One of the hardest decisions to make when planning your Walt Disney World vacation is where to stay. With a seemingly endless selection of on-property resorts at three rate tiers – value, moderate, and deluxe – there’s truly a resort for every family and budget.
We’ll be tackling the value and moderate tiers in the future, but here we’ve ranked Walt Disney World’s most spectacular range of accommodations – the deluxe resorts.
But first, a caveat: These rankings are extremely subjective. Ask regulars to name their favorite resort and you’ll get as many different answers as there are choices. So, to add context to the rationale for these rankings, I’ve added pros and cons for each resort. Many of these resorts are so good, one small element is enough to shift it to the top for one person and the bottom for the next. The good news is, you really can’t go wrong with any on this list!
Disney’s newest deluxe resort, Riviera is projected to open Dec. 16, 2019, so it’s only fair to reserve official judgment until it’s actually open, but here’s what we know:
Inspired by Walt Disney’s European travels, the resort’s theming and décor is old-world elegance meets modern comfort, with lots of Disney touches courtesy of classic Disney films set in Europe, like “Peter Pan,” “The Aristocats,” “101 Dalmatians,” and more. The artist renderings and stunning model rooms give a good sense of the luxurious vibe this resort is set to deliver.
Guests can also look forward to some exciting new dining options, especially Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera, French and Italian Riviera-inspired cuisine served in a rooftop setting that promises to deliver jaw-dropping vistas of Walt Disney World.
Pro: Skyliner access to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
It remains to be seen, but the new Disney Skyliner gondola system, which will connect Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort and Disney’s Riviera Resort, could be a monorail-esque game changer when it comes to ease of access between these parks and resorts.
You’ll notice throughout this list that ease of access to parks ranks high on the list of reasons to pony up for a deluxe resort. This one is pricey, given it’s not super close and certainly not walkable, to any of the parks. The Skyliner could make it totally worth it, though, so stay tuned.
You may have to do a double-take to catch the subtle theming here, which is inspired by the upstate New York area of Saratoga Springs, with equestrian touches as a nod to the popularity of horse-racing there.
Fortunately, much-needed resort-wide room renovations have begun – but even once those are complete, (unless visiting Disney Springs ranks higher for you than hitting the parks) this resort is really too generic to place anywhere but last on the list.
Pro: Proximity to Disney Springs
If you can’t get enough of the action at Disney Springs, this is an extremely convenient location. Take a quick walk or boat ride and you’ve got an overwhelming selection of shopping, dining, and entertainment at your fingertips. Another bonus is this resort tends to be the most reasonably priced with the most availability out of any the deluxe options.
Con: Dated rooms with weak theming
We can’t harp on enough about what a snooze the theming is here. We might adjust this opinion somewhat once the room renovations are complete. But, for now, this place is just okay.
That laid-back Florida Keys vibe permeates Old Key West, the original Disney Vacation Club property (you can also book it directly from Disney for cash).
All of the units are freshly-refurbed deluxe villas, perfect for families. The main pool is good and kids will love the sandy play areas and multiple playgrounds throughout the resort.
There’s only one table-service restaurant at the resort, Olivia’s Cafe, but the theming is on-point and it’s a great spot for all three meals. Menu standouts include the fresh seafood, Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken, and, of course, the Key Lime Tart. For more dining variety, hop a boat right from the resort’s dock over to Disney Springs.
Pro: Huge rooms
The rooms here are truly massive compared to just about every other resort on property. If you like to spread out and have plenty of space on vacation, this is one of the resort’s biggest selling points.
Con: Transportation can be very slow
Aside from the boat to Disney Springs, you have to bus it everywhere from here. This can take a LONG time, particularly if your room is near one of the first pickup spots. We’ve had it take 20 minutes just to make all of the in-resort stops before even leaving for a park.
This is the point in the rankings when all of these resorts get so strong, it’s really hard to put any this low on the list, but here goes:
Despite taking the seventh slot, this one wins huge in the theming department. Inspired by turn-of-the-century National Park lodges of the American Northwest, Wilderness Lodge is all your rustic, pioneer dreams come true. If Frontierland is your go-to and you can’t get enough Big Thunder Mountain, Country Bear Jamboree and Hoop-Dee-Do Revue, this is where you’ll want to lay your head.
Dining highlights include Geyser Point Bar & Grill, easily the best outdoor eating and drinking experience on property, and Storybook Dining at Artist Point, featuring Snow White, the Evil Queen, and some Dwarf pals.
Pro: Tranquil escape
From the breathtaking lobby, reminiscent of Disneyland’s Grand Californian with its cozy – and massive – fireplace, to the serene, pine-forested grounds, gurgling creeks and waterfalls, and sweeping views of Bay Lake, this is a totally immersive escape from the chaos of the parks.
Con: Some parts are dated
Renovations here have been ongoing, but some parts are in need of a refresh, particularly Boulder Ridge Villas (renovations are on the docket). Some of the newer landscaping still has some growing to do too.
Traditionally considered the crown jewel of Walt Disney World’s resorts, the Grand Floridian is without a doubt the most elegant.
Victorian theming echoes the nostalgic, old-timey feel of Main Street but with an added layer of sophistication that extends from the impressive lobby, where a live orchestra plays old-fashioned classics and Disney tunes, to the luxurious rooms and grounds overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Top-notch dining options abound, from the character-meal favorite 1900 Park Fare to seasonally inspired Mediterranean-style cuisine at Citricos, to the grand dame of Walt Disney World restaurants, Victoria and Albert’s – a AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurant since 2000 – serving up a show-stopping tasting menu.
Pro: Ultimate elegance
For those accustomed to the finer things in life, there’s no better spot on property for a luxurious stay and impeccable service.
Rooms at the Grand Floridian are consistently the most expensive at Walt Disney World, and for the price, this resort has to date fallen a bit short in terms of park access. It’s easily accessible to Magic Kingdom by monorail and boat and to Epcot by monorail, but for the money, I’d prefer at least one walkable park. The good news is Disney has just confirmed that a walkway to Magic Kingdom is officially in the works. When that happens, I’d bump this one higher up the rankings.
Save on a flight to Africa with a stay at this mind-blowingly immersive resort. African architecture and art set the stage, but it’s the wildlife that steals the show. Marvel at giraffes, zebras, and dozens of other African animals roaming three 11-acre savannas.
Book a sunset table at Sanaa and watch the animals in action as you dine on African cuisine with Indian-inspired flavors (pro tip: don’t miss the crazy-good bread service). Consider reserving two nights of your trip for dinners at the resort; Jiko – The Cooking Place is another bucket-list-worthy Disney dining experience.
If you can pull yourself away from the animals long enough, the pool and splash area at the Kidani Village portion of the resort are among the best at Walt Disney World.
Pro: Savanna Views
There’s nothing quite like gazing out at wild animals from your private balcony as you sip your morning coffee. Even if you don’t book a savanna-view room, there are incredible viewing spots throughout the property.
This resort could rival the top spot on the list if it weren’t for the location. All four parks are only accessible by bus or car, and bus waits and journey times can really get up there.
This resort has so much going for it that, depending on your park preferences, it could easily sneak a higher – or even top – slot (full disclosure: It’s my personal favorite and my Disney Vacation Club home resort, but I don’t rank it first for everyone).
Topping the list is its prime positioning between Epcot’s International Gateway entrance and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Easily walk or hop a boat to both parks or stroll along Crescent Lake and take your pick from the plethora of dining options at the Swan and Dolphin or Yacht and Beach Club.
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and onto the Atlantic City or Coney Island boardwalk of yesteryear, complete with carnival games, street performers, cotton candy and funnel cake, and even an old-fashioned wooden coaster-themed water slide at the pool (beware if you’re scared of clowns).
Pro: Nightlife and Entertainment
The BoardWalk after dark is a Disney destination in its own right. For a perfect grown-up night out, start with cocktails at AbracadaBar, dine on seafood and steaks at Flying Fish, and end with dueling pianos and sing-a-longs at Jellyrolls.
Con: Terrible quick-service options
The BoardWalk definitely has the worst selection of any deluxe resort when it comes to quick-service dining. If you’re not into hot dogs, pizza and deep-fried everything, you’ll struggle with the choices here.
If you love the throwback ‘80s futuristic vibe of Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland and Epcot’s Future World, you’ll dig the Contemporary, quite possibly Walt Disney World’s most visually iconic resort. Seeing the monorail run through the middle of the lobby and hearing the unmistakable “Stand clear of the closing doors” announcement gives those of us who grew up going to Disney World all the feels.
Start your day at Chef Mickey’s for arguably the best character breakfast at Walt Disney World, enjoy the ultimate ease of accessibility to Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and catch the fireworks from the outdoor terrace. Or, for the ultimate special occasion dinner with a view, book a table at California Grill, quite possibly the best restaurant on property, during the fireworks.
Bay Lake Tower, the newer Disney Vacation Club component of the resort, has a top-floor, members-only lounge where you can also take in incredible views of the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks.
Pro: Location, location, location
Nothing beats the Contemporary’s easy access to Magic Kingdom – a quick five-minute walk made even more streamlined by a dedicated security line so you can bypass the masses.
Con: Weak theming
The Contemporary may conjure that ‘80s nostalgia, but the overall theming really comes in near the bottom of this list. Room décor is basically – you guessed it – contemporary, with a few Mickey touches and pops of color.
2. Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts
You’ve probably heard parents say they took their kids to Disney and their favorite part was the pool. Nowhere is this more accurate than at the side-by-side Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, where the sand-bottom pool, lazy river, and epic pirate-ship-themed waterslide take the cake for the best pool on Walt Disney World property.
A laid-back, East Coast summer vacation vibe, crazy easy access to Epcot (and a quick boat ride or 20-minute walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios), gorgeous views of the Boardwalk, and a recent room remodel all add to the appeal.
Pro: Stormalong Bay
The aforementioned pool area is just that good. Kick back with a frozen cocktail from the poolside bar, Hurricane Hanna’s, while your kiddos play in the sand all day long.
Con: It gets a little “fishy”
The Beach Club’s Cape May Café is home to a fantastic character breakfast as well as a seafood dinner buffet. We’re assuming it’s the seafood at dinner that leaves a lingering fish smell that tends to permeate the area surrounding the restaurant all day long.
No Walt Disney World resort screams vacation quite like the Poly. Feel instantly transported to the islands of the South Pacific (Aulani devotees will feel right at home here) from the moment you cross the threshold and are welcomed with a lei.
From this tropical hideaway right in the middle of the magic, hop on a boat or monorail to Magic Kingdom or monorail to Epcot. Resort days are action-packed too, with an awesome pool and kids play and splash area, and incredible dining options including ‘Ohana, Kona Café, and Captain Cook’s – one of the best quick-service restaurants anywhere on property.
End the night with a tiki cocktail at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto or grab a Dole Whip, hit the private beach, and watch the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle.
Pro: Killer views
There’s nothing quite like the Polynesian’s unobstructed view across the Seven Seas Lagoon of the Magic Kingdom, centered between the Grand Floridian and the Contemporary (no parking lots or signs of the real world to get in the way of the magic).
Con: Lack of villa types
All of the resorts on this list are Disney Vacation Club properties that feature fantastic villas providing families with the comforts of home during their vacation. Unlike most DVC properties that offer one-, two-, and even three-bedroom villas, the Polynesian only has studio villas and spectacular, but uber-pricey, over-water bungalows.
Now, before you get up in arms, remember that this is a subjective list. Do you disagree? Tell us your favorites in the comments below!