We are no strangers to small hotel rooms. Over the years, we’ve stayed in plenty of cramped quarters–especially internationally, where tiny accommodations are more common. I’m pretty sure we once stayed in an Airbnb in Hiroshima that was an actual college dorm room (it’s a long story). About the only thing we have not done is a capsule hotel–but that’s on the bucket list.
Since then, the Tower Studio has been the source of a lot of controversy among both Disney fans and more casual guests. We’ve stumbled across YouTube videos that absolutely eviscerate it. At first, this struck us as hyperbole–like the reviewer purposefully booked the room with a specific conclusion and angle in mind. And perhaps it was, but there’s also a lot of validity to the criticism. We’ll circle back to that in a bit, but for now, we should focus on the actual subject of this stay.
We mention the Tower Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort because our latest stay was in the new ‘remix’ of that accommodations style–the Duo Studio at the Villas at Disneyland Hotel (VDH). Of the 344 rooms in this new Disney Vacation Club tower, there are 38 Duo Studios. Of these 38 Duo Studios, there are 4 that are in the Garden wing.
This is actually separate from the main tower in a two-story structure across from the pool. There are a grand total of 8 rooms in this building, which might strike you as a “why bother?” number. My guess is that the garden wing actually serves the purpose of blocking out the pool area from the real world just on the other side of Walnut Street, and it was either this or a big wall. The small building was definitely the right call–it’s a nice place to stay and makes the pool area feel a bit more cozy.
The Garden wing is home to the only Deluxe and Duo Studios that have balconies or patios. Being big balcony fans and having stayed in the Tower Studio before, that was imperative to us. But between there being only 4 of these rooms and the likelihood that only 1-2 of them have been declared so far, it’s a highly competitive room category. Suffice to say, I was very pleased (and lucky) to have scored this reservation!
Before getting too deep into this, we’d refer you to our full Villas at Disneyland Hotel Review & Room Tour for everything you need to know about the resort and a look inside all the other room categories. That covers the pros & cons of the new DVC tower as a whole, whereas this dispenses with basics and background and focuses specifically on the Duo Studio Garden.
At only 250 square feet in size, the Duo Studio Garden is the smallest version of this room in existence; it “beats” the Tower Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort by 5 square feet, and that difference definitely matters in a room this size. The Duo Studios are intended for couples or solo travelers…or in our case, a couple with a baby.
The Duo Studio rooms feature one queen-size pull-down convertible sofa bed, two ottoman, a flat-screen television, 2-person bench, chair, and a kitchenette with mini-fridge, microwave, and coffee maker. They also have shelving, drawers, and a closet–there’s sufficient storage for a party of 2.
The Duo Studios all feature decor and themed design inspired by The Jungle Book. As with all of the recent Disney Vacation Club rooms, the key feature of the Duo Studio–which is what what makes it viable in the first place–is that the queen sized bed folds down from the wall and transforms into the sofa when not in use. It’s essentially a mixed-use or convertible room as a result.
When it came to the Villas at Disneyland Hotel, this new room type was the one about which I was most excited. We had been very mixed on the Tower Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort, thinking that the room category was a good idea, but it just didn’t quite “work,” with a few perplexing uses of space that weren’t exactly efficient.
We were eager to see whether Disney learned anything and iterated upon the idea, or if the Duo Studio in VDH would be more of the same. So, did it live up to expectations? Let’s take a look…
The obvious downside is that the main living area in the Duo Studio is small. That much should be apparent based on the square footage, but in case not, these rooms are about 130 square feet smaller than the regular rooms.
We’ve stayed in both the Deluxe Studio and Duo Studio in the Villas at Disneyland Hotel, and that difference is absolutely noticeable. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise with claims that this “feels a lot bigger” than it really is.
To contextualize this, the space you’re losing in the Duo Studio is essentially where the regular bed would be in the Deluxe Studio. The layout is fairly similar, but as if the regular bed had been surgically removed and the kitchenette condensed and grafted over to under the television.
That is probably why some fans contend the Duo Studio feels larger than expected. If you’re not using the regular bed during the day, it’s not really adding anything to the room’s spaciousness. So there’s some validity to the point that the Duo Studio doesn’t feel as small as it is on paper.
Regardless, if it were just the room itself, the Duo Studio would become claustrophobic with two people after a bit. We’re smaller people used to smaller accommodations, but that’s been our experience with the Tower Studio at Riviera Resort. This is precisely why we made the extra effort to book the Duo Studio Garden, guaranteeing ourselves a balcony or patio.
In terms of how the space inside the Duo Studio Garden at VDH is utilized, it’s very efficient. We were concerned about this, given that Riviera’s Tower Studio has a big bathroom and clumsy closet, which meant that room felt smaller than it actually is–at least to us. Giving Disney the benefit of the doubt (to some degree), their hand was probably forced with some of those layout designs, as the Tower Studio is literally in a tower, so it’s necessarily wedge-shaped.
We were also worried since we’ve added a baby to the mix since our last stay in the Tower Studio. Granted, she is very small by human standards–like one-tenth the size of either of us, tops–but she and her assorted belongings take up a surprising amount of space. She burns through a lot of diapers, whereas Sarah and I are fully potty-trained. Just one example.
In any case, the Duo Studios at Disneyland Hotel have the boxy goodness of normal hotel rooms. In addition to that, every inch of the room is thoughtfully designed, right down to the twin ottomans that fit neatly under the nightstands when not in use. It would be impossible to list all of the clever uses of the space here, but they’re obvious once you’re inside.
This shouldn’t be a surprise–Disney has gotten really good at space-maximizing designs with recent room overhauls and new designs, but we were still worried given the Tower Studio. If you’re approaching this from a similar perspective, we can put those fears to rest. Every inch of this room and every feature serve a purpose; nothing is wasted.
The three of us did not feel too cramped in Disneyland Hotel’s Duo Studio, whereas the two of us did feel that way in Riviera’s Tower Studio.
One other criticism we had of the Tower Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort was that the lighting is poor and that the design in general is a bit dreary and dull, with scant artwork and darker woods. It’s quite the departure from other recent room designs at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, and especially to Riviera Resort, which feature significantly better design in the Deluxe Studios.
Again, not the case with the Duo Studios at Disneyland Hotel. We both loved The Jungle Book aesthetic, which is bit on the darker side as compared to the other rooms (almost all of which are princess-themed) but it’s still very vibrant and fun. The artwork is nice, and there are plenty of pops of color.
I also like the variety of lighting, which ranges from moody and atmospheric if you just use the light behind the television or lamps above the bedside table to downright bright if you use all of the room’s lights. There’s also more window coverage here than in the Tower Studio, so you can have abundant natural lighting, if you’d prefer.
My personal favorite detail of the Duo Studio is the appearances by Mowgli and Baloo. I had a lot of fun capturing photos of Megatron and Sarah appearing as analogs to that duo. I also really liked the area rug under the the pull-down bed, which both adds thematically and is just a nice way of giving the room more depth and texture. This is a great compromise between the more sanitary laminate floors and fully carpeted rooms.
Beyond this, the design of the Duo Studio is upscale, so it doesn’t feel like you’re staying in a budget hotel room or ‘value’ tier room. The finishings and decor are nice and high-caliber, and there’s every bit as much attention to detail as in the Deluxe Studios. These are like those rooms–but with the regular bed removed–in pretty much every sense.
For those who are curious, we found the pull-down bed to be comfortable. I would say “surprisingly” comfortable, but we’ve had pretty good success with all of these new-ish pull-down beds at Walt Disney World, too.
If you’ve used one of those, whatever your opinion of it is will almost certainly hold true here. We’re big fans of these type of bed as opposed to one that folds out from inside the couch. Having a proper mattress is a huge win.
The bathroom is also quite nice and similar to the Deluxe Studios. Plenty of counter space, bright in-mirror lighting, and more. There’s also more Jungle Book art above the toilet.
The combination of rainfall shower head coupled with a wand is nice, as is the tile detailing and bench seating. There’s more than enough space in the shower, which is another feature that will set this room apart from lower tier rooms.
Saving the best for last, the balcony truly blew our minds. This is the defining feature of the Duo Studio Garden, and why some of you couples should strongly consider the Duo Studio Garden over a regular (balcony-less) Deluxe Studio. This is the big advantage this room has over almost any other option at Disneyland Hotel.
The balcony on the Duo Studio Garden feels like a construction “goof-up” in the best way possible. It might be difficult to tell from the photos, but this balcony is literally larger than the main living area in the Duo Studio, which immediately led me to wonder whether it was a mistake.
It’s like they made the decision to do Duo Studios and Deluxe Studios in this same structure, but didn’t account for the difference in size between the two types of rooms. As if someone halfway through design realized that and said, “screw it, just give the Duo Studio Garden an enormous balcony.”
I’m serious. This structure and its balconies or patios are in plain view from the pool, and from what I could discern, the only difference between the room types is that the Deluxe Studios have rooms that extend out further into their balconies. It’s possible that I’m wrong, but from I could gather, the footprint is the same–the Duo Studios just have bigger balconies and the Deluxe Studios have larger rooms.
Technically, balcony size is not counted into square footage…so this being the smallest Disney hotel room is accurate. But from a practical perspective, that’s highly dubious. If you gave me the choice between this room and its enormous balcony and the Tower Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort or Value Resorts at Walt Disney World, I’m taking this every single time–without hesitation.
Honestly, I’m also taking this over the Deluxe Studios inside the main tower of the Villas at Disneyland Hotel. We are big indoor-outdoor living people, and the enormous balcony absolutely makes the totality of the Duo Studio Garden feel larger than those balcony-less rooms. Aside from sleeping, we easily spent 75% of our time here out on the balcony. (The only reason that number wasn’t even higher is because our stay was during one of the coldest nights of the year in Anaheim–it got down to 40 degrees!)
This also worked out well for us as we were able to use the Duo Studio Garden to “entertainment.” We’ve been avoiding indoor activities, so it’s been a few months since we’ve seen some friends. Being able to hang out on the balcony was perfect. There would’ve easily been space for 6 people in chairs out there, assuming we had that many chairs and friends.
We know there’s been a lot of curiosity about these new room types since Disney Vacation Club members are frugal. No shade or shame there, as we’re also frugal. Hence or testing of the Tower and Duo Studios at the two newest resorts.
As DVC members, we try to use our points as sparingly as possible–always booking studios, and typically doing so with the value-friendly rooms at the BoardWalk Villas, Animal Kingdom Lodge, or Old Key West. For the “fancier” resorts, we try to book off-season weekday stays whenever possible. That was part of the motivation for doing this in the winter…but we also wanted to wait until Megatron was a few months old for her first hotel stay. There’s also the fact that this was when I could find availability.
Anyway, the Duo Studio Garden is a slight premium over the standard Duo Studio. During our stay, it was an extra 2 points, but it can be as much as a 5 point difference during peak dates. In our view, it is absolutely and unquestionably worth the premium. For us, that was especially true since this was a hotel-centric getaway and we spent most of our time in the room or at nearby Palm Breeze.
Unless you’re park commandos who plan on doing Disneyland and Disney California Adventure from Early Entry until closing and only need the room as a place to crash, we think the premium is probably worth it. Even using that balcony for an hour or two a day–for your morning coffee or a drink to decompress at the end of the day–makes it worth it.
For couples who would otherwise book a Deluxe Studio, the Duo Studio Garden is even more of a no brainer. This room is always cheaper (in points) than the balcony-less Deluxe Studio, and the overall footprint for this room appears to be larger once you account for the balcony.
If you’re primarily a Walt Disney World visitor and are questioning the practicality of a balcony, keep in mind that Florida and Southern California have very different climates. Whereas the Orlando area celebrates summer 43 weeks of the year with hot and humid weather, it’s more likely to be too cold than it is too hot in Anaheim.
Aside from a few weeks in late summer and winter, the weather is usually perfect in Southern California. Balconies are much more useful–which is part of why it’s disappointing that there are so few of them attached to the rooms in the Villas at Disneyland Hotel.
The above value proposition discussion pertains to points and not cash rates. There has been a lot of criticism about the cash rates for these duo rooms on both coasts being absurd, with prices starting at around $500 per night and going up to over $700. No question, those prices are absurd. So too are almost all Deluxe Villa Resort prices, especially pre-discount.
The problem with all Deluxe Villas is that you might not be able to find them via discounts (since the inventory is really limited on the hotel side), so you might actually be paying those cash rates. If the choice is between a regular room at the Grand Californian (my favorite hotel at Disneyland Resort, and a strong contender for #1 in the U.S.) and the Duo Studio–even the Garden one–for the exact same price, I’m taking the Grand Californian every single time.
As much as we liked this room and its big ole balcony, we’d pay a premium to stay in a standard room at the Grand Californian (GCH) with a standard balcony. The Duo Studio Garden is great and compares favorably to the Deluxe Studios at VDH, but the complete package still isn’t as good as the GCH.
Whether the Duo Studio Garden is worth the premium relative to the regular Duo Studio or savings relative to Deluxe Studios is up to the individual or couple. Personally, I think the value proposition of this particular room–on points–is absolutely tremendous. That balcony adds so much and almost feels like a mistake. There are very few DVC rooms within walking distance of parks that are this large, nice, and cheap.
If paying cash, it’s a totally different story. I’d still favor this room over any of the regular hotel rooms at Disneyland Hotel–and certainly Pixar Place Hotel–but when compared to Grand Californian, it’s more of an “it depends” situation. If this room weren’t significantly cheaper and I didn’t have a use or need for the huge balcony, I’m probably picking GCH.
Once fully declared, I suspect there are enough frugal DVC members who will want to take advantage of the value proposition the Duo Studio Gardens offer, making it difficult to book these via cash rates, regardless. The upside coupled with low supply (only 4 units, by my count) is going to make these a hot ticket.
Honestly, that’s for the best. We mentioned negative reviews of the Tower Studios at the top of the post, and that’s completely understandable. These rooms remind me a bit of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser (oddly enough), as there’s likely a knowledge gap between fervent fans and casual guests.
It’s not difficult to imagine a normal, non-fan logging on to Disneyland.com to price out rooms, seeing ‘Duo Studio Garden’ priced at $600 or whatever, and making the very reasonable assumption based on the cash rate that this is a fancy hotel room. Only to arrive and find that there’s “no bed” and the room is sized like something in the heart of New York City or Tokyo. I’m curious how often Walt Disney World or Disneyland receive complaints from regular guests about this type of room.
By contrast, DVC members are higher-knowledge, repeat guests who are booking competitive categories because that’s what they actually want. I’d hope/hazard a guess that they are not complaining about the duo rooms, and also that they’re giving much higher satisfaction scores to this style of accommodations. (A bit of an aside, but I always think discrepancies between causal guests and diehard fans are fascinating.)
Ultimately, we went into Megatron’s first resort reservation wondering whether we’d made a terrible mistake and the tiny room would be worse than the Tower Studio and too tiny for two adults and a baby. We ended up being pleasantly surprised by the layout and use of space inside the room, and blown away by the balcony. Her first stay was a fun one, and we’re already looking for an excuse to book the Duo Garden Studio again.
Beyond couples with babies, the Duo Studio Garden at the Villas at Disneyland Hotel is a fantastic room for some demographics and the balcony or patio is an absolute gamechanger and substantial enhancement for the slight point-premium. Even when it comes to just the interior, Disney has improved upon the Tower Studio in several ways, and fixed almost all of the shortcomings found in that room at Riviera Resort. It is obviously still small, but that’s a feature rather than a bug–so it’s hard to criticize that. If you book a small room, don’t be surprised when you receive…a small room!
As a general matter, the 2-person studio is a niche category that’s only going to work for certain travelers. It’s tough to convey how these rooms feel until you spend a decent amount of time in them. If, after reading this lengthy review and seeing the photos & video, you’re still unsure of whether it’s right for you…it probably isn’t.
What do you think of the Duo Studio Garden at the Villas at Disneyland Hotel? Will you be taking advantage of the savings these offer and booking, or would you rather have a full-sized Deluxe Studio? Thoughts on the gigantic balcony? What do you view as the ideal use-case for the Duo Studio? Any questions about the Villas at Disneyland Hotel? Agree or disagree with our assessment? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!