Hi everyone, I’m back…with the third installment of our best resort in Disney series! Did you join us when we went on a tour of all the value resorts in search for the best larger-than-life resort? Or how about when we took a look at all the moderate resorts to see what resort struck just the right balance between theming, amenities, resort activities, and accessibility? If you didn’t, no worries – you can hop on board with us now in visiting some of the most beautiful and amazing properties at Disney, the deluxe resorts!
Deluxe resorts are top-tier properties at Disney, so it’s no surprise that these resorts feature many appealing qualities. First, they are situated most strategically (read: closest) to the theme parks. They also have the most convenient transportation options, the best dining options, the largest rooms (anywhere from 344 to over 400 square feet for standard rooms!), and the nicest theming. The flip side, of course, is that deluxe resorts have some of the most expensive rooms you’ll find at Disney. (But don’t worry, deluxe resorts also tend to have the most heavily discounted rooms when Disney promotions come out!)
So here’s the thing about deciding the best deluxe resort at Disney: it’s really, really difficult. It’s kind of like trying to figure out whether you are going to get popcorn from Main Street or if you go for the Dole whip. The choice may be different depending on what it is you are looking for on any given day. These resorts have their faithful following, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day, I think most will find something that they absolutely love about each resort.
With that said, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give this a shot so here we go!
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
If you are in the mood to be immersed in the sights and sounds of the South Pacific, then Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is the perfect destination. Think white sand beach, tiki torches, beautiful landscaping, and pineapple drinks – but this is just the beginning of the draw of the Polynesian. The Polynesian is also one of several resorts in close proximity to the Magic Kingdom. It is on the southern shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and is next to the Grand Floridian on one side and the Transportation and Ticket Center to the other.
In addition to its ideal location, the Polynesian also recently went through an extensive renovation, which saw the entire lobby redone and new stores added in. There is also a brand new children’s water play area, a fully renovated Lava Pool, as well as the opening of the funky and fun Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. Here are some other fun facts about the Polynesian:
- The Polynesian is considered a monorail resort with great views of Wishes and the Electric Water Pageant.
- Transportation options include: (1) monorail to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Transportation and Ticket Center, and any of the monorail resorts; (2) watercraft transportation to the Magic Kingdom and the Grand Floridian; and (3) bus transportation to the other theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.
- Bar options abound with the Tambu Lounge, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, and the Barefoot Pool Bar. Don’t forget to get the Lapu-Lapu!
- The Polynesian has some of the best restaurants in all of Disney, including Kona Café and ‘Ohana, a restaurant that notoriously gets booked up months in advance. Mickey, Lilo, Stitch & Pluto also host a character breakfast at ‘Ohana, which is not-to-be-missed.
- Quick service options include Capt. Cook’s, Kona Island, and Pineapple Lanai.
- You can have Dole Whip right at the resort. Enough said.
- For a truly immersive South Pacific experience, try Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. Held in an open air venue, performers showcase songs and dances from Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and Hawaii while guests dine on authentic Polynesian cuisine.
- For parents who want to steal a few minutes away, there is also Lilo’s Playhouse, a supervised childcare facility where kids ages 3-12 can enjoy arts and crafts, storytelling, games, and other activities. There is a two-hour minimum stay, and all kids must be potty trained.
Finally, if you’ve read my other articles in the series, you probably know that I’m just a wee bit swayed by really good food. In the case of the Polynesian, we could say it’s the Dole Whip. Or even the noodles tossed with teriyaki sauce at ‘Ohana. But let’s be real – there is only one food that I dream and salivate about whether I am inside or outside of Disney – and that’s the ‘Ohana Bread Pudding a la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce. You take the warm bread pudding, add a dollop of ice cream and pour the warm caramel sauce over it, and then there are no more words.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
There’s something that’s just awe inspiring when you walk into the lobby of the Grand Floridian. Affectionately called “The Grand” by many, its nickname is actually quite appropriate. The Grand Floridian was inspired by Victorian-style mansions built along the Florida coast in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Step into the lobby and you’ll see the elevators encased like bird cages, a grand piano, and an orchestra. Depending on the time of day you visit, you may even see a performer in the lobby singing classic Disney songs. It’s an experience in and of itself! Here are other fun facts about the Grand Floridian:
- The Grand Floridian is considered a monorail resort with great views of Wishes and the Electric Water Pageant.
- Transportation options include: (1) monorail to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Transportation and Ticket Center, and any of the monorail resorts; (2) watercraft transportation to the Magic Kingdom and the Polynesian; and (3) bus transportation to the other theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.
- Join Alice and the Mad Hatter at the Wonderland Tea Party at 1900 Park Fare, where kids 4-12 years of age take part in games, stories, snacks, and apple juice tea. There’s also the Disney Perfectly Princess Tea at the Garden View Tea Room, where your little one can get a visit from a Disney princess while participating in special activities. Please note that advanced reservations are highly recommended for these events.
- You won’t run out of dining options at the Grand! Table service options include 1900 Park Fare, Citricos, Garden View Tea Room, Grand Floridian Café, Narcoossee’s and, of course, the legendary Victoria and Albert’s.
- Speaking of Victoria and Albert’s, it is a AAA Five Diamond Award recipient. Each year, AAA reviews nearly 30,000 restaurants but only awards this prestigious honor to the top 0.2%. This year, there are only three award recipients in the state of Florida and only 49 in the entire United States. Simply put, it is a big deal. It’s definitely on my bucket list!
- There are lots of boutique stores at the Grand, including Basin White (they sell natural bath products and it’s a personal favorite!), Summer Lace (designer fashions and accessories), and the Ivy Trellis Salon.
Apart from these special attributes, it’s also worth noting that if you’re lucky, you might spot the Teddy Bear Lady, or the charming, smiling ambassador of the Grand, 90-year old Richard Gerth. Engage them in conversation! They will add so much to your experience, and I guarantee you won’t forget them!
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
The main building of the Contemporary is the iconic A-Frame tower where the monorail passes through on its way to the Magic Kingdom. True to its name, you’ll see modern, subtle touches like sleek steel accents and sculptured pieces throughout the resort, but I think the contemporary “wow” factor is really due to how this resort was constructed – each of the hotel rooms within the main building was pre-built in a different location and then later slid into place by a crane into the steel structures of the hotel. Pretty futuristic, especially when the hotel was being built back in the 1960s. Here are other fun facts about the Contemporary:
- The Contemporary is considered a monorail resort with great views of Wishes and the Electric Water Pageant. Try snagging a reservation at California Grill during Wishes and you can make your meal truly special!
- One of the greatest draws of the Contemporary is it’s location. It is a short walking distance to the Magic Kingdom!
- Transportation options include: (1) monorail to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Transportation and Ticket Center, and any of the monorail resorts; (2) watercraft transportation to the Magic Kingdom and the Wilderness Lodge; and (3) bus transportation to the other theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.
- The Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage sets sail from the Contemporary Resort. Join Hook, Smee, and other pirates on a voyage on the Seven Seas Lagoon to see Wishes in a whole new way! Before sailing, you will also enjoy desserts, treats, and drinks at the Contemporary. And once you disembark, prepare to meet one more special guest!
- There are so many great dining options at the Contemporary as well. Table service options include the popular Chef Mickey’s, California Grill, and The Wave…of American Flavors. For quick service options, you have the Contempo Café and The Sand Bar. As for lounges, those are plentiful too! Choose from Cove Bar, Outer Rim, the Wave Lounge and California Grill Lounge.
What I also love about the Contemporary is its rich history. It is one of two resorts who have been in place since Disney World opened, and was in fact considered the flagship resort before the Grand Floridian was built. The Contemporary was also created from Walt Disney’s vision of “Progress City” – and I’m reminded of this every time I look at the Magic Kingdom from the Contemporary and see that iconic Space Mountain structure.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
The Animal Kingdom Lodge was the very first deluxe resort my family has stayed at after several trips at moderate and value resorts, and it was an experience I will always remember. The African theming permeates the grounds, from the artwork to the furniture, and even to the ambient music. And of course, who can beat the fact that beautiful, wild animals – giraffes, zebras, impalas, bongos, and gazelles, just to name a few – are roaming the grounds? Here are other features of the Animal Kingdom Lodge:
- Standard rooms are smaller than that of the monorail resorts, coming in at 344 sq. ft. Standard rooms can fit up to 5 guests and can have a standard, pool or savanna view. Savanna views overlook one of three different savannas where you can see different animals freely walking about.
- The Animal Kingdom Lodge is closest to the Animal Kingdom.
- Because of its close proximity to Animal Kingdom, there are special trips and events that are available exclusively to resort guests. There’s the Animal Kingdom Lodge Night Safari, offered daily at 10pm, where guests go on a safari vehicle and see animals in a whole new light (see what I did there?) while wearing their night vision goggles. And then there’s the Wanyama Safari, where guests go on a 90-minute safari tour of the animals at the grounds. Once the tour is over, guests then get to take part in a multi-course meal at Jiko – the Cooking Place, the fine dining restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
- Unlike the other deluxe resorts where there are multiple transportation options, the only transportation available from Animal Kingdom to any of the theme parks, water parks, or Downtown Disney is via bus.
- There are also great dining options at AKL. In addition to Jiko – the Cooking Place, there is also the buffet-style Boma. Home to the sweet and spectacular zebra domes, Boma also offers great African-style cuisine. Other options include the Cape Town Lounge and Wine Bar, Uzima Springs Pool Bar, Victoria Falls Lounge, and the Mara for quick service.
- You can enjoy lots of special activities at the resort, including animal viewing at night with night vision goggles (separate from the safari), nightly African storytelling, and a musical parade at the lobby using African instruments.
Although its distance to Magic Kingdom, Epcot & Hollywood Studios can be a big drawback to Animal Kingdom Lodge, it does offer a very unique experience that’s very different than the other resorts in this category. Seeing a giraffe walk across your balcony is simply unlike any other and will make your stay a truly unforgettable one. We spent many mornings and late afternoons just watching the animals go about their day, and it was equal parts amazing and fascinating.
Disney’s Beach Club & Yacht Club Resort
Home to arguably one of the best pool complexes in all of Disney, the Beach Club Resort and Yacht Club Resort are sister properties situated along Crescent Lake by Epcot. These two resorts share many amenities, including Stormalong Bay, a pool complex that has a lazy river, waterfalls, a shipwreck area with one of the highest water slides at Walt Disney World, and several sand-bottom pools. In the children’s shallow pool area, kids can sit in the pool while playing in the sand. If I had to come up with a reason to have a whole day dedicated to a single resort, Stormalong Bay would be at the top of my list. Here are other features of the Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts:
- The Yacht Club has a formal, nautical theme throughout the resort, while the Beach Club evokes summer and the laid back yet beautiful seaside cottages in New England.
- The Beach Club is a short five-minute walk from the International Gateway at the World Showcase entrance to Epcot. Have a hankering for a warm brioche ice cream sandwich from L’Artisan des Glaces in France? No resort will have you closer.
- The Yacht Club is home to Yachtsman Steakhouse, one of the best steakhouses throughout Disney.
- The Beach Club is home to Beaches & Cream, which serves the famous Kitchen Sink. This Man vs. Food style dessert is not for the faint of heart – it has almost 30 ingredients, including 8 scoops of ice cream, 2 cupcakes, a whole can of whipped cream, and more miscellaneous toppings than you can shake a turkey leg at.
- Transportation options include watercraft transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and bus to the other theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.
- Stand on the bridge that connects the Beach & Yacht Club to the BoardWalk and you’ll have a great view of Illuminations.
- Join a Pirate Adventure Cruise, where guests ages 4-12 can take part in a swashbuckling adventure in search of treasure! There are four adventures that depart from different resorts – the Grand Floridian, Caribbean Beach Resort, Port Orleans Riverside, and the Beach Club Resort. At the Beach Club, the adventure is about the Legend of the Albatross and guests search for pirate booty all over Crescent Lake and the World Showcase Lagoon.
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
Being a Jersey girl, I’ve had my share of summers walking along any number of boardwalks along the Jersey shore. Maybe it’s why I never gave a second thought to staying at the BoardWalk, until one day, when my family met up with someone there and discovered this little gem. Once you step into the actual boardwalk, you feel transported to a different place. And even if you’ve seen many boardwalks in your lifetime, including Atlantic City where this resort is themed after, Disney still somehow makes this very unique and special. Here are other features of the BoardWalk:
- Along the boardwalk, there are a variety of dining and entertainment options. There’s the signature dining restaurant, Flying Fish Cafe. For other sit-down options, you can also try Big River Grill & Brewing Works, ESPN Club, and Trattoria al Forno.
- Don’t miss the Atlantic Dance Hall with its open dance floor so you can dance the night away to 80s, 90s and current hits.
- The Jellyrolls is also a must-do! This piano bar encourages guests to sing along to tunes brought to life by dueling pianos.
- There’s also the BoardWalk Bakery, home to some very famous Disney treats! Cupcakes are okay for breakfast at Disney after all, right?
- Another draw for the BoardWalk Inn is its proximity to Hollywood Studios. Although not quite as short of a walk as the Beach Club is to Epcot, the walking distance from the BoardWalk to Hollywood Studios is definitely doable. In fact, walkers often beat the watercraft transportation back to the resort!
- Transportation options include watercraft transportation to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and bus to the other theme parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.
- Luna Park is the resort’s main feature pool. My favorite part is the water slide, which is cleverly built like a wooden roller coaster!
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Wilderness Lodge is inspired by the spirit of the American Northwest and our iconic national park lodges. Step outside of your balcony and you can picture yourself in Yellowstone or Yosemite! I’m not a nature girl by any means, but when you step into the lobby of this resort, you can’t help but be be captivated by its rich, rustic charm. There’s also so much about the lobby alone that’s larger-than-life and truly impressive to behold: from the 82-foot towering fireplace, to the dueling 55-foot totem poles that is filled with so much history and mythology. Here are other fun facts about the Wilderness Lodge:
- Don’t miss the Fire Rock Geyser, inspired by Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, which shoots water 120 feet into the air every hour on the hour from early morning to late evenings.
- Every November, as part of Native American Heritage Month, a ceremony called the Blessing of the Four Directions is held at the Wilderness Lodge. James Hansen (Black Wolf) and Anita Hansen (Quick Silver) are part of the ceremony, which symbolizes driving out negative energy and purifying the Lodge for the following year.
- There are lots of great dining options at the Wilderness Lodge: there’s Artist Point for fine dining, Whispering Canyon Cafe for a truly unique sit-down meal experience, Roaring Fork and Trout Pass Pool Bar for quick service, and Territory Lounge for drinks.
- Transportation options include bus transportation to any of the theme parks, water parks or Downtown Disney. But what’s unique about Wilderness Lodge is that it has watercraft transportation that travels on both Seven Seas lagoon and Bay Lake. Red Flag routes go to the Magic Kingdom, while Blue Flag routes go to Fort Wilderness and the Contemporary Resort.
- You might get a chance to be a Flag Family! Every morning, a family is chosen to help cast members raise five flags (American flag, Florida state flag, Walt Disney World flag, and two Wilderness Lodge flags) over the Wilderness Lodge.
- Don’t miss seeing the Electric Water Pageant by the boat docks! You can also see Wishes from certain areas of the resort.
And now that our tour is over…
Like I said at the beginning of this article, it’s really difficult to pick the best deluxe resort at Disney. Each resort has so much to offer, you really can’t go wrong! But with that said, I am going to give our coveted award to two resorts. For those who are looking to take advantage of the Magic Kingdom for most of their stay, I would pick the Polynesian as my top resort (just barely getting by the Grand). In addition to the fact that it has just recently gone through a pretty major renovation, the Polynesian is full of charm and that feeling of ohana. Plus, who can beat onsite Dole Whips and that oh-so-amazing ‘Ohana bread pudding? For those who are looking to take advantage of Epcot and/or Hollywood Studios for most of their stay, I would pick the Beach Club as my top resort. The key differentiator for me is its proximity to Epcot. It’s a quick walk over the hill and you are steps away from France! Add to that a truly fantastic pool complex with Stormalong Bay, and the readily accessible attractions from neighboring BoardWalk Inn, and it’s tough to beat.
And hey, if you’re having a tough time deciding, there’s always the possibility of planning a split stay!
And so now I turn it over to you. What is the best deluxe resort at Walt Disney World? Sound off in the comments!
Hi, I’m Myra and I’m a huge Disney nerd and addict! I’m also an independent travel agent at World of Magic Travel, the preferred agency of Chip and Co. and Disney Addicts. If you have any questions regarding your upcoming vacation, or if there’s anything I can do to help you book and plan your trip, visit my page or send me an email at email@example.com. My services are always free!
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