Animal Kingdom Lodge

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.


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