Living an hour or so from Walt Disney World your entire life means you get to spend a lot of time at the parks. That’s my life story; our four kids love Disney, so we’ve been annual passholders for the past 8 years; and we certainly enjoy our time at Disney. As Floridians, however, we know a few things that you don’t know. For one, we never go to the parks during the day unless it’s a weekday in a cooler month. We never go in the middle of summer because it’s so hot and it will usually pour rain on you even though the sun is shining and all looks well – when you have to hike miles to get to the boat or monorail and then the parking lot, it’s not worth it to us.
We got in the evenings. When you are exiting the park at 6 pm to call it a night, we’re on our way in. Disney is open late most nights, so it works for us. We take the kids when the sun goes down, the crowds disperse and we can spend a few not-so-hot hours enjoying shorter lines and more fun. Since we have annual passes, we don’t care if we are there for 6 hours or 1 hour. However, since we do like to visit late and we usually end our evening with at late dinner that might involve a bottle of wine for the husband and I, we usually stay the night to avoid the late night drive home (it’s about an hour and-a-half).
Since we live here and we still want to have fun, we choose amazing hotels. However, that does not mean we want to pay Disney hotel prices. I might get a lot of flak for this, but Disney hotels (save for the Grand Floridian and the Four Seasons) are not all that nice. They’re lovely, they are convenient and they are certainly fantastic hotels; but if I’m spending $400-$500 per night on a room, it’s not going to be at an older hotel with a boring pool, few amenities and a million travelers. They’re what I’d call pretty average, and great for people who love to stay on property.
On that note, we have learned that we can have an even more amazing resort experience staying ever so slightly off-property but still within minutes of the parks; for a fraction of the price. We just did it this weekend – but without a trip the park since we were having too much fun at our hotel. On that note, let me just share with you my favorite hotels for the best vacation that are so close to Disney you can touch it, but not so close you’re paying for it.
Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center
We just stayed here this weekend. Our trip was $206 after tax and resort fees, we had an atrium view room, checked in before noon and our kids had a blast. Our big kids got to go on a treasure hunt, the pool was so much fun with the water park, the great Sandbar, a DJ, and a pirate and princess party. We had dinner at Moor, on the boat in Key West, and it was amazing. It was our daughter’s 8th birthday, so the presented her with a lovely candlelit dessert and a little song. For breakfast, we went down to Villa de Flora where we had a Pirates and Princesses breakfast that included pirate treasure, pirates at our table, a song for our daughter, and lots of fun; our room is always amazing here, and the staff is always eager to make our trip that much more exciting.
Omni Championsgate Resort
We’re big fans of the Omni and its kind-of hidden appeal. We’ve been staying here for more than 10 years now, and I don’t think that many people know about it. With a championship golf course, a great zero-entry pool, a lazy river and the best boneless buffalo quesadillas you’ll ever have at Croc’s (the pool bar), you cannot go wrong. We are almost always upgraded to a hospitality suite so that we have more space for the kids, and the ability to put our twins to bed on time while still enjoying being up with our big kids. To say the staff here is wonderful is a complete understatement as every time we visit, the same valet from a decade ago is still there and he still remembers our names. If the kids are with us, he chats with them and if they’re not, he always remembers to ask about him. You cannot go wrong here.
The Reunion is one we’ve stayed at only once, but we will go back. It’s great when you have a big family and need a great room with a lot of space and a few bedrooms. There are many different buildings, villas, pools and a water park, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a big resort, so it’s very easy to get lost, but so worth the stay. Anytime we are in Orlando for more than one night and we have all four kids, this is where we go (you’ll note I said we’ve been there once….we learned the hard way our 2-year-old twins make travel a little bit less than enjoyable at the moment so we’ve taken a hiatus on bringing them with; or booking more than a night away with the big girls).