The best Disney World hotels, ranked

Lake Buena Vista, Florida CNN  — 

One of the first decisions you make when planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, can also be one of the most overwhelming: Where to stay?

With more than two dozen Disney owned-and-operated resorts on property, there’s something for every family and every budget, from character-obsessed kids to adults wanting a little luxury.


For better views and less noise, opt for a higher floor room at the Contemporary Resort.

#7 Disney’s Contemporary Resort

The Contemporary, one of Disney World’s original hotels, boasts one amenity that no other can — and we’re not even referring to the monorail that stops inside the main atrium.

It’s the only place where you can access the Magic Kingdom on foot, which is clutch at the end of the night when you just can’t wait in one more line to board the monorail.

The views from this mid-century modern-themed resort are also like no other.

Try to reserve a park-side room for panoramic views of the Magic Kingdom and its nightly fireworks show, or if you’re staying elsewhere, it’s worth it to book a dinner reservation at the California Grill on the hotel’s top floor, where the show’s soundtrack is piped onto the viewing balcony for extra effect.

The monorail station and open design of the main concourse give a slightly chaotic feel to this resort, which drops it in our rankings, but fortunately that noise doesn’t carry to the guest rooms above.

Contemporary Resort, 4600 North World Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-824-1000

The Grand Floridian is one of the only on-site hotels with a spa.

#6 Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

As Disney World’s flagship resort, the Grand Floridian makes an impression from the moment you approach.

Guests are welcomed by the scents of green clover and aloe as they enter the expansive, Victorian-inspired lobby where, in the evenings, a jazz ensemble plays from the balcony.

The Grand Floridian features amenities unlike any other Disney World resort, from the 52-foot yacht available for hourly rentals on Bay Lake to Victoria & Albert’s, the only restaurant in Central Florida with a five-diamond rating from AAA.

Just one monorail stop from the Magic Kingdom, the perks at the Grand Floridian come at a cost — the highest standard room rates at Disney World.

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 4401 Floridian Way, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-824-3000

Beloved NYC ice cream shop Ample Hills Creamery has an outpost at the boardwalk.

#5 Disney’s BoardWalk Inn

One of Disney’s more adult-oriented resorts, the BoardWalk Inn and the adjacent BoardWalk dining and entertainment strip are modeled after a turn-of-the-century Atlantic City.

The theme is well executed, though its charm is often a little creepy — particularly the clown-shaped water slide and the nanny chairs with their toothy grins placed throughout the common areas.

BoardWalk Inn’s best feature is its location, just steps from Epcot and a short jog to Hollywood Studios.

The BoardWalk promenade is home to the resort’s dining. But the strip can be a long walk from many guestrooms, and it tends to be crowded with locals and other park visitors at night and on weekends.

BoardWalk Inn, 2101 North Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830; 407-939-6200

#4 Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

One of the priciest hotels at Walt Disney World, the Polynesian Village Resort sits on the shore of Seven Seas Lagoon, just two stops from the Magic Kingdom on Disney’s monorail line.

Guests are welcomed with a flower lei and a warm “aloha” at this heavily-themed resort, where the design reflects a 1970s vision of tiki culture through vibrant, kitschy decor.

The resort’s dining options are one of its strongest points, from the poolside Pineapple Lanai where you can grab a classic Dole Whip soft serve to Kona Cafe, where the Tonga Toast is a must at breakfast. (This banana-stuffed French toast served with strawberry compote is also available from room service.)

Nowhere is the tiki vibe more present than at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, a cozy hideaway with strong drinks, lively servers and a carousel of coveted souvenir drinkware.

Polynesian Village Resort, 1600 Seven Seas Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-824-2000

If you can't afford a room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and still want to meet the giraffes, book in for breakfast.

#3 Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge sets itself apart as the only place where you can wake up to giraffes and wildebeests grazing outside your balcony. The hotel lobby and adjacent patio wrap around the 46-acre savanna, so even guests who don’t pay the $150 per night premium can enjoy the view.

Disney’s Imagineers visited nearly two dozen African lodges to inspire their design for the resort, which features more than 380 pieces of African art in its public spaces and 4,000 more throughout the guest rooms.

Adult visitors will enjoy sampling the menu at Jiko, which blends traditional African, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, and features the largest South African wine list in the United States.

A notable downside is the lack of transportation alternatives — unlike other deluxe resorts that offer boat or monorail service, the only option here is Disney’s bus service — but its charm and relatively low cost compensate for that drawback.

Animal Kingdom Lodge, 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-938-3000

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#2 Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort

These connected resorts share many amenities, including Stormalong Bay, a three-acre water park with a sand-bottom pool, lazy river, and a 230-foot-long water slide that make it unequivocally the best resort pool on the vast property.

On-site dining includes the Beaches & Cream Soda Shop, home of the famed Kitchen-Sink Sundae. The resorts are across the lake from Disney’s BoardWalk, meaning you get proximity to its dining and entertainment without the bustle of the crowds.

When you’re ready to hit the theme parks, the Yacht and Beach clubs are a quick walk to Epcot or a boat ride from Hollywood Studios, with bus service to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

Beach Club Resort, 1800 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-934-8000

Yacht Club Resort, 1700 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-934-7000

The Wilderness Lodge design was inspired by the US' National Parks system.

#1 Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

At Wilderness Lodge, guests have the benefit of being just across the bay from the Magic Kingdom, but in a secluded environment that feels far removed from it all.

Surrounded by tall pines, the hotel’s design brings the feel of the lodges of U.S. National Parks to Central Florida with its soaring, log-framed lobby, 82-foot-tall stone fireplace and a pair of 55-foot intricately carved totem poles.

The most affordable of Disney World’s deluxe resorts, Wilderness Lodge’s rooms are furnished with carved wood headboards and Native American-inspired textiles. Many have balconies featuring views of man-made geysers, waterfalls or Bay Lake.

But the hotel’s best feature may be the boat from its dock to the Magic Kingdom with no stops in between, making the typically tiresome exodus from the park feel downright leisurely at the end of the night.

Wilderness Lodge, 901 Timberline Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-824-3200


The Caribbean Beach Resort has areas named for different tropical islands.

#5 Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Caribbean Beach is the most sprawling of Disney’s moderate-price resorts, with five clusters of guest buildings named for different Caribbean islands, like Martinique and Aruba.

Standard rooms here have a subdued tropical theme, but more adventurous guests may opt for pirate-themed accommodations, with a ship-shaped bed and furnishings resembling stacked crates for storing your treasures.

Old Port Royale, the resort’s main hub, was recently remodeled and is a relaxing space to grab a bite to eat — though it is far from many of the guest rooms.

The resort will gain points this fall with the opening of the Disney Skyliner, a gondola system that will run to Epcot and Hollywood Studios, with the main hub located at Caribbean Beach Resort.

Caribbean Beach Resort, 1114 Cayman Way, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-934-3400

#4 Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground

As a mix of cabins and campgrounds, Fort Wilderness is the most unique of Disney World’s mid-range offerings.

Cabins sleep six adults and include a kitchen and charcoal grill, making this is a great option for families who prefer to stretch out and take a slower pace (especially since housekeeping takes care of the dishes).

If you prefer not to cook on vacation, zip your golf cart over to P&J’s Southern Takeout for fried chicken and ribs — the same fare served at Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, also located on site.

Regardless of where you stay, don’t miss Fort Wilderness around the Christmas holidays. Campers go all out with the holiday decorations, creating elaborate scenes with strings of lights and inflatable characters.

Rent a golf cart and take a self-guided tour of the property, and stop by the nightly campfire where you can roast marshmallows with Chip and Dale.

Fort Wilderness Resort, 4510 North Fort Wilderness Trail, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-824-2900

Headed to a convention or meeting at Disney? Odds are good you'll be at the Coronado Springs Resort.

#3 Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

As the primary convention hotel at Disney World, Coronado Springs feels like a deluxe resort at the price of a moderate. Its recently remodeled rooms have a bright, upscale vibe with light wood furnishings, chevron-patterned flooring and walk-in showers.

The hotel’s pool complex, the Dig Site, is one of the best on property. If the 123-foot water slide isn’t your speed, relax at the base of the 50-foot pyramid modeled after Mayan ruins or in the largest hot tub on Disney property, with room for 22 weary travelers.

Coronado Springs will expand this summer with the opening of Gran Destino Tower, a 15-story addition that will be home to Toledo, a rooftop restaurant that will serve Spanish tapas and offer sweeping views of the Disney World resort.

Coronado Springs Resort, 1000 West Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-939-1000

The Port Orleans has a distinctly NOLA feel -- and there are beignets.

#2 Disney’s Port Orleans Resort - Riverside

The Sassagoula River winds through this resort, where it’s easy to find a slower pace while strolling one of the many quiet pathways — a welcome departure from the theme-park bustle.

Port Orleans Riverside has two distinct sections: The lush Alligator Bayou is home to the resort’s standard rooms while the manicured Magnolia Bend houses both standard and “royal” rooms.

These princess-inspired accommodations are dressed in rich jewel tones with surprising accents, like a faucet shaped like the genie’s lamp from Aladdin. But the real showstopper is the “magic” fiberoptic headboard that displays a fireworks show with the flip of a switch.

Port Orleans Resort - Riverside, 1251 Riverside Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-934-6000

#1 Disney’s Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter

The romantic design of Port Orleans French Quarter is hard to beat, with its gas lamp-lit pathways, wrought iron railings and playful fountains.

Unwind at the Scat Cat’s Club, a lounge showcasing live jazz on the weekends, or relax at the Mardi Gras-themed pool. You can also enjoy the amenities at Port Orleans Riverside, a short walk next door.

The compact footprint of French Quarter gives this resort an edge over its neighbor at Riverside — and the fact that it’s the only place at Disney World where you can enjoy Mickey-shaped beignets.

Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter, 2201 Orleans Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-934-5000

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Take your love of pop culture beyond the park at the three All-Star Resorts.

#3 Disney’s All-Star Resorts

This bundle of three resort hotels, All-Star Movies, All-Star Music and All-Star Sports, is the most affordable of Disney’s on-site offerings.

As with all of Disney’s value resorts, the theming here is not subtle. Kids love the larger-than-life displays of characters and icons, and the football field at All-Star Sports is perfect for running out some leftover energy at the end of the day.

The All-Stars share bus service during much of the year, which can lead to crowded park transportation, and the resorts are popular for large groups that travel to Disney World for youth sporting events. Be sure to check out crowd calendars and competition schedules for the ESPN Wide World of Sports before booking.

All-Star Movies, 1901 West Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-939-7000

All-Star Music, 1801 West Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-939-6000

All-Star Sports, 1701 West Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-939-5000

If you are flexible on using space, the Pop Century Resort lets you choose and adjust the number of beds in your room.

#2 Disney’s Pop Century Resort

Fans of 20th century pop culture will love time capsule-style displays in the lobby at this resort, which showcase classic lunchboxes, toys and music memorabilia.

The theming continues to the resort grounds, where a three-story tall Mickey Mouse phone stands proudly outside one building.

Inside, rooms have recently been remodeled to include one standard queen bed and a queen murphy bed — an excellent alternative for travelers who only need one bed and would prefer to have the extra floor space.

Bathrooms have been thoughtfully designed with plenty of shelves and cubbies for arranging your belongings, a sliding door to close off the sleeping area, and a dual shower head with a rain feature.

With rates not much higher than the All-Star resorts and dedicated bus service, this is a solid option for travelers on a budget.

Pop Century Resort, 1050 Century Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-938-4000

#1 Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

The newest of Disney’s value-level hotels, Art of Animation offers rooms themed to “The Little Mermaid,” “Finding Nemo,” “Cars” and “The Lion King” along with oversized figures of the beloved movie characters in the outdoor spaces.

The resort is home to both single rooms and suites (because sometimes the grown-ups need a room with a real door) and one of the more varied food courts on property. Take a dip in the Big Blue Pool and listen carefully underwater to hear Dory chatting away.

Like Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation and Pop Century, its neighbor across the lake, will be a stop on the Disney Skyliner route when it opens in late 2019, giving guests a new transportation option for Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Art of Animation Resort, 1850 Animation Way, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830; 407-938-7000

Valerie Marino is a journalist based in Durham, North Carolina.