Our rankings of all Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World, the highest tier of hotels there, take into account theme, value for money, amenities, location, pools, and more. These luxury accommodations have a lot to offer, and can be great for a splurge. They’re all easy to love…if you don’t get sticker shock first! (Updated April 14, 2021.)
Honestly, it’s really difficult to rank the Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World. There are pros & cons to each, all have downsides & upsides nice, and ultimately each bring something unique and special to the table. Consequently, the rankings really can vary based on what you need, want, or how much you value that unique quality.
Due to this, it might make sense to group the hotels by areas, and first determine if you want to be close to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or somewhere else, and go from there. It also means which might be right for you depends more upon what type of theme appeals to you, which amenities matter most, and the “style” of your vacation.
Again, we want to emphasize that the Deluxe Resorts are really difficult to rank. This is something we’ve discussed between the two of us from time to time in the past, and we have never really been able to agree on anything. Worse yet, our rankings seem to change from day to day. As such, you’ll probably find more value in parsing the descriptions to see what matters to you than simply looking at the numbers and using those as a hard guide with your own planning.
We’re also hopeful that others share their experiences with these Deluxes in the comments, so you might look to those for a range of opinions if you’re trying to plan a Walt Disney World vacation and are wondering at which Deluxe Resort you should stay.
Finally, before we get started, it’s worth noting that there’s some overlap between the hotels on this list and those on our Deluxe Villas or DVC Resort Rankings. However, the results are sometimes very different. In fact, in several scenarios the rankings on that list influence the ones here, which is why the #1 pick there is at the bottom of the list here. Sometimes, the unique selling point of a resort is undercut by it having an alternative option that is vastly superior. That may not make sense now, but hopefully it will once you’ve read the lists!
With that out of the way, let’s dig into our list of the best & worst Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World…
8. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
One thing that has been constant throughout all my agonizing over this list, and that’s last place. There are two types of Walt Disney World fans: those who love the Grand Floridian, and those who don’t. Actually, there are more than just those two types of fans, but those are two distinct categories, it seems. I’m firmly in the “don’t love it” camp.
Even if the Grand Floridian were at a significantly lower price point, it would not be at the top of this list. The insurmountable obstacle is that the regular guest rooms are among the dullest at Walt Disney World. You’d be hard-pressed to distinguish them from a mid-range Hilton or Marriott.
This cuts to the crux of my problem with the Grand Floridian: it does not live up to its flagship, luxury hotel status. Beyond the rooms, there are some areas of the otherwise luxurious and well-appointed common areas that come across as an early-1990s take on Victorian instead of an actual Victorian theme. Refurbishments have been all over the place, with some refreshes retaining thematic integrity and nicely modernizing whereas others (like the Beauty and the Beast bar) have been incongruous.
This shouldn’t be read to sound like the Grand Floridian is a weak option, as it is not. The dining here is some of the best at Walt Disney World, the grounds are lovely, and the location near the Magic Kingdom is convenient. For me, though, each of the areas where it delivers well (dining, location, and beauty) is delivered upon better by other hotels at lower price points.
It’s also difficult to overlook the absurd price points, which are higher than the Four Seasons at Walt Disney World, a nicer hotel by just about every criterion that doesn’t use the word “magical” or “monorail.” The Grand Floridian is going to appeal most to those who want the status of staying in Walt Disney World’s flagship hotel or those who really like the Victorian theme. The good news there is that the Villas at Grand Floridian do not suffer from bland rooms or the price woes, making that a vastly better option for those who enjoy this theme.
7. Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Contemporary Resort’s cluttered atrium is a hodgepodge of 1970s and 1990s styles that does the otherwise grandiose space no favors. It desperately needs to be modernized. Then there’s the style itself, which positions the hotel thematically alongside real world luxury hotels. While nice enough, the Contemporary doesn’t have the amenities or quality that would be found in real world competitors.
Nevertheless, there is something special about staying in that A-frame for Walt Disney World fans. Opening the door to your room and seeing a monorail zoom past is one of those quintessential “magic moments” and standing on your balcony watching the Electrical Water Pageant or gazing off at Cinderella Castle in the distance is something special. The rooms at Disney’s Contemporary Resort are also solid–certainly better than Grand Floridian–and those will hopefully further improve with the Incredibles-inspired mid-century modern redesign.
Convenient monorail access and being walking distance proximity to the Magic Kingdom are big selling points. Disney’s Contemporary Resort also has some strong dining options with Contempo Cafe, the Wave, and California Grill. Chef Mickey’s is overrated, but it’s certainly a draw for anyone wanting to meet the characters while eating. However, this is yet another situation where the Deluxe Villa alternative–Bay Lake Tower–is a better pick in most regards than the main hotel.
7. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
This is where things really get tough. We’re actually big fans of Yacht Club and think it’s underrated, especially the new rooms. The resort has a certain masculine look to its common areas and feels refined almost in a flagship-esque way that the Grand Floridian should feel. At the same time, it just doesn’t have the inviting sense of fun and charm of its sister resort, the Beach Club.
I don’t want to call Yacht Club stuffy, because I think that’s definitely extreme, but to me, the way this resort “feels” just doesn’t jive with the overall character of the Yacht & Beach Club (which might as well be lumped together for common area purposes). It falls in this slot of its list not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because I think the Beach Club is the superior option, and it’s easy to rank Yacht Club lower as a bit of a cop-out since picking resorts for the top 5 is difficult.
Aside from theme, the strengths of Yacht Club are shared with Beach Club, and are its location near Epcot (especially nice during Food & Wine Festival or if you plan on stumbling back from World Showcase after adult evenings in the park), its incredible pool, and a great selection of on-site dining options. Yacht Club is a strong option for guests who love the Epcot Resort Area, but want a hotel with a more adult or sophisticated tone than Beach Club or BoardWalk Inn.
5. Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
In analyzing its main strengths, let’s compare BoardWalk Inn to the Beach Club. First, there’s the design and style. While thematically different than the Beach Club, they are pretty similar. Most people are probably going to consider this a wash unless personal preference skews towards one or the other.
Next up is location. Both are close to Epcot, and you’d probably need a stopwatch to calculate which is closer. Rooms aren’t different enough from one another to really move the needle, although BoardWalk Inn’s are probably a bit better. Dining is another consideration. Both offer solid high end choices and leave something to be desired for counter service.
On balance, Beach Club has the edge. Pools factor heavily into that, and Stormalong Bay at Yacht & Beach Club wins that by a colossally wide margin. This really leaves BoardWalk Inn’s selling point as an inarticulable “X factor”, which is a tough basis for ranking a hotel.
Our personal take is that BoardWalk Inn has a lot of this X factor. Objectively I feel like I can’t support why I love the BoardWalk Inn so much, but I just do. There’s a sort of vague romanticism about strolling along the BoardWalk, then heading up through the hotel, which balances the elegance and whimsy of a bygone Atlantic City inn, and to your room. Serious bonus points if that room has a balcony overlooking the BoardWalk.
4. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
The Poly does an excellent job at keeping one foot in the past, paying homage to both its own legacy and those of kitschy tiki resorts of a bygone era. Since its reimagining a few years ago, it also feels like a modern luxury resort, with updated amenities, grounds, dining, and an improved pool, among other things. Guest rooms are also spacious and nice, and are being further improved with the Moana makeover. Those room redesigns plus enhancements to the arrival experience could push the Poly to #3 when all of that debuts in late July 2021.
However, not all of the changes at the Poly in the last several years have been for the better. The removal of the waterfall in the lobby was a mistake, and the grounds lost some of their lushness in the process. However, the modernization of the resort has done wonders for it. My major hesitations with the resort are its high price point, loudness of the lobby during peak times, and the lack of a true Signature Restaurant. Dining at Disney’s Polynesian Resort is solid, it could use something high end.
The Polynesian brings a lot to the table with its theme, which feels like a dose of tropical tiki culture in a laid-back, high-end setting. From Trader Sam’s to ‘Ohana to the vibrant, kitschy decor abounds throughout the Poly. It just exudes a sense of island fun that is unique among Walt Disney World hotels and has led the Poly to have a loyal following. Its location near the Magic Kingdom makes it appealing to families, but really, it’s an alluring hotel for just about any demographic from kids to retirees.
3. Disney’s Beach Club Resort
I love the Beach Club. From the grounds to color palette of the hotel to the pool and beyond, Beach Club has the perfect vibe for a relaxed vacation. The biggest downside is guest rooms, which are a bland and weaker than counterparts at Yacht Club or BoardWalk Inn. Nevertheless, they’re perfectly comfortable and sufficiently nice, just a bit duller than we’d like.
In terms of the main draws of Beach Club, the incredible Stormalong Bay really can’t be overlooked. I am a total sucker for lazy rivers–as is just about every person who likes things that are awesome–and this pool with that and sand at the bottom really can’t be beat.
The Yacht & Beach Club dining is generally strong, with standout options at every level, all of which edge or clearly surpass those at BoardWalk Inn. The highlight is Yachtsman Steakhouse–steaks bigger than your head being another thing people who are awesome like. Beaches & Cream is also beloved among fans, but the reputation is better than the reality. The lack of a compelling counter service option is a downside to the dining scene, but even that has improved of late with upgrades to Beach Club Marketplace.
Walking distance proximity to Epcot’s World Showcase is another big draw. In the end, unlike the Magic Kingdom Area Resorts, which are all clearly distinguishable from one another in objective terms, so much of the Epcot Area Resorts comes down to personal preference due to shared amenities and walking distance proximity to one another. If we’re being honest: my infatuation with Beach Club is probably part of why it sits in the #3 spot here, whereas both Yacht Club and BoardWalk Inn–very similar resorts–rank lower.
2. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
If I could only stay in one resort for the rest of my life, Wilderness Lodge would be my pick. No doubt about it whatsoever. This is my personal favorite at Walt Disney World, and that’s based almost entirely on my thematic preferences and the feeling I get sitting in a rocking chair in the lobby sitting by the fireplace.
Setting aside my strong personal feelings, Wilderness Lodge still makes this list as the best Magic Kingdom Area Resort. Considering the heavy hitters in the area this is probably both high praise and a bit surprising. The key to Wilderness Lodge is the mood its theme evokes. While other hotels in the Magic Kingdom area convey their themes effectively, I don’t think you can get lost in those themes.
At Wilderness Lodge, all it takes is a walk outside on the walkway through the thick woods and past the geyser, or sitting in an alcove by a fireplace, and you are instantly someplace else. Then there’s Christmas at Wilderness Lodge, which is totally next-level and unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere. The main advantage Walt Disney World’s highly “Imagineered” resorts have over their real world counterparts is theme, and Wilderness Lodge is top-notch there.
The other big strength of Wilderness Lodge is the price. In terms of value for money, no other Magic Kingdom Area Resort comes even remotely close. Add to this some truly great (and often overlooked) dining options, plus great boat transportation, and I think you have a hotel that is tough to beat. Mind you, the rustic, outdoorsy theme of Wilderness Lodge isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like that theme and want to be close to the Magic Kingdom, this is a can’t miss choice–and not just at Christmas.
1. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom Lodge brings a lot to the table. First, let’s focus on what it doesn’t bring: location. Just about any valid knock on Animal Kingdom Lodge can be summed up as having to do with its remote location away from any theme park that isn’t Animal Kingdom. Many guests identify location as a main reason to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, so that can’t be overlooked. This location also means there are no novel forms of transportation–boat, monorail, Skyliner, etc–between AKL and the parks. It’s all buses.
Now let’s take a look at everything it brings to the table. First, the rooms were recently redone and Disney did an awesome job balancing theme and modern touches. Second, AKL is arguably the best themed Walt Disney World hotel. From the meticulous design that makes it feel like an extension of the Animal Kingdom theme park to the art collection that you can see by perusing the common areas, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a hotel that really rewards those guests who are willing to spend the time drinking in its details.
Oh, and that doesn’t even address the living, breathing animals that graze on the 4 savannas outside of the hotel. This is the resort’s main draw and selling point, and the tradeoff for Animal Kingdom Lodge being relatively isolated. These savannas are something you won’t find at any real world hotel in the United States, and are the reason Animal Kingdom Lodge is a “destination” resort unto itself. You could sit and watch the wildlife for a long weekend, never even venturing to the parks. That’s what ultimately gives Animal Kingdom Lodge the edge over Wilderness Lodge, even if we personally favor the latter.
Then there’s the dining situation. With the Mara, Victoria Falls Lounge, Boma, Sanaa, and Jiko, Animal Kingdom Lodge literally has one of the best dining options are every single dining tier. In fact, I would put it ahead of the Grand Floridian in terms of overall dining quality, and that’s really saying something. Then there are rooms that wonderfully toe the line between theming and luxury (skewing, as always, towards theming), which are some of the best at Walt Disney World.
Finally, there’s the price point; while expensive, Animal Kingdom Lodge is often the least expensive of the Deluxe Resorts. All of this makes Animal Kingdom Lodge my current pick for the #1 Deluxe Resort at Walt Disney World. This is especially true if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your hotel (this would be our easy pick for a “hotel weekend” that would involve no park time), albeit considerably less true if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the parks and little time in your hotel.
At the end of the day, depending upon the day and our moods, almost any of these hotels could climb or fall the list. We cannot reiterate enough how much this list can vary based upon what’s important to you or the focus of your trip. We mentioned three categories at the beginning of this post: Magic Kingdom Area, Epcot Area, and Other Area, and you might notice the top 3 have a hotel from each, which is deliberate, as you should definitely keep these zones in mind when considering which hotel to book.
Like we said, this list is more about weighing the strengths of each Walt Disney World Deluxe hotel, and we really hope those of you who have stayed in or visited Deluxes will weigh in the comments below with your own take on which Deluxes are the best and worst!
If you need personalized help with planning any aspect of your vacation, including hotel—we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Which Deluxe Resort at Walt Disney World do you think is best? Worst? Have your own rankings? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!