Let’s face it, Disney World is a logistical challenge. Since it’s so huge, it takes time and hassle to get from any one point to another. And unfortunately, there really isn’t a hotel that solves this problem.
We’ve tried lots of different things – we’ve stayed on-property at the Port Orleans resort, Caribbean Beach Resort, and the Boardwalk resort, at two off-property time share properties, and have rented a private home. We’ve also visited many other properties, including the Grand Floridian, Wilderness and the Polynesian resorts. We’ve also tried staying at a Universal Studios resort. They all have goods and bads, but a few years ago I’d have said I liked the time share resorts best – they are larger and better value than Disney or Universal hotels, have good pools and are close enough that it was only a 5 or 10 minute drive to a park. House rentals are also good – most have pools and tons of room even for multiple families, but the drives can be 20-30 minutes long. But then we decided to try Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and now that’s the only place we’ll stay.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is a bit far from every park other than the Animal Kingdom, but if you plan to take Disney shuttles, that won’t really matter (bus delays can be very frustrating, but they have nothing to do with how close or far the destination park is). The lobby is gorgeous and so African you will really feel like you’re on vacation. And then, look out the window, because there will be giraffes and zebras and wildebeests right there. If you request a Savannah View (we always do), there will indeed be animals right outside your window, viewable from your balcony. It’s fantastic. There are villas available to book, and we always get a 1 bedroom with kitchen. There’s a king sized bed in the bedroom, a pull out sofa and sleeper chair, both of which are surprisingly comfortable, in the living room. The restaurants at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are also very good (see my post on Disney World restaurants), and the best thing about this resort is the pool. It’s open 24 hours a day, making an after-fireworks dip on a hot day a delicious possibility. You can even see animals in the savannah with night vision goggles near the pool after sunset. This resort just really makes for a nice, not-all-about-the-parks vacation.
So, to sum up…
– The only Disney on-property hotel I can recommend is the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I just don’t like the others – they don’t feel like resorts to me at all, and the service and ambiance is just so-so. Animal Kingdom Lodge, however, is fantastic if it’s within your budget, particularly if you can snag a villa with a kitchen. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge you’ll have your choice of two buildings – Kidani is the time-share-only building, and Jambo is the main hotel, which also has villas. We prefer the vibe and the pool at Jambo house, but Kidani is nice too. It just has more of a ‘condo’ feel than a ‘resort’ feel to me. But if I could only find a room at Kidani, I’d take it.
– If Animal Kingdom Lodge is not in your budget, I would likely pick a nearby villa resort. We’ve stayed at both Sheraton Vistana Resorts (there are two, and it’s very easy to confuse them… they’re both good but we prefered the Sheraton Vistana Villages). You’ll get lots of room, a kitchen, a washer/dryer, nice pool, playgrounds, arcade and a restaurant. And it’s very close by – usually only a 5-10 minute drive from any park, which is about the same distance as if you were staying in any Disney property.
– If you like to stay in a house or are travelling with another family, a home rental is a good option. They’re often huge and the pools are good. They all seem pretty similar – screened-in pools, usually nice furnishings, etc. Look on VRBO or Owner Direct for lots of choices. And they can be really good value. Just watch the distance from Disney or Universal – ours was about 25 minutes away. I think there are some nice ones in Celebration which are much closer and look interesting to me.
Please comment if you’ve got any other great Disney World accommodation suggestions!