April 2013: Amenities – room size, resort layout, etc. – vary little with Disney’s moderate resorts and not at all with Disney’s economy resorts. Not so in the luxury category. Each resort offers a range of styles, room sizes, restaurants, and more.
The Grand Floridian is undisputedly the most luxurious resort on Disney property – at least until Golden Oak opens – followed by a slightly more casual theme at the Yacht and Beach Club and, arguably, Boardwalk Resort. The three slightly second-tier luxury resorts – Polynesian, Contemporary, and Animal Kingdom Lodge – don’t compare easily to non-Disney luxury hotels that consider “luxury hotel” a theme all by itself.
Forgetting theming, the Grand Floridian comes closest to a Ritz Carlton. The rest come closer to hotels a notch below, such as a JW Marriott or Hilton. Rooms start at about $400 (Grand Floridian) down to about $300 at other resorts.
If you’ve settled on a Disney luxury resort, the following list should help narrow down the decision.
Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Located on the monorail loop to the Magic Kingdom (with connections to Epcot), the Grand Floridian’s white and off-white pastel décor and expansive lobby make it look like a classic luxury hotel from days gone by. It’s massive, though most rooms feel a bit private once you leave the tank-top crowd that spills out of the monorail for a look at the good life. It has upscale restaurants, including Disney’s only AAA five-diamond, dress-code offering: Victoria and Alberts. If a rich movie star visits Disney, he or she tends to stay in a suite at the Grand Floridian.
Yacht & Beach Club
Arguably two resorts, the Yacht & Beach Club sits across a lake from the Boardwalk Resort, making location preferences a moot point between them. All rooms start at about $335 per night, and all have an ocean theme. If a real Yacht Club, the resort would probably be found a few miles from the Beach Club, and both would exist along the New Jersey shore. The Boardwalk, of course, would be found a few more miles down the road. The Yacht Club has an abundance of boat décor; the Beach Club has an abundance of sand and ocean décor. The Yacht Club has a large themed pool, the best of all the Disney resorts, making it a favorite for kids. The resort offers boat access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
Capitalizing “Walk” seems strange, so I only list it once as the official Disney name. The Boardwalk resort has Atlantic City, N.J. circa 1940 stuffed chairs in a pseudo-tropical setting. It has a lot in common with the Yacht & Beach Club across the lake. Boardwalk, however, has more activities unrelated to the resort itself. The boardwalk area has a number of restaurants, bars, and stores, making it a small version of Downtown Disney. The pool also has a strange-yet-cool amusement park theme that looks like a ride pier found in a seaside town. Boat transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
Arguably the most recognized Disney hotel, the monorail that circles Bay Lake goes through the center of the Contemporary. Its futuristic design was supposed to allow them to remove an entire room to refurbish it offsite after sticking a newly refurbished room in its place – but the building settled, the rooms stuck, and that ended that. While the hotel’s theme suggests the future, it doesn’t have that “hotel of tomorrow” feel guests might expect like Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, and “contemporary” now suggests a décor style. Still, it’s an upscale hotel in a great location with easy monorail access to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
Also on the Magic Kingdom monorail route, the Polynesian mirrors Pacific islands. It has its own luau show (extra charge) and large pool overlooking the lake. It’s the most relaxed resort near the Magic Kingdom, and a top choice for families seeking a themed resort on the monorail loop connecting to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
A boat ride from the Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge sits across the lake on the non-Magic-Kingdom side of the Contemporary. Modeled after grand hotels found in U.S. national parks, the emphasis is on log walls, stone designs, quilts, and Native American art. Disney uses Florida plants to create a faux-Wyoming look that, amazingly, works.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Designed like an African resort, Animal Kingdom’s horseshoe shape allows guests to overlook a savannah with giraffes, wildebeests, ostriches and about 27 other animals – but no meat eaters for obvious reasons. Guests can watch animals graze in a semi-natural setting while they drink their morning coffee on the balcony. On the downside, Animal Kingdom Lodge is farthest from all the Disney parks except Animal Kingdom; however, the atmosphere and décor make it unique among a set of resorts known for uniqueness. Connection to all other Disney locations is by bus only.