In & Around Walt Disney World
The resorts in this section are either Disney-owned or "official" Disney hotels that offer many of the same perks. All are on the Disney Transportation System, which means those of you who don't want to venture too far (and are okay with the occasional scheduling inconvenience) will be able to do without a car. If you do decide to bring or rent a car, you'll get free self-parking at your hotel and at the Disney parks.
If you decide that Disney is your destination, come up with a short list of preferred places to stay, and then call CRO (tel. 407/934-7639) for up-to-the-minute rates. Web surfers can get information at www.disneyworld.com.
Those who come by auto will find large signs along all of the major roads on Disney property pointing the way to the various resorts. You'll find these hotels listed on the "Walt Disney World & Lake Buena Vista Hotels" map in this section.
Individual resorts don't have their own golf courses, but WDW has 99 holes situated along the northern end of the property. The same goes for kennels; resort guests can board their pets during the day or overnight at Disney's Best Friends Pet Care center. The luxury pet facility (opened in the summer of 2010) caters to the pampered-pet set and is centrally located on the Bonnet Creek Parkway (and replaces the numerous facilities once located near the theme-park entrances). The new kennel offers a wide range of services and amenities, the most basic of which include day care, grooming, and overnight boarding.
Rates vary depending on season and room location, but the numbers should help you determine which places fit your budget.
Note: Most hotels and resorts, Disney or otherwise, have a limited number of cribs (or portable cribs) available at no extra charge. Rollaway beds or cots are usually available for around $10 to $25 per night. Refrigerators (mini ones, anyway) are sometimes available, though some hotels may charge up to $15 per night for the privilege. All Orlando hotels also offer nonsmoking rooms (while offering at least some rooms for smokers), and all of Disney's hotels went smoke-free in 2007, with all three of Universal Orlando's resorts following suit on May 11, 2011 (they do, however, offer a small number of designated outdoor smoking areas).
Best for: Visitors who intend on spending all (or at least most) of their time at Walt Disney World.
Drawbacks: Prices are often much higher for the most desirable accommodations (those closest to the theme parks); and Disney transportation, albeit free, can be difficult to manage with kids, strollers and all the associated gear -- not to mention painstakingly slow, depending on the location of your resort.
When a WDW Property Is Not a WDW Property -- As mentioned earlier, there are nine "official" Disney hotels that aren't owned by Disney itself. That's true. But there are a couple of asterisks. The Walt Disney World Swan and the Walt Disney World Dolphin have the Walt Disney name and are located right on the WDW resort property; they're not Disney-owned resorts, but are still considered "official" resorts.
Wired to the Rest of the World -- All Disney resorts are wired for high-speed Internet access. A fee of $9.95 per 24-hour period applies to use the service. Be sure to check if your resort has a preselected "start" time, often the midafternoon, or you may find yourself being charged twice in a single day, depending on when you sign up for the service. Select Disney resorts (mostly in the very expensive range) offer limited Wi-Fi access (most only in public areas) for a 24-hour period at a rate of $9.95, or 60 minutes at $5. Note: At press time, Disney was in the midst of testing a free Wi-Fi pilot program at select resorts (Contemporary, Coronado Springs, and the Grand Floridian) to determine whether it should expand Wi-Fi to other areas of the hotels.
Value in the Eyes of the Beholder -- Disney's All-Star and Pop Century resorts charge a "preferred room" rate, but don't expect much for the top rate of $179. Guests who book it are paying for location: Preferred rooms are closer to the pools, food court, and/or transportation. If you've got a rental car or don't mind walking, don't bother paying extra; some of the quietest rooms at the All-Stars are the standard ones (those farthest from the action).
Taking Luxury to an All-New Level -- The Waldorf Astoria Orlando (tel. 800/925-3673 or 407/597-5500; www.waldorfastoriaorlando.com) opened its doors in 2010. The grandeur and elegance of the original Waldorf Astoria in New York City is not lost at this, the second of only four Waldorf Astoria resorts in the world (the others are located in Park City, Utah; Shanghai; and, of course, New York). The property boasts an impressive address, shared with the area's newest Hilton -- the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek (tel. 407/597-3600; www.hiltonbonnetcreek.com). It's surrounded on three sides by Walt Disney World and nestled against the natural beauty of the Bonnet Creek Nature Preserve. The lavish hotel brings with it luxuriously appointed rooms and suites, unmatched personalized service (including an elite concierge team), a formal cabana-lined pool (with access to the lazy river and less formal family-friendly pool and play area at the neighboring Hilton), a Guerlain Spa, a championship golf course, a slew of dining options, and a children's program -- oh, and did I mention private transportation to Disney?
Kidani Village, Also Known As the Villas at Disney's Animal Kingdom -- Kidani Village, the second and final phase of the Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas, began welcoming its first guests in 2009 (with half of the village villas opening in May, the remaining villas in Oct). Built adjacent to Jambo House (the existing Animal Kingdom Lodge -- which also houses two floors of Vacation Club villas), the Kidani Village, which shares amenities with the Lodge, also features its own full-service restaurant (Sanna -- an artistically inspired eatery with an intimate atmosphere and a menu of African-inspired cuisine with an Indian twist), its own recreational facilities, a fitness center, and an extensive themed pool and water-play area. For all the details, or to book a room, go online to www.disneyworld.com or call tel. 407/939-6244.
Official Hotels in Lake Buena Vista
These properties, designated "official" Walt Disney World hotels, are located on and around Hotel Plaza Boulevard, which puts them at the northeast corner of WDW. They're close to Downtown Disney Marketplace, Downtown Disney West Side, and Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf). The boulevard has been landscaped with enough greenery to make it a contestant for Main Street, U.S.A.
Guests at these hotels enjoy some WDW privileges, including free bus service to the parks, but be sure to ask when booking which privileges you'll get, because they do vary from hotel to hotel. Their locations put you close to the parks, and even closer to the action of Downtown Disney, but, unlike the resorts on WDW property, which occupy their own completely separate areas, the hotels here are set along a tree-lined boulevard. Traffic can be a frustration, as the boulevard is a main access route to Downtown Disney from the outside world. Also note that the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Walt Disney World Swan (listed earlier) should be considered the eighth and ninth of the "official" hotels because they're not Disney-owned. The difference is they're located directly on WDW property.
Another perk of the "official" hotels is that they generally offer a less intense Mickey ambience, although some do offer character breakfasts a few days each week (call the reservations line for details and schedules). Decide for yourself if that's a plus or a minus.
You can make reservations for these properties through the CRO (tel. 407/934-7639) or through the direct hotel numbers included in the listings. To ensure you get the best rates, however, call the hotel or its parent chain directly to see if there are special rates or packages available.
Best for: Visitors who want to stay close to Disney (and take advantage of many of the perks associated with staying at one of Disney's resorts) without having to pay as high a price tag as those staying right on property, and those who prefer a more central location that ensures they can easily access Orlando's various offerings with ease and are not relegated to remaining solely at the Mouse's House.
Drawbacks: Its proximity to Downtown Disney (and all roads leading to Disney's theme parks and attractions) ensures that traffic is often very congested. Its popularity (rooms here book up well in advance) also ensures that area shops and restaurants remain busy from midafternoon (earlier if the weather is poor) until closing, which translates into a lengthy wait to dine (especially when staying here during peak season).
Around Lake Buena Vista
These hotels are within a few minutes' drive of the WDW parks. They offer a great location but not the Disney-related privileges given to guests in the "official" hotels, such as Disney bus service and character breakfasts. On the flip side, because you're not paying for those privileges, hotels in this category are generally a shade less expensive for comparable rooms and services. See the listings in Orlando for these hotels.
Best for: Visitors on a tighter budget will find that their choices are far greater the farther they venture from Disney. Those not concerned with financial constraints but who simply wish to remain farther away from all of the action (and traffic) associated with staying near Disney, or those who may only be spending a small amount of time with Mickey, will find an array of upscale, recreation-rich accommodations from which to choose.
Drawbacks: Staying farther away means having to either drive to the parks (and pay the hefty parking fees) or take a shuttle (which may or may not be free, but is definitely on a predetermined schedule that you will have to follow to the letter if you want to get back to your hotel).
A Marriott Montage -- The December 2000 christening of the Marriott Village at Lake Buena Vista, 8623 Vineland Ave., Orlando, FL 32821 (www.orlando2stay.com; tel. 877/682-8552 or 407/938-9001), brought together three of the flagship's properties in a cluster just east of Lake Buena Vista, 3 miles from WDW. In 2007, extensive renovations ensured the village remains appealing and up-to-date. The resort includes a 400-room SpringHill Suites ($116-$211 double; free continental breakfast), a 388-room Fairfield Inn ($107-$199 double; free continental breakfast), and a 312-room Courtyard by Marriott ($125-$224 double). Children younger than 17 stay free in a parent's room, and an extra person costs an additional $10.
Wi-Fi is available at all three resorts for an additional fee (in-room at the Fairfield; in the public areas at the Courtyard and Springhill Suites), and all rooms have free high-speed Internet access, PlayStations, and fridges (the SpringHill Suites also has microwaves, and the Fairfield features 48 bunk-bed suites for families). Each resort has its own pool and play area (the Courtyard features an indoor/outdoor pool with an interactive splash zone for the kids), though guests may use whichever pool they choose. The fitness center, Hertz rental-car desk (located at the Courtyard), arcade, and Marketplace are also shared. All offer transportation for a fee ($11-$30 per person per day) to Disney and non-Disney parks. There are three restaurants within walking distance, as well as an array of on-the-go and snack-style eateries located right in the village itself. To get here, take I-4, exit 68, Hwy. 535/Apopka-Vineland Road; head south to Vineland, and then go left for a half-mile to the village. There's free self-parking at this gated property.
If you want to enjoy the amenities and service of a Disney resort but can't do without some beach time, the Disney Vacation Club offers visitors the option of renting a room just 2 hours south of WDW at its Vero Beach Resort (tel. 407/939-7775; www.dvcresorts.com), directly on the Atlantic Ocean, with sand, surf, and all the Disney trimmings included. Studios, standard rooms, one- and two-bedroom villas, and three-bedroom cottages are all available, ranging from about $190 to $1,175 per night. You will need to arrange your own transportation.
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.