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As the author of “Disney World Hacks,” I get a lot of questions about visiting the Mouse House — also known as Walt Disney World Resort.
Undoubtedly, the No. 1 most-asked Disney question I get is: “Should I stay on or off-site?” My usual answer, surprisingly, is neither. Instead, I recommend that travelers consider a hybrid option and stay at one of the Disney Springs hotels.
What are Disney Springs hotels?
Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is an entertainment and shopping district located on the eastern edge of the Walt Disney World Resort. The seven Disney Springs hotels are located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, adjacent to Disney Springs.
The Disney Springs hotels have dedicated buses servicing the parks and making frequent stops at each park’s front entrance — except the Magic Kingdom, which has the Disney Springs buses depart from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). This is a major benefit, as many other Disney World-area hotels advertise “bus service to the parks,” but really only visit the TTC.
The Disney Springs hotels are also located over a footbridge from Disney Springs. This means you can watch the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom or stay at Disney Springs until closing and not have to worry about a long drive back to your hotel.
Disney Springs hotels are physically on Disney property, but they are independently owned. They have strict quality controls imposed by Disney and have Disney stores in their lobbies. A number of them even have character meals and rest assured, they all serve Mickey waffles.
The value proposition of Disney Springs hotels has improved
Because many of Disney’s moderate resorts are currently under renovation, Disney Springs hotel bookings now offer popular Disney benefits such as Extra Magic Hours and the ability to obtain Fastpass+ reservations within a 60-day window.
The early Fastpass+ access will likely mean the difference between riding Slinky Dog Dash easily or waiting two hours in a line with your kids in the Orlando heat. At this time, Disney isn’t guaranteeing this particular benefit beyond December 31, 2018, but my gut is they will extend the perk for at least another year.
And as of March, Walt Disney World Resorts now charge for parking. This can add an additional $24 per night to your all-in hotel price if you drive a car to Disney. Disney Springs hotels are now that much less expensive by comparison.
One major benefit Disney Springs hotels do not offer is the Disney Magical Express airport transportation. If you are not renting a car to drive to Disney World, be sure to add approximately $100 for round-trip rides to your vacation budget. If you have little kids, the good news is that you can easily get an Uber in Orlando with a car seat.
When comparing prices, keep in mind that some Disney Springs hotels charge both resort fees as well as parking fees. Disney resorts, on the other hand, only charge a parking fee.
As always, shop around before making your final hotel selection. Disney Springs hotels typically offer more promotions than Disney-owned hotels. I always check MouseSavers, the Disney Springs Hotel Association and each hotel’s individual offers page before booking. Disney Springs hotels also frequently show up in Priceline’s Express Deals section.
Disney World is the size of San Francisco
That’s right. Disney World encompasses 40 square miles, which is roughly the size of San Francisco. I mention this because the main argument you often hear for staying at a Disney owned-hotel — or the on-property Swan or Dolphin — is location.
But here’s the thing. If you are visiting all four Disney theme parks, any hotel you book on property will be far away from at least one of them. For instance, the Swan and Dolphin, which are the most mentioned choices for points users, are a 15-minute drive to either Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom.
For comparison, the drive from the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista to the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom averages 20 minutes. Is it worth paying up to 50% more for a five-minute difference in commute? My family doesn’t think so.
Hilton Disney Springs properties
The chain best represented within Disney Springs is Hilton, which has three properties in the Disney Springs program. The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando-Disney Springs Area, Hilton Lake Buena Vista-Disney Springs Area and the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace-Disney Springs Area are all Hilton properties that can be booked with Hilton Honors points.
If you are working toward a future Disney trip, your family can easily start building up a stash of Hilton Honors points with a card such as the Hilton Honors American Express Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card.
Hilton Honors has dynamic rewards pricing that makes blanket advice difficult to give. Your best bet is to compare the cash prices to the reward points value using the current points value. At this time, TPG values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents each, so I’ll use that figure in my calculations.
Deciding which hotel in the Hilton chain to choose becomes confusing because all three are often similarly priced. If you are booking a Disney Springs Hilton in early December, for example, all three Hilton properties are available for $185 per night or 50,000 points per night. Low season rates, such as late August, drop to between $96 and $108 (or from 31,000 to 42,000 points) per night.
There are some quirks of the Hilton Honors program that are really important to consider with the Disney Springs hotels. For one, the fifth night is free on Hilton Honors award bookings, so this can give a longer stay a lower per-night award cost. And resort fees are waived with full award bookings, but not with points and cash bookings. I normally recommend Hilton cash and points rates, but not in Disney Springs for this reason.
Hotel taxes are also high in Orlando, which is another reason to consider points bookings, as taxes don’t appear on award bookings. That said, please don’t use Hilton Honors points during low season at these properties unless that is the only way to make your trip work, as it’s generally a subpar redemption from a value standpoint.
All three properties offer a breakfast benefit to Gold and Diamond Honors members — and you can get Hilton Gold or Diamond status automatically from some Hilton co-branded credit cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card or the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. None of the properties have an executive lounge, and all three charge per night for self-parking: $18 at the Hilton, $22 at the DoubleTree and $10 at the Buena Vista Palace.
Other Disney Springs Hilton property considerations
- If you are considering a cash or cash and points rate, try the DoubleTree Suites. It’s the only one of the three without a resort fee. The other two charge resort fees of $35 per night.
- If you’re a group of four or more, the DoubleTree Suites is the only all-suites Hilton property at Disney Springs.
- If pool time is a priority, the Hilton Lake Buena Vista may have the best pool of the three, including a lazy river.
- The Buena Vista Palace is the oldest of the three, and it shows. Renovations are underway, and while their renovated rooms get good reviews, I still hear from people stuck in dated and tired rooms — even with Hilton Honors status.
- The pool renovations at the Buena Vista Palace are complete, however, and the outdoor area is very nice. The Buena Vista Palace is also reported to be more loose with upgrades than the Hilton — and if views are important to you, it’s the tallest of the three.
Holiday Inn Orlando at Disney Springs
The Holiday Inn Orlando at Disney Springs has a lot going for it. For one, it’s among the lowest priced of the Disney Springs hotels in peak season, with my price checks showing rates of $105 per night in December, $122 per night in February and $103 per night in August. Self-parking is $14 per night and the resort fee is an additional $17 per night.
The Holiday Inn’s main selling point, besides price, is the huge variety of room types. Some rooms have bunk beds which are fun, and alleviate a problem I have with my own children. (There’s no way I am going to make my 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter sleep in the same bed.)
On the price and value continuum, the Holiday Inn deserves high marks, but the hotel is still not usually my personal first choice.
I will say, however, that I’m always pleasantly surprised to walk into a Holiday Inn and find a Keurig machine. I know they are standard, but coffee is one area in which Holiday Inn punches above its weight class. And at Disney, coffee is life.
My primary problem with this hotel is that it’s a horrible value on points pretty much every day of year. Spending 35,000 IHG points (currently valued at .6 cents each) for a room that can often be reserved for less than $100 is award chart robbery. IHG properties don’t offer free breakfast for Platinum elite members, although kids eat free all day.
Best Western Lake Buena Vista
Value is the Best Western’s selling point, with per night room prices going for $136 in December, $114 in February and $94 in August. Resort fees are $14 per night and self-parking is $8 per night. Rewards pricing ranges from 12,000 to 16,000 points per night, and Best Western is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner, if you decide to go that route.
I don’t have any specific reason to not recommend the Best Western — there are simply better options. One feature I do like at this property is that all rooms have balconies, so you may have a view of the fireworks.(Photo courtesy of Best Western Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs® Resort Area)
The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
Here’s the difference: You enter the Wyndham LBV through the lobby, and all rooms in the tower belong to the Wyndham. I would consider these rooms equal or better in quality than those at the Hilton, or even Disney’s Swan or Dolphin. To get to the Wyndham Garden, however, you pass through the lobby to a two-story building in the rear of the property. The Wyndham Garden rooms have motel-style entry and are more on the level of a Fairfield Inn.
That said, both Wyndham properties were recently renovated and share a pool complex that features a large waterfall and aquatic play pad. They also share a so-called Director of Fun that runs activities.
Rates at the Wyndham compete with the Hilton, and the rates at the Wyndham Garden are generally comparable to the Holiday Inn. In December, per night rates at the Wyndham start at $159 per night, while the Wyndham Garden goes for $134. In February, the Wyndham is available for $167 per night and the Wyndham Garden, a cool $116.
Wyndham Rewards has a flat rate points system, so both hotels charge 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night. Of the two, I would select the tower if I were using points for my trip. Similar to Hilton, award stays include waived resort fees, but “Go Fast” points plus cash rewards do not. Both properties charge a resort fee of $25 and a self-parking fee of $15 per night.
Wyndham does not offer free breakfast to elites, but they do have a character breakfast I highly recommend. It’s half the price of those at Disney World and features Goofy and another of the “Big Five,” usually Pluto. Basically, you can get your Mickey waffle and character fix on the cheap at the Wyndham.
The Wyndham also gets bonus points for being the closest hotel to the Disney Springs footbridge. That may not seem like a big deal, but after miles of walking in the parks, trust me: it is something to consider.
Wyndham Rewards points balances can be jump-started with the Wyndham Rewards Visa. Remember that Wyndham also has somewhat frequent promotions, such as the stay twice, get a free night offer. TPG currently values Wyndham points at 1.2 cents each.
B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
The B Resort is the only Disney Springs hotel that does not utilize a loyalty program. That said, you can use flexible points such as those from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for a stay at the B.
The B also frequently offers promotional rates in Disney Springs, with sales available on their website. Pricing is often in line with the Hilton, too. In December, for example, rooms start at $169 per night, $209 in February and $120 in August. Resort fees add $27 per night and parking is an additional $22 per night.
B wouldn’t be out of place on South Beach, with its gleaming white marble lobby. Imagine a less-gimmicky W Hotel, and you’ll have a good idea of the vibe. Rooms here are large for Disney, thoughtfully designed and many sleep five. Upscale amenities like a Keurig and Aveda toiletries elevate the entire experience. (Photo courtesy of B Hotel and Spa – Disney Springs® Resort Area)
The B is certainly the most grown-up of the Disney Springs hotels, meaning it may appeal more to you than it will to your little ones.
Pro-tip: you’ll find an adorable stuffed frog on your bed when you arrive at the B. The bad news? It’s a loaner. What kid wants a one night stand with a lovey? If you don’t want to give to the hotel’s B Humane cause by buying one of your own, hide Mr. Frog before your kid spots him or consider that $29 ancient history.
Comparing Disney Springs hotels
Sometimes, your Disney decisions will really come down to prices. To help you compare all the Disney Springs hotels, we’ve selected dates in August, December and February to help you see the difference. We’ve also included the prices for the Swan and Dolphin, and for Disney-owned hotels. The prices include resort fees, but not taxes or parking.
|Hotel Name||August 17||December 7||February 25||Points Programs|
|Hilton LBV||$131||$220||$293||Hilton (5th night free)|
|Buena Vista Palace||$140||$220||$293||Hilton (5th night free)|
|DoubleTree||$108||$185||$200||Hilton (5th night free)|
|Best Western||$108||$150||$128||Best Western (Amex transfer partner)|
|B Resort & Spa||$147||$186||$226||NA|
|Swan/Dolphin||$190||$333||$260||Marriott (5th night free)|
|Disney Value||$129 (All-Stars)||Sold Out||$127 (All-Stars)||NA|
|$206 (Caribbean Beach)||NA|
|$400 (Old Key West)||NA|
Clearly, Disney Springs hotels are often significantly less expensive than the Disney-owned or even the on-property Swan and Dolphin. I would stay at any Disney Springs hotel over the All-Star Resorts; the Holiday Inn or a Hilton property over a Disney Moderate resort; and the B Resort & Spa, Wyndham Tower or the DoubleTree over the Swan or Dolphin.
If you are considering a Disney Deluxe resort, you are probably willing to spend the difference in rates to get the theming and other intangibles that only a Disney Deluxe resort offers. I would choose a Disney Deluxe property such as the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Polynesian Resort if money were no object.
And Disney Springs hotels do offer a solid value if you are considering a studio in Old Key West or Saratoga Springs, as those two Disney Vacation Club resorts are within sight of the Disney Springs hotels.
The bottom line
If you are on a tight budget, or just need a clean place to crash after a long park day, the cash rates at the Holiday Inn can’t be beat. The Wyndham is where I usually tell my friends and family with young kids to stay. The pool area and activity director are top-notch.
I value the Wyndham rooms at a $25 per night premium over the Wyndham Garden rooms, but the difference is really a matter of taste. For older kids and adults, I recommend the B Resort & Spa. It has the most upscale and mature vibe of the Disney Springs hotels.
For stays of five nights or more, or for those who simply want to use Hilton points, I recommend the only all-suites property in Disney World: the DoubleTree Suites.
For larger families, it’s a tie between the Holiday Inn (using cash) or the DoubleTree Suites (using points). The up-charge for larger rooms and suites at the Holiday Inn is very low compared to other properties.
Feature image by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs™ Area.
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