Which Disney Resorts are Worthy of Your Money?

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Back in May of last year (how was it that long ago??), I first wrote about the intersection of two datasets: resort cost and resort satisfaction. My idea was pretty simple – I wanted to know that if I paid more money per night, I’d actually be more satisfied. And then I took it a step further. Were there resorts that were an especially good value? That had higher satisfaction than I would expect based on their cost? And were there resorts that I should avoid, that didn’t have good satisfaction scores for the price?

A lot can change in a year. Especially at Disney. So in order to prep for a new Touring Plans Teaches episode for this Friday, I decided to refresh the data. I pulled more recent cost and satisfaction data, including the past year. Now we can see if any changes have happened, and which resorts are now the best “value” – getting the most satisfaction that you can for the least amount of money.

I won’t bury the news – Wilderness Lodge is the big winner this year!

Explain the Math

Satisfaction Data

Resort satisfaction data is pretty straightforward. With every post-visit survey that TouringPlans collects, we ask for a satisfaction rating for the hotel that you chose to stay at. I convert these ratings into 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 since WDW reopened following the pandemic closure. I wanted to make sure reviews were relevant to today’s visitors, and that means that the pre-pandemic world really shouldn’t count. The one exception to this rule is All-Star Sports. Since it reopened most recently, we don’t have enough reviews post-reopening to have any statistically valid findings. So for that resort only, I used the satisfaction scores from the 2 years prior to its closure.

Cost Data

Here’s where I spent way too much time looking through numbers … again. 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 dove into all of the details. As one does. I pulled every possible cost for every possible room type for every resort. Spoiler alert: that was a lot of work. 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, and your actual cost would vary wildly. But we need something to compare, and this seemed like the fairest way to go about it.

Overall Resort Satisfaction vs Cost

Average satisfaction plotted against the average nightly cost

A couple of notes before we get into the insights here – the dotted lines are the trendlines for this data. In this case, the data follows a logarithmic path. That means that at the very least, the more money you spend, the higher your satisfaction should be. But at some point the satisfaction power of your money evens out. The slope of that line gets closer and closer to horizontal the further right you get on the graph. Additionally, you see blue, orange and gray dotted lines. The blue line is the average, and the gray/orange lines represent the 95% confidence interval. That means that statistically, I’m 95% confident that the real average falls somewhere between those two lines. So any time a dot pops outside of those lines, it tells us something interesting.

  • Overall, the data is pretty tightly correlated, especially as far as Disney data is concerned. This makes my nerdy heart very happy. And if I added in DVC resorts, that wouldn’t change.
  • We have two positive outliers – we’re going to call these our resorts that are a good value (not to be confused with the actual Value resorts). Both the Cabins at Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge have satisfaction scores that are higher than we would expect them to be given their average cost. So the Wilderness must be very satisfying. [Author’s note: I have a rare one-day to myself on Disney property today as I travel in Florida for “real work” – and I’m finishing up this article while in Wilderness Lodge, so my commentary may be biased.]
  • And similarly we have two negative outliers. These are the resorts that are more expensive than we think they should be based on their satisfaction scores. The two underachievers here are Port Orleans – Riverside and the Dolphin.
  • So what has changed in a year? We lost a few positive outlier resorts, including Port Orleans – French Quarter and Beach Club. Wilderness Lodge stayed on the list, and the Cabins are a new addition. We also lost one negative outlier – so this “most improved” resort is Caribbean Beach! It was a significant negative outlier and is now solidly … average. That’s something!

Value and Moderate Resorts

Average satisfaction plotted against the average nightly cost of value and moderate resorts
  • When we zoom into just Value and Moderate resorts, the relationship between money spent and satisfaction becomes linear. No decreasing returns!
  • But … for every $200/night more that you spend, you can expect 0.1 higher average satisfaction. Not sure I’d make that tradeoff myself.
  • It’s not surprising that we still see the Cabins at Fort Wilderness as the positive outlier and Port Orleans – Riverside as the negative outlier here.
  • The next-highest positive deviation from average is at Pop Century. Its satisfaction scores have been increasing thanks to the solid addition of the Skyliner. If you’re staying at Pop Century, you’re likely either close to bus transportation or the Skyliner, so it’s pretty easy to get anywhere you want quickly.
  • The next-biggest negative deviation is at Art of Animation. Thanks to the high cost of those family suites, its satisfaction scores just can’t keep pace with expectations. And most of the Little Mermaid rooms that are cheaper are quite a hike to anything.
  • Biggest moves here from last year’s chart are that Port Orleans – French Quarter and Caribbean Beach both moved much closer to the average line, which was a decrease in satisfaction for French Quarter and an increase in satisfaction at Caribbean Beach. It’s making moves.

Deluxe Resorts

Average satisfaction plotted against the average nightly cost of value and moderate resorts
  • As we move over to the Deluxe options, our return on investment is back to logarithmic. Money can’t buy happiness. Or at least not perfect “Very Satisfied” scores. Maybe I can terribly butcher Uncle Ben’s saying: “With great cost comes great expectations.”
  • The two biggest negative outliers here are at the very far left and right of the chart – so the least expensive (Dolphin) and most expensive (Grand Floridian) Deluxe resorts are less satisfying than their cost tells us they should be.
  • On the other hand, Wilderness Lodge (rejoice!) and Yacht Club are the big winners on this chart. Yacht Club and the Polynesian actually had the biggest positive moves since last year (Polynesian was under the average line).
  • Boardwalk Inn, on the other hand, experienced the biggest drop compared to last year. It was one of the top-rated deluxe resorts, but has recently dropped to just below average, leaving the Yacht Club the clear Crescent Lake winner as far as “value”.

What Does This Mean For You?

  1. All Disney resorts have relatively high satisfaction. Not a single one is below 4.3 on a 5-point scale. Really you can’t go too wrong on-property.
  2. As you pay more money, you get better average satisfaction, but that gain begins leveling off significantly around $600/night average rack rate. More than that and it’s basically negligible.
  3. Want good “value”? Go with the Cabins at Fort Wilderness or Wilderness Lodge. But avoid Port Orleans – Riverside and Dolphin. Or at least know what you’re getting yourself by staying there (cough – use the room request tool – cough).

Do any of these results surprise you? Have you noticed changes in which resorts you enjoy post-reopening? Let me 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 Worthy of Your Money?

  • May 18, 2022 at 11:49 pm
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    This is great stuff…thank you for the article and the TouringPlans Teaches YouTube videos – we love them and look forward to seeing them each Friday! Please keep up the good work!

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    • May 21, 2022 at 7:13 pm
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      Thank you for the feedback, Kevin!

      Reply
  • May 19, 2022 at 7:10 am
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    I thought this topic was just too amorphous to be to be able to make a valuable metric from but you did a great job! I wonder how much the troubles with bus transportation feed into the difference between a Animal Kingdom and wilderness lodge. Most of all, I miss having a full choices of the delux in the analysis. DVC rooms are deluxe rooms that we can get just like any other deluxe room. So if you are not a DVC owner there’s nothing special about those hotels to exclude them from our choices of deluxe. One important case of that is beach club. Is it just like yacht club? Riviera is a unique choice both because if it’s high price but access to the skyway. I would love to know where they fit relative to the other deluxes.

    Reply
  • May 19, 2022 at 7:13 am
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    Never mind I am an idiot. Never post until after you’ve had your coffee! Beach club is right in there.

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  • May 20, 2022 at 1:00 pm
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    I wonder… If you pull out Swan and Dolphin from the Deluxe results and focus on Disney run resorts, does the negative correlation between price and satisfaction become almost linear? Looks like that would make it pretty clear that the more you spend on a deluxe resort, the less value you feel you are getting.

    Reply
    • May 20, 2022 at 2:43 pm
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      That is a creative thought and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t notice that would be true. Interesting, and it definitely does become a linear negative correlation.

      Reply
  • May 21, 2022 at 6:44 pm
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    I’ve stayed at Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary, Caribbean Beach, POP, and Polynesian. The last three I’ve been to since reopening. I’ve visited many other resorts where I haven’t stayed. Polynesian was my favorite all-around stay for atmosphere, transportation, and amenities, but I also couldn’t shake the feeling the week we were there of just how much we had paid. Wilderness Lodge was wonderful and it’s hard to say whether the monorail and dole whips are really worth all that much extra.

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    • May 21, 2022 at 7:15 pm
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      I’m with you, Kelly. For every trip we’ve taken with kids, we’ve rented DVC points. Without many good deals there right now, and given this data … we’re actually going to give Caribbean Beach a try for our next very quick stay (3 nights, 2 days – mostly just to go get my 3-year-old her first haircut).

      Reply

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