Author, Walt Disney World with Kids
Now that there are 21 on-site hotels at Walt Disney World, families have almost unlimited lodging options. And, since most of the rooms added in the last five years are in the budget category (i.e., $82–$114 a night), it's hard to think of any reason why a family wouldn't stay at a Disney hotel. Especially when you consider that Mickey throws in some generous perks for his on-site guests.
The Six Perks of On-Site Disney Hotels
All guests at Disney resorts–whether they're staying at the $82-a-night All Star Sports or a $1,105-a-night Beach Club Grand Villa–get the following advantages.
1. More Time in the Theme Parks, aka "Extra Magic Hours". Each day a selected theme park runs extended hours. Resort guests can either get in an hour before everyone else or stay up to three hours later. Although not every attraction will be open, several big-deal ones will be, and lines will be much shorter. Mondo perk!
2. Complimentary Airport Transportation, aka "Disney's Magic Express". Disney provides free round-trip bus transportation between the Orlando airport and your resort. Best of all, they handle your luggage from start to finish: check your bags at your home airport, and the next time you see them in is your hotel room.
3. Complimentary Resort Transportation. On-site guests are entitled to unlimited and free use of the buses, boats, and monorails that navigate among Disney parks and resorts. Between this advantage and the Magical Express, families flying in can generally forgo the cost of a rental car.
4. Disney Dining Plan. You can save up to 30% per adult and about 10% per child on food costs by purchasing a Disney Dining Plan as part of the Magic Your Way Package. The plan allows you to choose from over 100 restaurants throughout Walt Disney World.
5. Key to the World Card. Talk about hassle free! You'll receive this all-in-one card upon check-in. It acts as your hotel-room key, theme-park ticket, and dining-plan credit card. You can also use it to charge items directly to your room or to gain access to the Extra Magic Hours. Another bonus: As a theme-park guest, you can have purchases delivered back to your hotel, which sure beats carrying a piñata and eight Pluto sweatshirts around all day.
6. Location, Location, Location. It doesn't take a Baby Einstein to figure out that Disney hotels are closer to the theme parks than off-site hotels. Proximity makes it easier to return to your room after lunch for a nap, dip in the pool, change of clothes, etc.
How to Choose the Right Hotel
So...if you've decided you want to stay in an on-site Disney hotel, how do you choose among your numerous options? First visit Disney's Resorts page. Your choice will hinge on three basic questions.
How much do we want to spend? The value resorts start at $82 per night. Moderate hotels start at $149 and deluxe hotels at $240. Suites and villas range from $148 for a suite at All Star Music to $1,100 for the Deluxe Villas at the BoardWalk. Camping at Fort Wilderness ranges from $42 for a tent site to $265 for a cabin.
What's the perfect location? This isn't much of a factor at the value resorts, which are in the more far-flung parts of Disney property; resign yourself to bus rides and console yourself with the money you're saving. But if you're choosing among deluxe resorts, pick one that's close to the theme park where you anticipate spending most of your time. Families with young kids will probably opt for a hotel close to the Magic Kingdom, such as the Polynesian, which is a 10-minute ride on the monorail line. Families with older kids might chose a location with easy access to Hollywood Studios and Epcot, such as the Beach Club, which has convenient water-taxi service to both parks.
Which theme seems the most fun? This, of course, is purely subjective. Some families like the high-tech and futuristic Contemporary, others prefer the laid back and classically Florida-esque Old Key West. Some swoon over the Victorian elegance of the Grand Floridian, and others feel more comfortable in the National Parks–inspired Wilderness Lodge. An island village? African safari? Southern plantation? Whatever ambience you prefer, there's a Disney hotel that's themed to the max and ready to make returning "home" to your resort almost as exciting as being in the parks.