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 at Animal Kingdom Lodge with a parking lot view to $582 per night for an outter building garden view at Grand Floridian Resort, and that’s just for Standard rooms in Value season. Some Deluxes have as many as 20 different room categories with prices that top $3,000 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. The resorts come ranked 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.”

Best Theme/Landscaping

  1. Polynesian Village 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. Polynesian Village Resort arrives 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. Being able to walk into the lobby and see Cinderella Castle in the distance is truly something special.

The Polynesian is one of the most relaxing, pristine resorts at Disney World.

Animal Kingdom Lodge falls to a close second place, but could just as easily take first depending on your own preferences.

Surrounded by 43 acres of African savanna and featuring (arguably) the most remarkable lobby of any of the Disney Deluxes, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a striking resort and the favorite of many returning 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 returning Disney World guest should take advantage of, even if you ultimately decide to stay elsewhere.

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.

Water actually trickles down from a spring inside the lobby down to the pool below through a variety of waterways and waterfalls.

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Flagship Resort, is friendlier and more accommodating than you might expect with beautiful architecture, white sand beaches, and a Victorian themed lobby.

It’s hard to not feel like a million bucks exploring the various courtyards and immaculately maintained gardens.

And let’s not forget the opulent lobby, where a live band plays outside Mizner’s Lounge nightly.

Beach Club Resort is the most family-friendly and relaxing of the Epcot-area resorts, offering a cool New England seaside vibe and a soft, welcoming color palette.

Beach Club gets extra points for a larger variety of unique, semi-private nooks and crannies located around the resort.

Boardwalk Inn, themed like an elegant 1940s Atlantic City resort, features an impressive façade and an inviting lobby. It drops in the standings because there isn’t anything particularly “wow-worthy” about the resort and while the BoardWalk area that surrounds the resort adds to its ambiance, guests staying at the Beach Club and Yacht Club are just a couple minutes away.

And it’s hard to beat the nightly sunset above the resort – here photographed at the Beach Club across Crescent Lake.

Coming in next to last is the Yacht Club, which isn’t necessarily an indication of horrific theming. The resort is still a solid “B to B+” on a graded scale, but falls to seventh due to its neutral color palette and less-than-inspring public spaces that are unlikely to connect with kids.

On the other hand, couples looking for an intimate, upscale resort should strongly consider staying here. And families shouldn’t necessarily be turned off – the substance is very similar to Beach Club, even if the style is arguably lacking.

The only Deluxe with potentially disappointing theming is the Contemporary Resort, which doesn’t boast much decoration at all. While the A-frame structure itself was a technical feat on a grand scale back in 1971, most guests won’t appreciate the bland, concrete architecture. While there might be something to say for the monorail whizzing through the center of the resort every few minutes, the inside is otherwise void of most things Disney and the industrial atmosphere seems out of place. In other words, nothing about the resort is particularly “contemporary” and the theme doesn’t transport guests to a time or place as successfully as the other resorts.

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. While the Contemporary’s facade may not do much for your group, it’s also the only resort where you can walk to Magic Kingdom. 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 because so much of it depends on your room location and your personal preferences. For example, the least convenient room at the Grand Floridian is less convenient than the most convenient room at the BoardWalk, even if the Grand Flo arrives in first and BoardWalk in last.

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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. Expensive rooms inside the main building are particularly convenient and  it’s otherwise 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.

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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 and it’s all indoors and air-conditioned. 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.

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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.

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In fourth place is Animal Kingdom Lodge, which has a similar design to Wilderness Lodge, only the wings are longer. The quick service also necessitates a walk outside, which is less convenient. 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. Note that two buildings are pictured above – Jambo House is where you’ll find all of the standard rooms and several Disney Vacation Club villas. Kidani Village is a separate building that houses the majority of the Disney Vacation Club villas, in addition to a second feature pool, casual table service restaurant, and other amenities.

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Polynesian Village Resort is a relatively small resort with a centralized main building, pool, dock, and bus stop, but the layout can be confusing due to the meandering walkways and scattered guest buildings. Guest rooms are also housed entirely in disconnected longhouses without cover, so walks back to the room can be wet during common afternoon rain. It’s fairly easy to find the main building with the restaurants, check-in, and monorail station, but getting back to the room may be difficult because the scattered 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 so minutes away from anything else, which cuts down on walking.

Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club, and Beach Club, all feature similar layouts 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, a quick service, and the pool bar/grill. 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 quick service location or the pool bar, which is on the Beach Club side. The Beach and Yacht Club also share a dock, which is directly behind the Yacht Club. This equates to a five to ten 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.

Yacht and Beach Club map:

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Yacht and Beach Clubs are so intertwined that Disney doesn’t even publish individual maps for each resort.

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BoardWalk Inn falls to last place because its quick service, restaurants, and most other amenities are outside the resort itself on the BoardWalk, which means guests will need to exit the resort out the back door to grab a sandwich or slice of pizza. The winding hallways inside the resort are also longer and more confusing than the other resorts and the bus stop is also further away than the other Deluxes. The walk certainly isn’t the end of the world, but as far as layout convenience goes, it’s easy to see its shortcomings.

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 (Victoria & Albert’s, Citricos, Narcoossee’s, Grand Floridian Cafe, 1900 Park Fare, Afternoon Tea, Mizner’s Lounge, Gasparilla Island Grill, Beaches Pool Bar)
  2. Contemporary Resort (California Grill, The Wave, Chef Mickey’s, Outer Rim Lounge, Contempo Cafe, The Sand Bar)
  3. Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jiko, Sanaa, Boma, Victoria Falls Lounge, The Mara, Pool Bars)
  4. Polynesian Village Resort (‘Ohana, Kona Cafe, Kona Island Sushi, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Tambu Lounge, Captain Cook’s)
  5. Wilderness Lodge (Artist Point, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Territory Lounge, Roaring Fork)
  6. Boardwalk Inn (Flying Fish, Trattoria al Forno, ESPN Zone, Belle Vue Lounge, BoardWalk Bakery, Big River Grille & Brewing Works, Pizza Window)
  7. Beach Club (Cape May Cafe, Beaches and Cream, Martha’s Vineyard, Beach Club Marketplace, Hurricane Hanna’s)
  8. Yacht Club (Yachtsman Steakhouse, Captain’s Grille, Crew’s Cup Lounge, Ale and Compass Lounge)

Boasting one of the best restaurants in Central Florida in Victoria & Albert’s, excellent food and service at Citricos, a picturesque waterfront setting at Narcoossee’s, casual dining at Grand Floridian Cafe, a whimsical character buffet in 1900 Park Fare, a decent quick service in Gasparilla Grill that serves 24 hours, and the best pool bar food of any resort at Beaches Pool bar, Grand Floridian Resort easily tops the list. And second place really isn’t close.

With the exception of V&A’s, and its $150+ 7-course meal, none of the restaurants are particularly uppity or pretentious. My favorite is Citricos, with its Mediterranean flair, attention to detail, and dynamic drink menu. For quick service, it’s hard to beat the poolside crab cake sandwich. Full reviews of each are available at the highlighted links:

Featuring panoramic views of Magic Kingdom from the 15th floor of the Contemporary, California Grill offers a menu blending west coast flavors with those from around the globe. Downstairs on the first floor, The Wave focuses on locally sourced, carefully prepared dishes with a focus on fresh, healthful food. The adjacent bar serves its own appetizers, in addition to the full restaurant menu, and is usually an easy walk-up on a busy night. Chef Mickey’s is the most popular character buffet on property. Hosted by Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto for breakfast, brunch, and dinner, the restaurant located on the fourth floor is open and airy with the monorail whizzing by every few minutes overhead. While it’s not known for its food, the playful characters and variety of food may make up for the low quality of some of the dishes. Serving just the standard bar menu, Outer Rim next door might leave something to be desired, but it’s a quick and relatively easy place to pick a cocktail. Contempo Cafe is arguably the best Deluxe resort quick service, serving up an expansive menu of high quality food. And finally, The Sand Bar is convenient to the feature pool behind the resort, offering sandwiches and other simple food along with drinks. Full reviews:

Blending African, Indian, and Mediterranean flavors, along with one of the largest African wine menus on the planet, Jiko – The Cooking Place may be the last bastion of unique flavors and spices on property. Sanaa at Kidani Village overlooks the spectacular Sunset Savanna with views of more than 30 species and 200 animals. Lunch is best, when it’s easy to see the animals in the daylight and less expensive options are available. Back at Jambo House, Boma serves up the best buffet food on property with a variety of more than 70 items at dinner. Victoria Falls Lounge serves unique cocktails and exotic beers along with several sharable appetizers in an intimate setting. For all three meals, The Mara quick service offers a variety of Disney favorites with unique twists, in addition to the usual burgers and nuggets. And finally, the pool bars at Jambo and Kidani offer poolside food and drinks. Full reviews:

While the Polynesian Village Resort doesn’t house a spendy signature restaurant, it makes up for it with a variety of high quality casual choices. Breakfast is hosted by Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto and features the usual favorites with a Hawaiian twist. Dinner is a characterless, Polynesian-style, all-you-care-to-enjoy extravaganza featuring skewers of chicken, beef, and shrimp, in addition to salad, pork dumplings, chicken wings, vegetables, and stir-fried noodles. Kona Cafe is one of the better casual resort restaurants, particularly for lunch when it serves less expensive plated lunches far away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. Open from 4pm-midnight, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto serves food and inspired drinks outside on the patio in a fun, breezy setting, and inside in a dark bar rich with whimsical theming. Most drinks are served in unique souvenir glassware and food is appropriately sized for sharing. Tambu Lounge is more of your typical bar experience, though weary guests may be happy to find that it starts serving drinks at noon with food following at 5pm. Finally, Captain Cook’s is one of the better quick services, offering up the usual favorites with a touch of the spirit of aloha, in addition to unique items like the udon bowl with shrimp and delicious pulled pork nachos with fried wanton crisps. Full reviews:

With its rugged rustic elegance and scenic waterfront views, Artist Point is one of the most intimate signature restaurants on property, focusing on fresh flavors from the Pacific Northwest. Whispering Canyon Cafe serves all three meals in a casual setting with choice of traditional a la carte appetizers and desserts or an all-you-care-to-enjoy skillet focusing on barbecue favorites like ribs, pork, chicken, and sausage for lunch and dinner. Territory Lounge sits adjacent to Artist Point and is my personal favorite lounge on property, serving up tremendous bar food, in addition to the excellent berry cobbler. Stop by for a snack and a drink after 5pm. Finally, Roaring Fork is the resort’s quick service arm. While the menu is relatively limited by most standards, what is offered is above average with generous portions and careful attention to detail. Full reviews:

Technically speaking, the only food and beverage location inside the BoardWalk Inn is the Belle Vue Lounge, which is why the resort falls so far down in the rankings. But for the sake of discussion, I’ve bundled the other resorts and quick services in the immediate area and given BoardWalk credit, even if Epcot’s International Gateway and Beach Club Resort are a similar distance away.

Featuring “wondrous decor,” Flying Fish is an accessible signature restaurant that focuses on fresh seafood and steak. Signature items like the crab cake, potato-wrapped red snapper, and char-crusted New York strip steak are sure to please, in addition to seasonal favorites with a focus on fresh local produce. Trattoria al Forno is the BoardWalk’s relatively new Italian restaurant. It plays it safe for the most part, but the casual atmosphere and homely recipes may be just what you’re looking for. ESPN Zone is the best sports bar on property with a lively atmosphere during major events and surprisingly high quality, reasonably priced food. Draft beer and bottle selections are very good as well. BoardWalk Bakery serves decent sandwiches and salads, and the few tables bordering Crescent Lake offer beautiful views in good weather. The Pizza Window works in a pinch, but offers some of the worst pizza property-wide. Full reviews:

Like the Polynesian Village Resort, Beach Club Resort offers no signature dining on its premises and its best restaurant is instead Cape May Cafe. For breakfast, you’ll meet Minnie, Goofy, and Donald tableside and feast on mostly standard items like scrambled eggs, biscuits, bacon, and ham. The seafood buffet is sans characters, but you’ll find all-you-care-to-enjoy crab legs, in addition to peel-and-eat shrimp, mussels, clams, paella, salmon, seafood chowder, and a lot more. Beaches and Cream is one of the most casual table service restaurants on property, focusing on inexpensive hamburgers and sandwiches, in addition to its famous oversized sundaes. Most famous is the kitchen sink, which is designed for at least four to share and includes five different flavors of ice cream, every topping they have, and a whole can of whipped cream. Martha’s Vineyard might be the least popular lounge on property, but service is reliably friendly and proficient and the draft beer list is surprising good, albeit limited. Better food than you might expect is also available. Finally, Beach Club Marketplace offers a few flatbread pizzas and sandwiches for quick meals. Finally, Hurricane Hanna’s is located outside near the pool and serves up the usual burgers and nuggets, in addition to a few unique items like the seafood sandwich and muffaletta chicken sandwich. Full reviews:

Yachtsman Steakhouse is the best Disney-operated steakhouse on property, though the quality is probably a bit below nearby Shula’s at the Swan/Dolphin and The BOATHOUSE at Downtown Disney. Still, the appetizers tend to be more innovative than you might expect and the steaks are reliably high quality and prepared to your specifications. Captain’s Grille is the Beach/Yacht Club’s casual table service restaurant. The atmosphere and menu aren’t particularly interesting, but it will do in a pinch and the breakfast buffet and less expensive lunch are good values. Crew’s Cup serves some of the best bar food on property, but it tends to be busy and the wood motif is not particularly inviting. Finally, Ale and Compass Lounge is another bar area serving similar food to the other restaurants.

Overall, most of the restaurants in the Deluxe resorts are high caliber and offer similar quality and service for the money. The rankings are largely based on variety of offerings, convenience, uniqueness, and value for the money. The individual, in-depth reviews offer more insight into why some of the restaurants are specifically rated higher than others, but you could make a strong argument that the order above should be different. Don’t let Yacht Club’s low ranking skew your decision away from the Crescent Lake area. The lineup of largely high end restaurants and bars may be just what you’re looking for, while a family may want to look at a resort that caters to more casual and character dining.

Best Transportation/Location

  1. Wilderness Lodge
  2. Polynesian Village Resort
  3. Animal Kingdom Lodge
  4. Contemporary Resort
  5. Beach Club
  6. Yacht Club
  7. Boardwalk Inn
  8. Grand Floridian

This list may be different depending on your situation and where you plan to spend the most time. Yacht Club, Beach Club, and BoardWalk Inn are all in walking distance to Epcot and may be the best choice for those that plan to spend the majority of their time there, particularly during the Food and Wine Festival. Those planning to spend the majority of their time at Magic Kingdom may want to take an extended look at the Contemporary, which is the only resort in walking distance.

Wilderness Lodge ekes out a close competition and arrives in first place due to its quick, air-conditioned bus ride to Magic Kingdom, in addition to the slower and more scenic watercraft. It also offers boat service to the Contemporary for easy access to the resorts on the monorail. Trips to the other Parks are usually via direct bus.  Its weakness is Epcot, where it sometimes shares a bus with Fort Wilderness.

Polynesian Village comes in second with relatively convenient monorail and watercraft transportation to Magic Kingdom. It’s also the only resort on the monorail where you can walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center, which is usually a quicker and more direct route to the Epcot monorail than the resort monorail. It usually shares buses with either the Contemporary or Grand Floridian to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but overall transit time is better than average.

While Animal Kingdom Lodge is a bit out of the way, the bus system is more efficient and usually faster than guests relying on boats and monorails. The Lodge does have stops at Jambo House and Kidani Village on all routes, which either extends trips by a few minutes or makes it less likely that Jambo House guests will find seats because Kidani Village guests are picked up and dropped off first. It has two main disadvantages – it doesn’t offer a more interesting mode of transportation anywhere and it’s the furthest resort from Magic Kingdom. But even then, you’re looking at a drive that’s between 15 and 17 minutes and may be shorter than other resorts with the number of additional stops you usually find at the BoardWalk etc.

Contemporary Resort arrives in front of the other Monorail resorts because it’s the only resort within walking distance of Magic Kingdom, which is particularly convenient early in the morning when bus transportation is less reliable and after Wishes, when lines for buses and other modes of transportation are excruciatingly long. It’s also just one stop away going to the Transportation and Ticket Center, which means transit times to Epcot when time is more important are shortest. Its main disadvantage is the trip back from Epcot, where guests must board the Epcot monorail and then transfer at the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Resort Monorail and then wait four stops to disembark. It also usually shares buses to Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios with another resort.

Beach Club, Yacht Club, and BoardWalk Inn are all in a similar predicament. None usually offers bus transportation to Epcot or Hollywood Studios, which means guests must either walk or take the slow moving boat. Walking to Epcot isn’t a big deal assuming it isn’t raining as each resort is only five to seven minutes away. But the walk to Hollywood Studios takes 20 to 25 minutes and can be pretty brutal in the summer heat and rain. Beach Club and Yacht Club almost always share buses to the other Parks and Downtown Disney, which is another deterrent. BoardWalk Inn is worse with stops at the Swan and Dolphin hotels on nearly every bus trip. On the plus side, the Crescent Lake area offers a lot of dining and entertainment options and those looking to spend most of their time at Epcot are in business.

Grand Floridian falls to last place, though its transportation options are not necessarily abysmal. The best thing it has going for it is being one monorail stop away from Magic Kingdom, which usually makes for quick and convenient visits, through the monorail ride back to the resort after is the longest. Boat transportation to Magic Kingdom and the Polynesian is available, but the boats are very low capacity and waits can easily be 30+ minutes during peak times. Otherwise, the resort always shares buses with at least one other resort on bus trips that are typically longer than any other resort.

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 quick service. Luckily, you can visit Stormalong Bay for a burger or walk to Epcot and visit one of their excellent quick service locations, so there really isn’t that much of a need for a quick 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 quick 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 quick 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 quick 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.

{ 16 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.


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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!!


Sally February 12, 2015 at 11:36 am

I know the Contemporary gets a lot of comments about how it’s not over the top disney or very kid-centric. My kids LOVED the CR (mind you were were staying in the tower facing the lake) The monorail and the ability to watch Wishes from the resort as well as the nightly water parade really do add something special to this resort that seems to be overlooked.


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