Walt Disney World – Staying Inside

A great number of families have a trip to Disney World as part of their future plans. If this is you, here are a few pointers on selecting accommodations.

Christmas at The Wilderness Lodge
Christmas at The Wilderness Lodge

First, the “World” is more than four theme parks. There is Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney) with more shops and restaurants than you can count. There are two water parks, a sports complex and an entertainment area associated with the Boardwalk Hotel. In addition a number of the on property hotels are worth a visit just to see, like The Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Floridian. There are also dinner shows at the Wilderness Camp Grounds and the Polynesian Village as well as Cirque de Soleil, and  night life at Disney Springs with the soon to open “NBA Experience”.

Throughout the Disney property there is a range of accommodations at various price points. Like most resort areas, the pricing varies by season and there are numerous specials and packages available. Average room rates at Disney properties are around $250 to $300 with economy rooms being in the $125 to $170 range. The premium resorts without specials run $450 and up per night. Even though often listed on the reservation site, many of the units are not readily available because they are part of the Disney Vacation Club system.

Morning at Riverside
Morning at Riverside

The economy range includes the “All-Star” hotels and are priced near what you are used to paying for travel around the U.S. You can also save a considerable amount by selecting a motel “off property”.  The huge supply around Disney World usually keeps prices remarkably low compared to Disney hotels and hotels in general. The biggest disadvantage to staying “off property” is the hassle and cost of parking at the theme parks and missing access to the Disney transportation system. Staying at a Disney World resort lets you park at the inside hotels and gives you the ability to travel around the “World” as you wish until very late at night. Also, if you are booking a resort off-property be aware that many hotels apply a daily “resort fee” on top of the room rate (usually $12 to $20) that may not be quoted as part of the listed room rate.

The Yacht Club Resort
The Yacht Club Resort

Inside the World and going up a bit in cost is Port Orleans, Riverside, Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach, each with its own theme and character. In a similar price range, or maybe a bit higher, are two hotels not actually operated by Disney located in the Boardwalk area. They are the Swan and the Dolphin and come with almost as many perks but no magic bands*.

 

 

Christmas at the Grand Floridian

At the higher end in resorts are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where animals roam past your balcony, The Boardwalk with its entertainment area and Wilderness Lodge near The Magic Kingdom. Even higher in price are two of the original hotels with monorail stations at their door, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. The crown jewel of Disney World is the Grand Floridian also on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop.

In addition to the Disney operated hotels, there are three areas inside the “World” which feature hotels. They include the Buena Vista area near Disney Springs, the Bonnet Creek area which includes the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and the exclusive Golden Oaks neighborhood with its Four Seasons Resort. In these areas bus service, if available, is limited.

The transportation system and being close to all there is to offer are two of the main reasons for staying “on property” but the Magic Band system is also a consideration. These bands are connected to your vacation account so you can enter the parks, select FastPass rides, open your hotel door, access your dining plan and charge at many gift shops and restaurants.See our separate article on Magic Bands (link coming).

Following is a complete list of hotels and features:

A building at the Music resort
A building at the Music resort

Disney’s All-Star Resorts (each with its own matching theme)

 

 

  •     Movies Resort
  •     Music Resort
  •     Sports Resort
  •     Pop Century Resort
  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (family suites only)

 

 

Overlooks at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Overlooks at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (set on an African savannah with live animals).

  •   Jambo House
  •   Kidani Village

Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of our favorite places to stay at Disney World. Really pricey but perhaps worth the expense. See our review HERE (link coming).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boardwalk & Swan across the lake
Boardwalk & Swan across the lake

The Boardwalk area with restaurants, entertainment venues, roaming entertainers, access to Epcot and Disney Studios    Disney’s Beach Club Resort & Villas

  •     Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  •     Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  •     Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  •     Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  •     The Swan & Dolphin hotels (Not Disney operated)
The Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian

Seven Seas Lagoon area (access to Magic Kingdom, view nightly fireworks)

  •     Disney’s Contemporary Resort (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Grand Floridian (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Polynesian Resort (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (boat service to Magic Kingdom)
The Coronado Resort
The Coronado Resort

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

Disney’s Old Key West Resort

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside (boat service to Disney Springs)

Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (near Disney Springs with bus and boat service to Disney Springs)

The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort (boat service to Magic Kingdom).

If you are booking a Disney hotel and are going to visit the parks, it is strongly recommended that you purchase the tickets, set up an account at My Disney Experience website and begin to reserve FastPass for rides.

 

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Eating Around Walt Disney World

Back in the day a visit to Disney theme parks meant eating snacks or a variation of fast food with only a couple of sit down venues. Today it’s a whole different story. If you count food stands, bars and lounges, food trucks, cafes, family style restaurants and fine dining you could stay at Disney World for a month or two and never eat at the same place twice. While I wouldn’t characterize the food as inexpensive, I will sing the praises of the general variety and quality. If you are looking for an in-depth look at eating the “World” there are a number of web sites dedicated to supplying just that information. The best, in our opinion, being The Disney Food Blog .

We do have a few of our own favorites from numerous visits over the years and many of our picks vary by if we are dining with children or are going out for a special occasion.

One of our favorite overall selections is Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our children have always liked this choice because all kids love a buffet and this features tastes of Africa. If the kids are picky eaters and won’t get into African fare there is also a section of kids usual favorites. If you are looking for a more formal atmosphere, again with a taste of Africa there is also Jico also in the Lodge. It features an extensive African wine list as well. If you are in the Animal Kingdom Park and are looking for a dinner choice Boma has a first cousin there called Tusker House with a similar menu but also at times featuring Character dining.

Another buffet that’s a hit with the whole family is Cape May over at the Beach Club Resort in The Boardwalk area. It features all-you-can-eat seafood with a really good selection. Also in the Boardwalk neighborhood is the Big River Grill & Brewery, an independent restaurant featuring their own craft beers and American fare, like steaks, burgers and my favorite, meatloaf. Just a short walk away from the Boardwalk, in the Dolphin Hotel, is our number one pick for seafood at the World, Todd English’s Bluezoo. This is a pricey choice, but well worth the

cost. While considering the Dolphin there is a low price gem tucked away in a corner of the hotel called Picabu Buffeteria. It is more of a snack bar than a restaurant but offers a selection of made-to-order tacos and burritos that are fantastic and surprisingly inexpensive.

A little hard to get to is Olivia’s Cafe, a casual restaurant in Disney’s Old Key West Resort. It offers comfort food dishes and a family atmosphere that feels relaxed and comfortable with a menu based around classic American fare. If you are lucky enough to be staying at Key West, don’t miss this gem.

Another upscale favorite of ours is Artist Point located in the Wilderness Lodge Resort. This restaurant features the food and flavors of the American Northwest. In our opinion, this is one of the most overlooked restaurants in the World. You can get to the Wilderness Lodge by catching a boat right outside the entrance to The Magic Kingdom which makes it easily reachable from the Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian resorts. If you are having last minute problems scoring a reservation at an upscale eatery, be sure and try this gem, it is usually available and you won’t be disappointed.

A number of recent surveys have agreed on a few favorite restaurants inside Walt Disney World with the number one currently being Be Our Guest in The Magic Kingdom. Because of its popularity it is a very difficult reservation to get. Another top pick is ‘OHana at the Polynesian, offering pit cooked meats along with kid oriented entertainment. For pizza the winner is Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy with its coal fired ovens. The number one dinner show for well over forty years is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness Resort campgrounds. It features classic barbeque with a great show along with a sing along.

Two areas of Disney World that deserve mentions on their own are Epcot and Disney Springs and we would refer you again over to the real experts .

Inside Epcot you can choose between over a dozen restaurants themed on foreign lands and we haven’t been disappointed yet. We have had great food at Norway, Japan, Germany, England and Mexico and haven’t scratched the surface. Our favorite pastries can be found down an alley at Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie at the France pavilion at Epcot. We have also heard rumors that the best steak in “the World” can be found in Canada at Le Cellier Steakhouse, though we haven’t tried it and they have some stiff competition including Don Shula’s at the Dolfin and The Yachtman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.

In Disney Springs we have really enjoyed Morimoto Asia (not so much their street food outlet), House of Blues for good BBQ, Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Wolfgang Pucks but that only scratches the surface in this area.

One of our favorites at Disney Springs is Cooke’s of Dublin where you can get great fish n’ chips. Cooke’s is attached to Raglan Road which is more upscale but you can get a beer at the outside courtyard and go and order fish ‘n chips from Cooke’s and have it brought to you.

If you are a Florida Resident, Disney Vacation Club members or Annual Passholder you might consider Tables in Wonderland. It is a membership program with annual fees and each card is good for up to 10 guests. 20% off of all food and beverage purchases at participating Disney restaurants. That includes all Disney operated locations (except Victoria & Albert at the Grand Floridian) and most other on-property establishments but not all. Check out the current listing HERE. At 20% off it makes the cost of eating at Disney World a bit less outrageous.

Getting Ready to Visit Disney World

Back a number of years ago the average Disney World trip involved making a hotel reservation and traveling to Orlando. Once at Disney World you bought your park tickets and spent a few days eating fast food, waiting in lines and riding rides. A lot has changed from those times and today there is much more to do. There are hundreds of places to eat from fast food to fine restaurants and dozens of additional entertainment options. If you plan right, there’s a lot more you can fit in to your visit as well. Following are a number of tips to help you make the most of your vacation.

  1. The First Thing You Have To Do.

Regardless if you are staying at a Disney hotel or outside “The World” you need to get a My Disney Experience account. Setting up your account is free and allows you to register your park tickets so you can use FastPass, make restaurant reservations, access your photo account and much more.

  1. Buy Your Park Tickets and Pick Dates

You cannot make use of a number of perks at Disney World until you have your park tickets. Once you have ticket confirmations register them with My Disney Experience.

  1. The Not-So Secret Tip To Getting On Rides

To make the best use of your park time you need to use FastPass. Most people probably know about FastPass but you really need to be up to date on how it works. The first tip to booking FastPass rides is you need to purchase park tickets. You than register the tickets on My Disney Experience, pick dates you intend to visit the park and start making FastPass reservations.

  1. Order or Buy a MagicBand

If you are staying at a Disney Resort you will automatically receive a MagicBand either in the mail or at check-in. If not you can buy them at My Disney Store. Once you have a band you can register it at My Disney Experience and connect your park tickets and FastPass choices to the MagicBand. Once you get to the park just tap and proceed.

  1. Carefully Plan Your Visit

The simple fact is there is more to do than can be fit into a month or two. In order to make the most of your trip you have to get out a calendar and start planning which days you will want to do what. Picking a date for each park is important so that you can start making FastPass reservations. Also some restaurant and special event reservations are hard to get so you need to book as soon as possible.

  1. Build In Some Down Time

If your trip is going to be more than a few days make sure you include some down time in your calendar. A couple of days in the parks can wear anyone out so fit in some recuperation time. Planning an afternoon at a pool or cruising around the lakes and canals could be just the thing. Also plan an evening over at Disney Springs. There is lots of entertainment and good restaurants, especially after dark.

  1. Make Restaurant Reservations

With the explosion in prepaid meal plan use it is getting harder and harder to get into restaurants around “The World”. It’s a very good idea to make some reservations so you don’t waste hours waiting for a table.

  1. Make Special Event Reservations

There are a great number of special events to consider during your vacation. From the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue to Dessert Parties and fireworks cruises they all require reservations with many far in advance. WDW Special Events.

  1. Include and Make Plans For Water Parks And Shows

In addition to the main theme parks there are also two water parks and additional shows like Cirque du Soleil (a new one will be opening soon) to consider. While reservations may not be necessary they still need a spot on your calendar.

  1. Book Your Magical Express

If you are staying at a Disney property and are flying in to Orlando you need to make a reservation on the Disney Magical Express. It’s free and probably the best way to get back and forth from and to the airport.

See you real soon and have a great time…