Which Disney Resorts are Worth your Money?

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I used to always, always stay at Value resorts when I stayed at WDW. On-property perks were worth it. I’d be in the parks from before rope drop to after official close, so I didn’t care where I was staying as long as I could collapse into a bed for a few hours. Then I had kids and … everything changed. We spent more time in the room. And their patience for long bus rides is much lower than mine. I explored some more expensive options, but I discovered (and maybe you have too) that throwing more money at a resort doesn’t necessarily mean my satisfaction will suddenly be much higher. Thankfully, I have a lot of data at my fingertips to look at resort satisfaction and cost. Maybe by pulling those two sets of data together, you and I can make some more informed decisions about where and how to spend our money on resorts.

Explain the Math!

Satisfaction Data

My family was delighted by our short stay at the Polynesian. We give it a 5!

Resort satisfaction data is pretty straightforward. If you read about the difference in resort satisfaction ratings pre-closure and post-reopening, you already know it. With every post-visit survey that TouringPlans collects, we ask for a satisfaction rating for the hotel. I convert these to numbers: 1 = very dissatisfied, 2 = somewhat dissatisfied, 3 = neither, 4 = somewhat satisfied, and 5 = very satisfied. If I average all of the results I get for each hotel, I can come up with one overall satisfaction number.

For this analysis, I pulled all reviews from 5/1/2018 to 5/1/2021. I wanted to make sure reviews were somewhat recent, but given the long (and sometimes continued) closure of resorts, 3 years seemed like a good compromise to make sure I was getting “enough” data. What is enough? Well, 3 years of data gives me over 15,000 reviews for on-property WDW resorts to work with.

Cost Data

Here’s where … I spent a lot of hours combing through way too many numbers. In order to compare different resorts, I need a fully representative average cost for each resort. I thought about cheating and pulling lowest cost for the lowest-value room at each resort (think: standard view during value season) and the highest cost for the highest-value room at each resort (think: 3-bedroom grand villa during Christmas) and just averaging those two numbers. But those aren’t really good estimates of the big picture. For every 3-bedroom grand villa, there are sometimes hundreds of the cheapest rooms.

So I went a little crazy. I pulled every possible cost for every possible room type for every resort. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t fun. Don’t try to do it. I also pulled the count of each possible room type for every resort. So now I can “weight” my average cost for each resort two ways:

  • First weight by room mix. If there are 100 standard-view studios for every one 3-bedroom grand villa, the cost for the standard-view studio should carry 100x more weight
  • Then weight by number of days that cost is applicable. If in a single week there is a cost for Friday/Saturday, and a different cost for Sunday-Thursday, the Sunday-Thursday cost carry 2.5x more weight than the Friday/Saturday cost.

I pulled rack rates, so there are a bunch of asterisks here. At any resort you could likely find a deal (or use DVC points) and your actual cost would vary wildly. But we need something to compare, and this seemed like the fairest way to go about it.

Visualizing Resort Satisfaction vs Cost

Satisfaction vs Cost for all On-Property WDW Resorts – Orange and Gray dotted lines represent the 95% Confidence Interval for the trend

A few things immediately stand out:

  • No resort averages below 4.4 for overall satisfaction. Chances are you won’t be absolutely horrified by your experience at any of them.
  • The results are remarkably tightly correlated. Any time I’ve mashed two Disney datasets together like this, it never comes out this “pretty”. Pretty graphs make my heart happy.
  • The trend for how satisfaction is impacted by cost looks to be logarithmic. If you’re not a math geek, that mostly means paying more will usually get you higher satisfaction, but the return for your money diminishes with the more money you spend.
  • There are just a few obvious outliers. Caribbean Beach and Saratoga Springs both disappoint on satisfaction given how much you can expect to spend to stay there. The Dolphin and and Kidani Village also fall just below the confidence interval.
  • On the other hand, Port Orleans – French Quarter and The Villas at Grand Floridian overperform – you’re likely to be much more satisfied than you’d expect given how much you spend. Wilderness Lodge and the Beach Club also overperform, but by a little less.

This overall trend is very enlightening. But let’s look at various categories of resorts and see if that tells us anything additional. I’ll draw new trendlines within each category to see if any behave in different ways from their peers.

Satisfaction vs Cost at Deluxe Villas

Resort Satisfaction vs Cost at Deluxe Villas
  • Already interesting things! Yay! If we zoom into just the deluxe villa resorts, the return on our investment isn’t logarithmic anymore. In fact, it’s closest to being parabolic! The more money we spend, the quicker we increase our satisfaction. Wahoo?
  • Overall, Saratoga Springs is the big loser here, even if I split out the Treehouse Villas from everything else (which I did), since they’re expensive and could skew the overall cost.
  • In this view, Riviera Resort gives the highest satisfaction given its average cost. It seems controversial with most WDW fans. But if you’re already determined to stay in a deluxe villa resort and pay out of pocket, it’s statistically the biggest bang for your buck.

Satisfaction vs Cost at Deluxe Resorts

Satisfaction vs Cost at Deluxe Resorts
  • Okay, we’re back to the world of logarithmic change. The more money I throw at a deluxe resort, the slower my satisfaction increases.
  • Biggest losers here are the Swan, Dolphin, and Grand Floridian all coming in at “not worth the money” compared to other deluxe resorts.
  • Biggest winner in this bunch is definitely Wilderness Lodge. If you followed along during our inaugural WDW Resort Tournament, you remember the very vocal crowd of Wilderness Lodge supporters, led by the intrepid Mary. So, good news! At least this one bit of data supports your devotion and fandom!

Satisfaction vs Cost at Moderate and Value Resorts

Satisfaction vs Cost at Value and Moderate Resorts
  • For the lowest-cost options on-property, the relationship between satisfaction and cost is a bit scatter-shot, but best captured by a straight line.
  • In general, a lot of dots hover right around that line. So at this price range, what you pay for is generally what you get.
  • Biggest loser is easily Caribbean Beach, though. It’s not inexpensive, and it gets worse satisfaction scores than the All-Stars. Caveat here – satisfaction scores after the Skyliner opened are about 0.3 higher than they were pre-Skyliner, so this score is increasing.
  • The only stand-out winner of this bunch is Port Orleans – French Quarter. This doesn’t help us out in the era of post-reopening when this Moderate gem isn’t even open. But if it was open and we zoomed back out to the big picture, POFQ gets almost the exact same satisfaction scores as Bay Lake Tower – for almost $1,000 less each night. Yep, you heard me right. The weighted average cost per night at BLT is just about $1308 per night. And POFQ is at $339 per night.

What Does This Mean For You?

  1. In general, the more money you spend, the higher the chance you have of being highly satisfied. At least there’s that.
  2. But your money has diminishing return. Spending twice as much absolutely will not double your satisfaction.
  3. The Villas at Grand Floridian are wildly expensive, but they also get the highest satisfaction scores of any resort. If money is no object – go for it!
  4. But for those of us mere mortals where money is an object, look at all of the options before you pull the trigger. There are many, many ways to score deals on rooms at WDW. If you don’t have DVC points to use (or rent), it may be worth checking out Port Orleans – French Quarter.
  5. Buyer beware if you’re aiming for Caribbean Beach or Saratoga Springs (out of pocket). There are reasons to like both, but averages tell us to think twice before paying for stays there.

If this sort of cost/satisfaction mash-up is interesting to you, tune back in on Saturday when I’ll go over a very similar analysis of satisfaction vs cost at WDW table service restaurants.

Have you ever gulped and dropped a lot of money on a resort when it wasn’t worth it? Or found your own hidden value gem? Does seeing the data presented this way impact how you’ll decide which resort to stay at during your next trip? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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Becky Gandillon

Becky Gandillon was trained in biomedical engineering, but is now a full-time data and analytics nerd. She loves problem solving and travelling. She and her husband, Jeff, live in St. Louis with their two daughters and they have Disney family movie night every Saturday. You can follow her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-gandillon/ or instagram @raisingminniemes

8 thoughts on “Which Disney Resorts are Worth your Money?

  • May 12, 2021 at 3:00 pm
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    I’m surprised these graphs worked out as nicely as they did! But it’s a pretty good point, and you can almost work out a satisfaction/dollar graph based off this to show the maximum sweet spot of spending.
    One point of data that stood out to me is in the Deluxe Villas. I understand how you arrived at the cost/room average using weighted metrics, but there really isn’t a point at time which I’ve been doing a direct comparison between Boardwalk and AKL and found Boardwalk to be cheaper. Indeed, if you switch the two dots, they fit almost exactly on your slope as well.

    Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 5:18 pm
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      Agreed. Not to assign Becky more homework, but since most people in deluxe villas are staying there using DVC points (either owned or rented), the more compelling/meaningful X-axis for that chart would be weighted average cost in points, not dollars. The chart could turn out exactly the same, but it might shift around a bit.

      Nonetheless, Becky, you are on a hot streak with these killer data-driven posts!

      Reply
      • May 12, 2021 at 9:19 pm
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        Oh, that doesn’t sound like homework. That sounds like a lot of fun. Putting it on my list – thanks for the idea!

  • May 12, 2021 at 5:13 pm
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    In casual defense of Saratoga Springs, it’s worth noting that it’s largely viewed within the DVC community as the “consolation prize” resort. It’s huge, and it’s not in high demand; you book Saratoga when you want to go to WDW and every other DVC resort is already full.

    In that context, the low scores shown above might be a reflection that survey takers were dissatisfied *to be staying* at Saratoga (and not using their points somewhere more desirable), rather than being less satisfied with the resort stay itself.

    I can’t think of any other explanation for Old Key West scoring so much higher than Saratoga, when they’re *pretty much* interchangeable resort experiences.

    Reply
  • May 12, 2021 at 6:13 pm
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    It also seems like there should be some sort of per capita factor. A studio at BLT shouldn’t be $1000 more than a studio at POFQ. Less useful comparison for an individual user.

    Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 9:22 pm
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      That’s fair. A studio at BLT isn’t $1000 more than a studio at POFQ. But not everyone at BLT stays at a studio, so that’s why I chose to do the overall resort average instead.

      Reply
      • May 13, 2021 at 9:30 am
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        You two talk about a studio at POFQ, but I’m not aware of any studios at POFQ, just regular hotel rooms. Comparing apples and oranges?

      • May 13, 2021 at 9:41 am
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        @Sarah: a DVC “studio” is basically the same as a normal hotel room, it’s just the DVC terminology.

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