And here is where I’m going to stay and why.
Yes, I’m going to Walt Disney World in May!
I am finalizing my plans for my May 2022 trip to Walt Disney World. One of the major decisions I had to make was to decide where to stay. I am disabled and have limited mobility. So that complicates things a bit.
I knew I wanted to stay on property. That means staying in a Disney Resort. The decision to stay on property rather than off is a no-brainer for me for several reasons.
- I feel safe on Disney property. I am traveling on my own this time. I have always felt entirely safe at all times of day and evening traveling around WDW on my alone.
- I no longer drive. Transportation in and around WDW is free and accessible, even if a bit slow and crowded at times.
- I plan to spend most of my time on WDW property, so why stay anywhere else.
- WDW goes out of their way to accommodate for PWD(People with Disabilities).
There are currently a total of 20 WDW resorts.
A lot to choose from, to be sure. So how do you choose? This post is a short guide on how to choose the right resort for you on your next trip to WDW.
I’ve come up with my own rating system for WDW resorts with special regard to accessibility and accommodation. I’d like to share it with you. Then I’ll tell you where I’m staying this trip. And why!
Remember this is my own system. Nothing scientific about it. It relies entirely on my own preferences, past experiences, and observations.
The system goes something like this.
Each resort is rated on seven criteria with particular emphasis on accessibility. They are rated on a scale from 1 to 5. One being the worst and five the best.
Remember this is my opinion only with some inpu from research I’ve done on the internet.
The seven criteria are:
- Amenities/ environment
- Value for Money
Each resort is rated in each category and the results are totaled to give an overall score. This guide only gives you the criteria. I’ll go into my rating for the individual resorts in a later Blog.
Lets look at each of the criteria
Location for me is one of the main considerations. The preferred location for you may change depending on how you plan to spend your time while in WDW.
The location of each resort/hotel in WDW is determined by in which area it resides.
Disney designates five areas with in the greater WDW resort: One for each of the 4 Parks and one for Disney Springs. I agree there are five, however I have come up with a slightly different division of my own. I’ve combined the Epcot an Hollywood Studios areas. They really are connected. Then I have added a new fifth area instead. I call this one the back of beyond or Wide World of Sports area.
The areas are:
- Magic Kingdom/monorail area
- EPOT/Hollywood Studios area
- Animal Kingdom area
- Disney Springs area
- Wide World of Sports area
So, which one is best? That all depends on what you’re looking for.
What are the pro and cons of each area?
The Magic Kingdom area is the prime real estate according to most estimates. All the resorts here are super close to the Magic Kingdom. All are connected to Magic Kingdom and each other by the Monorail. The outliers of course are Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. But, they and all the Magic Kingdom area resorts are connected to Magic Kingdom via boat, bus, and ferry.
Resorts in this area include:
- Grand Floridian
- Wilderness Lodge
- Fort Wilderness Camp Ground
- Good transportation
- Lots of great restaurants
- Plenty of shopping
- Marinas and water activities
- Next door to the Magic Kingdom
- And you may be able to see the Fireworks from your hotel room
- These are all Deluxe Hotels and therefore more expensive
- Reservations are hard to get
- They are often crowded
The EPCOT/Hollywood Studios area in recent years seems to has taken over the primo spot. Since Hollywood Studios added Toy StoryLand and Galaxy’s Edge with their super new rides and EPCOT with its all year round festivals, people want to stay close by.
But I think the biggest push to resorts in this area was the opening of the Skyliner that connects the two parks and most of the resorts in the area. Might better call it the Skyliner area.
Two resorts that were once part of the Wide World of Sports area are now in the Skyliner loop and therefore part of this area: Pop Century and Art of Animation. these are considered value resorts and their amenities and rooms reflect this. But since they are on the Skyliner prices have risen and reservations are harder to get.
Resorts in this ares include:
- Boardwalk Inn and Villas
- Beach Club
- Yacht Club
- Caribbean Beach
- Pop Century
- Art of Animation
- On the Skyliner line
- Boat transportation to many destinations
- Access to scads of restaurants, shops, lounges, night-life
- You can do a lot without ever getting on a bus
- Reservations can be hard to get especially during holidays and festivals
- They can get crowded
- Some of the older resorts may not be as accessible
- Prices have increased since the Skyliner opened
- Those close to nitgh-life, Boardwalk Inn in particular) can be noisy.
Then there’s the Disney Springs area. All of the resorts here are connected to Disney Springs and to each other by boat. If you are planning to spend much of your time shopping and visiting the numerous restaurants that inhabit Disney Springs, then this is the area for you.
Resorts in this area include:
- Saratoga Springs
- Old Key West
- Port Orleans Riverside
- Port Orleans French Quarter
- Shops, shops, shops
- Restaurants galore
- Live entertainment
- You can get a bus to anywhere in WDW from here
- Tend to be less expensive than the previouse two areas
- Transportation to any of the parks is only by bus
- These resorts are large and distances long to get to anywhere
- Multiple bus stops so you may have to stop at many before you’re on your way. Or the bus may be full by the time it gets to you.
- Shops and restayrants in the resorts tend to be fewer and smaller
The Animal King dom area is a bit out of the way by any assessment. You can only get to any of the parks and Disney Springs by bus. And except for Animal Kingdom Park its a long ride. But if Animal Kingdom is your favorite park or you plan on a lot of resort time, (quiet, beautiful with lots of animals everywhere) then this is your best pick.
Reorts in this area include:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidoni Village
- Coronado Springs
- Gran Destino Tower
- The resorts are all beautiful resorts are
- Though, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidoni Village, are Delux resorts they tend to be a bit less expensive
- There is just so much to do, activities, tours
- Wonderful restaurants with an African or Mexican flare
- The, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidoni Village, resorts are compact, no great distances to get around the resort itself. And animals everywhere
- It’s just so far from everything else in WDW
- You can’t get anywhere except by bus
- The cusine is ethnic and may not be to everyone’s taste
- Coranodo Springs is a hugh resort with all the drawbacks of the other large resorts. (See amenities/environment section this post)
The Wide World of Sports area is the most remote area in WDW. You can only get anywhere buses which are slow and often crowded. Not only that but the buses atop at every other WWS resort before finally getting on their way. The one saving grace for the resorts here is that they are the value resorts and cheaper by WDW standards anyway.
Resorts in this area include:
- All Star Sports
- All Star Music
- All Star Movies
- Value resorts, the least expensu=ive on property
- Wonderful theming
- Far from everything
- Resorts are large
- Only buses to get anywhere else in the World
- Only Quick Service restaurants
- Tend to be noisy and crowded with kids and teens
My rating for the five resort areas from best to worst are:
- 5 points -EOCOT/Hollywood Studios area
- 4 points – Magic Kingdom area
- 3 points – Disney Springs area
- 3 points – Animal Kingdom area
- 1 point – /////wide World of Sports area
Amenities don’t just mean the soap in the bathrooms or the number of seats in the lobby, though those do go into the calculation. For those of us with disabilities the category Amenities/environment includes some things the average traveler might not consider.
This category incldes things like:
- Automatic doors
- Width of hallways
- Height of counters, shelves, in the rooms and elsewhere
- Size of restaurants and shops and width of aisles
- Presence and location of accessible bathrooms in common areas
- Lighting of common areas generally and the exterior areas
- Number, size, and speed of elevators
- Height of sidewalks and presence of accessible ramps
- Clear/frequent signage and maps with Braile where possible
- Quiet areas
- Noise levels in the rooms and common areas
- Available and courteous cast members who understand and are willing to accommodate needs of those with disabilities even if the disability is not readily apparent.
The rating scale is as before 5 for the best and 1 for the worst.
- My top picks in this category are:
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- My bottom resorts are:
- Any of the All Star Resorts
- Port Orleans French Quarter
I plan to do in-depth posts on all the different resorts in the future. Remember even the resorts with poor scores in this category are not terrible. They are Disney resorts after all. Your needs and experiences may be different than mine, so keep that in mind.
I think you have to take into consideration the Pool when you’re choosing where to stay in WDW. After all you’re coming to Florida on vacation and unless it’s mid-winter and you come from the tropics, you’re going to want to take a dip in the pool. I’ve been known to take a swim in mid-January, even if a short one.
For those of us with disabilities the pools, even in WDW, can be a frustration and a safety hazard. Some resort pols are wonderful and accommodating to all. Others are not. Remember some resorts have more than one pool and one may suit your needs better than the others, so be sure to check them all out.
The things I look for in rating the pools are:
# 1 Accessibility generally. I know this may sound simple and obvious. But there are things I’ve found that limit accessibility that even Disney didn’t think of in some resort pool areas.
Like if I am disabled physically or visually can I get into and out of the pool area on my own. Case in point I was staying at Port Orleans French Quarter a few years ago. In February, by the way. I wanted to go for a swim but no one else in my party as up to it. I guess they don’t belong to the polar bear club. So, I went by myself. Though it wasn’t too far I opted to take my ECV rather than my walker. Big mistake. Though I can get around well with the walker I cannot walk more than a few steps without holding on. The gist of the story is I couldn’t get into the pool area. Though the entrance was accessible no step or anything the gate was not. There was a two step process to get in. First you had to touch your magic band to a post which I couldn’t reach without standing up beside the ECV and then you had to pull the door open toward you and drive through. But you can’t open the door past the ECV which was in the way. There was no one else around. End result I didn’t go swimming that day. and had had a meltdown to boot. Not the only time this happened. It happed repeatedly at other resorts. Most often in warmer seasons there were other people around who would happily open and hold the door for me.
So, any resort that has a pool or pools that I can’t get in without help score low on my rating scale.
Other things to look for:
- Make sure the pool has equipment to accommodate individuals confined to a wheelchair, i.e. lifts and cast members to assist.
- Most pools are zero entry which is great. But check out that the pool has a set of wide accessible stairs (besides ladders) with good solid handrails. Zero entry doesn’t work if you can’t walk without holding on.
- Is the hot tub accessible? At some pools I’ve found them only accessible by a few steps. If you can’t climb the stairs, you can’t use the hot tub.
- Are there accessible bathrooms close by?
- How busy is the pool? If you’re not too steady on your feet crowds can be a hazard. If noise and crowds are a problem for you find a resort that has a quiet pool.
- Slides, I love them, but I haven’t found any that are truly accessible.
My pick for best pools:
- Main pool at Saratoga Springs
- Quiet pool at Polynesian
- Quiet pool at Port Orleans Riverside
- Many people say that the main pool at the Yacht and Beach Club is the best but it always seems so crowded.
- Remember I haven’t stayed at all the resorts.
What the rooms are like is a major consideration when choosing a hotel or resort, especially when you have disability issues. Disney does pay attention to accessibility and accommodates accordingly, so you may not think this is important. And anyway, how much time do you actually spend in your room while visiting the Magic?
Things to consider:
- Is the bed and other furnishings comfortable not matter your disability issues?
- Are all the doorways wide enough?
- Can you get into the bathroom or shower/tub easily.?
- Noise level.
- Sufficient room between bed and other furniture.
- Height of shelves and amenities.(the biggest problem area is the Microwaveand cupboards in kitchette)
- Height of bed. High beeds are difficult for transfer. Too low and they don’t accomodate lifts.
- Hand rails and bars in toilet, tub, and shower.
- Height of toilet
- Storage area – is there room for all the equip
- Don’t laugh, can you get into your room on your own (again true experience). If the door isn’t automatic and you’re in a wheelchair or ECV? Well, you try it.
Now here’s where you say, “Get an accessible room”. Good suggestion and one I recommend. These rooms are:
- larger with more space around furnishing,
- the beds are lower,
- the doorways wider,
- the toilet and bath have handrails, or there may be a roll-in shower,
- there may be lower closet bars,
- and some have automatic c room doors.
But sometimes the accessible rooms aren’t available. Some resorts have more than others. My advice – BOOK EARLY!
Preferred rooms. . Some resorts are huge, with multiple sections and great distances from one area to another. Disney has a class of rooms referred to as preferred. These rooms are closer to the main resort facilities (Restaurants, pool, transportation).
I know preferred rooms are an upcharge. However, this may well be worth the increased cost. I know it is for me. These rooms are in limited supply as well.
Bottom line, when you’re making your decision on where to stay, carefully check out the rooms. Look at the pictures and videos. Talk to a cast member and ask questions. Make specific requests
Again, the importance this feature holds for you depends on what you want, your needs, and how you plan to spend your time in WDW. If you plan on spending a lot of time at the resort the type of restaurants, their quality and accessibility will be very important to you. If you plan on spending most of your time in the parks and elsewhere. then maybe not so much.
Routinely value resorts have only Quick Service locations, small pool bars, and shops where you can get snacks, drinks, etcetera.
Most moderate resorts (though not all) have at least one Table Service restaurant and a lounge, as well as a Quick Service and pool bars.
Deluxe resorts have one or more Table Service restaurant. Many of these are Signature Restaurants. They also have Quick Service locations, pool bars, shops, and larger bars and lounges.
The DVC resorts that are separate from another resort may not have a Table Service restaurant and rather limited Quick Service restaurants. However, they do have a kitchenette or full kitchens in all the units. Most are closely connected to a larger resort that has all of the dining options.
The other issue with regard to restaurants is their overall accessibility. This varies greatly from restaurant to restaurant (this is a whole separate blog hat will come later).
My rating of resorts with regard to restaurant include:
- Physical accessibility:
- width of passages,
- how closely tables are packed.
- Where the bathrooms are located and are they accessible.
- Can their menus accommodate every dietary need and restriction?
- What is the lighting like?
- Noise level.
One question I never thought to ask before making restaurant reservations was ‘What do I do with my ECV while I’m eating??’ You’d think all Disney restaurants are used to ECVs by now. They’re so prolific in WDW. But for those of us that use them and cannot walk without them this is an issue. Where do they want them to be left? It does become a problem. Some restaurants will allow me to drive to the table and then one of the cast will drive it out to park and bring it back when I need it. It can get embarrassing when you have to make a trip to the rest room mid meal.
To repeat whether the quality, availability, and accessibility of the dining options in a particular resort will impact where you finally decide to stay depends on your needs and whether you’re a foodie or not.
This is a big one. I touched on it briefly in my discussion of location, but I’ll expand on it here.
There are four forms of free transportation in WDW. Resorts vary in the types available to their guests
- There are:
- the monorail
- the Skyliner.
The All Star Value resorts, as well as Animal Kingdom Lodge/Kidani Village and Coronado Springs have only bus transportation to any other parts of WDW. If getting anywhere quickly is a priority these resorts may not be for you.
All buses are wheelchair and ECV accessible but space for these is limited.
The resorts of the Magic Kingdom area have three of the four forma of transportation: the Monorail (all But Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge), buses, and boats/ferry. They are also connected to the TTC, ticket and transportation Center, where you can get the Monorail to EPCOT and a bus to anywhere. The Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary are also connected by a walking path.
The EPCOT/Hollywood Studios area resorts are connected to each other via boats and the Skyliner. And there are the inevitable buses that will connect you to the rest of the World.
EPCOT connects to the Magic Kingdom area by the Monorail and therefore all the resorts in this area are connected to it too but indirectly. One can only reach the Monorail by entering through the International Gateway and through EPCOT. You need a ticket to do this.
In the larger more spread out resorts where the distance between your room and the main common areas there may be an internal bus system. You may actually need to take an internal bus to get to the other Forms transportation.
Again, your choice of resort based on modes of transportation depends on several things.
- Where you want to go and how far
- What your disability issues and limitations are.
- If you can tolerate a being on a crowded bus for long trips.
- The Skyliner loop isn’t going to be good for anyone with a fear of heights.
VALUE FOR MONEY
My last point is value for money. What are the accommodations you need with regard to your disability? And what is your budget?
The Deluxe resorts, those with a more central location, greater amenities, more transportation options (Magic Kingdom and EPCOT/Hollywood Studio area resorts) are more expensive. If your budget can afford it then certainly these may be a good choice for you. But there are other less expensive resorts that may suit you just as well.
Okay. That about sums up the things I take into account when deciding where to stay in Walt Disney World.
So where am I staying this trip? I’m actually splitting my time between two resorts this trip. Split stays can be hectic and a hassle, though Disney tries to make it as painless as possible. And they can also be fun. You get to have two very different experiences and get to know two different resorts.
I’m going to stay at Saratoga Springs, a favorite of mine, for the first half of my trip. I will then be moving over to Boardwalk Villas for the second half.
The decision to split the stay was primarily due to the limited availability at Boardwalk for my dates. But it’s really okay by me because the two resorts are so different and offer very different experiences.
At Saratoga Springs I’m staying in a preferred, accessible deluxe studio. Saratoga Springs is a favorite of mine for several reasons:
- It is close to Disney Springs.
- I can get to Disney Springs by boat as well as to Port Orleans and Old Key West. No waiting for the bus
- The pool is fully accessible and one of my favorites.
- The grounds are beautiful and though the resort is large other than the common areas it is rather quiet.
- There is a sit-down restaurant, a lounge and a pretty good though not big Quick Service location.
- The rooms have been recently renovated and are larger than the average.
The biggest drawback to this resort is that it is very, very large. Which is why I am using the extra points (upcharge) for a preferred room.
The second part of my stay will be at the Boardwalk Villas, the DVC section of the Boardwalk Inn. I haven’t stayed here before but chose it primarily because its location. Again I’m staying in an accessible room, this time a 1 BR villa.
Why am I staying here?
- This part of my trip I plan to spend most of my time at the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT and at Hollywood Studios. Both of these parks are close by and easily reached from the Boardwalk.
- The back gate of EPCOT is a short walk or EVC journey from the resort.
- Both parks and all the other EPCOT/Hollywood Studios resorts can be reached via the Skyliner or by boat.
- There are restaurants galore close by, though no real Quick Service in the resort itself at present.
- If I want to go resort hopping, which I love to do, it won’t be difficult via the Skyliner.
- The pool has been recently renovated so I don’t know what it’s like or how accessible. But there is a second quiet pool close to the Villa section of the resort.
- It is right on the Boardwalk with many kiosks for snacks and such, all kinds of activities, shops a plenty, and night-life and live entertainment.
- And I Love the Skyliner.
One drawback is that the main lobby is on the second floor from the Boardwalk, and I’ll have to take an elevator to getthere. Not a very large elevator and not easy to find either. I wandered about for a while and finally had to ask, but eventually I found it.
A further review of this resort once I get back.
So that’s where I’m staying on my upcoming trip and why I chose these resorts. Just one more note. After these 6 nights at WDW I’m going on a Disney cruise. I’m so excited. More about that later.
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