Tell Me About Staying At the Disney World Resort

I’m thinking of taking the Small One to Disney World next year and actually staying onsite. We’ve been there before, but stayed in a house nearby, which has its pros and cons.

I’ve been all over the website and God almighty it’s more complex than you’d think. The meal plans seemed sort of straightforward but then I went to another website that appeared to be saying that ther meal plan that gives you three meals a day is more food than you can possibly eat; I’m not sure how three meals a day is too much food so maybe I don’t understand.

What I’d like is

  1. A comfortable vacation for my daughter and I (nobody else; she’'ll be 7 going on 8 when we go.)

  2. I’d like a genuine resort experience; a resort with a restaurant and a nice pool. Full room service is not a necessity but something would be nice. So I think we’re aiming mid level.

  3. I’m not cheap but don’t want the Disney version of the Ritz-Carlton, either.

  4. I wanna go to whichever park we want to go to, when we want to go to it.

What Dopers have stayed on resort? What did you think, where did you stay? What should I bear in mind? What meal plans make sense? What are your tips, your tricks?

We went mid-level – the Caribbean Beach Resort – and had a great time. It has an on-site food court for casual meals as well as a sit-down restaurant (I don’t remember exactly how much you got of each one). They have a pool with activities for the kids if you’re not out at the parks, and they screen a movie outside each night. Transportation is pretty easy – you’ve got either the bus or your car, and IIRC if you’re staying on-site, you don’t have to pay more for parking at the parks. There’s no monorail access, but that’s not a killer. Note that you absolutely want to get up and get moving early as early as you can – the parks are a lot less crowded in the first couple hours, and the traffic on the roads to get there from your hotel is largely nonexistent.

I believe we did a meal plan that offered two meals (plus snacks) daily. We brought some boxes of cereal and stashed some fruit in our in-room fridge, and that worked better for us than a full-on breakfast (plus a couple character breakfasts as the week progressed – reserve those now).

As for parks, I think you’ll want the park hopper version of the pass, which lets you go to any of the parks whenever you want. It also lets you go from park to park in the day. We didn’t use that too much during the days, but we caught the nighttime Epcot show and (twice) the Electrical Parade without caring whether we’d been in the appropriate park during the daytime.

We went late this past spring – two adults, a 4 and a half year old, and a six month old. It was much easier to manage than I could have possibly expected. It’s not a cheap vacation, by any means, but they really know what they’re doing down there.


It’s three full meals a day. It includes appetizers & dessert. It’s really A LOT of food. The only reason to get the Deluxe Dining Plan is if you want to eat at a lot of Signature restaurants (which use 2 credits).

The Dining Plan used to be a real good deal. Not so much anymore. You may want to price things out. It does tend to be a good deal when kids are along and not yet Disney adults (under 10 I think). Especially if you do character meals.

I liked the Port Orleans French Quarter when I stayed there. Port Orleans Riverside had a better pool, so I’d recommend that one for kids.

The best pool is at the Beach Club. But that’s a deluxe and will set you back a lot more. Unless you rent DVC points (Disney’s version of timesharing), then you can stay at a Deluxe for the price of a Moderate.

Depending on where you plan on eating and the time of year you’re going, you may want to make dining reservations months ahead of time.

My sister and her family enjoy the Port Orleans French Quarter resort as well. She says there’s enough to do there just puttering around the resort without having to go into Disneyland proper, which makes a nice break.

Our family loves DisneyWorld, and we’ve been multiple times with toddlers and teenagers.

A few thoughts:

  1. If you’re aiming for a mid-level resort, Disney has multiple options for you to consider, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. None of the mid-level resorts are on the monorail system, so the simplest thing to do is determine which park you’ll spend most of your time in, and select a resort closest to that park. Disney’s bus system (and, to a lesser extent, their waterborne transportation system) is very good, but it can still take upwards of 45 minutes to get to a park from your resort if it’s at the other end of the World.

  2. If you plan to hit each of the four major parks and/or water parks while you’re there, I’d say the primary consideration at that point would be theming – what style of resort do you want to stay in? We love the Port Orleans - French Quarter because of its atmosphere and pool area.

  3. I strongly, strongly recommend the Website. Len Testa, one of the originators of that site, was a Straight Dope poster for a time (and may still be, for all I know). They have taken a lot of the guess work out of your Disney vacation, and have done outstanding, no-holds-barred reviews of each of the resorts. Plus, their Crowd Calendar can help you plan the best time of the year to go, and their Touring Plans can help you find the least-crowded rides at any time of day.

  4. If you decide to splurge and stay in a Deluxe resort, our favorite is the Polynesian. (Full disclosure: We’ve stayed there, at the Contemporary, and at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but not any of the other Deluxe properties.) It’s not that the others are bad; it’s just that the Polynesian, in our experience, is that nice. You want a true resort feel, this is the place to get it.

  5. If you decide to go Value Resort (and, honestly, you won’t spend a ton of time in your room, and if it’s just the two of you, the smaller rooms won’t matter that much; plus you save between $100 and $400 a night vs. moderate or deluxe resorts), I can recommend both the All-Star and Pop Century resorts. One note, though: Because these are the cheapest on-site Disney hotels, they’re always more crowded than other resorts. That becomes an issue when it’s 10 p.m., you’re waiting on a bus to take you back to your resort, and you have to wait through three or four cycles of buses before getting on one, and then you have to stand the entire bus trip because it’s packed to the gills with other tired tourists.

  6. One other Website to pimp: You can sign up for the monthly newsletter, which is full of money-saving deals on tickets and reservations.

  7. If at all possible, do NOT go around the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Gridlock doesn’t begin to describe it.

I’ve been to Disney once in the last 15 years…and I live three hours away. But the one time was last December, and I want to go back. :slight_smile:

We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge, in the cabins. Not what you’re asking for right now, but it was fun. You’re basically in a nice log cabin-looking building.

Make sure you check out Extra Magic Hours. Certain days, certain parks open early or stay open late just for people living on property. That means shorter lines.

Park Hopper is definitely the right way to go. There are special events for kids, and special parades…at different times in different parks. You don’t have to dedicate a whole day to a location just to catch something.

Staying on site gives you the right to go to other properties for breakfast. This can be key - you can go have ‘breakfast’ or ‘coffee’ or whatever at one of the resorts that has a Monorail stop. Easy parking for you, and easy access to the parks.

Some kids get into Disney Pins. Some wear outfits. Most of the Disney staff will compliment them on anything Disney that they wear.

There are Disney Forums with TONS of information. The Disney culture is huge, and addictive.



I would recommend that you pick up copies of both the Official Birnbaum Guide to Walt Disney World, and Len’s Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. The editions for 2013 should be out in October, but they don’t change too much from year to year. There are lots of resources available online as well, from Disney’s own site to message boards and bloggers. I also recommend, and another good site is Disney is currently offering free Dining for select nights from 9/30/2012 until 12/20/2012. If you can schedule your trip in that time frame, it will save you a boatload of money: Walt Disney World Package Discounts and Specials

Be aware that the more popular restaurants are going to book up early, so making a few reservations is a good idea.

Digital is the new Analog, a slight nitpick: if you stayed in a cabin, you were at Fort Wilderness, not the Wilderness Lodge. (I’ve stayed in them too!) They are very close together, but are separate resorts. :slight_smile:

Just to clarify, we’re not going until 2013. When in 2013 we go is somewhat flexible. My priority is avoiding really crowded times with regards to choice of timing.

Yes, of course. My mistake. I was in Fort Wilderness. At least, that’s what the animals by the side of the road claimed. BTW, we were there just before Christmas. Really amazing time to be at Disney in general. There are regulars at Fort Wilderness who get into competitions for decorating their cabin. The the light shows in the parks…WOW. Especially at Universal. Disney does things on a scale that you just can’t believe if you haven’t experienced it.

I went to the Lodge for drinks one night, and had something I still call a yummy blue drink. With a flashing ice cube, of course.

Yes, if you go between (American) Thanksgiving and before the Christmas holidays start, the parks are all done up in their holiday finery and crowd levels are manageable. I’ve stayed at Fort Wilderness twice, but my stays were in 1996 and 1998. On my more recent trips I’ve stayed at Bay Lake Tower (I’m a Disney Vacation Club member now), Saratoga Springs, and Shades of Green (for military, DoD employees, and disabled vets; it is no longer owned by Disney). I prefer my home resort, Bay Lake Tower, especially since my husband is disabled and the monorail is easier for him to use than the buses; but I must say that Disney is very proactive with help for anyone with a disability. They have started to replace some of their older buses with newer ones that actually lower down almost to pavement level, making them easier and quicker for scooters, wheelchairs, and power chairs to load.

Back on track-We liked Saratoga Springs; it is a large resort, however, and the quick service restaurant there does not have a lot of choices. Disney just changed the hours for the full service restaurant at that resort; it will only be open for dinner. Fortunately, Downtown Disney is just a boat or bus ride away, and there are lots of choices there. One of our favorites is Earl of Sandwich. It is one of the best values on property. We also like Fulton’s Crab House; try the Milk Chocolate Creme Brûlée if you have room after your meal!

If you go during this time of year, don’t miss the Osborne Family Christmas Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They are amazing!

We should be there from Dec 1 to Dec 7 in 2013. If you’re there, you can come to my daughter’s birthday party. She’s turning 40!. (I’m old. :slight_smile: )

It’s been a while, and things change at WDW, but here are my experiences:

Trip 1: group needed 3 bedrooms. We stayed in a Treehouse Villa. Loved it, but they’re gone.

Trip 2: me & 2 young girls. Stayed at the Contemporary (the one that the monorail runs through). Loved it, and the monorail access saved a *lot *of time. Chef Mickey’s was tremendous fun, and we saw characters there that we didn’t see elsewhere. We had prime viewing for the Electrical Water Pageant. Big room, lots of amenities. Our room had a view of Magic Kingdom – fabulous at night, and we could see the rides start up in the morning, which helped get the girls away from the TV and into the park. Pricey, but I’d do it again.

Trip 3: Friends insisted on staying at a budget resort. Hated it. Crowded, long waits for transportation, small rooms, far fewer amenities.

If you happen to be there on your daughter’s birthday, you’re likely to get all kinds of unexpected extras, like her being chosen to be in shows.

laina_f-Treehouses are back at the Saratoga Springs resort! They book up early, though.

More here: Disney Vacation Club Opening Two New Resorts in 2009

The 2013 ‘Unofficial Guide’ is already out; I bought it last weekend. This book is invaluable - not so much for the touring plans (which are these days the shortest chapter in it), but for the exaustive amount of information about anything and everything that could possibly come up…from where to get aspirin in the parks to zombie invasion. Well, not the zombies, but I expect they’ll put that in an edition any day now.

Also recommended - There’s also a Disney food blog out there I can’t find the link to right now that’s really good and helpful for planning dining, with honest reviews.

From your original post - it sounds like Port Orleans Riverside or Caribbean Beach resorts would be your best bets - both have fun pool areas and a table-service restaurant as well as a food court area. Port Orleans French Quarter (my favorite) only has a food court, but the pool area is nice as well.

Dining plans - my husband and I have done the “regular” plan a couple of times - one table-service meal and one quick-service meal, plus 1 snack a day and a resort refillable mug. This works out well for us, as we normally eat breakfast in the room (unless we’ve booked a character breakfast). Note - you can combine the meals in any way you choose - you can have 3 table-service meals in one day (and be STUFFED!) for example.

I recommend the Park Hopper as well - we tend to be in the parks when they open, take a mid-afternoon break (especially if it’s a hot or busy time of year) then return to a different park in the evening. We also usually take advantage of at least the morning Extra Magic Hours.

If you are willing to take your daughter out of school for the vacation, then the crowds will be less. The general rule is school holidays == crowded Disneyworld. The exception is Labor Day and the week or two before that. Most families don’t go to Disney at this time as summer is winding down and many kids have school activities starting up before school (sports etc).
If your school system has a holiday or school in-service that is atypical, then that is an EXCELLENT time to go to Disneyworld (Jersey Week for NJ, Patriot’s Day for MA if Easter is far enough away). Even better is if your school and only your school has a random off day. This February my nephews have a couple of random days off (not President’s Day), they are going to Disney that long weekend.

Do NOT use the official Disneyworld website to get started. Find other websites with the information you need. Disney’s website is horrible. For a long time I was hoping that Steve Jobs would smack the board around and demand that the website get cleaned up.

I suggest you avoid the dining plans. There is a possibility of savings there, but it requires a high level of pre-planning and expensive eating. Dining plan is mainly a ‘convenience thing,’ in the sense that you don’t think about money. But they aren’t really worth it, especially in 2013.

If you want a nice but not luxurious Disney resort, I’d say the Caribbean Beach resort is your best bet.

My then 7-year old son loved it.

Lots of great advice here. My preference is to go in October, when the weather is nice (barring the rare hurricane) and the crowds are low. Also the food and wine festival and the Halloween events are going on then.

I’ve stayed at one value resort and I don’t recommend them. For people who are pinching pennies to afford a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I’d bet renting an off-property house would be better.

The mid level hotels are pretty nice though. We stayed at Coronado Springs, and it was lovely. It’s the hotel Disney promotes for conventions, but we didn’t seem out of place - plenty of families. Love the food court, and there’s a fancy restaurant too.

I’m biased since we own a DVC interest, but you might consider renting points so you could stay in a studio or one bedroom. The one bedrooms have a full kitchen and a washer and dryer, which is always a blessing. I don’t like having to schlep the kids out to a restaurant every time we get hungry, and the food is better and cheaper when I make it. IIRC studios have a kitchenette.

This fall we’re staying at the Bay Lake DVC so we’ll have access to the monorail, which is wicked sweet. The buses are OK, but when you’ve got a tired, hot, worn out kid, it’s nice to hop on the train and get home quick.

Pro-tip: if she’s interested in dining with the princesses, consider the brunch or lunch at Akershus in Epcot, rather than the princess meal at Cinderella’s castle. Much easier to make reservations, and lots of princess interaction.

They covered zombies on a podcast: