Q: Hi Playground, Are you still up on the Walt Disney World scene? We’re finally taking our son, now 9, before he’s too old (it’s borderline already). My husband researched and we’re wondering about either spending more money on a resort that might be fun in itself, or going for something like an inexpensive condo that would just be a comfortable place to sleep. One option we thought was fun was Animal Kingdom Lodge, but do you think it’s worth $400 a night when the attraction is the parks? Or is it valuable to take it easy for a day or several half days and enjoy a resort setting? Thanks! ~ Allie T.
A: Hi Allie, You’ve come to the right place — I am indeed your gal for all things Disney! (In fact, I’m gearing up to edit Frommer’s Orlando guide for the third straight year).
One thing I’m wondering after reading your questions: How many days are you thinking about going to Orlando? If it’s 2 or 3 nights, then I’d recommended staying on Walt Disney World property since it will be easier to get around. If you’re doing more like a week, then you could think about splitting up your stay, doing 2 nights at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and then switching to a condo. A condo hotel definitely gives you A LOT more space for your dollar, and would probably be more relaxing when you’re hanging out. However, you’ll need to rent a car to get around (don’t even think about staying off property without your own transportation or you’ll spend all your free time waiting for shuttles). If you stay on Disney property, you can easily get around using their free transportation which ranges from the monorail to boats to buses.
Animal Kingdom is really an amazing hotel — it’s gorgeous, the theming is truly authentic, even the food is African inspired and exceptional (and they have great South African wine, too). I’ve stayed there a few times and enjoyed it every time. However, keep in mind that if you don’t book an expensive Savannah view room you won’t see animals from your room, which is really a highlight, and you have to take a bus to get to all the theme parks, which can be a drag.
One of my favorite, sanity-saving Walt Disney World options is to stay over by the Boardwalk area. You can actually walk to Epcot from there (which is my favorite park) or take a boat, and you can walk or boat to Hollywood Studios (which isn’t my favorite — but it has all sorts of Star Wars-themed attractions if your son likes that).
The Swan and Dolphin Hotel in that area is a “Disney Partner” — that means you get some perks, like early park entry (but not the Magical Express shuttle from the airport), but you don’t have to pay the Disney set prices. The Swan/Dolphin hotels are actually Westin/Sheraton properties, so if you have points you can use them, and you might be able to get a better deal than a regular Disney property. Then you could book a dinner over at Animal Kingdom Lodge one night to check it out.
(Note: Be sure you make dining reservations as soon as you book your trip, no matter where you stay — you can always cancel later, but they’re a necessity if you want to have normal, sit-down meals and not just counter service).
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Photo Credit: Swan and Dolphin Hotel