Last month, my girls and I had the opportunity to take a road trip down to Orlando, FL for my annual TravelingMom retreat. We really enjoyed the time together both on the road and at the parks – especially since the girls are older now and much more self-sufficient.
For three nights, we had the opportunity to stay onsite at the Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, located next to the Polynesian Resort, right on the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Magic Kingdom. Afterward, we moved off property to the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort (Wyndham LBV), located adjacent to Disney Springs. The Wyndham LBV is technically not a Disney resort – they are an independent Disney partner hotel operating on Disney property, so they are able to offer many amenities. They are also the closest hotel to Disney Springs.
The two experiences were very different in many ways – but we definitely enjoyed both properties. Here’s a quick look at what we enjoyed about each one and what we felt were challenges about each property. Note: Yes, we were hosted and/or given a media rate by each property, but be assured that these are our honest thoughts and opinions.
There are a slew of reasons why a Disney resort is a good idea – and just as many dollar signs why it may not be the best fit. There are budget resorts at Disney as well, but offsite hotels can still cost even less, depending on when you’re traveling. Do your research and determine what your budget is, which features and amenities are the most important to you, and see what will be the best fit for your situation and your family.
Putting the ‘Grand’ in the Grand Floridian…
The Grand Floridian resort (designated as a Deluxe Disney resort) is designed around the Victorian style, reminiscent of Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. The property does feel like an extension of the Magic Kingdom in many ways – it’s only one monorail stop away and you can view the Wishes fireworks directly from Grand Floridian without having to navigate the crowds. They offer a large Disney store on-site, live entertainment in the lobby, two separate pool areas, a small beach area, spa and health club and multiple dining options.
We stayed in the Sago Cay building, facing the monorail. Although technically our room was listed as ‘Outer Bldg – Garden View’, we could see the lagoon as well. The room was a good size and offered a balcony with table and chairs. I worried that the monorail might be noisy, but it didn’t bother us at all, even at night. This building was a bit of a hike to the Beach Pool area – it’s the farthest building from that pool. My girls found that they actually preferred the closer Courtyard pool though, as it was less crowded, had a hot tub, and was deeper than the Beach Pool. They actually never made it over to the Beach Pool at all during our stay, even though they did swim quite a bit. There are daily activities for kids as well as movies every evening over in the beach area, but the activities seemed a bit young for my teens and tween so they didn’t check them out at all during our stay. They pretty much preferred to just be in the pool as much as they could anyway.
The room itself was plenty large enough for the four of us – and the rooms do sleep five, so if my husband had come along we would have still fit and slept everyone comfortably. There were two queen beds plus a day bed and everything was extremely plush and comfortable. The room also had a mini fridge, which was very helpful since we brought food with us so the girls could eat breakfast and lunch right there while they were on their own, to help save on costs. We had space enough to spread out and we definitely enjoyed all the little ‘Disney’ touches in the room as well. I appreciated that the bath/shower and toilet were separated from the sink/vanity area so that we could easily have someone in the shower while someone else was brushing their teeth.
Our stay here was during my retreat, so the girls were on their own for much of their time at the Grand Floridian. I was glad that there was a monorail station right on site so that they could easily get to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot (with one monorail transfer) on their own – there’s also direct boat transportation to the Magic Kingdom, but we didn’t use that at all on this trip. The girls spent time in the parks and back at the resort, both hanging out in the room and at the pool. They also watched the Wishes fireworks from the small courtyard between the Sago Cay and Sugarloaf buildings – the view here is perfectly lined up with the Cinderella Castle. We did not eat at any of the on-site restaurants, but took a walk through the Gasparilla Island Grill casual restaurant and there were definitely options that even my pickiest eater would have enjoyed there.
Self-parking is free at all Disney resorts. Valet parking is available at the Grand Floridian for $20/day. I used the self-parking, which was a slight walk but not too bad. There were plenty of spots available. The girls and I arrived around 2:30pm and our room was ready for us, although other TravelingMoms did have to wait for their rooms.
Some of our favorite things about the Grand Floridian:
- Not only did Concierge bring our bags to the room for us from our vehicle, but they gave us a golf cart ride to our building along with a guided tour of the resort. This really helped us get our bearings as well as give us tips like where to watch the fireworks for the best view. The cast members in general were all extremely helpful and polite.
- The ease of access to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot on the monorail, plus free bus transportation to the other parks or Disney Springs.
- Multiple pools for the kids – if mine were younger, they would have loved the offerings at the Beach Pool. As it was, they really enjoyed the Courtyard Pool.
- Being able to avoid the crowds at the Magic Kingdom while still viewing the fireworks and the electrical boat parade in the lagoon.
- This resort sleeps up to five – not all Disney resorts do, which can sometimes make things difficult for our family if we’re all traveling together.
- Because it’s a Disney resort, everything is tied to your Magic Band – it’s your room key, plus you can use it to charge items to your room, so there’s no need to keep track of a separate key or bring cash or credit card into the parks with you. You can also have packages delivered straight to your room.
Some of our ‘not-so-favorite’ things about the Grand Floridian:
- The resort is very spread out, so there’s a decent walk to get wherever you want to go. This isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but when you have your hands full of heavy grocery bags late at night, or have tired kids who’ve already been walking through the parks all day, it can be somewhat annoying.
- The more kid-friendly Beach Pool was crowded and noisy during the days, so my kids avoided it altogether.
- Although there are a variety of dining options, it’s still all rather on the pricey side, at least for the very budget-conscious.
Easy Access to Disney Springs at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
When we moved over to the Wyndham LBV, I was curious how it would compare to the Disney properties that I’ve stayed at both on this trip and in the past. As part of my TravelingMom retreat, I did tour the property and have the opportunity to see both sections – the Wyndham Tower Lake Buena Vista and the Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista. This is essentially two hotels in one – the Tower offering a more deluxe room style and experience at a higher cost, while the Garden rooms are less expensive and outside-facing, with more of a ‘motel’ design. Both share the same lobby, pool area, dining options and amenities.
Our room was in the Tower, on the side facing Disney Springs. The view was gorgeous – and we were told that we could even see the Epcot fireworks directly from our room, although we were out late both nights so weren’t able to experience that for ourselves. We could see the signature Epcot Spaceship Earth sphere from our room at a distance, which was pretty cool in itself. The room was comparable in size to the Grand Floridian and also offered a mini fridge. This room only slept up to four however (with 2 queen beds), so if we’d had my husband along, we would have needed a second room to fit us all there. The sink/vanity, tub/shower and toilet were all together in one room instead of separated like at the Grand Floridian. There was no balcony or outdoor space.
The pool area had my kids excited from the very moment they saw it – there are two pools adjacent to each other, plus a hot tub. My girls actually preferred the pools here to the ones at the Grand Floridian – the pools were deeper and more spacious, and not nearly as crowded. I spoke to the Wyndham’s Director of Fun – they offer daily crafts and other activities as well as Disney pin trading. Since this hotel is technically on Disney property, it does have an official Disney store on-site, as well as a fitness center and tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts.
The Wyndham offers complimentary shuttle service to the parks every 30 minutes via bus. We took the shuttle to Epcot in the morning and then returned from Hollywood Studios that night. The shuttle service was very quick and easy to use – it picks up and drops off right in front of the hotel so there’s minimal walking required. You can also easily walk over just a short distance (about a quarter mile) to the Disney Springs transportation area and take the free Disney Transportation shuttles to the parks if you prefer.
We ate breakfast on-site at the Lakeview Restaurant – this is a full buffet that offers large Mickey waffles as well as a character breakfast (on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). The breakfast buffet was pricey but we enjoyed all of the options, especially the waffles. The girls spent some time hanging out in the lobby and were thrilled to enjoy pastries from Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co. at the Sundial 24-7 café, which also offers self-serve snacks and beverages at a very reasonable price. We ate breakfast there on our last morning before heading out – it was quick and easy, and the girls thought the giant-sized pastries were a lot of fun to eat.
The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista is truly within easy walking distance to Disney Springs. There’s a pedestrian bridge over the busy roads that lets you down right at the edge of the Disney Springs shopping and dining area. I walked over there twice during our stay – first with the other TravelingMoms to enjoy lunch at Splitsville Luxury Lanes and then again with my 13-year-old to quickly grab a ‘must-have’ gift only available at the Marvel store for one of her best friends. Both of these destinations were at the far end of Disney Springs from the Wyndham, but not only was it an easy walk with plenty to see and do along with way – it’s very possible, if you’re in a very big hurry, to walk to the Marvel store and back in about 35 minutes flat. And yes, I speak from experience on that one (and Hannah owes me big-time!).
There is a charge for both self and valet parking at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista – however, they cost exactly the same ($8/day), so I happily utilized the valet parking. The valets were also wonderful about bringing the vehicle back up for me when I needed to grab something that I hadn’t realized we would need during our stay and then re-parking it afterward. Our room wasn’t ready for us until around 5:00pm, so we did have a bit of a wait – but we grabbed our swimsuits from our luggage that was being stored for us and spent the afternoon at the pool.
Some of our favorite things about the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista at Disney Springs:
- The view of Disney Springs and Epcot from our tower room, both during the day and at night. Waking up and being able to see the Epcot Spaceship Earth sphere out the window from my bed was an unparalleled experience for sure.
- The quick and easy Sundial 24-7 café made grabbing snacks and drinks a breeze without breaking the bank.
- The inexpensive valet parking. Enough said.
- Multiple pools for the kids – they swam in and enjoyed both during our stay and I had to drag my youngest out so that we could get on the road at a reasonable hour when we had to check out.
- Easy walking distance to Disney Springs – the girls walked over there on their own while I was busy with retreat activities. Disney Springs is free to wander around – they spent time at the LEGO store as well as the Marvel store, plus enjoyed exploring the rest of Disney Springs.
- Having a Director of Fun on-site to plan activities and pin trade with kids.
Some of our ‘not-so-favorite’ things about the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista at Disney Springs:
- The rooms don’t accommodate a family of five, so we would need two separate rooms if the whole family came together. The Tower does offer adjoining rooms – the Garden section does not.
- This isn’t a Disney resort, so Magic Bands don’t work. You have plastic card keys for room access and can’t charge items to your room by using your Magic Band.
The ‘big’ question – how do they compare in cost?
Regular room rates for the Outer Building – Garden View room type that we had at the Grand Floridian start at $569/night. This is the least expensive room option at this resort. Disney does offer specials and deals on their resorts, so it’s worth watching to see if a lower rate is available during your travel times.
The regular room rate for the Tower Room – Disney Springs View room that we had at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista varies depending on when you’re staying. I found a rate as low as $89/night for this room by searching the Wyndham website for an upcoming weeknight. They also offered a ‘Kids Eat Free’ rate of $94/night for the same room on the same night, which gives you the breakfast buffet free for 2 children 11 & under with 1 regular price paying adult. This does include the Disney Character Breakfast on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings.
I would definitely recommend watching the rates and checking for deals, whether you plan to stay at a Disney resort or an off-site one. There are so many options for just about every budget, so determine what you’re looking for and see what is the best fit for your family and situation.
Where would we stay next time?
To be completely honest, I would absolutely stay at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista again the next time we head down to Disney World. You get plenty of the ‘Disney’ experience, there’s easy transportation to and from the parks, and even though parking isn’t free, you get valet parking at such a reasonable cost that I don’t mind spending $8/day at all. My kids liked the pools there better, plus everything is closer together without requiring a long walk between buildings or amenities. There were quick snack food options much more reasonably priced and I loved the personal feel of having the Director of Fun right there onsite to help kids have the most enjoyable time possible. I’m not sure we would make the effort to take Disney transportation over to Disney Springs otherwise, so having it in easy walking distance is great and gives us a free option to enjoy some Disney magic without the park crowds when we need some down time.
There is something to be said for the ‘luxury’ feel and grandeur of the Grand Floridian though, so I’m very glad that we had the chance to experience that. If costs were equal, I would definitely consider staying at a Disney resort again for the easy park transportation, magic bands and extra perks that Disney resort guests get (such as the extra ‘magic hours’ in the parks) – but for me, the experience and perks don’t always offset the higher room cost. Two adjoining rooms at the Wyndham would give us more space and accommodate our whole family and still probably cost less than one room at the Grand Floridian.
Note: There are plenty of budget Disney resorts available – I haven’t personally stayed at any of them, so can’t speak to how they could compare to either of the properties discussed here. Check out TravelingMom.com for more reviews of available properties to stay at while visiting Disney World, both on and off-site, as well as plenty of other helpful Disney World tips and information.