Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where Can I Hang My Ears?

In the spirit of getting the basics out of the way so I can move on to more individual experiences and lessons learned, here's generally what I think about where to stay at Disney.

First, to share relevant information, I am currently a Disney Vacation Club member, which dictates my choices to a certain degree now. However, there are exceptions to my rules... so...

I've stayed offsite four times. All experiences were fine. The first was when I was looking for employment (had my car). The second was with a large group (had a charter bus). The third and fourth were at a friend's timeshare (rented a car, then had my own car respectively). You must have your own transportation when you stay offsite. Ignore the "we have a shuttle" line and rent a car or take your own. In many cases, the cost of the hotel and car will not equal what you would have paid onsite anyway, and the convenience and ease of having a car to drive will be well worth it. When budgeting this, do remember Disney charges for you to park there if you are not an onsite guest, and it's not cheap. At the time I am writing this article, the going rate is $12 per day.

Tip for parking: If you buy your theme park tickets (or at least one of them) from AAA, you can get their Diamond Parking pass. This pass doesn't give you any sort of discount on parking, but it does get you into a reserved section that is easily walkable to the gates. You can avoid the parking tram and get to the gates that much faster. This benefit is best if you plan to arrive at the parks early in the morning, before park opening

Staying offsite is totally feasible and will not ruin your vacation. It's also very affordable, and in some cases (such as a vacation home rental) can be more luxury for less money than onsite. But I do still feel strongly about staying onsite. Disney is an immersive experience, and personally, I prefer to stay immersed.

So, if staying onsite... I've heard our friends over at WDWToday talk about how important it is to have your own car even when onsite. I do see some advantages, yes, but don't freak out about it. If you want to spend the extra money to stay onsite, but then want to cut corners other ways, don't stress over the car. The Disney buses aren't private shuttles, but they'll get you there and back... and you're on vacation! When I'm alone, I read a book while waiting. When I have the kids, we sing songs and play games. It's fine.

So then, as far as actual living quarters... I have experienced two of the Value resorts (that is to say, the cheap ones). Those are Pop Century and All Star Music. I enjoyed my stay both times and was pleasantly surprised at the size of the rooms. Although the rooms are smaller than other rooms in more expensive resorts, space is used to its maximum potential. If you cannot rent or bring a car, I would choose Pop Century. But if you have a car with you, the All Star Resorts will do just fine.

So why would you spend more money to stay at one of the nicer resorts? I've upgraded to moderate for romantic vacations and for trips with small children. The rooms are bigger and they have a small fridge provided for milk, water, and sodas. Plus, the value resorts don't have some of the nicer resort facilities. King size beds are rare and spas (hot tubs) at the pool are completely missing--two things you might really want if you are two adults traveling for a romantic getaway. Moderates offer these amenities.

Moderates are really very nice. If you have five in your family, you almost have to start with one of these, as value rooms only sleep four (unless you want two rooms or one of the suites that All-Star Music now offers). I wasn't wild about the French Quarter at Port Orleans or Riverside (although I experienced it long ago when it was called Dixie Landings). They were okay... but nothing to write home about. However, we recently stayed at Coronado Springs and the place was just lovely. You have to be wiling to walk, but you're walking anyway. It's so quiet and serene... we just loved it. (Walking is to be expected at the value resorts as well, and even in the deluxes in some cases). Caribbean Beach is also nice. It's very similar to Coronado Springs, but I didn't like the ambiance there as much.

Deluxe resorts are my favorite. I love to indulge... I admit it, and these resorts are indulgent. Part of why we invested in the Disney Vacation Club is so that we could stay at these resorts often. I've stayed at the Polynesian loooooooooooooong ago, and friends just recently stayed there and invited us to hang out for a few hours. It's fabulous. We've also done the Boardwalk (Inn and Villas) and we've now enjoyed the lobby of the Yacht Club. We've stayed at the Wilderness Lodge Villas and we've eaten at the Grand Floridian many times, in addition to experiencing the spas there and at Saratoga Springs. The Contemporary Magic Kingdom view rooms are absolute paradise for someone like me who loves to wake up to see the castle. I could lie in bed and watch the fireworks. Talk about magic.

So if you really want to immerse yourself in luxury, go deluxe. Even (and especially) with kids... as you will spend more time in your room when you have young children than when they are older. It's the preteens who can stay at the Value resorts... where they will pound the park all day into the night, then collapse in the evening to do it all again tomorrow. My advice... look at your wallet, then pick the resort based on how much relaxing v. how much Theme Parking you plan to do.

So share with us your thoughts about the pros and cons of the deluxe, moderate, and value resorts. What questions do you have?


Ms. Joyner said...

I'm in total agreement with the "must stay on Disney property" train of thought! To me, Disney is a whole experience. With the amount of money being spent, even staying off site, I want to be immersed in relaxation and entertainment every moment of our vacation. I also want to make sure that there's something that appeals to everyone in our party and staying at a Disney resort takes care of that! For example, we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge last year. There are cartoons in the lobby that my 5-year-old loved. Also, Uzima pool with the slide appealed to her and me and my Dad. Then of course there's the overlooks where you can enjoy watching the animals. That appealed to all of us. There was live African music and other activities that we all enjoyed. Then my Mom particularly enjoyed the fire pits, inside and outside. It's worth saving until you can stay on Disney property! I'll never go again and stay off site!!!

Tom said...

My wife and I celebrated our 10th Anniversary at Riverside. I requested a room with a King Room. Both of us were totally pleased with this resort. Quiet, beautiful, etc. Well worth the extra as compared to a Value Resort

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