A common question for guests planning Walt Disney World trips is whether they should save money by staying in a Value Resort or pay a bit more for the amenities and theming at a Moderate Resort if they are going to stay at an on-site Walt Disney World hotel.
Like almost every hypothetical question posed by this blog, the answer is, “it depends.” If you’re beginning to wonder why I write so many articles about topics that don’t have clear answers…I have no answer for you. (I could say my reasoning “depends” on the article.) Just the same, let’s try to analyze the five most important features of Walt Disney World hotels to see where each tier has advantages.
Each Value Resort is cheaper than each Moderate Resort, with the exception of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. Since Art of Animation and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness are sort of outliers here in that they’re not an apples to apples comparison with the other hotels in the categories, we won’t give them much consideration. That’s probably best left for a separate article comparing suites or accommodations for large parties staying on Walt Disney World property.
According to our highly unscientific calculations, Moderate Resorts are about $70 more expensive than Value Resorts per night (sometimes less, sometimes more). This difference varies based upon season, discounts, etc., but expecting to pay about $70 more per night at a Moderate Resort is a good baseline. Regardless of the actual number, it’s clear that Moderates cost more than a good chunk of change more than Values on a nightly basis.
Moderate Resorts generally offer more nuances and subtlety in the way of themed environments. You have a lot of ancillary details that come together to form a cohesive backstory and more convincing environment that transports you away from Walt Disney World. This is especially true at the Port Orleans Resorts, where you can spend a lot of time exploring to pick up on morsels of the theme. PortOrleans.org does an excellent job explaining this backstory if you want to read more about it.
By contrast, the Value Resorts convey their themes through larger than life icons. At the All Star Resorts, these are primarily oversized Disney characters. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t underestimate how much they might enjoy these icons. Most adults will be less intrigued by the theming at Value Resorts, which generally attempt to distract from the “boxy” plain, motel buildings that comprise the hotels with the eye-grabbing icons. There is nothing nuanced about the theming at these hotels, and adults will almost always prefer the more engaging, interesting, and often times romantic theming of Moderate Resorts.
Moderate Resort rooms are larger by about 60 square feet. (Caribbean Beach is even larger.) This TouringPlans blog post provides an excellence visual look at the size difference.
Beyond the size difference, Moderate Resorts generally have nicer rooms and bedding. The Value Resorts, especially the All Star Resorts, definitely seem due for room overhauls, as much of the decor we’ve encountered in these rooms is dated and fading. This may not be the case with every room, but we’ve experienced this on enough occasions to believe it’s the rule rather than the exception. The quality difference here between Moderates and Values is pretty substantial, especially when contrasting an All Star room to a Coronado Springs room (the nicest of the Moderate Resort rooms). Moderates also offer in-room fridges (EDIT: as do values now) and Port Orleans Riverside can sleep 5 guests in select rooms.
I am of the opinion that more expensive resort-hotels should have better transportation. Disney’s transportation is an important amenity to many guests, and those paying more for more expensive resorts should be rewarded with more efficient transportation. I know some people disagree with this, but I see it as no different than any other resort amenity, the rest of which are generally nicer at the more expensive Walt Disney World hotels. Unfortunately, Disney seems to disagree with me, as transportation is not consistently better at more expensive hotels, especially when it comes to bus transportation.
With the exception of the Port Orleans resorts, which offer boat transportation to Downtown Disney, bus transportation is the sole form of transportation at issue here (unless you add Fort Wilderness to the mix, which has an internal system as well as boats and buses to the parks). Pop Century and Art of Animation have the best bus service, as they (currently) do not share buses with each other or any other resort, nor do they have internal stops. These resorts are most efficient.
Port Orleans French Quarter only has one bus stop, but it usually shares a bus with Port Orleans Riverside, which has multiple internal stops. This two resort and multiple stop system makes the Port Orleans resorts low on our list.
Lower still are the All Star Resorts, all three of which share a single bus at times, but have single stops at each resort. These buses are a real wildcard. Sometimes, individual buses will be dispatched for each resort and will be running quite often, making them incredibly efficient (it seems this is increasingly rare). Other times, there will be huge lines in the morning and shared bus service. When staying at the All Star Resorts, we have skipped this headache multiple times in favor of paying $15-20 for a taxi.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort are the middle-of-the-road options. They have long internal routes, but don’t share buses and both have been efficient in our experience. Slight advantage to Coronado Springs Resort for having fewer stops.
Each Moderate Resort has a table service restaurant (except French Quarter, but it’s a 10 minute walk from Riverside, with which it “shares” amenities according to Disney), some of which are pretty good. They’re not Deluxe-caliber restaurants (the kind of restaurants that draw non-resort guests to them), but they’re not bad. Basically, they’re serviceable options if you’re at your hotel during the lunch or dinner hours.
All Moderate and Value Resorts have counter service restaurants. The advantage here also goes to Moderate Resorts, as they offer more varied and interesting menus, although there are a few standout items at the Value Resorts.
Even for breakfast, this only really matters if you’re going to be at your hotel to eat these meals. We usually eat every meal in the parks or at hotels near the parks, so dining at Moderates and Values is always a non-factor for us. It is a factor when adding Deluxes to the mix (if you’ll be leaving Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a meal at Yachtsman Steakhouse, for example, staying at the Yacht or Beach Club makes it easy to make a pit stop at your room before or after dinner).
“Other” is not really a definable characteristic of any hotel. Instead, this is a bit of a catch-all for other important features and amenities that don’t fit the above categories. In addition to the critical categories above, another category that may be especially important is pools. All Moderates have themed pools with water slides, and each of these pools is pretty cool. Value Resorts also have lightly themed pools, sans slides.
Moderate Resorts also offer bars/lounges and various other forms of activities, like boat rentals, that aren’t available at the Value Resorts. The advantages here universally belong to the Moderate Resorts, which unquestionably have better amenities than the Values. (The most/best amenities are found at Coronado Springs and Port Orleans Riverside.) It’s only a question of whether you’ll use them. Most of the best amenities are at Deluxe Resorts (or Fort Wilderness), and generally if we’re going to be doing a resort amenity, it’s at one of the Deluxes, regardless of where we’re staying. If your party will spend a significant amount of time at your hotel each day, these “other” things could be pretty important. Conversely, Moderate Resorts are typically more spread out (French Quarter excepted), so if you are firmly opposed to walking, the Value Resorts might be more appealing.
Whether it’s worth it for you to pay more for a Moderate Resort depends upon your preferences, budget, and how much time you’ll be spending at your hotel. If you like a richly themed environment, the Moderate Resorts score points. If you’re primarily interested in how much your kids will enjoy a resort, give the Value Resorts a second look–to the bewilderment of some adults, kids absolutely love those large icons. If money is an issue, the ~$70 day extra you’ll be spending at a Moderate may not make a whole lot of sense. That money is probably better spent on a meal at a nice Walt Disney World table service restaurant, unless you’ll be spending a lot of time at your hotel. If money is no issue…why not stay at a Deluxe?
For us, the Moderate Resorts are a good option for a weekend trip, with our top pick for the Moderate Resorts being Port Orleans Riverside. During a weekend trip, the price difference doesn’t add up to the same extent as it would during a longer trip, and I spend a lot of time wandering the grounds of these resorts in the early morning hours. We still only stay in Moderates when we can get a good deal on them (usually a comparatively better deal than we can get on a Value Resort), and when the price is less than $125/night.
The Value Resorts are not for a lot of people, but we have nothing against them. We frequently utilize the Values when we’re traveling during seasons the theme parks have extended operating hours and we find ourselves in our room for only a few hours each night to sleep.
Is it worth it to you to stay at a Moderate Resort, or if you’re paying more, do you just splurge all-out by staying at a Deluxe Resort? Or, do you just save as much money as possible by staying at a Value Resort? Share where you normally choose to stay (and why!) in the comments!