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The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Hotel Category

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This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to find links to our other Basics posts.


One of the most exciting and often nerve wracking parts of planning a vacation is selecting a hotel. Some people view a hotel as simply the place where you sleep and shower, and nothing more. Others, like me, see the hotel as home base and a destination unto itself. I’ve even planned entire vacations around the hotel more so than the local area and attractions (but then again I work in the hotel industry and am a self-proclaimed hotel nerd).

If the weather is bad or if somebody gets sick, this is where you’ll spend much of your vacation time. At the end of a full day touring the parks this is where you can rest, or depending on which location you choose, you can come back in the middle of the day to relax. The amount of options in all of Central Florida can be astounding, after all there are over 400 hotels in the Orlando / Orange County area.

Old Key West Resort room
Old Key West Resort room

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that you’ve decided you really want to stay on Walt Disney World property. You still have to sort through over 20 hotels in order to select your hotel. The main focus of this guide is to help you decide between Walt Disney World resort hotel categories. I will include some of the pros and cons of each category, as well as a general overview of the features of each category. This includes location, transportation, food and beverage, and amenities. In follow up posts, we will dig into the specifics of these features for each resort in particular.

Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, Swan and Dolphin, and Bonnet Creek

If you’re looking for close proximity at lower cost, then the hotels near Disney Springs on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, as well as the hotels of Bonnet Creek, offer easy transportation. If you want the extra perks such as Disney transportation and Extra Magic Hours, however, you’ll need either a Disney-owned hotel or the Starwood Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which offer these benefits with slightly lower room rates. The MagicBand (as a room key and ticket) and Disney’s Magical Express are exclusive features for Disney owned and operated. For some folks this is a major plus, while for others it is not worth the extra money that a Disney owned property can cost.

Walt Disney World Swan
The Walt Disney World Swan: Very close to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but technically a Starwood hotel.

You will also need to factor in potential resort fees and parking fees in the total cost of your stay. While Disney owned and operated resorts do not charge these extra fees their typically higher room rates can still come out to a total higher cost of stay.

Here are some of the hotels that charge a resort fee:

  • WDW Swan & Dolphin
  • Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek
  • Hilton Bonnet Creek
  • Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
  • Royal Plaza
  • Buena Vista Palace
  • Hilton Lake Buena Vista
  • Best Western Lake Buena Vista
  • B Resort Lake Buena Vista

The features and amenities of these properties put them above a Moderate property and just about even with a Deluxe (see below).

Deluxe Resorts

If you want your vacation to be the most magical and memorable it can be, you may want to consider the Deluxe category. These are the cream of the crop hotels anywhere on Disney property. Each of the four theme parks has at least one Deluxe resort practically right next door. We’ll go over the specific neighborhoods in which each hotel is located in our follow up posts covering the hotels in each category.

Transportation is generally a breeze and the restaurants at these resorts are destinations onto themselves. The pools in this category are often a main attraction, and often the highlight of a vacation. If you want to have a relaxing, rejuvenating vacation, this category will help you accomplish that goal, especially because spending time here is incredibly inviting. It can often be difficult to leave your well-appointed room or the beautiful resort grounds and pool in order to head into the theme parks.

Pros: Beautifully themed, located nearest to at least one of the theme parks, typically have the most features

Cons: Higher prices, busier lobbies and common areas, as well as busier restaurants as many guests not staying at the property come in for a visit.

Disney's Beach Club Resort

Moderate resorts

Many longtime Disney fans have come to love the Moderate resorts. Here you’ll find the perfect happy medium between the Deluxe and Value properties. These resorts offer larger and nicer rooms than the Value resorts. There is also more dining options than the Value resorts, though not necessarily on the same level as the Deluxe resorts.

While none of the Moderates are right next door to one of the theme parks, they are centrally located to where the theme parks are almost equidistant from the hotel. Here you can still enjoy beautiful grounds and common areas without shelling out as much dough.

Pros: Relaxing, well themed environments. Central locations. Nicely appointed rooms, multiple pools

Cons: Multiple bus stops to get to your building, exterior hallways and entrance to room, more limited dining.

Coronado hammock - Amy Farkas
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort – Amy Farkas


Value resorts

If you want to save money without missing out of the experience of staying in the middle of the magic then the Value resorts may be the right fit for you. True, these resorts aren’t as lush and relaxing as the Deluxe or Moderate resorts, but they certainly pack in the fun. The Value resorts offer energetic and larger than life Disney details. They even offer a great option for families, the family suites of All Star Music and Art of Animation.

Pros: lowest cost, fun environments, very family friendly, multiple pools

Cons: smallest rooms, exterior hallways and entrance to room, can often be crowded and noisy

Art of Animation Reosrt - Photo Brian McNichols
Art of Animation Reosrt – Photo Brian McNichols

In Summary

Just looking at the options at Walt Disney World alone can be overwhelming, so narrow your choices down to the category that fits your needs the most. Be sure to check back soon as we go over selecting the right hotel in each category in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out reviews and info pages.


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Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. She's worked in nearly all of Orlando's theme parks, on board Disney Cruise Line, and in hotel management. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thisfloridalife

11 thoughts on “The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Hotel Category

  • Lynn

    You show a picture of an Old Key West room, but don’t mention the option of DVC resorts.

    • Hi Kim, that’s a good point. OKW is considered part of the deluxe category, however, and in fact if you click on the link I included to the Deluxe Category information page on Touring Plans the Deluxe Villas are listed halfway down the page which does include OKW.

      I appreciate your feedback and have included more details about the DVC / Deluxe Villas options in an upcoming post regarding selecting the right hotel in the Deluxe category.

      Thanks for reading!

      • (Sorry, Lynn, not Kim…. I’m having a blonde moment)

  • Love the moderates – they really do have the best of the Deluxe category, but at a lower price, all have small coffee makers and fridges, and now some even offer murphy beds.

  • amanda

    Dani — my husband is very sensitive to mold and any hint of it coming from an in-room A/C unit can ruin a hotel stay, even if the room has been freshly renovated and is nicely appointed. Is there a way to determine based on a hotel’s description — or a specific question to ask the front desk staff or reservation takers — that can give us information about the A/C units prior to booking? Thank you!!

    • Sam Winston

      Amanda if you do have a problem, change rooms. Mold is always a problem in central Flordia. If it persists ask the desk for a airfilter for the room.
      They keep a few on hand for when a smoker smokes in a room.
      We’ve had to request one at non-disney hotel because the cleaning staff got a bit to enthusiastic with the scented cleaners. There are also travel sized air filters you can buy.

    • Amanda, sadly due to Florida’s humid environment, mold can be a challenge. If you are a member of any hotel loyalty reward program then they typically have a profile for each member and you can ask to make sure your husband’s sensitivity is noted.
      For Disney hotels that do not have a guest profile system comparable to a big brand like Starwood, Marriott, or Hilton, I would suggest reading reviews from multiple sources, including TripAdvisor and here at Touring Plans, and the Room Finder function on Touring Plans as well. I would also recommend contacting the hotel directly 3-4 days before arrival and asking to speak to a manager, politely relay your concerns, and ask if they can ensure your room receives extra inspection.

      • Amanda

        Dani, thank you very much!!

  • TimWarp

    While I don’t know from personal experience, I’ve read that sometimes rooms with exterior hallways are quieter, because the doors to the outside are very well insulated and weather-stripped to keep energy usage lower, whereas doors on inside corridors aren’t and can let in more hallway noise.

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