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There's Always Room at the Inn
by Joshua Olive, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the August 16, 2005, Issue #308 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I was making my reservation for Port Orleans Riverside when it occurred to me how much has changed over the years when it comes to staying on property at Walt Disney World. I've stayed at a number of Disney properties, ranging from the Fort Wilderness Campground to the Polynesian Village, from the Disney Treehouses to the Buena Vista Villas, from Dixie Landings to the All Star Movies Resort. A LOT has changed in the World since it opened!
When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, there were three places you could stay on property: the Contemporary, the Polynesian Village, and the Fort Wilderness Campground. Talk about a range of accommodations! You had everything from camping (or RV hookups) to the beautifully themed Polynesian Village and the amazing the-monorail-goes-right-through-the-middle-of-it! Contemporary. One glance at the official Disney website or at the Accommodations page on AllEarsNet(R) will quickly tell you that Disney now offers a much broader range of options when it comes to on-property lodging. There are now eight Deluxe Resorts, four Moderate Resorts, and four Value Resorts -- to say nothing of the Disney Vacation Club properties, Shades of Green, and the non-Disney operated Swan and Dolphin.
Like the parks themselves, Disney accommodations are continually changing. New resorts are being constructed and old ones sometimes make way for the new. How have things changed over the years? Some of the properties have undergone cosmetic name changes, some of them have been completely remodeled and upgraded, and some of them are no longer used at all! Thirty years ago, the Polynesian wasn't a "deluxe" hotel; it was just a hotel -- a nice one, but a pretty normal hotel nonetheless, once you got out of the elaborately themed lobby and into the rooms. Dixie Landings was renamed Port Orleans Riverside in 2001. The Buena Vista Villas, where we stayed in 1982, the year Epcot opened, eventually became part of the Disney Institute. And the Disney Treehouse Villas -- one of the favorite places at which I've stayed with my family -- have not been available to guests for years. The Treehouses, as a matter of fact, have fallen into such a sad state of disrepair that they will be completely scrapped. No revival for them! Sigh.
The Buena Vista Villas and the Treehouses were ideal for my family. There were seven of us altogether (five kids!), and with the normal Florida restriction on the number of people who could stay in one hotel room (five), we had to get two rooms at the other properties. But the Villas and the Treehouses were designed with larger groups in mind, so it was a bit cheaper for us to stay there -- and the kitchenettes in both of them helped us save a little money on food during our trips, too. Luckily, although the Treehouses and Villas are gone, you can still find some properties ideal for larger groups -- like the cabins at Fort Wilderness or some of the Disney Vacation Club properties.
If you're not trying to find lodging for a small army, what's available for you? What isn't?! From the more economical All Star Resorts and Pop Century all the way up to the Grand Floridian, there is a Disney property for everyone. Having stayed at a wide variety of accommodations on property, I can safely say that they all have their own selling points, and it depends on what is important to you as to which one will best suit your needs.
If finances are a major consideration, and, let's face it, they are for most folks, then Fort Wilderness or the Value Resorts (All Star Movies, All Star Music, All Star Sports, and Pop Century) are definitely worth a look-see. If camping is your thing, the Fort Wilderness Campground is the absolute least expensive way to stay on Disney property; it's a beautiful campground to visit, it costs very little, and it certainly puts you closer to nature than any of the other Disney properties. They also have fun things like outdoor movies and sing-alongs around the campfire that are unique to Fort Wilderness. Or, if you prefer the great, air-conditioned indoors, your choices are as varied as your moods. The All Stars and Pop Century offer the lowest prices of all the Disney hotels and there are more rooms at these value resorts than at any of the other resorts. They're not fancy, but you still get the Disney treatment. They're clean, comfortable, and have tons of amenities: multiple pools (all themed of course!), food courts, shopping, video arcades, and transportation. The only drawbacks I experienced with the value resorts were the long waits and crowded buses when you're trying to get back to your room after the parks close. The buses are invariably standing room only, and that extra half hour of standing in a crowded bus can be mentally and physically exhausting.
The Moderate Resorts (Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, Coronado Springs) fall, as you might suspect from the term "moderate," between the Value Resorts and the Deluxe Resorts. Each of these resorts is themed to the hilt, and the ambience at each of them is creative and completely immersive. It's easy to lose yourself in Alligator Bayou at Port Orleans Riverside or to feel as though you're in the Bahamas as you stroll around Caribbean Beach. They offer all the amenities and then some, ranging from sit-down restaurants to fantastically themed swimming pools, private beaches, and horse-drawn carriage rides. Having stayed at several of the moderate properties over the years, they are definitely the better choice for me. Yes, they're a little more expensive than the Value Resorts, but the level of comfort, the great atmosphere, and the smaller crowds are well worth it.
If you have the money, the Deluxe Resorts (the Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, the Wilderness Lodge, the Yacht and Beach Club, the Boardwalk, and Animal Kingdom Lodge) are well worth the extra it takes to stay there. If comfort is your primary concern, look no further than the Deluxe Resorts; they offer it in spades. Imagine waking up every morning and being able to look out over a savanna with zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, etc. -- Animal Kingdom Lodge lets you do just that. If you want a relaxing massage, then the spa at the Grand Floridian may be just the thing for you. All in all, the Deluxe Resorts are designed to be the ultimate in comfort, so kick back and relax in style. These resorts are overflowing with activities, fine dining, and ambience. The only drawback I can think of is to your pocketbook, and they can definitely put a hurt on you there!
One of the major advantages to staying at any of the Disney properties is the free access to the unrivaled Disney transportation system. The Monorail still runs to the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian, and it is a unique and fun way to travel. Some of the resorts also offer travel to and from the parks or Downtown Disney on Friendships (Disney's boat transports). Many of the resorts offer only bus transportation, but these are not rundown school buses or anything of the kind. There are three different types of buses in service at WDW right now, but all three are modern, clean, comfortable, dependable, and run constantly, day in and day out.
If it's been a while since you've been to WDW, don't worry -- transportation has also changed enormously since the early days. When they were first getting the bus system up and running, it was not unusual to wait 30-40 minutes for a bus, especially if you were staying at any of the more outlying properties. Fort Wilderness always got the short end of the stick when it came to transportation, and, to a certain extent, it's still that way now. But, overall, the bus system has improved dramatically over the years. And if you're looking for an excuse to stay on Disney property instead of at a slightly cheaper hotel off-property, look no further. The free, convenient, and easy-to-use transportation to and from the parks is worth the few extra dollars to stay at a Disney hotel. You have no parking issues to deal with, no traffic headaches, and no chance of catching a speeding ticket on the Osceola Parkway. A friendly Disney Cast Member will pick you up in a comfortable bus and drop you off at a stop near your room just about any time, starting well before the parks open and for an hour or so after the parks close every day.
In the beginning, there weren't a whole lot of choices when it came to staying at or getting around in Walt Disney World, but as the World has grown, the choices they offer have more than kept up. There really are Disney accommodations for just about everybody, and every one of them has the Disney magic. It's hard to go wrong when staying at one of the Disney resorts!
Guest Columnist Joshua Olive is a 6'6', 380 lb. man whose inner child is bigger yet. He's been a BIG fan of Walt Disney World since his first visit in 1979 and he's now a 15-trip veteran. A program manager for a robotics integrator, Josh was a peer reviewer for PassPorter Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs, written by Allears.net's Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma.
For more accommodations information visit: http://allears.net/acc/faq_hot.htm. There is extensive information for each resort including a Fact Sheet, Photo Gallery, Photo Slideshow, and Reader Comments!
Meet Joshua Olive and read his other columns: http://allears.net/btp/josho.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.