by: guide4wdw – Collin

Today, there are so many resorts on Disney property that it can be, and often is, quite difficult to narrow down the options and select the best resort accommodations for your unique situation. Don’t get me wrong, nearly every resort on Disney property will rival just about any hotel chain across the nation, but I truly believe that a few Disney hotels are vastly underrated and largely overlooked by typical Walt Disney World guests.

Old Key West

The accommodations at Old Key West are some of the very best on property for the money in my opinion. As perhaps the most budget friendly deluxe tier resorts on property, Old Key West offers deluxe studios, one, two, and three bedroom villas that are some of the largest on property. In regard to the villas, they are the largest resort rooms on property for their designated one, two, and three bedroom tiers. 

Personally, I can only speak directly to the two bedroom villas because they are the only accommodations I’ve personally experienced at this property. However, I will say that the rooms truly are huge. The living room and dining area can easily fit 8+ guests without a problem, the villa featured it’s own private balcony and dining area for four, and the views of the golf course were outstanding. As a result, this is one of my top picks for a semi-budget friendly resort for larger groups. In regards to a strictly price to square footage ratio, it is only truly rivaled by Saratoga Springs (below) when referring to the villas. 

One of the greatest strengths of the location is it’s proximity and boat transportation to Disney Springs. With all of the updates that have occurred at Disney Springs and the new restaurants and shops that have debuted, the benefit of easy transportation via a 15 (or so) minute pontoon boat ride could be a huge factor for many guests staying at the resort. 

Old Key West was originally designed as a Disney Vacation Club Resort, and was even called the Disney Vacation Club Resort up until 1996 when it was renamed. As a result, a stay here is like entering a community and many guests (of which many are DVC members) decorate their balconies for the holidays and treat the resort as a bit of a beach vacation (partially due to the theming) surrounded by the joys of Walt Disney World.

For the price, especially when booking large groups, this is sincerely hard to beat for the money. The pool isn’t ideal, being that it is fairly small, but with the growing nature of Disney Springs I wouldn’t be surprised if this resort grows exponentially in popularity in the foreseeable future.                  

Saratoga Springs
Of the resorts on this list, I would have to say that this is my favorite. Honestly, I may even put it in my top 3 resorts on Disney property. Again, I have only stayed in a two bedroom villa, but the experience helped develop one of our best vacations in many years. 

The pools at this resort are outstanding. Featuring two main pools, guests are encompassed by slides and fountains designed for all ages while being just steps away from a pretty outstanding counter service location, The Artist’s Palette. Beyond dining and recreation, the resort rooms are also quite large, and only slightly smaller that Old Key West when considering the villas. The theming, in my opinion is a bit more classy and has a slight “Grand Floridian-Esque” vibe to it that is welcoming but not off-putting. Additionally, this is the closest resort to Disney Springs and also offers boat transportation to that developing area that takes no longer that 10 (or so) minutes. If you’re a golfer, as mentioned in our last article, this is the resort to stay at. The clubhouse for the Lake Buena Vista course is located on the property and only a few steps away from the main pool.   
(Tree House Villas at Saratoga Springs – Photo: Disney)

Saratoga Springs has a fairly elaborate history that precedes the resort itself. In the early 70’s, Disney created The Buena Vista Land Company to develop the space that is now the Saratoga Springs Resort. A that time, the company had an elaborate plan to create homes and apartment style complexes to invite businesses and guests to purchase a piece of the magic as a vacation property. Additionally, the space was at one point intended to house cast members. Unfortunately, Disney overlooked a legal part aspect of the plan which forced them to reevaluate their original goals due to voting rights regarding the “citizens” who would potentially own the buildings. 

As a result, Disney developed this space, under the watchful eye of Michael Eisner, into the Disney Institute in the mid 90’s. The institute program, which developed over time, welcomed guests to the property and taught them in different realms of Disney’s elaborate business philosophies including animation, television, and many other avenues Disney has helped grow over time. In the end, the Disney institute moved away from the concept of a single physical location and the buildings were repurposed and added to in order to develop Saratoga Springs.

You see, this resort doesn’t only have elaborate history, but also an ideal location and some of the best accommodations on property.                 

The Swan And Dolphin Resorts

While these two resorts aren’t technically “Disney” properties, by all intesive purposes of this article, they really are. Disney allows Swan and Dolphin guests to book in the same window as onsite guests for fastpass+ selections, they use Disney transportation that drop off at the exact same locations as Disney resorts, and even have legitimate Disney merchandise in their gift shops. Personally, I see that as a huge part of the Disney experience. While you won’t find any Disney theming out by the pool or even really in the resort rooms themselves, the location features a character meal called Garden Grove (which isn’t all that popular) and even offers guest a short walk to Epcot and Disney’s Boardwalk Resort. 

(Photo: Loren Javier

Perhaps the greatest element of The Swan and Dolphin resorts are their proximity to the parks. As some of the oldest resorts on property (recently upgraded and overhauled), these Starwood properties (under the Marriott International umbrella) secured a section of prime real estate directly backing up to Epcot and just a short boat ride away from Hollywood Studios. 

As mentioned, transportation is a huge factor to this resort being vastly underrated. Just like the Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Club, the Swan and Dolphin utilize the same boat transportation to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Additionally, while utilizing Disney busses, your route to many parks features the identical route as the aforementioned resorts.

While all of that is great, the price is really the selling factor on this particular accommodation for us. On average you’ll pay up to 20-30% less to book either of these two resorts when compared to Disney’s own deluxe tier resorts. Additionally, if anyone in your family is a teacher, nurse, or AAA member you qualify for a deep discount if they will be traveling with you. 

However, there is one unfortunate factor to all of these excellent offerings and it is that the resort features paid parking and requires payment of a resort fee each night of your stay. Typically, all things included, it will add about $30 per night to the rate listed on their website or on other booking platforms. Occasionally, if you call the resort directly they will wave the fee, but it is a far from foolproof solution. Either way, this is an excellent resort that I’ve spent many vacations staying in with one of the best pool setups in all of Walt Disney World.                   

As always, if you’re looking to evaluate the costs, gather more details, or simply need a friend in the booking process, I highly recommend Destinations to Travel. I don’t recommend them necessarily because they compensate us for any bookings made (which we certainly appreciate) through our quote request form below or banners you see on the site, but because it’s who we use and trust to better your vacation experience. Plus, it costs you nothing extra in the booking process and, as mentioned, truly does help us out along the way.  

Additionally, you may want to look into our Updated: 2017 Discount Disney World Ticket Buying Tips – What is the Best Option For Your Situation?. We just updated the list with a new ticket offer that can score you a free parkhopper upgrade!

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