My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney World Resorts I Still Haven't Stayed At...But Really Want Toby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all safe and well.
I've been writing a lot about things I still have to do at Walt Disney World. I guess it's because I don't really know when I'm going to be able to make it back there so I'm constantly thinking about what i want to do when I finally get back. My last Top 5 was about the things that I surprisingly still haven't done; things like the Hall of Presidents and a meal at 'Ohana. The article before that was about my Walt Disney World bucket list; things I'd love to do if the right time and maybe a truckload of money ever come my way like a bungalow at the Polynesian. There's still so much to do! Staying in that same vein, I thought I'd take a look at the places I've stayed at Walt Disney World and the places that I still haven't laid my head to rest after a long crazy, but magical day in the parks.
When I'm inevitably asked by friends or co-workers for my Walt Disney World trip advice, the first emphatic and enthusiastic words out of my mouth are always, "Stay on property in a Disney resort!" There's nothing like a Disney resort. I've searched all over the east coast for places to stay with my family and we've been to plenty of nice places and a few great places, but, in my personal opinion, the Disney resorts are all just a step above. It's hard to beat the cleanliness, the theming, the amenities and the special treatment you receive when you're staying at one of the on-property resorts. And on top of it all, you're in the Disney bubble. That goes a long way. I've said it many, many times here in my articles; when I'm down there, I don't want to leave the bubble.
Case in point; we were staying at the Yacht Club a few years back and some of my daughter's friends wanted a Starbucks type of coffee experience. They weren't so enthused by the "Disney coffee" available at the resorts. They read online that there was a good coffee shop over at the Swan and Dolphin. I couldn't care less about coffee, but I wanted to see what those resorts were like, so we took a walk over one early morning before heading out to the parks. Everything was nice enough for sure, but I have to say, my Disney bubble was popped by one simple thing - the TV monitor in the lobby next to the coffee shop with CNN on. At the Yacht Club, in the lobby, I'm getting Disney cartoons on the TV. Up in the rooms, I have the resort channels on and nothing else. I don't want to see the news. That's not why I come down here. I come to escape the real world and the simple act of having CNN on in the lobby of the Swan was enough to make me want to leave and not come back. No offense to these two resorts, but…sorry…bubble popped.
So that said we've made it an unbreakable vow to never stay in a non-Disney resort or hotel when we're in Walt Disney World. That's just our thing. I've heard plenty of the reasons people give for venturing off property. You can't convince us. I'm not going to Publix, or to Walgreen's or to any chain restaurants out on the main drag. I need the bubble. I've been spoiled by the Disney resorts and I can't wait to get back to them some time soon. My first choice would be the Yacht Club, of course, but we've stayed at a good handful of others over the years. Just so we have full disclosure for this list, the other Disney resorts that I've stayed at are: All Star Movies, the BoardWalk, Caribbean Beach, French Quarter, the Polynesian, Riverside and Wilderness Lodge. That's a pretty good cross section of the resorts. There are quite a few that we still haven't stayed in and there are a few more hopefully on the way. There are some I have no real interest in staying in, some I don't care if I go back to and then there are these, the Top 5 Walt Disney World resorts that I still haven't stayed in…but really want to. For the purposes of this list, these are resorts that I can practically stay in. There's no Polynesian bungalows or Bay Lake Grand Villas. That's a whole different 'blue sky" list. This list is more down to Earth.
5 – The Cabins at Fort Wilderness
I've always wanted to stay at these cabins for some reason. I guess I like the idea that we have a whole cabin just to ourselves. I fully realize that this wouldn't be a stay at our beloved Yacht Club with it's fancier lobby and incredible pool complex. A stay in the cabins would be a whole different thing but I think it might make for an interesting change. There's plenty to do at Fort Wilderness like canoeing, horseback riding, tennis, campfires, the beach, etc. I love the idea of being on Bay Lake, the body of water purportedly spotted from the air by Walt himself when they were searching Central Florida for a location for his Florida Project.
When we stayed at Wilderness Lodge, my wife and I took a long nature walk from the lodge over to the campground and ran into several deer which made me want to stay here even more. Despite it's massive size, the few times I have been over to Fort Wilderness, it does seem pretty tranquil, and that makes me want to give it a shot. Given the current "mess" that we're all in, I've thought that the cabins would be a pretty good option if I were willing and able to head to Walt Disney World right now. Staying in a separate, fairly self sufficient cabin with my family seems like a potentially good idea in the current pandemic climate.
4 – Treehouse Villas
I can remember on our first visit to Port Orleans French Quarter we were on the boat over to Downtown Disney and we spotted these odd buildings on the shoreline and wondered, "Cool…what are those?" At that time, I don't believe they were even being used which led to an even greater mystique surrounding them. This was 2003-2004 and I'm aware that in the early part of that decade international students that worked in Epcot's World Showcase were being housed there. To us, they looked abandoned, which, of course, made me want to see them even more! When I heard they were being refurbished as DVC units, I was even more intrigued. I remember seeing the concept art for the refurb around 2009 and thinking, "I've got to stay inside one of those someday.
Circle wipe to 11 years later and I still haven't been anywhere near the villas. Following up on my thoughts about the cabins, the Treehouses would be a very different trip, but even more so. From what I've seen of the cabins, they seem to be pretty close to each other and there are a lot of them. The Treehouses seem a lot more isolated from one another, set into the trees along the Sassagoula River. The interiors look like they would provide some much needed space for this family of 5. Just imagine having two bathrooms! Technically, there's enough room in here for two families. The Treehouses do sleep 9. That might be a bit much, but on one of our recent trips we had adjoining rooms at the Yacht Club and there were 9 people between the two rooms and the adjoining doors were pretty much always open. That was a good time so I bet the Treehouses would provide the same amount of fun and since there are three bedrooms there would be some extra doors to close between all of us. I'd give the cabins a try at Fort Wilderness, but if I don't I'll be fine with that. The Treehouse Villas though, will be a splurge that i really want to take one day.
3 – Gran Destino Tower
To quote Monty Python — and I think that's the first time I've ever written those words after 12 years here on MousePlanet — and now for something completely different. You'd be hard pressed to find more polar opposites than the two preceding resorts and one of Walt Disney World's newest places to stay, The Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. Now, I'm going to throw my one caveat out here at the very beginning. I'm not crazy about the fact that Gran Destino is a 15 story building, that looks kind of generic. The Universal Orlando area has a lot of generic tower hotels. There are generic looking towers up and down the Atlantic coast to stay in. I always liked the fact that, the Contemporary aside, Disney's resorts have always been different looking and lower in height. And I simply must quote writer Derek Burgan from over at touringplans.com who wrote that the Gran Destino tower, "has more than a passing resemblance to Biff Tannen's Pleasure Palace Casino and Hotel from Back to the Future II." That's one of the funnier things Ive read describing a Disney hotel, but he's not too far off! Still, Gran Destino, from the pictures I've seen looks pretty darn cool inside. The artwork and the stained glass in the lobby areas and restaurants are very impressive and despite me not being crazy about the hotel's height, it's hard to beat the views of Walt Disney World from some of the higher floors and the rooftop Dahlia Bar.
We've never stayed at Coronado Springs. We were there once years ago when my wife was running in a Disney based triathlon and the Coronado convention center was the home base. While my wife was picking up her bib and registering, my daughter and I wandered around to get a look at the place and it seemed quite nice. The whole convention center aspect turned me off a little as we saw quite a few parties of people dining and walking around in business attire with convention badges around their necks. That just reminded me too much of work and that's not something I want to think about at Disney. Still, with the new tower in place which seems to feature a beautiful and unique aesthetic and everything else Coronado Springs has to offer, i would like to give it a shot someday.
2 – Animal Kingdom Lodge
One of the Disney hotel issues we have run into over the years is that we have a family of 5. Right off the bat, that rules several resorts out if we're looking for a standard hotel room and not an expensive suite. If you go down the list of places I've stayed in above, we were at French Quarter, which we loved, with just my daughter. The boys stayed home with the grandparents because they were a bit too young. We did the same with her at Caribbean Beach and then I returned there to stay when just my sons and I took one of our "boys only" trips. If we all want to go, these two resorts are out of the question. The only reason I was able to stay at the Wilderness Lodge, with rooms that only sleep 4 people, was because my wife and I went by ourselves for a glorious "adults only" long weekend. I stayed at The All Stars as a chaperone on a school trip. The standard rooms at Animal Kingdom only sleep 4 and that has pretty much kept it off our list as an option. We're also not too crazy about the whole "buses only" thing. What can I say? You get spoiled by boats, monorails and walks into Epcot from the Yacht Club. That said though, we have been to Animal Kingdom lodge once or twice and it is a striking resort.
There's beauty and grandeur around every corner and it's all pulled off in a completely unique way. i put a Savanna View room on my Walt Disney World bucket list a few article ago, but one of these days I just want to stay in any room at this awesome resort. The African art, the soaring 6 story lobby, great food options, a tremendous pool, and oh yeah…the animals out on the savanna are all reasons that I will indeed someday stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
1 – Contemporary Resort
Hearkening back to some of my thoughts on Gran Destino, I've never been too crazy about the fact that the Contemporary is indeed a tall hotel. I'm a big fan of the lower, more spread out hotels on property. I've also never been all that attracted to the modern decor. So given those two objections, why is this resort sitting in my number one slot of places I still haven't stayed but really want to? There's a few reasons. The first is the old real estate mantra; location, location, location. Walking into and out of Epcot from the Yacht Club has become an indispensable feature of our trips there. Walking into and out of the Magic Kingdom is something I need have at my disposal just once. Then there's the monorail. We've stayed at, and loved, the Polynesian so we know what it means to have the monorail access. It's awesome. Of course, at the Contemporary, the monorail literally comes into the lobby and there's almost nothing cooler than that.
Then there's the whole classic aspect of the Contemporary. It was one of the two original Walt Disney World resorts and it was a building ahead of its time, so that's appealing to me. I can go on and on really. The California Grill at the top of the resort is still hands down one of the best meals I've ever had. Downstairs in the lobby is Bayview Gifts where I always seem to score something really cool for my Disney collection, more so than at other resort gift shops. Chef Mickey's. The Wave. The boats to and from the Magic Kingdom. The list keeps going. We've adopted the Yacht Club as our all time favorite Disney resort, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. But I can't call myself a Walt Disney World fan and completist until I spend at least one night in the Contemporary, preferably with a balcony overlooking the Magic Kingdom!
I'll never tire of staying on Disney property. As I said above, I need the Disney bubble. The resorts are more than just a place to put your head on a pillow after a long day in the parks. Nothing against anyone who ventures off and stays in a non-Disney hotel, but I do feel like you're missing out on a crucial piece of the experience. I get that it's more expensive and I appreciate budgets. Believe me, 5 people on any vacation is never cheap. To me, the Disney resorts are worth the extra cost. I don't think they're too expensive for what they're giving you when you compare them to other resorts of their caliber. We never go during the peak holidays and we always look for at least a 20-25% off deal on our rooms. They can be found from Disney several times a year - at least in most normal years that is. There were even several trips where we got 40% off our room only reservations. That enabled us to stay at the Polynesian two years in a row. I hope someday deals like that come back so I can finally tackle this list. One way or the other, I'll get to them. I've made that promise to myself.
That's my list for this time around. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below and let me hear your thoughts on my list, share your top 5 resorts that you haven't stayed in, but really want to, stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.