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Disney for Adults

Best and Worst Disney World Value Resorts

“How do I save money on my vacation?” is unsurprisingly one of the most frequently asked questions when planning a Disney trip. Park tickets are expensive, quick service meals cost…

“How do I save money on my vacation?” is unsurprisingly one of the most frequently asked questions when planning a Disney trip. Park tickets are expensive, quick service meals cost too much, and you’re probably gonna want a pair of Mickey Ears to feel like you’re doing it right. One small way to save money is to eat outside of the parks and pack your lunches. But honestly, due to lines, parades, and FastPass reservations, you usually don’t have enough time to pop in and out for a cheap meal.

So, if you’re budget-minded, what’s the easiest way to spend less money? Choose a value level resort. Choosing a resort in this category (the lowest price with fewer amenities) can decrease the cost immensely and take a little stress off the idea of going on vacation. There have been plenty of blogs that outline money saving tips and tricks. This is one of the easiest ways to do so. Which brings me to another frequently asked question: “Where should I stay?” Here’s a ranking of all the Disney World Value Resorts to help you decide.

Something To Remember: Value resorts are more often booked by large families with kids in an effort to save money and for a kid-friendly atmosphere. Just making this clear so you don’t expect a tranquil getaway. It is, after all, a Disney vacation.

But first, if you’re not sure what I mean when I say “on and off property…”

On Property vs. Off Property: Each on property resort (owned by Disney) features multiple pools, shuttles to the parks, free transportation to/from the airport, 1 quick service restaurant, use of the Magic Band system and the Disney touch. The off property resorts (not officially owned by Disney) are a little cheaper, have a few more food options, free shuttles to the parks, and offer a break from the magic if you’d rather not fully immerse yourself in the Disney experience.

World Showcase Panorama at Disney World's Epcot at Sunset

World Showcase at Sunset

Ranked Value Resorts

Best Western Lake Buena Vista (Off Property “Good Neighbor” Hotel): Most of us have an idea of what a Best Western is like. You can trust that this hotel will be clean and have decent service. The rooms and overall “décor” of the hotel are outdated and remind of the 90’s and not in a nostalgic way. But, it’s still a decent place to stay because it’s a step above some other Best Western’s. This one has an onsite restaurant and lounge along with a quick service pot and a Pizza Hut Express. The pool is decent and provides free shuttles to the parks. I don’t think it’s a bad choice, just not the greatest.

Wyndham Garden Lake (Off Property “Good Neighbor” Hotel): The only reason I’m putting this one after the All-Stars is purely nostalgic reasons. I love staying on property because it reminds me of my childhood family trips. But, I’ve sent quite a few of my clients to this hotel because I think it’s quite nice for the cost and people love it. The official Disney Value Resorts don’t have a poolside bar and grill, but this one sure does! The rooms seem to be updated recently, they have a 24-hour café, and a Lakeview Restaurant that features character dining on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays. What more could you possibly want?

Place Pizza Box Here Trash Can at Disney World's All Star Music Resort

Disney World’s All Star Movie Resort

Good news! They are renovating the All-Star Resort rooms as well! The insides are looking much better than what they used to be and the design is very similar to Pop Century’s upgrade. Note: The All-Star Resorts sometimes share buses during the day, but have their own bus in the morning and evening.

All-Star Sports (On Property): I rank this one last out of the All-Stars because it’s the least “Disney” of all the Disney Resorts. There are a few character statues throughout, but it doesn’t quite capture the magic. But, I do know plenty of people who like the sports atmosphere and stay here every visit. They have a large open “football field” to play on and I’m a big fan of the Mighty Ducks pool. Other than that, staying at Sports really isn’t my cup of Gatorade, so I’m putting it last. The biggest perk to this resort is that it’s the first stop on the bus line during the day.

All-Star Music (On Property): This resort is rumored to be slightly quieter than the other two, but I honestly can’t tell the difference. I prefer rooms in the Calypso building because you’re near my favorite pool featuring The Three Caballeros fountain. The Calypso rooms do cost a bit more because they’re also near the food court and bus stop, FYI.

All Star Movies (On Property): Movies is my go-to cheap Disney stay. I love the larger than life Toy Story statues and I always stay in the Herbie the Love Bug building. Mostly because it’s towards the back of the property and a little calmer, but also because Herbie himself sits back there.  P.S. If you haven’t heard, you can ask for the “secret menu” at their quick service spot. The Cast Member will pull out a briefcase equipped with a couple of old View-Masters inside. The pictures you’ll see inside the View-Master are of the secret menu items available. A fun thing to do with kids!

Pop Century (On Property): What’s the best inexpensive Disney Value Resort? 9 times out of 10 a Disney veteran will answer with “Pop Century.” It’s a newer value resort and most of the rooms have been recently renovated. You also have the added plus of having your own bus line rather than sharing a line at the All-Star Resorts. My favorite feature is that the “Generation Gap Bridge,” which had the original intent of connecting the current themed buildings (decades ranging from the 50’s to the 90’s), to future generation buildings (2000’s and beyond) on the other side. Instead, they decided to build Art of Animation in that place and kept the bridge up. Meaning, you can pop over to Art of Animation if you’re staying at Pop Century any time you want.

You’re Probably Wondering Why I Didn’t Mention Art of Animation

Although Art of Animation is considered a value resort the prices do not reflect the same idea. The Little Mermaid Room, which is a standard non-suite, usually starts at about 150/night. Compare this to an All-Star that can sometimes go down to about $80/night. The family suite can be worth it if you have a larger family though. The suites accommodate 6 people so that means you won’t have to purchase two rooms. If you love the atmosphere of this resort, but can’t afford a room, then stop by for a visit!

Spaceship Earth at Night at Disney World's Epcot

Just because they’re easier on your wallet, doesn’t mean value resorts aren’t enjoyable places to stay. The amenities are generally good, onsite restaurants available, pools are nice, and the service is great. Besides, you’ll most likely be spending most of your vacation in the parks and only use your hotel to collapse after a long day.

If you’re looking for more ways to save money on vacation, feel free to contact me. As a Disney Travel Planner, I can help navigate current Disney World discounts and promos throughout the season.

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Best and Worst Disney World Value Resorts

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Dressing for Dinner: Disney World Dress Code Tips & Tricks

Disney World has some strict policies on dressing in the parks. One being: no clothing with offensive writing. If a Cast Member sees a shirt with profanity or otherwise crude…

Disney World has some strict policies on dressing in the parks. One being: no clothing with offensive writing. If a Cast Member sees a shirt with profanity or otherwise crude displays they are forced to ask you to change or buy another t-shirt. PhotoPass will delete any “on ride” picture that captures the clothing and they most certainly won’t take your picture with a character. This is due to their brand integrity. Disney doesn’t want to be put in the same context as a naughty pullover.

What about restaurant dress codes though? If you’ve ever made a reservation at a swankified restaurant like Narcoose’s, you may have noticed a small note saying that they suggest a dress code. For frequent park-goers, the note goes unnoticed. For a first timer, it may be a little intimidating. Do I need to change for dinner? Are they really expecting me to wear a blazer in the 90-degree humidity? Short answer: no. But, they do put these notices out there for a reason and I’ll tell you why.

Be Our Guest Ceiling Dimly Lit in Disney World

Be Our Guest

First off, here are the guidelines listed on the official Disney World website:

In order to preserve the atmosphere of this dining experience, Guests are asked to adhere to our dress code.

Appropriate attire for men includes khakis, slacks, jeans, dress shorts and collared shirts; appropriate attire for women includes capris, skirts, dresses, jeans and dress shorts.

Attire that will not be permitted includes tank tops or hats for gentleman, swimwear, cut-offs or torn clothing. In addition, while T-shirts are allowed, T-shirts featuring offensive language and/or graphics are not.

They’re not suggesting a formal evening gown or a suit and tie. This goes for most restaurants that require dress codes, excluding Victoria and Albert’s and The Edison, which have stricter guidelines.

Victoria & Albert’s:

Guests must wear proper attire.

Men must wear dinner jackets with dress pants or slacks and shoes. Ties are optional. Women may wear a cocktail dress, nice dress, dressy pantsuit or a skirt with a blouse.

Jeans, shorts, capri pants, sandals, flip-flops or tennis shoes are not permitted.

The Edison:

The newly opened Disney Springs restaurant and cabaret, The Edison is now requesting a dress code for its nightly entertainment. Starting at 10:00 pm each night the restaurant undergoes a transformation to a “nightclub atmosphere” and guests are encouraged to wear slacks, dress shoes, and collard shirts. They won’t turn you away if you’ve put some effort in and look put together. Before 10:00 pm there are no dress codes.

Jiko - cooking place: Casa Beer in a Glass at Disney World

Tips for Dressing Under the Guidelines:

With these in mind, please understand these are merely suggestions. They will not kick you out because you don’t own a pair of khakis. Can you imagine the publicity if they did? From I what I understand, the guidelines are noted for you to understand the overall atmosphere of the restaurant. For guests visiting their first time, they may think that all restaurants are super casual and evoke the atmosphere of a McDonald’s. I mean, you’re at a theme park, so it’s natural to assume that.

That being said, some may feel embarrassed walking into California Grill, expecting it to be like T-Rex Cafe. Try not to feel this way because it’s still very much a theme park and there will be screaming kids at every restaurant on property. However, if you’re the type who likes to be dressy at dinner, the dress code notice will hint at what to expect. Personally, I err on the casual side when dining at Disney anyway.

One more thing, some Signature Restaurants do not require a dress code, but they do offer the same experience as those that do. For instance, Todd English’s bluezoo doesn’t say they have a dress code, but it is very much a fine-dining experience. You can usually tell by the photographs online what are considered the fancier restaurants.

Cocktail glass and meal at Disneyland's Carthay Circle Restaurant

Carthay Circle Restaurant Cocktail

Tips for Dressing for Dinner: These are obviously only suggestions. Minus The Edison and Victoria & Albert’s, most places will not mind what you’re wearing.

  • Comfortable Clothing: Unless you plan on using your reservation for a fancy date, it’s best to wear something versatile for fun in the parks as well. Don’t be afraid to wear a nice pair of shorts and a comfortable button-up/blouse.
  • Shoes:  No matter where you’re dining, you’ll want to wear shoes that you can walk in. Most, if not all, Disney restaurants require a bit of walking or extended transportation to get there. For instance, if you’re not driving or taking a Lyft to Grand Floridian, you’ll have to take a bus to Magic Kingdom, then a monorail to the resort. For style, Tiek’s are a popular traveling flat that are also built for comfort and support.
  • Indoor/Outdoor Conditions: Florida weather is unpredictable with roaring thunderstorms one minute and oppressive heat the next. If you’re traveling during hurricane season, it’s advisable to carry a poncho or rain jacket. You don’t want to mess up the one nice shirt you packed. And no one likes walking around in wet clothes. This is especially true if you’re heading inside to a nicely air-conditioned restaurant. That being said, if you’re wearing light clothing to your reservation, you might consider carrying a light sweater indoors as well.

Restaurants That Suggest a Dress Code:

  • Victoria & Alberts-Grand Floridian
  • The Edison-Disney Springs
  • California Grill- Contemporary
  • Jiko-Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Monsieur Paul-French Pavilion, Epcot
  • Artist Point-Wilderness Lodge
  • Narcoossee’s-Grand Floridian
  • Citricos-Grand Floridian
  • Flying Fish Cafe-BoardWalk
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse-Yacht Club

Whether you’re suited up or wearing jeans, Disney won’t stop the money flow, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Like I said, it seems that the guidelines really are just guidelines. The rest is entirely up to you and your comfort level!

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Disney World has dress codes? Tips for Dressing at Disney World

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Disney World After Dark: Dining & Entertainment for Night Owls

“Raging nightlife” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Disney. But just because it’s Disney, doesn’t mean it’s only for early risers. When the sun…

“Raging nightlife” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Disney. But just because it’s Disney, doesn’t mean it’s only for early risers. When the sun goes down and most of the other guests are heading out, you can keep the party going with a variety of activities. I’m not saying this is Las Vegas, but you do have some options if you’re hopped up on Dole Whips at 9:00 pm.

I used to be a magic morning kinda girl, but lately, I’ve found that going into the parks later in the afternoon and staying all the way until close is something I can get used to. The other option is to go early for park opening, leave for most of the afternoon then return for more fun. Whatever your preference, there’s a lot to do at night in the parks and resorts.

The hours and times I’ve listed may vary, so always double-check park and dining hours on DisneyWorld.com before making plans. Also, dining closing hours means they will seat you until those closing hours, but won’t kick you out until you’ve finished your meal. Just, try not to take too much advantage of coming in right at closing. Servers gotta sleep too!  Later reservations are much easier to get, as opposed to dining around the typical dinner hour of 5:00-7:00 pm as well.

Disney Springs

Disney Springs Panorama at Night | CC by Chris Murray

CC by Chris Murray

Let’s start with the obvious place to stay up late. They’ve been trying their darndest to appeal to young 20 something’s in this area for years and I think they’re finally getting around to it. Most restaurants and shops and are open until 11:00 PM (and later) and the Starbucks is open until midnight to keep yourself from falling asleep.  There’s always excitement happening at Springs like live “street” performers and other artists scattered about. It’s my favorite place to go on our first night in town since you don’t have to pay to get in.

The Edison: Open until 1:00 am. This swanky bar/lounge/cabaret/nightclub/restaurant just opened this year and people are loving its nighttime entertainment. The live band, dancers, and singers begin their big band era show around 10:00 pm. On Thursdays through Sundays they charge a cover of $10 after 10:00 as well.  After 10:00 pm the restaurant becomes 21 and over and a “venue-appropriate” dress code is requested. You can read about Disney Dress Codes on my post here.

Enzo’s Hideaway Tunnel Bar: Open until midnight. The Tunnel Bar is Maria and Enzo’s counterpart lounge. It has a prohibition-era speakeasy theme where you enter through an unmarked door into a dark “tunnel” restaurant. They serve cocktails, small plates, and full meals in an “underground” bar. Very cool little spot to grab a drink before heading over to The Edison for some dancing.

Star Wars–Secrets of the Empire Hyper-Reality Experience: Open until 10:45 pm. This experience opened recently in Disney World and just opened at Disneyland’s Downtown Disney as well. Your chosen team is sent undercover to achieve a mission for the rebellion where you’ll interact with sets and experience sensory and immersive technology.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, but have been warned that if you are claustrophobic or experience vertigo, you should avoid it. This is for ages 10+ and is 29.95 per person.

Splitsville: If you’re taking a break from the parks, Splitsville is a great place to hang out. There’s a bowling alley food, frozen drinks, and creative martinis served until 12:30. You should really reserve a lane ahead of time if you plan on bowling, just to be safe. Odd Tip: They say the sushi is really good here. Who knew I could trust sushi from a bowling alley? Lane reservations go as late as 11:45 and the alley is open until 1:00 AM.

AMC Dine-In Theatre: This movie theatre has undergone quite the transformation since I was a Cast Member. A full menu is available with options like cheeseburgers, desserts, even cocktails. When you’re low on popcorn, press a button and *poof* your server appears without you getting up in the middle of the movie. Great idea for an evening flick!

House of Blues: Ah yes, the old standby. House of Blues is still rockin’ after all these years and all the transformations. Check the schedule here to see when the live concerts will be taking place at this venue.

Bongos Cuban Cafe: Open until 2:00 am. The rumors have started that Bongo’s will soon be another casualty in the renovations.  There’s still time to visit this happening venue! On Friday and Saturdays, they have a live band play with dancing. It’s like a nonstop party over there.

Raglan Road-Irish Pub and Restaurant: Fish n’ Chips, live music, and traditional Irish dancing until 1:00 AM. The lively venue pays homage to Disney Spring’s wilder years and is madly popular among the younger Cast Members. A great place to have a pint and let loose.

Here are a few honorable mentions for getting a late meal. You can find the full list of restaurants at DisneySprings.com

The BoardWalk

Disney World BoardWalk Panorama at sunset

CC by Chad Sparkes

Now that Pleasure Island has transformed into an upscale shopping district (Disney Springs), I think it’s time for The Boardwalk to get a facelift as well. They haven’t had any major developments like the other parks or resorts and they’re definitely due. That being said, there are two adult-only venues and a couple dining options open late.

Jellyrolls: Open until 2:00 am. Jellyrolls is a dueling piano bar that’s been around for a while and still a favorite for some. Doors open at 7:00 pm so if you plan on getting a table, I advise going when they open. They do charge a cover charge of $12.

Atlantic Dance Hall: Open until 2:00 am. This top 40’s dance hall has a balcony with a beautiful view of the lake where you can cool off after shaking your tail feathers. There’s no cover charge, but it is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Pizza Window: Open until midnight. Between dance breaks stop by the infamous Pizza Window. It has some outside seating and serves beer and Sangria as well. Nothing like pizza under the stars on a warm Florida night!

BoardWalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas: Open until midnight. This is a little outdoor shack that serves margaritas outside. Pizza and margs, anyone?

Late-Night Eats That Close after 10:00 pm for The BoardWalk

The Resorts

Grand Floridian Resort Chandelier at Disney World

Grand Floridian Resort

24 Hour Dining: Speaking of midnight snacks, there are three restaurants open 24 hours on property.

  • Gasparilla Island Grill at Grand Floridian is a quick service spot serving pizza all night long.
  • Picabu at the Dolphin Hotel serves a take-and-go assortment of desserts and snacks.
  • Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian serves bakery items and some small snacks late at night.

Starlight Safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge: Disney’s only nighttime tour and probably the coolest. You’ll be guided through the “Savannah” at Animal Kingdom Lodge to view their wildlife after dark. Everyone is provided night vision goggles to get the full experience of seeing a giraffe or zebra after dark. Once exclusive to resort guests, now open to all. The tours start around 8:30 and 10:00 at night. If you go on any VIP tours, try this one!

Stroll Along a Scenic Trail: There are many jogging trails scattered throughout resort properties, but my favorite is the trail connecting the Polynesian and Grand Floridian. An ideal evening would be to take in the live jazz band at Mizner’s Lounge then head outside for a leisurely evening walk. It trails near the Seven Seas Lagoon and passes by the wedding pavilion at Grand Floridian. Once at the Polynesian you’ll get the perfect view of Cinderella’s castle in the distance. Can you smell the warm, evening air?

Grab a Drink: Disney resort lounges are usually stocked with full-service food menus from the restaurants attached to them. All are first-come, first-serve so you don’t have to worry about making a reservation. My favorite is probably Mizner’s Lounge at Grand Floridian.

P.S. Most resort food courts are open until 11:00 PM and there’s always Disney’s pizza delivery if you want to keep the party hopping. Although, I might suggest ordering Pizza Hut. Disney pizza isn’t great.

The Parks

Sunset in Epcot's World Showcase panorama at Disney World

World Showcase at Sunset

Disney has been good about offering some late night activities in the parks for those of us who are not rope drop people. Every year they’re adding something new to stretch out the magic all day and into the wee hours of the night.

Extra Evening Hours: Extra Magic Hours doesn’t always mean up-at-the-crack-of-dawn hours. On certain nights, the parks will stay open for a few hours after close, meant for guests staying at an onsite Disney resort. Check the calendar to see which park is honoring it the week you are there.  Fair warning, the park may still be busy during the late hours, but it’s a good option.

Disney After Hours: This one is definitely less advertised than the holiday parties and definitely less crowded. Between January and March of 2018, they are leaving the park open for an extra 3 hours in the Magic Kingdom. 25 attractions are left open and because there is a limited amount of tickets, lines are super short. The price is about the same as one day’s admission-$119. If you want to do this exclusive event you can find tickets for sale here.

Magic Kingdom:

The good thing about the Magic Kingdom is that it’s usually open until midnight unless it’s non-peak season and by that time you’re probably pooped from all the magic. But if you stick around long enough you get to experience the “Kiss Goodnight.” Which is the exit message and music from Mickey and friends when the park is nearing close. It’s a perfect time to take in the Disney atmosphere and get the perfect castle picture with fewer crowds.

  • Shop on Main Street: Main Street shops are open a little past park closing hours. I like to use this time to pick up souvenirs because the crowds are thinner and I don’t have to spend the rest of the day carrying them around. Also, you really can’t beat an empty Main Street U.S.A at midnight.
  • Dessert Parties: Magic Kingdom has a lot of dessert parties and most of them take place during the fireworks. One takes place in Tomorrowland, another takes place in the plaza, and others take place on your very own cruise. This is probably the coolest way to view the fireworks. This experience is right up there with a viewing at the Top of the World Lounge at the Contemporary Resort.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: If you are visiting during the holiday season, these are must-do events. Both offer special parades, shows, merchandise, and rare character experiences. And they keep the parks open until midnight in the fall. They were created to help drag in some profit during the off-season and they are quickly becoming the busiest times to go. I suggest going mid-September or the last week of November to attempt to avoid the crowds.

Epcot:

Most, if not all, restaurants and food kiosks are open until 9:00 pm at Epcot. If you’re willing to skip Illuminations or go for a quick service option in lieu of a table service, you can actually get quite a bit done later in the day here.

  • Festivals at Epcot: I suggest visiting during one of their festivals like Food & Wine, Flower & Garden, or Festival of the Arts. They always have unique food and entertainment and the food kiosks are also typically open until 9:00 pm.
  • Proximity to The BoardWalk: World Showcase is located 5 minutes from The BoardWalk! Head over to the parks for dinner and Illuminations and then keep the party going with some dancing at The BoardWalk. Sounds like the perfect evening to me!

Hollywood Studios:

Studios is undergoing major refurbishments as they prepare for Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) and Toy Story Land coming in the next couple years. Unfortunately, that means there is far less to do in the evening hours. BUT, I do have a few suggestions for nighttime entertainment at the park while it gets a makeover.

  • Fantasmic! Dining Package: This is my favorite evening show! Like I said, the dining and dessert packages are the way to go. The Brown Derby is my suggestion for this dining package. They’ve got some great cocktails! If you don’t want to do a table service and there are two shows, I always suggest seeing the second show. The crowds will have died down and you’ll have more time for dinner and attractions.
  • Ride Tower of Terror at Night: I know, I’m really reaching here. However, if you’ve never ridden Tower of Terror at night, it’s really pretty cool. The evening ambiance adds to the eerie queue which guides you to the spooky lobby.
  • Take the boat!: After you’ve gotten your fill of Hollywood Studios, take the boat over to the BoardWalk area. The Dolphin and Swan Resort are also in the vicinity which offers places like Kimonos for nightly karaoke!

Animal Kingdom:

Even if it’s not open terribly late, Pandora-World of Avatar was meant to be seen at night. The bioluminescent lighting and Avatar “landscapes” look incredible in the evening. Last summer, Animal Kingdom was open until 10:00 pm most nights and sometimes 11:00 pm, without extra evening hours. And don’t forget to catch Rivers of Light, the new water and light show, playing most nights at the amphitheater. Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom doesn’t have too many dining spots open past 8:00 pm due to it closing earlier than others. For evening eats I suggest Tiffins, Yak & Yeti, Nomad Lounge, and Satu’li Canteen (quick service). Rainforest Cafe is open a little later than the others, but the food isn’t quite worth it.

I did my best to keep the list concise, but there really is a lot to do at night in and around the parks! What’s your favorite thing to do late at night on property? Mine would have to be watching the fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian Resort. So relaxing! Goodnight, night owls!

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