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Disney World Planning 101 (Part 2): The WHERE

After reading the first post in this series, Disney World Planning 101 (Part 1): The WHY, WHO, WHEN, and HOW, you’ve figured out WHY you’re going, WHO you’re taking, WHEN you’ll be going, and HOW you’ll get there. Now we can get into the fun stuff – the WHERE and the WHAT!

Today we are focusing on one question: WHERE do you want to stay?

Deciding WHERE to stay during your Disney World vacation can be a little tricky. There are so many options, both on-property and off-property. On-property includes one of the many Disney-run and operated hotels, or resorts, as they are called.

Perks to staying on-property:

  • Free transportation from/to the airport
  • Free transportation to/from and between the parks and Disney Springs
  • Access to special promotions (e.g., free dining, discount park tickets, room/ticket packages)
  • Opportunity to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours when offered
  • Ability to make FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance (you have to wait until 30 days prior when staying off-property), and you can make them for your entire stay (up to 10 days).
  • Ability to make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) 180 days in advance and can make them for your entire stay (up to 10 days).
  • Free Magic Band**
  • Total immersion in the world of Disney!

** When staying on-property, Magic Bands are included in your stay and give you access to your room and get you into the parks each day. If you choose to add-on the Memory Maker option (more on that later!), you’ll scan your Magic Band each time you have photos taken. Also, here’s the neat part: with a Magic Band, there is really no need to carry your credit/gift cards into the parks with you! Just scan your Magic Band every time you pay and your purchases will be charged back to your room (but no CC data is stored on the Magic Band). You’ll still need cash if you plan to buy from the street cart vendors (i.e., sellers of balloons, glow wands, etc.) When staying off-property, you can purchase Magic Bands for yourself. You can use them for park admittance, FastPasses, some ADRs, and Memory Maker.

ON-PROPERTY DISNEY RESORTS

Disney divides their resorts into three main categories: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Typically, the value resorts score higher on themes (especially according to kids), but as you move up to Moderate and Deluxe resorts you get bigger beds, more space, better views, and sometimes better location.

As I’m writing this, the value resorts have a listed room rate starting at $100/night – not too shabby when you consider how expensive things can get at Disney! And that doesn’t include any special promotions.

If you enjoy camping, you should check out the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort for an inexpensive option.

Each resort is associated with a Disney park or area with easy access to that park/area: Magic Kingdom has four main resorts; Epcot also has four, plus two that aren’t officially owned and operated by Disney (The Dolphin and Swan Hotels); Animal Kingdom has five; Disney Springs has four; ESPN Wide World of Sports area has two; and Hollywood Studios has none.

Three of the Magic Kingdom resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian) are located on the Monorail Line with quick and easy access to Magic Kingdom. The Contemporary is also within walking distance to the park. Most of the Epcot resorts are within walking distance to Epcot’s World Showcase entrance. It is also possible to walk from most of the Epcot resorts to Hollywood Studios.

Having so many options is great, but can be quite overwhelming, believe me, I know! Start by looking at the Disney website’s listing of all the resorts. You can see current rates, location, and view images of every resort. Then hop on over to WDW Prep School to read an unofficial review of each resort.

To help you make your decision, we asked local Corridor moms to share their experiences with some of the on-property resorts.

Local Moms Share Their Experiences

We always stay on property and we love it! We like being in the ‘Disney bubble’ while on vacation. One of my favorite things about Disney resorts are the cast members at the pools who have games for the kids to play. My kids love that! Another favorite thing about some of the Disney resorts are the daily marshmallow roasts and the evening outdoor movies! –Terri D.

Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort

(value; Animal Kingdom Resort area)

All Star Movies Resort. Photo Credit: Emily K.

The large movie icons at All Star Movies are really fun for kids. We recommend the 101 Dalmatians preferred rooms that are close to the bus stops and dining area. The rooms at the value resorts are small, but if you plan to be in the parks from rope drop to fireworks this is a great option. –Emily K.

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

(value; Wide World of Sport Resort area)

Art of Animation Resort, Nemo Section. Photo Credit: Andrea A.

We stayed at the Art of Animation resort. It was fantastic! There are different themed sections. We stayed in the Finding Nemo section. It was closest to the “hub” of the resort that housed the gift shop, food service, etc. I loved all the attention to detail. The kids alternated where they slept each night. –Andrea A

Art of Animation Resort. Photo Credit: Terri D.

We recently explored Art of Animation and the resort is extremely well themed. –Terri D.

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside

(moderate; Disney Springs Resort area)

Port Orleans Riverside Resort. Photo Credit: Jessilyn B.

Our favorite moderate resort to stay at is Port Orleans Riverside. My son and daughter both loved the royal rooms due to the fireworks over the bed. The location to the royal rooms is great, close to the main pool and food court. It had a great pool and my kids spent a lot of time on the water slide. The resort is beautiful and has a relaxed feeling which is nice considering how busy you are in the parks. –Jessilyn B.

Port Orleans Riverside Resort. Photo Credit: Stacy H.

We stayed [at Port Orleans Riverside in Alligator Bayou] last October the week the park got closed due to the Hurricane. We loved our room and spent lots of time hunkered down for cover in it. I have to say the building was very solid and we barely heard the storm! –Stacy H.

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

(moderate; Animal Kingdom Resort area)

Coronado Springs Resort pool. Photo Credit: Terri D.

So far my favorite resort is Coronado Springs. I love all the beautiful landscaping and the amazing pool! –Terri D.

[Coronado Springs] was great, too! Our room was next to a smaller pool which was always empty. The room was decent sized. –Priscilla Z.

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

(deluxe; Magic Kingdom Resort area)

Grand Floridian Resort. Photo Credit: Heather H.

This past march we stayed at The Grand Floridian. It was BEAUTIFUL. The pool was nice and had a newer Alice and Wonderland themed splash area. The grounds are pretty and well-maintained and the lobby is gorgeous. The best part about it is you are right next door to Magic Kingdom. We hopped on the monorail and were there in less than two minutes. So easy with three little kids 5 and under, a double stroller, and a single stroller, let me tell you. –Heather H.

Disney’s Contemporary Resort

(deluxe; Magic Kingdom Resort area)

Contemporary Resort. Photo Credit: Jessilyn B.

For this trip we only spent two days at MK and wanted to be close so we stayed at the Contemporary. The Contemporary is a monorail hotel but we found it faster to just walk to MK. We could see the MK fireworks and there is Chef Mickeys! –Jessilyn B.

NOT-QUITE-ON-PROPERTY OR OFF-PROPERTY OPTIONS

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are located in the Boardwalk area among the other Disney owned properties. Guests of these two hotels can make use of some of the perks of on-property resorts such as bus and boat transportation to the parks.

An option for military families is Shades of Green, which offers great low rates.

SOG is amazing. The pricing is phenomenal for the quality of the hotel. We had a hotel room with a patio that looked out to the golf course and the rooms were HUGE. (Seriously, like two times the size of a value resort room.) They had a nice green space with a pond in the middle of the resort. Several size pools to meet the needs of every guest. A playground, spa, store, restaurants, etc. It’s not a Disney resort but on Disney property so you don’t get some of the benefits that normal Disney guest would get. –Priscilla Z.

OFF-PROPERTY OPTIONS

There is a plethora of hotels, resorts, time-shares, rental homes, etc. in the area surrounding Disney World. There are more than 50 hotels near Disney World that are classified as Good Neighbor Hotels. These hotels are all located near Disney World and offer transportation to/from the parks. You can also purchase park tickets at all Good Neighbor Hotels and many offer theme park ticket packages.

Sometimes you can save money by staying off-property, but then you lose all the perks of being on-property. But there are some advantages as well.

Perks to Staying Off-Property

  • As great as it can be to be completely immersed in the world of Disney, it can also be a complete sensory overload!
  • It’s nice to be able to leave at the end of each day to reset for the next day!
  • Staying off-property offers a little more freedom. When staying off-property I feel like I’m “allowed” to do other, non-Disney activities. 
  • It can also sometimes be easier to find a space to accommodate a larger group of people.

We always stay off property, as we own a timeshare with Orange Lake Resorts owned by Holiday Inn Vacation Club. I love the separate bedrooms, full kitchen and washer and dryer! We back up to Animal Kingdom so the travel time isn’t too bad, although it does mean we need to rent a car for each trip. Our kids love to spend a few days relaxing at the resort and we consider Orange Lake our second home! –Mandy M.

That being said, if this is your first trip to Disney World, I highly recommend staying on-property to take advantage of all the perks and benefits! And when making your decision, remember, you’ll be spending a good portion of your time OUTSIDE of your room!


Hopefully this moves you another step along on planning a magical Disney World trip with your family! In Part Three I’ll go over the ins and outs of deciding WHAT to do. Like I said, I spent a lot of waking hours researching and planning our trip. In that process I looked through more websites, blogs, discussion groups, and books than I care to admit. And I’ve found a handful of resources that I kept coming back to. Below are the resources that will help you the most and the ones that I liked the best. I’ve also included a short list of common abbreviations you might run into while planning your own trip.


Resources

Websites/Blogs

Walt Disney World
MouseSavers
WDW PrepSchool
Disney Tourist Blog
Undercover Tourist

Facebook Groups

NL Disney Moms
Smart Moms Planning Disney
Mom Approved Disney World Trip Planning Group

Books

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2017
Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets
Disney World Within Reach: Meeting the Mouse Without Breaking the Bank

Apps

My Disney Experience
Disney Store
Shop Disney Parks

Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations

7DWM: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
ADR: Advanced Dining Reservation
AK: Animal Kingdom
BOG: Be Our Guest Restaurant
BTMRR: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
CM: Cast Member
CRT: Cinderella’s Royal Table
DVA: Disney Vacation Account
EP: Epcot
FP: FastPass
HS: Hollywood Studios
MB: Magic Band
MDE: My Disney Experience
MK: Magic Kingdom
ROL: Rivers of Light
TTC: Transportation and Ticket Center

 


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