This post ranks all of the Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World, the highest tier of hotels there, based upon execution of theme, value for money, amenities, location, and other factors that might impact quality. The Deluxe Resorts are for guests visiting Walt Disney World for whom money is no issue, or those really looking to splurge on a hotel. It’s a tier with hotels that are easy to love…so long as you don’t get sticker shock.
All of the Deluxe Resorts are nice, high-end hotels, and each bring something unique and special to the table. This makes it difficult to rank them, since the rankings really can vary based on what you need or want. Due to this, it might make sense to group the hotels by areas (Epcot Area, Magic Kingdom Area, and Other Area) and first determine if you want to be close to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot 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.
It’s been over 2 years since we wrote our Deluxe Villa/Disney Vacation Club Resort Rankings and Moderate Resort Rankings, and there’s a reason for 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.
This fluctuation in our own opinions of the Deluxe Resorts depending upon our priorities for a given trip or the tone of it has caused our hesitation to post such a list in the past, but ultimately enough readers have sent us questions asking about the Deluxe Resorts and we thought it would be an interesting discussion-piece, so we’ve decided to put together the list. You will 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.
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. My problem with the Grand Floridian is that I don’t think it lives up to its flagship, luxury hotel status and also because I think it thematically misfires and comes across as having an early-1990s take on Victorian instead of an actual Victorian theme. Refurbishments in the last couple of years have really improved my opinion of the hotel in terms of its unintentional datedness, so it is getting better on the thematic front. However, I still don’t believe it delivers on its flagship or luxury status, and the price point makes it a lock for the last place slot on this list.
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 very 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 very difficult to overlook the absurd price points (averaging $581/night), 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 the nicest Disney hotel at Walt Disney World or those who really like the theme.
7. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
I like the Yacht Club. It 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 it 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 really falls in this slot of its list not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because I think the Beach Club (especially after its ongoing refurbishment) is the clearly superior option to me, and it’s easy to stick the Yacht Club at the bottom of the list as a bit of a cop-out.
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.
6. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Were I writing this list the day after our first say at the Poly (this resort’s nickname among “cool” Disney fans), it would probably be right there at the bottom of the list with the Grand Floridian. It seems not only are there two sets of Disney fans with regard to that hotel, but also the Poly. When it comes to the Poly, there are those fans who love its original vibe and those who like its new vibe. With the Poly, I’m a bit torn. I am a big fan of “old school” Walt Disney World, but at the same time, I realize hotels need to stay current. After our first stay here, we both got the sense that the Poly was stuck in a different era, and not really in a good way. Not all of the changes at the Poly in the last couple of years have been for the better (I think the removal of the waterfall in the lobby was a mistake), but overall, the modernization of the resort has done wonders for it. This large refurbishment remains ongoing, so once complete it might move the Poly up a couple more spots on this list. My major hesitations with that are in terms of its very high price point and the lack of a true Signature Restaurant at the Poly. 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 the bar to ‘Ohana to the vibrant, kitschy decor 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.
5. Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
When I look back at where we’ve stayed most in the last 5 years of visiting Walt Disney World, BoardWalk is the winner by a large margin. We’ve made a lot of memories here, and it will always be a sentimental favorite of ours. However, when we sit down and really analyze these hotels (because ranking Walt Disney World hotels requires serious analytical thought! 😉 ), I’m not really sure BoardWalk Inn holds up, objectively, to scrutiny. The BoardWalk Inn is one of those nice hotels that gets things right and is a smart pick, but it doesn’t really edge out other options.
In analyzing its main strengths, let’s compare BoardWalk Inn to the Beach Club. First, there’s the theme. 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. With BoardWalk’s revolving door at the Spoodles/Kouzzina/New Italian Place (with a name I’m not bothering learning since it’ll probably be replaced in like a year) location, I think Beach Club has the edge. Pools are another factor, and unless you have a fetish for creepy clowns, the Beach Club pool is going to win there by a 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. 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. In other words, objectively I feel like I can’t support why I love the BoardWalk Inn so much, but I just do.
4. Disney’s Contemporary Resort
After our Contemporary Resort Review, you might be surprised to see this hotel so high on the list. I didn’t exactly gush over the hotel, and expressed concern that it positioned itself thematically as an “ordinary” luxury hotel by virtue of its contemporary “theme”, which is a design style shared by most real-world luxury competitors, but without the amenities and quality that would be found in real world competitors. Two things have changed since the stay that preceded that review. First, I realized in reading the comments and others’ critique of the hotel that I was a bit hard on it. Second, I stayed in an A-frame room for the D23 Destination D event. This stay in the A-frame totally and completely sold me on the hotel. It seems like such a small thing that shouldn’t make a difference…but it did. 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 basically the hotel answer to screaming SERENITY NOW!
In terms of the Contemporary’s strengths, walking distance proximity to the Magic Kingdom is high on that list. Likewise, for those who want a no-nonsense approach to theming, the rooms here will be a big plus. This hotel ranks among the very best at Walt Disney World for dining. Contempo Cafe is our #1 counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World, with The Wave and California Grill also presenting solid options for table service. Chef Mickey’s is overrated garbage, but it’s certainly a draw for anyone wanting to meet the characters while eating “food.” In terms of its position on this list, the Contemporary is for people who either want to be closer to Magic Kingdom or don’t like the theme of Wilderness Lodge.
3. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Wilderness Lodge 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. I mean, you’ve probably heard high praise for Wilderness Lodge, but that’s usually appended with the words “at Christmas-time…” Certainly, I’ve praised Wilderness Lodge as being an amazing hotel at Christmas, but it’s also great any day of the year. The key to Wilderness Lodge, in my mind, 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.
The other biggest strength of Wilderness Lodge is the price. Value for money is a big deal to me, and Wilderness Lodge is the cheapest of the Magic Kingdom Area Resorts, often by a fairly wide margin. 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.
2. Disney’s Beach Club Resort
I love the Beach Club, perhaps to a fault. From the grounds to color palette of the hotel to the pool and beyond, I feel like the Beach Club has the perfect vibe for a relaxed vacation. While I used the “to a fault” line up there, which might indicate that maybe my current mood is leading to a bit of bias that might be giving Beach Club a slightly favorable position, I feel like it’s entirely grounded in the reality of what the hotel offers for the reasons touched upon in the ranking of BoardWalk Inn.
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 (my look in the photo above is one of pure bliss–another Disney “SERENITY NOW!” moment). Then there’s the Yacht & Beach Club dining, with standout options in Yachtsman Steakhouse–steaks bigger than your head being another thing people who are awesome like–and Beaches & Cream–ice cream being another awesome thing people love–that push Beach Club high up this list. 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. I’ll be honest: I have a soft spot for BoardWalk Inn, but an actual infatuation with Beach Club, which is probably part of why it sits in the #2 spot here.
1. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
How is the hotel that landed in the #4 slot on our Disney Vacation Club Resort Rankings now #1? Good question, glad you asked! Moving on ( 😉 ), 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. Given that many guests identify location as a main reason to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, location is important and really can’t be overlooked. Location and lack of a nostalgic fan base (it’s the newest hotel on this list) is probably why Animal Kingdom Lodge isn’t on the radar of most Disney fans.
Now let’s take a look at everything it brings to the table. First, it’s 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. 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!
Not sure which Walt Disney World hotel is right for you? Check out our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page, which offers quick-hit capsule reviews of every Walt Disney World hotel, plus links to our reviews and photo pages for every hotel we have reviewed.
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.