Walt Disney World – Staying Inside the “World”

Above – Christmas at Animal Kingdom Lodge

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”.

Christmas at The Wilderness Lodge
Christmas at The Wilderness Lodge

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.

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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Caribbean Character

Mahogany Bay Village Roatan Port
Roatan, Honduras

Many years ago on a Caribbean cruise we stopped in Roatan, Honduras. Our ship docked at a commercial pier only a short walk into the small town of Loma Linda. We went shopping in the local market, bought some ground coffee and a tee shirt, visited a local leather shop where they did everything by hand. On the way back to the ship children skipped along with us and locals set up craft stalls in their front yards.

A few years latter we again stopped in Roatan on a cruise but things were much different. We docked at the new cruise ship pier in Mahogany Bay. Across a bridge from the dock is a well-equipped resort beach area and just a short walk down the pier is the shopping village featuring all the usual stores, Diamonds International, Del Sol etcetera. The area was clean, modern, attractive but except for the sales staff the only other people there came off the ships. It was hard to tell if we were in Honduras or Sint Maarten.

Mahogany Bay cruise beach area

Theme parks treat you to wild animals, high-speed excitement and tastes of foreign lands and we appreciate that it is all part of a carefully orchestrated consumer experience. This experience is designed to be attractive, stimulating, clean, safe and above all else fun. It’s what makes people want to come back. As millions of people travel by ship or plane to Caribbean ports and resorts do they give much thought that they are taking part in a similar process?

Cruise Village Costa Maya, Mexico

Making tourists happy is big business and it has everyone playing to get a share of that dollar. Island governments go to great lengths to keep visitors safe and happy, telling their friends and coming back. Island resorts function very much like theme parks where the attractions are sea, beach, food and fun. The cruise industry offers ships that meet these same objectives but they are also faced with the need to make port calls. Over the past twenty years the cruise lines have done a lot to shape the on-shore experience of their customers on these Caribbean islands.

Georgetown, Granada

The first and obvious addition is the cruise lines creation of private islands. These are isolated locations where the cruise ships offer beaches, water sports and cookouts in a perfectly controlled environment. In the Caribbean these include Disney Cruise Lines – Castaway Cay, Bahamas, Holland America Lines – Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, Norwegian Cruise Line – Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, Princess Cruises – Princess Cays, Bahamas and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, Bahamas and Labadee, Haiti.

Cruise port Sint Maarten

Next are the new cruise ports, usually developed with the help of private companies, local governments and the cruise industry. In the most inclusive form they include Sint Maarten, Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan in Honduras, Sub Base St. Thomas and the port onGrand Bahama Island. In 2005 a private company with financial support from the government developed Port Zante to accommodate the big cruise ships visiting St. Kitts. Similar facilities where developed in St. Lucia, Curacao and St. Vincent with development planned for Belize and several other ports in the future.

Many passengers on cruise ships usually see the islands on arranged destination-focused tours. Unfortunately they completely miss the real Caribbean and spend their time shopping in the same stores on different islands that include

Cruise dock and shopping Cuzumel, Mexico

Diamonds International, Del Sol, Columbian Emeralds, Cariloha, Little Switzerland and others.

Basseterre St. Kitts

All-Inclusive resorts aren’t really much different from the cruise ships at giving us a feel for an island and its people. Their intent is to provide virtually everything the guest could expect or want in a relatively isolated location. They even arrange tours in much the same way as the cruises. There are also destinations where the entire island has been mostly overwhelmed by Western style and culture. Grand Cayman, Sint Maarten and Aruba can be characterized that way.

If the focus of your trip planning is turquoise water, sun and sand, water sports, entertainment and good food and you don’t really have an interest in island culture and history that’s fine. After all those are the things that have made the Caribbean the destination it is. But if you would like to spend some time exploring Caribbean life, that option is available.

Snack shop Tobago
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Yacht Haven near the cruise docks, St. Thomas

Fortunately a number of the larger Caribbean destinations have cruise facilities near to larger towns that can offer some insight into the real character and lifestyle of the island. In Curacao the ships dock very near to Willemsted and in St. Thomas many ships dock at Havensight with a nice walk or short jitney ride into Charlotte Amalie. In Antigua ships dock on the waterfront of the capital, St. John. The area near the dock has been developed to offer shopping and restaurants but most of the city is a working West Indian environment. All opportunities to look around, try a local restaurant and talk to people.

NOTE: While most areas in the Caribbean are safe, just like in Europe or America there are places that should be avoided. While we have almost always felt safe we would be cautious in areas of Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. In the case of Jamaica every effort is taken to provide a safe environment at the major resort areas as well as major tour destinations.