May 24, 2024

Ranking ALL Resort Hotels at Disney World from Worst to Best

This ranks every single hotel at Walt Disney World–Values, Moderates, Deluxes, and Villas–from worst to best. These resort rankings consider theme, amenities, location, transportation, pools, dining, guest rooms, and more to determine the top accommodations near the theme parks in Florida.

Most notably, we give significant weight to value for money. That not only levels the playing field–otherwise this would pretty much be a boring list of least expensive to most expensive hotels–but also provides practical value. It will help determine which Walt Disney World resorts are worth a splurge, what’s overpriced, and good budget picks.

We’re taking those objective criteria and mixing them with subjective, asking (and answering): which resorts would we recommend to family & friends vacationing at Walt Disney World? That seems perfectly logical, but it’s something our past lists sometimes failed to do. The goal here is coming up with a list of actionable resort recommendations for a variety of vacationers looking to book their dream Walt Disney World resort–and everyone’s dream differs!

Part of our decision to undermine the objective criteria with subjectivity is because it worked really well with our recent list of the 22 Best Restaurants at Walt Disney World. Unlike our other Walt Disney World rankings, and was met with a positive reader response, as opposed to outrage and anger. A rarity.

The other part of the decision is because is nearly impossible to rank all of the resorts at Walt Disney World. How on earth do you compare All Star Sports to Grand Floridian given the many differences and huge gap in pricing?! To that point, you might prefer to consult our rankings of each resort tier if you already have set your budget and know which level of accommodations you want:

Beyond that, we’ve stayed at every resort numerous times, and there is not a single resort that we dislike. Literally. All of them have pros & cons and each brings something special to the table.

Consequently, which resorts you prefer can vary based on what you need, want, or how much you value the unique quality of each resort. It can even differ from visit to visit based upon priorities of that particular trip. Ultimately, we’ve enjoyed our stays at almost every resort, making this an especially tough task.

It’s not the first time we’ve tried doing something like this. Not too long ago, we ranked all 88 attractions at Walt Disney World. Just as with those, our aim is to make an inherently subjective process as objective as possible, putting resorts that “score well” on our objective metrics ahead of some personal favorites.

However, we also recognize that to some degree, that’s a fool’s errand. (All of this is, really.) Everyone is going to grant different weight to those objective criteria based upon subjective preferences. You couldn’t get 10 fans to agree on the best Star Wars attraction at Walt Disney World (you just know there’d be someone who says “Launch Bay!”), so there’s no way everyone is going to agree on two dozen hotels. It’s just not happening.

The good news is that this is entirely for fun. We are not secretly on the awards committee for Michelin, AAA, Condé Nast, Travel & Leisure, or Forbes. Our opinions don’t matter any more than anyone else’s. Moreover, since we love so many of these hotels, our actual list could–and does–change by the time of year, depending upon mood or where we haven’t stayed lately. The point is that this list is not worth your anger or outrage. Then again, most things on the internet aren’t, and yet…

With that said, we do have a couple of quirky ground rules that made the list significantly easier for us to put together. First, Deluxe Resorts and Disney Vacation Club properties are combined. We’re doing this even when there are notable differences between them, and that’s really a matter of acknowledging the target audience of this list.

The practical reality is that most Walt Disney World first-timers or infrequent visitors aren’t going to be renting DVC points, so the subtle differences between Copper Creek and Boulder Ridge, or even the more pronounced ones between Jambo House and Kidani Village, don’t really matter all that much.

Second, when two distinct resorts are substantially similar in many regards, this can be used to give a significant ranking advantage to our favorite of the two. It’s not that the Port Orleans Resorts or Yacht & Beach Club are really that different from one another, but we think each has an option that’s clearly superior for first-timers.

To that point, having a wide variety of resorts represented in the top 10 was a priority of this list and one we fixated on for way too long. We made every effort to avoid that simply being a list of Walt Disney World’s most expensive hotels, and instead chose to highlight the top options with distinct advantages and selling points. (You’ll understand what we mean when you get to the top 10!)

With that out of the way, let’s dig into our list of the best & worst hotels at Walt Disney World…

23. Old Key West Resort

There’s a lot to love about Old Key West, and it pains me a little to rank it last. Its sprawling layout provides ‘breathing room’ from other guests, lovely grounds to explore, and ample space for a morning stroll. It offers spacious rooms in a variety of styles. The dining is also very good, with unheralded gems, especially for fans of comfort food.

However, all of that requires viewing Old Key West in the most favorable light. The layout is a double-edged sword that can be inconvenient and a hassle to navigate. The rooms have a lot of wasted space and relatively boring styles. If you’re looking for something more ambitious than comfort food, the restaurants leave a lot to be desired. Old Key West is beloved by many DVC owners, but for a first-time trip to Walt Disney World, it’s the resort we’d be least likely to recommend to friends or family.

22. Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

This is where we stayed on the trip we took together as adults when we fell in love with Walt Disney World. It’s the resort we eventually chose as “home” for our Disney Vacation Club purchase. That Saratoga Springs still manages to rank second-to-last speaks to the difficulty of these rankings, and our attempt to set aside personal preferences.

While Saratoga Springs lacks the lush setting and charming environments of Old Key West, its new rooms are better. That coupled with all of the superlative dining and shopping options within walking distance at Disney Springs pushes Saratoga Springs up a slot. Nevertheless, we can admit Saratoga Springs’ shortcomings, which are pretty much identical to those of Old Key West. It’s not something we’d recommend to friends or family who aren’t Walt Disney World regulars due to the location, layout, and lack of anything that we’d consider distinctly Disney.

21. All Star Sports

It probably won’t surprise anyone to see the All Star Resorts at the bottom of the list, but for those on a tight budget who are worried about seeing them so low, fear not. Instead, check out: Are Walt Disney World’s Cheapest Hotels Actually Good?!

The reason All Star Sports ranks lower than its counterparts is because this hotel is frequently the home base for groups attending youth sporting events that can be large and loud. If you consult the ESPN Wide World of Sports Calendar and you’re completely sure there are no groups, you might decide to opt for it. Our recent stays in the new rooms at All Star Sports have been lovely and quiet, but it’s definitely a budget motel.

20. Coronado Springs Resort

With Gran Destino now open, our position is that you should stay in that tower or at a different resort entirely. In fact, we view the two elements of this single resort so differently, that we’re actually separating it into two entries. (That might seem like a dubious decision given that we’re lumping so many DVC wings together with their hotel side, but it’s a matter of practicality and this list’s target audience, which is not DVC owners or occupiers.)

This isn’t to say Coronado Springs Resort is weak–it’s not. The rooms are among the nicest of all standard Moderate Resorts as they utilize space very well, are modern, and have subtle upgrades absent from other resorts. Coronado Springs also has an excellent pool, the most robust dining options of any Moderate Resort, and other amenities not found at other hotels on this list.

In fact, staying in one of the outlying buildings (or the suburbs of Gran Destino Tower, as we call them) is a good way to save money while having access to the amenities of the tower. We do this ourselves quite often, but we are not first-timers or infrequent visitors. We’ve heard from too many friends that the buses are overcrowded and slow, the resort is too large, and the pool can be packed with people. All of that is true, and often exacerbated by conventions. As such, another personal pick falls pretty significantly.

19. All Star Movies

All Star Movies was the first of the trio to get entirely reimagined rooms, which means these are now technically the oldest of the bunch. It’s not a big difference, but it does mean slightly more wear and tear. Regardless, these rooms are a huge upgrade from the previous design, which was more minor leagues than all-star caliber. Another thing we enjoy about All Star Movies is World Premiere Food Court, which is surprisingly solid and offers great shakes and dinner specials.

The new rooms are definitely a step in the right direction, but All Star Movies could still use some more help. There are several films showcased in the oversized icons that are no longer relevant, and various areas of the resort are showing their age. Still, it’s cheaper than Pop Century or Art of Animation, and that counts for something.

18. All Star Music

We haven’t really delved into downsides of the All Stars, which might make their low rankings confusing. Again, these are the cheapest hotels at Walt Disney World, and by far the most barebones accommodations. Their location isn’t great, you need to take buses to all of the parks, the food is basic, and they’re missing amenities found at higher caliber hotels. Still, for a family on a tight budget focusing on the theme parks, they’re perfectly fine–you won’t be spending tons of time at your resort, anyway.

In our view, All Star Music is the best of the bunch. It has also received reimagined rooms, and this includes the family suites. Other upsides to All Star Music are that it’s less expensive than Pop Century and Art of Animation, it has a refurbished food court, the pools are decent, it’s rarely (if ever) overrun with pre-teen athletic groups, and the decor is good–and not too dated by All Star standards. Basically, All Star Music gets the job done in pretty much every regard, without excelling at anything.

17. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside

It breaks my heart a little to rank Riverside so low, and I can already anticipate the hate mail from its fans. For years, Port Orleans Riverside was our favorite Moderate Resort, and where we stayed more than anywhere else. That hasn’t been true for about 5 years, and if I’m being honest with myself, I love the idea of Port Orleans Riverside more than the actual resort. We still love to visit and spend time at this thematic exemplar, but when push comes to shove and we’re actually doing a stay for practical purposes, Riverside ranks low on our list of choices.

The simple fact is that each of the alternatives offer actual advantages to improve the quality of your vacation. That comes via location, transportation, layout, rooms, or dining. Port Orleans Riverside excels at none of those things. Those downsides and lack of a compelling selling point have become too big to ignore, and are the reason we find ourselves visiting Riverside rather than staying here–even though we love it.

With that said, Port Orleans Riverside is hardly a poor pick. It has an underrated slate of dining options, from the food court to the hidden gem table service restaurant to the lounge. It offers the theming of a Deluxe Resort for the price of a Moderate. It also has the entertainment and recreation of a Deluxe Resort for the price of a Moderate.

Riverside is divided into the rustic Alligator Bayou and more stately Magnolia Bend mansions; this gives it more variety, and richness in detail and design. The grounds are absolutely stunning, with rich wilderness in the bayou and perfectly manicured gardens around the mansions. The quiet pathways that litter Riverside make it a great place to take a romantic stroll or evening surrey bike ride. Despite being fairly spread out, it presents as intimate and romantic, and offers the most immersive themed environments of any Moderate Resort. As a result, Riverside owns a special place in our hearts, but is difficult to recommend for practical purposes.

16. Contemporary Resort

Now that Grand Floridian is also within walking distance of Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary has lost its main selling point for us. Previously, that made up for a lot of the ways this hotel is otherwise lacking. Now, we cannot imagine what circumstances would convince us to splurge on a stay at the Contemporary over Grand Floridian, as the latter is superior on every single front.

Contemporary Resort’s cluttered atrium is a hodgepodge of 1970s and 1990s styles that does the otherwise grandiose space no favors. It desperately needs to be modernized. Then there’s the theme itself (or lack thereof), which essentially positions the hotel thematically alongside real world hotels. While nice enough, the Contemporary doesn’t have the amenities or quality to compete in that regard. Then there are the new Incredibles rooms, which would be great if this were Art of Animation. For a Deluxe Resort, they are too cutesy and superficial, and lacking in quality.

There’s nevertheless something special about staying in that A-frame. Opening the door to your room and seeing a monorail zoom past is one of those quintessential “magic moments” and standing on your balcony watching the Electrical Water Pageant or gazing off at Cinderella Castle in the distance is something special. Although we quibble with their style, the rooms at Disney’s Contemporary Resort are also spacious.

Plus, the convenient monorail access and being within walking distance of Magic Kingdom are big selling points. And if you want a Magic Kingdom fireworks view, the Contemporary is impossible to beat. Nevertheless, we’ll take any other resort on the monorail loop over the Contemporary. The others have superior selling points, and make it easier to drop Contemporary down the rankings.

15. Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground

This is a weird one, as Fort Wilderness has both primitive campsites and rustic-but-modern cabins. Obviously, those two types of accommodations don’t share a ton in common. Focusing instead on the campground amenities, we’re huge “Fort Fiends.” The theming is natural: an undisturbed bastion of wilderness, with just enough artifice carved out so that Disney guests never are truly “roughing it.” It feels a world away from Walt Disney World, despite being a short boat ride from Magic Kingdom.

Fort Wilderness offers fishing, boat rentals, and a myriad of other activities that families with high-energy children will enjoy, and has some great dining, too. As for accommodations, the campsites are campsites. The Cabins are essentially villas in cabin form, and are nicer than many other hotel rooms. This gives guests the best of both worlds: the ability to enjoy the natural world while staying in a nice hotel room.

14. BoardWalk Inn

We love Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, and have a lot of sentimental attachments to this particular hotel. It’s located across Crescent Lake from the Yacht & Beach Club, and thus is a natural comparison to those resorts. Despite being distinct from those sister properties, it is very similar to them.

Let’s start with the subjective. BoardWalk Inn’s main selling point and distinction from its Crescent Lake counterparts is an inarticulable “X factor”, which it has in spades. I can’t explain why I love the BoardWalk Inn so much, but I just do. There’s a sort of vague romanticism about strolling along the BoardWalk, then heading up through the hotel, which balances the elegance and whimsy of a bygone Atlantic City inn, and to your room. Serious bonus points if that room has a balcony overlooking the BoardWalk.

And yet, the BoardWalk is inferior to Yacht & Beach Club by just about any objective assessment. They’re all close to Epcot and DHS, and you’d probably need a stopwatch to calculate which is closer on balance. Rooms aren’t different enough from one another to really move the needle. Dining is another consideration. Both offer solid high end choices and leave something to be desired for counter service.

It’s when we get to pools and pricing where Yacht & Beach Club pull away. Stormalong Bay beats the BoardWalk pool by a colossal margin, and yet, BoardWalk is inexplicably more expensive. Love it as we might, those key drawbacks make it easy for us to recommend a better-on-paper alternative to BoardWalk.

13. Riviera Resort

The newest Deluxe accommodations, Disney’s Riviera Resort is very much a mixed bag, with some high highs and low lows. The biggest downside is that Disney has taken a region rich in beautiful architecture and lavish design, and made one of the most thematically boring and uninspired resorts. That’s a huge disappointment, and it feels like so much potential has been squandered here. It also shares grounds with a Moderate Resort, which hardly screams “luxury hotel.”

The biggest upsides are all inside the tower. The common areas and rooms are luxurious, well-appointed, and have high-end finishings. Beyond that, the rooms are comfortable and highly functional in addition to being pretty, which is a big selling point. The restaurant slate is also formidable, and Skyliner gondola access to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios is huge. The location is less appealing than Crescent Lake or Magic Kingdom resorts, but Riviera Resort is still incredibly well-rounded and checks a lot of the right boxes, especially for those who don’t really care about themed design or larger resort campuses.

12. Yacht Club Resort

This is where things really get tough. We’re actually big fans of Yacht Club and think it’s underrated, especially the new rooms. The resort has a certain masculine look to its common areas and feels refined almost in a flagship-esque way that the Grand Floridian should feel. At the same time, it just doesn’t have the inviting sense of fun and charm of its sister resort, the Beach Club.

I don’t want to call Yacht Club stuffy, because I think that’s definitely extreme, but to me, the way this resort “feels” just doesn’t jive with the overall character of the Yacht & Beach Club (which might as well be lumped together for common area purposes). It falls in this slot of its list not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because the Beach Club is the more fun and family-friendly option for first-timers to Walt Disney World. And that’s true even if the rooms are objectively better at Yacht Club. That all makes it easy to rank Yacht Club lower as a bit of a cop-out since picking best resorts is like choosing favorite children.

Aside from theme, the strengths of Yacht Club are shared with Beach Club, and include its incredible pool and great selection of on-site dining options. Another big highlight is its location near the International Gateway entrance of Epcot and within walking or boat distance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Yacht Club is a strong option for guests who love the Epcot Resort Area, but want a hotel with a more adult or sophisticated tone than Beach Club or BoardWalk Inn.

11. Port Orleans French Quarter

Of the two Port Orleans Resorts, French Quarter is far easier to recommend to first timers–even if I personally like it less (this is a rare point of contention between the two of us–Sarah far prefers French Quarter). Fans of French Quarter are most likely to point to its size as the primary reason why it’s a great option. They’re right.

Port Orleans French Quarter manages to strike the perfect balance between spacious and compact property. It’s an immersive and engaging themed resort, while also having a smaller footprint. It’s not as compact as a tower hotel–it’s still multiple buildings and not all under one roof–but it’s close enough. Most importantly, it’s a stark contrast to the huge and sprawling complex at Port Orleans Riverside, about which we frequently hear complaints from first-timers.

Again, Port Orleans French Quarter excels at balance. The theme is a romanticized take on New Orleans, and it’s given room to breathe and be something unique and special. The grounds are intimate, with beautiful fountains and wrought-iron details, plus its own alligator band (who doesn’t love a musically-inclined ‘gator?!).

The main reason why French Quarter rank higher is due to a lack of certain amenities, fairly average rooms, and the need to take bus transportation to every park. With all of that said, Port Orleans French Quarter has a lot going for it, and ends up being one of the more well-rounded resorts at Walt Disney World. It’s a good pick if you’re looking for something unique, don’t want to break the bank, and aren’t concerned with using the bus to get everywhere.

Top 10 Hotels at Walt Disney World

When it comes to the absolute best resorts that earn our highest recommendation, it’s almost impossible to choose favorites–or even make comparisons. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is better by almost every objective metric than Caribbean Beach (except one very big one). It almost feels silly comparing and contrasting the two despite their superficial similarities, because they’re for two totally different audiences. The same could be said for every entry in the top 10.

To that point, YOU matter more in ranking the remaining resorts than do their specific pros and cons. All of these are elite accommodations in their own ways, with what’s best varying for particular parties. Accordingly, we’re going to help narrow your options even further by providing ‘personalized’ prompts that should help give you an idea of the guests for whom each of these resorts will be the best fit. (Hopefully that makes sense…)

10. Swan & Dolphin

We want a Deluxe Resort at a lower price. 

Opening up the list to third party hotels, even on-site ones, is a whole can of worms. Does this mean we should also consider Bonnet Creek, Flamingo Crossings, Disney Springs, Shades of Green, or the Four Seasons? Possibly. All of those are technically on Disney-owned property and many offer certain on-site perks.

However, we’re going to limit the list to just the Swan & Dolphin (and Swan Reserve). The reason is that this trio of hotels is literally within walking distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, offers both Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours, and is treated by Walt Disney World as pretty much an official hotel. The only other entry on the above list with a comparable status is Shades of Green, and that’s not bookable by the general public.

In addition to the location and on-site perks, the biggest strength of the Swolphin is the price. These hotels are typically significantly cheaper than alternatives around Crescent Lake–often less than half or one-third of the price. They also have a formidable restaurant roster, excellent pools, and other amenities. Dated decor and guest rooms is a downside, except at the new Swan Reserve, which also offers a variety of larger room types–but is more expensive, too. The postmodern architecture by Michael Graves is very taste-specific and won’t appeal to everyone, but I happen to like the look. It’s quirky, provocative, and adult–even if it is an eyesore from across World Showcase Lagoon.

9. Grand Floridian Resort

We want the best of the best. 

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is the flagship hotel at Walt Disney World. With that comes its most considerable downside, which is that the rack rates at the Grand Floridian start at over $700 per night. Those are the cheapest nights of the year, with most dates being in the $800 to $900 range for standard rooms. That makes the Grand Floridian a non-starter for many families; there’s nothing that can be said about this hotel that can overcome its cost.

For the longest time, Grand Floridian ranked dead last on our lists like this due to a combination of that price point and the reality that its rooms we’re on par with a mid-tier Marriott. Although prices haven’t budged, Grand Floridian is taking massive leaps forward with new rooms that transform them into something both distinctly Disney and luxurious. We love these new rooms, which are now about half-finished as of Spring 2023. See Grand New Rooms at Walt Disney World’s Flagship Resort for a look inside. Grand Floridian only ranks #9 if you’re staying in one of the new rooms, which should be finished by Summer 2023. Otherwise, it’s far lower on this list.

Grand Floridian’s dining is among of the best at Walt Disney World, the grounds are lovely, and the location near the Magic Kingdom is a strong selling point. This last one in particular is huge, as the ability to walk, take the monorail, or a boat to Magic Kingdom is huge, and the convenience cannot be overstated, especially for those with small children or who enjoy midday breaks.

However, the Grand Floridian still isn’t perfect. Refurbishments have been all over the place, with some refreshes retaining thematic integrity and nicely modernizing whereas others (like the Beauty and the Beast bar) have been incongruous and inert. This cuts to the crux of the problem with the Grand Floridian: it does not live up to its flagship, luxury hotel status. There are still areas of the otherwise luxurious and well-appointed common areas that come across as an early-1990s take on Victorian instead of an actual Victorian theme.

This is not to say that the Grand Floridian is lacking. It’s opulent and luxurious, and about the only high-end hotel that you enter and can feel the price point. Nevertheless, most of the areas where the Grand Floridian excels are delivered upon just as well by other hotels that don’t cost as much and do other things better. At the end of the day, it’s nearly impossible to overlook the absurd price points, which are higher than the Four Seasons at Walt Disney World, a nicer hotel by just about every criterion that doesn’t use the word “magical” or “monorail.” The Grand Floridian is going to appeal most to those who want the status of staying in Walt Disney World’s flagship hotel or those who really like the outward appearance of lavishness.

8. Art of Animation Resort

We want our kids to have their dream Disney stay. 

This one is difficult to rank, because it features both spacious suites in the Lion King, Cars, and Finding Nemo sections, plus traditional rooms in the Little Mermaid section. The former constitute the majority of the resort, and are absolutely fantastic for families. The latter leave a lot to be desired, falling short of their counterparts at Pop Century.

The common areas, amenities, transportation, and aforementioned suites make Art of Animation a big winner, especially among larger families. The grounds have fun decor and some interesting design touches, especially the Cars wing, which feels like a low-budget Radiator Springs. Art of Animation also scores points for its pools and food court. Then there’s the Skyliner, which is a huge asset for getting to EPCOT or Hollywood Studios; bus transportation is also surprisingly solid for Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

The biggest downside is the price, as the family suites at Art of Animation usually cost more than two standard rooms at other Value Resorts. Likewise, the Little Mermaid rooms are very expensive as compared to their counterparts at Pop Century. Nevertheless, Art of Animation is like a dream come true for kids, and the convenience of the Skyliner makes it a great option for families.

7. Beach Club Resort

We are parks and pools people. 

I love the Beach Club. From the grounds to color palette of the hotel to the pool and beyond, Beach Club has the perfect vibe for a relaxed vacation. The biggest downside is guest rooms, which are a bland and weaker than counterparts at Yacht Club or BoardWalk Inn. Nevertheless, they’re perfectly comfortable and nice, just a bit dull.

In terms of the main draws of Beach Club, the incredible Stormalong Bay pool complex is the unequivocal highlight. This pool with its lazy river, sand at the bottom, waterslide, and sprawling layout really can’t be beat. Stormalong Bay offers something for everyone–from kids to older adults.

The Yacht & Beach Club dining is generally strong, with standout options at every level, all of which edge or clearly surpass those at BoardWalk Inn. The highlight is Yachtsman Steakhouse–steaks bigger than your head being another thing people who are awesome like. Beaches & Cream is also beloved among fans, but the reputation is better than the reality. The lack of a compelling counter service option is a downside to the dining scene, but even that has improved of late with upgrades to Beach Club Marketplace.

Walking distance proximity to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot’s World Showcase is another big draw. In the end, there’s very little that separates Yacht and Beach Club, and it really comes down to personal preference. Nevertheless, we’ve found that first-timers, especially families, far prefer Beach Club over Yacht Club. Hence these rankings.

6. Caribbean Beach Resort

Our family wants to splurge slightly on simulated serenity and a superlative Disney experience. 

The kids these days are all about dupes this and dupes that. For you “olds” out there, dupes are knockoffs of a more expensive name-brand product. Dupes often have a similar look or purpose as their inspiration, but they come at a more affordable price. I totally knew that from all of the TikToking I do–because I am very hip and trendy–and did not just copy and paste that from Google.

Anyway, we’ve been calling Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort a “dupe” of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort since before that term was even a thing. There are so many ways that Caribbean Beach emulates the Poly. The island atmosphere, guest rooms, pool areas, waterfront locales, relaxed lobby, and more. Even Sebastian’s Bistro has serious ‘Ohana vibes…except it’s better and cheaper. Heck, we might as well call it the CaribBe, giving it a nickname that properly rips off the Poly!

Speaking of dupes that are better than the real thing, the Skyliner is substantially similar to the monorail. Well, not really, but the idea of efficient aerial transportation is similar. The Skyliner is the biggest of many recent upgrades at Caribbean Beach Resort, which is the hub for the Skyliner, with two stations offering access to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT, plus Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Riviera Resorts. This is an absolute game-changer for easily accessing those parks within minutes, which is great for Early Entry and midday breaks. Not having to rely on buses to get to these two parks is huge, the value of which cannot be overstated.

Like any dupe, the CaribBe doesn’t live up to the Poly in every regard. Multiple bus stops, somewhat dated rooms (some of which are already being updated in 2023), and the lack of luxuriousness will weigh on it for some guests. But for a fraction of the price, we’ll take this dupe over the real thing just about any day.

5. Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs Resort

We want real-world luxury for adults without breaking the bank. 

If we had to make a recommendation for honeymooners without knowing anything more about their interests or budget, Gran Destino Tower would be our pick. The Las Vegas style hotel is an excellent option for adults or anyone wanting consolidated accommodations with everything they need under one roof and who want to visit Walt Disney World without being bombarded with characters.

The biggest upside to Gran Destino Tower is price. The slate of amenities make this hotel tower comparable to many Deluxe Resorts, but with a price point only slightly above the average Moderate Resort, and even better with the discounts that are frequently available. Upsides include a robust restaurant lineup, fitness centers, sophisticated styling, and tastefully-done rooms.

The biggest downside is that Gran Destino Tower is not located near any theme park and requires often-inefficient bus transportation to get everywhere. Not a huge deal for those with vehicles or anyone who will be spending a significant amount of time at the hotel. Even then, you’ll save so much money by staying here instead of the Grand Floridian or other “luxury” resort that can easily be put towards multiple daily Uber, Lyfts, or even Minnie Vans.

4. Wilderness Lodge

We want to know your favorite way to do Disney. 

Sometimes, people just want to know how we would do Walt Disney World, and our personal favorites based on doing this for decades. For me, the answer is obvious: Wilderness Lodge. If they’d let me, I’d move in tomorrow and never leave, happily staying at Wilderness Lodge and nowhere else. This choice is based almost entirely on my thematic preferences and the feeling I get sitting in a rocking chair in the lobby sitting by the fireplace.

Setting aside my strong personal feelings, Wilderness Lodge is still a strong contender thanks to its unrivaled atmosphere. All it takes is a walk outside on the walkway through the thick woods and past the geyser, or sitting in an alcove by a fireplace, and you are instantly someplace else. Then there’s Christmas at Wilderness Lodge, which is totally next-level and unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere. The main advantage Walt Disney World’s highly “Imagineered” resorts have over their real world counterparts is theme, and Wilderness Lodge is top-notch there.

The rustic theme of Wilderness Lodge isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but even the recent room design does a good job of balancing the outdoorsy style with modern luxury and features. (See our Review, Photos & Video: Wilderness Lodge New Rooms.) Add to this great dining options, good pools, and boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, and Wilderness Lodge is an incredibly well-rounded resort.

The final great strength of Wilderness Lodge is the price point. It’s cheaper than all other Magic Kingdom area resorts by a wide margin, offering the best bang for buck among the hotels that offer non-bus transportation to Walt Disney World’s flagship park. If you like its guest rooms, the resort’s theme as a whole, and want to be convenient to Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge is a can’t miss choice–and not just at Christmas.

3. Animal Kingdom Lodge

We want a resort-centric experience that’s uniquely and distinctly Disney, and unlike anything anywhere else. 

Imagine rolling out of bed, making a cup of coffee, and stepping out onto your balcony to be greeted good morning by a living, breathing giraffe grazing on one of the 4 savannas outside Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is the resort’s main draw and selling point, and these savannas are something you won’t find at any real world hotel in the United States. They are the reason Animal Kingdom Lodge is a “destination” resort unto itself. You could sit and watch the wildlife for a long weekend, never even venturing to the parks. That’s what ultimately gives Animal Kingdom Lodge the edge over Wilderness Lodge, even if we personally favor the latter.

The sublime savannas are not all that Animal Kingdom Lodge brings to the table. While the outside impresses, the inside is every bit as good, making Animal Kingdom Lodge arguably the best-themed Walt Disney World hotel. From the meticulous design that makes it feel like an extension of the Animal Kingdom theme park to the art collection that you can see by perusing the common areas, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a hotel that really rewards those guests who are willing to spend the time drinking in its details.

This continues with the guest rooms, which were recently redone in an awesome way that balances theme and modern touches. Then there’s the dining situation. With the Mara, Victoria Falls Lounge, Boma, Sanaa, and Jiko, this resort has one of the best restaurant rosters in all of Walt Disney World.

Finally, there’s the price point. Although expensive, Animal Kingdom Lodge is often the least pricey of the Deluxe Resorts. Of course, there’s a reason for that, which brings us to the main downside: location. Animal Kingdom Lodge has an isolated location away from any theme park that isn’t Animal Kingdom. Since many guests identify location as a main reason to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, this can’t be overlooked. This location also means there are no novel forms of transportation–boat, monorail, Skyliner, etc–between AKL and the parks. It’s all buses. We think the location “issue” is overblown, but it’s definitely the big asterisk that prevents Animal Kingdom Lodge from being significantly more popular.

Nevertheless, we view Animal Kingdom Lodge as the most novel resort at Walt Disney World, and one that would rank highly even without the savanna and its live animals. With that, Animal Kingdom Lodge is very difficult to beat, especially if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your hotel, and want a truly special hotel that will be a highlight of your Walt Disney World vacation.

2. Polynesian Village Resort

Our family wants the quintessential Walt Disney World vacation. 

If said you wanted the Walt Disney World vacation “like in the commercials,” I’d know instantly what you’d mean. Assuming that price were no issue, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort–known lovingly as simply the Poly to its many adoring fans–is the resort I’d recommend. The Poly’s competition would be its monorail loop counterparts–the Grand Floridian and Contemporary–but neither have that same inarticulable, crowd-pleasing quality of the Poly.

The Poly ranks so highly because it does an excellent job at keeping one foot in the past, paying homage to both its own legacy and those of kitschy tiki resorts of a bygone era. Since its reimagining a few years ago, it also feels like a modern luxury resort, with updated amenities, grounds, dining, and an improved pool, among other things.

The Polynesian brings a lot to the table with its theme, which feels like a dose of tropical tiki culture in a laid-back, high-end setting. From Trader Sam’s to ‘Ohana to the vibrant, kitschy decor abounds throughout the Poly. It just exudes a sense of island fun that is unique among Walt Disney World hotels. Its location near the Magic Kingdom makes it appealing to families, but really, it’s an alluring hotel for just about any demographic from kids to retirees.

Guest rooms are also spacious and nice, and have been given Disney character–quite literally–during the recent redesign. (See our Review, Photos & Video: New Moana Rooms at Polynesian Village Resort.) Suffice to say, the modernization of the resort has done wonders for it.

The resort’s biggest shortcomings are the loudness of the lobby during peak times, and the lack of a true Signature Restaurant. Dining at Disney’s Polynesian Resort is solid, but could use something high end. That’s especially true given the Poly’s astronomical rack rates–those prices make it the second most expensive hotel at Walt Disney World after only the Grand Floridian.

Whether the Poly is “worth it” is very debatable. Nevertheless, if you told me you wanted the dream rite-of-passage Walt Disney World vacation and money were no issue, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is what I’d recommend. There’s something special about this hotel and its ability to leave an indelible mark on guests, making many lifelong fans in the process. More than any other resort, the Poly is the essence of the magic of Walt Disney World. And that counts for a lot.

1. Pop Century Resort

Our family wants the definitive Disney experience without breaking the bank. 

Personally, I think that “if money were no object” is a colossal caveat. A qualification that overshadows everything else, practically undermining a recommendation for everyone but the wealthy or those planning to win the lottery in the near future. The vast majority of visitors to Walt Disney World do have budgets and must make tough decisions about how to allocate their funds. Upgrading resorts comes at a cost–whether that mean downgrading dining, skipping out on splurgers, or shortening the duration of their trip.

I have a very difficult time upgrading resorts at the expense of any of those things. To the contrary, I am much more inclined to recommend downgrading resorts for the sake of improving other aspects of the vacation. This is precisely what I would recommend to my family and friends, and what we’ve done ourselves. From my perspective, there are ways to cut corners on accommodations, allocating that money elsewhere to still have a top notch vacation.

Enter Disney’s Pop Century Resort. This is in the Value tier, and is the fourth cheapest hotel at Walt Disney World on average. With its food court, exterior hallways, and oversized icons, no one will ever mistake Pop Century for a luxury resort. Yet, it is more than “good enough” for the vast majority of Walt Disney World guests, especially those visiting for the first time who will be prioritizing the parks.

This is why Pop Century is the long-time top pick for Value Resorts among Walt Disney World fans. We know that Pop Century punches above its weight, delivering strong accommodations, efficient transportation, convenience to Art of Animation via Generation Gap Bridge, and relatively reasonable price points. Pop Century reduces the cost of a trip, or allows reallocating funds towards other splurges–whether that mean upcharge events, character dining, etc–all of which enhance the overall quality of a vacation more than upgrading resorts.

If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime rite-of-passage Walt Disney World vacation with a sky-high or unlimited budget, Pop Century is not for you. For everyone else whose travel budget requires tradeoffs, it at least belongs in the conversation of potential resorts. Whether upgrading to Caribbean Beach, Gran Destino, or one of the other hotels on this list is a question worth debating and depends on just how much money you have to spend. As Walt Disney World becomes increasingly expensive with each passing year, we find the phrase “Pop Century is perfect” becoming more and more common.

If all of this (or any other aspect of Walt Disney World vacation planning) is simply too overwhelming and you need one-on-one help, including personalized hotel picks—we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such Authorized Disney Vacation Planner that we recommend, Be Our Guest Vacations.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Which resort at Walt Disney World do you think is best? Worst? Have your own rankings? How do you feel about our top 10 picks? Anything we snubbed or included that isn’t worthy? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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