Like many folks who visit Walt Disney World, we like a good bargain. Travel can be expensive, especially when you add it all up: flights, transportation, meals, entertainment, and so on. While travel enriches the soul, it can also empty out the hard-earned savings account.
So, while planning our latest visit to WDW, we thought we would try an offsite hotel as it had a really competitive price, good location, and regular transportation to the various parks for our daily magical fun.
To be blunt, for us, the magic had long been draining from the Disney resorts because they were more expensive. The perks of staying have been gradually reduced (no more free parking, which is now thankfully being reversed, no more extra two hours in the parks for resort guests, and still no return of the Dining Plan nor free dining deals). Without all these previously enjoyed benefits, we couldn’t justify the cost of staying in a Disney hotel.
Overall, our stay at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort was pretty nice. We loved the pool, had a comfortable room (though problems with accessibility are outlined in detail below), and the bus transportation usually worked pretty well. It was also a bonus to be walking (or rolling) distance from Disney Springs, as I had never been, and we enjoyed exploring it.
Before Arrival and Checking In
When you have a disability and use a wheelchair, there are a lot of details to sort out. This gets difficult when it’s hard to reach the people you need to speak to and if they don’t understand that the details in accessibility matter.
Unfortunately, even before our arrival, we had a few problems. It was challenging to reach the hotel—so difficult that the phone would automatically roll over to the hotel chain’s call center instead of the property. We couldn’t get information (or received conflicting information) on room accessibility details and transportation. This is likely due to staffing problems that many places are still experiencing, but it made planning challenging.
On the transportation, my husband was able to eventually reach the bus company providing transportation under contract and was able to get the information we needed on accessibility. We also learned that a daily pre-booking process would be required to reserve our seats on the bus. Since there were only two wheelchair spaces on the bus and only one accessible bus was in the lineup, this was essential for ensuring our transportation would be accessible.
On the room accessibility, we had more problems. We booked a wheelchair-accessible room with tub and transfer bench. (My preference is a roll-in shower, but that was the type of room available, and it is usually fine.) However, the room given to us on arrival was not at all wheelchair accessible. I couldn’t fit my wheelchair into the bathroom, which was so tiny. We had to go back down, and eventually, they found another room that worked but was still accessibility deficient.
Additionally, we were shocked that there was an added fee of $75 for checking into your room before 4 pm. Sure, we could have waited, but after an early morning wake-up to catch our flight, we just wanted to get in, get refreshed and changed for the pool, and get some lunch. We didn’t want to wait in the lobby for several hours before enjoying some relaxation on our vacation. In all of our conversations (and emails) with the hotel or Wyndham chain prior to arrival, this was never mentioned.
As previously indicated, the room was not truly accessible. While the bedroom had enough rolling space, even the second room they assigned to us had a very tight bathroom. I couldn’t turn my wheelchair around as there was not enough space. I could go in forward, but only part way. Or I could back my chair in while turning—thankfully, I am a stellar driver, so I could manage it!
The shower was not a tub (as promised) and wasn’t accessible for roll-in because of a high curb. We had to put the bench over this curb, and it didn’t seem to fit right, but it worked well enough for the purpose. Another issue was the toilet was too low and not an accessible height for transfer.
Additionally, the sink was tall and had a wall that was great for bashing my knees into. It clearly wasn’t designed with a wheelchair user in mind. My husband and I improvised, but it was challenging to use these facilities. I’d also add that the shelves and bars for storing and hanging toiletries and towels were all out of reach from my wheelchair.
This was an ongoing theme as I had the same problem in the bedroom, with much of the storage being out of reach and limited in space. We’re light packers, so we made it work, but my husband was made busy by having to fetch and put back items I should have been able to get myself, except for the inaccessible nature of the room design.
Although the bed was small (a Double instead of the Queen that we booked), it was comfortable, and I appreciated being able to rest well every night. We also liked that housekeeping came every day to take the trash and clean a little, though it did look like the room had been neglected and not cleaned thoroughly in a while.
To sum up, the room was serviceable. It wasn’t especially comfortable or accessible, but we made it work. As an aside, we contacted hotel management on our return home to share our feedback on room accessibility and offer our advice as accessible travel experts to explain design ideas that would be better. We received a nice form letter in response but never heard anything else. Too bad, as it was a lost opportunity to get free accommodation accessibility advice from frequent and experienced travelers.
The pool area was my favorite part of the hotel. There were two large pools. One sort of lagoon shaped and the other a more traditional rectangle. There was also one whirlpool. All three were accessible by battery-operated pool lifts.
The one detail I wasn’t keen on was that we had to request the battery to be installed every time we wanted to use the pool. So this meant we used only one and didn’t try them all because it would have entailed getting them to move the battery around for us.
On the first day, it took a while to find who to ask (there was no sign or instruction, so we had to ask around) and for them to bring the battery, but afterward, it was easier because they knew us, and the pool staff was great. But once we had the lift process down, it was beautiful, and enjoying the pool was perfect after a hot day in the parks.
We also really enjoyed the pool bar and had several really good meals there. The menu was varied and not too expensive, and it was an excellent way to eat a dinner while enjoying the pool view or some sports on the large televisions.
Lobby and Public Areas
The lobby had several televisions (all showing a variety of sports or news), a nice bar, and a little market with grab-and-go food and drinks, a coffee bar that we used every morning, and a mini-pharmacy. There were plenty of comfortable couches for lounging, and it was a convenient area coming and going from the hotel.
We didn’t end up checking out any of the other restaurants, but there were additional eating options to the pool bar. There was also a gym, laundry room, and game/arcade room popular with children.
The thing that made me most anxious before our trip was transportation accessibility. We’ve had some problems with this at another non-Disney resort and didn’t get anywhere when we complained. This time, we didn’t want any problems—we just wanted to go to and from the Parks without issues like any other guest.
As a wheelchair user, I require accessible transportation. I’m a big fan of the ramped Disney buses, so I was really happy to learn the contractor providing the hotel transportation uses ramped buses as well. However, only one of the two buses circulating (that we saw) was accessible this way (we also saw some with lifts), so understanding and following the pre-booking process was important to ensure our ride would go smoothly.
The hotel provided a website link for booking and a code (otherwise, there is a fee for transportation). Guests can book two days in advance (for both trips to and from) and specify a wheelchair in the booking. An email confirmation with a QR code is then sent for use during boarding (and they do check it).
Each bus would travel to two Parks, so we’d always ask what Parks and in what order. The order mattered for boarding and de-boarding as there were two wheelchair slots, but the second blocked the first. So if we were the first stop, we would board second so I could get out without having to move the other person.
The buses left every hour and returned from the Parks every hour as well. Generally, the bussing worked well, but sometimes the order of the stops didn’t make sense (such as going to the Park opening later first). And the timing never worked for early entry to Magic Kingdom (the hotel qualified for early guest entry at the parks, so we always tried to use it).
Despite catching the earliest bus, we couldn’t get to Magic Kingdom for the extra half hour. The bus dropped at Ticket and Transportation, and then we had to take Monorail or Ferry to the park. The hotel bus just never was able to get us there in time to go through security, then the additional transportation to reach the park for early entry.
We tried the return trip bus from the Parks to the hotel several times with mixed results. Mostly it worked, but there was a day when the bus never showed. We were exhausted and so got an accessible cab (miraculous!) back to the hotel. We complained about the bus no-show, particularly since they left us waiting in the sun for over a half hour (no shade at the stop) without being able to answer where the bus went.
We were eventually reimbursed by the bus company for the cab fare (I do want to note that management was very apologetic, acknowledged that missing an entire park was a big mistake, and offered right away to cover our extra expense).
Before our trip, we conducted some extensive research about other possible transportation alternatives in case the hotel bus didn’t work well for us. Although the bus generally worked, we tested a few alternatives.
The first was a bus returning from Animal Kingdom Lodge (after a terrific dinner at Sanaa) to Disney Springs, then we rolled/walked from the bus stop back to the hotel. Every Disney resort runs a bus to Disney Springs for guests to enjoy shopping or meals, so this is a potentially good option if you are visiting one of the resorts.
However, the bus stop at Disney Springs ended up being pretty far (on the other end) from our hotel, and we chose a busy night, so it was tough to get through the crowd and back to the room. On a less busy (non-weekend) night, I would be willing to do it again.
My favorite alternate bus option ended up being taking the Saratoga Springs bus from one of the Parks and riding it to the resort stop at Congress Park. From there, it was a pretty 10 to 15-minute roll (or walk) to the hotel past beautiful resort landscaping, view of Disney Springs over the lake, and a stroll over a tranquil pedestrian bridge. In fair weather, it was quite enjoyable!
We also took accessible cabs a few times, and this was really nice because it was a quick and direct route. However, accessible cabs can be hit or miss to find, and the costs add up quickly. When I’m extra tired, it may be worth it, but it’s not an everyday kind of expense.
We also tried the Minnie Van service using the Lyft app. It may have changed since then, but during our visit, they were not allowed to travel to our hotel, so we took it to Disney Springs (ask for the East stop) and then walked/rolled back to the hotel from there.
The fare was truly outrageously expensive (double cab fare), so we only did it once. But the vehicle was accessible by lift (not ramp), and the ride was safe and smooth. Perhaps if you have a large group, it would be worth the expense, but for two of us and not even a direct trip, it didn’t feel worth the money.
Bonus: Disney Springs
An aspect of the hotel’s location that I really loved was its proximity to Disney Springs. It was only about 5 minutes away down a path, up an elevator to a pedestrian bridge, and then down another elevator that dropped you near an entry gate.
On our first night, we checked it out, enjoying (possibly too much) shopping and a terrific meal at The Edison. It was all really accessible to roll with my wheelchair, and the stores were varied and unique. A new favorite is the vast Disney Christmas store that is quadruple the size of the one in Magic Kingdom.
We walked through Disney Springs a few times, and it was always fun with live music and activity. On the weekend nights, it was a bit too much excitement for me as crowds can be overwhelming, but I did enjoy getting to see this area of Walt Disney World.
While our room wasn’t stellar and missed the boat on accessible design, we did enjoy our stay and have a good time. I credit the staff for making the difference. When the first room wouldn’t work at all, they moved us to one that did. And around the hotel, we encountered friendly and helpful staff, such as the pool attendant, the wait staff at the pool bar, and the maintenance staff who helped with the pool lift battery and getting the shower transfer bench.
I have found in life (and in travel) that people can make all the difference. They can make a challenging situation worse, or they can make it better and easier. When we travel, we want to be comfortable and appreciate when great hotel staff help to make that happen.