Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is the world’s #1 tourist attraction. While the theme parks are the biggest draw, Disney also offers resorts that could be destinations in themselves. Discover how one Southern TravelingMom and her family explore Disney hotels and resorts for fun activities and unique opportunities you might otherwise miss. Here are cool things they think you must see at Disney hotels, EVEN if you are not staying at them.
5 Disney Hotels You Must Visit
The Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida is nicknamed “the happiest place on Earth.” Families flock to Disney all year long in hopes of having the ultimate vacation. Season Passholders, like my family, spend much of their time exploring Disney World outside of the four theme parks, most notably hotel hopping.
Although you can travel from one Disney hotel to another by driving, look into taking a Disney bus or the monorail, both of which are free. The monorail stops at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary Resort. Opt to have lunch at a Disney hotel and enjoy a change in scenery, shopping, and food offerings. Here are five Disney hotels I recommend visiting the next time you visit Walt Disney World.
#1 Coronado Springs Resort
From the moment you enter Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, you will be mesmerized by the Spanish-Colonial themed decor. A beautiful indigenous mural graces the wall behind the check-in desk, filling the room with fabulous color. An ornate fountain serves as the focal point between the resort’s lobby and souvenir shop.
Coronado Springs’ Pepper Market serves incredible rice bowls. My favorite is the Grilled Chicken Rice Bowl ($11.99) paired with all of the toppings you could want. It is both tasty and filling.
After lunch, stroll around the loop outside, taking note of the different styles of rooms available, including cabanas, casitas, and rustic ranchos. The Mayan themed Dig Site Pool, with a cool waterslide, sits across from the main lobby. Coronado Springs is also home to the largest hot tub of any Disney property. Visit the Rix Lounge for fancy cocktails, right down the hall from the main lobby.
#2 Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
This is the most beautiful Disney resort and the first one I ever stayed at. From the muted colors of the interior, huge chandeliers, wrought iron railing, and patterned carpets and drapes, I found it impossible not to fall in love with the Grand Floridian. The resort is even more spectacular at Christmas when the most impressive decorations are on display, including a life-size Gingerbread House. It is breathtaking!
The Grand Floridian offers fabulous outdoor photography spots. Be sure to check out the stately red and white striped awnings. The Seven Seas Lagoon features a free nighttime spectacle, the Electrical Water Pageant. Grab a seat by the waterfront and get your cameras ready to take pictures of the beautiful floats.
Do not miss the live orchestra playing Disney tunes in the Grand Floridian’s lobby. If you are in the mood to treat yourself, opt for afternoon tea at the Grand View Tea Room. The plates are so decadent and the setting fit for a queen! For lunch, try the Grand Floridian’s poolside eatery, Gasparilla Island Grill. The MahiMahi Reuben is great and their desserts are not too shabby, either.
#3 Contemporary Resort
For me, Disney’s Contemporary Resort is like The Jetsons meet Avatar. Although the resort’s stylish A-frame tower is eye-catching, the inside is even more appealing. A huge mural on the wall depicts the American Southwest scene from It’s a Small World by creator Mary Blair. It makes for a great photo! Have a seat by the Bay Pool, overlooking the Bay Lake, and enjoy the Florida sunshine. Kids will love the Contemporary’s classic arcade.
The gift shops here are fabulous. We often purchase Christmas gifts and sugary confections. I find the selection here better than at any other park or hotel on Disney property.
The Contemporary Resort features stellar upscale dining at Chef Mickey and the California Grill. Catch the monorail from Disney’s Magic Kingdom and have lunch at the Contemporary’s Contempt Cafe, plus see how the monorail zooms inside of the hotel. The Cafe is easy to get to and does not normally have a long line. The Braised Beef Grilled Cheese ($10.99) is my favorite item on the menu.
#4 BoardWalk Inn
The lobby at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn is stately and decorated in chintz and rich fabrics. I like to relax in front of the fireplace while people-watching and enjoying the surroundings. This is another hotel that you must visit during the holidays. In the past, they have offered an extraordinary gingerbread house kit that you can buy either pre-made or partially made.
The BoardWalk Inn’s exterior will put you in mind of the turn-of-the-century Atlantic City boardwalk. Charming shops and restaurants are set up in a horseshoe fashion around the hotel on a Coney-island inspired boardwalk, with my favorite being the Wyland Gallery. The BoardWalk is even more stunning at night. Although it is fun to just walk around, bikes are available for rent. This is one of the coolest places to take photos of all of the Disney resorts. Do not miss Luna Park Pool’s fun, funky, and retro decor, which reminds me of my carnival days as a kid.
For cheap eats stop by the Pizza Window; for a more decadent meal try Big River Grille & Brewing Works. Their Asiago Artichoke Crab dip is creamy and delicious. Dining al fresco doesn’t get any better than at the BoardWalk’s Big River Grille.
Did I mention that you can walk to the BoardWalk Inn from Hollywood Studios AND Epcot? I think this is one of Disney’s best properties. I feel magically transported to an era gone by in a dapper setting.
#5 Animal Kingdom Lodge
Animal Kingdom Lodge is an exquisite property with playful animal print furniture, noteworthy art, and lots of room to roam around. The stately and massive lobby at Jambo House (the main hotel) beckons for guests to sit for a spell and admire the furnishings. You can definitely take a walk on the wild side at this resort.
Perhaps the best part of Animal Kingdom Lodge is that it is situated at the back of the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride at the Animal Kingdom theme park. With that comes access to lots of African wildlife sightings as giraffe, gazelles, and zebra to name a few.
Glass walls inside the resort allow for sneaking a peek of the surprises that await you outdoors as the animals roam freely right before your eyes. Those staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge can enjoy seeing these amazing sights from their own personal balconies. Don’t miss the epic Uzima Pool, certainly a hotspot with the guests. This zero-entry pool is complete with water slides and a children-only wading area.
Go Explore Disney Hotels, Not Just Parks