If there’s one thing Disney knows how to do well, it’s transport guests to another time and place. Arguably, the Deluxe Resorts in Disney World do this better than any other resorts.
Do you think it would be cool to visit the African Savanna but not willing to travel across the globe to make it happen? Disney has a resort for that! Would you like to visit an old-fashioned Atlantic City, but your time machine is on the fritz? Disney has a resort for that, too!
These excursions come at a cost, though. The Deluxe Resorts are the highest priced resorts on property, so guests who choose to visit them will pay top dollar. These resorts are for guests who are splurgers or for whom money is no issue. They can also be reserved for the special occasions like a honeymoon or retirement celebration.
The Deluxe Resorts are also very difficult to rank because each one is so unique. Really, it’s hard to say “which is the worst of the best!”
In addition, your taste may vary. A wilderness theme may not be a good choice for you if you are a modern person.
What’s more, your needs and wants may change from vacation to vacation, so what’s number one for one trip may be at the bottom of the list for the next.
Although the ranking below is not sorted based on location, the first thing you’ll want to consider when choosing a Deluxe Resort is which park you would like to be closest to: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Animal Kingdom. This will help you narrow down your choices.
8. Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Some readers may be shocked that the Grand Floridian, Disney’s flagship luxury hotel, is at the bottom of the list. Hear me out. The Grand delivers very well in all areas including dining, location, and theming, but each of these has a downside.
The dining at the Grand Floridian is truly incredible. The character dining at 1900 Park Fare and the romantic setting of Victoria & Albert’s is beyond compare. Narcoossee’s is in an airy waterside pavilion, and Citricos has an onstage kitchen. Each of these restaurants is at the top tier of pricing though begging the question, “Is it worth it?”
The Grand is located across the lagoon from Magic Kingdom, and a short water taxi or monorail trip will get you there very quickly; but other resorts (see The Contemporary below) are in closer proximity and might be a better option if location is your main concern.
The Victorian theming is fun and even inviting, but it has a more 1990s version of the Victorian era than a truly Victorian one making it a little dated even after the recent refurbishment, which added some of the priciest DVC villas on property.
Are you noticing a theme? The Grand Floridian is very nice and delivers in every area – including price. The price point for the rooms is also the highest on property even when all of the other Deluxe Resorts offer more bang for your buck. One redeeming quality is that this resort has a full-service spa. If you’re looking for a relaxing, adult retreat with a day or more spent at the spa, this resort might be worth it for you.
7. Yacht Club Resort
The Yacht Club has a refined and almost masculine feel that is probably most appropriate for adults. Since it is not as fun and inviting as the Beach Club, its sister resort, it falls at number seven on our list. The redeeming qualities, however, are that it shares many amenities with the Beach Club including the fact that it is very close to Epcot and has great dining. Yacht Club guests also have access to the best pool on property at the Beach Club Resort- more on this later.
If the men in your travelling party are avid sailors and you’re looking for a very adult resort, this might be the one for you.
6. The Boardwalk
Disney’s Boardwalk Inn is a nice hotel with good amenities, but like the Grand, it just isn’t quite as good as the others.
The theming is weak in that The Boardwalk is pretty similar to the Beach Club, which ranks higher in every area. It also lacks a good counter-service restaurant and a fun pool- unless creepy clowns are your thing.
Like Yacht and Beach Club, it is also very close to Epcot’s International Gateway, which is a big plus during the Food & Wine and Flower & Garden shows. The best part of this resort is the romanticism of strolling the Boardwalk. You will genuinely feel transported back to old-time Atlantic City. If you can get a balcony room overlooking the Boardwalk, that’s even better!
5. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, or the “Poly,” as “cool” Disney fans know it, is a solid five on our list. The ongoing refurbishment is making serious improvements to this once outdated resort, though I feel like removing the waterfall in the lobby was a mistake.
The theming here is a fun, tropical, tiki theme with a laid-back island vibe, and it is truly transporting. This theme is carried throughout the resort in the nightly torch lighting, the leis that you’ll find almost everywhere, and the coconut postcards you can find in the gift shop. It is right next door to the Grand Floridian, so transportation to the Magic Kingdom is easy and quick by monorail or water taxi. You’ll also have great views of Wishes, and the beaches of the Poly are one of the best places to watch the Electrical Water Pageant.
One of my favorite things about this resort is the Spirit of Aloha dinner show. Many people criticize this resort for not having a signature dining option, but I think the Spirit of Aloha show fills this spot perfectly. The show is about family, which is an overarching theme of this resort, and the all-you-can-eat table service is awesome. You keep eating, and they’ll keep bringing you food! Just when you thought it was over, they bring out the chocolate lava cake! The actors are good, the food is better, and you’ll leave feeling quite uplifted! There’s also a character breakfast at ‘Ohana, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tonga Toast at the Kona Café!
The refurbishment has also added over-the-water bungalows that contribute to the island theme, but who can afford them at over $2000 per night? Therein lies the problem with this resort. It is one of the older resorts on property, but its pricing is way too high to justify even with the recent makeover.
4. Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s Contemporary Resort is advertised as a high-end luxury hotel, but some argue that there is nothing more special about the Contemporary than some real-world luxury hotels. Although I can see this as a valid argument, there is something magical about this hotel.
In addition to the excellent views of Magic Kingdom, Wishes, the Electrical Water Pageant, and the Castle, where else in the world can you see a monorail zipping right through the center of your hotel? What’s more, the Contemporary is right across the street from Magic Kingdom, which is a big perk! Even at the slowest times, you’ll get to and from the resort faster by walking than by taking the bus or monorail.
The Contemporary also has some of the best dining mostly because of the number of options. The Contempo Café is one of the top counter-service restaurants on property, and The Wave and California Grill both have excellent table-service meals. Chef Mickey is a fun character dining experience where guests get to rub elbows with the Mouse himself.
3. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is, in my opinion, the best Magic Kingdom area resort. Most people reserve this hotel for Christmastime, but it really is great all year round. Yes, the decorations are incredible, but the theming of this resort is beyond compare even without the Christmas decor. You’ll realize its transporting power just by walking through the thick woods, visiting the geyser themed after Old Faithful, or sitting by the fireplace. It has a great mood-setting theme with lots to look at.
Wilderness Lodge also has excellent dining options including Artist Point, a relaxing signature dining restaurant, Whispering Canyon Café, Territory Lounge, and two quick-service locations- Roaring Fork and Trout Pass Pool Bar. In addition to the great food, Wilderness Lodge has some of the best activities on property. Guests will enjoy the amazing pools, bike rentals, surrey bike rentals, watercraft rentals, and fishing (catch and release of course). You’ll also have easy transportation to the Magic Kingdom via water taxi and every other park by Disney bus.
One thing that’s really great about this resort is its price point. It consistently comes in at one of the lowest if not the lowest priced Magic Kingdom area Deluxe Resort. So, unless you really hate the outdoorsy feel of Wilderness Lodge, this is an excellent one to try!
2. Disney’s Beach Club Resort
I’ve talked a lot about Disney’s Beach Club Resort, which is a sister resort to the much lower ranked Yacht Club Resort, and with good reason. The Beach Club has incredible theming and color scheme, excellent dining, and is conveniently located within walking distance of Epcot’s International Gateway.
First, let’s talk about the dining. The Yachtsman Steakhouse, a Fine/Signature Dining restaurant, offers an amazing New England-esque dining experience. New York Strip steak marinated in peppercorn-brandy sauce, anyone? Oh yeah! Cape May Café is a character dining experience like none other. Minnie throws a Beach Bash Breakfast with some of her best friends and the magical Mickey waffles. Casual dining includes Beaches & Cream Soda Shop where you can tackle the Kitchen Sink if you dare. There are three lounges and two quick-service locations along with 24-hour room service.
You’re probably asking yourself, “So why is this number two on the list?” It’s the pool. Beach Club’s Stormalong Bay is, hands down, the nicest pool on property with a lazy river and a sand bottom! You’ll really feel like you’re at the beach in this pool. Don’t bother spending the extra money on water park tickets- you won’t need them!
1. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Animal Kingdom Lodge ranks number one on my list. Where else can you see real animals roaming the savannas all around your resort area? This resort is the best themed resort not only because of the animals but also because of the rich cultural touches everywhere you look. Most notably, there is a vast art collection in the common areas just waiting to be explored.
Unfortunately, this resort is pretty far away from everything on property except Animal Kingdom Theme Park, so transportation is a bit difficult. It’s also one of the newest resorts, so there isn’t much nostalgia among guests. This actually turns out to be a good thing, though, making Animal Kingdom Lodge consistently one of the lowest priced Deluxe Resorts on property.
One huge benefit to staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge is the dining which ranks top in every tier. Jiko, “The Cooking Place”, is one of the top rated and most unique Signature Dining restaurants on property, and Boma, “Flavors of Africa” falls into the same category as a Themed Dining experience. Both restaurants offer a behind the scenes look at the restaurant including the symbolism of the décor and even some samples all completely free! If you’re a foodie, someone who appreciates art and culture, or just like to eat, don’t miss this cool tour. There are three quick-service locations including two pool bars as well as two lounges and room service from 6AM to Midnight.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that doesn’t include park time, Animal Kingdom Lodge is an excellent option because of its seclusion, incredible on-site activities, and top-ranked dining.
Have you stayed at a Disney Deluxe Resort? Which is your favorite?