With 12 theme parks, 6 resorts, an exclusive cruise line, and even its own currency, a trip to Disney is like visiting another country. Some folks have fond childhood memories of Disney parks, while others are eager to create new ones with their kids. We all have at least one friend who got engaged or celebrated their honeymoon at Walt Disney World.
Whatever the reason, Disney holds magic for many of us. With a collection that includes more than 25 distinct places to stay, your next visit to Disney can be even more magical with the right accommodation.
Whether you’re packing up the kids for the first time or twelfth time or planning a Disney-themed honeymoon or couples’ trip, here are the 10 best Disney resorts and theme hotels around the world.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Florida
First up is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Disney World, Florida. Designed to resemble the savannah of East Africa, the resort grounds have thickly forested surroundings and are home to over 30 species of African wildlife like ostriches, giraffes, and gazelles. Inside you’ll find one of the largest African art collections in the United States, beautiful fixtures, and furnishings made with dark wood and adorned with elaborate tribal designs.
Guest rooms also feature African decor and views of the resort grounds, pool, or savannah. One or two-bed options can accommodate up to 4 guests, while larger groups will have all the space they need in a luxurious villa. With up to 3 bedrooms, the villas come complete with a full kitchen and a washer and dryer.
Two swimming pools, the Uzima and Samwati Spring Pools, have tall waterslides and relaxing hot tubs, and a snack shack and bar are close by. A few nights a week, guests can gather around the Uzima pool to watch a Disney classic, or crowd around an evening campfire and roast marshmallows at Jambo House.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers 10 delicious and unique dining options that serve both African and American dishes. Bars have domestic and international beers, premium liquor, and flights loaded with the best wines produced in African vineyards.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Florida
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is on the shores of The Seven Seas Lagoon, a huge man-made lake that’s been a staple of Disney World since the 1960s and provides activities like catch-and-release bass fishing as well as boat rides to Blackbeard Island, Castaway Cay, and Beachcomber Island. Guests can book a tour or rent a motorized boat for their own use.
The Lagoon is also the site of the amazing electrical water pageant, an impressive light display set to beautiful music that happens each evening. In addition, here is where you can find some of the only overwater bungalows in Florida. These luxe bungalows have beautiful views of both the electrical water pageant and the nightly Disney fireworks and are a super-peaceful (and super-expensive) place to stay.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort opened its doors in 1971, making it one of the oldest in Walt Disney World. It has an outstanding reputation for delivering friendly service and the laid-back island vibe is a refreshing change from the fast-paced environment at the park. Ten dining options include a la carte restaurants, cafes, lounges, and tiki bars.
There are two swimming pools, each with a completely different atmosphere. At the Lava Pool, you’ll find a towering 142-foot waterslide through a volcano and a waterfall, which means lots of noisy kids running around and having fun. For a quieter experience, head to the Oasis Pool amid the quiet gardens.
Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin, Florida
Located right in the middle of Disney World near Hollywood Studios are the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, two sister hotels separated by Crescent Lake. A retro design features gaudy teal and salmon exterior paint and a cool blue and white interior color pallet with chrome and crystal adornments.
To get around, guests have the option of taking a complimentary bus or a water taxi to multiple stops within Walt Disney World Resort. Days at the hotel can be spent playing arcade games in the massive Arcade Room, exploring the jogging trails, or swimming in any of the 6 pools. In addition to a shallow kiddie pool and an activity pool where water game tournaments are held, there is a lane pool for swimmers who want to keep up their routine.
Standard rooms come with a comfortable king-sized bed or two queens, but if you want a view of the courtyard or lake you’ll need to upgrade to a deluxe room. Family rooms have a small sitting area, providing a bit of extra space for getting everyone ready and out the door for a day of fun.
Suites offer the most space, nicest amenities and newest tech. The best ones are located in the newly constructed Swan Reserve, a small hotel-within-a-hotel next to Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf Course.
Between the Swan and Dolphin, there are 18 dining options, including international a la carte restaurants, buffets, bars, lounges, pool bars, and cafes.
Disneyland’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, California
Moving from Florida to Disneyland in California we have Disneyland’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa, a luxe option for a visit to Disneyland with some class thrown in. The Tenaya Stone Spa is iconic, with a huge menu of treatments and services that use premium products in a peaceful, relaxing setting, the perfect antidote after a day of Disney chaos.
Rooms and suites have calming tones of yellow, light green, cream, and wood, with murals of trees painted onto the walls. From your balcony, you can gaze down at the park, woods, pool, or Downtown Disney District, a long walking street lined with shops, restaurants, and kiosks.
Suites are suitable for large parties and families. They have more elaborate furnishings that include dramatic, tall windows and expansive seating areas inside and out.
Of the 3 swimming pools, the Mariposa and Fountain pools are the most relaxing and are encircled with cabanas for some shade and an afternoon nap. The Redwood pool is the scene for the Disney Poolside Splash Bash, a weekly summer pool party happening every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
Disney’s Paradise Pier, California
From Grand Californian Resort, cross Disneyland Drive and you’ll be at Disney’s Paradise Pier, a seaside-themed hotel reminiscent of the 1920s. However, you’ll have to act fast if you want to experience the charm of Paradise Pier; an ongoing renovation project is currently underway to transform Paradise Pier into the Pixar Place Hotel, a brand-new Disney hotel showcasing all things Pixar.
A few of the new elements are already operational, like the newly installed Finding Nemo Pixar Pool and 186-foot Surfin’ Slide on the roof of the 3rd floor, where there is also a viewing platform to take in the magical Disney fireworks display. However, the renovation is ongoing, and a few things are not yet operational. For example, there are no restaurants. Guests can eat at any of the restaurants at Grand Californian Resort or Downtown Disney District.
Centrality is one of Paradise Pier’s greatest advantages. It’s on a busy street and close to both Disneyland and California Adventure. Most of Disney’s cheaper resorts are quite far from the main theme park. To save on a trip to Disney without having to stay far away, you can take advantage of lower rates now before the renovation project is complete and the cost goes up.
Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa, Oahu, Hawaii
You’ll be greeted in the traditional Hawaiian way with leis and given fruit-infused water as a refreshment. You’ll also get unique celebratory buttons. If staff see you wearing a button, they may hand out extra perks like free desserts or upgraded seating.
One thing guests appreciate about is that it spares the over-the-top Disney decor you find at park resorts, yet retains the exceptional quality of service that Disney is known for. This is not an adult-only resort, but for parents traveling with kids who have outgrown their childhood fondness for Disney characters, it’s a great middle ground. However, Disney’s Hawaiian residents Moana and Stitch still make regular appearances, and Mickey and Minnie have been known to drop by from time to time.
Disney Hotel New York – The Art of Marvel, Paris
Another of the best Disney resorts outside of a park is Disney Hotel New York in Paris, France. It features the characters of the Marvel universe in a classic, 1940s-era New York-style setting. This resort is ideally located a 15-minute walk from Disneyland Paris and a Paris Metro station, so your European getaway doesn’t have to be all about Disney.
There are more than 350 Marvel displays throughout the hotel and in the rooms, including Marvel art, superhero costume displays, and comic book art in almost every corner. Kids can get a photo with a Marvel hero and can even draw their own comic book in a Marvel Design Studio.
The Marvel theme continues in the restaurants, which are designed to mimic the elegant, cosmopolitan style of New York in the ‘40s in an almost exaggerated way with giant chandeliers and signage using Manutius Bold font.
Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Florida
On the shores of Hourglass Lake in Disney World, we have Disney’s Pop Century Resort, a cool hotel that highlights culture throughout the centuries. Nostalgia runs rampant throughout the hotel, with game, trend, and pop culture references of the 1950s to 1990s splattered everywhere you look, from wall art to the design of the 3 swimming pools.
As a nod to the 1950s, there is The Bowling Pool, shaped like a bowling pin and encircled by lounge chairs. Pay homage to the ‘60s and flower power at the Hippy Dippy Pool, which is flower shaped and surrounded by jet sprayers that resemble daisies. The Hippy Dippy Pool is where the hotel’s movie nights are held a few nights per week.
The computer pool is the largest and is shaped like the first at-home computers of the ‘90s, with giant keyboard decals on the ground behind rows of loungers. There is also a huge game room filled with arcade games for when you prefer to stay dry.
Note that other than quick service stations and Petals Pool Bar, there is no real restaurant at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. A free shuttle can take you to the dozens of restaurants in the Downtown Disney District. If you plan to spend most of your time in the theme parks and just want an affordable hotel within the park, Pop Century is a good option.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Florida
Another affordable option for parents with very young kids is Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, across from Pop Century on the other side of the lake. It’s a colorful theme resort with rooms that feature art from Cars, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Finding Nemo.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is a particularly great choice for kids who love to swim. The Big Blue Pool, with a 300,000-gallon capacity, happens to be the largest swimming pool in all the Disney resorts. On the same pool deck you’ll also find The Schoolyard Sprayground with sprinklers, fountains, and room to run around, and Squirt’s Righteous Reef, a dry playground with climbing structures and swings.
For a quieter atmosphere, there’s the Cozy Cone Pool, where parents can keep a watchful eye on their swimmers from the shade of a cone-shaped cabana. Finally, the Flippin Fins Pool includes underwater speakers so guests can listen to Sebastian the Crab’s Under the Sea Orchestra.
The resort’s only restaurant, A Landscape of Flavors, has a rotating section of limited-time offerings plus an expansive regular selection of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, salads, and a few plant-based options.
Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, Florida
Our last Disney resort is a must-see for sports fans. Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort in Disney World is a budget-friendly option in Disney’s All-Star Resorts, among Disney’s All-Star Music Resort and All-Star Movies Resort. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is also close by.
Rooms are cheesy and colorful, perfect for sleeping but not much else. In addition to 3 sports-themed swimming pools (including The Grand Slam Pool, where a Goofy waterjet sprays water from a pitcher’s mound), the resort has a few amenities and activities, but most guests stay here so they have more money to spend at the resorts.
A bus provides transport between Stadium Hall near Sport Goofy Gifts & Sundries and the Magic Kingdom from 7:00 a.m. until 2 hours after closing.
Now that you’ve read our list of the 10 best Disney resorts, which one appeals to you? Let us know in the comments!
He is an expert travel advisor and enthusiast. He has traveled extensively in the USA, Central America, South America, and Europe. He has visited every Sandals Resort and is one of a select few Diamond Elite members of the Sandals Chairman’s Royal Club.
Dan graduated from Johnson & Wales University with an associate degree in Culinary Arts. Later he graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a focus on people and culture.