Home » 6 Amazing Disney Hotels You MUST Visit (Even if You Aren’t Staying There)

    6 Amazing Disney Hotels You MUST Visit (Even if You Aren’t Staying There)

    When you plan your Disney vacation, you probably focus on the theme parks, events, and attractions while hardly giving the hotel a second thought. After all, the hotel is just where you go at the end of a long day of park-hopping to sleep, right? But in the case of Disney resort hotels, ignoring the hotels — whether you’re staying there or not — could leave you missing a lot of Disney magic.

    In fact, each hotel at a Disney resort is like its own miniature park, complete with theming, restaurants, and activities of their own. And while we’d say that most Disney hotels are worth a visit even if you’re not staying there, these six are definitely must-visits.

    6. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland

    It’s hard to miss this hotel which butts up to Disney California Adventure (and has its own park entrance for guests). But even non-guests will want to check out the Grand California’s 19th-century arts and crafts style — which certainly lives up to its “grand” title. The lobby is, in particular, a great hangout. Even though the lobby is six stories of open space, it still manages to feel warm and homey with wood paneling, stained glass light fixtures, and a huge walk-in fireplace to warm up in during the the winter months.

    This hotel’s proximity to the parks makes it a great place to take a breather — and enjoy air conditioning and the only free wifi you’ll find in the area — after an afternoon touristing. There’s even live piano music in the lobby at certain times of day for free entertainment.

    5. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, Walt Disney World

    Fort WildernessFort Wilderness© Disney

    Located in 750 acres of pine and cypress forest, when you visit Fort Wilderness you feel like you’re worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Orlando theme parks. And while you won’t find a luxurious lobby to lounge in, you will find lots of outdoor activities to enjoy — visitors can enjoy jogging, biking, fishing, archery, wagon and carriage rides, horse rides, volleyball, basketball, or kayak and canoe rentals.

    But if you’re tired of activities, you can explore the Tri-Circle-D ranch (open from 8am to 3:30pm daily), where you can meet Cinderella’s Ponies, the horses that work on Main Street every day, and more than 90 other ranch residents. For something even more laid back, you can attend Chip-n-Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-Long in the evening, where you can sing songs, make s’mores, and meet Chip and Dale — and while several Disney World Resort hotels offer evening campfire activities, Fort Wilderness is worth the trip if you — or your kids — are eager to meet Chip and Dale.

    4. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Walt Disney World

    Grand CalifornianGrand Floridian© Disney

    It’s called “grand” for a very good reason — the Grand Floridian has such a high level of refined Victorian elegance that your average tourist is likely to feel underdressed. But it’s a pleasant place to escape the Florida heat, with a live pianist — or sometimes a larger band — playing Disney-themed tunes for most of the day. The atmosphere is especially festive during the holiday season, with Christmas trees and a truly massive gingerbread house bringing in the spirit of the season.

    If you’re looking to do more than lounge, the Grand Floridian is home to some of the best restaurants in the resort, like the always-booked Victoria and Albert’s — but for some Victorian flair on a more modest budget, you can have afternoon tea in the Garden View Tea Room.

    3. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World

    Animal Kingdom LodgeAnimal Kingdom Lodge© Disney

    You don’t need to be a hotel guest or even step foot in the Animal Kingdom park itself to enjoy some of the thrills of the safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge. While African art and theming throughout this hotel are spectacular, it’s the animals that really steal the show. There are plenty of places on hotel property where you can go to animal-watch rather than people-watch like you would at other hotel lobbies — and once the sun sets, there are even cast members on hand to offer night vision gear to give you good view of the wildlife after dark.

    For more organized activities, you can visit the flamingo pond in the mornings to see the flamingos being fed or skip the animals all together and take in an African story at dusk next to Ogun’s Firepit.

    2. Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Walt Disney World

    BoardWalk InnBoardWalk Inn© Disney

    The hotel itself is as charming as any on Disney property, but it’s the outside BoardWalk area that makes this a must-visit. Themed like turn-of-the-century Atlantic City, the BoardWalk area offers restaurants, bars, and shops that make it an ideal place to stroll whenever you need a break from the theme parks. For nighttime entertainment, there’s a dance hall, a dueling piano bar, and an ESPN Club for catching up on the latest in sports — though some establishments have a cover charge.

    If that’s not your style, the BoardWalk area is still fun to stroll, with street performers and plenty of window-shopping opportunities.

    1. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Walt Disney World

    Polynesian Village ResortPolynesian Village Resort© Disney

    If you want something more tropical than Florida, the south pacific vibe — complete with lush greenery and tropical waterfalls in the lobby — of the Polynesian is where it’s at. You can get into a Hawaiian state of mind by catching the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, featuring hula dancing and fire-eating, or booking dinner for an all-you-can-eat Hawaiian feast at Ohana (both for a cost, with reservations recommended). If you’d rather learn to hula yourself, you can do that too, with free lessons in the lobby area on most afternoons.

    If you’re not in the mood for dinner, though, the Polynesian’s beachfront is a great place to relax after a long day at the parks and watch the Electrical Water Pageant — a lit-up water parade that passes by the waterfront hotels every evening — float by and stay to catch the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show as a follow-up.

    Of course this isn’t a comprehensive list of Disney hotels worth visiting, since in our book, all of them are — but next time you’re at a Disney theme park, it’s definitely worth your while to spend some at any of these hotels.

    Have your own favorite Disney hotel? Let us know about it in the comments!