Travel
May 7, 2012 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

Secrets of Walt Disney World: Accommodations

Secrets of Walt Disney World: Accommodations

As many of you know, last month we took the kids to Walt Disney World for a week. We’d been planning to go for some time, but it took some work for me to convince my husband that we needed to spend the week inside the resort. After all, hotels outside of the resort are much cheaper and many of them look really nice.

I had gone to Disney on a mom blogging press trip a few years ago, though, and I was convinced that we needed to stay inside the resort at least once, while the kids were small. “Once you’re inside the bubble,” I told Dennis, “the Disney magic really is non-stop. I want them to experience that.”

I knew from my own informational trip that Disney had special savings weeks, so we planned six months ahead and signed up for one of those weeks. We decided on a six-night stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort and because we bought two park-hopper tickets, our entire meal plan was free. This ended up being a GREAT deal for us, because as I’m about to tell you, the meals themselves were often a fabulous part of our vacation experience, and we never would have eaten at so many wonderful restaurants if we’d had to foot the bill ourselves.

First- The Caribbean Beach Resort.

The grounds are gorgeous. The rooms? Well, we were a bit disappointed when we arrived. They are fairly expensive, yet I’ve stayed in Holiday Inn Expresses that were nicer. These rooms, though clean and recently remodeled, had the feel of a bargain motel, right down to windows with views of the walkway outside. That was probably my least favorite thing about the room. Letting in sunlight meant also letting in the stares of strangers as they walked by. Also (and I believe this is true for all Disney resorts), bring plenty of DVDs- Disney only has two children’s TV channels in its lineup and there wasn’t much on TV for the kids to watch in the mornings and during rest times (which your children will need because it is HOT in Florida!). Fortunately, I had brought every Disney movie we owned for the long car trip- I ended up playing those on my computer in our room and the kids were thrilled.

Despite the room’s shortcomings, we decided at the end of the trip that we would TOTALLY consider staying at the Caribbean again. Why? Well, the amenities for children at the Caribbean are about as good as it gets, even compared to the other Disney hotels.

For one thing, we paid a little extra to stay in one of the resort rooms that had beds shaped like pirate ships (and bedspreads silk-screened with gold coins and jewelry– Nice touch!), dressers that looked like treasure chests, and a privacy curtain with the Jolly Roger insignia on it. Consequently, my children spent much of our room time joyously pretending to be pirates. They loved the room.

The real reason I would stay there again, though, was the grounds. We visited many Disney hotels, some of which were far more expensive than our own, and I think it’s safe to say that the Caribbean has the absolute best swimming pool area for kids.

Not only does it have a fabulous main pool with several water slides resembling a Caribbean grotto, but it also has a water play area for smaller children with a huge pirate play house, complete with an enormous bucket at the top that dumps water every minute or so.

Awesome.

The resort also has a jacuzzi, a kiddie pool, and several smaller pools throughout the resort. We spent a LOT of time here at the main pool. The days were quite hot, and this pool became an integral part of our trip. We had scheduled a no-park day and spent most of it here, and the parks were so crowded during the day that we often went to a park for a few hours in the morning, came back and went to the pool for a few hours in the middle of the afternoon, and then returned to the park in the evening, when the crowds had abated and it had cooled off outside.

Children’s activities take place here at the pool every hour of the afternoon, from dance competitions to arts and crafts. At 6pm each evening, there was a marshmallow roast down on the beach. And each night at eight, there was a Disney movie playing on a veranda overlooking the bay. We went one night and watched Tangled in comfortable lounge chairs. The night was cool, the kids were overjoyed, and it was one of my favorite moments of the trip.

The main building off the pool holds an enormous dining hall, which met our needs for snacks, breakfasts and some lunches. As part of our deal, we also received four thermal cups that we could use for unlimited beverages at the resort during our stay. These were also a lifesaver, holding coffee and hot chocolate in the mornings, soft drinks for the pool during the day, and Powerade for nights in our room.

One of the things we most looked forward to about staying inside Walt Disney World was being able to take shuttle buses to and from the parks. As it turned out though, the bus situation was NIGHTMARISH. Buses ran to and from the Caribbean Beach Resort every 20 minutes or so- and they were often so full that we had to stand like sardines throughout the duration of what was sometimes a 15 minute ride. At the end of a long day at a park, with two exhausted children, this was SO NOT FUN. However, we happened upon a perfect solution.

We took the bus in the morning at around ten, after the crowds of people leaving early for the parks had left. We stayed at the park 2 or 3 hours, then returned by bus to our room. When we went back to the park that evening at around six, WE DROVE. What most people don’t know is that parking is FREE if you’re staying within the resort. By 6pm, so many people had left the park that we easily found a spot in the very first aisle of parking, right beside the park entrance. At night, we were able to quickly return to our car and drive to our room, getting back a full 45 minutes sooner than we would have if we had taken the bus.

In the future if we stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort again, we’ll request to stay as close to the main building and pool as possible. Our room was at the edge of the resort, and we had to either drive to the main pool or take a 12-minute walk to get there- something my little ones often weren’t up for.  I can’t imagine what an inconvenience this must have been for people staying there who didn’t have a car. It would have definitely put a damper on the experience.

So that’s my take on the Caribbean Beach Resort. While I was on the mom blog trip to Disney a few years ago, we visited the All-Star Movie Resort and I have to say, I wasn’t impressed. I wouldn’t recommend staying at their “Value” hotels unless you REALLY want to stay inside the resort and you’re on a strict budget. I stayed the last time at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, which was nice and very comfortable, and I have friends who stayed at the BoardWalk Inn and said the same. While on our most recent trip, we visited the Polynesian Resort, the Grand Floridian Resort, the Wilderness Lodge, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge— All were very nice, but the Animal Kingdom Lodge was our favorite by far- with an amazing restaurant and views of the wildlife park from certain guest rooms. We’re talking about staying there next.

I’ll be covering meal options and the parks themselves over the next few days, but in the meantime, I’d love to know where you’ve stayed at Walt Disney World, what you thought of it, and whether you learned any tips or tricks while you were there!

Images via Disney

Comments

comments

  • 3boys

    We stayed in the animal kingdom lodge and it was perfect for kids who are around 8 to 10. The pool is very nice, stays open very late and adults can get a beverage. They had real night vision goggles with attendants there to help the kids to look at the wildlife at night. Rooms were kind of smallish and had squeaky bunk-beds for the kids.

    We had problems with the buses also, not that they were full but that it took a long time for the scooter people to board with their vehicles. Mind you, these weren’t handicapped people or even people with mobility problems related to weight, but ordinary healthy folks who didn’t want to walk so they rented these things. come on people! Then in the parks they would stop abruptly – as a group – in the middle of the walkway and you’re supposed to squeeze around them. Tell me this has changed for your visit.

    My dream would be for Disney to connect the parks and hotels with bike paths that are away from the roads and just include a bike rental in your fees. It’s very flat in Florida. I’m guessing it’s an insuranceliability issue.

  • Amanda

    We have stayed twice at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Once in a pirate room when my son was 5 and it was absolutely perfect! The next year we stayed in a regulary room. We spend A LOT of time at the parks and so we have unfortunately not enjoyed many of the amenities you described. We spent a short amount of time at the pool, but I wish we’d taken more advantage of some of the activities now. We did eat at the food court at the resort one night and it was great because they had line dancing and the kids danced the night away while we got to enjoy a few kid-free dining moments. In October we are staying at Port Orleans. We wanted to try something new and we are staying in a Beauty and the Beast room for my 4 year old daughter. I can’t wait!!

  • catfang

    When you noted “inside the resort” I was under the impression that you may have stayed at The Polynesian, The Floridian or The Contemporary. After all, those three are the only ones the monorail services.

    I guess that “inside the resort” has changed in meaning over the years.

  • dixondialogue

    We went to Disney in March with our 3 & 1 year old and had a great time! We stayed at the Pop Century which is a “value resort” and thought it was great – no complaints! We spent most of our time at the parks but they had several nice pools {they weren’t overly themed but nicer than your average hotel pool} and the food court had tons of options that were delicious! The rooms were efficient, clean and although we weren’t close to the main building it was only a 5 minute walk and a pool was right outside our door. We also got the free dining plan and loved it – can’t wait to read your thoughts. I agree with the buses but I was expecting the crowd and sometimes my husband and I grumbled b/c the driver would say the bus was full but we knew after living in NYC that at least anther 10 people could have fit 🙂

  • Castlebeckons

    We did a family trip (13 people!) in 2010 and stayed at Caribbean Beach. I was reluctant because we had stayed there in 1996 on our honeymoon and wasn’t overly impressed. I was pleasantly surprised! The food court was great for breakfast, and the kids loved exploring all the beach areas. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to use the pools – we went in December and it was unseasonably cold! We are going back to WDW in December and will be staying at Port Orleans Riverside.

  • Cking218

    We have stayed at almost all of them at one time or another. Now if we take the kids it’s the Pop Century everytime. Clean, comfortable, lots of pools and great food court. Very family friendly. Like you I was so less than impressed with the All Star but not all budget resorts are the same. If it’s just us I prefer the Coronado and Hubby likes the Wilderness Lodge. But no matter what always get as close to the main building as you can. And as for the busses: If you are an early riser one park is always open to resort guests an hour before the normal time. WHAT EVER YOU DO: DO NOT GO TO THAT PARK! You will waste your extra hour in line for the bus or fighting crowds at the unbelieveably understaffed security/bag check line. Oh yeah: don’t carry a bag if you can possibly avoid it. 45 minutes I waited one morning to be cleared for entry. 20 minutes in we were wondering just how much of the crap in it could go in the trash. I was amazed how much we could have dumped. UMMMM…The dining plan is awesome! Always make reservations though during the season if you are going to brave the heat. But really (and I live in Jacksonville, FL, we have annual passes) my number one Disney tip: Avoid summertime and spring break. November (NOT the week of Thanksgiving) and February are the best times to go. Cool, for FL at least, quiet, not so crowded. Really nice.

  • Thesocalsoccermom

    We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and although it was amazing to see all the animals, it’s really far from many of the parks.  We spent a lot of time just sitting on buses.  My favorite by far is the Wilderness Lodge.  It’s absolutely beautiful with a great pool, but the best part is that you can just hop on a boat to get to the Magic Kingdom.  It’s quick and fun. 

  • Cranrazz

    We have twice stayed in the Ft. Wilderness cabins in the campground. Our kids ranged in age from 4 to 13 and they all loved it. The campground has a western theme. The cabins sleep up to six with plenty of room, including a full kitchen so you can cook at least some meals. They are at least as clean and comfortable as a hotel room but with added privacy, as each stands alone on a site and they are a nice alternative to two or more rooms for a larger family. If you go to the Hoop-de-Doo dinner show (the kids will love the corny jokes) its a short walk to the cabin afterwards.

    The best thing I have taken away from repeat trips is to build in plenty of downtime. Maybe take a whole day at the pool or a Disney waterpark, allow at least one sit-down, air conditioned meal per day (dining plan is great!) and try to go during non peak times, even if you have to take the kids out of school. Waiting in long lines and rushing around to squeeze in a too-crowded agenda are fun killers for sure.

  • Planning Mama

    Where do you find the special savings weeks? I haves searched and searched and just don’t see them. And the meal plan included with park-hopper passes, where does one find such a deal?

  • Sarah

    hi i work at Disney!! i think that one of the great places to stay with little children is the Polynesian resort! the cast is great and the children’s activity people are fun! also they are going to remodel the main pool this august to make it bigger, add a hot tub and a Lilo and Stitch themed aquatic play area!!(Kids areas) they have also moved the marshmallow roasting to 7:30 to 8:30 and the movie starts at 9. but from the main pool you are able to see the castle and the WISHES fireworks! with out the large bags (for kids with sensitive ear’s). There is also a night time electric water parade that goes by and you are able to see that happens a 9 ish the cast will pause the move for the parade and the fireworks! but the best part is that they are remodeling some of the rooms to make them bigger and to go with the Disney Vacation Club members. but i believe other people can get them also. Some will include a fully stocked kitchen and two bedrooms. You also have the convenience of having the brand NEW Club Disney!! you may have heard of the Nerverland Club well they re-imagined it and made it Club Disney. You also have the convenience of the monorail, a boat or bus. You can also take the Monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC for short) and get on the monorail to Epcot! by the way while the fireworks are going on they are playing the soundtrack that plays in MK at the Polynesian.

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