Okay, I know you're probably wondering, "Wait, I thought all resort hotels in Walt Disney World were good for families with small children?" The next question that is coming to mind after reading the title is, "How can you rank Disney hotels based on that premise alone?" Well, take it from a father of 3 who has taken all of my children from infancy, to toddler, to their present ages of 9, 5, and 3...there are some resorts that are better than others for families such as ours!
If you see that your favorite Disney Deluxe resort is not listed here, please know that I understand these are a matter of preference. However, it is my intent to show why these truly stand out as being the best accommodations for small kids, and I’ll even include a couple of comparisons against the hotels not on this list for justification.
1. Disney's Beach Club Resort
The Beach Club is, by far, the one Deluxe resort that caters to every age group in a family, particularly small children. When you first walk in the lobby, it still looks elegant and refined, but the hotel has a casual atmosphere that allows children to be comfortable with talking loudly and being excited. Surprisingly, you can see various older age groups finding a spot to relax without kids interrupting them, such as the section in the main building known as The Solarium, while at the same time finding other areas that have hustle and bustle; as opposed to the Disney's Yacht Club lobby, which is much quieter and has more of a classic, refined feel to it. All of the Beach Club's restaurants would be considered more kid-friendly, with Cape May Cafe providing a hearty seafood buffet with Disney Characters to Beaches and Cream Soda Shop giving an upbeat take on a 50's diner located right next to the resort arcade. Compare those places to the many elegant/quieter (read: adults preferred!) places to eat at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, such as Narcoosees, Citricos, or the award-winning Victoria & Albert's.
Lastly, while every deluxe resort has a themed pool with water slide, let's face it, nothing really can compare to the miniature water park found at the Beach Club (shared with Yacht Club, but it's technically Beach's), which has multiple slides, a lazy river, a sandy bottom pool, and even a sandy beach for little ones to make their special sandcastles. When you have little ones, it may not be financially feasible or a manageable use of time to bring them to Disney's water parks; it's far easier to just hang out at the Beach Club with its own water park, which you can visit with the family EVERY day, if you wanted to. To top it off, the resort has the shortest walking distance to Epcot, and Hollywood Studios is a short boat ride away, making the Beach Club very convenient to take the kids back for naps if they start getting too tired/cranky.
2. Disney's Contemporary Resort
The Contemporary is the first Disney World resort I remember staying at around 1978, and when I have taken my children here, they show the same awe and wonder on their faces that I probably did when they see that beautiful monorail slowly glide through the huge main concourse, which no other Disney resort has. As a matter of fact, the monorail itself is one of the best amenities that kids just love riding as its own attraction, which makes it terrific after a long day at the parks. Of course, if you don't want to wait for a monorail, this hotel is just a 5-minute walk away from the Magic Kingdom. The Contemporary Resort never fails to impress, as it seems to have the perfect balance between being modern and elegant for adults as well as exciting and inspiring for kids. This Deluxe resort makes such an impression on kids that one of the perennial, original Disney Character buffets is located here: Chef Mickey's. If you can't bring the family there, there are plenty of other kid-friendly options such as The Wave and Contempo Cafe, although The Wave has a slight bent to being for older kids and adults. Other Deluxe Resorts like the Boardwalk Inn have many restaurants, but they really cater mostly to teenagers and adults.
You can also take children to do every single water sport available in Disney World at the Contemporary, including water-skiing, parasailing, fishing, and boating...along with a lakeside beach for kids to play in, located next to the resort pools and water slides. Animal Kingdom Lodge only offers the pools, and while Boardwalk may have a kid-friendly/centered pool, it only has boating as the option for water sports. And last but certainly not least...you can watch the Magic Kingdom nighttime fireworks show around many vantage points in the hotel, with no hassle of being in the park. I can already hear some you saying, "Aha! But almost all of this can be found at the Grand Floridian!" Which would be a valid point except for one thing: with its more refined, elegant ambiance, most families with small kids may feel a little intimidated being at the Grand, while there is literally no hesitation or awkwardness in being loud and just being a kid at the Contemporary.
3. Disney's Polynesian Village Resort
The Polynesian Village Resort is a sensational hotel for families with small kids, and the first reason for that is the theming. The tropical, relaxed feel of the Polynesian practically makes you feel as if you are truly in the South Pacific islands, encouraging parents to almost let go of their children to run around; as the resort is very open with beautiful lakeside beaches, large grassy areas, and beautiful walkways which wind around the lush foliage. Families may not feel as comfortable with their kids doing the same thing at places like Animal Kingdom Lodge or Boardwalk. Next, literally every main restaurant in the hotel is kid-friendly; there is not one restaurant in the resort that does not make families with small children feel accommodated. Cap'n Cook's gives families easy quick service, Kona Cafe provides all families with a diverse and interesting menu that even kids can appreciate, and 'Ohana...well, it just might be the best all-you-can-eat (uh, I meant enjoy!) family-style restaurant in the Orlando area! In fact, during the meal, children are asked to leave their table to participate in fun activities such as races while pushing a coconut with a broom and hula dancing, and most children love it.
The Polynesian also has the best vantage points to watch Magic Kingdom fireworks from a distance; this is especially great for families with toddlers or 4-7 year-old kids that may still have a lingering fear of loud explosions. Plus, you don't have to wait for transportation to get back to your room since it will be right there. This hotel also boasts monorail access, great pools and slides, lakeside beaches, and all of the same water sports offerings as the Contemporary, yet it has some turnoffs for small families. One concern is that there really is no quick walk to a park; families will either have to take a boat, monorail, or bus, which may take a bit of time. Your kids will be learning patience...at your sanity's expense. In addition, the Polynesian could be a double-edged sword in that regular adults also want to enjoy the island theme and relaxation with a quiet pool in the middle of the resort, a tropical luau that is technically for all ages but is appreciated primarily by adults, and a heavy emphasis on bars such as Trader Sam's, Tambu Lounge, and Barefoot Pool Bar.
Of course, these rankings are coming from our family's experiences, but they are based on our friends' opinions as well. Heck, to show full disclosure here, I have to make it known that the Polynesian is my #1 personal favorite...and yet, I found that when considering small children, it did not make the highest ranking. I couldn't rank other resorts on the list for other concerns such as Wilderness Lodge having LOOOOONG transportation ride times (boat or bus) or Animal Kingdom Lodge having a specific niche for watching animals (and I find most small children show very little interest in that). But just don't take my word for it. If you have small children, find the Deluxe hotel that matches their interests and your tastes, and plan ahead! If you're prepared for some of the negatives of your choice, you may be pleasantly surprised. After all, we are talking about Disney World hotels.