Home » The 8 Most Immersive Resorts at Walt Disney World

    The 8 Most Immersive Resorts at Walt Disney World

    Official resorts at Walt Disney World are cathedrals by another name. They’re among the most luxurious, comfortable hotels in North America. That part’s a given. How would you judge them if you simply evaluated their theming, though? Which otherwise great resorts would fall by the wayside? Which beloved properties would still stand out? These are the questions I hope to answer today as I list the eight best themed resorts at Walt Disney World.

    8. Disney’s BoardWalk Resort

    Image: DisneyThe entire Disney BoardWalk section of Walt Disney World is immaculate. The theming here transports guests to a simpler time, the halcyon days of yore when a trip to Coney Island meant everything. The bright lights and vibrant colors here are traditional enough to make guests forget that we live in an age of neon-illuminated debauchery.

    The hotel continues the theme with its stylish port accoutrements. You’ll feel like you’re eating cotton candy during your summer vacation as you wander the property. The pool area even has a carnival style complete with big top covering. And while I make plenty of jokes about the creepy clown pool, it definitely embodies that time when New Yorkers flocked to the island to relish in some family entertainment.

    7. Disney’s Old Key West Resort

    Image: DisneyI tried to amend my carnivorous habit. I made it nearly 70 days. And if these words mean nothing to you, you’re not a Parrothead. Those of us who do love the musical stylings of Jimmy Buffett feel right at home at Old Key West, a place where the pool plays his music regularly. They do this because Buffett is widely associated with the laid back lifestyle that you find in Key West, Florida.

    The resort celebrates this kind of living through its serene atmosphere. Gentle pastels are visible throughout the complex, fostering a soothing vibe. The classic architecture of the villas hearken back to early 20th century Key West, the kind of place seductive enough to persuade Ernest Hemingway to live there. Old Key West has lush foliage on the grounds and charming pools, all of which would seem right at home on the island.

    6. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

    Image: DisneyMajestic is the only word that can truly describe this resort. Immaculate in scope and lovingly crafted, the lobby of this resort was at one point the greatest in Disney history. Even when it was surpassed by a different resort also on this list, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge still staked a claim as the original of its kind.

    Designed as a tribute to the great national parks lodges, it’s an eight-story tall log cabin interior. A pair of 55-foot tall totem poles signifies the strong Native American presence in the great Northwest. And Disney imported countless indigenous trees from the region for both the interior and grounds of the resort. You feel like you’re walking through nature as you traverse the property, and you’ll never feel smaller or more in awe of nature than when you gaze up in the lobby.

    5. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter

    Image: DisneyYou couldn’t possibly know what it was like to live in 19th century New Orleans. For that matter, some of you may not have been around for 20th century New Orleans. Thankfully, you still have a chance to see what the big deal was. Disney kindly gives you the ability to walk the streets of the Big Easy as if you had a time machine.

    This Moderate tiered resort is small by Disney standards, which makes the theming stand out that much more. At Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, you’ll see all the decorations one would expect when hanging out in the Old Square around Mardi Gras. It aptly encapsulates seemingly opposite cultures that comprised the backbone of New Orleans culture 200 years ago.

    The French are a snooty bunch with an odd sense of humor (see: Jerry Lewis), while southerners (like me) are a stubborn bunch known for our ill temper and lack of style. New Orleans is the odd child of that shotgun marriage, but it sure is fun. The resort mimics the French Quarter, the thriving part of the city, and it also added a secondary theming in recent years. It updated to include characters from The Princess and the Frog, a movie set in – you guessed it – New Orleans. It’s that extra bit of charm that enhances the theming even more.

    4. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

    Image: DisneyDeciding where to rank the Grand Floridian was the most difficult aspect of building this list. On the one hand, it’s the most elegant of Disney’s Walt Disney World properties, the place where the elite stay. It’s elegant and classical thanks to its Victorian seaside resort theme.

    With regards to theming, I struggle to define it, though. Sure, I know the elements well. From the cast member costumes to the sublime lobby to the gorgeous beachfront grounds, the Grand Floridian is absolutely wonderful. I fully understand why the one percenters love staying here. It’s also one of my favorite places to visit and (especially) to eat. I just couldn’t rank it in the top three because the theming of the resorts listed ahead of it is so much easier to encapsulate.

    3. Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

    Image: DisneyThe appeal of this one is simple. Literally everyone reading this site loves classic Disney animated movies. For that matter, anyone reading any internet website loves classic Disney animated movies. It’s just that a site inhabited by Disney lovers is that much more passionate on the subject. Disney movies are an integral part of culture, a rite of passage for children. Any resort that celebrates the magic of animated cinema is instantly great. Sure, the theming here isn’t complex, but that’s a positive. Disney isn’t putting on airs with this property. Instead, they’re embracing the “keep it simple, stupid” philosophy.

    The Art of Animation Resort is a functional library of animation. Paintings of famous Disney animated characters adorn the walls. All of the hotel rooms have themes associated with specific movies such as The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. Even theme park tourists who never plan to stay here should walk the campus and spend some time in the hotel lobby. It’s the feel-good resort for Disney movie lovers.

    2. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

    Image: DisneyThis resort’s theme is animals. You can tell it by all the animals present. Yes, Animal Kingdom Lodge honors the underlying philosophy of the nearby theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It does this by marrying two seemingly incongruous premises. At the park, thrill rides reside on the same campus as a functional zoo.

    At Animal Kingdom Lodge, a group of nearly 1,300 hotel rooms all face the hotel’s interior. They do this so that guests can look down at their neighbors who are also the permanent residents at the facility. It’s a deluxe resort that’s also an operational zoo complete with several different species of animals, some of whom are mortal enemies on the Serengeti. A wildlife reserve combined with a standard hotel is exactly the same kind of daring idea that defines the Disney brand. Animal Kingdom Lodge’s theming reinforces this kind of bravado. When you visit here, you’ll feel like you’re out on the savannah, marveling at the circle of life. It’s arguably the best themed resort at Walt Disney World. Alas, I prefer…

    1.   Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

    Image: DisneyTruth in advertising: The Polynesian is also my favorite Walt Disney World resort, but that didn’t play a factor in these rankings. Instead, I populated the list with a clear idea of the top three. In the end, I chose this resort as the best themed property because it’s so easy to describe.

    At the Polynesian, you’re staying at a monorail resort only a couple of stops away from Magic Kingdom. Somehow, you’re also staying at a beachfront property that will forcibly remind you of vacationing in the South Seas. The island vibe is the raison d’être for the existence of this place, and the subtle touches are ubiquitous.

    Image: DisneyThe meals at the Polynesian will remind you of a beachfront vacation, especially the one at ‘Ohana. The show at the Polynesian will make you feel like you’re in Fiji watching fire dancers work their magic. The shopping at the Polynesian will make you feel like a tourist in desperate need of a hideous-but-lovable Hawaiian shirt. And the greeters in the lobby of the hotel will sweep you away to another place as they hang traditional leis around the necks of all the members of your party.

    All eight of the properties here possess impeccable theming. For that matter, every official Walt Disney World resort does. Only one can be the best, however, and it’s the property with bungalows and a lava pool. The proof is in this simple statement. Ask any of your friends what they know about the Polynesian Village Resort. They can almost certainly tell you the theme. That’s the true litmus test here.