The best value for your money at Disney World hotels and resorts and comparing family suites to vacation home rentals
The Dolphin Hotel near Epcot and the Boardwalk
Whether it is the trip of a lifetime or an annual destination, the lodging you choose can greatly impact both your wallet and your overall Disney experience. The Orlando area offers numerous choices for the Disney traveler, so how do you avoid making the wrong choice? The first thing you must do is acquaint yourself with your choices. Ultimately, your perfect choice will be a balance between cost and the overall experience you desire. While cost may be a big factor in your choice, the location, amenities and feel of your resort may be even more important. Your choices include Disney resorts, off-site hotels and condos, campgrounds and even large homes capable of handling any size family.

For many Disney World travelers, staying inside the park is the ultimate experience. However, it comes at a cost. Disney has created three tiers for their hotels: value, moderate and deluxe. Value resorts are the cheapest but also offer far fewer amenities than the moderate and deluxe resorts. In addition, the value resorts are massive (as many as 2880 rooms) and your particular room may be a ten minute walk from the pool and food court. Disney offers 5 value resorts, the newest being the Art of Animation Resort. In general, the value resorts are glorified motel rooms offering about 260 square feet for a standard room.   Prices vary dramatically based on the time of year. In non-peak times you may find a room for as little as $96 per night which jumps to $180 in peak times. You will pay extra for a preferred room closer to the pool. These rooms only accommodate four people. For up to six people you can upgrade to a suite. The Art of Animation family suites have 560 square feet, a tiny kitchenette and cost from $252 to $433 per night.  

Disney's moderate resorts are a bit nicer and the rooms are a bit larger (usually 314 square feet), but they are still fancy motel rooms spread out over large areas with some having over 2000 rooms. Like the value resorts, transportation is by bus which may involve some wait times of 15 minutes or more. Finally, for those with a bigger budget, Disney offers the deluxe resorts including the Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodge. These resorts offer the easiest access to the parks, often including monorail or boat service in addition to the buses. Some are close enough to walk to one or more of the parks. All the resorts offer a wide array of dining options and luxury amenities-  but it comes at a steep cost. Starting prices are as low as $313 a night and they go way up from there. These resort rooms can usually sleep up to 5, but don't expect that to be too comfortable. The deluxe suites are for those with big pocketbooks, a one bedroom suite at the Polynesian ranges from $945 to $1382 a night. Keep in mind that all Disney prices are before the local 12.5% tax.

There are several non Disney hotels located on the Disney property. The most intriguing of these are the Swan and Dolphin located on the water by the Boardwalk and Epcot. They offer Disney's transportation services including boats to Epcot and Hollywood Studios and are a short walk to the Boardwalk area and Epcot's back entrance. The rooms are spacious and the resorts offer shared amenities with numerous restaurants and bars as well as a great pool. These two hotels are part of Starwoods hotels and therefore are great choices for anyone looking to use SPG points for a Disney room. Prices are a bit high, but special can bring rates down to around $200 a night at certain times of the year. The Downtown Disney area offers several choices that are better budget choices though they lack the feel of a Disney resort.  Rates at these 7 hotels can be as low as $69 per night but will fluctuate with the time of year.For the budget minded who can fit everyone in one hotel room, these hotels offer a good value.

If your group includes more than four people you may want to consider renting a condo, townhouse or an entire home. These choices are surprisingly affordable and offer additional ways to save money.  Having a full kitchen can save you a small fortune on food, drinks and alcohol even if you eat out every night. A luxurious 3200 square foot home can rent for as little as $179 a night and no more than $1600 a week  ( A 3200 square foot home can accommodate 12 people and often comes equipped with pool, spa, games room and full kitchen. The downside to the rental home is that you will not have access to Disney transportation. However, driving to the parks rarely takes any longer than a wait and ride on the Disney buses. You will trade the Disney Resort "feel" for a more vacation home feel, but that is not always a bad thing when you consider teenagers running up and down hotel corridors at two in the morning! Familiarize yourself with the neighborhood you choose, the homes on the west side tend to be newer and some are beautiful gated neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are very close, but keep in mind that traffic everything is an easy ride until you are about two miles from the park. The west entrance and south entrance tend to be less crowded than up by International Drive.

The area immediately adjacent to Disney offers numerous hotels along International Drive and Irlo Bronson Highway.  These hotels are convenient to all sorts of restaurants and shops, but that can also be a drawback as the crowds can be overwhelming at times.  If finding the cheapest hotel room regardless of the experience is your goal than this is where you should look.  You can also find some wonderful resorts in the area.  These resorts are frequently centered around a golf course or two as this area is full of championship golf courses.  If golf is part of your vacation plans you may want to consider one of the area resorts.  However, if you are traveling with a large party you will do much better at a rental home.

Your Disney vacation planning should focus on getting as much out of the experience as your budget will allow. If you can afford a two bedroom suite at the Polynesian then you can not go wrong with that (very expensive) choice  For the rest of us, a balanced approach is necessary.  If traveling with 3 or fewer people a hotel room is usually fine. For those traveling with four or more people you need to consider your comfort level and cost. Your choice will come down to budget and the experience you want, regardless of your choice, Disney will rarely disappoint!