We’re big Disney fans. We go a couple or four times a year. I’ve been asked a few times to recommend some things, so this is my way to document everything I tell people (saving me time in the long run).
First of all…I definitely recommend staying at a Disney Resort. You get the FULL Disney experience when you stay at a resort. I can’t imagine going and not staying on property. I’d rather stay at a cheaper value resort than a nice house off property. That’s just my opinion though.
There are 4 tiers of resorts: Values, Moderates, Deluxe, and Home away from home.
We don’t have a problem with value resorts. Some people have issues with the size of the rooms and the fact that it’s on the lower end when it comes to classy decorations. The rooms are smaller and the beds are doubles. The resorts are usually very large, and there is only one bus stop for the resort. You stand in a line to wait on the bus and it isn’t shaded at all. However, the rooms are clean, and Disney goes above and beyond with their theming of each resort. Disney does stick to the bare minimum in the rooms. You can pay an extra $10 a night and get a preferred location. This means you will have a room right next to the food court….worth every extra little penny you pay. Walking to the very back of the resort from the busses after walking around the parks all day is killer. At the end of the day, when the park closes, the crowds in line to get on the bus at the All Stars and Pop Century are SO very long because the resorts are so big! These are cheaper, so you have to decide if it’s worth saving the money for you. Sometimes it is for us, and sometimes it isn’t. If it’s just a weekend trip for us, we’ll save a few bucks and stay at a value.
The value resorts include the All Star Movies, All Star Sports, All Star Music, Pop Century, and Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. I have stayed in all of these.
All Star Movies – This was a hit with the kids. There are huge replicas of different movie characters throughout the hotel.
All Star Music – This is my favorite All Star because of the All Star Music Family Suite. It has 2 bathrooms, a living room, kitchenette, and a separate bedroom with a queen bed. In the living room is an oversized chair and ottoman that turn in to 2 twin beds and a sofa that turns into a full bed. The regular rooms are just like the rooms at all the other All Stars, but with Music theming. The kids like this resort too.
All Star Sports- We haven’t stayed here as a family. I stayed here with my parents growing up. It has a sports theme and is the choice resort for school athletic teams and cheerleading camps. This resort isn’t my favorite.
Pop Century – This is the 2nd newest of the values. Pop is close to the Animation resort, but has it’s own bus. It has theming from different decades starting with the 50′s I think. The food court in the Pop Century is my favorite food court of all the values. I got salmon and green beans one night. Jeb got chicken parmesan. These counted as quick service!
Art of Animation – this resort is made up of mainly suites. They are laid out a little different than the All Star Music Family Suite, but still bigger than a regular hotel room. When you walk in there is a table in the foyer area, it folds up and a murphy bed folds down. The couch turns into a bed as well. There is room for 6 people and a child in a pack n play to sleep in this room. There is bedroom off of the living room/foyer area. There are 2 bathrooms and a kitchenette as well. The theming for this resort is great! It’s definitely not deluxe resort caliber, but is’s still fantastic! Also, you enter your room from interior corridors instead of outside (like at all other values and moderates). This value doesn’t have discounts as often (or ever) since it’s new and popular. Art of Animation is my favorite of the Values. It has the BEST theming and if you go you have to try the nutella gelato in the food court. While the pool does not have a water slide, it does have the cast of Nemo talking to you underwater (from what I hear…no pun intended…I forgot to listen last time I went).
There are 4 different moderate resorts. Coronado Springs (southwestern), Port Orleans Riverside (plantation style), Port Orleans French Quarter (New Orleans), and Caribbean Beach (Caribbean islands). I have stayed in all of these except for Port Orleans Riverside.
The moderates are a step above the values. The rooms are nicer, and the hotel itself is decorated more elaborately (with exception of the Art of Animation…I think it’s better than a lot of the moderates on theming). The pools have water slides , and they DO NOT in the values. The rooms are also larger. There are 2 sinks in the moderates where there is only 1 in the values. When waiting on busses you sit under an awning with benches instead of waiting in a line like the values.
Our favorite moderate resort is the Port Orleans French Quarter. It’s a New Orleans Theme. It’s on the river. It’s pretty quiet. There’s a neat grassy area where you can let the kids run wild. You can pay a little extra if you want a water view or a king bed. It’s the smallest resort on Disney property which means it should be easier to get on the buses and not take as long to pick everyone up. There is only one bus stop, and it’s outside the food court. I like this because you can fill up your refillable mug on your way to the bus stop and on the way back to your room…but I do have an addiction to diet soda. The Disney buses will take you to and from the parks and Downtown Disney. They do get crowded towards the end of the day coming home from the parks and early in the mornings going to the parks, so a smaller resort is nice. Smaller, also means you can be close to the food court no matter what room your in. You can take a boat to Downtown Disney, which is nice too.
We haven’t stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, however, the rooms look very nice. They have princess rooms you can pay extra for. If you stay in the alligator bayou you can get a trundle bed, which accommodates an extra child. This is a large resort, but you can pay extra for a preferred room (preferred=closer to the bus stop/food court)
Coronado Springs is HUGE. It is very popular for conventions. There is a strong possibility you could be in a room where your best and only logical option is to drive to the food court or catch a inter resort bus. There are multiple bus stops, so you should have one close to your room. Here, you can pay extra to be in a preferred room. I do not like the food court here at all. You get a card and have to get it stamped at every location you get food from…when your toting 3 kids…stamping is the last thing I want to do…just sayin’.
Caribbean Beach is the oldest moderate resort, but it was renovated just recently. We stayed there in April of 2012 in a pirate room. If we hadn’t had our car, we would have had to take an inter resort bus to the food court. This resort was nice and quiet. We were by a little lake with ducks which was very peaceful. For what its worth, these rooms are also the largest of the moderate rooms. I wasn’t a huge fan of the food court here. It was in a straight line instead of the new semi circle layout. You had to walk all the way down to see what was available and it was kind of dark and gloomy. Just my opinion though.
My opinion about the huge resorts, I wouldn’t ever stay there without paying extra for a preferred room…unless we have our car and can come and go as we please. From what I can remember, when staying at a moderate, you don’t have to share a bus with any other hotel.
If you want to spend a little more money on hotel, we like the deluxe resorts around EPCOT (Yacht and Beach Club and Boardwalk) or the ones around Magic Kingdom (Contemporary, Grand Floridian, or Polynesian). You can walk to EPCOT from the ones close to EPCOT and get a boat to Hollywood Studios. The quick service around the EPCOT resorts could use some help, but I’ll talk about that later. The monorail resorts are my favorite. You can catch a monorail to Magic Kingdom easily or transfer from one monorail to another to head to EPCOT. The theming at the Deluxe Resorts is A+. It is the absolute best. They all have inside hallways to get to your room instead of your room door leading directly outside. The pools are more elaborate than the moderates. They have sit down restaurants instead of food courts. They still have counter service restaurants, but some of them aren’t as accessible as the moderates/values food courts are. Yacht/Beach is outside by the pool and Boardwalk is in the back of the hotel on the boardwalk. Wilderness Lodge has a good counter service, as does Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. These rooms have everything the moderates have, refrigerator and 2 sinks, and extra room.
I’ve stayed in the Yacht Club, Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, and Wilderness Lodge. They are all wonderful…beautifully themed…will put you in awe of the detail Disney goes to just in the lobby. The hallways are beautiful, the rooms are elegant, and you get a separate shampoo and conditioner instead of a 2 in 1 (just in case you were wondering). My favorite of the 4 I listed is the Wilderness Lodge. The boys slept in bunk beds…because we forked out extra cash for the bunk beds (you seeing a theme yet?). There is a fun sit down restaurant there, the food court is good, you can take a boat to Magic Kingdom, there is a neat play set on the beach, the pool is awesome, there is a babbling brook that goes from outside to inside, the lobby is breathtaking, and there is a geyser that goes off on the hour.
Other Deluxe resorts we haven’t stayed in are Animal Kingdom Lodge (VERY far away from everything except Animal Kingdom, and AK isn’t our favorite. Good thing about this resort, if you pay extra, is there are animals outside your window…like giraffes and such). Grand Floridian, beautiful, used the Del Coronado in San Diego as inspiration for the hotel, very expensive, victorian, building a vacation club here, so maybe we can stay here someday… Polynesian, one of my favorite hotels to visit, but I’ve never stayed here, expensive, on monorail, favorite counter service, favorite sit down restaurant x2, and I’m hoping they will build a vacation club here so we can afford it…Contemporary, first Disney resort built, newly remodeled, new counter service and sit down restaurant, stayed in the DVC part of this but not the hotel part, monorail hotel.
My issue with the Deluxe resort bus system is they all share with other resorts. We stayed at the Boardwalk the last time we went to Disney and we shared a bus with the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht, and Beach. That is 5 stops, FIVE. Before you get to your destination or get home from your long day at the part. It’s a bit much if you ask me. It turns what could be a 10-15 minute ride into a 45 minute ride. Add 2 mugs full of Coke Zero, 2 strollers, 3 kids, and a bus full of other people you don’t know, and it makes for a little bit of an uncomfortable situation.
The last type of resort is the Home Away From Home Resort. We have stayed at Old Key West, Boardwalk, Saratoga Springs, and Bay Lake Towers (Contemporary). Home away from home has a studio, 1 BR villa, 2 BR villa, or 3 BR Grand Villa.
We’ve been spoiled because my parents have been Vacation Club members since I was in college, and now we are too. When we go with them we get to stay in a home away from home, usually the Boardwalk. This last few times we got to say at the Contemporary Bay Lake Towers which is by far and away my favorite because of the proximity to Magic Kingdom.
We stayed at Bay Lake Towers in May of 2010, which is a Home away from home resort that’s part of the Contemporary. Contemporary is a monorail resort, which means you just hop on the monorail and you’re at Magic Kingdom in a flash. Walking/monorail/boat ride are all extra convenient because we always travel with strollers, and when we are able to walk/ride monorail/or ride boat we don’t have to fold up the stroller! We loved it! The convenience of being so close to Magic Kingdom was just priceless.
Boardwalk is nice, but not my favorite. If you’re at the end of the hallway you can walk about 1/2 a mile, it seems. The counter service isn’t the best either. However, the decor is beautiful, and it’s close to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. The boardwalk is always bustling and that’s fun.
Saratoga Springs is close to Downtown Disney and its VERY large. Like the moderates and values, you would want to take a bus to the main part of the resort to go to the pool or get something to eat. The pool area is very fun. They have a little splash pad for kids and a baby slide too. The counter service is yummy too. My only issue with this resort is how large it is and how I can’t walk to/ ride a monorail/ ride a boat to a park. That may not be an issue for you. I personally hate folding strollers up on the busses though.
Old Key West is the first home away from home resort. The rooms are the biggest of all the Home away from Home resorts because it was the first. The balcony’s are also bigger. Again, you’ll have to take resort transportation to get to the main hub unless you have a room close by.
My opinions are just that, opinions. I form these opinions because of the time of life we’re in. We have 3 kids 7 and under. All of them wish they could be in a stroller by the end of the day, but now we only take the double stroller. Most days, they can go without a nap, however they are EXHAUSTED by the end of the day. Getting on the bus with exhausted kids who outnumber you isn’t a fun experience. That’s why I prefer modes of transportation that allow us to keep 2 of them in the stroller, like the boat or monorail. Like you’ve read, all hotels don’t have access to monorail or boat.
Like you’ve read, we’ve stayed in all levels of resorts. We’ve stayed for varying amounts of time. My feelings are if you can be laid back, you can stay anywhere. You know your needs as a family. Value is definitely doable over a weekend. A moderate is a bit more comfortable. A deluxe doesn’t add lots of room, but does add class and elegance.
Just in case you were wondering, Disney provides bed rails and pack and plays if you need them.
Meal Plan 101
As far as meal plans go…if you’re planning on eating all your meals on site I would definitely do a meal plan. The only way to “qualify” to do the meal plan is to stay at a Disney hotel. It makes it easier because they put a certain number of meals on your room key (however many nights you’re staying is how many days of meal plans you’ll have). For example, you’re staying 3 nights and wanted the quick service dining plan, you’d get 6 quick service meals, 6 snacks, and a refillable mug (per person). If you were staying 3 nights and were doing the basic dining plan, you’d get 3 table service meals, 3 counter service meals, and 3 snacks. You pay up front for all your meals (tip is extra on table service). You can spend however much you want on your food and the meal plan costs the same. They have just recently changed the quick service to only allow one snack per person per day. This makes it a little less enticing if you ask me.
Basic Meal Plan
Adults and older children would enjoy the basic meal plan which includes a counter service meal (like fast food in the park or anywhere on property), a table service meal, and a snack per day. A counter service meal consists of an entree, a side, a dessert, and a drink. A table service includes an entree, dessert, and drink. Tip isn’t included in the meal plan, so you would pay that out of pocket. A snack is usually anything under $4, but you can only get 1 thing (even if 2 things add up to less than $4). Also, the 1 thing you get has to be a food item that is 1 serving…like if a big bag of chips is $3.99 but it’s 4 servings of chips you couldn’t get it…you’d have to get the little bag, that’s say $1.50, but only one serving. This is all per day per person. You need to make your table service reservations 180 days before your vacation. You can call or do it online. Also, breakfast buffets and character meals DO count as 1 table service. But, remember those days, you would only have a counter service and a snack left for the rest of the day, which should be fine because you’ll eat big for breakfast. The refillable mug doesn’t come with the basic plan, but you can buy it for $12. You can only refill it at your hotel though. The refillable mug does come with the quick service plan.
Quick Service Meal Plan
Now that the kids out number us, we do the Quick Service Plan. The quick service plan includes 2 Counter Service Meals per day, 1 snack per day, and a refillable mug you can use during your stay. We love this option because it gives us such flexibility. We’re not scheduling our day around the meals and taking up so much time getting to and from dinners (and having tired kids losing it while waiting for food).
Pricing always depends on what time of year you go. Disney will usually have some sort of promotion going. They usually have free dining, or some sort of discount on the rooms…unless it’s Easter or some other sort of major holiday. Values can be anywhere from $60/night to $130. Moderates range from $110 to $220. And deluxe resorts range from $300+. For the home away from home, you’ll want to rent points. Sometimes you can get it cheaper than a moderate by renting points from vacation club members. If you don’t rent points these resorts will be well over the price of the deluxe…unless you are annual pass holders. If you’re annual pass holders, I’m guessing you don’t need to read this little blog.
Renting points can be a little complicated. You go to disboards.com and find who’s trying to rent out their vacation club points. These people are vacation club members and aren’t going for the year, so they rent their points out so they don’t go to waste. Last I checked they were going for around $10-12 per point. You will need to look at the top of the rental board and you can figure out how many points you’ll need for the home away from home resort you want to stay at. You’ll post on the rental board and come to an agreement with the renter, they’ll call DVC and see if it’s available…if it is, they will make the reservation, most of the time you’ll want to get a confirmation number, and pay some money up front and the rest closer to arrival (after the date they can’t cancel your room reservation- I think it’s 30 or 45 days).
The meal plans are about $52 for adults for the basic plan. The quick service is $35/night. The kids quick service is $12.
Recommendations for restaurants:
Table Service Restaurants:
Breakfast: I’ve heard from multiple people that Kona Cafe (at Polynesian) and Boma (in Animal Kingdom Lodge) are really good. Kona you order off a menu and Boma is a buffet. Neither are character breakfasts. If you want to hang out with characters,Tusker House, Chef Mickey’s and Crystal Palace are good.
The big draw at Kona for breakfast is the Tonga Toast, however you can get it at Captain Cooks (which is the Polynesian’s counter service) for a fraction of the price and it tastes the same.
Dinner: Le Cellier (Canada in EPCOT) is GREAT for steaks (but is now a 2 table service meal), Kona Cafe (in the Polynesian) is great, O’hana is fantastic (it is also at the Polynesian, Coral Reef (in EPCOT) is great for seafood – it’s the one with the aquarium as one of it’s walls (chocolate lava for dessert is yummy), and Whispering Canyon Cafe is fun and the food is good too.
Some places we’ve eaten that we would NOT go back to are Biergarten (Germany in EPCOT), Les Chefs de France (France in EPCOT), Liberty Tree Tavern (in Magic Kingdom) for dinner, Boma for dinner, Crystal Palace for dinner.
Counter Service Restaurants:
In Magic Kingdom
Columbia Harbor House-they have macaroni and cheese which is a hit for our kiddos. They have some new food on their menu that is different than most typical theme park food. There’s salmon, lobster roll, tuna salad, etc. It’s actually very good.
Cosmic Rays Starlight Cafe – Rotisserie Chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans
Pecos Bill’s Cafe – taco salad
Cantina de San Angel – has just been refurbished and is even more yummy now…mmmm, churros (make sure you get them HOT. it makes all the difference in the world)
Electric Umbrella – free drink refills. i cannot get enough diet coke. They also just updated their menu and have a decent selection.
Sunshine Seasons – free drink refills – This is a huge counter service location with lots of different stations…salad, bakery, sandwich, hot american, etc. We got some sort of fancy chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, and green beans one time. Yummy! Only downside for us…you have to park the strollers way outside of The Land (which is what Sunshine Seasons is inside).
In Hollywood Studios
Backlot Express-love their sugar free parfait, and let me say it again, free drink refills.
Pizza Planet- good pizza
In Animal Kingdom
Flame Tree BBQ-love their chicken plate and fruit plate. Usually get one of each and split both between us.
At Polynesian Resort:
Captian Cooks (very yummy -Dole Whips for dessert is the best) You can catch a monorail here from MK. Great pulled pork sandwich, turkey sandwich, and grown up grilled cheese. This is in our top 3 quick service.
Earl of Sandwich – you cannot go wrong – Top 3 quick service
Wolfgang Pucks – this has the food of a sit-down restaurant, but counts as a quick service. Jeb got meatloaf, and I got salmon. – Top 3 quick service (might not be if we weren’t on the dining plan…it’s pricey)
Trying to get the most out of your meal plan
Our family does the quick service meal plan. That means everyone over 3 gets 2 counter service meals and 1 snacks per day plus a refillable mug. We share those 3 meals (2 adult meals and 2 kids meal) between the 5 of us and also use some extra’s on breakfasts.
The way we do it is like this… There are a few restaurants that will give you gigantic portions, so we will split a meal there. Also, I don’t need dessert, so I’ll ask if I can get an extra side of grapes (or something equivalent) instead of dessert. That way we have extra food for the kid’s meals. I always ask if the restaurant will give me a large drink instead of a medium. Some will, some won’t. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
With our extra meal (that we have left since we split the large portion) we will buy breakfast at our resort. Find the breakfast platter with the MOST food on it. You can get it for a counter service credit. Then you will have your refillable mug, so fill it up at the soda fountain and use it for your drink. We get some extra milk or juice for the boys and take it back to the refrigerator in the room since we used our refillable mug for our drink.
The large portion restaurants are:
Magic Kingdom: Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe -1/2 chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes plus a drink (they will give you a large) and a dessert ( I get the yogurt as my dessert to add to the kids meal).
Animal Kingdom: Flame Tree BBQ – 1/2 Slab of St. Louis Ribs or 1/2 smoked chicken – served with baked beans and corn on the cob and a muffin.
Hollywood Studios – There isn’t really anywhere here that has huge portions. Pizza Planet- The kids get a whole personal pizza to themselves with a side and a drink. Adults also get a larger personal pizza and a salad. It might be possible for adults to split this meal, but not probable.
EPCOT – Sunshine Seasons in the Land Pavilion
We split all meals between the 5 of us whether the portions are huge or not. If the meals are huge we just split 2 meals between the 5 of us instead of splitting 3 meals between the 4 of us. Make sense?
In the food courts at the moderate and value hotels there are usually some meals with large portions. At All Star Music, there are some huge meals like Chicken Parmesan, and some other meat and veggies meals.
Also, remember to use your snacks to your advantage.
We use the pre cut fruit at the resorts as a snack credit, then we take it and put it in the fridge for breakfast. Also, you can get lots of goodies at Goofy’s Candy Company in Downtown Disney.
Do not miss:
Wishes (fireworks) at MK only stand on Main Street (they tell you it’s just as good in the less crowded areas like Liberty Square, Fantasyland, etc. but it’s not…if it was just as good it wouldn’t be less crowded)
Rides: Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, haunted mansion, all the mountains, buzz lightyear’s space ranger spin, Mickey’s Philharmagic
Spectromagic is a great parade at night. The 3pm parade is also good too. It’s a nice way for your munchkin to see all the characters.
Rides: Toy Story Mania (We LOVE this), Rockin’ Roller coaster, Tower of Terror
We don’t like Fantasmic, but it’s just personal preference I guess. It’s a battle of villains against Mickey. It is about a bad dream or something…we find it a bit scary for our kids and also a bit lengthy.
Rides: Mission Space is NOT a must do for either of us. It’s too intense. Jeb’s ridden it a few times, I’ve only done it once.
Test Track, Soarin’
Walking around World Showcase is so neat. We love to look at all the countries. They have different performers out sometimes that are really neat to watch…like the Chinese acrobat kids, the lady who makes candy on certain days in Japan, and the concerts in America.
Illuminations is alright. It’s not our favorite, but it’s good.
EPCOT is my favorite park because it’s so beautiful. The Land is my favorite ride, but it’s just for sentimental reasons. My family and I have ridden that ride since my first trip in 1984. It is pretty neat though…if you like plants and weather and such.
Festival of the Lion King is a must see show, Expedition Everest is the best roller coaster at Disney, Kilimanjaro Safaris is neat too.
Other Random things we like to do
We like to get on the monorail and go to the monorail resorts and walk around. There’s a beach at all of them and it’s neat to watch Wishes from the beach on a night you’re not going to a park. Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Polynesian. P.S. We did this BEFORE we had kids. Now we’re lucky to see the fireworks once during our trip.
For friends with little ones under 40 inches: We took C for the first time when he was 18 mo. old. He could ride a lot of the rides. JL was 6 mo. on his first trip. EK was 3 1/2 mo when she went for the first time.
The boys favorite rides at MK are Peter Pan, Small World, Dumbo, the carousel, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Magic Carpets of Alladdin, Buzz Lightyear, & Winnie The Pooh. As of the last visit they both also love Haunted Mansion, but it is a bit scary…so please ride with caution with young ones.
At Hollywood Studios they both like Toy Story Mania and the Honey I shrunk the Kids Playground, and they did like Playhouse Disney LIve on stage when they were younger. This park is not a must do with kids. Now that C is older and likes some of the movies in the Great Movie ride, I think he’ll like it (just have to cover his eyes in the Alien part). Also, for friends with princesses, there is an Ariel “show” that is neat. My boys just aren’t into The Little “Nermaid.”
At EPCOT they like the Grand Fiesta Tour in Mexico, Nemo, and the Land.
At Animal Kingdom, they like Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Lion King Show, a ride that’s similar to Dumbo, & the Boneyard Playground.
With young ones the park you’ll spend most of your time in is Magic Kingdom. There is a LOT of stuff for the little ones to do there. The other parks you can find stuff for them to do, but the parks are not geared towards them as much. We still go to all the parks (not Animal Kingdom as much) but we spend most of our time at MK.
Now that C over 40 inches he rides and LOVES: MK: Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain (the dark scared him at the beginning), Goofy’s Barnstormer (this is for 35ish inches and under-he’s ridden this since he was 2 1/2). And his favorite – Space Mountain.
HS: Star Tours, Tower of Terror, and he’s hoping to ride Aerosmith next trip
EPCOT: Test Track (for some reason the “hot room” scared him), Soarin’ (he asked 4,379 questions in this).
Some of the best roller coasters are for kids bigger than 40 inches (Expedition Everest, Space Mountain, Rockin Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror)
wdwinfo and allears have info on things to do, the hotels, the menus for all restaurants, and lots more. mousesavers has deals on discount tickets and will tell you the latest disney specials
also, http://www.waltdisneyworld.com is great too.
Please let me know if I can answer any questions you may have!!