Deluxe resorts at Disney World are the most comfortable resorts available in Disney World. While Deluxe resorts are more expensive than their Value or Moderate counterparts, the added cost is balanced by extra amenities: multiple pools, multiple restaurants, a spa, large exercise rooms, better location, etc.
Deluxe resorts can be subdivided into 3 subcategories: Magic Kingdom resorts, Epcot resorts, Disney Springs resorts and miscellaneous resorts. I personally love The Contemporary resort (in the Magic Kingdom resort area) and the Yacht Club (in the Epcot resort area). Love the nightlife? Pick a Disney Springs area resort. Can’t pick a resort? Consider a split stay.
Magic Kingdom Resorts
Magic Kingdom resorts are all close to (can you guess?) Magic Kingdom! The Contemporary resort is so close to the Magic Kingdom front gate that you can walk the entire way (although monorail service is also available). If you prefer the Grand Floridian or the Polynesian resorts, both offer monorail and boat travel to Magic Kingdom. Fort Wilderness offers only boat transportation to Magic Kingdom.
My Recommendation: If you want a resort close to Magic Kingdom, pick The Contemporary – it’s literally walking distance from the park. Need a spa? Choose the Grand Floridian. Don’t care about those two issues? Any Magic Kingdom resort – the Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Wilderness Resort are equally wonderful options, choose whatever decoration you love the most.
The Contemporary is perhaps the most recognizable resort in Disney World. The main building has an A-frame design, with the monorail running right through it. Two extensions to The Contemporary are the Garden Wing (located south of the main building) and Bay Lake Tower (a half-cylinder just north of the main building). Bay Lake Tower is mostly owned by DVC members – most hotel rooms will be in the main A-frame building or in the smaller Garden Wing.
The biggest selling point for The Contemporary is its fast transport to the theme parks. It’s a 10 minute walk from The Contemporary’s front door to the Magic Kingdom gates. Transit to Epcot is only 20 minutes via monorail: board the monorail on the Contemporary’s fourth floor.
If you love a great view with terrific food, you’ll also love The Contemporary. The California Grill, located at the very tippy-top of the hotel, boasts fantastic views of Magic Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon while you dine on the Grill’s specialty, seafood and sushi. If you need more Mickey Mouse in your life, The Contemporary also has Chef Mickey’s: an American buffet style restaurant. Mickey and Minnie Mouse go from table to table for pictures and hugs!
Other terrific amenities of note: you can rent small boats from The Contemporary’s dock, go fish, a well-stocked exercise gym, and a fantastic bar for late night drinks.
Grand Floridian Resort
The flagship resort of Disney World, the Grand Floridian is the most opulent and amenity-filled of the Magic Kingdom resorts. Its buildings are white with red roofs, modeled after Victorian-era designs; each outer building is named after an island within the Floridian Keys.
If you love spas, Grand Floridian is your hotel. Its Senses spa has the most treatment options and therapies available out of all the Disney spas. If you take a spa treatment, I loved the Citrus Milk Signature Experience, where you start off with a sugar scrub, a soak in a milk bath, and then a relaxing massage. It’s divine!
If you’re a foodie, the Grand Floridian has a number of restaurants you’ll love. Citrico’s serves Mediterranean style food, Narcoossee’s serves seafood with a brilliant view of the lake, and Victoria & Albert’s is a Signature restaurant with fine dining – you have to dress up though! If you prefer a more relaxed dining experience, 1900 Park Fare serves up a delicious buffet! I loved all the restaurants, but do make sure to get a dining reservation in advance – Victoria & Albert’s is particularly hard to get reservations for since everybody loves it!
Polynesian Village Resort, Villas & Bungalows
The Polynesian – often simply shortened to the “Poly” – is one of my favorite hotels. Themed after a Polynesian island/South Pacific theme, the resort is one of the best in Disney World. As with the Contemporary and Grand Floridian, the monorail passes through the Poly and can take you directly to Magic Kingdom, or to Epcot. Boat launches are also available to go to Magic Kingdom.
The Disney World page lists this resort in two different places: the Poly Village Resort, and the Poly Villas & Bungalows. It’s the same resort, with different room types. For either section, check-in is at the Great Ceremonial House (main building of the Polynesian). From there, you’ll be directed to a longhouse named after a Pacific Island: Hawaii, Tuvalu, Samoa, etc. Polynesian Village vacationers have their rooms in the longhouses north and west of the Great Ceremonial House, while Villas & Bungalow vacationers stay in the east buildings.
If you have up to 5 adults, a Polynesian Village room is more than big enough. If you require more space, a particularly beautiful room option is to get a Polynesian Bungalow (when reserving, make sure it says Bungalow and not Villa). A Polynesian Bungalow is a small house perched above the water – it has a full kitchen, washing and drying machines, two bedrooms, plus an amazing, just gorgeous view of the lake.
Love the outdoors? Then you’ll love the Wilderness Lodge – it’s hard to tell where the lodge ends and the gorgeous outdoor scenery begins at this resort, which is themed after national park lodges. Unlike the other three Magic Kingdom resorts, this resort is not on the monorail line; you need to board a boat to get to the Magic Kingdom or buses to other parks.
I was at the Wilderness Lodge near Christmas time, and it’s a lovely time to stay there: there’s a massive Christmas tree in the middle of the main building. A short walk out of the main building, and you’ll be met by a roaring waterfall and the pool area. Walk closer to the lake, and you’ll see the spa building and Geyser Point Grill – I strongly recommend the Bison Cheeseburger, it’s delicious!
This resort features a spa, unlike the Polynesian and Contemporary resorts, but it’s smaller and offers less than the one at Grand Floridian. This spa focuses on salon type services: hair, makeup, nails, etc, while the Grand Floridian’s spa has all that and massage, scrubs, and so forth.
The main selling point for this resort is for its outdoorsy options: boats are available for rent, there’s fishing and jogging trails available, along with beautiful lake views across the resort. It’s a terrific place to stay if you want to feel isolated from the outside world, and get back in sync with nature.
Disney calls these Epcot resorts, but they should really be called Epcot and Hollywood Studios resorts – all of these resorts except Riviera are walking distance from the Epcot and Hollywood Studios theme parks. However, the Riviera resort has a Skyliner station, which means you can take a short gondola trip to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
My personal favorite Epcot resort is the Yacht Club/Beach Club resort, with the Riviera and Boardwalk resorts a close second.
Yacht Club / Beach Club / Beach Club Villas
Disney considers the Yacht Club and Beach Club to be two different resorts, but in reality they’re one big resort. This is one of my favorite resorts – it’s a 5 minute walk to Epcot, 20-25 minute walk to Hollywood Studios.
The Yacht Club side of the resort is a mixture of New England mansion aesthetic: all dark wood paneling, with nautical maps and globes decorating the common areas of the resort. It’s a very formal, stately, and impressive aesthetic design, a rarity among Disney resorts which are usually more playful with their designs; and is one of the many reasons why I love this resort. The other side of the resort is Beach Club, which is covered in soft, light wood paneling, beach sand colored tiles, and high white arches giving the Beach Club a playful, fun, yet still impressive aesthetic design,
The Beach Club and the Yacht Club share their multiple restaurants and pools. If you love New England food, Yacht Club has you covered with the Ale & Compass restaurant specializing in seafood, and Yachtsman Steakhouse serves up a terrific New England steak with a nautical theme decorating the restaurant. For a more relaxed meal, Cape May offers an excellent buffet. All of these restaurants serve high quality seafood, which is another reason I love the Yacht Club/Beach Club.
Topping off the dining options at Yacht/Beach Club are the numerous bar lounges available at both resorts, Beaches and Cream (a 1950’s themed soda shop with delicious ice cream options), and Hurricane Hannah’s Grill, the poolside restaurant.
Speaking of pools, Yacht Club and Beach Club share what may be the most famous pool in Disney World: Stormalong Bay. Stormalong Bay is not one big pool, but a set of interconnected pools where different activities take place: there’s a lazy river area where you can relax in the sun and drift atop an inflatable pool circle, a pool volleyball area, a zero entry pool for younger children, hot tubs, a waterslide, and a general pool play area.
What makes Stormalong Bay so fantastic, at least for me, is that there’s sand on the bottom of the pool! It sounds insane, but after a long day walking around the parks there is nothing so soothing to tired feet than to jump into Stormalong Bay and dig your feet into the sand. It’s a wonderfully relaxing feeling that you have to experience to understand.
If you prefer a less populated, quieter pool, there are a number of other pools around the Yacht/Beach Club complex, which are all available to resort guests. I prefer the pool (called the Admiral Pool) on the southwest side of Yacht Club – it tends to be quieter than the other pools. I went for many late evening swims in the Admiral Pool – it’s unbelievably relaxing to have a swim at night, to look up at the night sky and just appreciate the fact you’re at Disney World. And that is the third reason I love Yacht Club/Beach Club – the variety of pools and that they’re open late.
The final reason I love the Yacht/Beach Club resort is that they have a proper spa. Many of Disney’s deluxe resorts don’t have a spa, or are limited to salon type services. The Yacht Club offers the Ship Shape Massage Salon Fitness, which has full body massages (although there are fewer spa options than the Grand Floridian).
A newer resort in the deluxe category, the Riviera resort is inspired by European and Mediterranean design. The blue topped roofs and the various balconies are strongly reminiscent of apartment buildings in France, with the gold arched interior reinforcing that impression. Unlike the other Epcot resorts, Riviera is not within walking distance of Epcot or Hollywood Studios. However, Riviera has its own Skyliner gondola station which will take you quickly to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
The main selling point of Riviera is its Topolino’s Terrace restaurant, situated right on top of the resort. It has views of Epcot and Hollywood Studios fireworks, not to mention terrific food – I strongly recommend the fish stew (bouillabaisse) or the lamb shank.
A gorgeous resort themed after 1900s Atlantic City, this resort is a 5 minute walk from Epcot and a 20 minute walk from Hollywood Studios (or you can take a gondola ride to Hollywood Studios via the Epcot Skyliner station).
If you love the theme parks, but also need a little nightlife, this is your resort – right next door are bars with great music.
Disney Springs Resorts
Disney Springs is a shopping, dining. and entertainment destination located east of Epcot. If you love shopping, love eating top-notch food, or just want to be entertained, this is where you want to go. At night, there’s a fantastic nightlife scene: live music, pop-up food stands, and plenty of excitement.
Disney Springs resorts include Saratoga Springs Resort and Old Key West Resort. Saratoga Springs is located right next to Disney Springs, and Old Key West offers a fast boat trip to Disney Springs and back. Both of these resorts are fantastic choices if you love the nightlife or shopping.
Saratoga Springs Resort
Saratoga Springs is a huge resort themed after the late-1800s era New York retreat of the same name. If you’re bringing a large party to Disney, this is a great resort to look into: it has villa-style quarters that include a kitchen and more space in the rooms.
If you love the nightlife, this is the resort to pick: it is right next door (walking distance) to Disney Springs. The resort’s spa is also a key amenity: the spa at Saratoga has as many offerings as the Grand Floridian’s spa such as massages, salon, body therapies, etc.
For those of you who love a good deal, Saratoga Springs rooms are often available for a discount on Costco Travel or similar retailers.
Old Key West Resort
Old Key West, as its name implies, is themed after the island of Key West. It’s a great resort with fast boat access to Disney Springs. Like Saratoga Springs, this is a great resort for those with large parties – Old Key West has villa quarters with plenty of room and additional bedrooms if needed.
Perhaps the best part of Old Key West are the many activities it offers: fishing, tennis, jogging trails, volleyball, bike rentals, and more are available for resort guests. It’s a great place to stay if you spend a lot of time at your resort.