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What are Orlando's best theme park hotels?

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Published: July 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Monday Top 10: Orlando's theme park hotels offer plenty of perks for visitors who choose to stay on-site. From free transportation to the parks, extended park hours for hotel guests, to extra benefits such as free parking at Disney and the ultimate theme park perk — unlimited front-of-line access at Universal Orlando — many theme park fans consider staying-on site a value worth what's often an additional cost over similar hotel rooms in the area.

These are the top 10 on-site theme park hotels in the Orlando-area market, as rated by you, our Theme Park Insider readers. Anyone can rate the on-site hotels we've listed on the site, and registered site members can review the hotels and submit photos, too. (Registration is free, and takes only a moment.) We kick off the list with a newcomer that just opened this year, and wrap it up with our 2014 Theme Park Insider Award winner for the world's best theme park hotel.

10. Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Universal Orlando Resort

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort

9. Loews Royal Pacific Resort
Universal Orlando Resort

Loews Royal Pacific Resort

8. Disney's Contemporary Resort
Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Contemporary Resort

7. Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

6. Disney's Boardwalk Inn Resort
Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Boardwalk Inn Resort

5. Disney's Beach Club Resort
Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Beach Club Resort

4. Hard Rock Hotel
Universal Orlando Resort

Hard Rock Hotel

3. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge

2. Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Walt Disney World Resort

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

1. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
Universal Orlando Resort

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

What's your favorite theme park hotel in the Orlando area? What makes that hotel your favorite?

Readers' Opinions

From Doug Jenkins on July 28, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Agree with Portifino, but Disney top hotels are on par with it. Depends on where you are going.
From 204.15.30.238 on July 28, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Portofino Bay because of it's pools, Italian Theme and huge bathrooms.
From 141.117.27.104 on July 28, 2014 at 10:34 AM
Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the standout for me here. I don't spend enough time in the resort to justify the huge cost of the deluxe resorts at either WDW or UO, and aside from CBBR, everything in the list I'd group as deluxe. Cabana Bay is a great moderate. It's a cheery, fun atmosphere with pleasant amenities for considerably lower cost than the deluxe resorts. I'd rather go more often than know that my suitcase is enjoying deluxe amenities while I'm out at a park.
From 71.204.249.76 on July 28, 2014 at 10:45 AM
Grand Floridian, especially in Christmas time with the giant Christmas tree and the gingerbread house. Also because of the monorail and the elegant theming.
From N B on July 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM
All right TPI peeps.... I'll be at the Hard Rock Hotel in less than 24 hours.
From Melanie Howe on July 28, 2014 at 11:29 AM
Hard to argue with this list :-). The only thing I'd say is that I'd put RPR higher on the list.... Depending on the time of year, I even prefer it to Portofino -- it's got more shade! :-)
From B Goodwin on July 28, 2014 at 12:45 PM
What? No love for All Star Music?

Of course, I'm kidding.
Sigh.
I'll keep putting my nickles away. Maybe one day I'll get to choose from the Delux resort list, rather than the Value or Moderate.

From 70.188.54.100 on July 28, 2014 at 12:48 PM
I too would put Royal above alot of these.. Not so much for room quality but how you are treated while there. My kids felt rich on a low budget..
From Amanda Jenkins on July 28, 2014 at 1:07 PM
These are some awesome hotels! These resorts really make the vacation that more enjoyable.
From Rob Pastor on July 28, 2014 at 1:19 PM
Portofino. It realistically recreates an Italian seaside resort. Plus huge rooms, great pools, beautiful & abundant piazza's, excellent restaurants and ambiance galore at an affordable price for an onsite deluxe (we usually pay $190 to $230 a night). And, this is a huge bonus, hotel unlimited express passes.....We are going to give Royal Pacific & Cabana Bay a try in September for a change in pace. We spent the better part of a day at Royal Pacific last fall to see if we would like it, and it appears to be a beautiful alternative. Cabana Bay also looks decent. A nice moderate for the price of a Disney value (we got the rooms for $92 a night)....And even with the nightly parking fee, these deluxe hotels (PB, RP & Hard Rock) are much less expensive than the on site Disney deluxe hotels.
From Russell Meyer on July 28, 2014 at 2:08 PM
I have to second the comment of the anonymous poster. I personally have stayed at 2 of the hotels on this list (Hard Rock and AKL), but I find it difficult to bring myself to pony up the money needed to stay at many of the hotels on this list. Similar to the anonymous poster, I find myself spending far more hours in the parks than in the hotels, so as long as the bed is comfortable, the bathroom is clean and works properly, and is a good value, I'm happy. Sure, it's fun every once in a while to stay in a nice hotel room, but from personal experience, it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

We stayed in a Savannah Side room at Animal Kingdom Lodge about 8 years ago. The room was very nice, and the lobby is jaw dropping along with the view of the animals grazing outside our sliding glass door. However, when you are at the parks from rope drop until they kick you out, it means you are only in the room to sleep and get dressed. It was cool to observe the animals while my wife was taking a shower and getting ready, but that 30 minutes (that you can get for free by just stopping by the hotel and walking out the back doors of the lobby) was not worth 3-4 times what one of our off-site hotels cost during that trip or double what Coronado Springs cost during that same trip.

Same goes for the Universal Hotels. While Hard Rock was very nice (we won that particular trip in a contest, so the hotel was free), I don't know if I would have chosen to stay there if I was footing the bill. The room again was very nice, and having Universal Express was pretty awesome, but we typically travel to Orlando in October when the lines are pretty manageable, so it's not something we would normally need. In fact, we're going through the calculations for our upcoming trip in October, and the hotel rates end up being almost double the nearby off-site hotels rates (that include breakfast) even if you subtract the cost of Universal Express from the room charge. Not only that, in order to get Universal Express, you have to pay the full admission prices from Universal (we often find cheaper tickets to UO through other sources), so it's not all that it's cracked up to be for us.

Many will say that staying in a themed hotel is part of a theme park vacation. I think that it's nice when it's within your budget, but since we travel to Orlando pretty much every other year, we'd rather come back again in 2 years than splurge on a fancy hotel that we'll only spend 8-10 hours a day in (including sleeping). We've look at DVC, but that's not really our style either (we actually enjoy the thrill of hunting for the best deals). So while all of these hotels are very nice (I've walked through almost all of them), I think many of the less expensive, and less prestigious properties are just as good. Personally, we've grown to like Pop Century along with many of the hotels along Major Blvd. across from Universal's main gate.

From DPCC inc. on July 28, 2014 at 2:21 PM
Generally I'd the Polynesian. I love the lobby and restaurants, especially Kona (mmm, Tonga Toast). But when I visited last week, I found construction walls blocking the beautiful greenery! The concept art posted was underwhelming. As it turns out, they needed more seating for DVC members. I'm sure it will be nice, but for the time being it is awful.
From Rob Pastor on July 28, 2014 at 3:42 PM
Much depends on how you vacation. If you spend rope drop till they kick you out of the parks, it makes little sense to spend for a deluxe hotel room. But if you do as we do, and only spend 5 to 8 hours daily in a park, the resort hotel and it's amenities become a prime driver for our vacation. We take it slow and relax at the pools, sit & dine or drink on the piazza, and watch the sights while drinking a glass of wine on our balcony (which Portofino has always provided even though there are only 70 balcony rooms). Leisure & relaxation are important to us on a vacation. We never lose sight of that & we refuse to run around till we drop. The other great thing is the Universal on site hotel's locations in close proximity to the theme parks & the excellent entertainment at Citi Walk. Only a relaxing boat ride or short walk away.
From Jeffrey H on July 28, 2014 at 4:13 PM
Just piggybacking on the previous comment about the Polynesian: I'm hoping that the changes will be for the better, but the construction means no pool during renovations, there is no Dole Whip while Capt. Cook's is closed, the beautiful lobby atrium is being reduced to ease traffic for DVC expansion, and the water bungalows being built resulted in the removal of relaxing hammocks and they blocked the great view of the lake & Cinderella's Castle for a huge portion of the resort. Much like how Epcot is adding restaurants that take away from fireworks viewing space, Disney is gradually creating new tiers of luxury to make you further feel like a "have-not" on your vacation.
From chris cona on July 28, 2014 at 5:38 PM
Beach club is honestly the best! (Sand pool and cape May buffet great!)
From Anthony Murphy on July 28, 2014 at 5:45 PM
I am surprised that Grand Floridan is not closer to the top. I also am not entirely impressed with Wilderness Lodge. I think its good, but not number 2!

I think we need more votes cast so we can get a better list! Go vote people! I mean Port Orleans and Old Key West were also left off the list. Old Key West is my resort!

From N B on July 28, 2014 at 7:46 PM
Glad to see all four Universal hotels on the list. Each of three premier hotels has it's own personality. Portofino is upscale and seems have less children. Hard Rock is the party hotel (rock music playing 24/7 throughout) for more outgoing people and Royal Pacific seems to have the most young children, but is the most affordable of the three.

As much as we loved Portofino, the walk is just too far if the water taxis aren't running, and the Royal Pacific is not as bad, but seems to take a while (about 10 min). Hard Rock is right off the CityWalk, so we never take the water taxis. A Few minute walk right the Universal Studios main gate.

Looking forward to writing a trip report when I get back.....

From Gabriel Schroll on July 28, 2014 at 7:51 PM
I thought for sure Disney's All-Star Music would be in the top 3! :p

I've been to 1-4 & 6. I can definitely get behind the list.

Wilderness Lodge was my honeymoon resort, and Artist Pointe is amazing! The lobby is really superb as well!

I stayed at Portofino the night after taking part in Harbor Nights - highly recommended!

I treated my dad to the Hard Rock for his 50th birthday many moons ago.

Boardwalk and Animal Kingdom Lodge are both really great hotels too, though they don't hold any special significance. I'd still go back, but prefer Boardwalk simply because of the location. And I loved the Flying Fish restaurant. Mostly it's the location I love.

Excellent list. I have to get to the other hotels on the list eventually.

From Anon Mouse on July 29, 2014 at 7:27 AM
Why would Cabana Bay be on the list? It is new, but this is comparing apples and oranges. The other hotels on the list are clearly 4 or 5 star resorts while Cabana Bay is a low cost budget hotel with great amenities. The other hotels have rates that are 3 times or higher. You get what you paid for.
From 204.99.250.45 on July 29, 2014 at 10:02 AM
I fall in the same category as Russell. The room is mainly a place to sleep and get ready for the next day. Most of my time is spent at the parks. Although I do stay at the nicer places offsite, staying onsite at Universal or Disney isn't something I would ordinarily consider for a trip.

I have stayed at Portofino Bay and while I admired the main lobby and the area where you wait for the boats, I wasn't overly impressed. The hallways and carpet throughout the resort looked dated (10-15 years old). I was also upset that I could hear people walking through the hallways while staying in my room. I would think if I'm paying a considerable amount to stay I should have complete peace and quiet. The rooms were somewhat impressive as someone else mentioned the bathrooms are huge and I agree. At most of the dinky places I stay, the bathroom of the Portofino room would be the size of the entire room.

The one thing I did like was that the parks and Citywalk are only a boat ride away. For someone that tends to get a bit tipsy on my trips every once in a while, it was good to know that all I had to do was get on a boat to get back to my room.

Does anyone know where they park your car while you are staying there? That is the one mystery I have yet to solve.

From Rob Pastor on July 29, 2014 at 2:05 PM
Double post
From Rob Pastor on July 29, 2014 at 1:49 PM
Portofino has an underground parking garage adjacent to the hotel, & it is accessible to the front of the hotel entrance via a convenient elevator. Note: All Portofino front facades,rooms and hallways were refurbished in 2012 through 2013.

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