How to Pick the Right Hotel at Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando

April 29, 2015, 10:40 AM · There are many considerations involved in choosing an on-site hotel at the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando resorts. Hotel amenities are always important, as well as the convenience of transportation to and from the parks. Personally, I am a sucker for awesome theming, too. I love the feel of a great tropical or island style resort. You'd think by living where most people vacation (Florida), that I'd want something a bit different, but who the heck wants to visit a resort with a northern winter theme?

"Welcome to the Loews Polar Vortex, where you don't need to request a mini-fridge and the ice bucket is always full."

Uhm, no thanks.

For most guests, the two most important considerations are space and price, which intertwine rather like the coaster tracks at the Dragon Challenge. (For the record they will always be Fire and Ice to me!)

Granted, for some fortunate visitors with an Uncle Scrooge-like vault, money is no object. But, for the majority of us on more Mickey Mouse-sized budgets, there's a necessary push-and-pull between the two tent-poles of Room Price and Room Size. For a typical family of four (like mine with two adults and two Minions), the good news is… there are a lot of options! And the bad news is… There are a lot of options!

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort Bungalows
Got Scrooge McDuck money? Then the Bungalows at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort might be the choice for you!

The purpose of this article is to give you some insight into your choices and hopefully make your selection just a little easier.

Just like hotels everywhere, most theme park hotel rooms will offer a choice of two beds (Double or Queen) or one King Bed. If it's just you and your wife, husband, mate, significant other, domestic partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancée, then awesome! Pick the King Bed, stop reading now, and go on to plan your drinking and dining.

Everyone else with kids, please read on…

Depending on the age of the children and your personal tolerance for whining, shrieking, or generalized complaining, sharing a bed can be no problem or a T. Rex-sized one.

Let's start with your options at the House of Mouse:

Inside the All-Star Movies Resort
Inside the All-Star Movies Resort

Walt Disney World Value Resorts

While the price is right for most budgets, no matter which Value Resort you may be considering, you're still staring at the daunting prospect of two double beds in a tiny room, averaging approximately 260 square feet.

A two parent / two teenager configuration makes sharing that room a scarier proposition than realizing you're the only two people to stumble into a scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights... then running for your life to the nearest indoor eatery and asking the server whether the scary people can come into the restaurant (for the record: no.) I mean, that's what I heard from other people, who are not me and my wife.

If you still dare to choose a double bed room, prepare for fun experiences such as this. (True story.)

The setting: Disney's All-Star Sports Resort.

Double Bed #1 contains me and my wife, sound asleep.

Double Bed #2 contains my then 10 year old daughter and then 7 year old son.

Time: 5am

Me and my wife: ZZZzzzzzz

Our Daughter: Grumble grumble, "Mommy! Daddy!"

Me and wife: "Huh… What… Is everything okay?"

Daughter: "I can't sleep, he's drawing on my back."

So in addition to being a sleepwalker, our son is also apparently a sleep-writer. And has mistaken her back for a canvass. Or chalkboard.

Daughter: "And nowwwww he's slapping me."

The kind of hilarious laughter that can only emerge at 5am quickly ensues, starting with me, and quickly spreading to everyone in the room, including my son, who is possibly still asleep.

My best advice?

Call for reinforcements via a rollaway bed. Disney will usually accommodate such requests.

The Princess Room in Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside Resort
The Princess Room in Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside Resort

Disney Moderate Resorts

With approximately 314 square feet of space, Moderates are a great compromise between Value and Deluxe, with an upgrade from two Double Beds to two Queen Beds and a little more square footage, all for a modest bump in price.

When we're looking to save money and still keep everyone happy, Moderates are often our favorite choice.

We particularly love to stay at Port Orleans Riverside and Caribbean Beach, as they both offer select rooms with two Queen Beds PLUS a bonus pull-down Bunk-Sized Bed, which allows both kids to get their own sleeping space (and in our daughter's case reduces her chances of suffering through our son's sleep artistry.)

Bunk Beds at Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Bunk Beds at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Disney Deluxe Resorts

Boasting between 340-440 square feet of living space and rooms available with two Queen Beds and a Day Bed, most of the Deluxe Resorts will stretch your budget, but in turn give your family more room to stretch out as well.

There are two exceptions to keep in mind: The Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Both are beautifully themed and have unique features not found in other Disney hotels. However, both are on the smaller side (at approximately 344 square feet each they are barely larger than a Moderate!) and your choice of bed configurations are different than the other Deluxe Rooms.

Both Lodges offer two Queen Beds or one Queen Bed and one Bunk Bed, which may not be the best choice for older kids or teens.

Inside a Fort Wilderness Cabin
Inside a Fort Wilderness Cabin

Family of Five?

But what if you have three kids, or you bring Grandma or Grandpa, or your kids get to bring a friend? What then? Well, let's check out some options.

As previously mentioned, Moderates can still work, as the Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Riverside rooms with the Bunk bed will sleep five. As will most of the Deluxe Resorts, except for the two Lodges.

There are three other options we can explore:

The first is the Fort Wilderness Cabins, which will sleep up to six. The bedroom features a double bed and a bunk bed, and the family room has another pull-down double bed. Negatives include the distance to transportation, and the fact that the cabins could sure use an update. I know they're supposed to rustic, but the last time they were remodeled, rehabbed, or renovated, George H.W. Bush was in the Oval Office. (That's Bush Senior.)

A second (and much newer) option is also our favorite choice when we tote along Grandma… the awesomely themed Art of Animation's Family Suites. (NOTE: The Family Suites consist of Finding Nemo, Lion King, and Cars. The Little Mermaid section is comprised of regular value rooms with two Double beds.)

With a Queen Bed, Double-Size Table Bed, and a Double-Size Sleeper Sofa there is room for six to sleep comfortably in an impressive 520 square feet of space, complete with TWO bathrooms! This is great, because as those of you with little ones already know, in the hotel room they have to pee and/or poop at the EXACTLY SAME TIME and it's ALWAYS AN EMERGENCY!

Of course, this magical bladder synchronicity NEVER applies in the theme parks, as the kids take turns having to use the bathroom at the most inconvenient times, such as the exact second you are about to step foot into your train at the Seven Dwarfs Mountain after waiting an hour in line, or when it's their turn to meet Anna and Elsa. Not the best time to be singing "Let it Go."

The third option is the lesser known (but actually the original!) Family Suites, located in the Music section of the All-Star Resort. Though not as impressively themed as the Art of Animation, these Family Suites are the same square footage (520) and still sleep six, albeit in a slightly different configuration: one Queen Bed, one Twin-Size Sleeper Chair, one Double-Size Sleeper Sofa, and one Twin-Size Sleeper Ottoman. The Family Room is like a pop-up book, with beds!

That takes care of Disney World; let's roll down I-4 to Universal. With far fewer on-site hotel destinations (currently four, until Sapphire Falls opens next year), there are obviously fewer options than Disney provides, but Universal still offers some great choices.

Inside the Cabana Bay Beach Resort
Inside the Cabana Bay Beach Resort

Universal Orlando Value Resort

The only Value Resort choice is Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which has quickly become one of our favorites. Like Disney's Art of Animation, it provides two different room-type selections: Family Suites and Standard Rooms.

The Family Suites feature two Queen size beds plus a full-size pull out sofa, and can accommodate six. The Standard Rooms still have two Queen size beds, just no sofa, and sleep 4.

The price difference between the two isn't terrible. And the Family Suites here represent great value especially in comparison with Disney's, often coming in at least $100 cheaper a night.

Though do keep in mind at (all) Universal Hotels you will pay for parking per night. The final consideration to keep in mind when selecting Cabana Bay is that while early admission is a perk, Universal Express is NOT included.

Inside Universal's Royal Pacific Resort
Inside Universal's Royal Pacific Resort

Universal Deluxe Resorts

There are currently three options, with a slightly different price point for each, and Universal Express in included with each.

Royal Pacific is our favorite, due to the lovely theming, easily on par with Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. The 335 square foot Standard Rooms are the smallest in size yet still feature two Queen Beds. There is also the rather cool option for Jurassic Park Kids' Suites which feature a King Bed, a Sleeper Sofa, and two Twin Beds, in an appropriately T. Rex-sized 670 square feet.

Next is the Hard Rock Hotel, which is the closest in walking distance to the parks. Again, Standard Rooms feature two Queen Beds and 375 square feet. There is an 800 square foot Kids' Suite option here (*fixed), as well as a Deluxe Queen Room Option that adds a pull-out sleeper sofa and an additional 125 square feet of space (500 sq ft total.) This is where we like to stay when we bring Grandma along!

Finally, there is the Portofino Bay Hotel, boasting Standard Rooms with two Queen Beds and a bit more square footage, at 450. There is also a Kids' Suite choice here, themed in Despicable Me, that feature a King Bed and two Twin Size missile beds for your Minions, with 650-675 square feet. NOTE: Unlike the Jurassic Park Suites, there is no Sleeper Sofa here, so you would need to add a rollaway bed to sleep 5.

Whatever your destination, I hope I've offered you some useful insight into making the best on-site hotel selection for your family, whatever size or shape they come in... By doing your best to minimize any room issues beforehand, you can maximize your fun while on vacation. And one of the important components of that is making sure everyone in your clan gets a good night's sleep!

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Replies (17)

April 29, 2015 at 10:45 AM · "who the heck wants to visit a resort with a northern winter theme?"

(Disney opens Frozen themed resort, it books solid for 2 years) ;)

April 29, 2015 at 11:34 AM · I guess that I don't fit the standard vacationer in that we want privacy as much as anything else, on our last Orlando vacation our oldest was 16 and his brother was 10. We felt that their mother shouldn't have to wrap herself in a bed sheet to go to the bathroom in the morning or hide under the covers to try to get dressed. As a result we never stay on-site and rent condos. Our last trip was in February of 2013 and we rented a 1800 sq. ft. 3- bdrm, 2 bath condo for less then $1400, all fees and taxes included. This allowed our youngest to shower and go to bed when we returned from the parks and others could stay up and relax for a while before bed. The travel time to and from the parks was less then 15 minutes, each way, and so not rally an issue.
April 29, 2015 at 12:10 PM · If you can afford Deluxe prices (over $300 a night), you can afford to rent DVC rooms that offer 1, 2, 3 bedroom suites. For deep sleepers, they get the bedrooms. For light sleepers or sleep walkers, the living room area has sofa beds. Eat, drink, and watch television at their own schedule.

A 2 bedroom works better for a family with 2 kids. Parents get their own master bedroom with king bed and private bath. The second bedroom usually have two double beds. The kids can share or one kid can use the living room sofa bed.

A 3 bedroom works better if you're bring Grandparents or an extra family member.

April 29, 2015 at 12:22 PM · There are many options if you get e rental car... So many resorts with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen and more....

Why stay onsite for $300.00 per night when I can get a Sheraton resort with 5 pools for $180.00 per night.

You can rent a home for $100 per night also... Many options....

April 29, 2015 at 1:04 PM · Really good article. Thanks for sharing.

I just want to toss out an opinion regarding Disney Value resorts. Because it costs us well over $3000 just to fly the three of us to Florida from our home in Hawaii, we have no choice but to go Value when it comes to our accommodations. I have to say, we were very happy with our room - even at the much-maligned Pop Century resort. We spent very long days in the parks, which left almost no time to do anything but sleep when we got back to our room, so I really couldn't justify spending Deluxe room prices when we never had the opportunity to enjoy the amenities anyway. The one exception we have made - Grand Californian at DCA for my 50th b-day celebration - we absolutely adored the hotel, but again, spent so little time there that it almost felt like a waste of money. Almost.

My point is, if you want to reap the benefits (and there are MANY) of staying on-site at WDW but can only afford a Value resort, go ahead and do it! Unless you are the type of person who goes through life expecting Deluxe accommodations at Value prices, I'm betting you won't be disappointed. We sure weren't!

April 29, 2015 at 3:49 PM · Paul, welcome to Theme Park Insider and as a writer for TPI. I really enjoyed your article, the information and the fun way you presented it. Great job!
April 29, 2015 at 1:21 PM · Last time we were there we stayed offsite at Mike Ditka resort, which I believe no longer exists but there are others similar. 3 couples. 3 bedroom 2 bath, with kitchen for less than anything we could get onsite at either park.
April 29, 2015 at 1:33 PM · On-site hotels are a must-do if you want to make the most out of your vacation. However, there's a pretty big downside to them:

They're crazy expensive.

If you want to go easy on your wallet, best stay at an off-site hotel. Sure, they're not really themed, and they don't have as much stuff to do, but the rooms are always nice and comfy, and they usually still have a decent pool area and free breakfast.

PS I'd like to give a big warm welcome to Paul. This amazing article you have written has left a good impression on me, so I hope to see some more stuff from you in the future!

April 29, 2015 at 2:26 PM · This was a well written report concerning on site hotel choices. Since the report subject matter was on site hotels rather than overall hotel choices, I fail to see the reason to criticize the content of the article. Nice article by the writer.
April 29, 2015 at 5:25 PM · Great and enjoyable article. I completely agree with you about Royal Pacific being one of the best at Universal.

Looking forward to more of your reports!

April 29, 2015 at 9:25 PM · Great article! You had me at the five am laughing. That never fails during our vacations with our boys. Another option for families wanting space and the Disney magic is to rent Disney Vacation Club points from Vacation Club members. Many members are willing to rent their points to use cash for cruises and such. Then you have the options of staying at one of the villas wit even more space.
April 29, 2015 at 10:30 PM · I would say DisneyWorld's hotels are good for the price. Plus, you don't have to drive to the resorts, or pay for parking. The Delux resorts look wonderful, but for the price, they're not worth it unless you either have the money, or it's a once in a lifetime experience, such as a honeymoon. The moderate resorts are affordable for most people, but the value are fine too.

The thing about DisneyWorld compared to Disneyland and even Universal Orlando is that DisneyWorld has resort hotels at every price point. With so many hotels surrounding Disneyland, Disney's made a good choice partnering with surrounding hotels instead of using the model they've adopted in Florida. It would be nice if Harbor Blvd had a walking bridge though. Universal Orlando on the other hand, does need a moderate hotel. Disneyland's focuses on locals, so they wouldn't gain very much by trying to get more people to stay onsite. Universal Orlando, on the other hand attracts people from allover, and they are losing out by not having one.

April 30, 2015 at 7:03 AM · Great article. For my family the convenience, theming, and overall awesomeness of The Boardwalk Inn makes it the best resort at WDW. If our budget is a bit tighter we will stay at the Swan or Dolphin. It's hard to beat the Epcot Resorts for their proximity to Epcot and DHS.
April 30, 2015 at 7:28 AM · Universal does have a moderate hotel, Cabana Bay. I've stayed there & it's clearly equal to the Disney moderates. But it's priced like a Disney value. The new for 2016 hotel, Sapphire Falls, will be a tweener. It will be a notch above Cabana but a notch below the deluxes since it won't have an Express Pass. Universal has more hotels planned for the future. From the surveys I've filled out, it doesn't seem like they are using the Disney model (Value, Moderate,Deluxe Resort). I think they will have their own distinctive hotel system.
April 30, 2015 at 9:24 AM · I wanted just to clarify personally that the article was great. And maybe eventually I will stay at one of these hotels. Like I mentioned though, offsite is definitely a consideration for me for the savings. We are hardly ever at our hotel when we go. So it isn't as important. I will have to wait until next trip to weigh the options. Staying offsite also makes it easier to consider going to universal and elsewhere.
April 30, 2015 at 8:06 PM · I have stayed at all levels of the Disney World hotels and prefer the moderates for the combination of price and extras that come with moderates but not values. As stated in the article, the moderate hotels have larger beds, but they also have hot tubs, which my family loves, as well as on-site restaurants (not just quick service). We prefer to stay on-site at WDW versus off-site because we usually stay during free dining. Free dining is another reason to stay at the moderates, as you get the free regular dining plan and not just the quick service. We LOVE trying all the different Disney restaurants, but I couldn't stomach paying those prices out-of-pocket. As far as Universal Orlando, we've only stayed at the Royal Pacific. We only stay on-site at Universal for the express pass, so the value hotels they offer do not appeal to us.
May 1, 2015 at 5:49 AM · During our Disney World trip last summer, we stayed at a Value resort (All Star Music). It was me, my husband and our girls, 18 & 20. We did really well. We spent all day, from opening to close, at the parks and were really only in the room to sleep, shower, and get ready for the day. The room wasn't as claustrophobic as you might think. We went with the Value resort so we could splurge on the Park Hopper and Dining Plan options. As long as the room is clean and comfortable, we're good. I've stayed at a Moderate resort and it was very nice, but if you want to save money and still get all the benefits of staying on-site, try a Value resort.

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