When planning any Walt Disney World vacation, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is deciding where to stay. In this post, we’ll break down all your options, including exclusive options for military families.
Your options of where to stay include being on-property (at a Disney Resort), on-property at a Non-Disney Resort (like Swan or Dolphin Hotels), or staying off property, close to Walt Disney World.
Our favorite way to help other people decide what’s best for them is to ask “What’s most important to you?”
If low-cost is your priority, then staying off property will often times save you money. The trade-off for that is convenience.
If convenience is your priority, then staying on property will be your best bet. The trade-off for that is that it will probably cost you more.
I personally have experienced both ways, and there’s absolutely no way I’m staying off property again. (You know what I value, right?)
What to Consider:
Do you want the dining plan? If so, then you’ll need to stay on-property at a Disney Resort. You will not be eligible for the Dining Plan while staying off-property, at Shades of Green, or at The Swan or The Dolphin resorts.
What are the ages of your children? If you’re traveling with little ones who still need naps, you’ll want to be somewhere close by so you can take a break during the day. And trust me, Disney is magical, but kids still need naps and it’ll be much more enjoyable if you build that into your schedule.
Will you (or the children) need a break during the day? You may not be traveling with small kids, but may want to take a break mid-day or hang out at the pool. It’s easier to do this when you’re on property
Are you prepared for handling the Florida weather? It’s unpredictable there. Surprise downpours, rain, heat that will make you want to tap out whether you have Fastpasses to get to or not. Being able to be flexible in the middle of your trip because you’re right on property has its perks.
Staying on property means that you’ll have transportation options to and from the airport with the Magical Express Bus, as well as to the parks and Disney Springs directly from your resort. You can also take advantage of Disney’s dining plan options, and Extra Park Hours. On different days of the week, one park will either open early or stay open later just for guests staying on property. This allows you to enjoy lighter crowds, and is especially good on days you weren’t able to snag a Fastpass to the ride you wanted. Less of a wait time!
*Note even though you are on-property, Shades of Green, The Swan and The Dolphin hotels are not eligible for these typical “on-property” perks.
Disney Property Categories
Disney has 3 property types.
Value Resorts are the lowest in price. Each resort has fun themes that children love, with rooms that are typically smaller (than the other 2 categories). They come with double beds, and on-site dining is kid-friendly foods. Military discounts on Value Resorts are usually around 10% – 20% off regular room rate and can accommodate a family of 4 or less.
Transportation option is bus only, and often let out in the front of the resort, rather than several locations around the resort. Pop Century and Art of Animation resort have a SkyLiner station.
Value Resorts are: All Star Movies, All Star Music, All Star Sports, Pop Century, and Art of Animation
Moderate Resorts have middle of the road pricing, feels less like in your face “Disney.” These resorts are still themed with a more subtle nod to Disney brands, for example, Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside resorts will make you think of Princess and the Frog. Moderate resorts are reminiscent of your every day “nice” hotel, with the bonus of Disney level customer service.
Military discounts on Moderate are 25% – 35% off and accommodate up to a family of 5. Transportation options include buses, and in some cases boat and SkyLiner.
Moderate Resorts are: Port Orleans (French Quarter and Riverside), Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness
Deluxe resorts have higher end pricing and a higher end feel. Military discounts are around 40% off. They are usually located very close to a park (within walking distance) with several transportation options including bus, boat, Monorail, and within walking distance to a SkyLiner station.
Deluxe Resorts also offer Club Level rooms that have concierge services and includes food and drinks (yes, adult beverages!) and a lounge on property.
Deluxe Resorts are: Yacht Club, Beach Club, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Inn
Shades of Green Resort
Shades of Green is a Disney owned resort on-property and exclusively for military affiliated families. The resort is close to Polynesian resort, nestled between two beautiful PGA golf courses. The resort has restaurants, an AAFES store, and easily some of the largest rooms on-property. Definitely larger than the Moderate resorts.
The resort has several family oriented activities to enjoy, a coffee shop, pools and its own bus system. The times of the bus vary from the Disney resort schedule. Many people who don’t mind a quick 5 – 10 minute walk go over to The Polynesian resort to catch the Monorail or bus.
The rates for Shades of Green are dependent upon rank. Additionally, reservations book far in advance.
Staying off property means you’ll want to build parking fees into your budget (Note, there is a also a parking fee if you stay at an on-property resort and drive down vs. riding the Magical Express Bus). Another option is to utilize Uber/Lyft ride-sharing services.
While you certainly can eat at any and all restaurants in Disney parks with valid entry (no matter where you stay) you’ll be responsible for the full price plus tip. You are not eligible for the Disney dining plan when staying off property. Use the My Disney Experience app to get an idea of food costs.
Many families who choose to stay off-property look into the Armed Forces Vacation Club Resort or other nearby hotels and resorts.
We hope that this was helpful in aiding your decision of where to stay when you visit Walt Disney World!
The other two big decisions you’ll need to make are for your tickets and your food! Disney for Military has you covered for both!
You can also download our free eBook, “Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World for Military Families” and get our helpful tips and tricks to mapping out your Disney vacation package here.