My wife and I recently took our kids to Orlando, Florida for a family vacation which included their (and my wife’s) first visit to the Walt Disney World Resort. If you have never been on a Disney vacation before, I can assure you that when you make the decision to go, the amount of information you will have to absorb is a bit mind-bending. I thought I would share some of what we learned on our Disney vacation experience in an effort to ease the confusion for others. In this post, the first in a series, I will talk about lodging options for large families.
How can I make sense of all the options?
My wife and I have four kids, so when we go on any vacation, finding suitable lodging is often a frustrating and expensive undertaking. Luckily Orlando is probably the number one family vacation destination in the world so there are plenty of options available at a variety of price points. If I were to make a short list of the lodging options we looked at, I would group them as follows:
- Disney World Resort Lodging Options
- “On-Site” Hotels on the Disney Property
- Off-Disney Hotel / Resort / Timeshare Properties
- House and Condo Rentals including those in Resort Communities
I know there are plenty of other types of lodging, but for this post I will concentrate on the ones we considered.
Disney World Resort Lodging Options
- Disney Campgrounds
- Disney Value Resort Hotels
- Disney Moderate Resort Hotels
- Disney Deluxe Resort Hotels
- Disney Deluxe Villas
The level of amenities and cost grow as you move down that list. Regardless of the level you choose, you can be assured you will pay significantly more to stay at a Disney Resort than you will to stay at any comparable resort hotel outside the Disney property. For the breakdown of much of Disney’s 2012 rate structure go to http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/disney-rates-2012.htm.
For a family of six, the options to stay together in one room are more limited, and like at most hotels, suites are often more costly than getting two rooms. If you decide you want to stay on the Disney Resort and don’t want to deal with the hassle of two rooms for your family of 5 or more, here are the options available to you:
Value Resort Hotels
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort – Family suites sleep 6 – $195 to $375 per night
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – Opens Summer 2012 – Family suites sleep 6 – $248 to $425 per night
Moderate Resort Hotels and Cabins
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort – Moderate Resort – Cabins sleep 6 – $285 to $455 per night
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort – Moderate Resort – 3 levels of suites that all sleep 6 – $365 to $1330 per night
Deluxe Resort Hotels
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – 5 levels of suites that sleep 6 to 8 – $780 to $3030 per night
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort – 8 levels of rooms and suites that sleep 5 to 8 – $335 to $2730 per night
- Disney’s BoardWalk Resort – 7 levels of rooms and suites that sleep 5 to 9 – $345 to $2905 per night
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort – 11 levels of rooms and suites that sleep 5 to 8 – $315 to $3730 per night
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – 14 levels of rooms and suites that sleep 5 to 8 – $460 to $2900 per night
- Disney’s Polynesian Resort – 10 levels of rooms and suites that sleep 5 to 9 – $405 to $3140 per night
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – 1 room type that sleeps 6 (Deluxe Room) – $580 to $880 per night
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort – 10 levels of rooms and suites that sleep 5 to 8 – $335 to $2915 per night
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House – 3 levels of villas that sleep 5 to 12 – $500 to $2345 per night
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Kidani Village – 7 levels of villas that sleep 5 to 12 – $515 to $2345 per night
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort – 11 levels of villas that sleep 5 to 12 – $515 to $2605 per night
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas – 1 villa type (Two Bedroom Villa) that sleeps 8 – $700 to $1265 per night
- Disney’s Boardwalk Villas – 2 levels of villas that sleep 8 to 12 – $500 to $1725 per night
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort – 4 levels of villas that sleep 5 to 12 – $435 to $1795 per night
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort – 4 levels of villas that sleep 8 to 12 – $595 to $1795 per night
- The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – 2 levels of villas that sleep 8 – $710 to $1260 per night
If that all seems pretty pricey… IT IS. Don’t forget though, none of these prices include the mandatory 12.5% (or more) resort tax that will be added to the bill. Even with a discount (I have seen 30% off signs near my office recently), staying on that Disney property is never cheap. That said, the occupancy rates for these properties are very high, so Disney is able to convince many people that these rates are worth paying.
Deluxe Villas with Disney Vacation Club Points
If you have your heart set on staying at a Disney Deluxe Villa but can’t stomach the insane pricing, another option to consider is renting Disney Vacation Club Points and applying them to a stay at a Deluxe Villa. Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is Disney’s version of the timeshare concept. It is a points-driven system, but the points are essentially a cash equivalent. Most of the Deluxe Villa options mentioned above are also available for sale as timeshares via DVC including:
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas at Jambo House
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas at Kidani Village
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
If a timeshare owner has points they don’t wish to use, they can “rent” (sell seems more accurate to me) those points to someone who wants to use them. A transaction like that can be done directly with the timeshare owner via Kijiji or some other way, but that would seem to leave the buyer a lot of risk if the seller is not honest. I would not do this myself unless I knew the person personally.
A gentleman in London, Ontario has figured out a way to make the DVC Rental thing work with less risk. David’s Vacation Club Rentals is essentially a matchmaker that brokers people wanting to sell Disney Vacation Club points and those wanting to buy them. Someone wishing to buy points pays $13 to David and he in turn pays $10 per point to the person selling those same points. Just the fact that there is someone in the middle brokering many transactions means that more options are available to the buyer, more renters are available to the seller, and the risk to both parties would seem to be lessened. I have not used this service myself, but I have heard good things about it from others and I like the concept in general. More information about the service can be found at David’s FAQ page.
The major advantage of the DVC Rental over renting a similar room directly from Disney is the potential cost savings, which I understand can be substantial. That said, even with a DVC points rental savings, staying off the Disney Resort is still likely to save you a considerable amount of money.
“On-Site” Hotels on the Disney Property
There are several hotels on the Disney property that are not operated by Disney. These “on-site” hotels may not offer all of the benefits of a Disney resort, but they often offer some additional benefits over and above “off-site” properties.
Dolphin and Swan
These two properties are not owned by Disney but enjoy the privilege of being listed as a lodging option on the Disney website under the category of “Other Select Deluxe Hotels” – a privilege I am sure they pay handsomely for. The Dolphin and Swan are within walking distance of Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and guests are able to make use of the Disney transportation system.
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort – 3 levels of rooms and suites that sleep up to 5 – $219 to $319 per night
- Walt Disney World Swan Resort (the maximum number of guests per room at this property is 4)
Downtown Disney Hotels
These properties are not owned by Disney but are on the Disney property. Unlike Dolphin and Sawn, they do not enjoy the privilege of being listed as a lodging option on the Disney website. As you might expect some of the Downtown Disney hotels are within walking distance of Downtown Disney, where guests can pick up the Disney Transportation system. In addition, the seven hotels have teamed up to run their own bus system to the Disney resorts. The Hilton is able to offer their guests the privilege of Extra Magic Hours at the resorts
- The Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel can accommodate up to 5 guests per room
- The Buena Vista Palace Resot & Spa can accommodate up to 6 guests per room
- The Doubletree Guest Suite Resort can accommodate up to 8 guests per room
- The Hilton Walt Disney World can accommodate up to 8 guests per room
- The Holiday Inn in the Walt Disney World Resort (the maximum number of guests per room at this property is 4)
- The Royal Plaza can accommodate up to 5 guests per room
- The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista (the maximum number of guests per room at this property is 4)
Off-Disney Hotel / Resort / Timeshare Properties
As you can imagine, there are many choices when considering a Hotel, Resort, or Timeshare that is near, but not on Walt Disney World Resort property. There are literally hundreds of options in Orlando in this category. Given the sheer volume of choices, unless you have close friends with a positive personal experience at one of them, websites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Trip TripAdvisor are probably the best bets to narrow the field.
Another site that might help you with your lodging choice is MouseSavers.com, which has a great deal of information about Disney vacations, including a list of “preferred” Non-Disney lodging options.
House and Condo Rentals including those in Resort Communities
The option of renting a house or condo is certainly a viable option, especially for large groups. A lot of these properties are located in resort communities that have community pools, movie theatre’s and other amenities. Many of the houses come with their own private pools and hot tubs as well.
There are thousands of options to choose from in this category, so picking the one for you may not be an easy task. There are plenty of people advertising their vacation properties for rent on Kijji, VRBO, Homeaway, and other sites. Properties are rented this way all the time, but that arrangement certainly comes with some risks. The most prominent in my mind would be, “What if this person gets foreclosed on before I get there?”. Since you usually have to put a lot of money down to reserve the property, and foreclosures in Florida are a common occurrence, I don’t think this is an unreasonable concern.
I think if I went with an option like this I would probably do it through some kind of broker. There are many groups in the Orlando area that offer property management services and also broker rentals. One of the ones I see that advertises all over the web is an company called All Star Vacation Homes. I haven’t used that company’s services, but I think the extra cost of going through someone like them might be worth it in the long run. If something goes wrong, you are dealing a large organization with a reputation to uphold rather than one person you met on Kijiji.
So there is my quick summary of some of the lodging choices in the Orlando area. I hope you found it helpful. In my next post, I will let you know the type of lodging option we chose for our vacation in December of 2011, the property we stayed at, and what our experience was like there.