I try to tell my clients all the time that my job as a travel agent is to maximize their time and money. And although I did not start out by specializing in Disney, it has become the main focus of my business. With that being said, this is going to focus on Disney.
I am just going to focus on a few aspects of value and cost of Disney vacations and specifically, spending a little more on a resort to have a more enjoyable vacation.
I wrote this and felt like I needed to clarify a few things. 1)Disney has three levels of resorts and these resorts have different starting price points. 2) The prices between the categories can often cause sticker shock. 3)I believe many people look strictly at price without understanding the size and scope of Walt Disney World. I believe that you can enhance and create a more enjoyable vacation by spending more money in certain areas. Not every add-on (i.e. price increase) for Disney will make your vacation experience more relaxing.
Disney has three (and a half) levels of resorts at Walt Disney World in Florida. The least expensive resorts are the value category, followed by moderates and the most expensive are the deluxe resorts. I don’t have enough space to go into the differences between the services at all these resorts. But I am going to focus on a few things that absolutely impact your vacation. And for the record, before anyone emails me to say that I am pushing deluxe, I am not. I fully believe that every Disney hotel is magical and offers families many amenities that make vacations magical. I do however, believe that spending a little bit more may significantly enhance your experience.
At value and moderate resorts, you must take a bus to reach any park and/or Disney Springs. (Port Orleans Riverside is the exception, where there is a boat to Disney Springs.) The majority of deluxe resorts are located either within walking or boat or monorail distance to a park.
Why does this matter? For most people Disney is not relaxing. You are going from park to park and many people never use the hotel amenities. So, if you have the option of walking to a park, or hopping on a monorail or a boat this is just more convenient than bus. It also saves time. Many families use this model for Disney vacations: Park in the morning, afternoon break with pool, return to park in the evening. If you leave a park at 12 and you can walk back to the hotel you are back at the hotel by 12:15. If you are taking a bus, best case scenario, you are back by 12:30-12:45. On the reverse side of this; you have a 5:45 dinner reservation at Tutto Italia in Epcot. If you are staying at a value or moderate Disney advises you leave 90 minutes prior to the reservation to get there on time. If you are back at your resort by 12:45 and you need 15-20 minutes to get to the pool you are in the pool by 1:00. You need to be back on the bus by 4:15 to get to your dinner reservation by 5:45 pm. It gives you about three hours to do naps, pool, lunch, showers whatever. But let’s say you are at Yacht Club. You are back at the resort by 12:15, in the pool by 12:30. You have to leave the resort by 5:15 to get to the reservation by 5:45 pm. This give you about 4.5 hours at the resort. You basically add an hour to your day by being able to walk over. (And this means a more relaxed, less harried experience)
You pay more to be at a resort where you have better access to a park BUT you have to ask yourself how much is this worth to me?
-Personal Example: We stayed at the Yacht Club. From the Yacht Club you can walk over to the back entrance to Epcot or to the front entrance to Hollywood Studios. We had an 8:00 breakfast reservation at Hollywood Studios. We left the Yacht Club at 7:30 am to make the breakfast. We made it, with two strollers, over to the reservation without an issue. Had we been staying at a moderate or value we would have had to be on a bus 90 minutes prior to breakfast to guarantee we made it on time. This puts you on a bus at 6:30 am. Again, we saved an hour by staying at the Yacht Club and being able to walk.
-Example, we stayed at Bay Lake Tower when my children were 3 and 6. My 6-year-old wanted to ride some of the “bigger” rides at Magic Kingdom. My 3-year-old needed more frequent breaks and an earlier bedtime. My parents were able to wheel him, still in the stroller, back to the resort. This is a) really convenient if you have a small child b) easy c) more relaxing than waking sleeping three-year-old up, folding stroller up for bus, waiting for bus and repeating this process on arriving at the resort.
Bottom line: When you are able to sleep later, have a little bit extra rest time in the afternoon everyone is happier.
Service: I am just going to use a few recent examples.
We had a less than desirable experience at Disney resort on our last stay. We asked to be moved. The very nice cast member at the front desk moved us. We pulled up to the Grand Floridian and Antonio, from Bell Services, literally could not help us enough. Unloaded our bags, gave us some tips on our visit and really ma’amed us to death. It was wonderful.
My mom was feeling unwell while we were at the Grand Floridian Resort. It was late and the sundries store was closed. The front desk cast members walked me over to the store, opened it, helped me find some meds and checked on my mother later.
We had MNSSHP tickets and we bought a Tinkerbell costume. It was supposed to light up. We could not get it to light up. We thought that the batteries were dead. But to change the batteries we needed a screwdriver. I did not have a screwdriver (on vacation). I called the front desk and they found me a screwdriver, helped me find batteries and helped me replace them. And they didn’t charge me for the batteries. I could not thank them enough.
On the other side, last week, I had clients who did not get their coupon book. I was passed through from guest services to the resort front desk (value resort). I asked the front desk to get a coupon book. They said no, they could not help me, end of story. (Clients got the book but it had to go through a different department)
We stayed at the All Star Sports Resort. They were hosting a marching band competition. The bands were practicing on the field until wee hours of the morning. Every.single.night of our stay. These groups are not allowed to be at other Disney resorts.
Amenities: Every resort level offers differing levels of amenities. And not everyone will use all the amenities, so you really need to decide which amenities you will use (and are willing to pay for).
One of the most important amenities at the resorts that the majority of family’s use is the pool. Pools are important in Florida. And you might think I am going to focus on the slides – but I am not. I am going to talk about the amenities at each pool.
We were just in Florida in August and it was like being on the sun. We stayed at the Yacht Club and the Grand Floridian. We used the pool at each resort. The things that made a difference to us: the pools have tables with shade. You can order food from your chairs and/or tables and have it delivered. This is just a nice, relaxing, easy perk. Values and moderates do not offer poolside food service.
Almost all of the deluxe’s now offer a kids play area. And by play area I mean a separate, ankle deep area with slides, jets or some combination of both. The only moderate that offers this is Port Orleans French Quarter. No value resort offers this. Again, this is not a huge thing. But it is a thing and it enhanced my children’s and therefore, my, experience at the resort.
Some Pixie Dust:
I almost left this part out. But It’s just something else worth considering. At many of the deluxe resorts there are some things that you can see/do that you can’t do at moderates or values.
Fireworks viewing, this is something I had not really given any consideration to prior to our last visit. However, we stayed at Bay Lake Tower in November of 2015. The view of the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from the resort was really amazing. We also had the opportunity to watch the Electric Water Pageant from our balcony. Unexpected, unplanned perk for our stay.
On our August trip we had a standard view room at the Grand Floridian. It was in Big Pine Key. Surprise, we could see the fireworks from Magic Kingdom from our balcony. Such a nice way to end a Disney day, sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine and watching the fireworks while little people slept inside.
Again, it was small, fireworks from the privacy of your balcony but it added to the magic of our vacation.
Disney resorts come in every price range. And I am not going to go into detailed pricing here. But let me say this: you need to decide what each amenity is worth to you. How much is it worth to save time/hassle by being able to walk to/from a park? How much is it worth to you to be able to sit at the pool and order lunch? How much is it worth to have a guest services staff willing to go above and beyond for every single request?
And maybe the answer to these questions is: these are not worth anything to me. And that’s fine. I would feel differently if I had two teenagers who want to dawn to dusk in the parks. They probably would not care about a water play area. But for this family, at this time, with an 8 and 4-year-old, it’ worth the extra cost to have a convenient location, have a kids splash area and have service that makes us feel like we are being sprinkled with pixie dust.
Here is my point: Disney is not a cheap vacation. However, if you are going to spend the money I think it’s worth it to consider upgrading your resort a level to enhance your experience. I cannot tell you how much more I think you should pay for these “enhancements.” It totally depends on what is important to your family and how your family vacations. However, I do believe that investing in a more expensive hotel is something to seriously consider and try to make work.