Understanding Walt Disney World’s Resort Categories

Walt Disney World has four resort categories; Value, Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa. The difference between them may at first seem easy enough to understand, but I get a lot more questions about what makes each category different from the other that I thought a post here would be helpful to those of you planning your first, or maybe even second or third, trip to Walt Disney World. So here we go.

Let’s start with what all Disney resorts offer:

  • Free Disney’s Magical Express to and from the airport
  • Free transportation to the parks and connecting service to other resorts
  • Free parking at the Theme Parks
  • Ability to purchase Disney Dining Plan and a Magic Your Way Package
  • Earlier (60 vs 30 day prior to arrival) window for Fast Pass + reservations
  • Extra Magic Hours
  • Complimentary Magic Bands
  • Disney Magic/Pixie Dust

Value Resorts

art-of-animation

The Value Resorts are Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, and Disney’s All Star Music, Movies and Sports Resorts. They are the most affordable options at Walt Disney World and are comparable to the other more affordable off property resorts in the area. They are a bit further from “the action” of the parks but they do offer all the perks of staying on property at equal or even lower price than the hotels off property.

All of the Value Resorts have free self parking, quick service dining restaurants, gift shops, large pools, mini-fridges in the rooms, over the top/larger than life theming and two full vs two queen beds in the room. As is to be expected the rooms here are the smallest, hovering around 450 sqft on average and sleep 4 people. You can get an additional person in the form of an infant in the room in a pack and play making it up to 5 people, but it’s fairly tight.

The value resorts are all motel style in that the rooms open up to an exterior hallway. Sort of like a very nice, Disney themed Travelodge. The one exception here are the Suites at the Art of Animation. These rooms have internal corridors and feel more like a traditional hotel vs motel. They also have a living room, dining room, kitchenette, bedroom, two bathrooms and sleep up to 6 people plus an additional infant in a pack and play. It’s import to note however that these rooms are often more expensive than standard rooms at the moderate resorts. So while they are very nice, they are not as affordable as the standard value resort rooms.

One final note, the value resorts are in my mind separated into two categories, the All Star Resorts and the Pop Century/Art of Animation resorts. The reason for this is both location and quality of accommodation. The All Star Resorts all share one bus route while the Pop and Art of Animation each have their own. This plus the All Star’s location further from the main attractions make travel times to the parks noticeably longer. Also, the All Star Resorts have the abomination that is the Pop Tart breakfast sandwich which in and of itself scares away a large majority of sensible people.

Oh, before I forget, none of the Value Resort rooms, with the exception of the Family Suites at Art of Animation, have coffee makers. I’ve had a fair number of comments regarding this from my guests so I mention it here. Also, I love coffee. So, if you’re staying at Pop Century and want coffee in your room, pack your own coffee maker and coffee.

Moderate Resorts

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The Moderate Resorts are, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, Disney’s Port Orlean’s Riverside Resort and Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort. These resorts distinguish themselves from the Value resorts in a few key ways. Unlike the larger than life and dare I say more generic theming of the Value Resorts, these resorts have one unified theme/motif and they dive deep into it. The themes are not Disney Specific either. For example, the Caribbean Beach Resort looks like a resort you’d find in the Caribbean and Disney’s Port Orlean’s French Quarter will make you feel like you’re in New Orleans walking down Bourbon street.

Like their Value Resort cousins these resorts have pools, but they come with an upgrade, a water slide! While not all of the pools are as large as the ones at the Value Resorts, they are a bit nicer. The chairs by the pool are more plentiful as well.

Rooms at the Moderate Resorts are mid size, running around an average of 500 sqft. The double rooms have two queen beds and you can book a King Sized bed room at the resorts. There are also rooms that sleep 5 people with a pull down bed. A great option for slightly larger families who want more room but don’t want to spend the extra money on the Art of Animation suites. These rooms will also accept an extra infant in a crib, making for a possible total of 6 people.

Another luxury these resorts have is a table service restaurant. Usually quite good but overlooked for their flashier counterparts at the deluxe resorts, they are a great option for those staying at the resort or those who did not make dining reservations three years before their trip. The restaurant at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside is actually a fave of mine and if you have a Tiana fan in your party like I do in mind, it serves a lot of the dishes they speak of in the movie. Speaking of restaurants, these resorts also have a quick service restaurant and the quality of the food seems to be a bit higher than at the value resorts. However, I may just be biased because I love the beignets so much at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter.

The rooms here also have mini fridges and the all important coffee maker. They have free self parking and the rooms face exterior hallways. The feel is that of a really nice Holiday Inn Express in the heart of a particular destination. These resorts also have some very nice holiday decorations making them a good choice for those traveling over the holiday, who like me, don’t want to miss out on all the beautiful decor. The hotels are closer to the action than the Value Resorts which makes the trips to the park easier and much faster. Port Orlean’s French Quarter has the fastest times as it is the smallest hotel and doesn’t share a bus with any other resort.

Deluxe Resorts

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These are the creme de la creme of Disney Resorts. They are broken up into three areas. The Magic Kingdom area with Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridan Resort and Spa and Disney’s Polynesian Resort, the Epcot Resort area with Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club, and Disney’s Boardwalk and  finally, there is the Animal Kingdom Lodge which sits alone and in grand style near the Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

While there are differences between the value and the moderate resorts, the largest difference really is between the moderate and the deluxe. Deluxe resorts have all the amenities you’d expect from a full service, luxury resort hotel. While the deluxe resorts have free self parking, they also have valet parking (for a cost of course). They have a quick service and table service option, sometimes several, but they also have signature dining options. Many have spas and all have large and incredibly themed and manicured pools with slides. The greatest example of this is at the Yacht and Beach Club with a pool so fantastic, it’s essentially a water park in and of itself.

The rooms here are large, upwards of 600 sqft and are either on King bed or Two Queen beds. That said, some have bunk beds and others have pull down beds and sleep up to 5. These hotels also have signature suites and concierge levels making for highly customizable vacation accommodations.

As you’d expect, the theming here is outstanding and meticulously executed. From the grounds to the rooms to the staff, Disney has done everything to ensure you are fully immersed in the intended ambiance. For example, at Animal Kingdom Lodge, meant to look like a safari or African lodge it goes well beyond the decor and into the staff themselves. A large proportion of the staff are from Africa. with safari guides in the lobby doing educational presentations and in the savannah overlook to share their knowledge of the animals. Finally, they have African art and artifacts throughout the resort and from some rooms you can even see the animals from your balcony. It is as immersive as possible, without beaming you to Africa the moment you set foot in the lobby.

These resorts also have unique transportation options. From the Monorail at the Magic Kingdom hotels, to the boat at the Epcot hotels, there are more than just buses to be had. They are also very close to the action and in some cases, walking distance to a park or two. Some of the rooms at these resorts even have views of the theme parks themselves and the fantastic firework shows at said parks.

All this said, it is important to note that these are not your ultra luxury resorts. This will not be like a stay at the Ritz Carlton or the Four Seasons. It is a slight step down from that with a far more energetic atmosphere and slightly less stuffy service. For those travelers who prefer to travel at that ultra luxury level, I’d highly recommend the Four Seasons Orlando which is located inside Walt Disney World property and was one of the more enjoyable luxury hotel experiences I’ve had anywhere in the world. It doesn’t have all the same perks of the Disney owned resorts, but it more than makes up for it in other ways.

Finally, the rooms at the Deluxe resorts also have coffee makers and mini fridges.

Deluxe Villa Resorts

villasgrandfloridian

Many  believe that these villa resorts started with the Disney Vacation Club, but in reality, they have been around almost since the beginning of the Disney World Resort. Back in the day they were known as the Disney Village Resort. After that they became the Villas at the Disney Institute, where you could go on vacation and take classes in things such as photography or topiary design. Now, they are Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort. While the buildings and the resort have been greatly changed, the one area which still remains the same, all be it with some redecoration, are the tree house villas.

With all that said, these resorts really came into their own and started enjoying mass popularity, and expansion, when the Disney Vacation Club began in the 90s. These resorts are spread all over and are as follows: Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows, Disney’s Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas, Disney’s Old Key West Resort, Disney’s BoardWalk Villas, Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Beach Club Villas, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

These villas are self catering accommodations ranging in size from studios to three bedroom grand villas. The Studios have a queen sized bed, sofa bed and a kitchenette with a microwave, mini fridge and the all important coffee maker. The one bedrooms and larger all have full kitchens and a master bedroom with a king sized bed, large soaking tub and secondary bedrooms are either a studio attached to the one bedroom or two queen bed rooms. The specifics vary by resort but they all have ample room to stretch out and if you, like me, enjoy cooking meals for your family, they are a great way to enjoy a Walt Disney World vacation as well as some culinary fun.

These resorts also vary in their layout, some are sprawling and open. You park your car in front of your villa and it’s almost like an apartment or town home feel. Others are like luxury resorts and your villa feels more like a penthouse apartment or a luxury suite. Most have valet parking and all have free self parking. They also all have unique modes of transportation like the deluxe resorts, a quick service and table service restaurant and those attached to the larger deluxe resorts also have the benefit of the signature dining. They also have pools with waterslides and comparable amenities to the Deluxe Resorts.

As a larger family there is no more comfortable way to travel to Walt Disney World than a villa, you have room to spread out and a full kitchen for feeding the hungry hoards. These rooms also have something that the others, not even the deluxe resorts have and that is a freezer. This may seem like a small thing, but there is no greater luxury at Walt Disney World than a frozen bottle of water or two to take into the park. Not to mention the freezer becomes incredibly important when your infant starts teething half way through the trip and the only relief everyone gets is when they are chewing on the frozen teething ring.

Unique Experiences

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Finally, many people do not know that Walt Disney World has campgrounds and you can actually camp there, as in like in a tent. Yes, they have cabins with full kitchens and you can bring and RV/camper. But, you can also just pitch a tent and go for it all traditional rugged style. These are gonna set you back a bit more than your national park camp grounds but they are also substantially nicer.

Aside from full plug-ins, immaculate facilities and sweet bbq set-ups, Disney’s Fort Wilderness lodge is the only resort on property to allow dogs. They also rent golf carts and have a wicked fun dinner show, horse back riding and camp fire story time. It’s like your national park campground, but as only Disney could imagine it.

The cabins have coffee makers but in the RV and camp sites you’ll need to bring your own.

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So there you have it, an overview of the four or so different resort categories available for you to chose from for your Walt Disney World vacation. As is always the case, no one category nor one resort is better than the other. It all comes down to your preferences and your family’s needs. Even after a 100+ trips to Walt Disney World, there is really no one resort I’d say is my absolute favorite. It just depends on what we want out of that particular vacation which dictates what we go with.

Want to know more about these resorts? Which ones are right for you? What a stay in one of them would cost you? Whether they have coffee makers? Drop me a line here and I’d be happy to chat with you about them.

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