Best Disney World Deluxe Resort Hotel

by josh on June 3, 2010

Best Disney World Deluxe Resort Hotel

Quick Introduction to the Disney World Deluxe Resorts

Of the three Disney World resort classes, selecting the right Deluxe is the toughest choice.  Unlike the Values and the Moderates, the Deluxes have wildly different price points, ranging from $240 per night to $410 per night, and that’s just for Standard rooms in Value season.  Some Deluxes have as many as 20 different room categories with prices that top $2,000 per night.  Room sizes are also vastly different, ranging in size from about 340 square feet all the way up to 440 square feet for Standard rooms.  While 100 square feet may not seem significant on paper, in person it may seem like you’re adding an additional planet if your group consists of four or five people.  In addition, there are significant differences in resort layout, dining choices, transportation options, theme, service, location, pool size, and more.  I have ranked the Deluxe resorts in a number of categories to help you decide which resort is the best fit for your group.  Don’t be alarmed if your final choice is rated on the lower end of any of the categories because there is no such thing as “one size fits all.”

Also, be sure to read the full length reviews of the resorts you are interested in to get a better idea of what they offer as well as a list of the best rooms.  You can either click the highlighted links throughout this post or click here for a scrollable page with all of the resorts listed alphabetically.

Best Theme/Landscaping

1. Polynesian Resort

2. Animal Kingdom Lodge

3. Wilderness Lodge

4. Grand Floridian

5. Beach Club Resort

6. Boardwalk Inn

7. Yacht Club Resort

8. Contemporary Resort

Save for perhaps the Contemporary, all of the Disney Deluxe resorts have lush surroundings and immersive themes.  I have the Polynesian in first place because of the beautiful grounds, impressive Great Ceremonial House, perfectly-themed volcano pool, and lake-side white sand beaches overlooking Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom.  The Polynesian is one of the most relaxing, pristine resorts at Disney World.  The Animal Kingdom is in second place, but could just as easily take first depending on your own preferences.  Surrounded by 43 acres of African savanna and featuring the most remarkable lobby of any of the Disney Deluxes, the Animal Kingdom is a striking resort and the favorite of many guests.  Few other resorts in the world can boast panoramic views of 30 specifies of indigenous African wildlife and more than 35,000 native shrubs.  It’s an amazing place and an experience every Disney guest should take advantage of, even if you decide to stay elsewhere.

The Wilderness Lodge is a gorgeous, casual resort with a Pacific Northwest flavor.  It shares the beautiful Seven Seas Lagoon with the Deluxe Monorail resorts and has the feeling of being removed from the ruckus of Disney World while still being right in the middle of the action.  The Grand Floridian, Disney’s Flagship Resort, is decidedly “uppity,” yet accommodating and friendly with beautiful architecture, white sand beaches, and a Victorian themed lobby.  Guests looking for upscale surroundings (and price point) should strongly consider it.  The Beach Club Resort is the most friendly and relaxing of the Epcot-area resorts, offering a cool New England seaside vibe and a soft, welcoming color palette.  The Beach Club is the favored Epcot resort for families.  The Boardwalk Inn, themed like an elegant 1940s Atlantic City resort, features an impressive façade and an inviting lobby.  It drops substantially on the list of best themes because the resort itself doesn’t necessarily leave guests exclaiming “Wow.”  Its location right along the Boardwalk is definitely something special, but the resort itself isn’t as extravagantly themed as other Deluxes.

Coming in next to last is the Yacht Club, which isn’t necessarily an indication of an extremely lacking theme.  The Yacht Club is still a solid “B to B+” on a graded scale, but falls to seventh due to its somewhat pretentious tone that doesn’t appeal to some guests.  Anyone looking for a classier, upscale resort should consider the Yacht Club along with the Grand Floridian, but many families report feeling a bit unwelcome at the Yacht Club.  While I’ve never felt that way about the Yacht Club personally, it’s difficult to ignore the feelings of so many past guests.  The only Deluxe with a disappointing theme is the Contemporary Resort, which doesn’t boast much decoration at all.  While the structure itself is a technical feat on a grand scale, most guests won’t appreciate the bland, concrete architecture.  The inside of the resort is void of most things Disney and the industrial atmosphere seems out of place in Disney World.  On the plus side, the lake and Magic Kingdom views from the Tower rooms are spectacular.

Overall, the Disney Deluxe resorts are extravagantly and diversely themed.  It’s likely that more than one of the resorts will appeal to you and your group and you’ll want to take into consideration the other categories.  For some guests, the theme is the most important part of their resort choice.  While the theme may be vital to your vacation, I would still strongly recommend taking into consideration dining, transportation, room quality, and pool areas.  Suffice to say, you won’t be disappointed by the top choices in this category and the resorts at the bottom of the list have something to offer as well.

Best Layout

1. Grand Floridian Resort

2. Contemporary Resort

3. Wilderness Lodge

4. Animal Kingdom Lodge

5. Polynesian Resort

6. Yacht Club

7. Beach Club

8. Boardwalk Inn

This is a difficult category to quantify for the Deluxe resorts because so much of it depends on your room location and your personal preferences.  I have the Grand Floridian in first place because the restaurants, monorail station, and check-in are all located in the centralized main building that is relatively near all of the rooms.  It’s easy to move around the resort and find what you’re looking for and none of the points of interest are far from one another.  The Contemporary Resort comes in second because rooms in the Tower are so convenient to the restaurants, check-in, and monorail station.  Guests are just a short walk and elevator ride away.  However, guests staying in the Garden Wing must walk a considerable distance to the Tower and Tower guests are relatively far from the dock and pool.  Still, it’s generally quick and easy to find what you need as you move about the resort.  In third place, the Wilderness Lodge is shaped somewhat like a large “V” with two long wings jutting out of the main building.  The good news is that the walkways are easy to traverse and air-conditioned; the bad news is that a room at the end of one of the wings means a considerable walk to get to the restaurants, check-in, and bus stop.  The wings are shorter than the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s and a slightly longer walk is better than the confusing hallways of the Epcot-area resorts.  The pools are also centrally located behind the resort along with the dock and beach areas.  In fourth place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which has a similar design to the Wilderness Lodge, only the wings are longer.  This can equate to a long walk to the buses and restaurants if you find yourself at the end of the wings.  Luckily, the rooms at the end of the wings generally have the best view of the savannas and the hallways are nicely air-conditioned.  Request a room on the Zebra Trail to be nearer to the pool facilities.

The Polynesian is a small resort with a centralized main building, pool, dock, and transportation stations, but the layout can be confusing due to the meandering walkways and scattered guest buildings.  It’s fairly easy to find the main building with the restaurants, check-in, and monorail station, but getting back to your room may be difficult because the buildings all look the same.  Chances are you’ll get the hang of it by the time you leave, but it may take a few trips before you figure out exactly which path to take.  The pools, dock, and beaches are all centrally located in the middle and the back of the resort which is nice and nothing is more than five or ten minutes away from anything else which cuts down on walking.  The Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club, and Beach Club, all feature a similar layout with long winding hallways and points of interest that may be far away or at another resort entirely.  For example, the Yacht Club and Beach Club share amenities, including Stormalong Bay and a counter service.  This can mean a substantial walk to and from the pool and a particularly long walk for Yacht Club guests to get to the Beach Club’s counter service location.  The Beach and Yacht Club also share a dock, which is directly behind the Yacht Club.  This equates to a 10-15 minute walk over to the Yacht Club for guests at the Beach Club who want to use water transportation.  Finally, both the Yacht and Beach Club sit next to the beautiful Crescent Lake, but few rooms have balconies that look directly out at it.

Considering Disney’s attention to detail and careful planning, it’s a bit surprising that many of the Deluxe resorts have poor, confusing layouts. While it’s unlikely the resort’s layout will ruin your vacation, long walks from the bus to your room in the heat or rain after spending ten hours running around a theme park can make a wonderful day end on a sour note.  Pay attention to the “Best Rooms” categories of each resort to hone in on the best room locations.  While the best rooms are also usually the most expensive, there are advantages to some Standard rooms too, which is what those sections cover.  If you’re able to get one of the “best” rooms at the Yacht Club, then chances are it will be better than one of the worst rooms at the Contemporary or Grand Floridian.  For this reason, room location is even more important than overall layout, but it’s important to keep the overall layout in mind, especially when considering the bottom five choices on the list.

Best Dining

1. Grand Floridian Resort

2. Polynesian Resort

3. Animal Kingdom Lodge

4. Contemporary Resort

5. Wilderness Lodge

6. Boardwalk Inn

7. Beach Club

8. Yacht Club

Most of the Disney Deluxe resorts have at least one excellent restaurant.  It’s the secondary restaurants and counter services that may be lacking.  With the most overall choices and Victoria and Albert’s, the finest restaurant in all of Disney World, the Grand Floridian wins this category.  Citricos and Narcoossee’s are both excellent choices and 1900 Park Fare is a great character meal at breakfast.  Gasparilla Grill and Games, while not amazing, is a decent counter service that is convenient when your pocketbook is eyeing a cheaper alternative.  The Grand Floridian also serves a relaxing afternoon tea with a wide variety of drinks and snacks.  The Polynesian Resort is a close second, featuring Kona, one of the best non-signature restaurants at any of the Deluxes and ‘Ohana, a popular family style meal.  The Polynesian also offers the Spirit of Aloha Polynesian dinner show with good food and fun entertainment.  In third place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which features Boma, one of the best buffet meals at Disney.  You’ll find a great number of authentic African-inspired dishes as well as traditional buffet flavors.  Jiko, the resort’s signature restaurant, is also an excellent restaurant with a relaxing atmosphere and fantastic wine.  The Animal Kingdom Lodge’s counter service is also among the best at Disney and the new Sanaa restaurant at Kidani Village is a welcome addition as well.  The California Grill, located on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort, still features some of the best views at Disney World.  Unfortunately, the quality of the food and service has diminished in recent years.  It remains a recommended restaurant because of the fantastic view, especially during the fireworks show, and the food is above-average.  Also at the Contemporary, The Wave is a vastly underrated table service restaurant and the Contempo Café is your standard counter service – too small to meet demand, but efficient enough.  I don’t recommend Chef Mickey’s, but it is still one of the most popular character buffets and a decent choice if you’re staying at the Contemporary, don’t mind crowds and noise, and don’t have a particularly discernable palette.

Coming in fifth is the Wilderness Lodge.  Artist Point, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves great food and the service is generally good as well, but it’s lacking the flair that several of the higher rated restaurants possess.  While there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, there just isn’t anything special about it either.  Roaring Fork is the resort’s undersized counter service.  Like most of the resorts’ counter services, the seating area is inadequate, so expect to take your food elsewhere if you visit during peak times.  Whispering Canyon can be a fun restaurant, but both the service and food are inconsistent and the prices are on the higher side.  If it’s convenient or you’re visiting the Wilderness Lodge then it’s a good choice if you don’t mind the prices, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here.

The bottom three resorts are all nearby each other and the idea seems to be that if you’re staying at one then you should be willing to walk to the others to fill your dining needs.  In last place is the Yacht Club, which has no counter service location.  Even people that swear off counter services all together usually visit sometime during their stay for a quick coffee or ice cream.  It also makes refillable mugs less desirable because you’ll have to walk to Stormalong Bay or the Beach Club to fill it up.  The Yacht Club’s two sit-down restaurants, the Yachtsman Steakhouse and Captain’s Grill, are both fine choices for a meal, but neither of them offers much Disney magic.  The Yachtsman is superior in service, food, and price and is comparable to the popular Le Cellier at the Canada Pavilion in Epcot.  Unlike the Yacht Club, the Beach Club offers no signature restaurants and no real “fine dining” options.  Instead, you’ll find Beaches and Cream which is a fun place for a burger or an ice cream, but the seating area is grossly inadequate and you’ll likely be looking at waits in the one hour range.  The Cape May Café is an interesting buffet, serving all-you-can-eat crab legs at dinner, and is a good choice for big eaters.  The Beach Club Marketplace is disappointing, serving only sandwiches and salads for lunch and dinner.

At the top of the Epcot-area resorts is the Boardwalk Inn, which sits on top of several restaurants.  Unfortunately, while there may be a large variety of choices, none of them are particularly good and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend any of them.  Flying Fish is the best of the bunch, but it also costs two credits on the Disney Dining Plan and most entrées are in the $40 range, which makes it considerably overpriced out of pocket.  Despite the high prices, the restaurant’s atmosphere is decidedly relaxed, which may or may not be a good thing. The best feature of the Epcot-area Deluxes is that they are near Epcot, which means you’re just a five to ten minute walk away from all of those restaurants.  The bad news is that you’ll need a Park Hopper ticket to eat there unless you plan to spend the entire day at Epcot.

Overall, the Deluxes have the best dining options of the Disney resort classes.  Even the last place Yacht Club is far superior to anything you would find at the Moderates or Values.  The unique characteristic of the Deluxes is that unless you’re staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’re close to at least two of the other Deluxe resorts and one of the major theme parks.  For example, if you’re staying at the Contemporary Resort then you’re only a monorail ride away from the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Magic Kingdom and only a boat ride away from the Wilderness Lodge.  If you’re staying at the Boardwalk then you’re only a walk or boat ride away from the Yacht and Beach Club as well as Epcot and the Hollywood Studios.  This gives you a lot of dining options, even if the restaurants at your particular resort don’t sound appealing.  If you’re staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge then it’s going to be less convenient to hop to the other resorts, so you’ll want to make sure those restaurants sound appealing.

Best Transportation/Location

1. Contemporary Resort

2. Polynesian Resort

3. Boardwalk Inn

4. Yacht Club

5. Grand Floridian

6. Wilderness Lodge

7. Beach Club

8. Animal Kingdom

The Contemporary is the only resort where guests can easily walk to and from the Magic Kingdom.  It also offers boat service to the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Cabins as well as Monorail access to the Magic Kingdom, Transportation Center, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian. Finally, the Contemporary has the best bus service of the Monorail Deluxes because it’s picked up and dropped off before the others when bus service is shared.  Coming in second is the Polynesian, which is on the monorail line, has an easily accessible bus stop, and is in walking distance to the express monorail line to Epcot.  Walking to the express monorail will save you a lot of time because you won’t have to travel around on the resort monorail and then wait for the express monorail to show up at the Ticket and Transportation Center.  The Polynesian also offers boat service to the Magic Kingdom and Grand Floridian which is handy as well.  The Boardwalk Inn is at the top of the Epcot-area resorts because it’s the closest and has its own dock that is centrally located at the back of the resort.  It’s also the closest resort within walking distance of the Hollywood Studios.  With boat access to the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, there are plenty of places to visit via boat, which is much more fun than riding a stuffy bus.  Of course, the Boardwalk Inn is also right on top of the Boardwalk area with its fun restaurants, night clubs, and street shows.  Coming in fourth is the Yacht Club, which is rated higher than the nearby Beach Club because the boat dock happens to be behind the Yacht Club.  This makes it much more convenient for guests to travel via boat to all of the same locations as at the Boardwalk Inn listed above.

Leading the bottom half of the list, the Grand Floridian is on the monorail line and has convenient boat access to the Magic Kingdom and Polynesian resort.  Why is it so low on the list then?  Unfortunately, the Grand Floridian has poor bus service, usually sharing with the far-away Wilderness Lodge which gets picked up and dropped off first.  This can mean longer than average bus rides to the Hollywood Studios and the Grand Floridian is the farthest resort away from the Animal Kingdom.  Coming in sixth is the Wilderness Lodge, which has boat access to the Magic Kingdom, but buses everywhere else.  The Wilderness Lodge often shares buses with the nearby Fort Wilderness Campground and the much less convenient Grand Floridian, which adds considerable extra time to bus rides.  It’s not in walking distance of any of the theme parks and is relatively isolated away from the rest of the action.  The Beach Club falls all the way to sixth because guests will have to walk all the way to the back of the Yacht Club for boat transportation that is shared by many other resorts and theme parks.  Like the Yacht Club and Boardwalk Inn, there is also no bus service to the front of Epcot.  Last place goes to the Animal Kingdom, which only offers bus service to all of the theme parks.  It’s also the most remote Disney resort and the furthest from all of the theme parks other than the Animal Kingdom.  You’re looking at a 45 minute drive to and from the Magic Kingdom.

Overall, the Deluxe resorts offer the most diverse transportation options of the Disney resort classes.  Both the monorail and boats offer a more fun way to get around the World and the convenience of being so close to the theme parks and other resorts is a nice bonus.

Best Rooms

1. Contemporary Resort

2. Grand Floridian Resort

3. Polynesian Resort

4. Yacht Club

5. Beach Club

6. Boardwalk Inn

7. Animal Kingdom Lodge

8. Wilderness Lodge

Disregarding price, the updated Contemporary Resort rooms are the nicest, most modern rooms at Disney World.  Some guests may still prefer the subtler elegance of the Grand Floridian’s large, well-appointed rooms.  In third place is the Polynesian Resort.  Although its rooms feel a bit dark and outdated, they are still among the largest at Disney World and feature upgraded fixtures, bathrooms, and televisions.  The Yacht and Beach Club as well as the Boardwalk Inn all have rooms that are about 380 square feet in size.  As far as the room itself is concerned, they are all similarly outfitted with the only major difference being the theme.  The Yacht Club is the most recently renovated, followed by the Beach Club and then the Boardwalk Inn.  Chances are you won’t notice much difference between the three.  Both the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge have rooms that are much smaller than the other Deluxes, at only about 340 square feet.  They are also dark and standard rooms sleep only four people, compared to five at the other Deluxes.  While the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge are considerably less expensive, the major reason behind the price difference is the smaller rooms with lower quality furnishings.

Best Pool

1. Stormalong Bay at the Beach and Yacht Club

2. Boardwalk Inn

3. Grand Floridian Resort

4. Wilderness Lodge

5. Polynesian Resort

6. Contemporary Resort

7. Animal Kingdom Lodge

Far and away, the best pool complex is Stormalong Bay, which is shared by guests of the Yacht and Beach Club.  It’s also the most heavily secured and resort guests must show their room key to receive a wristband and gain entrance. Boardwalk Inn features a spectacular slide, a fun theme, and a large pool which puts it in second place.  The Grand Floridian’s main pool, while not ornately themed, overlooks the pristine Seven Seas Lagoon and the quiet pool is the largest of its kind.  It ranks so high because there is usually plenty of room to swim and move about the water.  In fourth place, the Wilderness Lodge features a beautifully themed pool and a second quiet pool.  While the feature pool gets busy in the summer, the quiet pool usually has plenty of room.  The Polynesian would be much higher on the list, probably in second place, except it’s so popular with “pool hoppers.”  Although people staying at other resorts are expressly forbidden from swimming at the Polynesian, plenty of people still do and the resort does a poor job of keeping them out.  This makes the Polynesian’s Volcano Pool extremely busy in the warm months.  Although there is a smaller quiet pool, it’s much less fun to swim in than the Volcano Pool.  Next to last is the Contemporary Resort, which has two large pools, but little theme or decoration.  The slide is also not particularly exciting.  In last place is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which only has one pool open to all guests (guests staying at the Kidani Village Disney Vacation Club have access to a second pool).  While it is the largest single pool in Disney World, it doesn’t make up for the convenient quiet pools at other resorts.  If your room is at the end of Kudu Trail, you’re looking at a 15+ minute walk to and from the pool, which may be a hassle.

Chances are you’ll be pleased with the pool facilities at any of the Deluxes.  Although the Animal Kingdom comes in last, the pool is still fantastic and it’s located in a beautifully themed area.  It’s just unfortunate they neglected to build a second one on the other side of the resort.

Best Disney World Deluxe Resort Hotel

1. Grand Floridian

2. Polynesian Resort

3. Beach Club

4. Wilderness Lodge

5. Contemporary Resort

6. Yacht Club

7. Animal Kingdom Lodge

8. Boardwalk Inn

The “best” Deluxe resort is difficult to quantify because of the varying price points and substantial differences between the resorts.  At the very least, I would recommend reading over the “best for” and “worst for” sections along with the “summary of key points” for each of the Deluxe resorts you are considering.  While the Animal Kingdom Lodge may be listed seventh on this list, it may be ideal for your family if you don’t mind the longer-than-average bus rides, four person limit per room, and the possibility of substantial walks to the main building and pool.  In addition, the Grand Floridian is the most expensive resort at Disney World and may not be worth the $200 extra per night over the Wilderness Lodge if your group doesn’t plan to spend much time at the resort.  Unlike the Values and Moderates, the Deluxes have more substantial differences and the top rated resorts may not be the best choice depending on your wants and needs.  Here’s as short of an explanation as I can give on the pros and cons of the various Deluxes and why they fall where they do, generally speaking.

The Grand Floridian is the best of the Deluxe resorts, with the largest rooms, easy to maneuver layout, oversized pools, finest restaurants, and quick transportation to the Magic Kingdom.  The only deterrents are its bus transportation to the other theme parks and the high cost.  While some visitors report feeling “stuffy,” the great majority of Grand Floridian guests are just like you and me.  That is, people who have diligently saved over the year(s) to afford to stay at Disney’s best.  It’s truly a beautiful resort with all of the amenities one would expect from a top resort.  On the other hand, it may only be worth the money if you plan to spend a considerable amount of time relaxing and enjoying the resort and its amenities.  The Polynesian has many of the same pros and cons as the Grand Floridian, but falls below it due to the somewhat outdated décor in the rooms, more difficulty finding what you’re looking for inside of the resort, and the overcrowded pools.  On the plus side, the Polynesian has much better transportation, including a walkway to the Ticket and Transportation Center and a more relaxing, family friendly atmosphere.

The Beach Club tops the Epcot-area resorts because of its ideal location within walking distance of Epcot, its relaxed atmosphere, superior service, Stormalong Bay, and several casual restaurants on-site.  The major downsides are its lack of balconies overlooking the lake, its shared bus and boat transportation, and a lackluster counter service.  Luckily, you can visit Stormalong Bay for a burger or walk to Epcot and visit one of their excellent counter service locations, so there really isn’t that much of a need for a counter service with more abundant options.  Of course, it would still be nice.  In fourth place is the Wilderness Lodge, which has a tranquil atmosphere, attractive price point, above-average transportation, and a fun pool area.  Although the rooms are smaller than the other Deluxes, the significantly lower price reflects it.  The Wilderness Lodge also has boat service to the Contemporary and Magic Kingdom, which easily connects guests to the other Monorail Deluxes and Epcot express monorail line.  Although it appears to be secluded, it actually isn’t that far away, so you get the benefit of being away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks while still being close to the action.  It’s an excellent resort for guests wanting to be conveniently located near the Magic Kingdom without the additional expense of the Monorail Deluxes.

Falling to fifth place is the Contemporary Resort, mostly due to its lack of a theme and high cost for rooms outside of the Garden Wing.  While it’s true that the Contemporary Resort boasts the cheapest rooms on the monorail line, the Contemporary’s Tower rooms start at $400 which is in line with Standard rooms at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, both of which have a superior theme.  The Contemporary’s strong points are its convenience to the Magic Kingdom and other Monorail Deluxes, boat service to the Wilderness Lodge, modern rooms, and easy to navigate layout.  If you don’t care for a lush tropical atmosphere or the opulence of the Grand Floridian, then the Contemporary may be your best choice.  I recommend either getting the cheapest room in the Garden Wing or upgrading to the Magic Kingdom View in the Tower.  There’s really no reason to spend the money to upgrade anywhere else.

In sixth place, the Yacht Club completely lacks a counter service location, has a confusing layout, shares buses and boats with many other resorts, and features a less popular theme.  While guests looking for a more upscale atmosphere may appreciate the Yacht Club, it may feel a bit stuffy to guests with younger children.  The positives are similar to the Beach Club and include the best pool complex at Disney World, an excellent location within walking distance of Epcot and many other resorts, and upgraded rooms.  If you prefer a fancy resort and don’t plan to eat any counter service meals on-site, then the Yacht Club may be your ideal resort.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge drops to seventh because of its remote location.  Unless you plan to spend considerable time on your balcony looking at the animals, you are better off staying closer to the other theme parks and visiting the Animal Kingdom to enjoy its restaurants or the public animal viewing areas.  It’s about a 35 minute drive from the Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom and 25 minutes or more to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  If you have to wait 15 minutes for the bus then you’re looking at 80-120 minutes or more on the buses, assuming you only ride to and from the theme parks once.  Depending on room location you’re also looking at considerable walks to and from the bus stop, main building, pool, and restaurants.  On the plus side, the Animal Kingdom is a beautiful resort with a striking lobby and three superb restaurants.  If you don’t mind the long drives or plan to spend a significant portion of your vacation at your resort then the Animal Kingdom may be a good choice.  There are better options for first time Disney vacationers and those who plan to spend most of their time away from the resort.

In last place, though not without its positive attributes, is the Boardwalk Inn.  While I love the exterior theme and the rooms overlooking the Boardwalk are among the most fun at Disney World, the interior leaves a lot to be desired.  The layout is particularly confusing, with long winding halls and inconvenient elevator locations.  There is also no on-site counter service and no restaurants inside of the resort.  Instead, you’ll have to exit the resort and enter the restaurants from the outside.  While there are plenty of choices, the ESPN Club, Kouzzina, and Big River Grille are nothing special and do not come highly recommended.  At a minimum of $425 per night, the rooms that overlook the Boardwalk cost about as much as a Magic Kingdom View room at the Contemporary Resort or Standard room at the Polynesian or Grand Floridian.  I would recommend visiting the Boardwalk area during your vacation, but don’t generally recommend the resort itself.  One more positive that I have not previously mentioned is the Inn’s underutilized Bellevue Lounge, which is a fantastic place to sip on a fine cocktail and enjoy an afternoon or evening.

There is a Disney Deluxe resort that will fit anyone’s needs, provided you have a budget that allows for it.  With a large pricing gap and a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses, it may take some time to research and determine which resort will best fit your group’s needs.  Hopefully this abridged guide will help.  Be sure to read up on the individual resorts that sound intriguing for even more information.  I have a detailed overview of every Disney resort, including a closer look at each of the categories listed here and suggestions on room reservations.  Good luck and happy planning.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen August 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I do have to mention that I don’t totally agree with your travel times mentioned in the paragraph under the Animal Kingdom Lodge. AKV is our DVC home, so we’ve stayed there several times now – most recently last month. I recall it taking 20 minutes to get to Magic Kingdom, and less than 15 for Epcot/DHS. (And of course, less than 5 min. to DAK.) Not sure who was driving your bus, but unless they were driving at 20 mph the whole way, it doesn’t take over a half hour to get to MK.

Anonymous March 30, 2011 at 5:08 pm

AKL: “You’re looking at a 45 minute drive to and from the Magic Kingdom.”

Is this for bus service? AKL to MK is about a 10-15 minute drive, max.

Tyler April 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

While I find your article useful, I think you may have been a bit too hard on the Wilderness Lodge. It’s really a wonderful resort, and the rooms are absolutely beautiful.

Melanie September 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm

We stayed at Wilderness Lodge after rave reviews from friends, and now it is hard to imagine staying anywhere else at WDW. Location was terrific, with Magic Kingdom a convenient boat ride away. Standard view room had a balcony overlooking a peaceful side yard. 6 year old daughter loved the balcony and pool. 18 year old son took advantage of running trails and fitness club. Great value for deluxe resort.

Krista May 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm

We stayed at AK for our honeymoon and will be staying there again in a month. We’ve stayed in many different resorts and didn’t find the rides to the parks to be much longer or inconvenient. I would hate for someone to not stay there for that reason only. It’s a gorgeous resort with great restaurants, it’s definitely an experience!

Melanie June 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Thought nothing could top Wilderness Lodge, but I was wrong. We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge for Marathon Weekend in January and absolutely LOVED it. Lots of activities for the kids, sumptuous dining, easy shuttle to Kidani Village, great pools, fabulous savannah views. Could easily have sat on the balcony and watched the animals all day, then visit the overlooks for night vision viewing. Convenient bus transportation to all parks – Magic Kingdom took about 30 minutes.

Chris May 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Why no Swan&Dolphin love? They’re not Disney-owned but used to be listed as official WDW deluxe resorts (they seem to have recently created an odd new category for them on their website — “Other Select Deluxe Hotels”). It offers most of the same amenities as Deluxe category resorts and, at least in the dining category, it would probably rank within the top 5. And it’s definitely the most affordable.

Collier May 25, 2013 at 9:08 am

Here is my list of the “Top Five Disney World Resorts” based on top-notch immersive Disney style themes, extensive dining options, most convenient locations, and large fun pool complexes:

1. POLYNESIAN: Extravagant Polynesian theme, lush landscaping with fire-lit tiki torches, white sand beaches, large guest rooms (currently undergoing 2013 refurbishment to make rooms lighter, fresher, and more modern), views of Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, all guest rooms located in longhouses separated from the main building, pool with Volcano waterslide and separate quiet pool, several dining options with exquisite cuisine with Polynesian flair, Spirit of Aloha dinner show, monorail access, boat transportation to Magic Kingdom and Grand Floridian, walking distance to TTC and Grand Floridian

2. WILDERNESS LODGE: Immersive American wilderness theme, heavily wooded forest landscaping, access to guest rooms and restaurants within the same main building, views of Bay Lake and the woods, pool with waterslide, campfires, several dining options with delicious American-inspired cuisine, boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, Contemporary, and Fort Wilderness

3. BEACH CLUB: Relaxing fun beach theme, lush seaside landscaping, access to guest rooms and restaurants within the same main building, large guest rooms, views of Crescent Lake, the best and largest pool complex on Disney property – Stormalong Bay – and quiet pool as well, minimal dining options but good American and Seafood options, closest walking distance to Epcot’s International Gateway (approx. 5-8 min.), both boat transportation and walkways to Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Swan, Dolphin, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios

4. GRAND FLORIDIAN: Opulent turn-of-the-century Victorian theme, lush landscaping, white sand beaches, live music in elegant 5-story lobby, large guest rooms, views of Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, most guest rooms located in lodges separated from the main building, pool with waterslide and quiet pool, most extensive and exquisite dining options of all Disney resorts, monorail access, boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, walking distance to Polynesian

5. ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE: Extravagant African safari theme, lush tropical savannah landscaping with nightly campfires, views of savannahs with over 200 exotic animals, access to guest rooms and restaurants within the same main building, extensive dining options with a savory African flair, pool with waterslide and access to Kidani Village pool complex, bus transportation

Bob June 2, 2013 at 5:25 am

Great website. Informative and you offer great suggestions. One resort choice most people don’t consider is a split stay. On most recent trip, stayed 3 nights at Beach Club with great convenience to Epcot and Hollywood Studios and then 3 nights at Polynesian. Only had one bus ride the whole trip, to AK. Real easy to do. Left the luggage with bellhop at BC, spent the day at Epcot, and bags were in our room when we got to Poly. Great choice since convenience and dining options were important to us.

Denice June 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Hello to every one, the contents existing at this website are really remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

Obtaining Excellent Motel Deals within Europe June 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a
few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think
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mike September 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

my top 5 deluxe resorts are polynesian,theakl, thewl, the contemporary and the grand floridian all fantastic resorts in thier rights but if the wilderness lodge was on the monorail it would be the best

Zoe October 29, 2013 at 8:14 am

I am a WDW Cast Member and I think the Top 5 Deluxe Resorts are the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Beach Club, and Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you are looking to save money, the best Moderate Resort is Port Orleans Riverside (Alligator Bayou – Lodge 14 or Magnolia Bend – Magnolia Terrace) and the best Value Resort is Art of Animation. I love spending some of my free time at the resorts!

Kathryn April 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Collier and Zoe thanks for your comments have helped me so much!!!!! :)

Laurie July 7, 2014 at 8:11 am

Very nice reviews….have you considered incorporating some indication of which resorts would be best for differing age groups? for example, the BC/BCV and CR are beautiful, but have a significantly higher noise & activity level (indoor and out) than the other deluxe resorts – best for toddlers through pre-preteens (as is CR).
In our experiences the best combinations of lower noise/congestion levels, most activity and dining options, nicest views, and overall ambiance for families with children 8-teen and adults are (only the top, in order of best to really great):
deluxe: BWI/BWV, YC, GF, AKL/AKV, Poly

GREAT job!!

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