After you’ve decided to take the plunge down the Disney rabbit hole, the next big decision is where to stay when you get there. On or off the property? A room at a value resort or deluxe suite inside one of the parks?
How much should you spend?
Now, I LOVE love hotels. In fact when we go on vacation I sometimes wish our destinations were secretly more boring so I had a better excuse to sit in my hotel room all day wrapped in my white hotel robe on the white bed (white does not exist at my house even where it should) and watch hours of HGTV in between my mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps. HOWEVER, when planning our Disney trip, I made an exception to my hotel snobbery for a few reasons, and they are ones I suggest all parents who fall on the Mickey Meh side of the spectrum should consider:
- If you are sharing a room with small children, it doesn’t matter if it costs $120 per night or $500 per night. It’s going to be a shitty night’s sleep.
- You’re going to be so busy and exhausted from your days at the park that even if you are able to get everyone asleep and stay asleep without major meltdowns and musical beds (see number 1), will you have time to enjoy the amenities at one of the nicer resorts?
- If you have a set amount to spend on the entire vacation, more money spent on the hotel means less money spent elsewhere. I dare you to tell your 4-year-old that she can’t have the $25 bubble wand because you wanted to stay at the place that has made-to-order sushi.
I have friends who say it’s worth staying at resorts like the Contemporary because of the convenience of the Monorail. They can hop on and off and quickly get back to the hotel for kids’ naps without losing precious park time. I have other animal-loving friends who have no regrets spending money on the Savanna views at The Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are always packages available that can save you money, so if staying somewhere nice or with a unique ambience is important, ask your Disney Travel Planner if she can work her pixie dust magic.
On or off the property?
I think it’s worth staying on the property simply to avoid parking at the parks. Now mind you we went at Christmas, the most
wonderful crowded time of the year, but those driving in from hotels in Kissimmee and Orlando had to park so far away, that if Clark Griswold had imposed his first ones in/last ones out theory at Magic Kingdom, he would’ve been closing in on a marathon. There is transportation from the parking lots, but if I had to wait in traffic, then wait to ride from the lot to the park, then wait in line to get into the park all before waiting in line for rides, food and the restrooms, I think I’d lose my patience before Morning Extra Magic Hours were even over. Which you can’t even get unless you stay at a Disney resort. Which is yet another fun rule you will try not to learn before you go, because you’ll swear you won’t care that much, but then you won’t be able to help yourself and you’ll get. Sucked. In.
Where we stayed
I eschewed my predilection for all things modern, white and mini-bar, and stuck to my budget-friendly guns with a value resort on The Property. My first choice, the Art of Animation Resort, stood out from the other value resorts for its pool, or I should say one of its pools. The Finding Nemo pool is the largest of any at the Walt Disney World resorts with a zero entry and music pumping through underwater speakers. Plus, it has a splash pad, which I prefer every time over petri dishes cleverly disguised as baby pools. I hear their Cars-themed pool isn’t too shabby either. Alas, they were sold out. So we opted for the neighboring Pop Century Resort (and then just snuck over and used the Nemo pool). I should say that aside from amenities, decor and variations in the food court menus, all value resorts boast the same basic model masked in a different over-the-top Disney theme. The “cast members” at each one offer unparalleled customer service and the rooms are clean. At Pop Century, the theme is nostalgia, with each building representing a decade from the ’50s through the ’90s. When I found out that the rooms were getting refurbished at Pop Century, I thought I might be getting the modern room I wanted. Our travel agent said I need not request a refurbished room, because they were all scheduled to be finished way before we got there. I should’ve made the request, because of course they ran behind and we ended up in one of the old rooms. There’s really no comparison. But I’m going to do it anyways:
Our room was located in the ’60s section, which was closer to the main building than the already refurbished rooms of the ’80s and ’90s, but I would’ve happily walked a couple of extra hundred feet or so for the obvious upgrades and super cool second Murphy bed (I’ve always wanted one of those, and can we fold the kids up in that when we want privacy?). Then there was the overwhelming decor of the ’60s section. They did a little too good of a job simulating an acid trip. Upon entering the psychedelic pool area with giant water-squirting flowers, yo-yos and a three-story Play-Doh container with a blue elephant popping out the top, I was felt the anxiety rise into my slowly tightening chest and throat as my breath quickened. I could swear I even tasted metal in my mouth. With the help of a frosé from the pool bar, I eventually acclimated. The feeling never went away the entire stay, rather I leaned into it and just went with it. Whether we had started our Disney experience in the ’60s at Pop Century or at the BoardWalk Inn (which I could never, clown-themed pool slide, yikes), I think the drugged feeling was inevitable. Going to Disney is truly entering an alternate universe and you have to adjust and go with the flow or you’re going to have a bad trip.
Also, if you do stay at Pop Century in the ’60s on the second floor and spot a squirrel with an unnatural amount of bravado lurking around the vending/ice area, be wary. He does not back down.