-owned hotel (and also the same list of other hotels as above, plus a number of others to be discussed later) to enter every park every day 30 minutes earlier than anyone else.  Those who get to their target park early enough and have a good plan will be at least two rides ahead of everyone else–one ride ridden, and in line for another, before anyone else can even make their way back to the lines–which can give them a jump-start on waits all day.

(Those staying in a deluxe, DVC, the Cabins at Fort Wilderness, or one of few other hotels–Swan, Swan Reserve, Dolphin and Shades of Green– in addition also have access to extra evening hours.)

Value Resort All-Star Sports

Value Resort All-Star Sports

Reliable park transportation with proper hours. The Disney-owned resorts have frequent transportation to the parks that starts before the parks open and extends to well after they close. Non-Disney hotels, if they have transportation, all too commonly offer it too infrequently, begin it too late, and/or end it too soon. (A rental car will fix this, but add costs.)

Moderate Resort Port Orleans Riverside

Moderate Resort Port Orleans Riverside

Slightly earlier access to the most popular dining reservations. Disney World dining reservations open to most people 60 days before the planned dining date, and the most popular venues like Be Our Guest book up quickly. For those staying at a Disney-owned resort, however, once 60 days from their check in day hits, they can book dining not only for that day but also for the length of their stay, up to ten days, as well. This up-to ten day head start on the latter part of your visit helps with getting access to the most popular dining venues.

Access to the Disney Dining Plan which can save some families a bit, and lets others control their budgets. The various Disney Dining Plans, available only to guests staying in a Disney-owned resort, are a way of pre-paying for some of your meals. While they are not as good a deal as they used to be, the regular dining plan may save families with kids aged 3-9 who plan a lot of one credit character meals some money. Other families may take comfort in being able to pre-budget much of their dining costs, even if they lose a little money compared to buying the same meals for cash.

Deluxe Resort Contemporary

Deluxe Resort Contemporary

Free parking at the theme parks, free parking at the hotels, and no resort fees. Disney-owned hotels don’t charge either parking or “resort fees”—a mandatory surcharge that some non-Disney hotels charge that frankly oughta be rolled into room prices. Disney’s parks charge for auto parking–$25/day right now. Guests at Disney-owned hotels don’t pay this charge.

DVC Resort Old Key West

DVC Resort Old Key West

Fun theming and good convenience. Most of the Disney-owned hotels have wonderful theming (although some don’t), and most are more convenient to most of the Disney theme parks than non-Disney owned hotels. My resort rankings for first-time visitors are based first on kid-friendly visual theming, and second on convenience in carrying out this site’s itineraries.

For all these Disney-owned hotel perks you will pay more—in some cases quite a bit more—for the same quality of room at a Disney-owned resort than at alternatives.

Disney-owned resorts can be grouped into five classes (click the various links below to learn more, or for links to detailed extensive reviews of each hotel, see this.)


Value resorts have the lowest prices, tiniest rooms, fewest amenities, and offer no table service restaurants or character meals.

Value Resort Pop Century

Most (but not all) standard value rooms sleep four on two queen beds. (Value resort “Family Suite” rooms, available at Art of Animation and All-Star Music, sleep six in a space about twice the size of a standard room, but cost more than twice as much.)

Disney's All-Star Sports Resort from

Value Resort All-Star Sports

The value resorts have great visual kid appeal, but many parents find them garish.

Disney's Art of Animation Resort Floor Plan from

Value Resort Art of Animation

There’s five value resorts that offer standard rooms:

And two that offer family suites:

Floor Plan All-Star Music Family Suite from

Value Resort Family Suite All-Star Music

Room rates among the Disney-owned resorts vary tremendously by night of the week, time of the year, and views, and also among hotels within the same price class. That said, prices for the lowest priced four person value resort room types and views range from around $110 to over $300 per night. Family suites are more than twice as expensive.

For first timers who may never return, based on criteria of visual kid appeal and convenience, I particularly recommend Art of Animation and Pop Century among the values. These two are also the only value resorts that are part of Disney’s Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.


Moderate resorts have (for Disney) middle-of-the-road prices, room sizes, and amenities.

Moderate Resort Coronado Springs

Most standard rooms sleep four on two queens. Some rooms at Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Riverside have fifth sleeping spot large enough for a child. The Cabins at Fort Wilderness sleep 6, two on bunk beds suitable for children.

Moderate Resort Coronado Springs

Moderate Resort Coronado Springs

The bedroom portion of the traditional moderates is comparable in size to the bedroom area at many Disney-owned deluxe resorts. All moderates offer table service restaurants except Port Orleans French Quarter. None offers character meals.

Most of the moderates are sprawling (Port Orleans French Quarter is an important exception) and while kids love them all, none shouts with kid appeal the way the value resorts do.

Moderate Resort Port Orleans French Quarter

There’s four “traditional” moderates with comparable rooms:

Moderate Resort Royal Room

Moderate Resort Royal Room

And among the traditional moderates, there’s also three groups of special room types.

  • Royal Rooms at Port Orleans Riverside have extra and special theming, but are overly expensive and inconvenient compared to other rooms at the same resort
  • While most standard traditional moderate rooms sleep four on two queens, a fifth sleeping spot on a short fold-down bed is available in the Alligator Bayou section of Port Orleans Riverside and in most areas of Caribbean Beach.
  • Room in Gran Destino Tower, one of four accommodation areas in Coronado Springs, are accessed from interior corridors and have a different bath layout. (Uniquely among the moderates, you can also book club rooms and suites at Coronado Springs.) Rooms in the other three areas of Coronado Springs are similar to those in the other moderates.
Moderate Resort The Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Moderate Resort The Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Also classed as a moderate are the quite different Cabins at Fort Wilderness, which sleep six in two rooms and have a full kitchen (with a limited oven). These are also the only moderate spaces that have access to Extended Evening Hours.

Floor Plan Renovated Cabins at Fort Wilderness from

Moderate Resort The Cabins at Fort Wilderness

I don’t particularly recommend these Cabins for first timers, as they combine bland theming with substantial inconvenience.

The least expensive rooms at the traditional moderates cost from around $220 to $400 a night depending on the resort and the time of year.

I’m not keen on the moderates for first timers who may never return, as they are short on kid appeal and convenience compared to other options you have.

For returning visitors, the mix of pros and cons among the traditional moderates is more muddied than that of any other resort class. Caribbean Beach stands out for its kid appeal and Skyliner transportation to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Coronado Springs for its unmatched overall set of amenities. Riverside is the best-loved, and French Quarter the most compact and convenient.


Deluxe resorts. While there is more variety among the deluxes than any other Disney price class, in general they have the highest prices, largest rooms, most amenities, best pools, and plentiful dining, including both “date night” quality dining and also family friendly and/or character meals at or near most of them.

Deluxe Resort Grand Floridian

Deluxe Resort Grand Floridian

Standard rooms sleep at least four on two queens, and all the deluxes except the Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge offer many rooms with a fifth sleeping spot large enough for an adult.

Deluxe Resort Polynesian Village

Deluxe Resort Polynesian Village

Some deluxe resorts—especially the Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Polynesian Village Resort—have terrific visual kid appeal, and some don’t.

Deluxe Resort BoardWalk Inn

Deluxe Resort BoardWalk Inn

There are 8 deluxe resorts:

At the deluxes—where prices among hotels in the same class vary the most—the least expensive rooms run from a little over $400 to almost $1,000 per night depending on hotel and time of the year. See for more specifics on room rates by date and by view.

Deluxe resorts in addition have access to a perk that most of the moderates and all of the values don’t: extra evening hours.

For first timers, among the deluxes I particularly recommend the Polynesian Village.


DVC Resort Saratoga Springs

DVC Resort Saratoga Springs

Disney Vacation Club Resorts. At the Disney Vacation Club (“DVC”) offerings (which regular people can book—you don’t have to be a Disney Vacation Club member to book these) there are multiple deluxe level room types: “Studios” are similar to deluxe rooms; “Villas” are larger and have full kitchens, and, at the two-bedroom and larger sizes, sleep eight people plus.

DVC Studio at Polynesian Village

DVC Studio at Polynesian Village

I count thirteen DVC resorts because of some sharply distinguished areas at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Saratoga Springs that Disney lumps together.

DVC Resort Old Key West

DVC Resort Old Key West

I don’t particularly recommend the DVC Villa options for first timers, as their distinguishing features—extra space and full kitchens—are of little use on a first visit where most time is spent in the parks, not in the rooms.

These features, however, can make them a delight for returning visitors.

DVC resorts, like deluxe resorts, have access to a perk that the moderates and values don’t: extra evening hours


Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground from

Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Campsites for up to ten tent and RV campers (the Cabins at Fort Wilderness are grouped in the moderate class).

Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort

Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

I don’t recommend the campsites for first time visitors, nor for inexperienced tent campers. The campground is blandly themed and suffers from inconvenient transport arrangements.

For returning visitors in RVs or who are expert tent campers, Fort Wilderness is one of America’s great campgrounds.


To all the room occupancy figures you can add one child younger than three sleeping in a crib. Except at the campground and the DVC resorts, prices assume one or two folks 18 or over. More than two people over eighteen will face a surcharge.

Returning visitors, or first-timers who are able to return, can have a great visit at any Disney-owned resort. I have stayed in more than 170 different Disney-owned rooms, suites, studios, villas, cabins and campsites. Detailed reviews of them all based on those stays begin here.

Deals are often available for the Disney-owned resorts. Current Disney World deals are here.


The best reason to stay in a non-Disney hotel is to save money. Details on the key options are here.



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1 Natalie { 02.27.16 at 5:37 pm }

I am travelling with my hubby & parents in October for 8 nights, my parents are in their 70’s so we need accomodation that has shuttle transport included but this is our first visit & we are looking for moderate accomadation but we don’t know if we should book Disney owned property or on Lake Buena Vista? Im searching the website & there is so much I don’t know what is the best option ?
we want to see everything ?
Obviously Disney, universal, Epcot, cape Canaveral
I would love you to please advise?
Thanks Nat

2 Dave { 02.29.16 at 8:18 am }

Nat, I advise staying at a Disney-owned resort, for the reasons noted here.

3 Alicia { 02.24.17 at 3:59 pm }

Hi, I have some questions about staying at a Disney Resort and linking credit cards to Magic Bands. We are 5 Adults staying in a suite in Art of Animation, is there anyway that we could have different credit cards linked to our different Magic Bands. We love the idea of being about to pay for stuff using a Magic Band, but everyone would like there own credit card linked so we don’t have to try and figure out and split things up later. Thanks for your help.

4 Dave { 02.26.17 at 7:07 am }

Alicia, sorry but you can’t. The simplest way to handle this is for people to just use their individual credit cards to charge stuff.

5 DAVID R GRANGER SR { 04.15.18 at 5:03 pm }

We are coming in 2019 5 families. I want to know when we can book our rooms and get our magic bans. Thanks.

6 Dave { 04.16.18 at 10:56 am }

Hi David, you can book your rooms 499 days from your arrival date, but there are complexities. See this. You can customize your magic bands 30-60 days before arrival, and they’ll be mailed to you (if you have a US address) shortly after.

7 harold nunez { 06.10.18 at 7:19 pm }

need some information on Disney world for 2019 its our first time

8 Dave { 06.11.18 at 9:36 am }

Harold, start on the home page and work your way through its topics (the ones after the list of links at the very top).

9 Kathleen { 05.15.19 at 1:38 pm }

Hi Dave-

I’m wondering on your thoughts between Caribbean Beach or Port Orleans French Quarter this September for a trip for 2 adult returning visitors. It would be my adult son and myself. I do have some mild mobility issues at the moment as I’m recovering from multiple fractures in my leg. We will be visiting all 4 parks this trip, including Galaxy’s Edge, Epcot for Food & Wine and Magic Kingdom for the Halloween party. Thank you.


10 Dave { 05.16.19 at 2:13 pm }

Hi Kathleen, POFQ is more compact, so I would go with that.

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