On our last trip to Walt Disney World, we had the strange bit of fortune to try out three different resorts. During the week we spent with my parents, we stayed in a timeshare resort property off-property (about a ten minute drive from Epcot). After the first week, we spent a few days at the Grand Floridian as part of the amazing package I got as a Food Blog Forum attendee. After that, we moved to the Art of Animation resort to share one of the Lion King family suites with Kyle’s parents. Each resort had good points and things I didn’t like, so I thought I’d do a quick comparison:
Staying in an Off-Property Resort
To review one off-property resort and then make sweeping judgments about staying off-property would be crazy because there’s such a huge range of hotels in Orlando. The place we stayed is probably about as nice a place as you can stay. It was a huge suite with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full-size kitchen, a dining area, a living room, and a large balcony overlooking a world class golf course. We were not roughing it.
There were a few reasons why we decided to stay off-property for the first part of our trip. For one, we knew that having a full-kitchen would give us more control over Eva’s diet (less of an allergy risk if we cook). We also had a ton of space which was very handy while the kids were getting used to Disney vacationing because we could easily put them down for naps or give them some Disney Junior quiet time without the rest of us being subjected to Sofia the First. Finally, the resort boasts an incredible pool with a lazy river which everyone else enjoyed while I was recovering from the Princess half marathon and Eva still names that as one of the best parts of her Florida trip.
That being said, the toughest part about being off-property was the transportation. We had to get an oversized rental car to get around which was a large added expense (and ultimately an allergy risk) and the parking fees do add up if you’re staying for a while. Even though the drive between the parks and the resort wasn’t long, we did get stuck in traffic a few times and we noticed that it was just long enough to keep us from returning to the parks if we had to bring the kids back for a break. I think that fact alone would keep us from staying there again. It’s too bad, because judging just on the rooms alone I think this was the nicest resort and I’m sad that I didn’t get to experience the awesome pool for myself.
Staying in a Deluxe Disney Resort
Our stay at the Grand Floridian was pretty brief (and something of a blur because we had a lot going on during that time) but it’s always nice to stay at one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. We’ve only stayed at GF one other time (the night before our wedding) so this was the first chance we’d had to really make ourselves at home for a couple of days. There’s nothing like looking out from your balcony at the monorail to make you feel extra fancy.
So what exactly do you get for $500+ a night? The value at the Grand Floridian has a lot to do with Disney culture. The service is just a little more personal, the soaps are just a little nicer, the shopping is just a bit better, and you get the turn down service with the chocolates on your pillow.
Of course, you’re also much closer to the parks and having the monorail to Magic Kingdom be right there made a HUGE difference for us. We stayed out at the parks later during our Grand Floridian stay than we did when we were at either of the other two resorts (probably 2-3 hours later each night). In fact, Eva and I even stayed out until almost midnight during extra magic hours and even though I wouldn’t recommend sleep-depriving your preschooler it was completely amazing to run around with my daughter at night in a near-empty park.
That being said, I think the Grand is really for people who can afford it effortlessly and if a stay there would uncomfortably stretch the limits of your vacation budget I would say that you’d be better off staying at a lower-priced resort and spending the difference on dining experiences or souvenirs. Our room was lovely, but it was very small and even though it was just us and the two kids we spent the whole time tripping over suitcases, car seats, the stroller, etc. There was no escaping the children, either, so when they needed to go to sleep we all had to sit in the dark without TV or anything to try to get them to settle. Blah. Perhaps we’ll be better suited for the Grand in our retirement.
Staying in a Family Suite at a Value Plus Disney Resort
This was our first stay at the Art of Animation resort and we were so excited. I’ve seen lots of photos from the resort but we hadn’t been back to WDW since 2009 so we hadn’t even walked around before arriving to check-in. Some people don’t like how over-the-top the theming is at the Disney value resorts but I absolutely love it and I think it’s perfect for families. The oversized characters placed outside the buildings blew Eva’s mind and immediately made this resort her far-and-away-favorite. I’m so happy that we chose to have our family session with Root Photography on the resort property since Eva was so tickled! (More photos from that session later.)
The actual suite wasn’t as large as the suite we stayed in when we were off-property, but the theming was darling and it was nice to be able to share the space with Kyle’s parents since we don’t see them very often. The kitchenette wasn’t useful for much more than cereal and cold milk, but the food court at this resort was much, much larger than the quick-service restaurant at the Grand Floridian and our off-property resort didn’t offer food unless you were pool side so the resort also wins that category.
I wish we could have spent some time at the pools, but they were sort of intimidating because they were so crowded (compared to the Grand’s fairly empty pool) so we didn’t take advantage of that feature. The busses were also a little crowded, but we never were in a position of having to wait too long or missing a bus because there was no space (something we experienced a lot at All-Star). The bus for Art of Animation is also a dedicated bus which means it didn’t stop at other resorts like the busses at the Grand Floridian did.
Granted, the resort was generally a little more crowded, a little more noisy, and a lot less posh than the Grand Floridian and we had to share space more than we did at our off-property resort, but Art of Animation won this trip in my opinion. It was great to be on-property (particularly when the group wanted to split up), the food court was delicious (and great about Eva’s allergies), and the kid in me really loves all of that Disney theming. If you’re headed to WDW, I vote for Art of Animation and we agree that the next time we take the kids the family suites are the perfect amount of space for us. You’ll love it!
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