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First-timers: Quick and Dirty Tips for Choosing Your Disney World Resort

You’re going to Disney World!  It’s your first visit and you can hardly contain your excitement.  It’s time to choose your resort…and suddenly you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed.  Where do you stay?  How on earth do you choose? You want to pick the perfect resort for your family…a hotel you will be excited to return to at the end of a long day.  But how do you make that choice?

Never fear, here is a list of tips that will help you decide which of the Disney resorts is a perfect match for your family.  But first, a caveat or two.  This article is for guests who have decided that they definitely want to stay on property (we’ll save the on property, off property debate for another time).  It is also for guests who have narrowed down their choice to a Disney-owned resort (ie. Not the Swan/Dolphin complex, the Four Seasons, or any of the Disney Springs area hotels).  Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s move onto the list.

What is your budget?

This will be the biggest factor in determining where you stay.  All Disney resorts are expensive, but some are more expensive than others.  We would probably all love to stay in a Poly bungalow for a week, but at over $2,000 per night, it isn’t happening for most of us.  So, now is the time to stare reality in the face, and come up with a budget for your vacation that won’t break the bank, or have your children eating popcorn for dinner for the rest of the year.


Bungalow, Polynesian Resort

Once you have a figure in your head, take a look at the rack rates for the resorts (never plan a trip hoping for a discount…or free dining…although you will most likely be able to snag one), and see which will fit into your budget for the length of time you want to stay in WDW.

Now you have another decision to make.  Which is more important to you…the length of your stay or the luxury of your resort?  You’ll have to make a choice.  With your allotted money, you might be able to afford four nights at a deluxe, seven nights at a moderate, or ten nights at a value.  If your resort is as important to you as the parks, maybe a five day vacation at the Grand Floridian is perfect for you.  If you only use your room to shower and sleep, then maybe ten days at Pop Century is right for your family.  It’s all about your vacation style, so be sure to take that into consideration.

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Grand Floridian Resort

How many are in your party?

This is the next important consideration.  And because this is a huge issue for so many people (family of five here), I took the time to call Disney and speak with the reservations department to clarify all of the information in this article.  They were very helpful and cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had.

So, here’s the important thing.  If your party is four people or less, you’re good to stay anywhere on property in any room.  Yay!

Now, if you’re like my family and are a party of five or more, things get a bit trickier.  If you have five members in your party, Disney cannot accommodate you in a standard sized value resort room (unless one of your children is under the age of three.  Children younger than three can sleep in a Pack & Play, etc. in a standard sized value room).  So, you have a couple of options in that case.

1.  Stay in one of the family suites at All Star Music or Art of Animation. These are not cheap, and will significantly increase your room cost.  So, some comparisons are in order before you book one, if price is a factor in your decision.  All family suites can accommodate six guests and a child under three.

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Nemo Suite – Art of Animation Resort

2.  Book two connecting standard sized room at any value resort. Now, here is where there is a lot of misinformation floating around, so I made sure that I spoke with several people at Disney on this issue.  Here’s the bottom line…and it’s a bit complicated.  If you have two adults in your party, who live in the same residence (ie. Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa), and any number of children, you can book two connecting rooms and Disney will guarantee that reservation.  Yes, they used the word “guarantee”…I asked multiple times and made them swear on the image of the Corporate Mouse that this was true.  This also applies if you are just Mom or just Grandma traveling with any number of children on your own.  Your connecting room reservation is also guaranteed in that instance.

Where it gets tricky is when you have three adults or more on the reservation (Mom, Dad and Grandma), plus any number of kiddos.  Then they have to make two separate reservations.  They will then link them together in what Disney referred to as a “Travel With” reservation.  Which means they will bend over backwards to get you connecting rooms, but they’re not guaranteed.

3.  Take a look at the moderate resorts that have the trundle bed option if your party consists of five people. The trundle beds are available at select rooms in Port Orleans Riverside and the Caribbean Beach Resort.  Disney will guarantee you one of those rooms when you make your reservation if you are traveling in a party of five (babies under three don’t count, they can always be accommodated).  They do not reserve these rooms for families of four or less, so don’t plan on getting that extra bed if your party is smaller than five people.  I suppose you could request a room with a trundle bed at check-in if you’re traveling with four, but that would only happen if there were extra rooms available.  Also note that these trundle beds are really not made for an adult.  My fifteen year old son is too big for one.  Most children age ten and under (depending on the child’s height) should be fine.

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Old Mill – Port Orleans Riverside Resort

4.  Don’t overlook the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. They are considered a moderate resort and will accommodate six people plus a child under three.  They also have a full-sized kitchen, and Mousekeeping will do your dishes.  The setting is lovely, and each cabin has a deck and a grill for barbecuing.  You can pick up supplies at the Trading Post (but be prepared to pay a premium price for them).  Or you can order them from an outside vendor.

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Living Room – Fort Wilderness Cabins

5.  Most deluxe resorts will accommodate a family of five with no problem, except for Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on going deluxe.

6.  If you have a party of six or larger and want something more than a family suite or the cabins, look at renting Disney Vacation Club points for your stay. DVC units can accommodate much larger parties than standard rooms can, and are all at the deluxe level.  Plus, you will have a full kitchen (unless you rent a studio, but those can’t fit the larger parties), more than one bathroom, and a washer and dryer in the unit.  Mousekeeping will not come each day, but I don’t find that to be a problem at all.

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Villa – Grand Floridian Resort

What is your Vacation Style?

I hinted at this in the first paragraph on budget.  You need to figure out if you want luxury or just a place to sleep and shower.  There are a few other things to consider as well when making your final resort choice.

Does anyone in your party have special needs?

Are you traveling with very young children or elderly grandparents who may need to return to the room at some point during the day?  If so, a monorail resort may need to be your first choice.  Ease in getting back and forth from your hotel to the parks should not be underestimated.  And a six year old child who is melting down because they simply can’t walk one more step, weighs a ton when you have to carry them from the bus stop to the 90s building at Pop Century.

If a monorail resort is simply not in your budget, then I recommend a resort with a smaller footprint, like Port Orleans French Quarter.  If you have to stay at a value, then pay for a preferred room, and let reservations know why that’s necessary for you.  They will do all that they can to get you as close as possible to the main building and the bus stops.

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Port Orleans French Quarter

How important is the theming?

Some resorts have more of an over-the-top Disney feel to them, and in others it is more subtle.  If you have young children and you don’t want them to have any doubts about where they are, then I recommend Art of Animation.  It’s a beautiful resort, with the largest pool on property, and the best food court.  If you don’t want a family suite, reserve one of the Little Mermaid rooms.  Runner up would be Pop Century.

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Lion King Area – Art of Animation Resort

How much time will you spend at the pool?

Parents with young children know that the pool is often the highlight of the vacation…much to Mom and Dad’s dismay.  If you want a resort with an amazing pool, I recommend the Yacht Club or Beach Club.  Storm-Along Bay is a wonderful sandy bottomed pool and water play area that I could spend all day at.  It has a lazy river feature as well.  Runner up would be the Big Blue Pool at Art of Animation.

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Stormalong Bay – Yacht and Beach Club Resorts

How important is dining?

If you want the option of having a great sit-down restaurant available right at your resort, then any of the deluxe resorts will be your best option.  They have the most dining choices and their table service restaurants are some of the best on property.  Moderate resorts all have one table service restaurant, but since I said “great”, I’m not really counting those.

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Jiko – Animal Kingdom Lodge

Okay, there you have it.  My quick and dirty checklist for figuring out which Disney resort is best for you.  If you keep your budget and your family’s need foremost, with personal preferences a close second, you won’t go wrong with your choice.  And if it’s a toss-up between two or more resorts, draw straws, and book the second resort on your next Disney vacation.  Because, as all Disney addicts know, we always come back for more.

What are your tips for choosing a resort?  Why do you prefer one resort over another?  Let me know in the comments.

About the Author:  Diane has been a Disney addict since childhood, going to Walt Disney World shortly after it opened in the 1970s.  Since moving out west, she has also become a huge fan of Disneyland as well.  You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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