I’ve Stayed In All the Main Disney World Resorts, And These Ones Have the Best Design
Walt Disney World is known as the most magical place on earth to the 52 million people that travel there every year. Spanning nearly 40 square miles, there are 36 resort hotels on property, totaling over 30,000 guest rooms, according to WDW News.
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Out of the 36 resorts on Disney World property, 26 of them are actually Disney owned and operated. Out of the 26 Disney owned and operated properties, 8 of them are Disney Vacation Club Resorts, leaving 18 main resorts to choose from in the value, moderate, and deluxe categories.
With so many properties to choose from, how do you decide which one is right for you? Our family has been visiting Walt Disney World since our first child was only 3 months old. We’ve grown to a family of 7 now and have stayed at Disney value resorts with adjoining rooms, camped at the Fort Wilderness Campground, and left the kids at home to enjoy a deluxe hotel. There are lots of different reasons to choose one hotel over another, but if you have an eye for design, you’ll appreciate all the beautiful detail Disney has included in each resort.
Here are my top 10 choices for Disney World Resort hotels based purely on design features:
10. All-Star Movies Resort
I can’t make a top 10 list without giving a shout-out to the All-Star Movies Resort. All Star Movies is one of five value resorts (aka ones that are at a slightly lower price point) at Walt Disney World. It’s our family favorite because of the adjoining rooms, affordable price, and playful “Toy Story” theme.
This resort originally opened in 1999, but over the course of 2019, every room has been refurbished to reflect a clean, modern decor style. With this value resort being geared toward families with young kids, the minimalist layout and Murphy bed set-up works well. Sliding barn doors, mini fridges with clear glass fronts, and simple white linens make each room look and feel fresh. Everything is designed to utilize space super efficiently, with platform beds that leave storage space below and the Murphy beds creating extra walking room.
9. Art of Animation
Number 9 on my list is also a value resort. The Art of Animation Resort is the newest value resort, and it opened in 2012. Its colorful animation theme is brought to life throughout the resort, with artwork, drawing classes for kids, and life-sized renderings of Disney animated classics. Art of Animation has an interesting design history, having been built on an abandoned section of the Pop Century Resort. This explains why some of its rooms fit into the value category, while others are more moderately priced.
8. Caribbean Beach Resort
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will transport you to a colorful world of rich scents and sounds. The brightly painted exteriors, pirate ship-themed rooms, colorful lighting, and tropical fans lend a relaxed island flare. This moderate resort opened in 1988, with major refurbishments starting in 2017.
The day we visited, we were offered glazed donuts in the lobby and welcomed by friendly cast members. This hotel appeals to adults and kids alike.
7. BoardWalk Inn
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and connecting boardwalk area is a world in and of itself. Circling a small lake with neighboring Disney’s Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts, the boardwalk creates a fun place to stroll and shop. The BoardWalk Inn is a deluxe resort and is designed to reflect the style of a turn-of-the-century Coney Island in New York. Rich woodwork, board and batten for days, crystal chandeliers, and vintage penny arcade games give this hotel its charm. BoardWalk Inn first opened in 1996 and was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects based in New York City.
6. Animal Kingdom Lodge
The Animal Kingdom Lodge is considered one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. This African safari-themed resort will transport you to the heart of the savanna. This hotel opened in 2001 and was designed by Denver architect, Peter Dominick, who also designed Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
“Its breathtaking lobby brings the outdoors indoors with its lotus-shaped chandeliers and suspension bridges,” said blogger Caitlin Patoka, covering Disney family content on Real Moms Rec. “Watching the animals roam in the lush savanna right outside your window is a truly unique experience.”
5. The Polynesian Village Resort
The Polynesian is a deluxe resort on the Monorail route with direct access and views of the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella’s Castle. The Polynesian was one of two original hotels that opened when Disney World did in 1971. Both the Polynesian and Disney’s Contemporary Hotel were designed by Welton Becket and Associates. Becket was known for designing the legendary Capitol Records Building in California and was a personal friend to Walt Disney.
The Polynesian is home to several dining experiences, lush landscapes of tropical greenery, torch-lit paths, thatched roof bungalows, and sandy beaches. Keeping with the immersive theme of this resort, guests are greeted with an “aloha” and a flower lei necklace. An authentic luau is also held several times a week.
4. The Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is one of the three resorts located along the Magic Kingdom Monorail route. Opening in 1988, the Floridian was designed by the architectural firm Wimberly, Allison, Tong & Goo.
The Grand Floridian was built to resemble Victorian era beach resorts in Florida of the late 1800s. Design inspiration was also taken from the Omni Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire and Hotel del Coronado in California, with red gabled roofs and white walls. From the five-story lobby and stained glass domes to the marble floors with Disney character inlays, this hotel is a truly opulent experience.
3. The Contemporary Resort
Alongside the Polynesian, the Contemporary Resort was one of two original resorts to open at Walt Disney World in 1971 and also designed by Becket. The Contemporary is also located along the Magic Kingdom Monorail route and is considered a deluxe property.
What makes the Contemporary unique is the A-frame structure, which allows the Monorail track to run right through it. Though the Contemporary is not my personal favorite based on its style, I have to give credit for it’s skillfully constructed design, ultra-modern decor, and attention to detail. Renovations took place in 2009 and 2013, improving on its already sleek, modern edge.
2. The Wilderness Lodge
The Wilderness Lodge has one of the most impressive designs and coolest themes. Opening to the public in 1994, the Wilderness Lodge was designed by Peter Dominick, who went on to design the Animal Kingdom Lodge just a few years later. Maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for the rustic feel of a mountain lodge, or the subtle ways this resort points to the grandeur of Rocky Mountain National Park, but I love it.
From the gorgeous wood floor with elaborate inlays to the Southwest inspired carpets surrounded by geometric tile and the over-sized lodge-style furniture, the Wilderness Lodge whisks you out of the humid Florida air and into a mountain retreat without feeling overdone or cheesy.
1. Coronado Springs
Originally opened in 1997, a grand addition and refurbishments were completed in 2019. Coronado Springs Resort‘s new Gran Destino Tower is not overly themed or distinctly Disney, with the only overt reference to Mickey Mouse being an artsy rendering of Walt Disney hanging in the main lobby.
Coronado Springs offers the largest convention facilities of any Disney property, making it a predominantly adult crowd, with a few families sprinkled in. Upon entering, you’ll see rich hues, lanterns hang in the entryway, and ever-changing colored lights. Mirrors, touches of gold and brass, leather benches, marble table tops, swirling stained glass, nail-head trim, and macrame chairs subtly hint at a Catalan Modernism style mixed with Southwestern flair.
What Disney World Resort do you think is the best designed hotel? Let us know in the comments below!