Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa at Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs is a hidden gem of a hotel. This review covers my recent stay at the hotel, featuring photos of rooms and hotel amenities. While Buena Vista Palace dates back to the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village days of Walt Disney World, making it a “Vacation Kingdom of the World” relic, it most certainly is no longer a “relic,” with recent refurbishments making it one of the trendier hotels in all of Walt Disney World.
This is undoubtedly a shocking proclamation given that the hotel is “only” a third party hotel official partner hotel near Disney Springs. There are numerous Disney Deluxe hotels that cost exponentially more and should be trendier, but I think it’s a fair statement. Moreso in terms of the rooms, which feel modern and well-designed, than in the common areas, which feel mixed in terms of age.
Actually, upon approaching Buena Vista Palace from Disney Springs, you are greeted by a tall art deco-ish building that definitely looks like something out of a bygone era (I mean the 1980s…not 1920-40s). Walking along the trails to the lobby you see Recreation Island, with both a large pool but also buildings reminiscent of that era. Then there’s the main building, which is also a mix of old and new. The lobby is nice and looks like it was refreshed in the last few years, but other areas look older. Up to this point, it feels like the hotel is a bit of a mix of old and new.
UPDATE: Buena Vista Palace just completed another refurbishment in Fall 2016, and has been rebranded as Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace. We have not yet had a chance to stay in the new-look hotel, but we plan to do so in early 2017. Just a heads up that this review is now out of date…
My impression of the guest room was unabashedly positive, and based on what I saw, they quite clearly have been refurbished in the last couple of years. Everything from the design style and flourishes to the walk-in shower (YES!) suggests a design that can’t be more than a few years old.
The bedding is incredibly comfortable, with a plush pillow-top mattress, great pillows, and high-quality sheets. Of the beds I’ve tested at Walt Disney World, I think only the fancy new beds at the Swan & Dolphin surpass this. No Disney-branded hotels are this good.
Likewise, the couch in my room had a sleek, modern design that worked well and was comfortable. As an added bonus, there was an odd, abstract photo of a leaf on the wall. Abstract “art” like this is a key indicator that you’re staying at a classy place.
The desk, chair, television, and dresser all were similarly nice. All of this plus the light and simple color scheme brought the room together and gave it a lot of appeal.
With its high-rise location on the outskirts of Disney Springs, virtually every room on a higher floor offers a great view. No need to pay for one of those expensive balloon rides or go on the Orlando Eye for a view of some parking lots.
I am not often impressed with hotel room bathrooms, but when I am, it’s usually for 4 reasons: 1) futuristic in-mirror lighting, 2) shower toilets, 3) vessel sinks, and 4) tubless, walk-in showers. Given that this hotel is in America, #2 is pretty much out of the question. As for the remaining 3 reasons, it basically has them all, with the vessel sink in this case being recessed into the counter rather than above it.
The only thing preventing this bathroom from being a total home-run is that American toilet. Stupid American toilet.
The common areas of the hotel are mostly on the nice and modern side as well, with a sleek, minimalistic look. There are a lot of amenities here that you’d expect of a high-end hotel, such as basketball & tennis courts, mini-market, restaurants (character breakfast on Sunday), theme park transportation, and business center, among other things.
The biggest of these “other things” is probably the spa. I did not use the spa here, but it looked pretty fancy. However, I admittedly have no interest in spas and am actually a bit intimidated by the service menus with foreign terms, so almost every spa strikes me as fancy. Suffice to say, my superficial opinion on this spa is virtually meaningless.
What isn’t meaningless is my opinion on Recreation Island. It’s awesome. It’s a literal island accessible via bridges, which alone has a certain “cool factor” to it, and then contains play areas, a large pool, and pool bar, among other things.
This pool is huge, and the whole area has a great feel to it. While there is a bit of an 80s vibe to it (more on that below), it is well-maintained and the light color scheme surrounded by lush palms emanates a sense of relaxation. I especially like the waterfall between the buildings by the pool bar (you can vaguely see it in the photo above). About the only thing this area is missing is a lazy river. That would really put it over the top.
Now, the “mixed” part of Buena Vista Palace. There are some areas like the Disney Store, Arcade, and other common parts of the hotel that felt decidedly 1990s. There are even some spots, like the buildings around Recreation Island, that had an almost 80s aesthetic (those will probably make Vacation Kingdom fans giddy–they reminded me of Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village). The areas looking like they were out of the 1980s actually worked pretty well, and all were crisp and well-maintained.
I’ve fixated on how the hotel is a mixed bag of modern and dated, but that is really overstating the point here. The dated areas are minimal, and aren’t things that really will matter to most. I mean, let’s be honest, aren’t hotel arcades almost inherently dated? I’d venture that 95% of arcades found in hotels are dated–the very concept of an in-hotel arcade is a thing of the past. The vast majority of the hotel that actually matters is pretty current.
Then, there’s the ugly. As part of a growing epidemic plaguing Orlando hotels, Buena Vista Palace charges a resort fee. This one is a doozy, at $28 per night after tax. Perhaps you think that’s reasonable, as this is a palace, but I could find no evidence that there’s any royalty residing on-site. Here’s my million dollar idea for Disney CEO Bob Iger, who I’m sure is a big fan of this blog: buy Buena Vista Palace, add some light accenting to the high rise exterior to make it look icy, and rename the hotel as “Disney’s Elsa’s Ice Palace Resort & Spa.” Feel free to Paypal me a consulting fee for the brilliant idea, Bob.
My lame jokes aside, this is a normal resort-hotel, and the exorbitant resort fee is merely a way of keeping those eye-catching rack rates low and alluring to customers. This resort fee is a real black eye on what is otherwise a hotel that I really like. The total nightly rate is still (including the fee) around $125-140/night from what I see, which is really competitive given the quality of Buena Vista Palace, but not nearly as the advertised $99*/night starting rate. As a reminder, the FTC agrees with me that this practice of charging resort fees is unfriendly to consumers, and has admonished some hotel owners for the practice. (In the interest of full disclosure, my stay at Buena Vista Palace was comped.)
Overall, the good of Buena Vista Palace far outweighs the slightly dated elements found in places. In most ways, Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa is a far more ambitious hotel than you’d expect. It’s a hotel you don’t hear much about, and I’m not really sure why. Perhaps because the room refurbishment was just completed? I don’t know how else to explain it. It has an impressive slate of amenities, is an easy walk to Disney Springs, and has some of the absolute best rooms at Walt Disney World. It’s certainly not perfect, and the nightly resort fee is absurdly expensive, but even considering that, this has to be among one of the best ‘bang for buck’ hotels at Walt Disney World. I would certainly stay here again, and once Disney Springs is complete, I think it will be a very attractive hotel.
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Does the Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa look like an intriguing option to you? Have you stayed at Buena Vista Palace? Planning on staying here someday? Share your thoughts in the comments!