What You'll Really Pay

The prices quoted here are for hotels' rack rate, the maximum that it charges; it is, however, seriously unlikely that you'll end up paying that rate in Orlando unless you arrive around Christmas or Easter. You can typically find discounts of up to 20% when booking through websites such as Hotels.com or Expedia. During slow times, it's not impossible to obtain a room at an expensive property for the same rate as a more moderate one.

If you're the gambling type, you can bid for a room on Priceline. One July, a room at the deluxe Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress (rack rates start at $179) was snagged on Priceline for $80. Sometimes all you have to do is contact the hotel directly and negotiate. If you see a low quote online, try asking if the hotel can do better. At the very least, you might be offered the same rate on the spot.

As you might expect, many of the inexpensive properties are the farthest from the action and/or have the most spartan, unimaginative accommodations.

Keep in mind, however, that this isn't one of the world's best bargain destinations. Unlike other Florida tourist areas, there are few under-$90 motels that meet our standards 

Orlando's peak and low seasons are often complicated, as the peak times are sporadically disbursed throughout the calendar. Even remote events such as the International Sweet Potato Growers convention in Orlando can raise off-season prices. These events especially impact moderately priced properties outside WDW.

Keep in mind that rates are per night double unless otherwise noted, and they don't include hotel taxes of up to 14.5%. Also, most Orlando hotels and motels let kids younger than 12 (and usually younger than 17) stay free with a parent or guardian, if you don't exceed maximum room occupancy. But to be safe, ask for details when booking your room.

On Request -- Most hotels offer minifridges, microwaves, cribs, rollaways (or cots), and other similar items upon request -- if they're not already located in your room, that is. Pay special attention to your room's maximum occupancy, because Orlando hotels often charge extra if you try to squeeze more people in. Although some hotels offer these items at no additional charge, others may charge a nightly fee that can run anywhere from just a few dollars to a whopping $25 -- or more -- per night, depending on the item and the resort. Be sure to ask which amenities are included in your room and which are not, as well as what the charges will be should you require such an item during your stay. 

Excess Charges -- Countless Orlando properties now add daily resort fees to their room rates. Though it's essentially a legal version of price gouging, charging for services that used to be included in the rates -- such as use of the pool, admission to the health club, Internet access, self-parking, or in-room coffee or phones -- has become a growing trend. Be sure to ask when you reserve to see if your hotel charges such a fee and, if so, exactly what's included (some may even be optional) so you're not blindsided at checkout.

The Perks of Staying with Mickey

The decision of whether to bunk with the Mouse is one of the first you'll have to make when planning an Orlando vacation. You'll find information on the 36 hotels, resorts, villas, timeshares, and campsites that are owned by Disney or are "official" hotels -- those that are privately owned but have earned Disney's seal of approval. All 36 are in WDW or Lake Buena Vista.

In addition to their proximity to the theme parks, there are other advantages to staying at a Disney property or one of the "official" hotels. The following amenities are included at all Disney resorts; some are offered by the "official" hotels, but be sure to ask when booking:

  • For those without cars, there’s free bus, monorail, new gondola, and ferry transportation throughout the resort. This is the biggest consideration for most people. (Then again, these things are free to everyone at Disney, hotel guest or not.) Guests can use the Disney World app to check transit wait times.
  • Early Entry into the theme parks 30 minutes before the general public. That’s not a lot of time to do much, though, and not everything will be running. This perk is for every Disney hotel guest (and for some hotels around Disney Springs), but only people who pay for Deluxe resorts (the most expensive ones that regularly cost $600–$800 a night) will be offered a few opportunities to keep playing in “select” parks on “select” nights for longer than posted closing time. (The day’s chosen park might not match up with the one you planned to be in that day.) Guests at more expensive resorts are also targeted to receive a few other limited, line-based perks, such as the right to book a few Lightning Lane reservations, but the cash value of those won’t come near the extra amount you paid for the room.
  • Disney transit drops you at the Magic Kingdom gates. Other hotel shuttles deposit you on the other side of the lake, by the parking lot.
  • Every room has a small balcony or patio (except at Value resorts).
  • Disney guests are allowed to charge purchases throughout the resort to your room.
  • The general public has a right to make restaurant reservations 60 days ahead, but if you’re holding a resort reservation, you have the right to increase that lead time by the length of your stay (up to 10 days), giving you a slight edge. Obviously, this perk is useless if you make your hotel booking less than 2 months before your vacation.
  • In-park shopping can be delivered to your room. [pv] (The delivery lag time is such that you should be staying for at least 2 more nights.)
  • Guests get three or four timed kids’ activities a day, albeit some at a charge.
  • Theme park parking is free (but you still have to pay for parking at the hotel).
  • Wake-up calls feature Disney characters.
  • You can purchase soft drink mugs ($20) that you can refill for free the whole time you’re staying at the hotel (and not a minute longer—they’re embedded with computer chips).
But there are also disadvantages to staying with the Mouse:
  • “Free” resort transportation doesn’t mean “fast.” Routes can be circuitous and require changing buses, waits can be aggravating, and you may have to stand.
  • Rates are 40%–70% higher than off-property rooms of comparable quality. So is food.
  • Parking fees for overnight guests aren’t cheap: $15/night at Value hotels, $20/night at Moderate hotels, $25/night at Deluxe ones.
  • Stingy occupancy limits. Room rates are quoted for two people. For more people, add $15–$35 a night (depending on the resort category) for each person age 18 and over up to the room’s stated maximum capacity, so a $119 Value room will in fact be $149 if four people 18 and over stay in it. (One child age 2 and under can stay without being counted toward the occupancy limit.) Value and Moderate resorts cap occupancy at four (not including a babe in a crib) and Deluxe cap at five. Families larger than four must rent two units, doubling the expense, but if you have seven or more people to accommodate, it gets ugly.
  • It’s hard to call the front desk; you’ll usually be routed to the main Disney number with epic waits. You have to go in person. Baggage service may also be impossible.
  • It’s also hard to request a specific room ahead of time; usually, you’ll get your assignment at the check-in desk. In busy times, families with multiple rooms may get split apart.
  • The most affordable Disney hotels don’t have restaurants. They have food courts (burgers, sandwiches, pasta—all at theme park prices of around $14) and the only room service item is pizza. This is less of a problem if you intend to save money by eating off property anyway.
  • Disney resorts are so large (often 2,000 rooms) that lines, even for a cup of coffee, are an endless nuisance and sprawling layouts are confusing to small children, to say nothing of their weary parents. Disney has turned the failing into profit: It charges more for “Preferred” rooms nearer the lobby.
  • The more affordable a room is, the more you could use a rental car. The most expensive resorts are beside the best parks, but Value rooms are about as far from the action as many off-property hotels. The Value resorts, in particular, are a good 15-minute drive from the Magic Kingdom (no farther than a decent vacation home).
  • Safes are tiny (laptops won’t fit). In-room cooking is made difficult in that the most affordable rooms lack microwaves or coffeemakers.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.