One of the first decisions that needs to be made when planning a trip to Walt Disney World is where you will stay. The prices vary drastically, depending on which category of resort you want: value, moderate, or deluxe. And also which season you visit Disney World: value, regular, peak, summer, or holiday. Basically, anytime the kids are out of school, it's more expensive.
I am a huge supporter of staying on property. Keep reading for all the reasons why!!
Reason #1: Disney transportation! The minute you step off your plane, Disney is already catering to you. You don't have to retrieve your bags from baggage claim and you proceed directly to the Magical Express counter, a free bus/shuttle service only for resort guests. They drop you right at the front door to your resort. Then, when you're ready to hit the parks, simply hop on the next bus, monorail, or boat. Disney makes sure you always have a way to get where you need to go....for free.
Reason #2: The magic of the resorts! Disney resorts are like no other resorts. The value resorts are fun and bright and whimsical. Where else can you stand next to huge Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads, or climb a staircase inside a gigantic football? Each resort is wildly themed and so much fun. The moderate resorts do a fantastic job of transporting you to the Caribbean, Mexico, or New Orleans. Rooms are a little more subdued than the values, and have a few more amenities. And the deluxe resorts are the epitome of style, class, and luxury with a Disney flair.
Reason #3: Quality. If you've ever been to Disney World, you know what I mean. If you haven't, well, be prepared for first class all the way. Even the value resorts. While the rooms are the smallest on property, they still surpass any of the classic chain hotels out there.
Reason #4: Disney Dining Plan! Only resort guests can take advantage of the Disney Dining Plan, a meal plan based on credits (see my Dining page!) The plan has saved us tons of money in the past and it's so easy! I love having all our meals paid for before we get there (aside from gratuities).
But, sometimes offside is best. Here are some exceptions to my reasons above.
Exception #1: You know someone who lives near Disney World and can stay for free. Free is good. Free trumps all. Accommodations are a large part of your travel expenses and if you can stay somewhere and not pay one dime, go for it!
Exception #2: You drive to Florida. As stated above, one of the major perks of staying on Disney property is their transportation system. But, for some families, especially large ones, flying is just way too expensive. If you already have your car there with you...well, it may also work out that off site accommodations are a good option.
As I said earlier, I adore staying on property. Of my 11 trips to Walt Disney World, only one was an off-property hotel. That was my first trip ever in 2000, when I knew nothing and the trip was as kinda planned on a whim 2 months before we went. It was one place we'd wanted to visit before having kids.
So anyway, after that is was on-property only for us. We've stayed at a bunch of different resorts and here are my reviews.
All Star Movies (stayed there 12/05 and 3/11)
This was the first resort we stayed at on Disney property. We chose it mainly because of the price. We needed to keep costs low and thought this one looked the most fun out of the All Stars. We were amazed when we arrived at how awesome the place was in real life. Both of our stays, our room was in the Mighty Ducks section. It was a bit far to walk to, but it was really quiet back there. The rooms weren't huge, but large enough for us.
Pros: Fun Disney movie icons, price
Cons: Rooms can be a little snug for four people, sometimes the All Stars share buses
All Star Music (stayed there 12/10 and 9/14)
This is our absolute favorite of the All Stars! We felt this resort is themed almost like a moderate, with each section being distinctly themed to the music genre it represents. The Jazz section looked like New Orleans. The country section looks like the south. We really enjoyed our stays here! We were in the Rock Inn section the first time, very cool! And Jazz the second time, which was a suite. The suite was very spacious and my kids loved the pull put chair and ottoman/cot. The pull out couch wasn't exactly the greatest, but it sufficed.
Pros: Adorable theming, price
Cons: Rooms can be a little snug for four people, sometimes the All Stars share buses. Pull out couch in suites is not real comfy.
All Star Sports (stayed there 5/07 and 12/15):
I have to say, this is my least favorite value resort. I am not a sports fan, so it definitely didn't appeal to me. We chose it for my hubby, and we got lots of great photos around the resort. At the time, it seemed pretty run down, as it is the oldest of the All Stars, but I think they have refurbished it since then. We stayed in the Basketball section. I have no complaints about staff or Mousekeeping, as they are always fabulous.
Pros: Price, first resort to be picked up and dropped off if the All Stars share buses
Cons: Resort needs refurbishing, rooms can be a little snug for four people, sometimes the All Stars share buses
Art of Animation Resort (stayed there 11/12)
This is Disney's newest resort and in one word, it's breathtaking. Disney did everything right with this one. It's a value resort, mainly suites, but one section, The Little Mermaid, is standard rooms. The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars are the suite sections. Each area is so superbly themed it feels like you are inside the cartoons. The food court is amazing and different. So many great options. It's got the largest pool on property and the only one with a zero entry. We used it and it was really fun.
Pros: Shiny and new, fabulous theming, great food court.
Cons: Buses were very crowded at the end of the day, and the pool area could use more chairs.
Art of Animation was A. MAZE. ING!
Pop Century (stayed there 1/07 and 10/09)
This resort is so much fun and can really make any adult feel like a kid again! Each section's icons are toys and things from the past, each representing a decade: 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. The buildings are bright and bold and are covered with things from the decade. I stayed int he 50's section with my mom in 07, which she loved, being a child of the 50's. And in 09, we had a very quite room that faced the lake. The main pool is tons of fun! This value resort has it's own buses and does not share like the All Stars sometimes can.
Pros: Fun and bright, does not share buses
Cons: Rooms can be a little snug for four people
Coronado Springs (stayed here 4/10)
This resort is HUGE! We arrived at night and hadn't expected such long walk to our room. But the room was gorgeous. We were in the Cabana section, which we requested for it's proximity to the Dig Site, which is the pool and hot tub area. We spent every evening in the hot tub, the biggest on Disney property. Our first morning, we left the room early to we could walk around the huge lake and see each section of the resort, each was themed to representing a different area of the Southwest and Northern Mexico. So beautiful! But the walk was quite long. It took forever to get from our room to the main building for a drink refill. But we especially liked the counter service meal option there, the Pepper Market. Very tasty!
Pros: Beautiful, great counter service restaurant, awesome rooms, huge hot tub.
Cons: Very large resort, snack bar at pool closed very early
Port Orleans French Quarter (stayed there 10/08)
This was our first moderate experience and chose it for it's quaintness and the great reviews I had read online. And they didn't disappoint. Themed for the famed section of New Orleans, we adored the brick "streets" and wrought iron fences. Everything was so close to the main building and pool. My only complaint is that the lifeguards went off duty at 8 pm, so if you weren't there before that time, you didn't get to try out the awesome looking dragon slide. It was turned off at that time. We never made it back from the parks in time. The boat to Downtown Disney was a nice alternative to the bus system.
Pros: Beautiful theming, small and quaint, boat service to Downtown Disney
Cons: Lifeguards off duty at 8
Where to Stay
Top 5 Reasons to Stay at a Value Resort