What sort of traveller are you?
Are you more limited by time than money and prefer to pay for the best in accommodation on holiday to really make the most of it?
Or would you prefer to rein in the budget if it means you can afford to travel further and/or more often?
No matter your budget there is sure to be an accommodation option to suit you in theme park mecca Orlando, Florida. But which is the best place to stay in Disney World with kids?
To narrow down the myriad of options, consider –
- Onsite vs Offsite – Are Disney hotels worth the money?
- Cost comparison – How much will it cost for a week?
- Location – Which location suits your sightseeing plans?
- What worked for us –
For more detailed planning information, check out How to plan your first trip to Disney World.
How to choose the best place to stay in Disney World with kids
The budget question is key because we have two favourite places to stay at Disney World and they are both awesome for different reasons. One is “onsite” or “on property”, ie an official Disney World hotel. And the other is “offsite” or “off property” – close to Disney World but not actually part of the complex.
Staying onsite will cocoon you in a Disney dream land
This is the full immersive experience. Staying onsite at Disney World means you don’t have to leave the Disney magic behind at the end of the day.
Firstly, everything is remarkably clean and the service is impeccable. And not just U.S. tips-culture awesome either. Disney service is beyond the best.
Disney hotels are more expensive, but, as well as overdosing on all things Disney, they have the following benefits –
- Close proximity to the Disney theme parks (more info about all the Disney World parks here). And it’s not just about your travel time at the start and end of the day. Staying close by means taking a break back at your hotel in the afternoon – the hottest and busiest time of the day in the parks. A very practical option for families with young children.
- Able to book FastPass+ at 60 days before your trip, rather than 30 days (the most popular FastPass+ just won’t be available at 30 days out)
- Extra Magic Hours – access to earlier opening and later closing hours at the parks
- Complimentary resort transportation between parks and hotels (parking is US $17 per park per day and the car parks can be a looong way from the park entry gates.)
- Complimentary airport transfers (I believe a taxi from the airport costs about US $70)
You can find the complete list of benefits of staying on-site here.
So many Disney hotels!
Disney has about 26 hotels on-site. They are split into Value, Moderate and Deluxe categories. There are also Deluxe Villas, but they cost a bomb (unless you want to try and get your head around renting Disney Vacation Club points). Whether a hotel is on- or off-site can be confusing, because there are off-site hotels located right next door to on-site hotels, so find the full list of on-site hotels here.
The difference in price between the categories reflects both the quality of the accommodation and facilities, as well as their location. In general the Deluxe hotels are located very close to Magic Kingdom (approximately 10 mins), while the Moderate and Value hotels are further away (approximately 30-40 mins).
If you’re happy for the kids to share a bed, then it’s just a matter of choosing the level of comfort, location and cost that you prefer. But if you want them to have their own beds, then the choices are more limited. See the Resort tab on this list of 100+ Disney World tips for your resort options.
Also helpful is this list of hotels which accommodate families of 5 or more. It includes some “in between” resorts, which are not Disney and have no theming, but do receive some of the advantages of on-site hotels.
Staying offsite means more space and spending money
There is no doubt that it is cheaper staying offsite at Disney World, but this is offset somewhat by the cost of a hire car. Depending on your sightseeing plans you may be able to do without a car completely if you stay onsite, but not offsite.
The other benefit is the additional space and facilities that are available offsite. Of course there’s hotel-style offsite hotels, but I find a serviced apartment is very convenient when travelling with kids. Having separate bedrooms and a kitchen can make for a much more enjoyable and affordable holiday!
Compare the costs
This table compares three Disney resorts and an offsite serviced apartment hotel. It is based on two adults and two kids aged 9 and 7 staying 9-16 September 2017 (7 nights). You can find a very detailed breakdown of all resorts and rates here.
|On- or Off-site||Resort||Style of accom||Star rating||Approx cost for week (USD)||Click to check latest prices|
|On-site||Wilderness Lodge||Hotel - Queen + Bunk beds||4 star||$3,110|
|On-site||Caribbean Beach Resort||Hotel - 2 double beds||3 star||$2,048|
|Hotel - 1 Queen + 2 double size sofa beds||3 star||$2,603|
|Off-site||Staybridge Suites Lake Buena Vista||Apartment - 2 bedrooms||3 star||$1,305|
Map of Orlando attractions
Disney World is a massive place, so get your bearings using this map. I’ve marked our key considerations – Magic Kingdom and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. Other popular attractions include Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs restaurant and entertainment precinct, Universal’s two parks, Legoland (45 min south) and Kennedy Space Center (90 min east).
What worked for us
We chose to split our stay.
The first 4 nights found us happily ensconced in Mickey heaven at the Wilderness Lodge while we visited all the Disney theme parks. But practicality ruled for the 7 nights following. We picked up a hire car and moved to an apartment off-site for more space, separate bedrooms and a kitchen, while visiting Universal Studios (including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) and the Kennedy Space Center.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge review
If you’ve been to a Disney park, then imagine a Disney hotel as another land like Tomorrowland or Fantasyland. With Wilderness Lodge located only 10 minutes by boat across the lake from Magic Kingdom, it feels like a natural extension of this fantasmagorical theme park. Check prices for Wilderness Lodge here.
From their website – Escape to the rustic majesty of America’s Great Northwest. Inspired by turn-of-the-century National Park lodges, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge celebrates American craftsmanship and honors the beauty of the untamed wilderness. Soak in the splendor of the great outdoors, from nature trails through pine forests to rocking chairs that overlook a murmuring creek. Inside, discover towering totem poles, headdresses and more, and enjoy the rustic elegance of the stone hearth and roaring fireplace.
I found staying here worked as a calming antidote to the crowded, rainbow-coloured days in the theme parks. Being surrounded by soaring pillars of timber and totem poles envelopes you in nature’s beauty.
The minute you step onto the footpath outside you are greeted by an iPad-toting staff member, who begins the check-in procedure before you’re even inside the building. Try and take a minute to soak up the first impact of this colossal lobby before you’re whisked off to the check-in desk.
The Wilderness Lodge bunk beds are one of our favourite features of this hotel. This room configuration is so much more practical than the kids having to share a bed. And they loved it!
There are several food options available, like the Whispering Canyon family restaurant.
The pool area is incredible with waterslide, huge pool, hot spa and water play area. There are even life jackets for littlies and lifeguards on duty.
The meticulously landscaped grounds are a peaceful spot to have a wander.
It even has its own geyser, erupting high into the sky every hour, reminiscent of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.
Staybridge Suites LBV review
Staybridge Suites is a large (200+) US-based chain of serviced apartments that is part of the IHG brand. There are 3 of them in Orlando. We stayed at Staybridge Suites Lake Buena Vista. Check prices for Staybridge Lake Buena Vista here.
This is a beautifully kept, comfortable property with excellent service and facilities.
The pool area is spacious with a hot spa and toddler pool. It was never very busy when we were there (in October) and it got a big tick of approval from the kids.
Although you have your own kitchen in your apartment, an extensive buffet breakfast is included, with seating inside and out. This was a busy, social time with lots of families and even a few Australians! As always, the kids’ favourite was the pancake machine.
Our 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment was the perfect place for us to spread out and get a bit of time away from each other.
Being able to put the kids to bed in a separate bedroom allowed hubster and I to have some wonderfully relaxing quiet time each evening. And the bedrooms were so big that the kids had room on the floor, at the desk or on their beds to play.
Splitting our time between these two beautiful properties worked super well for us. We made the most of what may be our only Disney World trip with the kids by indulging in full-on Disney deliciousness. And we left some money to spend on the rest of our holiday by staying at Staybridge. Winning all round!
See all the posts from our US travels here. There’s Disney World, Harry Potter, Disney cruising, Legoland and much more!
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Which is your favourite or top of the wish list Disney theme park?
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