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Saving on a disney vacation series lodging

This is part of an ongoing guest post series on Disney World Savings, written by a life long Disney lover.

We covered the biggest question of when to go last time, but know you have to look at where to stay.  This can be simultaneously overwhelming and super exciting.  There are lots of options and decisions to make, so let’s walk through this.  Quickly though, I am personally a stay on resort kinda person.  There are lots added benefits, with the biggest being avoiding some of the crazy traffic as parks close and open!

Lodging and Resorts

I know one of the first instincts to save money is to stay off property… but… Disney World’s resorts really are fantastic and there are added perks such as Extra Magic Hours that add a TON of value.  I’ll get into more of the perks later as I really just want to present some info on the resorts themselves.  All resorts have free transportation to and from the parks as well as the water parks and Downtown Disney.

You can actually book your Disney Resort through Orbtiz and other vacation sites at a cheaper cost than through Disney.  However, there is one downside.  Booking through a third party means that you cannot get the Disney Dining plan.  We’ll get into the Dining Plan later, so you can decide then if this is enough of a drawback to warrant not booking through a third party.

Disney Resorts have three pricing levels: Value, Moderate and Deluxe Resorts.  Let me assure you that all Disney resorts are comfortable and very pleasant.  However, logic dictates that the more expensive the resort, the nicer it is (and some are REALLY expensive and REALLY nice).

The All Star complex is a great place to stay when you are on a tight budget.  The themes (music, movies, and sports) are fun and whimsical for children and the rooms are basic hotel rooms comfortable enough for adults.  The All Star complex offers pools, dining, an arcade, and transportation at each one of the three resorts in the complex.  With children, the arcade and pools are very nice when you come back from the parks to rest.  If you don’t plan on spending much time at the resort, this is a great choice for you.

My all-time favorite resort is the Yacht Club.  The decorations are beautiful and it has many advantages.  First, the location is among the best.  The Yacht Club, Board Walk, Swan, and Dolphin are all located in between EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.  All four of these resorts have walking paths to both of these parks.  They also have ferries and buses for transportation.  This is a huge benefit because walking will allow you bypass the transportation system and reach the parks faster.  The walk is also scenic.  Second, the Yacht Club pool is awesome!  They have several pools in the same area and one features a pirate ship water slide that your kids are sure to love.  Yacht Club also includes a very nice sit-down restaurant that accepts the Disney dining plan.

Disney has built a new Value Resort that opened a couple years ago!  It’s called Disney’s Art of Animation and the decorations look incredible.  The resort includes family suites, so those rooms are more expensive than other value resorts because it is not a regular room.  It features some of the newer movies, so it’s a nice update for the younger crowd.  Here are more details on Disney’s Art of Animation.

All the Disney Resorts I’ve stayed in have been very pleasant.  Do some research on a few of the resorts that sound interesting to you and are within your budget.  All the resorts offer slightly different experiences and you’ll be able to find one that suits you and your children.

One attribute that you may want to consider is distance to the parks.  Disney does offer their own transportation system to and from the parks, but some families like to spend as little time on the buses, monorails, and ferries as possible.  For us, it is sometimes a nice break and we ultimately only spend the morning traveling to the park and the night traveling back to the resort.

I suggest you call (notice a trend?) the resorts directly too in order to find better deals.  Some resorts give teacher discounts, military discounts, among others that can be added if and when you call.  It also doesn’t hurt to try and negotiate.  Here’s the number: (407) 939-1289.

If you plan on flying, Disney has complimentary transportation to and from the airport for most Disney Resorts.  They will take you directly to your hotel.  You don’t even have to go through baggage claim if your plane arrives between 5 am and 10 pm!

What experiences have you had with Disney World resorts? 

    • kate

      eek! $360 per night during the week at value time is still too $$$ for me. bummer. i got all excited when i read your post. then i went and checked out the yacht club. ouch!

      • Sarah

        Yacht Club is a Deluxe resort…always going to be pricey!

        • julie

          WDW is offering 30% right now at Yacht Club for select dates!! This is right from walt disney world website- “Save 30% for stays most nights at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts…”

      • Amanda Smith Flener

        We booked weekend Caribbean Beach rooms at Less than $150 night recently….keep checking :) It is worth it.

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        No doubt Yacht Club is very expensive. I actually have only stayed there when I went with my parents, but we’re saving up to stay there eventually. It is truly a gorgeous resort and the ability to walk to and from Hollywood Studios and EPCOT is really nice.

      • Ellen

        If you book in August/September you can get it for half that price. But I usually go for the moderate priced resorts. They are nice and run around 125-160 a night.

      • Consider WDW Swan or Dolphin…. They are on Disney Poperty but are owned by Westinb & Sheraton (SPG.COM) These are Deluxe resorts and have an amazing grotto pool area/slide… They are located next to the Yahct Club/Beach Club resorts so that you can walk/boat to EPCOT or Hollywood Stuido… SPG is always cheaper and is you sign up for their rewards program your every dollar spent at the resort can be banked in point form to help with upgrades or discounted/free nights… About once a month they do Starpicks which let you book before Friday’s at even better prices (usually >30% off rack rates)… If your a Fl Resident or Annual Passholder the deals are even better… We stay there about once everyother month and love it… I have stayed at POP on a budget and I have stayed at Polynesian with an unlimited budget.. If your going for a first time trip I would recommend saving up and not sacrficing qulity over money!!!! Swan & Dolphin fit in the middle.

    • VuDeals

      I am surprised you did not mention the Shades of Green – this is a government-owned hotel that is available to all active military, retired military and civil servant (active or retired) employees. To see if you qualify just visit their website at http://www.shadesofgreen.org.

      This hotel is very nice and includes pools, arcade, two restaurants (that have ‘normal’ food prices), an ice cream parlor and a small gift shop.

      You can also purchase discounted Disney Park tickets if you qualify as mentioned above. Note: even if you do not stay at Shades of Green, if you qualify, you can still hop on a bus to the resort and buy discounted Parks tickets on site.)

      The resort has a bus station that serves all Parks, or you can walk (an easy 200 yards) to the Polynesian and hop on the Monorail from there.

      My family stays there annually and the rooms are very generous in size, the pools fantastic and the staff incredibly nice. The price can not be beat and you receive all the Disney perks of staying on Disney property.

    • Michelle B.

      When I was a kid, we used to always stay outside of the parks because it was cheaper. However, my husband and I went on our honeymoon and finally stayed onsite, and now I could never go back to staying offsite again. We stayed in a moderate resort: Caribbean Beach. This worked out perfectly for us and we would certainly stay there again. It was beautiful and the staff was so friendly. The friendly attitudes are practically a guarantee when you stay onsite, unlike the hit or miss factor when it comes to offsite hotels. The savings just from taking the buses is enough to cover the slightly higher cost of staying onsite. Plus you get dropped off right in front of the park and don’t have to worry about traffic when the park closes. We also did the airport transportation, and our bags were delivered right to our room. We had a great experience!

    • Sarah

      Disney’s customer service is hard to beat! Also, staying on property means no fees to park at the parks, if you want to drive your car. Sometimes we would drive the car based on which park we were going to. Also, if one parent needs to take a tired kid home, the other can stay with the rest of the family and still have a ride back to the hotel!
      Just got back from the beautiful Caribbean Beach resort (moderate), and I have also had a great time at All Star Music (value), and the Treehouses at Saratoga Springs(deluxe). They truly have something for everyone!

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        Disney really does have some of the best customer service. I love the “welcome home” mentality at each of the Disney resorts.

    • Disneyfile

      The money saved at the cheaper offsite properties is time lost. Always map out the time it will take to get to and from different parks from your offsite locations. A lot of places will say they are “10 mins from Disney” but that means 10 mins from the gate. The gate may then be an additional 15 from Animal Kingdom or 20 from Magic Kingdom. If you plan on returning to your room mid-day, that is almost 2 hours of travel time.

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        Agreed! Staying on site is hugely beneficial in making all of your Disney minutes count. Staying off site can certainly be cheaper and is absolutely a good idea, but we really prefer the luxury of staying on site and building extra value for the time spent.

    • julie

      I am staying at AOA resort soon with the FREE dining plan. Check disney’s wesbite and click around to find specials offered. Right now, I see up to 30% off! http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers/

    • dabella

      umm, we are booking our honeymoon through AAA and we are getting the dining plan. It might just be through Orbitz or Expedia that they don’t offer the DDP.

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        Awesome! I’ve never actually used AAA so I had no idea. Thanks for letting us know.

    • Susie

      We have boys so we’ve stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge multiple times. My tip would be to check out the evening activities at the resort. They’re always free and not very crowded since I think most people don’t realize they exist. Storytelling around the outdoor fire pit is great and my boys all time favorite, using night vision goggles to see the animals at night.

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        That’s a great tip! I forgot to mention that many of the resorts have free activities at night. The Yacht Club has a really neat nighttime activity where they set up a projector and video screen on the beach and show Disney movies for the kids.

    • tanya

      hello, we have been to disney world the last 2 years with 2 small kids. stayed off-site both times – saved lots of money and loved it. Yes, you have to drive and pay to park, but our drive was only 10 – 15 min, and you still save a ton of money with paying to park. We have a full kitchen, eat our breakfast and dinner in and take our lunch in the park with us. Works great for small children who may or may not eat the food in the parks (if you’re thinking about the free dining plan). thanks

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        That is definitely a great way to save money, especially with 2 small kids. A lot of times you can actually grab Disney transportation from Downtown Disney if you stay in the Hilton or Lake Buena Vista hotel. The Hilton also get extra magic hours!

    • Melynn

      Also note that a lot of Disney resorts, the max. # of people in a room is 4. For a family of 5, we stayed at Cabins at Ft. Wilderness. It worked out well because it has a full kitchen so we were able to bring pre-assembled/cooked meals to save on dining out. And the convenience of the Disney transportation was worth it-saved on gas! If you want to stay at an offsite hotel, Druiry Inn in Orlando offers free breakfast and dinner. I don’t know about transportation to Disney but just having the dinner included is worth it.

      • Sometimes getting 2 rooms at an All Star is cheaper than some of the rooms for 5 or 6 people. We’ve found it depends on the time of year. During the value season the All Stars or POP are more discounted. So in September and Feb, we get two rooms, but when we go in June (only for Star Wars weekends), the cabins are only a little bit more than 2 rooms in Values. (Also, note that suites are about $50 a night more than 2 rooms. And if you have more kids than adults – we have 4 kids also, they guarantee connecting rooms.)

    • Shaia

      Hi there, long time Southern Savers fan, and this is an article that I finally feel I can contribute some value to. I’m a Disney Certified Travel Coordinator (aka Travel Agent) and booking through a private agent is a option you left out. Using a Disney Certified Coordinator assures that you are going to get someone that knows the ins and outs of all the resorts and parks, the available discounts, and benefits of staying-off site vs. on. Best of all using a Travel Agent passes on absolutely no extra cost to you, in fact they can likely save you money with suggestions on specials, resort options, or times of year to travel. Disney knows the extra individual service you receive will help you to enjoy your vacation, and leave you wanting to return, so they pay their agents for you. Booking through them stills allow you to add on the dining plan, plus most of them will help you make your dining reservations or child’s Boutique appointments as a complimentary service. Your article listed a ton of great points, but even with a sale the Deluxe resorts are simply out of a lot of people’s budgets. However, having four small children that have been to Disney a few times, I know it can be done, and done at a savings. Thanks so much for all your money saving tips that go beyond the standard couponing!

      • julie

        I totally agree!

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        Thanks for sharing! I’ve heard of using a Travel Agent for Disney but never have done so myself. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

    • Veebee

      We live about 30 min from the entrance! We love Disney and go as often as we can. Check http://www.MouseSavers.com. I hope that’s ok to post? They have all kids of deals on rooms, tickets, meals. I think staying onsite is part of the magic of the vacation. We loved Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside hotels when our boys were smaller. I would suggest you get apps that tell you wait times and the best parks to visit each day during your trip. The http://www.disboards.com message boards also have great information about everything Disney and all the other attractions in Orlando. I know that some travel agents can use the codes to help you book your travel with discounts.
      It’s such a fun time! Hope you all can visit!

    • Melissa

      Ft Wilderness cabins are a great deal (for larger groups) we rented a golf cart, and had as much fun with that as going to the parks…here’s my MONEY SAVING idea. If you have a grocery store that offers fuel perks on gasoline…RACK up some AWESOME free gas by purchasing DISNEY gift cards there with your shopper card…we paid for EVERYTHING (except flights) with Disney gift cards…they are accepted at ANY disney park ticket booth, Lodging, gift shop, restaurant, snack stands, on site grocery stores…everything! (any balance you have left on the cards can be used at disney stores or on line disney store too…) between my mother & myself we ended up with 4 free tanks of gas (or 30 gallons per. trip) that was close to $800 in savings. We bought our gift cards at Giant Eagle & earned (at the time .20 off per gallon) of gas for every $50 we bought in gift cards, it is now .10 off per gallon for every $50 spent on gift cards, but watch for bonus perks sales & deals on gift cards and buy THEN.

      • Melissa

        and the transportation by staying on site ROCKS! the ferry ride to magic kingdom is so relaxing!!! and perfect view of nightly fire works from ft wilderness beach is great!!! (that where golf cart comes in handy! to drive all over the entire resort, just looking at all the campers & RV’s was fun. and the pool at ft wild. is super!

        • Shawna

          My family has a camper and we always stay at Ft. Wilderness. That is THE BEST campground we have ever been to by far. We could go to that campground and not even go to the Disney parks and still have tons to do. Between the pools, playpark, beach, horse riding, petting zoo, renting bikes and boats, etc. it’s a FABULOUS place to stay.

          • Disney Lover

            So glad you posted that b/c we are going next year but it will be the first time we have taken the camper and we are unbelievably excited :)

      • nhwilles

        I LOVE Ft. Wilderness and what an idea with the gift cards! We’re going in two weeks, I’m TOTALLY doing that!!

      • nhwilles

        I LOVE Ft. Wilderness and what an idea with the gift cards! We’re going in two weeks, I’m TOTALLY doing that!!

    • Margaret

      I missed the original posting on the best times to go and can’t seem to find it. Can you post a link to it?

    • Ellen

      If you are a Florida residents you can purchase a Tables in Wonderland discount card for $100. It is good for one year and you save 30% on meals in most of the restaurants and resorts I usually get my 100 back quickly. We love to eat at Chef Mickey and get pictures, plus the saving is great. I have stay on site and off site. Staying on site is the best..we always have the best time. I can’t wait to go again I never get tried of Walt Disney World.

    • HM

      We have Florida resident annual passes, and have gone 4 times this past year, 3 of which were 7-night stays. We paid between $250-$310 for the full 7 nights for off-site resorts with 2 bed/2 bath and full kitchen (they are 1500+ square feet). We found these stays on ebay for these awesome prices. I HIGHLY recommend staying at a timeshare resort without the timeshare. Many timeshare owners are selling their own personal resort stays on ebay for great prices, and since you are considered a guest of the owner, no timeshare presentation is required.
      Two beautiful ones I can recommend are Silver Lake Resort and Mystic Dunes. Silver Lake is directly behind Animal Kingdom and is basically on Disney property. Mystic Dunes is our favorite, but it is I think 4 miles from Disney. They also have a free continuous shuttle to the parks,
      Just as a side note at all the timeshare resorts: ALWAYS ASK FOR AN UPDATED ROOM!!! Many of them are under renovation so you will always want one of the nice ones. It will make your stay so much more pleasant.
      We would never pay the price of a Disney resort, and have saved so much money but still have been super close to the parks and have never spent a penny on meals since we could prepare it all in our resort kitchen and pack it, along with frozen waters loaded in the strollers.

      • HM

        And I also forgot to mention that Mystic Dunes (and a bunch of other time share resorts) also have TONS of activities just like Disney resorts do. IMHO, you really don’t miss out on much (if anything) by staying in one instead of a Disney resort. Free shuttles, endless resort amenities, packed lunches from your kitchen, and a whole lot more money in your pocket for souvenirs or great Orlando shopping.
        Just take your time browsing ebay for them. You get the best deal with a last-minute trip, but if that doesn’t work for you, there are plenty for set weeks that may work for you.

    • The no expiration option is no longer a way to save significant money. If you add the no expiration option, a 10-day no expiration ticket ends up to be just about as expensive as 2 5-day tickets. Yes, ticket prices increase from year to year, but you also risk losing your tickets the longer you keep them.
      We do Disney on a Dime every time. It does help to be military and a FL resident passholder. Mousesavers.com is the best money saving website for Disney. But you are right, TIME of year is a BIG part of saving money at Disney. We usually go off season because we like reduced crowds, but the resort cost is significant. We paid $69 for a discounted room in All Stars in September. That same room is $133 a night in July and $169 over Christmas break. People always ask me when the best time to go to Disney is….anytime that school is in session is usually best. Not holidays and Not summer. The discounts are far and few between then.

    • Caroline

      We stayed onsite a few years back when we got a good deal on the family suites at the All Star Music resort. However, the Disney buses were terrible if your staying a value resort (sometimes while waiting for a bus to the value resort we would see 2 or 3 busses come and go for the higher priced places). Then they packed you on the bus like sardines (especially leaving the parks at night.) My husband had to hold up my sleeping standing 4 year old because there was no place to sit down or even move. The next time we went we gave up after waiting 20 minutes for a bus to the park and drove ourselves. Much better experience. So when I couldn’t find a good deal on a resort last year, we stayed offsite. Great 2 bedroom, 2 bath, full kitchen condo less than half the price of the standard value room on Disney property. Took us maybe 5-10 minutes more than it took us to drive ourselves to and from the value resort. Worked great for us as we had breakfast at the condo every morning. Spent the day at a park (with a meal or two on property) and then stopped for a late night meal on the way home most nights. With older children, a nap or midday break wasn’t nescessary.

      • Caroline

        I should add we are Florida residents and either have had annual passes or used one of the other Florida resident specials so dining plans and packages on the whole deal are out for us.

      • Goofy (guest post writer)

        That’s interesting. My experience has always been great at the All Star complex in terms of transportation. I’ve stayed there several times over the last 3 years and actually found their transportation to be more prompt than moderate resorts as that complex has only 3 bus stops.

    • momof3

      Keep in mind as well that many folks will “rent” their Disney time share that they’re “stuck with” (Disney sets the price so folks can’t sell them) on ebay. I’ve found the 1 bedroom for around $100/night, and others for a comparable rate. These have a full kitchen, so you can cook, and, honestly, the dining plan is a bit of a rip off….Remember, Disney always makes a profit!

    • Aurelia

      My twin girls just celebrated their 10th birthday and we stayed at the Pop Century Resort and LOVED it!!! Its a value resort (as the All Star Music and All Star Sports resorts are) but with so many themes on this 1 property it was just amazing! Also, the new resort, Art of Animation, is right across the small lake and within walking distance so that was a great “attraction” as well.
      Bus service is for this hotel only so no stopping at other resorts for pickup and dropoffs. We went during a “value season” so we never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus either at the hotel (to go to a park) or at the park (to get back to the hotel). The food court is fast food style but lots of great choices. Wasn’t crazy busy, either, because of the “value season/off season”. I strongly recommend going during one of those times of year (there are 2 “seasons” for booking rooms and packages).
      We are hoping to go next year!

    • nhwilles

      We stay at the campgrounds in Fort Wilderness. The most we’ve paid was $50/night. We’re campers, so sleeping in a tent doesn’t bother us. And we still get all the perks of being a resort member. I’ve flown in after my parents set up camp and have taken the Disney bus from the airport to the site. It’s a little lengthy drive with stops and all, but that’s to be expected. The driver was very courteous and we talked most of the way {I was the last stop}. My hubby and I are meeting my parents down there in two weeks and plan to do the same thing. We LOVE it!!

    • nhwilles

      We stay at the campgrounds in Fort Wilderness. The most we’ve paid was $50/night. We’re campers, so sleeping in a tent doesn’t bother us. And we still get all the perks of being a resort member. I’ve flown in after my parents set up camp and have taken the Disney bus from the airport to the site. It’s a little lengthy drive with stops and all, but that’s to be expected. The driver was very courteous and we talked most of the way {I was the last stop}. My hubby and I are meeting my parents down there in two weeks and plan to do the same thing. We LOVE it!!

    • Darlene AAA agent

      I wanted to also add for all you AAA members if you book direct with your local AAA office you will receive a discount on your Hotel and passes not to mention the member benefits that are FREE to you Diamond savings card, Diamond parking, Preferred Fireworks viewing location, Exclusive Disney Story Time Experience…. Not to mention support your local economy at no cost to you,,,

    • Victoria

      I’m surprised no one has mentioned this, but a stay on property is beneficial for all of the reasons listed below like extra magic hours, package pick up, free transportation, and Disney atmosphere, but don’t forget you save $14 a day on parking!

    • Leslie

      We just got back from a Disney trip with a stay at Art of Animation hotel. We booked a special deal and got a Nemo themed suite and loved it! Our kids are young (3 & 5) and they really enjoyed the animation themed hotel. The pool is great. The one drawback is that there is only one restaurant and it doesn’t offer table service. They do offer a lot of different options, and it’s great for a quick breakfast or lunch. But for dinner we like the option of something more substantial. And, it was hard for us to get reservations at the other Disney restaurants. We ended up going off property most nights for dinner. All in all, it was a great resort for us!

    • Leslie

      We just got back from a Disney trip with a stay at Art of Animation hotel. We booked a special deal and got a Nemo themed suite and loved it! Our kids are young (3 & 5) and they really enjoyed the animation themed hotel. The pool is great. The one drawback is that there is only one restaurant and it doesn’t offer table service. They do offer a lot of different options, and it’s great for a quick breakfast or lunch. But for dinner we like the option of something more substantial. And, it was hard for us to get reservations at the other Disney restaurants. We ended up going off property most nights for dinner. All in all, it was a great resort for us!

    • Boni

      We stay off site at a timeshare condo and only spend $114 a night for 8 people. This is a 2 bed/2bath condo with washer and dryer and kitchen. It has 3 pools, lazy river and all kinds of resturants right on the grounds. Im sorry but staying onsite you pay way more and get less in my opinion. We also get homeschool discount for our tickets. When you have a big family it is not worth it to stay onsite at Disney. We just got back from there 2 weeks ago. To be honest telling people staying onsite at Disney is saving them money is really not the truth.

      • lq

        Timeshare? Rental? If so can you share the link