During the last four years and seven trips to the Walt Disney World Resort, my husband and I have often found ourselves mulling over a question that seems to be common among Disney vacationers: Is staying at a deluxe resort worth it?
Between all of our trips, we have loved to spend time at the deluxe resorts. We enjoy trying speciality drinks in exciting bars, leisurely perusing the unique shops, and experiencing the dynamic dining options. We have oohed and aahed at the lobbies of many deluxes, and have often commented on the impressive pools and recreational options. Yet, we have always enjoyed our stays at moderate and value resorts, and found few reasons compelling enough to persuade us to stay at a deluxe.
That was the case, at least, until recently, when my husband and I booked a stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
What finally persuaded us to try a deluxe
To provide full disclosure, I found a great deal on the rate for the stay, and since my family was visiting Florida for reasons other than Disney, we were only paying for a single night. While the rate wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t even close to the high rates we’ve seen throughout other times of the year, and it seemed reasonable compared to what we’ve paid for moderates in the past.
Another deciding factor was that we weren’t visiting the parks, so one of our biggest deterrences for booking a deluxe — the feeling that we wouldn’t be spending enough time at the hotel — was no longer a factor. The conditions were perfect for us to give a deluxe resort a try.
During our stay, my husband and I often chatted about what we observed, and realized that there were at least 3 things that didn’t make the deluxe seem “worth it,” and 3 things that made it seem absolutely worth it:
3 things that weren’t really worth it
1) The room’s interior.
I hate to say it, but at first, I was underwhelmed with our room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our TV didn’t work (it turns out that it had simply been unplugged, so it was an easy fix for hotel staff), some surfaces like the television, telephone, and TV remote had a fair amount of dust on them, and our toilet had some paper remnants in there from previous guests, or housekeeping. While I was so grateful to be experiencing the Savannah View room, my first impression was that the savannah looked, well, kind of lifeless (animals come and go, so that wasn’t always the case). The bedding was undoubtedly a step up from what’s offered at moderates or values, but we thought that the quality level wasn’t high enough to be notable.
While our room eventually grew on me (after dusk, the decor’s rich earth tones glowed under the room’s warm lighting, and I fell in love with that room), I didn’t think that the room itself would be a strong enough factor to convince me to stay at a deluxe.
2) The service.
Disney service is often touted as being of incredible quality, however, I have often come across a theory that says this quality has diminished over the years, but is still alive and well at the deluxe resorts. That may be true, and someone who has a more in-depth experience of staying at deluxe resorts would be a better source of a balanced opinion. However, while I have had (less than a handful of) frustrating encounters with cast members all over the Walt Disney World resort, I don’t find that service is particularly worse at the values and moderates, and didn’t think that the bump in quality service was enough to make me want to stay at a deluxe.
3) The food.
I know that food is a HUGE factor for many when choosing the perfect hotel, but for us, the food at Disney just doesn’t do much to tip the scale. In the case of many deluxes, the quick service options are not particularly abundant. There is at least one quick service restaurant, but typically, there is only one, which is also the case at the moderates and values. The food quality at deluxe quick services is not particularly higher, either — at The Mara, for instance, we appreciated that many food options reflected the hotel’s theme, but thought that when it came to taste, it was only marginally better than many quick service restaurants we had experienced at the moderates or values.
While the table service dining options are far better and more dynamic than what’s offered at moderate and value resorts, Disney has this calibre of quality restaurants all over their property, so it didn’t matter much to us if the options were at our hotel, or at the next.
3 things that were absolutely worth it
1) The hotel was rejuvenating
When we booked this no-park trip, I have to admit that I was nervous that I’d long to visit the park. That precise thing had already happened on a previous no-park trip to Port Orleans Riverside — in that case, we didn’t make it through the trip without making an impromptu visit to the Magic Kingdom. While I loved Port Orleans Riverside, I felt too antsy in the room to relax there for many hours, and upon going outside, the energy was so exciting and fast-moving that I found myself wanting to go to the parks. In other words, even though we weren’t in the parks, I wasn’t relaxing. While I loved our room, the shops, pools, and amenities, I was still finding the experience to be somewhat draining on my energy.
I felt the opposite at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Since our room wasn’t ready until 3pm (and we had arrived early that morning), we expected to be caught in heavy resort crowds, who would be taking mid-day breaks from the parks. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the resort never felt overrun! The lush foliage often acts as barriers that break up the layout of the resort, so there were many areas that felt secluded — almost untouched. That level of serenity was just what the doctor ordered after hours of traveling! Later, when we were granted access to our room, it was a joy to spend time there, because our balcony served as a lovely haven, blanketed in peace and quiet. The Savannah view only made the experience better — my husband and I often found ourselves unintentionally sitting in silence, staring in fascination at the grazing animals. The experience was meditative!
2) The pools are enjoyable
While we have stayed at Disney moderate resorts that have offered fun pools and hot tubs, my family rarely used them. Our experience has been that pools at the moderates are overrun and hectic during the day, which made lounging a little anxiety-inducing, and anything but relaxing. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, we found that while the pool and hot tubs were popular, they were never overwhelmingly crowded. We were also pleased to see that there seemed to be harmony at the hot tubs, which in our experience, was less common at the moderates. “Spa rules” (which are detailed on a nearby sign) were all adhered to, which led to an enjoyable experience for all. By being comfortable while using the pool and hot tub, we definitely felt like our money was being well spent!
3) There’s incredible attention to detail — and it feels like an attraction.
Disney’s incredible attention to detail is famous and revered, and yet, easy to overlook when you’re in the midst of the more energetic atmospheres of the moderate and value resorts. Disney has put such incredible attention into their deluxe resorts, and the calmer nature of these hotels provides the perfect opportunity to truly admire and appreciate Disney’s masterpieces. My husband and I spent hours walking around the hotel grounds, looking at each piece of art, as well as many decorative rugs, railings, coffee tables, and chairs. Deluxe hotels are so magnificently adorned, and if you have an appreciation for art, design, and detail, exploring can feel like an attraction in of itself. That, to us, made staying at a deluxe worth it!
There are many factors to consider when booking a Disney hotel, and ultimately, different offerings hold different weight with different families. So, although my family now has the experience of staying at a deluxe hotel, the answer to our original question — Is a staying at a deluxe resort worth it? — remains the same: Yes…and no. It depends on your family, and on what kind of Disney experiences you are interested in having. A wonderful thing about Disney is that with so many diverse options available, your trip can be whatever you want it to be.
All in all, for other families like mine — typical moderate and value resort guests, who have a heathy curiosity about the deluxes — I’d ultimately recommend to continue to keep an open mind, because if a deluxe isn’t worth it on this trip, it may be worth it on your next.
Ashley S. Cooke is Associate Director at a New York City based lifestyle brand, and often writes on the topics of health, wellness, and travel. You can connect with her on Twitter at @AshleySCooke.