Walt Disney World's Best Hotels: Where Magical Memories Are Made
By A.D. Thompson
Orlando Local Expert
Disney fans around the world are quick to tell Orlando visitors that staying on site is essential for “the Disney experience.” It’s a tough point to argue. Your vacation bottom line notwithstanding, Disney does offer a range of price points for its visitors, allowing for uber-deluxe accommodations and budget friendlier digs that have just as much color, whimsy and of course: that famous Disney service. What’s more, guests of one resort are welcome to explore the others – taking in meals, shows and sometimes a colorful combination of both. At Disney’s Polynesian Resort, where new upgrades are now in underway, the Spirit of Aloha show whisks visitors off to the South Pacific. At the famed Animal Kingdom Lodge, an entire savannah of African animals await – along with some of the best dining Disney’s resorts have to offer. Spectacular theming is in store at nearly every property. Guests will find some of the best at Disney’s Yacht Club, which brings to life the New England seaside while wowing water-play aficionados with one of the most spectacular pool complexes in town. And at the Boardwalk Inn, Disney creates its own “empire” of turn-of-the-century Atlantic City, with a decidedly more family-friendly spin. The Art of Animation Resort immerses its visitors into the cartoon worlds of Disney, Pixar and the like. From the grounds to the pool – and even the guest rooms and suites – families will delight in all those small touches that distinguish a Disney property from any other brand in the world.
10 Disney's Art of Animation Resort
This moderately priced property boasts the largest pool in the whole of Walt Disney World -- along with colorful, whimsical theming that transports guests to a universe of Disney artistry and imagination. Wander amid the landscapes of classics including "Finding Nemo," "The Little Mermaid" and "The Lion King" and chow down at Art of Animation's stellar food court, considered by most to the best in its hotel realm. This is a mostly-suite property, which means guests have room to spread out and relax after a long day exploring the magic of the theme parks. Theming extends to the guest rooms; your children will be delighted.
9 Disney's Contemporary Resort
Guests here enjoy the Electrical Water Pageant and the fireworks over Cinderella's Castle without leaving the hotel. And indeed, the Contemporary may conjure some feelings of retro-love for long-time Disney lovers -- it's been around since the beginning and the monorail still whizzes right through its lobby. And by the way, it is no less cool to experience as a grown-up (particularly for guests heading back during Florida's rainiest seasons!) Proximity to the Magic Kingdom makes fireworks-views from your room entirely plausible and Chef Mickey's character breakfast is a perennial favorite for fans of interaction and photo-ops during meal time. It's also one of the more moderately priced deluxe venues.
8 Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
Disney-philes eager to plumb all that the new Disney Springs has to offer once Downtown Disney's new face is completed might look to stay at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. Guests can take an easy walk or ferry to enjoy its many (and soon to be more!) spoils. Inspired by upstate New York's famed mountain resort town, the grounds here are lovely -- as is the golf. And hidden in its clubhouse -- the Turf Club Bar & Grill, a lesser-known venue that insiders laud for its course views and excellent steaks and prime rib. For something exceptionally special, consider a stay at Saratoga's private Treehouse Villas.
7 Disney's Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter
Capture Cajun and Creole spirit in the heart of Louisiana -- er, Orlando -- amid the wrought-iron balconies of Disney's Port Orleans Resort -- French Quarter. Fragrant magnolias and potent hurricanes (the kind you drink) add to the New Orleans ambiance, but the Disney fun is close at hand. King Neptune holds court at the whimsical Mardi Gras-themed pool, where the young and young-at-heart will revel in the water slide while others revel at the Mardi Grogs pool bar. Hey, it's your vacation! Horse-drawn carriage rides beneath towering, moss-draped oaks make for full-on Old South immersion and its easy-access boat ride to Downtown Disney makes meandering to shop, dine and play very convenient.
6 Disney's Boardwalk Inn
How charming to breeze down the Atlantic City Boardwalk -- we'll Disney's turn-of-the-century take, anyway -- on a bicycle, not a care in the world…. Guests at the Boardwalk Inn & Villas can rent one for their pedaling pleasure. And inside the property, other delights beckon. The Luna Park pool (that's actually an homage to Coney Island, so you've got two famed boardwalks to imagine) and a walking distance location to Epcot at Disney's Hollywood Studios mean it's park-convenient, as well. Illuminations cruises depart nightly from the resort marina so guests can enjoy the fireworks and out on the Boardwalk a host of shops and eateries await. Its newest offering, Trattoria al Forno, and one of Disney's all-around top-rated restaurants, the Flying Fish Café, are among the temptations.
5 Disney's Yacht Club Resort
Walk to Epcot, grab a boat to Disney's Hollywood Studios or do what so many guests of the Yacht Club -- and her sister Beach Club Resort -- love most and stay put, enjoying the spoils of Stormalong Bay. Considered by many to be the most epic hotel pool in Disney. This three-acre complex encompasses a scalable shipwreck, towering water slide and a luxurious lazy river, among other things. Zero-entry makes enjoying the water easy with little ones but three other quiet pools make relaxation central for those who want it. Also on site at this New England-themed property, the Yachtsman Steakhouse, one of the Disney realm's best.
4 Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
This is it, Folks: the Grande Dame of Disney luxury. Unwind on the waterfront beach as the night sky blazes to life with fireworks over the Magic Kingdom, treat your taste buds with the world-famous, AAA Five-Diamond Award extravagance of Victoria & Albert's, lose yourself in pampered opulence at Senses -- A Disney Spa. Disney's Grand Floridian is especially popular for weddings; its on-site gazebo allows for splendid photography with Cinderella's enchanting castle as the backdrop. While an exceptional options for adults visiting the parks, families are hardly left out at this elegant, Victorian-themed property. For example, little ones aged 4-12 can embark here for a Pirate's Adventure Cruise where they'll cast off in search of hidden treasure.
3 Disney's Wilderness Lodge
It's difficult to choose the most beautiful among Walt Disney World's themed deluxe properties but the Wilderness Lodge -- with its soaring lodge design -- is rustic, Pacific Northwestern charm at its most epic proportions. Nature trails and pine forests enclose the property, a geyser blasts regularly from its recently refurbished Silver Springs Creek pool and its on-site restaurant -- Artist Point -- is among WDW's lesser-known dining gems, which makes for an oft-quieter Disney fine dining experience as you sample Northwestern wines and excellent fare. For more family-centric fun, enjoy the interactive experience at its Whispering Canyon Café! Magic Kingdom convenience comes in the form of a resort-based boat that can shuttle guests to the park without the need for extra transportation.
2 Disney's Polynesian Resort
Currently undergoing an extensive renovation, Disney's Polynesian Village Resort will soon be even more beautiful, but its lush landscaping, koi ponds and torch-lit pathways are no less enchanting. The signature Hawaiian vibe is one part retro, one part posh and 100 percent charming, whether guests are taking in the Magic Kingdom's signature fireworks -- visible from the property -- or the nightly Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show with its hula dancing, fire dancing and all-you-can-eat tropical feast. The young (and young at heart) will enjoy its audience participation, as well. Monorail access to both Epcot and Magic Kingdom -- the latter is also accessible by boat -- make it a convenient property, as well.
1 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Lake Buena Vista
Is there another deluxe property at which you and your family can spy the animals of Mother Africa's beautiful savannah via night vision goggles from the comfort of your own well-appointed balcony? Disney's majestic Animal Kingdom lodge boasts not only splendid savannah-views by which you can observe more than 200 animals (and you need not spring for the priciest room; anyone can enjoy the zebra, kudu, giraffes and more in the public viewing area out back -- and in the company of guides, as well) but spectacular theming that includes African art and cuisine among other things. An 11,000-square-foot pool with a water slide and zero-entry section, much like the water holes in Africa, makes for a stellar oasis at which guests may gather to cool off.
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum. A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city. Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
Read more about A.D. Thompson here.