Home » No Matter What Your Budget, Here’s Where You HAVE to Stay at Walt Disney World

No Matter What Your Budget, Here’s Where You HAVE to Stay at Walt Disney World

When you visit Walt Disney World, you’ll want to stay onsite. The amenities at official Disney Resorts are better, especially the daily Extra Magic Hours benefit. And the close proximity to Disney theme parks is another huge advantage. Which Disney resort should you pick, though? Here’s an evaluation of the best and worst options in every tier.

Value Tier

Image: DisneyThe perception of the Value resorts is that they’re all All-Star hotels. Technically, that’s not quite accurate. Disney’s Art of Animation Resort was initially intended as a part of Disney’s Pop Century Resort, but those plans evolved. And the Pop Century isn’t one of the All-Star properties, either.

There’s even a hidden option, The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Unless you have ready access to an RV, that place won’t help you much. If you do, however, it’s probably your favorite. Guests are fiercely loyal to Fort Wilderness.

I previously ranked the various All-Star Resorts at Walt Disney World. While some theme park tourists understandably disagree, I stand by my selection of the worst of them. The worst overall Value Tier property is Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort. I just can’t get past the noise here, and the lousy logistics don’t help, either. This is the place where people stay when they have an event at ESPN Wide World of Sports. When you’re not in that situation, you can do better.

Image: DisneyThe best Value Tier resort isn’t one of the properties listed in that article. Instead, it’s the obvious one. Art of Animation is a gorgeous resort that embodies everything that’s wonderful about Disney animation. The lithographs on display throughout the lobby are worthy of your time, even when you’re not staying here. Guests from nearby resorts should take the time to visit here.

When you do stay at Art of Animation, you’ll love it. The family suites are spacious and meticulously themed to classic films. Whether you prefer Cars, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, or The Little Mermaid, your room’s décor will embrace the movie premise. I’ve listed these suites as among the finest at Walt Disney World. Frankly, they’re mislabeled in the Value Tier. Since they technically count, however, Art of Animation is the clear choice in the group.

Moderate Tier

Image: DisneyDisney only lists five resorts in the Moderate Tier, and two of them share the same name and (general) location. Another is an extension of a resort mentioned earlier. The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort is different from its Value Tier companion. It HAS real rooms, not just campsites for tents and RV connections. These Wilderness Cabins are quite lovely, but they’re not for everyone. As such, I’m taking this property out of consideration for best or worst resort in the tier.

The worst one comes down to a discussion between Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Since this topic is so divisive, I approached it from two perspectives. One is my personal opinion, and the other is the hotel’s overall ranking on TripAdvisor.

Image: DisneyWe lined up completely on Moderate Tier, as voters on that site deem Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs as two lower tier hotels overall in Orlando. Both of them finish in the bottom half of the 344 lodgings in the city. My gut instinct was that Coronado Springs is the worst, and that’s the opinion on TripAdvisor as well. This situation should become clearer as Caribbean Beach is undergoing renovations that will make it a much better resort. Coronado Springs is also undergoing renovations, but they are more cosmetic.

The best hotel in the Moderate Tier comes down to a simple question. Which Port Orleans property do you prefer? The choices are Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside and Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter. Mathematically, you’re much more likely to stay at the former property. It has more than twice as many hotel rooms available…and that’s why I prefer French Quarter. The theming is better here, and the atmosphere is much more intimate. I would go so far as to say that it’s possibly THE most intimate hotel at Walt Disney World. TripAdvisor voters seem to agree, as it’s ranked higher than several properties in the next category…you know, the MUCH more expensive one.

Deluxe Tier

Image: DisneyThe Deluxe Tier is where Disney gets its bread buttered. They charge several hundred dollars per night for each room, and their occupancy rate hovers in the upper 80s on an annual basis. That’s a LOT of money earned thanks to hotel rooms.

Disney can charge those rates because the properties in the Deluxe Tier are cathedrals, immaculately themed properties that marry luxury and convenience. There’s a reason why most new Disney properties fall into the Deluxe Tier. The profit margin is highest for this grouping. According to Disney’s site, the official list of participating resorts is:

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Image: DisneyDeluxe Villas:
  • Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

For our purposes, we won’t view the villas as separate entities, presuming that they’re just better versions of the regular hotel rooms. The evaluations here reflect that some villas are better, however, and these rooms justify higher positioning for their associated hotels.

Picking the worst of them is like naming the worst player in the Hall of Fame. Simply by earning a spot in the Hall of Fame, you’ve demonstrated rare and profound greatness. All Disney properties in the Deluxe Tier are triumphs of architecture and Imagineering.

Image: DisneyThe problem in culling this list down to a few candidates for best and worst resort is simple. I seem to disagree vehemently with voters at TripAdvisor. Their least favorite resort is my family’s favorite. And their second least favorite is my second favorite. We’ll come back to that divide in just a moment.

Their number one choice is the one you’d expect, the Grand Floridian. I understand that line of thinking, but this property wouldn’t make my personal top three. I find it a bit too patrician in feel. My favorite thing about the hotel is its set of restaurants, which isn’t what I’d expect to say about the best Deluxe Tier hotel. So, I’ve ruled it out.

We also don’t agree on worst. TripAdvisor voters believe that the Polynesian and the Contemporary are the bottom rungs of the Deluxe Tier. Just seeing that information makes me feel stabby. We can find a compromise candidate after that, though. Saratoga Springs is a lovely resort conveniently located right beside Disney Springs. It has terrific theming and plenty of onsite activities for hobbyists. It’s just kind of…blah compared to the other options in the Deluxe Tier.

Image: DisneyAs for the best, I’m tempted to say that it’s my list, and so Polynesian wins. While that’s true, I want you to find some utility in this piece. Selecting something that I like better than everyone else doesn’t help you. As such, I’ve ruled out the oldest resorts at Walt Disney World, the Polynesian and the Contemporary.

In their stead, I’d suggest a different Magic Kingdom-based resort. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a gorgeous property with the most impressive lobby ever constructed. The rooms here are passionately rustic, and the campus is stunning. Thanks to recent repurposing of the grounds, its pool area now has a remarkable style that somehow reinvigorates the entire resort. It still feels perfectly in keeping with the overall spirit and tone of the hotel, though. Wilderness Lodge gets overshadowed by other, more storied Deluxe Tier hotels, but Disney fanatics know the truth. It’s the hidden gem of the bunch.