You're Walt Disney World-bound, and a crucial question warrants an almost immediate answer: Where should I stay onsite with my family?
With dozens of Walt Disney World resorts offering thousands of rooms and Vacation Club units, the options are extensive. Yet, when it comes to planning a trip to the House of the Mouse, it pays to be picky. After all, choice of lodging is a decision that will affect all facets of your family vacation experience -- from how much cash you'll have on hand for food, transportation and souvenirs to how much (or how little) space you'll have to share with your travel companions.
In order to arrive at the best solution for your family -- and your budget -- it helps to know the lay of the land or, in this case, "The World."
Here's our scoop on onsite Walt Disney World Resort accommodations for families, from the top choice for a cheap spot to sleep to the best value for deluxe, spacious accommodations.
Disney's Value Resort Hotels
Going the Value lodging route at Walt Disney World Resort means you'll likely need to make a trade-off. On the plus side, Value Resort Hotels are the most affordable among all Walt Disney World Resort accommodations, offering low rates along with exaggerated Disney design flair -- from the 41-foot-tall Rubik's Cube adorning Disney's Pop Century Resort to the three-story electric guitars found at Disney's All-Star Music Resort. On the negative side, the rooms are small, averaging around 260 square feet.
Although they lack luxury, Value Resort Hotels offer many niceties that add to the family vacation experience. Each has a food court, playground and a main themed pool with an adjacent kiddie pool, although none of the pools have slides. Guests at Value properties enjoy many of the same attractive amenities -- like free resort transportation, early entry, late-stay privileges at resort theme parks and in-room treats, such as towel animals, courtesy of the "Mousekeeping" staff -- afforded to guests at more expensive lodgings.
If you're pinching pennies, you'll need to pay special attention to extra Value category expenses, like in-room refrigerators (around $10 per night) and additional guest surcharges ($10 per adult per night for more than two adults in a room). Still, even with extra amenities, it's hard to beat the deal that the Value category delivers. For travelers on a tight budget, who have a tight-knit crew to match, Value Resort Hotels are a fine option.
Family Favorite: For its pop culture theme, retro TV dinner options (try Mom's buttermilk fried chicken) and a groovy "Hippy Dippy" pool with squirting flowers, the Pop Century Resort is a classic family favorite.
Disney's Moderate Resort Hotels
Still in tune with a conservative family budget, Moderate category Walt Disney World Resort lodgings offer families a bit more space than Value properties, as well as a more resort-style atmosphere, with water sports rentals, organized activities and themed pools with slides and interactive water features. Rooms, averaging 314 square feet, are larger than those found in Value properties, and themed choices like Pirate Rooms (Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort) pack plenty of kid appeal.
Room arrangements -- with two sinks, versus only one found at Value properties -- are family-friendly, and refrigerators are free. Food courts provide plenty of kid-pleasing options, and most Moderate lodgings have a sit-down restaurant, as well. Transportation to Disney theme parks is by bus or boat, and (Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort operates a private, internal shuttle, too. Save some time and legwork by booking a room in a building close to the center of resort activity. For specific room recommendations, check the message boards at AllEars.net, DisBoards.com or Passporter.com.
Family Favorites: For its island vibe, spacious rooms and a pirate-themed pool, suitable for buccaneers big and small, Disneys Caribbean Beach Resort is a top choice for young families. Unique perks like in-room coffeemakers, an onsite fitness center and one of the most varied food courts on property make Disney's Coronado Springs Resort a prime pick for convention-goers, as well as family travelers. And, the lushly landscaped Disney's Port Orleans Resort - Riverside keeps kids entertained with a massive arcade, an old-fashioned fishing hole and a fun-filled swimming complex, complete with waterfalls and rope swings.
Disney's Deluxe Resort Hotels
Elaborate themes, water park-style pools and onsite restaurants give guests grounds to go the deluxe Walt Disney World lodging route. But, for many family visitors, some of the most attractive amenities featured at the World's Deluxe Resort Hotels aren't entertainment-oriented, but instead, are focused on comfort and convenience. Among the most popular reasons parents opt for a deluxe spot to stay are spacious accommodations, proximity to theme parks, onsite childcare centers (select properties) and access to an array of personal services. Plus, there's full room service, which can be a big help when you're traveling with kids.
At almost all Deluxe properties, guests enjoy direct access to at least one Disney theme park via monorail, boat or walkway. All resorts are designed with interior corridors and services centrally located under one roof, making moving about with little ones less of a chore.
Families that value a personal touch will appreciate the Deluxe category's Concierge-level room option (also known as Club Level Concierge), which affords admission to a private lounge with complimentary food and beverages, access to exclusive tours (like the Sunrise Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park) and the service of a dedicated caretaker, who can help make arrangements for special occasions, rearrange furniture in rooms, shop for special supplies and perform other magical feats.
If you're trying to conserve a little cash, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort are good Deluxe options. Although standard rooms are on the small side, these resorts offer big themes for the lowest price point in the category.
Family Favorites: Families seeking an island getaway and easy access to the Magic Kingdom (by boat or monorail) will love Disney's Polynesian Resort, a tropical oasis that features a white-sand beach, a zero-entry, erupting volcano-themed pool and family-friendly entertainment like lei-making and a luau dinner show. For a planned day away from the parks, Disney's Beach Club Resort delivers the ultimate vacation escape, with an onsite soda shop and sprawling three-acre Stormalong Bay. And, for a taste of the American Northwest, Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort offers a cross-country experience in surroundings of spectacularly epic proportion.
Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort
Stake your claim to a unique adventure at Disney's Fort Wilderness, the only spot in Disney World where you can camp out under the stars. Use Disney's campsites or host a naturally cozy sleepover in the comfort of a spacious 500-square-foot cabin at Disney's Wilderness Cabins. The resort offers a number of unique activities, from campfire sing-a-longs and outdoor barbecues to wagon rides, pony rides and sleigh rides. It's also the only Walt Disney World Resort that allows pets. Accommodation choices range from basic campsites (tent rentals are extra) and camper hook-ups to cabins -- Moderate category lodgings that can sleep up to six people and feature full kitchens and housekeeping services.
Family Favorite: While convening in the great outdoors is great fun, seeing constellations from the comfort of The Cabins is even better.
Disney's Deluxe Villas
Offering the comforts of home, combined with the upper-level amenities available to those staying in a Deluxe level Walt Disney World Resort lodging, Deluxe Villas present the best of both worlds. Home bases for members of the Disney Vacation Club, these timeshare resorts offer accommodations for nightly rentals to the general public. Room options vary widely -- from compact studios, equipped with microwaves, coffeemakers and mini refrigerators, to sprawling, three-bedroom three-bath villas with full kitchens, washers and dryers.
Of the eight Deluxe Villa (or Vacation Club) Resorts, six are associated with Deluxe Resort hotels and are situated either within or adjacent to a Deluxe Hotel building. Guests of Deluxe Villas enjoy the facilities of the associated resort, as well as the amenities exclusive to the Deluxe Villa property, such as dedicated pools and recreation facilities. Two Deluxe Villas, Disney's Old Key West Resort and Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, stand independently, and facilities and services at these properties are self-contained.
Family Favorites: For lots of space at the lowest price point in the Deluxe Villa category, The Villas at Disney's Old Key West Resort are a family find. An easy walk from The Magic Kingdom, Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort is at the top of The World and offers a tot-friendly pool, convenient access to classic Disney activities (Chef Mickey's Buffet) and spectacular views of the nightly Wishes fireworks show. Just a short stroll from Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, by way of Atlantic City, Disney's Boardwalk Villas Resort is a great spot for families with teens, offering midway games, carnival attractions and a vibrant nightlife scene.
Rooms for Five Guests or More
If your Walt Disney World-bound crew numbers five our more, you may need to book more than one standard room -- or spread out into more spacious quarters.
Why? Because there is an occupancy limit at all Walt Disney World Resort hotels. At both Value and Moderate properties (except at Disney's Port Orleans Resort-Riverside), the limit is a maximum of four guests per standard room, plus one child under the age of three in a crib. At most Deluxe Category resorts, the allowance is often increased to five people per standard room, plus a crib sleeper under the age of three.
Before booking, be sure to consider this important budgeting information: Room rates at Walt Disney World Resort hotels are based on double occupancy. When more than two adults occupy a room, there is a daily surcharge for each additional adult ($10-Value Resorts, $15-Moderate Resorts, $25-Deluxe Resorts). There are no such fees at Deluxe Villas, though there are occupancy limits at these home-away-from-home properties.
So, besides standard Deluxe Resort rooms, which options exist for families of five or more? In the Value category, Disney's All-Star Music Resort offers 520-square-foot family suites for up to six people. Disney's Port Orleans Resort - Riverside, a Moderate level lodging, accommodates five in the Alligator Bayou section, while 314-square-foot standard rooms contain two double beds and a trundle bed.
Sized-to-fit suites are another solution to the more-than-five-people problem. You'll find these arrangements at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, a Moderate category lodging, as well as at Deluxe Resort Hotel properties, where room layouts, dimensions and prices vary widely. To assess your options, select the accommodation you are interested in at Walt Disney World Resorts. Then, check the box labeled, "room types and pricing." The "Accommodations" section at AllEars.net is a great source for more detailed information.
Many families find that one- to three-bedroom villas at Deluxe Villas (a.k.a. Vacation Club) properties offer the most comfortable, stick-together solution, providing flexible room arrangements, homey surroundings and a lot more space than you'll find in a traditional accommodation.
Family Favorites: On the lowest end of the Deluxe Villa category price range, villas at Disney's Old Key West Resort and Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa provide the most elbow room for your money.
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