Disney’s Old Key West Resort was Walt Disney World’s first Disney Vacation Club Resort (and first Deluxe Villa Resort), and was actually known for a few years simply as “Disney’s Vacation Club Resort.” Old Key West features the gingerbread architecture and leisurely romance of the Conch Republic in the Florida Keys. The Victorian styling of the resort coupled with cool pastel colors and lush vegetation that has had some time to mature really gives Old Key West a great ambiance.
Check-in at Disney’s Old Key West Resort is located in the Hospitality House, which is along a dockside strip that contains the resort’s fitness center, arcade, Olivia’s Cafe table service restaurant, Conch Flats General Store, Good’s Food To Go quick service restaurant, the main pool, Gurgling Suitcase bar, and the marina. While Old Key West Resort is a huge, sprawling resort, all of these “essential” amenities are in close proximity to one another. If you’re looking to avoid walking, staying close to the Hospitality House will ensure easy access to Even though the resort is spread out, it’s nice to have all these locations in one cluster. From here, you can also take a boat to Downtown Disney or catch a bus to the parks. All of these little shops reminded me of a real quaint seaside dock, which really completed the theme.
Rooms at Old Key West are largest of all Disney Vacation Club resorts. For example, the standard studio room is 390 square feet, which is comparable to most standard Deluxe Resort rooms. By contrast, a Bay Lake Tower studio is roughly 300 square feet. This difference is quite noticeable, as there’s a lot more free space in the Old Key West studio room than most other Disney Vacation Club studios. If room size is important to you, Old Key West is definitely worth a look.
Usually when I write these reviews, I use the term “we” when referring to the opinions presented–because the opinions are those of both Sarah and me. I can’t do that with Old Key West Resort, because our opinions couldn’t be further apart. While I enjoy the sprawling layout of the resort, Sarah thinks it’s way too large. While I appreciate the rooms for their large size and laid back theming, the pastel colors remind Sarah of a home decorated in the 1980s (even after the 2010 refurbishment!) and she thinks the rooms poorly utilize space. While I love the theme, Sarah thinks it’s a half-hearted take on the Keys. About the only things we can agree on are that the pool is awesome and that the “Please Help Keep Our Town Clean – Conch Flats” trash cans are cool theming.
I can sort of see her point with regard to theming being bland, but I disagree. The idea of a Florida Keys themed resort in Florida is a bit odd, since the themed resort will never match the authenticity of the nearby destination. However, it’s still an idealized and fictional version of the Keys, and thinking of Old Key West in more broad terms–as simply a tropical resort set in “Conch Flats” makes its theming much more appealing to me. While I instantly associate it with the Florida Keys due to its name, I think that if it had a different name, there wouldn’t be the “issue” of it having a Florida Keys theme.
Even aside from this, I don’t think the theming is bland. The architecture is creative and accomplishes the Gingerbread style (the non-edible kind) quite well. The grounds are lush and grown in, and the area by the Hospitality House oozes with theming. I think it’s difficult to deny this. Just hearing the music in this area as I watch the sunrise or sunset puts me in that island state of mind. I feel like I should be playing the ukulele as I sip a margarita in my lounge chair. The theming may not be as readily apparent as, say, the BoardWalk Inn, but I definitely feel like I’m “Conch Flats” when wandering around Old Key West, and given that, I feel its theming is successful. It may not have the most appealing theming to Florida locals, but I’d hazard a guess that most guests aren’t locals.
As mentioned above, Old Key West was the first Disney Vacation Club resort, opening in 1991, but it just underwent a resort-wide renovation concluding in 2010 that virtually redesigned the rooms. We have stayed at Old Key West pre-refurbishment and post-refurbishment, and there was a noticeable difference post refurbishment. While I enjoyed the decor and theming prior to the refurbishment, the rooms definitely look and feel more modern now. The living area itself is very large by Disney Vacation Club room standards with pastel color palette and hints of the Conch Republic.
Sarah thinks the rooms look bland and (still) dated with their muted pastel colors, but I think it works reasonably well. The bathroom and kitchenette were also fairly sized and the dual sinks made getting ready in the morning easier. Overall, I thought the room was nice, although it’s certainly not my favorite room on property. I’m generally not one to fret over the size of a room, after all, it’s just the two of us. If you have a family of 4 staying in a Studio, you might value its large size more than we did.
One of the other common complaints about Old Key West is that it’s huge. I won’t deny this–at one time it was going to be Disney Vacation Club (all of it!). It was built to handle a lot of guests. However, as I’ve stated many times, I like spread out resorts, as they give me places to explore. Unfortunately, an internal bus system comes with the large size here, which can make commuting to the parks a pain (…or a zany adventure?). The internal bus loop is inefficient and involves a lot of u-turns and stops, so it can be a long bus ride if you board at one of the earlier stops. If you enjoy inefficient transportation systems, you’re sure to love Old Key West! This is probably my biggest complaint about the resort, and one that’s easy to overlook if you don’t use the buses.
Luckily, in my opinion, there are few weaknesses. A very important strength of Old Key West is its cost. No, not the one Disney charges–that one is absurd. The cost you *can* pay if you know what you’re doing. If you’re a Disney Vacation Club member, you likely know that the point chart at Old Key West is very favorable to members. For this same reason, it’s also really favorable to non-members who rent Disney Vacation Club points! It’s not unrealistic to expect to stay at Old Key West for less than $150/night if you rent points during the week in one of the lower seasons. In addition to that, since Old Key West is one of the larger and less popular resorts, it’s one of the first resorts (along with Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa) to receive the deepest discounts through Pin Codes and other targeted discounts (even with these, it’s still usually much cheaper to rent points).
Thanks to the great theming and excellent ambiance, room size, relative (lack of) popularity in the Disney fan community, and nightly rates, Old Key West takes the crown as my most underrated resort at Walt Disney World. This might come as some surprise considering that I recently ranked it #6 of 7 Disney Vacation Club resorts, but obviously a list of favorites isn’t quite the same as “underratedness,” which takes into account different factors. Rooms at Old Key West can frequently be had for Moderate rates by following the tips above, and Old Key West would likely be at the top of my Moderate Resort Rankings.
Overall, I love Old Key West Resort and it’s one resort at Walt Disney World that I have a great time just wandering around. My only complaint about Old Key West is that they don’t provide you with complimentary shoulder-parrots and casks of rum. (I’m no expert on the Keys, but I’m pretty sure King Buffett mandates that in the real Keys.) Walking around the grounds with the thousands of palms always puts a smile on my face, and the Hospitality House area gives me that island state of mind. As one of the great minds of our era once sang, “changes in latitude, changes in attitude.” That song could have easily been about Disney’s Old Key West Resort, and because of that, its pricing, and its relative popularity (or lack thereof) in the fan community, it’s my pick for most underrated Walt Disney World resort-hotel.
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What do you think…is Old Key West actually under-appreciated, or does its large size make it a dud for you? Is there some other reason you like or dislike it? Share your thoughts in the comments!