Walt Disney World has a huge range of resorts with rates from about $100 up to near $1,000. But they all have the advantage of being inside the “World” and all have been touched by that famous Disney magic. At the economical end of the spectrum are two that are about to gain some additional popularity. Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resort.
Art of Animation is one of the newer additions to the Disney World moderate cost level resorts. Built in 2012 it includes family suites that represent an excellent value if you’re traveling with a whole family. The resort celebrates the artistry of favorite Disney and Disney•Pixar films from the rooms to the grounds and public buildings. It features three pools and a walking and riding trail around the lake along with a huge food court, bars and a game room.
Art of Animation also has standard hotel rooms along with family suites. The family suites at Art of Animation are a good choice for larger families and include 1 Queen Bed and 1 Double-Size Table Bed and 1 Double-Size Sleeper Sofa. Prices range from $160 for a standard room to $350+ for a family suite.
Next door to Art of Animation is Pop Century Resort based on the fads of the 1950s through the 1980s. Yo-yos and Play-Doh, Rubik’s Cube and rollerblades, this resort is dedicated to the fashions, phrases, toys and dances that defined America in those times. It is one of Disney’s more economical properties with room rates running from $110 through $140.
The Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts are a good distance from all four Disney World theme and water parks and Disney Springs, they just don’t have a park within walking distance. Buses have been the only free method of transportation available to get to the parks from these resorts. But that is going to be changing. Walt Disney World will soon begin operating a new sky-car system that will connect three moderately priced resorts to Epcot and Disney Studios.
The cablecars themselves will each be able to carry ten passengers and will be running only a couple of minutes apart. The three resorts on the system include Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach. Not only will it relieve congestion on the roads and reduce the number of buses (and fuel) it will also provide a fun experience for guests that should increase the appeal of these moderately priced resorts.
LOOKING FOR AN INSIDE TRACK ON WHAT TO EXPECT INSIDE WALT DISNEY WORLD?
Welcome to everything Disney, Walt Disney World that is. Below are links to in-depth articles on where to stay, how to get ready for a visit, where to eat and additional things to do.
We first visited WDW forty years ago and now live less than twenty miles away. Over the years we have seen a lot of changes and we’ve learned a few things. Let us share our ideas and information on Walt Disney World.
The Happiest Place On Earth! Without question, WDW is the most visited vacation destination in the world, paying host to forty million visitors a year. Adding to that the city of Orlando also features Universal Studios, Sea World and over a dozen additional major tourist attractions. All this adds up to a must-do vacation destination for a lot of families the world over.
Far and away the star of the Orlando attractions is Walt Disney World and an experience not to be missed.
10 Things To Consider Before You Visit WDW. If you are planning a visit in the future we have some advice to help make the most of your vacation.
First and very important is to start making reservations as far in advance as possible. Decide if you will stay inside the “World” or at one of the seemingly thousand of additional resorts outside of the property. Restaurants and special events are in high demand and the sooner you start making reservations the better your chances of getting what you want. You will also want to start making “Fast Pass” selections to get you onto rides faster.
Where To Stay. Our recommendation is to stay inside the “World”. While it is true you can save money and often get more for your money staying off property, you will miss staying in the heart of the excitement. Often staying inside WDW can add hours of time to your park visits. First, you are already nearby when the parks open and in addition each day a different park has early or late extra hours for WDW resort guests only. Usually the gates open an hour early or are extended by an hour.
A World of Foods To Experience. There was a time when a visit to WDW meant a day or two of fast food. No more! Walt Disney World has more restaurants, snack bars, cafes and lounges, food trucks and dinner shows than can be counted. While we would never characterize food at WDW as a bargain it is also remarkably varied and extremely good. Several are rated on the best in America list. Get an early start on where you plan to eat.
Special Events and More. Maybe you are planning your first trip to WDW but the people at Disney World have additional plans for you. You can think of it as them just wanting to make your visit extra special but actually they really want you to come back over and over again. These offerings include Christmas parties, Food and Wine Festivals, Flower and Garden Shows, behind the scenes tours, special park events and hours, marathons… Find out all that’s going on.
Getting Around WDW. One of the things we like about Walt Disney World is the adventure of just getting around the “World”. From boats and ferries to monorails and soon to open sky cars getting there is all part of the fun.
Magic Bands and Fast Pass. When it started you could only get a Magic Band if you where a Disney hotel guest and to make Fast Pass reservations you had to have a hotel reservation too. Things have changed. Now if you have purchased park tickets and created a My Disney account (anyone can register for free), you can now make Fast Pass reservations before you travel to WDW.
The Disney Vacation Club. Over twenty-five years ago Disney began a time share program with the opening of the Old Key West Resort. In the beginning it was structured very much like other time shares but soon it was restructured into something uniquely Disney and may represent one of the few true values in timeshare.
A Brief History of Disney World. Just under fifty years ago Walt Disney opened a vacation and entertainment complex on the west side of Orlando, Florida. Not wanting to repeat the mistake of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, where the park was sited on a piece of land surrounded by property owned by a multitude of other interests. This time they secretly began buying massive tracks of land just west of the city ending up with about thirty-nine square miles of what used to be swamp and orange groves.
When Walt Disney World opened it comprised two theme parks and three resort hotels that included The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, The Contemporary and Polynesian resorts and a property on the golf course appropriately named The Golf Resort (now called Shades of Green for exclusive use of active military) along with a shopping and private hotel areas.
Today WDW includes four theme parks, The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom along with two water parks. There are now four golf courses, Thirty four Disney owned resort hotels (soon to add four more) five separate time-share resorts (Disney Vacation Club resorts [DVC]) and expanded shopping and entertainment district. There is also a sports complex and a campground (which was part of the original “World”.
In addition there are major additions and upgrades being made to several parks, upgrades to WDW transportation network and a Star Wars Experience hotel to open soon. The people at Disney are hard at work trying to get you to visit more often…
In 1991 Disney created a time share property known as the Disney Vacation Club Resort. It opened on December 20, 1991 at Walt Disney World. It was renamed Disney’s Old Key West Resort in January, 1996.
On March 30, 1993 Disney Vacation Development Corp unveiled plans for a 440-unit time-share resort 95 miles south-east of Walt Disney World in Florida. It broke ground on July 28, 1994 with
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, opening on October 1, 1995. After the Vacation Club Resort at Vero Beach, Florida, Disney would then open Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort five months later on March 1, 1996. Disney added Aulani in Hawaii that opened to guests on August 29, 2011 making it the third stand-alone DVC resort.
DVC had a major impact on how “time share resorts” operated. A number of the major corporate operators changed their rules to be more in line with DVC and often laws were adopted in many states governing time shares. Often a time share was sold as an open ended contract where buyers could be locked into ownership forever. There were often little limits on the growth of management fees and assessments.
From 1996 on the character of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) changed and the addition of resort properties exploded. Today the DVC is based on a point system and a “home resort” that includes the following resorts:
The Villas at Disneyland
Bay Lake Tower
Animal Kingdom Villas
Beach Club Villas
Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
The Villas at Grand Floridian
The Villas Reflections – Lakeside Lodge
Boulder Ridge Villas
Copper Creek Villas and Cabins
Exclusively DVC Resorts
Old Key West Resort
Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
Riviera Resort (opening soon)
Vero Beach Resort Florida
Hilton Head Island Resort, South Carolina
HOW THE CLUB WORKS
The DVC is based on buying points and not a specific date of use. Once you buy the points you are free to use them to make reservations at any of the resorts and can make bookings seven months in advance or eleven months for your “home resort”. The number of points for a night
vary by resort and by season but range from a low around 20 points. The membership in the DVC is not open ended and has an expiration date that varies by the home resort (usually 40 to 50 years). When you buy a membership you select your “home resort”. Each year there is an assessment against the membership based on your home resort to cover operating costs, maintenance and taxes and varies on the home resort selected (on average the fee seems to be about $5 per point).
You can also use your points for Disney cruises and can convert points to book hotels through outside companies (not a very good value we’ve found).
Unlike a lot of time share resorts there is an active resale market in DVC points that allows you to recover a sizable percentage of the original cost should you want out. It also seems as if you can find a buyer rather quickly too. Disney retains a right of first refusal on all resales and they have been known to use it in order to protect the value of the systems points.
Most of the resorts have a selection of accommodations from a studio (similar to a standard hotel room) to two and three bedroom apartments. Point costs represent the size, location (view) and season with summer tending to be high as well as Christmas while January is often the lowest.
Being a DVC member does come with some additional benefits. Members usually get a 10% discount at restaurants and shops inside Disney World and there are discount offers at times on park tickets and special events. Starting a couple of years ago (its 25th Anniversary) Disney began to offer free member parties after the parks close that included the water parks*. Last year there were five parties and they included entertainment, food and select rides. You need to book quickly as there is limited availability.
WHAT ABOUT THE COST?
The strongest argument against timeshares is they just don’t make financial sense and I always believed that to be the case. I still broke down and bought DVC points a number of years ago, although at the time we bought them at resale and payed way below average market (because of when we bought we still get full benefits). We have often compared what we paid out against what value we received and it
seems we are saving money. It is true we often stay in DVC deluxe resorts where if we were paying as we go we would normally stay in more modest accommodations. Still that makes it a worthwhile benefit for us. Here is how a sample “investment” works out:
160 points for $20,000 with a resale value after fifteen years of $15,000 for an estimated membership cost of $5,000 (assuming use for 15 years). With the points you can get 5.5 nights a year at higher end properties that have an average selling price of $360 per night. Annual membership fees would average $800. That works out to $1,980 worth of cash value per year for for an average cost of $1,150. That doesn’t account for the value of discounts and parties. While we’re sure Disney is making money on the memberships they also get more visits with the accompanying restaurant visits, shopping and park tickets. Just maybe it’s a win/win.
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.And we would really recommend staying inside the “World”.
First, the Walt Disney 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 Fort 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.
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.
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*.
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:
Disney’s All-Star Resorts (each with its own matching theme)
Pop Century Resort
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (family suites only)
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (set on an African savannah with live animals).
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).
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)
Seven Seas Lagoon area (access to Magic Kingdom, view nightly fireworks)
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (boat service to Magic Kingdom)
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.
Back in the day a visit to Walt Disney World 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 almost a year 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 official Disney web site offers a complete listing along with price ranges and online menus. The best, in our opinion, is The Disney Food Blog with trust worthy reviews and suggestions.
We also 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 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 often features 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 with 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.
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.
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. After that you can use FastPass, make restaurant reservations, access your photo account and much more.
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.
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. This one step can save you hours of waiting in lines.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the Mouse says “See you real soon” and have a great time…
Our favorite hotel inside Walt Disney World is Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have traveled all over the world and have enjoyed stays at a number of resorts and with only a few exceptions, besides Animal Kingdom Lodge, have we really considered the resort the actual destination.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is truly unique. Disney has made ever effort to offer the guests of this hotel a real taste of Africa. Most of the rooms look out on the savannah where you regularly catch sightings of giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and any number of exotic birds. The hotels grounds and decorations offer a genuine sense of being in Africq.
The two main restaurants Boma and Jico take great care to provide an authentic taste of African fare while still provide a refuge for more traditional pallets. In addition staffing at the hotel also brings in groups from Africa, usually for a year contract, to provide guests with insight into the cultures and environments of their home countries. During a stay you will find a number of special events from lectures to night-vision sessions watching the animals.
In addition Animal Kingdom Lodge is also a deluxe resort with the additional benefit of being located inside Walt Disney World with all it has to offer. Unfortunately it is also one of the highest priced hotels on the Disney property with a standard room normally priced between $500 and $600 a night – still a lot cheaper than going to Africa.
For restaurants the family offering is Boma, a buffet restaurant offering a selection of “tastes” of Africa. Jico is the fine dining experience featuring food with an African heritage and a wine list of exclusively South African wines. There is also Sanaa next door at the attached Kadani Village Villas offering a menu of Indian cuisine while gazing thru windows onto the savanna.