Ranking the Walt Disney World DVC Resorts: Part One

When you’re a Disney Vacation Club Member you tend to travel to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida pretty often. Some DVC members choose to stay at their home resort for each trip, but I prefer to hop around and experience all of the different resorts that Disney offers to DVC members. During my resort hopping journey I’ve found my favorite resort that I always have to visit when in Disney World even if I’m not staying there, and the resorts that I never want to stay at again.

The following list is a rank of the DVC resorts based on my experiences and opinions I’ve formed after staying at each one. With there being ten DVC resorts on Walt Disney World property I’ve arranged my list into two separate blog posts, starting with my least favorite resorts and working my way up to #1. I’ve broken down the resorts into four categories to explain my likes and dislikes based on certain aspects. The four categories include:

  • Theming & resort layout
  • Rooms
  • Location & transportation
  • Dining, nightlife, & resort activities

It’s important to note that for the “Rooms” category I am basing my comments off of the deluxe studio room at each of the resorts as this is the room type we specifically bought into for our DVC membership.

I know that some of the “guest favorite” resorts may be ranked lower on the list than what you’d expect but I hope that my reasoning behind the rank comes through. Also, I think that my top five resorts, which will be a separate blog post, may surprise some readers too.

So starting with my least favorite, at #10 we have…

10.) Saratoga Springs

I know we’re ranking DVC resorts on this list, but in all honesty I would place Saratoga Springs lower on my list than some (if not all) moderate resorts. Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach are much better resorts to stay at, in my opinion, due to either their theming, dining options, or location. Although I’ve never visited Coronado Springs, I imagine that resort may top Saratoga for me as well, especially with the new Gran Destino Tower addition. So I’m very sorry to all of my Saratoga Springs enthusiasts out there, but this is one resort that I wouldn’t want to stay at again.

Surrey bike rental location near
main hub of resort.

Theming & resort layout- The theming is… pretty boring compared to other Disney resorts. It definitely captures that Saratoga, New York look but there isn’t really a huge “wow” feature like other DVC locations have. Maybe if the resort offered something like what Fort Wilderness has with the horse stables or even adding a small horse race track would make it a better overall theme and immersive experience? I don’t know, but I find that the resort is lacking in theming. Even the lobby is one of the smallest and most underwhelming for me. As far as the resort layout? Well, don’t even get me started! The resort is huge which means that if you’re in a room located on the very edge of the resort you’re looking at a 10-15 minute walk to the main area of Saratoga Springs. This is also one of the resorts that has multiple bus stops in it because of how big it is which is a deterrent for me. (We’ll talk more about that in the transportation category.)

Rooms- Much like the look and feel of the resort, the rooms are comparable to moderate resort size and look but with the added bonus of a private balcony. I felt that the rooms were small, dark, and outdated. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I was watching Disney build this resort, but it’s definitely time for some renovations!

Location & Transportation- Saratoga Springs is a great resort to stay at if you plan on visiting Disney Springs every night. It’s a short walk from Disney Springs or you can take a boat. For every other Disney park and point of interest though you’ll be taking a bus. Oh and don’t forget about the multiple bus stops within the resort! If you’re waiting at one of the last bus stops in the resort loop there’s a chance that the bus could show up already full meaning that you’re just going to have to go on waiting until a bus with empty seats shows up.

Make your own sundaes from the “off limits for most” hidden gem of Saratoga.

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- Much like the other categories, this resort seems to be lacking when compared to other DVC accommodations. There is a sit down restaurant and quick service cafeteria on property, but we always found ourselves walking over to Disney Springs for a bite to eat. The big draw for this resort is the golf course. If you’re wanting to come to Disney for a golf weekend then this is the perfect resort to stay at. The pool at Saratoga is pretty average which I, again, would rank below even the moderate pool options of Port Orleans and Caribbean Beach. Nightlife? Yeah, get your walking shoes on and head to Disney Springs. Saratoga does have surrey bikes which is fun but the best part of the resort for activities is actually closed to those staying at the resort. What???? The DVC sales center is located at Saratoga Springs and after a family buys into a new DVC contract they’re taken to the coolest place on resort property: the ice cream shop! It’s themed just like an old fashioned ice cream parlor and you’re encouraged to build the ultimate sundae. Unfortunately if you’re a resort guest who isn’t purchasing a DVC membership then you won’t be able to experience this hidden gem. I have to say, that was probably the most expensive ice cream sundae I’ve ever eaten…

9.) Animal Kingdom Lodge

When I think of Animal Kingdom Lodge the first thing that comes to mind is… (no, not the savannah animals roaming right below you balcony), how far it is from everything. ūüė¶ I’ve only been to Animal Kingdom Lodge once, but that was enough for me. The lobby of Kidani Village was so dark even though there’s a wall of windows that overlooks the savannah. The saving grace of this resort may be the dining options and, of course, the animal friends you’ll make while staying here.

Kidani Village looks great, right? That is until you walk into the lobby and need your night vision goggles to see anything…

Theming & resort layout- The theme of this resort is pretty obvious and definitely gives off that African savannah feel. Frequent viewing opportunities of giraffes, antelope, and many other animals makes for a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else on Disney property. Unfortunately we really hated how small and unbelievably dim the lobby at Kidani Village was. This was enough to make us yearn for the bright sunlit, welcoming grand entrances that other resorts like Boardwalk, Grand Floridian, and Bay Lake Tower have. The resort is broken up into two parts: Jambo House & Kidani Village. If you’re staying at Kidani Village then you’ll have to use the internal resort shuttle to take you to Jambo House where most of the dining and shops are located. This, of course, is one of my Disney pet peeves that I don’t want to be bothered with when I’m staying at a DVC resort.

Rooms- The best part about the rooms here are that they have savannah view which allows you to wake up in the morning and have your coffee with your new animal friends. Unfortunately if you don’t have a “room with a view” you’ll most likely be looking at a parking lot or just some trees. The rooms also seem dark to me, maybe because of the furnishings, but at least the room size is larger than some DVC resorts! The African theme carries into the rooms perfectly and makes this part of the resort a win for me. We wouldn’t stay here unless we had a savannah view room though and would only stay at this resort if absolutely no other locations were available.

Location & Transportation- You know what they say about real estate: “Location, location, location.” Well that is certainly true for Disney resorts as well. This category is the ultimate downfall for Animal Kingdom Lodge. The only transportation to the parks is by bus. Wouldn’t it be cool if AKL resort guests at least had a safari vehicle ride to get to Animal Kingdom? Makes sense to me! If you’re spending the day in a park other than Animal Kingdom, it’s going to be a longer bus ride than most other resort guests will have during their stay due to the location of this lodge. While Magic Kingdom resorts like Grand Floridian and Poly have multiple options to get to the nearest park including monorail, boat, or walking, Animal Kingdom Lodge leaves something to be desired…

Hello, bread service! A must
when dining at Sanaa.

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- The saving grace of Animal Kingdom Lodge comes from this category! There are so many great dining options at this resort, including that Instagram-worthy shot of the bread service from the sit down restaurant, Sanaa. This restaurant offers views of the savannah and has some great African inspired dishes that aren’t overly-adventurous making it a great fit for the whole family. The other sit down dining options at this resort include Boma & Jiko, both of which are a bit pricier than Sanaa but offer exceptional, flavorful dishes. The lounges and quick service at AKL are also spot on with the food options and quality. Resort activities include animal viewing (duh!) and your typical Disney resort amenities such as pools, movies under the stars, and campfires.

8. Old Key West

The original DVC resort, Old Key West, is basically a carbon copy of a South Florida resort… or 65+ community… While the rooms are some of the largest on property for DVC members, the resort feels more like a moderate due to the building layout, dining options, and lack of transportation. A comparable resort would be Saratoga Springs because of this. But if you’re looking for a more laid back resort accommodation than this is for you.

Main area of Old Key West Resort.

Theming & resort layout- The theme here is, well, Key West. If you’re checking in here you’ll feel like you just stepped straight out of Florida and… into more Florida. It’s not that I don’t like the theme of this resort, it’s just that I feel like it’s time for some “reimagineering” at OKW. The layout is just like Saratoga or a moderate resort where there’s the desirable rooms close to the hub of the resort and then there’s the undesirable rooms that require a 10-15 minute walk to get to the heart of everything.

Rooms- While the rooms at Old Key West lack any real theming per say, they are the third largest DVC studio rooms on property only behind the Polynesian and Riviera’s deluxe studio option. The layout of the rooms are a bit different than other studio rooms on Disney property in that they’re not a perfect rectangle. The layout of the rooms offer more space for you family to move around which is a big plus when on vacation. If I were to give Old Key West a top feature I’d say that the room size definitely makes this resort more appealing.

Location & Transportation- Just like with Saratoga Springs, you’re close to Disney Springs when you stay at Old Key West. There are boats that will take you to Disney Springs from this resort which is great if you plan to head to the Springs every evening. Also like Saratoga, there are multiple bus stops within the resort which makes for some headaches when crowd levels are high and an already full bus arrives at the stop you’re waiting at. To get to all of the theme parks you’ll need to take a bus which is a pretty low-key option compared to other resorts, especially near Epcot. Overall I’d say that the location and fact that there’s multiple bus stops within the resort is the number one factor in making me decide to stay elsewhere and place this resort so low on my list.

Sandcastle waterslide at OKW main pool.

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- Can you say, “lacking?” As far as dining goes there are only three places to eat at this resort: Two quick service locations and one sit down restaurant. The sit down restaurant offers some of the best fried chicken on Disney property, but even that can’t make up for the fact that if you want to grab a bite to eat, you’re probably better off catching a boat to Disney Springs. Nightlife? Yeah… just catch that Disney Springs boat… Resort activities are ample if you love tennis, basketball, or volleyball as there are a few courts scattered throughout the resort… just like a 65+ community… Oh boy. The pool is the highlight of this category with a fun sandcastle waterslide and a lighthouse sauna- the only sauna at any DVC resort.

7.) Bay Lake Tower

Sky bridge connecting Bay Lake Tower
to the Contemporary.

Awww, I hate to put Bay Lake Tower this low on my list because I really love this resort, but there are just too many other resorts that I have to rank higher. With that being said, Bay Lake Tower is one of my favorite places to stay at when in WDW. It’s still rather new and is completely modern, unlike the now-outdated “Contemporary” part of this resort.

Theming & resort layout- Funny thing- I really hate the Contemporary because, to me, it’s so outdated and still has that overwhelming 70’s look even though the d√©cor has been updated. Bay Lake, on the other hand, is a completely modern resort tower with sleek d√©cor, floor to ceiling windows, and subtle Disney designs that may or may not be just enough theming for your family. I loved the color scheme of the tower and really love the lobby area and all-glass fa√ßade. The layout is just like any other hotel in that all of the rooms are in one building, but there is a walkway to the Contemporary tower as well that makes the resort separate enough that guests aren’t running into each other, but close enough that you don’t need multiple bus stops and internal shuttles like other resorts have.

Modern theming in the rooms at
Bay Lake Tower.

Rooms- I love the rooms at Bay Lake. The d√©cor is “just a hint of Disney” and the kitchen layout is a bit different than all of the other studios, but unfortunately these rooms are the smallest of any DVC resort. The smaller size is noticeable but the “walk-in” kitchen that’s more like it’s own small hallway instead of actually in the hallway much like other DVC studios, makes the space feel a bit bigger than it is. We stayed in a water view room which was perfect! We had a view of Wilderness Lodge across the bay and were able to watch the Electrical Water Pageant Parade every night from our balcony. Beware: There are theme park view rooms available for more points or $$$ but they are basically a view of Space Mountain in the distance and all parking lot beneath your balcony. I’d take water view over theme park view any day at Bay Lake!

Location & Transportation- You know what we say about “Location”, don’t you? Bay Lake Tower is the closest resort accommodation you can get to Magic Kingdom. There is a walk way from the resort to MK that takes less than 10 minutes to walk. You’re also connected to the Contemporary by sky bridge so you have the monorail to take you to Magic Kingdom, the other monorail resorts, or to the TTC (Ticket & Transportation Center) where you can transfer to another monorail that will take you to Epcot. For the other two theme parks you will need to take a bus. There is also a boat that connects to Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness at the Contemporary which is a great option for resort hopping.

View of Magic Kingdom fireworks from Top of the World Lounge on top of the tower.

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- Dining: There is none. No, I’m just kidding! There’s no where to grab a bite right at Bay Lake Tower, but there is, of course, the convenient walkway to the Contemporary where you’ll have plenty of dining options. There are three sit down restaurants to choose from, which all very different from each other: Chef Mickeys- character dining buffet style, The Wave- Buffet featuring ample breakfast selections and great seafood options at dinner, and California Grille- Fine dining so fine that you’ll have to follow the dress code set by Disney to get in. Lot’s of dining options but unfortunately none of them are “wow” locations for me. The BEST part of Bay Lake Tower though is the Top of the World Lounge that sits on top of the tower and offers fantastic views of Magic Kingdom fireworks (even better views than California Grille since it’s set closer to MK). This lounge is for DVC members only and usually reaches capacity 1-2 hours before fireworks, but it is a fantastic place to go for drinks and feel like you’re living the luxe lifestyle.

6. Grand Floridian

I know, I know! You guys are going to hate me for placing Grand Floridian so low on this list! Remember that this list is my opinion only and I’m certainly well aware of the fact that Grand Floridian is a favorite resort for many, many guests. I promise to outline exactly why this resort didn’t even make top five let alone my number one spot in the categories below.

Theming & resort layout- Alright so this is where some of the love is lost on me at Grand Floridian. The outside of the resort is absolutely beautiful! The red rooves and the pristine white fa√ßade makes for a truly remarkable resort and I will say that I love just walking around the resort and taking it all in. The problem is, for me anyways, the interior of the resort. Basically, I feel like it’s an upscale senior living facility- like really, really, upscale, but still decorated like a senior center. This is most apparent at Grand Floridian Caf√© but carries throughout with the color scheme. The new lounge at this resort, Enchanted Rose, has a completely different feel of modern luxury that I wish *please don’t hate me* Disney would make standard throughout the resort. At Christmas time this resort really shines with it’s life-size gingerbread house and Christmas tree in the lobby. The resort layout is practically perfect with buildings arranged close enough together that you can easily walk the length of the resort in a matter of minutes.

Rooms- Unlike some of the rooms on property, the Grand Floridian studios are bright and spacious. They are the fourth largest DVC studios on property and offer that same Victorian elegance that is seen throughout the resort. Thankfully the DVC rooms don’t remind me of senior living (but the non-DVC guest rooms sure do!). Perhaps the best part of the rooms at this resort are the views. Whether you have a them park view, water view, or just a standard view, you’re sure to have a picture-perfect overlook for your balcony.

Location & Transportation- Just like with Bay Lake Tower you are close to the heart of the magic when staying here. To get to Magic Kingdom you have the option of monorail, boat, or walking. You can also take the monorail to the other resorts around Bay Lake or take a boat to the Poly (or walk). To get to all other parks besides Epcot, you will need to take the bus. “How do I get to Epcot?” You’re wondering? Well, let me tell you… You’ll need to take the monorail to the TTC and then transfer to a different monorail to get to Epcot. Yes, you have to do this very same thing if you’re staying at one of the other monorail resorts, but Grand Floridian is the farthest resort from the transfer point making is very inconvenient. At least if you’re at the Poly you can walk to the TTC. If you’re staying at the resort with the highest price tag, don’t you think they’d make getting to a park as easy as possible? Guess not…

Grand Floridian Caf√©? Hard pass for me…

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- When at Grand Floridian there’s pretty much no chance you could ever starve given that there are six sit down restaurants and four other quick service and lounge locations. Most of the sit down dining here is pricy (shocker!) with five of the six locations considered signature, character meal, special dining, or fine dining. The one moderately priced restaurant, Grand Floridian Caf√©, is the place that made me feel like I was in a nice senior center having breakfast and our meals here were very average. Also, I’m not a huge seafood lover which eliminates two of the six sit down restaurants for me and, well, I certainly don’t have the palate for a 12 course meal at Victoria & Albert’s so that’s also out. While there’s lots of dining options here, I’m not really a fan of any of them. As for the activities, the main pool here is pretty underwhelming but at least you have views of Magic Kingdom fireworks! There’s also the new lounge that I mentioned earlier that actually feels very modern and elegant- a bit of a different theme than the rest of the resort.

Now that I’ve covered my #10 through #6 DVC resorts, that leaves:

  • Beach Club
  • Boardwalk
  • Polynesian
  • Riviera
  • Wilderness Lodge

I’ll be covering my top five DVC resorts in a separate blog post, so stay tuned! (Or as Wandavision would say, “Please stand by.”)

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