Advertisement
Share

A World of Lodging at Disney World : Florida park’s new, less- expensive resorts still cost more than most off-site hotels. But they offer hard-to-beat convenience.

</i>

Walt Disney World has expanded so much in the last couple of years that anyone who hasn’t visited in four years or so might find the new additions downright dizzying.

New attractions include MGM Studios, Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island--and another new theme park based on turn-of-the-century Atlantic City is slated to open in the next year. And whereas tourists who wanted to stay inside the park once had a clear-cut choice between the tropical Polynesian Resort, the towering Contemporary or the rustic Fort Wilderness Campground, today’s visitors have to choose among more than a dozen on-site resorts, each with a unique atmosphere.

The first questions you’re probably asking are: Is there really a difference between staying on-site and staying off? And, is it worth the price?

Advertisement

The answer to both questions is “yes"--especially since the recent openings of three “moderately priced” (about $100 a night) hotels on Disney premises.

There are some financial advantages to staying off-site, of course: Hotels are much cheaper and often come with free breakfast and in-room pay-per-view movies (which Disney hotels lack). Also, eating most meals off Walt Disney World premises will cost less and probably satisfy more.

But those who plan to spend the majority of their time touring Walt Disney World will appreciate the advantages of staying on-site.

The most obvious advantage is the commute--or lack thereof. The in-park transportation system is a network of monorails, boats, trams and buses that drop you right at the gates of the Magic Kingdom (or wherever), bypassing the monorail to the parking lot. The system is so efficient that people staying on-site need never get into their cars--unless they take a day or two to tour other Orlando attractions such as Sea World or Universal Studios. Even if you do drive, you won’t have to pay for parking at Walt Disney World theme parks or hotels, a savings of $4 or more per day for on-site guests.

Disney resort guests also have the advantage of early admission (up to an hour) to the theme parks--giving them a valuable jump on the crowds during the jam-packed peak seasons. Resort guests also have access to the free Disney films shown nightly at some Disney hotel theaters--and can purchase “Be Our Guest” theme park tickets at a slight discount.

The atmosphere at Walt Disney World-operated hotels is infectiously pleasant. “It’s like you never have to leave the theme parks,” said one recent Dixie Landings visitor. The Disney touch is evident in every room, from the antique pictures on the walls at the budget-priced Port Orleans, to the live parrots in the lobby of the Polynesian resort.

Every Disney hotel offers basic amenities like Mickey Mouse soap and shampoo; CNN, The Disney Channel, and a special Walt Disney World channel on TV (pay-per-view movies are conspicuously absent); room cleanliness that borders on fanatical, and odd little pleasant surprises, such as the soft, pleasant music that greets you with your morning wake-up call, or the Disney characters drawn into the sand on the beaches every morning.

Finally, there is the unspoken guarantee that when you’re staying on-site you don’t have to deal with reality at all. You can just unpack your things, catch the nearest Disney transport, and relax without ever having to hassle with the minor unpleasantries of life. If something isn’t right, Disney staff will make it right. That’s one of the best things about staying here.

THE THREE ‘CHEAP’ HOTELS

With the opening of the Caribbean Beach Resort several years ago, Disney World went into direct competition with the low-priced hotels along the major Orlando strips. On-site prices aren’t really cheap (an off-site motel can go for as little as $30 a night; the cheapest Disney hotel still costs about three times as much), but at around $100 a night, the “budget” hotels are the most affordable accommodations on WDW property.

Each of the moderately priced hotels has a different theme, but they do have certain things in common:

* Because the budget hotels are in relatively out-of-the-way places, you really need a car to get to the parks easily, especially if you have kids. Buses are plentiful and very reliable, but can still be problematic for families who don’t want to drag sleeping children off, then hike back to their rooms.

* Room service is limited to pizza delivery--the closest thing in Disney World to New York-style pizza--but this service generally closes by midnight. There are also fewer on-site restaurants than there are in the expensive hotels--especially at the Caribbean Beach, where the lines at the food court are legendary.

* None of the budget hotels of fers on-site kids’ clubs (although the Neverland Club at the Polynesian is open to all children staying at Walt Disney World resorts). In-room sitting is available through Fairy Godmothers Inc., but it’s not as much fun for the kids as the supervised play areas in other hotels.

CARIBBEAN BEACH RESORT: The first of the Disney budget hotels, the Caribbean Beach actually is a group of island-themed resort buildings clustered around a large central swimming pool. The rooms are cheerful and nicely decorated, and while smaller than those in the pricier hotels, they accommodate up to four people comfortably. The island playground in the middle of the lagoon is photogenic, but it really doesn’t offer kids a lot to do. Smaller pools and playgrounds let guests take a quick dip without having to leave their own islands.

Getting food is inconvenient in the off-season and almost impossible during peak touring times. The lone fast-food court by the pool is a hike for guests in the outer islands--and during evening buffets (given once a week or more) it isalmost impossible to buy a cup of coffee, or milk for the baby’s bottle, unless you plunk down $15-$20 for access to the “unlimited buffet.”

The Caribbean Beach is pretty enough, and the staff is typically pleasant, but it doesn’t offer as much atmosphere as the newer Port Orleans and Dixie Landings resorts.

THE PORT ORLEANS: This resort, on the other hand, boasts so much charm and so many delightful surprises that it’s a mini-vacation in itself. A Dixieland band entertains guests in the cobblestoned main courtyard, and the gift shop features Cajun spices and Mardi Gras-style feathered masks among the Mickey and Goofy paraphernalia.

The main restaurant/food court is lively with New Orleans-style atmosphere. It features sit-down restaurants, shopping and a small selection of takeout goodies. Strolling through the grounds, guests come upon unexpected delights like whimsical statuettes just off the main walk, or street signs with names like Rue D’Baga.

One of the most striking features of the Port Orleans is its spectacular swimming pool. This is actually a series of lagoons bridged by a serpent’s ridged back. In the main pool, the dragon itself rises from the deep with King Neptune astride its back, and guests can slide down the beast’s tongue into the pool.

DIXIE LANDINGS: The newest of the budget hotels, the Dixie Landings is two distinct resorts grouped together. The Magnolia Rooms are similar to the decor in the Port Orleans: a bit antiquish, and very comfortable; while the Bayou Rooms are downright folksy, all wicker and patchwork and down-home charm.

The beds have thick mattresses set over wooden platforms, and are among the most comfortable we’ve slept on in any hotel--in Disney World or elsewhere. A jazz band entertains in the main courtyard, and the staff is dressed to look like residents of a Southern plantation. The “bayou” waters are realistically muddy, and there’s even a spot to angle for live catfish in the middle of Old Man River Island at the center of the resort.

The Dixie Landings, Port Orleans, and Disney’s time-sharing co-op, Disney’s Vacation Club Resort, share boat service direct to Pleasure Island. This is a boon to guests who may have been sampling the various drinks at Pleasure Island and don’t want to drive back themselves.

THE MONORAIL HOTELS

These are the most famous of the Disney hotels, and they’re the most convenient choices for visitors who’ll be spending the majority of their time at the Magic Kingdom. The monorail offers the fastest way to get to the MK, although the trip to Epcot requires a change of monorail at the Transportation and Ticket Center. The monorail hotels share another, less-used route to the Magic Kingdom: a pleasant boat ride across the lagoon.

THE GRAND FLORIDIAN: This hotel is spectacularly grand, with the most formal atmosphere of any WDW resort. A huge chandelier is the centerpiece of the huge atrium lobby, and classic tunes from a grand piano serenade guests throughout the day.

The Grand Floridian houses the most elegant restaurant on WDW premises, Victoria and Albert’s, where formality is the rule (jackets for men, evening attire for ladies) and there are no menus. The entire dinner is changed daily; a souvenir menu of that day’s culinary delights is given to every diner. The rooms are beautifully appointed and spacious, and the stores offer high-end Disney merchandise as well as other top-of-the-line goodies. Twenty-four-hour room service is available, and the menu is extensive.

All that elegance doesn’t come cheap, though. The Grand Floridian is the most expensive Disney-owned hotel, starting at over $200 a night and going way up from there.

THE POLYNESIAN: With a reputation for drawing repeat visitors, the Polynesian has a casual, tropical decor that’s comfortable for families with young kids, but it also offers enough romantic ambience for couples. The waterfall at the main entrance sets the tropical mood, which is carried through by the wicker and live parrots in the lobby of the Great Ceremonial House. The Polynesian’s Neverland Club is a pricey but very popular dinner activity for children only. For $7 an hour (4-hour minimum), the kids eat a buffet of hot dogs, pizza, French fries and other favorites, and are treated to a visit from a favorite Disney character, an animal from the petting zoo, and other scheduled entertainment. Play areas are unique, with Indian teepees to explore and a free arcade housed inside a pirate ship. For many kids, the Neverland Club is one of their favorite attractions at the park.

Because of its easy walking distance to the Transportation and Ticket Center, the Polynesian is the most convenient of all Walt Disney World properties. As with the Contemporary and the Grand Floridian, the monorail or boat launch goes directly to the Magic Kingdom. For a monorail hotel, thePolynesian is relatively inexpensive (rooms start at about $180 per night, less for stockholders during off-season).

THE CONTEMPORARY: The bustling, urban feel of the Contemporary appeals to people looking for the most excitement and activity for their bucks, although for some urbanites the noise of the monorail running through the inside of the A-shaped atrium may sound uncomfortably close to home.

Food at the Contemporary is plentiful and relatively inexpensive: The dinner buffet is a good choice for families with lots of big eaters. The Contemporary also features an extensive breakfast buffet with the Disney characters; the Broadway at the Top dinner show is a good bet if your feet are tired and you like show tunes.

The Contemporary also houses an extensive arcade area, featuring the usual assortment of video games, a few high-tech surprises, and even a caricature booth for an unusual souvenir. The main atrium houses a monorail stop, and on the lower level shopping varies from the usual Disney sundries to high-end boutiques. The tower rooms are the most expensive, but the convenience of taking an elevator to the monorail makes the extra cost worth considering. Rooms in the low-lying outer buildings are less expensive, but less convenient as well.

THE EPCOT/MGM HOTELS If you plan to spend most of your time at Epcot Center or MGM, the Epcot hotels are the most convenient. They’re a short tram ride from the new entrance to Epcot located behind the France pavilion in the World Showcase, and an equally easy ride to MGM studios aboard a pleasant boat.

Since Epcot and MGM stay open later than the Magic Kingdom--sometimes by three hours--the Beach Club is a good choice for families with small children. The Swan and Dolphin are home to the largest conference facilities in the U.S., and the atmosphere in both is decidedly adult. Drinks are served in the lobby; in-room, sometimes R-rated movies are offered on a pay-per-view basis, and even the stores offer fewer toys and more merchandise geared for adults.

However, all Epcot resorts feature on-site child care centers and regularly scheduled character breakfasts. Children are welcome everywhere, of course, and even the sophisticated Swan has been tinkering with its menus and services to cater more to the family crowd.

DISNEY’S YACHT AND BEACH CLUB RESORTS: The two hotels share a beach which features a fantasy swimming lagoon and the centerpiece of the water area: a beached shipwreck with a water slide in its center. Boats of all kinds are available for rent and, of course, drinks are available beachside. The water area is so gorgeous and so varied that you probably won’t want to bother with a trip to Typhoon Lagoon.

The grey clapboard Yacht Club has a formal atmosphere that, while not quite as elegant as the Grand Floridian, still makes it daunting to families with lots of young, rowdy kids. For honeymooners, older families and business travelers attending one of the many conferences at the Swan and Dolphin next door, the Yacht Club is a nice alternative--especially for members of the Magic Kingdom Club, who can receive significant discounts (10%-30%) off the price of their rooms.

The pale blue Beach Club has a more casual air evocative of eastern seaboard resorts of the late 1800s. Lobby furniture is wicker; stores sell more bathing suits and less golf attire. This is the better choice for young families and for anyone who’d rather not have to dress for dinner.

The Yacht and Beach Clubs feature all the amenities, including a character breakfast, several serviceable restaurants (one boasts a huge aquarium), 24-hour room service, and on-site child care facilities.

Prices are premium, but then, so is the location: The Beach Club is literally next door to the back-door entrance to Epcot Center.

THE SWAN AND DOLPHIN: The Swan and Dolphin hotels are not operated by Disney and have different management styles.

On the plus side: Both hotels offer extensive room service and food that’s far superior to the bland fare at Disney-operated hotels, and, unlike Disney-owned hotels, here you’ll find real pay-per-view movies for nights when your feet just won’t move another step. Most importantly, the Swan and Dolphin host a lot of conferences; if you’re attending one, your commute is limited to a short elevator ride.

On the minus side: Guests at the Dolphin and Swan have no charge privileges that guests at WDW resorts enjoy. You can’t sign off a dinner in Epcot to your room, or for that matter, even sign for a magazine in the WDW-owned gift shop in your own hotel.

Pools are shared by both resorts. The most interesting is a free-form unheated pool with a waterfall. The basic lap pool is heated. At either pool, guests are treated to the thickest and most luxurious towels in all WDW.

A very confusing floor plan in the Tower section, and the lack of any direction signs, make staying at the Dolphin an adventure in itself. You may be tempted to drop a trail of bread crumbs to ensure your path back to your room. The decor is also strangely out of sync with the dolphin theme.

The rooms are standard-issue, with smallish bathrooms (by Disney standards) and all the usual amenities. On-site child care is available as well, with a schedule of planned activities and a kids-only dinner that gives parents some free time together.

The room service is absolutely outstanding--our “best bet” is the steak sandwich with fried onions.

However, many Dolphin employees seem to have missed the sprinkling of pixie dust that makes all the other WDW hotel staffers so darned nice. One recent visitor to the Dolphin referred to it jokingly as “where the magic never begins.” The Dolphin is run by Sheraton.

The Swan is operated by Westin, which is part-owned by a Japanese conglomerate. Its atmosphere and style are decidedly Japanese as well, from the quiet atmosphere of the lobby to the polite efficiency of the hotel staff. A sushi bar and a Japanese-breakfast option instead of the breakfast buffet cater to the large number of Japanese tourists who stay here.

Compared to the maze at the Dolphin, the Swan is much easier to navigate. Hallways are straight and well-marked, and elevators announce your floor in a clear robotic voice. The Swan is downright Disneyesque in its attention to detail. Swan shapes decorate the sand in the ashtrays, and the rooms are whimsically decorated in a pineapple motif. Rooms are small by comparison with Disney-owned luxury hotels.

The food is excellent at both hotels, but if you’re planning a conference or just want the best adult-oriented hotel, the Swan is the better of the two.

THE REST OF THE WORLD DISNEY INN: The Disney Inn is the only major Disney resort without access to some kind of waterway. But what it lacks in water sports, it makes up for in golf--it’s situated right between the top-rated Magnolia and Palm golf courses. The rooms are large but uninspired, kind of like what you’d imagine in last year’s Sears catalogue, and the bathrooms are on the small side.

Families with small children might find the lack of kids’ activities stifling, and the cost is relatively high considering that the nearest beach is at the Polynesian.

DISNEY’S FORT WILDERNESS: Although it’s not located along the monorail, Fort Wilderness is a sprawling complex of campsites and trailer homes set up in the woods across the lake from the Magic Kingdom. It’s a short boat ride to the main gates, and if you’re willing to rough it a little, Fort Wilderness offers some of the best values in Walt Disney World.

Pitch your own tent for $35 a night, or rent a motor home hookup or even a one-bedroom trailer home (with full maid service) for under $200. Full or partial hookups are available for people driving their own recreational vehicles.

Trailer homes have fully equipped kitchens, and outdoor barbecuing space lets families save by cooking at least some of their meals themselves. Fort Wilderness is the best place to let your rowdy pre-teens run loose. Nightly campfire programs feature visits by Disney characters, and you can do all that down-home country stuff like ride a horse, paddle a canoe, or experience a hayride--and still be a short boat ride from the gates of the Magic Kingdom.

FW’s Pioneer Hall also hosts the Hoop-de-Doo Revue, WDW’s most popular dinner theater. For about $100 for a family of four, guests are treated to an old Western-style saloon show (G-rated, of course) and a down-home dinner of chicken, cornbread and ribs. Reservations are extremely hard to get.

DISNEY VILLAGE RESORT: These accommodations are located off the beaten theme park path, but their spot next to Lake Buena Vista golf course gives them a special appeal to golfers. It’s a short hop to Disney Village shopping, and Pleasure Island. Golf carts can be rented to ease travel around the sprawling property.

One and two bedroom accommodations offer full kitchens, which can be a boon to families who don’t want to spend a lot on meals. Food can be ordered in a somewhat pricey supermarket in Disney Village Marketplace and delivered right to the kitchen.

Multi-bedroom suites are available for large families, but the price is so exorbitant it’s probably better for all but the biggest families to reserve a block of rooms at, say, the Port Orleans instead.

DISNEY’S VACATION CLUB RESORT: Built as a flexible time-share co-op, these units are available for rent when not in use by owners. The Vacation Club atmosphere is modeled after Key West, but without the eccentrics, and offers basic water sports, a private beach, proximity to a brand-new golf course, and a short boat ride direct to Pleasure Island.

The resort offers accommodations ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. The studios are a bit pricey for what you get: A room with a coffee maker and small private balcony is nice, but not anything truly special. The out-of-the-way location (boat to Pleasure Island; bus everywhere else) is tolerable for $100 a night.

The larger units are a good deal for large families or family reunions, since they recreate the intimacy of a family den but still offer the privacy of separate rooms. Units with one or more bedrooms also offer full kitchens, and the TV boasts its own VCR.

STILL TO COME

A number of other hotels are in various stages of planning and construction. These include Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, near the Magic Kingdom; the all-suite Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, which will be located next to the Swan and the planned Boardwalk theme park; the budget-priced All Star Music and All Star Sports hotels, and a new luxury monorail hotel based thematically on Mediterranean Islands.

The Best

Disney

Hotels for . . .

Honeymooners: Port Orleans or Dixie Landings, The Grand Floridian, The Contemporary.

Golfers: Disney Village, Disney’s Vacation Club Resort, The Disney Inn.

Families With Young Children: The Polynesian, The Yacht and Beach Club, The Contemporary, Port Orleans or Dixie Landings.

Large or Extended Families: Disney Village Resorts, Disney’s Vacation Club Resort, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort (opening 1994), Fort Wilderness.

Business Travelers: The Walt Disney World Swan, The Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.

Walt Disney World 1. Grand Floridian Beach Resort 2. Polynesian Resort 3. Disney Inn 4. Contemporary Resort 5. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge 6. Fort Wilderness Campground Resort 7. Yacht Club Resort 8. Beach Club Resort 9. Dolphin Hotel 10. Swan Hotel 11. Disney’s All-Star Resorts 12. Caribbean Beach Resort 13. Disney’s Vacation Club Resort 14. Disney’s Village Resort 15. Port Orleans Resort 16. Dixie Landing Resort

GUIDEBOOK

Disney on a Budget

How to save money on your Walt Disney World vacation:

* Call Central Reservations (407-934-7639) just before you go to see what rooms are on special. When the Port Orleans first opened, visitors were charged around $80 for the first night--but once they were there, every night they added was only $55 extra.

* Join the Magic Kingdom Club, or check to see if your company is already a corporate member. Members get discounts on park tickets and vacation packages.

* Comparison shop. Don’t book a big package unless you plan to use almost all the features. If your package includes meals, realize that you’ll have to eat them in full-service restaurants (dinner shows count). Fast-food meals in the theme parks are generally not included. Arranging the trip a la carte usually costs less in the long run.

* Bring your own diapers, film, cigarettes, suntan oil and insect repellent. You can get all these items on-site. But it’ll cost you!

* Don’t develop your film until you get home. Two-hour service is available, but expensive, all over Walt Disney World. Waiting a few days to see pictures of little Timmy on Dumbo will save you enough money to spring for a couple of souvenir portraits at Foto Toons.


Advertisement