Walt Disney World guests may choose from many thousands of one-room, on-site hotel accommodations. Though all have some touch of Disney theming, from a functional perspective most of Disney’s rooms are akin to the hotel rooms you’d find anywhere else, with a bed or two and a bathroom. In addition to traditional hotel rooms, Disney also offers “studio villas”, which typically have the same square footage as a regular hotel rooms, but are different in several key ways. Here are things to think about as you decide between a standard WDW hotel room and a studio villa.
Note: This post covers the one-room studio villas, not deluxe suites or the multi-room one-, two-, or three-bedroom villas, and not the “family suites” at All-Star Music and Art of Animation. Those have many additional features not covered here.
Disney World currently offers standard hotel rooms at more than 20 resort hotels, with a range of value, moderate, and deluxe amenities.
The studio villas are in a subset of these locations, the resorts associated with the Disney Vacation Club (DVC): Animal Kingdom Lodge, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club, BoardWalk, Boulder Ridge, Copper Creek, Grand Floridian, Old Key West, Polynesian Village, Saratoga Springs and, when it opens in 2019, the Riviera resort. It’s OK if some of these names don’t like sound familiar Disney hotels–most of the DVC locations are within or adjacent to deluxe-level Disney hotels. Bay Lake Tower is next to the Contemporary, Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek are both part of the Wilderness Lodge, and Riviera will be next to the Caribbean Beach resort.
If you want to stay at one of the non-DVC properties at WDW, then a traditional (non-studio villa) room is your only option. For example, if your child is obsessed with 101 Dalmatians and you want to stay near the giant Dalmatian statues at the All-Star Movies, you’ll have to stay in a traditional hotel room, not a studio villa.
And as with all Disney accommodations, there are pros and cons to the physical location of the hotels with the overall Disney property. If you want to stay at a Disney-owned hotel with an easy walk to Disney Springs, then Saratoga Springs, which has just villas and not traditional rooms, is your only option.
Perhaps the largest difference between traditional rooms and the studio villas is the addition of a kitchenette in the villas. All Disney hotel rooms include at least a dorm-sized refrigerator, and some rooms include a coffee-maker, but the studio villas are the only single-room option at WDW which includes a toaster and microwave oven. In addition to these items, the studio villas also include a sink in the kitchen area, as well as a supply of paper goods, plastic eating utensils, and some basic tools like a corkscrew.
If preparation of food is part of your vacation plan, then a villa might make more sense for you than a traditional room. Of course you can slam down a granola bar in any hotel room, and if you want to heat something just once or twice during your trip, then you may be fine using the guest microwave in the hotel food court. But if you have a more frequent need to heat food (to warm baby food, for example), or if you want to keep your food away from your sleeping area, then a villa makes more sense.
You may also be drawn to the villas if someone in your party has a food allergy. While Disney is generally quite good about accommodating guests with food allergies in the restaurants, having some ability for basic cooking might make your trip easier.
NUMBER OF GUESTS ALLOWED
Both traditional hotel rooms and studio villas sleep either four or five guests (plus a child under the age of three sleeping in a Pack ‘n Play), depending on the resort. If you have five guests over the age of three in your party, and you want to stay in a single room, make sure that your lodging can accommodate that option.
Other than the kitchenette, the type of sleep surfaces is one of the key differences between a traditional room and a studio villa.
With the exception of a limited number of rooms equipped with a king-sized bed, the majority of Disney’s traditional hotel rooms include two real beds (double or queen, depending on the hotel) and possibly a daybed (at some of the deluxe resorts) or a child-size pull-down bed under the TV (at some of the moderate resorts). By contrast, the vast majority of studio villas have just one real bed (the exception being Old Key West, where most studio villas have two real beds). The other sleep surface is a pull-out couch meant to sleep two guests, sometimes augmented by a pull-out chair or child-size pull-down bed. This means that in a studio villa, any guests beyond the first two (or any guest beyond the first one if you’re not co-sleeping) will be conking out on something other than a normal bed.
The quality of the studio villa sleeper sofas varies considerably, even within the same hotel. For example, I’ve slept on the studio villa sleeper sofas in several of the buildings at Saratoga Springs. Some were perfectly fine, while others were akin to trying to rest on a Medieval torture rack. Also note that the sleeper sofas are typically not pre-made, so you first order of business when you arrive will be retrieving the blanket and pillows from the closet to make the bed. None of this may matter to you if you’re only staying for a short visit or if a small child will be occupying the sleeper sofa, but the sleep surface configuration could be a real factor in the enjoyment of your vacation if you’re planning to have four adults in a studio villa for a lengthy trip.
Please note that during the most recent round of hotel renovations, Disney has been tinkering with the sleep surface configuration of the traditional hotel rooms. Some rooms at the Pop Century resort, for example, now have one standard queen-sized bed plus a double bed that pulls down from the wall. I’ve slept on these double pull-down beds several times at Art of Animation and they are more reliably comfortable than the sofa beds, but not quite as cushy as a dedicated bed. Also be aware that there are a small number of traditional hotel rooms at WDW which are configured with one queen-sized bed plus twin-sized bunk beds.
The moral of the story is that whatever type of room you choose, if the type of sleep surface is important to you, do your research to make sure it meets your party’s needs.
While the studio villa sleeper sofa can be annoying if you’ve got three or four guests in your group. If you’ve got one or two guests in your party, the studio villa may be better from an atmosphere perspective.
In a traditional Disney hotel room, there is usually a small table with a wooden chair or two, but other than that the only place to sit is on a bed. If you’re a theme park warrior and only sleeping in the room, you might not care, but if you’re on an extended visit and might want to hang out and relax in the room for a while, having a sofa where you can sit and read or watch TV makes for a much homier environment. The studio villas feel more like a studio apartment where people actually live, whereas the traditional hotel rooms feel like, well, hotel rooms.
The bathrooms in both traditional rooms and studio villas are family functional. With the exception of a few units configured for guests with mobility issues (ADA compliant with roll-in showers, for example), both types of rooms have the requisite toilet and bathtub/shower. However, the studio villas have one sink in the bathroom (plus another in the kitchenette), while most of the moderate and deluxe traditional rooms have two sinks in the bath area. This is not a deal breaker for most guests, but be aware in case this matters to you.
If you’re paying with money (cash, credit cards, etc.) for either a traditional room or a studio villa, then you will receive full daily housekeeping service unless you choose to decline this service. If you’re paying with Disney Vacation Club points, whether they’re your own points, or gift or rental points, then there is a much abbreviated cleaning schedule, with full service only once a week. Make sure you understand what you’re buying and that it meets your family’s needs.
At Walt Disney World, with the current exceptions of Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, all hotels with studio villas are located in or adjacent to deluxe-level resorts. Guests staying in the studio villa have access to all the amenities at the main hotel including shopping, dining, recreation, pools, etc. Guests in these locations also have access to extra amenities that may not be available to guests in traditional hotel rooms. For example, the Bay Lake Tower pool may not be open to Contemporary guests. And the DVC Community Halls are for guests in villas, not regular rooms.
The large, villa-only resorts, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, don’t have an adjacent traditional hotel, but they do offer many of the same resort amenities as the deluxe resorts. For example, the spa at Saratoga Springs is arguably the best on Disney property.
When the Riviera Resort opens in 2019, it will have its own amenities, likely similar to those at Bay Lake Tower, but the adjacent main hotel is the moderate-level Caribbean Beach Resort, rather than a deluxe hotel like the others.
Of course when you stay in a traditional hotel room, you have the amenities available to whatever hotel classification you’ve booked. Any of the studio villa hotels will have amenities well above those available to guests staying in a traditional room at a value-level resort.
There are some studio villa rooms located in the center of the action. For example, some of the Copper Creek rooms at the Wilderness Lodge and some of the Jambo rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are as close to the main lobby of the hotel as are traditional rooms in those hotels. However, in most cases, the studio villa rooms are a bit further away from the central area of the hotel than traditional rooms are. For reference, picture the Bay Lake Tower building with its external walkway connecting it to the main Contemporary building.
Be aware that there are many traditional rooms at the value and moderate level that are substantially further from their main buildings than most of the studio villas are from theirs.
Here’s another substantial area of departure between traditional rooms and studio villas. As I’ve mentioned, Walt Disney World offers traditional rooms at a variety of price points. A recent spot check showed value rooms available starting at $110 (less expensive room rates may be available depending on the season and Disney’s promotional offerings). For the same time period, the least expensive studio villa lists for $385 per night. That’s serious bank, and if you’re looking to minimize your costs and stay on Disney property, than a traditional hotel room is really your only viable option. However, comparing a value room to a studio villa is not really an apples to apples comparison.
As noted above, the villas (with the exception of the upcoming Riviera, for which we do not yet have pricing) are located in or next to deluxe resorts or the equivalent. The villas have access to deluxe-level amenities. For a head-to-head comparison, it makes more sense to look at a studio villa and a traditional hotel room at the same location.
For example, in mid-June 2018 the lowest price category for a traditional hotel room at Animal Kingdom Lodge averaged $382 per night, while the lowest price category for a studio villa at Animal Kingdom Lodge averaged $430 per night, or a $48 per night difference. At the Polynesian Village, the lowest price category traditional room averaged $509 per night, while the lowest price category studio village averaged $519 per night, just a $10 difference.
These are obviously jumps, but not nearly the giant leap you’re taking when you compare a studio villa price to the traditional value room price. If you were already going to stay deluxe, then the math of choosing a villa might make sense for your party, particularly if you have a real need for a small private meal prep area.
For any WDW hotel stay, you’ll want to poke around for discounts. A great place to start is MouseSavers.com which collects Disney discount information of all sorts.
Staying in a traditional hotel room is a straightforward transaction. Typically, you’re entering credit or debit card information and booking a room. You can also use this method to book a studio villa.
However, if you’re a Disney Vacation Club owners you’ll likely book your stay using DVC points. Non-DVC owners may be able to catch a bit of a price break by “renting” DVC points from an owner. There are risks inherent in transactions like this, but one reputable vendor we recommend is David’s Vacation Club Rentals (this is an affiliate link, and TouringPlans receives a commission on any booking you make through it).
If you’re not a DVC owner, have you chosen a studio villa over a regular hotel room? Why or why not? Is price your main consideration or are other factors more important? Let us know in the comments below.