Ranking the Walt Disney World DVC Resorts: Part Two

Welcome back to my ranking of the WDW DVC resorts! As a recap, I’ve already ranked my #10 through #6 spots in a previous blog post. Just like with that earlier blog post, the following list is a rank of the DVC resorts based on my experiences and opinions I’ve formed after staying at each one. This second blog post will focus on my top five favorite DVC resorts in Walt Disney World. 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.

Continuing right where I left off, my #5 ranked resort is…

#5 Riviera

The newest DVC resort, Riviera, is truly beautiful. I know it’s brand new and I know it’s unfair to compare other resorts to one that hasn’t yet had time to begin to show wear and tear, but Riviera is incredible. I hope that when it comes time to renovate some of the older DVC resorts they look to this one for inspiration. The décor, the details, and the luxurious amenities that went into this resort should be a standard across DVC.

Central Florida or Italian Riviera?

Theming & resort layout- So the theming of the Riviera is supposed to mimic that of the Italian or French Riviera seaside. I’ve never been to either Italy or France, but I know on thing: The Riviera screams “elegance”. When I visited this resort for the first time I was sort of underwhelmed at the theme because none of it said “Disney” to me. The more I visited the Riviera though the more Disney details I found and the more I fell in love with the overall feel and vibe. Riviera is a very laid back and relaxed resort. It seems to be catering more towards couples and adults, especially with a room option that accommodates only two guests. The layout is similar to Bay Lake Tower in that it’s a single standing hotel building. The grounds around the resort are stunning though, especially the covered walkway that leads to the Skyliner.

Rooms- So the rooms here are a little different than any other DVC resort. The standard “studio” option at Riviera is called a “Tower Studio” and accommodates only two guests. It’s located on the corners of the Tower and has a murphy bed as the sole bed in the room. It’s the smallest DVC room on property but is beautiful and has a great balcony. The price, however, is steep for the size. The next room option would be the “Deluxe Studio” which is comparable to all other standard DVC studio rooms except THIS ONE IS SO NEW AND BEAUTIFUL! The main living area of the room is beautiful but it’s the marble bathroom that really has me totally in love with it. I mean I know that the Poly has a really cool bathroom in its studios, but this one is new… and marble… Anyways, it’s also a lot pricier than what you may pay at another DVC resort for a deluxe studio.

Skyliner with Riviera Resort in the background

Location & Transportation- So I must really love the Skyliner because all of the Skyliner DVC resorts made it into my top five. Yes, the Riviera is along the Skyliner which means it’s in a great location! The Skyliner gives you easy access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios and is a fun, relaxing ride all on its own. Riviera is located sort of in between Epcot and Hollywood Studios and is also right next to Caribbean Beach Resort. One thing I will mention with the Skyliner is that it opens only one hour before the park it takes you to. So if you are at Riviera and want to schedule a breakfast reservation at Boardwalk, you need to make sure that Epcot opens within an hour of your scheduled reservation if you plan on using the Skyliner to get there. I think it’d be a lot better if they just fully opened the Skyliner in both directions an hour before the earliest of the two parks open… To get to all other locations though you will need to take a bus.

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- This resort seems to be operating on the “one of each” method for dining because it has one sit down restaurant, one quick service, one café, and one bar. Even though it may not seem like a lot of options, I really like the variety of the food options here and love that there are some unique dishes. All of the dining locations are so wonderfully themed too. Le Petit Café makes it feel like you’ve stepped into a patisserie in France and Bar Riva has that Southern Italy feel. I personally love the selection at Primo Piatto, the quick service location. The recreation here is sort of unique too. There are lawn games that take place every day, a designated area that was specifically built for Movies Under the Stars, and even a bocce ball court! Perhaps the best part of the resort though are the many spaces where you can just sit back and relax. They’ve placed comfortable seats all over the resort where you can watch the Skyliner sail by over head. Sign me up!

4.) Boardwalk

Candy-colored façade of Boardwalk

Honestly, I had a little trouble ranking Boardwalk and Beach Club because of how similar they are. The deciding factor for me in ranking Boardwalk #4 and Beach Club #3 was the pool. I personally feel like both of these resorts win the “location” aspect more so than any other resorts on WDW property, even the monorail resorts. But beyond just the location, Boardwalk also has ample dining, beautiful grounds, and great views.

Theming & resort layout- The theme of the Boardwalk Resort will transport you to the early days of the East Coast New Jersey sea shore beach destinations, complete with fun & eclectic furniture and décor. The colorful façade of the DVC side of the resort makes you think of candy-colored salt water taffy and carnival rides. The Boardwalk is, in fact, a Boardwalk with many shops & restaurants along the way. The grounds on this resort are beautiful with a large green space near the lobby area and a grand balcony that overlooks the boardwalk and bay. The resort layout, in my opinion, is next to perfect as well- not too big with every room being a short walk from the action. Something really neat about this resort is that there are rooms that overlook the Boardwalk which makes for a great way to people watch from your balcony.

Rooms- The DVC rooms here are on the small side, but the subtle theming that carries throughout makes up for that. The fun pastels that are present throughout the resort are also in the rooms and the small murphy bed that’s located under the TV has the cutest scene of Dumbo on it. Of course all of the rooms have a balcony and if you are lucky enough to have a Boardwalk view then your room is just that much better. There are also water view rooms here that either overlook the pool which is much improved now that the creepy clown slide is gone (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, search “creepy clown pool Boardwalk Disney” into Google and you’ll understand…) or the waterway that goes to Hollywood Studios. The downfall of the rooms at Boardwalk is the bathroom which is ready for a renovation.

Entrance to the resort

Location & Transportation- Winner, winner! The location of this resort is one of the best, especially if you plan to visit Epcot or Hollywood Studios during your stay. Epcot is a short walk from Boardwalk, meaning that you won’t need to rely on Disney transportation to access this park. You can also walk from this resort to Hollywood Studios, although it’s a slightly longer walk of around 15-20 minutes depending on where your room is located. Some of the Boardwalk rooms are located quite close to Hollywood Studios, so if you’re placed in a room near the back of the resort then you may actually have a shorter walk to Hollywood Studios than Epcot. The transportation at this resort is also practically perfect. If you don’t feel like walking to Epcot or Hollywood Studios then you have the option of watercraft. There’s also the Skyliner that will take you to Riviera, Caribbean Beach, Hollywood Studios, and some value resorts along the line. For all other locations you do have to take a bus, but hey, you could really do a “bus free Disney trip” when staying here if you plan it right.

On the boardwalk

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- Check, check, and check. Just like the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Boardwalk Resort has plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from. There are four sit-down restaurants here including a princess character breakfast location and the ESPN Club, two bars including the really cool magic-themed bar, Abracadabar, and six quick service/pool bar locations. Needless to say, you won’t go hungry when staying here. Of course you can also walk over to Yacht & Beach Club resorts and Swan & Dolphin if you need more options. The nightlife here is also great if that’s what you’re looking for in a resort. There’s Abracadabar, but also a dance hall nightclub and a Karaoke & piano bar for the 21 and over crowd. Sports fans who can’t miss their home team play while on vacation can head to ESPN Club where there’s TVs galore. If you have a boardwalk view room, be prepared to hear the nightlife well into the late hours of the night. As far as resort activities there is the non-creepy-clown-pool, surrey bike rentals, and a few watercraft options that help to make this resort an all around success.

3.) Beach Club

Kicking back on the beach at the Beach Club

Beach Club is one of the resorts that, when I was a kid, my family would visit on a non-park day and say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stay here one day?” The Yacht & Beach Club Resorts are both beautiful and the nice thing is that they’re also connected so you’re getting twice the amount of shopping and dining options and, oh yeah, a huge pool that’s basically it’s own waterpark! Of course there’s also a beach at the Beach Club which is a perfect way to watch the sun set or simply people watch.

Theming & resort layout- The theming of this resort is, well, the beach! Again, I had a hard time ranking this resort and Boardwalk because they are very similar in location and dining options, and while Beach Club ultimately took a better spot on this list, I like the overall theming of Boardwalk a little bit more. Because Beach Club & Yacht Club share amenities and are basically connected, the full length of this resort is very large. One cool thing about this resort is that there is a beach where you can sit and people watch or boat watch. The seaside theming carries throughout and makes for a beautiful room décor palette. I love the vintage seaside feel to this resort and I think that the exterior façade is one of the prettiest on WDW property with the light blue color and white accents.

Rooms- The rooms here have that “new” feel and are bright and open. I like the multiple shades of blue used in the room that helps to give off the feel that you’re really at the beach! There’s really no bad view with this resort either because on one side you’re facing Crescent Lake & Boardwalk Resort and on the other side you have views of Epcot which is especially nice for fireworks viewing. If I had a choice, I would always opt for view of Crescent Lake. Also, another really cool thing about the rooms at Beach Club is that they are the closest accommodations you will find to a WDW theme park. Some of the rooms at Beach Club are literally less than a 5 minute walk to Epcot! This in of itself is a huge perk if you get a room close to the International Gateway.

Stormalong Bay resort pool

Location & Transportation- This category is basically the same as Boardwalk except that you’re closer to Epcot and farther from Hollywood Studios. The best perk of staying at Beach Club (besides the epic pool) is how close you are to Epcot. It’s a quick walk to the International Gateway entrance so it sometimes feels like Epcot is an extension of your resort. This is an especially great resort to stay at if you are Annual Passholders or have parkhopper tickets so that you can hop into Epcot for lunch or dinner whenever you feel like it, even on your resort/pool days. As far as transportation you have the Skyliner to multiple resorts and Hollywood Studios, watercraft to those same mentioned locations, and buses to all other locations. Much like Boardwalk, Beach Club seems to easily win this category.

The milkshake topped with a cupcake from Beaches & Cream

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- Since this resort is actually two resorts shared as one space, there are many, many dining options to choose from. Beaches & Cream is the small soda shop location at this resort that receives a lot of attention due to the gigantic ice cream sundaes and milkshakes they serve. There’s also a character meal at Cape May Café and quick service locations. Throw in the Yacht Club side of the resort stretch and you’ve doubled your dining options. Of course you can also walk over to Boardwalk to expand the already large dining list. The nightlife part of this resort includes a bar and a lounge, but if I’m ready for some nightlife when staying here I will happily walk the steps to go to Boardwalk. And now to resort activities: Have I mentioned that the pool at this resort is it’s own waterpark? The pool area is actually multiple pools that make up a sort of water complex. There’s a sand-bottom section, a pool with some accent waterfalls, a small lazy river with innertubes, an area for pool games, and a section that houses the massive pirate ship waterslide. This pool is so large that to get to the prate ship slide you’ll have to exit the pool area and walk across the main resort walkway to the beach part and ascend to the top of the slide. If you are staying at Beach Club you MUST make time for the pool! So many guests stay here for this specific reason so don’t even think about missing it! And because this pool is in such high demand, they station a cast member outside of the pool entrance to check guests in just to make sure there’s no non-resort guests that manage to sneak in.

#2.) Wilderness Lodge

Central Florida or PNW?

I really love Wilderness Lodge. I know that for many this resort is considered sort of the “lowest of the deluxe” made only more clear by the lower price tag to stay here, but I really, really love this resort. This resort, for me, has that “coming home” feel where as soon as I walk into the lobby I know that I’m in my happy place and can just relax and enjoy a vacation. The theming of this resort, I feel, is the best in WDW but of course I am partial to the Pacific Northwest vibe due to my love of British Columbia. I feel like this resort is often overlooked for a more “central” resorts along the monorail or Skyliner, but it’s time for everyone to realize what a hidden gem this place is.

Theming & resort layout- This. This is the top winning category for this resort. As mentioned above, the theming of Wilderness Lodge is of the great outdoors and, more specifically, the Pacific Northwest. The theming carries throughout seamlessly and utterly convinces you that you’re at some luxe mountain resort in the Cascades. The lobby is the epitome of a grand entrance with tall ceilings, rustic charm, and views of the back of the resort thanks to a wall of windows overlooking the grounds. All of the guest rooms are very close to the main lobby, meaning that you won’t have more than a 5 minute walk from your room to the heart of the fun. Something that I really love about this resort (okay, I love all of it…) are the hidden rooms and lounges that you sort of just stumble upon as your exploring. In the Boulder Ridge building there’s a train room right off the small lobby that has a fireplace and comfortable lounge furniture that screams “ski lodge” to me. So many people pass right by this room but it’s one of my favorite parts of this resort. I’ll add on too that, I don’t know how they do it, but this is the resort that you will see the most natural wildlife at including rabbits, deer, ducks, and *gulp* snakes. So yeah, you really feel like you’re glamping out in the wilderness when you stay here. Bonus: If you’re staying here at Christmas time the resort is just that much more amazing with massive Christmas trees and beautiful garland that just pops with the red accents of the exterior façade.

Window seat lounge in the train room.

Rooms- This is a hard category to cover for this resort because there are two separate DVC sections and room decors here. The Boulder Ridge rooms are older and frankly a bit outdated. They’re also small and dark if you don’t let some natural light in through your balcony. The Boulder Ridge room was probably my least favorite deluxe studio I’ve stayed in but was glad that we at least had a ground floor room with a patio instead of a balcony. This made it easy to get around the resort without having to navigate interior hallways and stairs. The other section of DVC rooms at this resort, titled Copper Creek, are still relatively new with beautiful furnishings, bright décor, and thoughtful placements for guest needs. If you have a choice between the two DVC sections, absolutely choose Copper Creek! This section is also closer to the lobby than Boulder Ridge.

Location & Transportation- I suppose that this category is the downfall of Wilderness Lodge. I personally love the location because it is set away from the other Magic Kingdom resorts, offering a bit of seclusion, but still close enough that you can see fireworks and won’t spend an extended amount of time getting to the flagship park. If you want to go to Magic Kingdom you have the option of taking a boat from the back of the resort to the front of the park. Unfortunately all other parks will have to be accessed using bus access. Transportation options are limited here, especially compared to the desirable Skyliner option that was recently added to some of the Epcot & Hollywood Studios resorts. With this resort though you are right next to Fort Wilderness which offers more dining and activity availability and there is a boat that connects these two resorts, so at least there’s that.

Geyser Point Bar & Grill- a must when staying at this resort!

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- Saving some of my favorite features of Wilderness Lodge for last, the dining options at this resort are fantastic. The first time I visited Wilderness Lodge we were staying at Port Orleans but had booked a dinner at Whispering Canyon Café. This dinner is the best way to introduce yourself to this resort and I always recommend the restaurant to anyone who tells me they have a trip planned to WDW. Whispering Canyon is located in the lobby of the resort and just may be the most fun you’ll have while on vacation. The experience here is meant to be a loud and rowdy one where servers will draw attention to your special requests, bring out toys & games for the kiddos, and encourage your family to loudly declare that you need ketchup. Think 50’s Prime Time Cafe but a lot more fun! If you’re hoping for a dinner comparable to California Grille or Le Cellier… well this isn’t it. The food here is very, very good and while everyone tends to order the platters that come with plenty of main dishes and sides, I always opt for the steak which has never disappointed and is always something different and delicious. Other great dining options here include Artist Point which has Snow White character dining, and another one of my favorites, Geyser Point. This rather new outdoor bar & grill is my absolute favorite place on Disney property. I love just sitting back in the comfortable lounge chairs here with a cocktail and some wings and watching the boats go by. If you’re here at night you can also catch a front row seat to the Electrical Water Pageant. The resort activities here are fitting for the theming. There’s the main pool and there’s also the DVC pool which has some great wilderness accents and the perfect cabanas to sit back and relax in. Like most resorts there’s the nightly campfires with smores, but this activity just seems to go best when you’re at Wilderness Lodge. Also, don’t forget that there’s a geyser that goes off at the top of every hour near the boat launch to Magic Kingdom!

1.) Polynesian

Main lobby of the Poly

Okay, I’m just going to admit it: For a few seconds I had the Poly listed as #2 on this list but as I started to write about the resort and think about all of the things that make Polynesian perhaps the best place to stay on WDW property, I knew I couldn’t place Wilderness Lodge below it. The Polynesian has everything you could possibly want when staying on Disney property: great theming, ample dining options, a fantastic location, fun resort amenities & entertainment, and the best deluxe studio rooms out of all of the DVC resorts. If you rank this resort as your #1 spot, you’re not alone. Also, I decided that because this is an original WDW resort the Poly was indeed worthy of this #1 spot. For as many great things as you’ll get when staying here, you’re going to be paying for it, whether in cash or with DVC points.

Theming & resort layout- Let’s face it, the theming of the Poly is beautiful, especially at night when the grounds are illuminated by tiki torches and you’re lounging on the beach waiting for Happily Ever After fireworks at Magic Kingdom to start. I remember when I was a kid at Disney and my family had hopped on the monorail at Magic Kingdom to go to Grand Floridian just to explore (At the time we were a Moderate Resort budget family). As we passed the Poly I had promised myself that one day I would be able to stay there, even though it was the most expensive resort on property. Flash forward by about ten years and here I am, with the Poly as my DVC home! (Ah, the power of positive thinking). Anyways, that laid back Hawaiian island feel will immediately capture you and make you feel like you’re staying at the Aulani Disney resort and not somewhere in Central Florida. The grounds are beautiful with tropical flowers, tiki idols and a full blown volcano in the pool! Of course you also have the beach area with picture perfect views of the over-the-water bungalows that are also a part of this resort. Now… the one downfall for me with this resort is the lobby- it feels old and dated no matter how many times they renovate it. I’d love to see them do something similar to what Aulani has where there’s an open air lobby feature or at least more natural light in this area of the resort. Also, the small lobby areas of each of the buildings that house the guest rooms are similar in style to the main lobby, so I’m not crazy about the 70’s accents of these areas either. Maybe with the massive renovation that’s happening now we’ll see some of these much needed updates.

Bright, open, and spacious rooms

Rooms- The rooms in this resort make me want to cry (in a good way!) This is seriously the BEST deluxe studio accommodation you will find on WDW property because…. (are you ready for this?) they have two bathrooms! YES, two bathrooms in a DVC deluxe studio, and not only that but the extra bathroom has a beautiful stone-tiled rain shower feature that is my favorite thing ever. Every time I stay here I claim this second bathroom as mine because it’s just amazing. Okay, I’m done talking about the TWO beautiful bathrooms in these rooms. The deluxe studio at the Poly is the largest on property making it a very desirable option for families of 4 or 5. These rooms are beautifully decorated and have crown molding on the ceiling which is such a cool touch that you don’t see too often in Disney guest rooms. There’s really no rooms here with a bad view either, so you have that going for you. We always choose a standard view room at this resort but are still able to see Seven Seas Lagoon no matter where we are. This also means that you have fireworks views!

Location & Transportation- You can sit on the beach and watch Magic Kingdom fireworks, so what does that tell you about the location? The Poly is a monorail resort so you are near Magic Kingdom and can easily connect with the neighboring resorts, Grand Floridian and Contemporary. I don’t really need to say it, but the location is great and the transportation options are even better. The monorail will take you to the other stops along the track and if a highway in the sky isn’t your thing then you can take a boat to Magic Kingdom and Grand Floridian or walk all of the way around Seven Seas Lagoon to as far as Contemporary now. The Poly is also located right next to the Ticket & Transportation Center so instead of having to hop on one monorail and transferring to another to get to Epcot, you can just catch the Epcot monorail here and make your life that much easier. I will mention too that you can connect to Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness by boat at Magic Kingdom so resort hopping is pretty easy when you’re staying in this area. For all other locations you will have to take a bus.

Ohana family style dinner

Dining, nightlife, & resort activities- I feel like I could go on for forever with this category, but I’ll try to keep it simple. There are so many great options at this resort that fall under this category. Let’s start with Aloha Isle, aka the dole whip stand! Yep, dole whip on demand is available here at the Poly. Trader Sam’s is also such a cool spot that you have to check out when you’re here. It’s a tiki bar themed lounge that’s very well hidden and full of surprises. I feel like this bar is where Disney got a lot of the ideas for Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge, so if you liked that experience you’ll love this spot. There’s a luau dinner show here that operates select nights that’s a really unique experience, but the highlight of the dining category for me and many, many others is Ohana. If you’re asking “What’s Ohana?” then I am about to change your life because the food at this restaurant is so. freaking. good. Ohana is a family style breakfast and dinner restaurant that has character dining in the morning and the most delicious noodles and dessert you will ever have in the evenings! The service here is great and if you’re lucky enough to be seated at a window table you have a perfect view of Magic Kingdom. I dream about the food from this place so make sure to snag a reservation as soon as they become available. As far as resort activities there’s the main pool with the epic volcano slide and one of my favorite hot tubs on property. I don’t know why I love this hot tub, but I do. It’s kind of set back away from everything and it’s easy to convince yourself that you really are in Hawaii right now. Oh, did I mention that you can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Poly beach? Well you can! I know there’s this option at the Grand Floridian too, but for some reason it’s just always felt more special at the Poly.

So that does it! My top 5 DVC resorts in WDW all laid out as to why each of them are unique and why I placed them where they are on the ranked list. I feel like the top 5 resorts were a lot harder to rank than spots #10-#6 just because there’s so many good things about each of them and not many (if any) bad things to say. I know that my list is probably different than anyone else, especially with Wilderness Lodge being ranked so low and Grand Floridian being ranked so high, but a lot of these resorts are really going to rely on what type of theme your family likes and, honestly, your budget. If you bought into DVC at Old Key West and are used to paying 12 points a night, then a stay at Polynesian for 18 points a night may be hard pass for you. I seriously hope that DVC members and WDW frequent guests choose to hop around for each of their resort stays though because there’s so much to discover outside of just your home resort or your favorite resort. Even though Bay Lake Tower is ranked #7 on my list, I cannot wait to stay there again just because I love the room setup and resort décor and modern feel. So here’s to resort hopping every chance I get to go to Disney and being super specific on what things I like and dislike when staying at a Walt Disney World DVC Resort.

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