My top recommendation to travel clients beginning to look at a Walt Disney World vacation is to choose an onsite resort if at all possible. With the range of price points, themes, amenities and room sizes we can usually find a good fit for anyone. And while I think any Walt Disney World Resort hotel offers an amazing vacation experience, the Deluxe Resorts as a group offer some of the most incredible experiences for your vacation dollar. Here are my top 10 mind blowing experiences at deluxe resorts:
10. The amenities
When you stay at a Deluxe Resort you should plan from the start to spend time at your resort—you are paying good money for the amenities of the resort and you should take advantage of those. I like to plan a full resort day when I’m at a deluxe property, along with several other afternoons or mornings. Deluxe Resorts offer room service and it is always fun to stay out late one night at the parks and plan a “sleep-in” day the next morning with a delivery of Mickey Waffles direct to your room. Exercise rooms are another amenity found at deluxe resorts that you do not find at most of the moderate and value resorts, so if walking 8+ miles a day in the parks isn’t enough exercise you can head down to work out on the treadmills, ellipticals, and weight equipment. On the flip side, several deluxe resorts offer spa services including massages and mani/pedis (this is more my speed).
9. The lobbies
Walt Disney World Resorts are known for their immersive theming that carries through into the public spaces like the lobbies. At the deluxe resorts you may literally have your breath taken away as you enter to their grand lobby areas. My top 2 are the Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge with their soaring ceilings, beautifully themed architecture and little detailed touches like artifacts, fireplaces and pits and even the smells. Speaking of smells, a few of the deluxe lobbies have a scent “piped” in that is absolutely the most wonderful scent every & brings me back to vacation every time I catch a whiff—here I’m talking about the Yacht & Beach Club, the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian that all have a similar scent. Whenever I’m homesick for Disney I just light one of Walter & Rosie Candle Company’s Beach Club candles and all is right with the world. I love the Grand Floridian Lobby with its elegance (& live orchestra), the Contemporary with the monorail gliding by overhead, and the Polynesian with the adorable tiki and leis.
8. Transportation Options
One of my biggest headaches at Walt Disney World is getting to the parks. I have very little patience when it comes to Disney—I want to be there NOW. The deluxe resorts are nice because several have additional transportation options in addition to the buses. The monorail resorts in the Magic Kingdom area are the key examples, the Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary. The Grand Floridian and Polynesian also offer a boat to the Magic Kingdom while you can also walk from the Contemporary. Wilderness Lodge offers a boat to the Magic Kingdom as well. The Epcot area resorts (Yacht & Beach Club and the Boardwalk) offer walking paths to Epcot and Hollywood Studios along with a boat.
7. The rooms
Rooms at the deluxe resorts (in general) are going to be larger than what you find in the other resort categories. You have an interior hallway which is nice, and the majority offer some type of private outdoor space like a balcony or patio. Also, rooms in the deluxe resorts (with the exception of the Lodges) can accommodate families of 5. While the moderate and value resorts offer various room view categories, the deluxe resorts offer a bit more of a selection in rooms when you book your vacation. The Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge offer bunkbed options that you can book which are fun but also nice if you have children who don’t sleep well together in the same bed. You will find “deluxe” room options at some of the resorts that offer additional space without being a full blown suite, and then you can find 1 and 2 bedroom suites to accommodate larger families.
6. The pools
Every pool at Disney is well themed and tons of fun, but the deluxe resorts take that to a whole different level. Several of the resorts like the Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge and Grand Floridian offer a splash pad play area which younger kids love. Many of the pools have a zero entry which is also really nice for families. At the Polynesian the slide and theme call to kids of all ages, and over at the Boardwalk the keister coaster is like a roller coaster ending in a splash down. My favorite pool, however, is Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club. Pool is really a misnomer, it is a mini water park with a sand bottom, great slide, lazy river and a “whirling” waters area. Add in the fact that they also have hot tubs and you’ve got a full resort day just enjoying the pool.
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Deluxe resorts step up the dining a notch or two by having not only a quick service restaurant but also a lounge and usually a couple of table service restaurants (casual and more formal). Some of the best dining at Walt Disney World is at the resorts, and most of the signature restaurants are found at the deluxe hotels. Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge is a perennial favorite among fine diners along with the Yachtsman at Yacht Club, California Grill at the Contemporary, and several eateries at the Grand Floridian including the award-winning Victoria & Albert’s. Family friendly dining is available too with the ever popular ‘Ohana at the Polynesian, Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Cape May Café at the Beach Club. And don’t forget the characters! Many of the deluxe resorts host their own character dining experiences so you don’t even have to leave your hotel. Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary is one of the must-dos on many guests’ lists.
The deluxe resorts offer several recreation options that you can’t find at their lower priced counterparts. Again, this is where planning to spend a day at the resort comes in. The Epcot area and Magic Kingdom area resorts have marinas that offer boat rentals. This has been one of my family’s favorite activities whether it is renting the Sea Raycers for speeding through the water or one of the pontoons so that we can all have a leisurely sight-seeing tour. This is particularly fun on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon. Another option on the lakes from the deluxe resorts is a chartered fishing excursion. We’ve done a couple of these and they are a fun way to spend a morning and a very different take on a Walt Disney World vacation. You’ll find Surrey Bike rentals (some moderates have these as well) at the Boardwalk—a little challenging on some of the hills at the bridges.
3. The views
Hands down you can’t beat the views from the deluxe resorts. Let’s start with Animal Kingdom Lodge. Whether you stay in a savanna view room or just frequent the many viewing areas around the resort the experience of watching the animals graze is one of the most unique you’ll find at a Walt Disney World resort (or any resort for that matter). Over at the Epcot resorts you can get a room with a view of Crescent Lake from any of the resorts—it is a beautiful area that is both relaxing and full of activity at the same time. A Boardwalk view from the Boardwalk Inn or Villas might even provide you with some nightly entertainment from your own balcony. You can see some fireworks from Illuminations and the Studios but it isn’t a perfect view. The Magic Kingdom Resorts offer the most iconic views on property. At the Polynesian, Contemporary or Grand Floridian you can reserve a theme park view room where you can wake up each morning looking at the Magic Kingdom and go to bed each night as your private view of Wishes from your balcony ends. But, if you don’t have that view there are plenty of areas at each resort where you can watch Wishes—my 5 year old son’s favorite was while swimming in the pool at the Polynesian.
2. Club Level options
All of the deluxe resorts offer an option to book a Club Level or Concierge service room. Depending on the resort these rooms are all on a single floor, in an individual building, or they could be in various areas of the resort. What they all have in common is exclusive access to a Club Lounge. This adds an extra bit of luxury to your vacation, along with convenience. The Lounge floor is accessed by key, so it is reserved only for guests staying with these privileges. Throughout the day various snacks and beverages are available in the lounge (varying by resort) and in the late afternoon and evening some alcoholic beverages are made available. In addition you have the support of the Club Level staff who can assist with special reservations, dining and any issues that arise during your vacation.
1. Location, Location, Location
Just as in real estate, location is a key factor for the deluxe resorts and one of the reasons they can command the higher price over their moderate and value counterparts. With the exception of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, all of the deluxe resorts offer easy access to at least 1 theme park. The Yacht & Beach Club and Boardwalk have an amazing location particularly if you are spending a lot of your time at Epcot or if there is an Epcot festival taking place during your trip. There is boat access to Epcot, but you can really walk there faster. From the Beach Club you could be looking at 5 minutes or less to the International Gateway entrance depending on your room location. There is also a walking path to Disney’s Hollywood Studios from these resorts, but it is more like a 20+ minute walk. Boats to the Studios are offered too. As far as atmosphere, I’ve sat on my balcony at the Beach Club to listen to the band at the UK and the drummers in Japan. At the Magic Kingdom Resorts we’ve already talked about the monorail and boat transportation, but let’s just talk about how close they are. The Magic Kingdom is difficult to access with the parking lot at the Ticket & Transportation Center requiring still a monorail or ferry ride over to the park. Bus rides from other resorts can take a while. If you are staying at the Grand Floridian you are a 5 minute monorail ride away—this is priceless with young children who will spend a lot of time at Magic Kingdom and who need to go back to rest. From the Contemporary you can even walk to the Magic Kingdom so no lines at the end of the night for the monorail, bus or ferry. Aside from the ease of getting to the park there is just something about being that close. You can hear the ferry horn, the train whistle and if you listen closely you can sometimes hear the howling at the Haunted Mansion.
What are your favorite experiences at the Deluxe resorts?