Six Top Reasons Why to Consider Staying at a Walt Disney World Hotel
In addition to proximity—especially easy access to the Magic Kingdom—staying at a Walt Disney World hotel comes with privileges and amenities unavailable to those staying outside the World. Here are the top six reasons why you should stay at a Walt Disney World hotel.
EARLY ACCESS TO RIDE AND RESTAURANT RESERVATIONS Walt Disney World hotel and campground guests, along with guests staying at the Swan and Dolphin resorts, can make FastPass+ ride reservations 60 days before they arrive—30 days earlier than the general public. Disney resort guests can also make dining reservations up to 190 days before their visit, 10 days earlier than the general public.
EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT THE THEME PARKS Disney World lodging guests are invited to enter a designated park 1 hour earlier than the general public each day or to enjoy a designated theme park for up to 2 hours after it closes to the general public in the evening. Extra Magic Hours can be quite valuable if you know how to use them; they can also land you in gridlock.
THEME All of the Walt Disney World hotels are themed, in pointed contrast to non-Disney hotels, which are, well, mostly just hotels. Each Disney hotel is designed to make you feel that you’re in a special place or period of history. Themed rooms are a huge attraction for children, firing their imaginations and really making the hotel an adventure and a memorable place to stay. Some resorts carry off their themes better than others, and some themes are more exciting. Wilderness Lodge, for example, is extraordinary. The lobby opens eight stories to a timbered ceiling supported by giant columns of bundled logs. One look eases you into the Northwest wilderness theme. The isolated lodge is heaven for kids.
Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas replicates the grand safari lodges of Kenya and Tanzania and overlooks its own African-inspired game preserve. By far the most exotic of the Disney resorts, it’s made to order for families with children. Another kids’ favorite is Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs Resort.
The Polynesian Village Resort & Villas conveys the feeling of the Pacific islands. It’s great for families. Kids may not know Polynesia from amnesia, but they like those cool “lodge” buildings and all the torches at night. The Bora Bora Bungalows offer perfect views of Cinderella Castle and the Magic Kingdom fireworks across the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Grandeur, nostalgia, and privilege are central to the Grand Floridian Resort & Villas, the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, the Beach Club Villas, Saratoga Springs Resort, and BoardWalk Inn & Villas. Kids appreciate the creative swimming facilities of these resorts but are relatively neutral toward their shared Eastern-seaboard theme.
Port Orleans Resort lacks the mystery and sultriness of New Orleans’s French Quarter, but it’s hard to replicate the Big Easy in a sanitized Disney version. The Riverside section of Port Orleans, however, hits the mark with its antebellum Mississippi River theme, as does Old Key West Resort with its Florida Keys theme. The Caribbean Beach Resort’s theme is much more effective at night, thanks to creative lighting. Its pirate-themed suites are a big hit with little buccaneers, and the playground and swimming pool fit in nicely with the pirate theme. Coronado Springs Resort offers several styles of Mexican and Southwestern American architecture. Though the lake setting is lovely and the resort is attractive, the theme (with the exception of the main swimming area) isn’t especially stimulating for kids, but, like the Caribbean, it’s beautiful at night.
The All-Star Resorts comprise almost 35 three-story, T-shaped hotels with almost 6,000 guest rooms. There are 15 themed areas: 5 celebrate sports (surfing, basketball, tennis, football, and baseball), 5 recall Hollywood movies, and 5 have musical motifs. The resort’s design, with entrances shaped like giant Dalmatians, Coke cups, footballs, and the like, is pretty adolescent, sacrificing grace and beauty for energy and novelty. Guest rooms are small, with decor reminiscent of a teenage boy’s bedroom.
Pop Century Resort is pretty much a clone of All-Star Resorts, only here the giant icons symbolize decades of the 20th century (Big Wheels, 45-rpm records, silhouettes of people doing period dances, and such), and period memorabilia decorates the rooms.
Across the lake from Pop Century is Art of Animation Resort, with icons and decor based on Cars, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid.
Pretense aside, the Contemporary, Bay Lake Tower, Swan, and Dolphin are essentially themeless but architecturally interesting. The Contemporary is a 15-story, A-frame building with monorails running through the middle. Views from guest rooms in the Contemporary are among the best at Walt Disney World. Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary Resort is a sleek, curvilinear high-rise offering bird’s-eye views of Bay Lake. The Swan and Dolphin hotels are massive yet whimsical. Children are blown away by the giant sea creature and swans atop the Dolphin and Swan and love the idea of the monorail running through the middle of the Contemporary.
GREAT SWIMMING AREAS Every Walt Disney World hotel offers imaginative swimming facilities. Exotically themed, beautifully landscaped, and equipped with slides, fountains, splash zones, and smaller pools for toddlers, Disney resort swimming complexes are a quantum leap removed from the typical rectangular hotel pool. Some resorts, such as the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian, even offer a sand beach on Seven Seas Lagoon in addition to swimming pools. Others, such as the Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Resorts, have elaborately themed playgrounds near their swimming areas.
DISNEY’S MAGICAL EXPRESS If you arrive in Orlando by air, Disney will collect your checked baggage and send it by bus directly to your Walt Disney World resort, allowing you to bypass baggage claim. Baggage service is available daily, 5 a.m.–10 p.m.; free bus service to your hotel is available 24 hours a day. If your flight arrives in Orlando close to or after 10 p.m., you must collect your own bags and bring them with you on the bus.
FREE PARKING Disney resort guests with cars pay nothing to park in theme park lots or at hotels. This saves $20 per day at the parks and up to $25 per day at the hotels. If you are not staying on property and want to take advantage of the new preferred parking, you can now do so at all four theme parks. Preferred parking at the Magic Kingdom is in the Jafar lot, in the Amaze lot at Epcot, near the front of the Stage lot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and in the Peacock lot at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. An additional fee of $15 is added to the $20 parking fee.
If you want to take a tour of Walt Disney World browsing over hundreds of full-color photographs, check out the 2017 edition of The Unofficial Guide: The Color Companion, now available.