Staying onsite -- whether it's at one of the lavish hotels on the monorail line or the casual comfort of the more economical value resorts -- makes a big difference. For starters, you won't need a car once you arrive at your hotel as Disney's transportation system of buses, monorails and boats will shuttle you back and forth from all four theme parks, both water parks, Downtown Disney and the other resort hotels.
Another major perk is that in 2002 Disney rolled out Extra Magic Hours, exclusively for resort guests. On any given day Disney opens a single park an hour early -- along with many of the park's signature attractions -- only to resort guests. It's Epcot on Wednesdays, Magic Kingdom on Thursdays and Sundays, Animal Kingdom on Mondays and Fridays and Disney-MGM Studios on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Even if you're not an early riser it is worth doing at least once as you will have very short lines at the popular attraction. So, what are you waiting for? Check them out and book your stay online before your hotel of choice sells out.
Disney's Pop Century Resort - Disney World's newest resort is also one of its most affordable. In buildings themed to pop culture relics over each of the past few decades, be on the lookout for giant-sized Big Wheels and a foosball game.
Disney's All-Star Movies - Staying true to the theme of big props to spice up a typical motor lodge setting that you will find at all four of Disney's Value Resorts, this one is themed to Disney's spin on Hollywood. If you have Buzz Lightyear or Woody fan in the clan, ask to stay in the Toy Story area. Dog lovers? Why not 101 Dalmatians. Either way, all three All Star resorts are located just off Osceola Parkway on the Southwest side of Disney's property -- right by Animal Kingdom and Blizzard Beach.
Disney's All-Star Sports - The closest All-Star to the Osceola exit, when you check in ask if you can stay in the football or surfing areas if you want to stay close to the foodcourt and bus stop. Beyond that, the prettiest buildings are in the baseball area where a diamond-shaped pool with Goofy in the middle of it all on the pitching mound and soft organ music playing all add to the cool atmosphere.
Disney's All-Star Music - From jazz to rock to country-western, buildings here are themed to various music genres. While the room sizes at all of the value resorts are identical -- as are the nightly rates -- they may be smaller than the more costly resorts but if you are on a budget, it's the perfect place to save some money. Besides, how long were you going to be in your room anyway? You're in Disney World!
Coronado Springs - Disney has two hotels with convention facilities. While the iconic Contemporary is one, this is the other. Situated near Downtown Disney and Typhoon Lagoon water park, this Southwestern themed resort also features a market-style foodcourt area.
Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter- These sister resorts, side by side along a gentle river that floats up to Downtown Disney, didn't used to be so close. The original Port Orleans was a colorful tribute to Mardi Gras in New Orleans while Dixie Landings -- now Riverside -- was filled with rustic swamp and elegant plantation style buildings. Nothing's changed, just the name as "Dixie" became politically incorrect so Disney renamed the complex. This is a great resort choice for nightlife seekers and eager shoppers as a leisurely boat ride will connect guests at the resorts to the Pleasure Island, Marketplace and West End areas of Downtown Disney.
Caribbean Beach Resort - No, you won't find much of a beach here. Disney is landlocked from the Florida coastlines. However, each resort does have a worthy pool area. Naturally themed to the tropical Caribbean islands, this was one of Disney's first resort hotels beyond the higher-priced locations on the monorail line itself.
Moderately Upscale Resorts
Wilderness Lodge - Complete with a spitting geyser out back, the log-cabin style buildings and totem pole interiors pay tribute to the great national park lodges. While a bus will take you to all of the parks you can also opt for a boat ride to take you over to Magic Kingdom. One of the funnest resort restaurants is also here in Whispering Canyon. It's a family style all-you-can-eat comfort food place where diners may be encouraged to ride broomstick cowboys and just see what happens when someone dares to ask for ketchup! The hotel is simply adorable, and it also has one of the few supervised child care centers for potty-trained kids in case you want to venture out for a couple of hours one night.
Animal Kingdom Lodge - In 2004, Travel Channel named this the top family resort in the country. The rooms facing the savannah aren't cheap but they come with amazing vistas of the wildlife preserve. Step out of your balcony and enjoy the animals. You haven't lived until you are splashing around in the pool and see a giraffe looking your way. While most rooms do face the animal habitats, cheaper rooms are available that face the hotel's parking lot -- and there are plenty of observation areas anyway. While Jiko is a top-notch sit-down eatery don't miss the hotel's amazing Boma dinner buffet, pairing exotic flavors in a way no buffet ever will.
Grand Floridian Resort - This is the classiest hotel on Disney property, with the adjoining wedding pavillion to show for its romanticism. Elegantly appointed and sitting at the last monorail station before the Magic Kingdom entrance, Grand Floridian's restaurants are also classy affairs.
Contemporary Hotel - You have seen the signature triangular tower. It houses the popular Chef Mickey's character breakfast and dinner restaurant. It is also the closest hotel to the Magic Kingdom if you should deny yourself the monorail and just walk right over to the entrance. There are two smaller wings adjacent to the famous tower. Those rooms are cheaper yet with all of the perks of staying at the Contemporary.
Polynesian Resort Hotel - The third of the three hotels situated conveniently on the Magic Kingdom monorail line, the Poly also has the advantage of being right next to the Ticket & Transportation Center so you are just steps away from the Epcot Center monorail too. Themed to Hawaiian splendor and housing a nightly luau it's a romantic tiki-torch lit sprawling resort with a great view of Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks.
Disney's Boardwalk - Hands down the liveliest resort after the sun sets, this is a throwback to the Northeastern lavish waterfront hotels. With bike rentals, carnival games and a dueling piano parlor among its many daytime and nocturnal activities it's also got a cool pool with a rollercoaster themed slide. Best of all it's a short walk from Epcot's International Gateway entrance (between France and Canada) and a less shorter walk to Disney-MGM Studios. Or, spare your feet the 5-15 minute stroll and hop on one of the boats that go to the parks as well as to the nearby Beach & Yacht Club and Swan and Dolphin resorts.
Yacht Club and Beach Club - Practically indistinguishable as they are side by side and share Disney's best and most elaborate resort pool area -- Stormalong Bay -- the hotels are a few steps away from Dsieny's Boardwalk. The Beach Club also houses the sweetest treats spot short of Ghirardelli's Chocolate Shop in Downtown Disney in its Beaches and Cream diner.
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