I’ve gotten this question a lot and in many varieties: What Disney hotels are best for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend?
There is no “best” hotel for any runDisney race. The best hotel for you for any race depends on many factors: what you want to do while you’re at Walt Disney World, who is in your party, and what your price point is, among other things.
I’ve stayed at eight different Disney hotels (four of which Disney comped for me during runDisney events) and three off property hotels while visiting Walt Disney World. But my hotel recommendations for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend are based on two main factors: Whether or not you have spectators in your group and what you want to do while you’re not running.
If Your Group Includes Runners Only
If everyone traveling with you is running a race, all the Disney hotels are great.
All the Walt Disney World Resorts are official “host” hotels for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and offer event buses to shuttle runners to and from the start and finish of each race. The buses are comfortable and efficient, both before and after the race.
Having stayed at Disney hotels on the Monorail loop, on the BoardWalk and elsewhere on property for runDisney events, there’s not much of a difference from a runner’s perspective. The event buses got me where I needed to go and back every time from all those different areas.
The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria Orlando also offer free race transportation for marathoners and half-marathoners staying with them as part of their Marathon Weekends packages. The hotels are inside the Disney gates, have complimentary park transportation for their guests, and offer another great option for racers booking a Disney runcation. Check out my full post about their offerings.
So if all the people in your group are runners, I would pick the hotel that makes your days easiest and meets your price point.
Are you looking for a great pool to rest your legs each day while doing Dopey Challenge? Is there one park in particular where you want to spend most of your time? Do you want to be close to the Expo to stalk runDisney New Balance shoes? Different hotels are better suited for each of those scenarios.
If it’s Magic Kingdom you’re after, any resort on the Monorail loop is fantastic: Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and Disney’s Polynesian Resort, soon to become Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort as it undergoes major renovation.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground also have water taxis to the park.
The perks of each? The Contemporary Resort has my favorite quick-service restaurant, Contempo Cafe, and Magic Kingdom fireworks viewing from the hotel. Plus, it’s the next stop after Magic Kingdom on the Monorail. So at the end of a long day in the park, you’re home in a jiffy.
The Grand Floridian is great for the opposite reason. When you hop on the Monorail at the hotel, Magic Kingdom is the next stop so you’ll be there quickly for those morning Extra Magic Hours, when the park is open just for Disney hotel guests. I also love Citricos restaurant at Grand Floridian.
The Polynesian Resort has the legendary Dole Whip at Capt. Cook’s quick service restaurant in the hotel. It’s the only spot in Walt Disney World other than Magic Kingdom where you can get the frosty treat. The resort earns major bonus points for that. You can also watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the hotel’s beach. And the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show is a lot of fun. My niece and nephew, who have never been to Hawaii, loved it.
Then there is the new Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort set to open in August 2014 and Shades of Green at Walt Disney World Resort, an Armed Forces Recreation Center run by the U.S. Army for military members and their families.
Both are in the vicinity of Magic Kingdom, but are owned and operated separately from Disney hotels. So if you’re traveling for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend or another runDisney event, check with each of those properties individually about transportation to runDisney races.
If you want to spend most of your park time at Animal Kingdom, then Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is truly lovely.
My favorite thing about this resort? Seeing safari animals from your hotel room and elsewhere as you wander the property. It really is magical to wake up to a giraffe munching on leaves just outside your window. I stayed there with my 5-year-old niece during the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and she loved seeing the animals every day.
Epcot and Hollywood Studios
If you’re more of an Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios fan, any hotel on the BoardWalk or around Crescent Lake is ideal. You can walk or boat to both those parks from the BoardWalk group of hotels: Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Disney’s BoardWalk Villas, Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, Disney’s Beach Club Villas, and the Walt Disney World Dolphin & Swan Resorts, of which the latter two are operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
The BoardWalk is one of my favorite areas of Walt Disney World with lots of restaurants and a charming feel. I love that it’s so convenient to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Also close to these two theme parks, but not walking distance, is Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Downtown Disney
For proximity to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where the Disney Heath & Fitness Expo and runDisney Kids’ Races are held, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, Waldorf Astoria Orlando, Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts can’t be beat. From the Monorail Loop resorts, the Expo can be a bit of a hike. But from Hilton, Waldorf, Art of Animation and Pop Century, it’s just a short bus ride away.
If you want to hightail it to Downtown Disney and all the restaurants and shopping there—not to mention the race Cool Down Party—Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa including the Treehouse Villas, Disney’s Port Orleans Resorts and Disney’s Old Key West Resort have boats that take you there.
Then there are the seven hotels within the Walt Disney World Resort in the Downtown Disney area that are not part of the Disney portfolio: Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort, Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton, Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, Holiday Inn Orlando-Lake Buena Vista, Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort (formerly Regal Sun Resort), and the new B Resort (formerly Hotel Royal Plaza) set to open summer 2014.
Many of these properties also offer complimentary transportation to Walt Disney World theme parks and other Disney amenities, but not necessarily transportation to runDisney events. Some offer travel packages for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Visit rundisney.com/travel/disneyworld for more information about participating hotels.
I’m a pool girl. A fantastic swimming pool is probably my top criteria for a vacation hotel. Thankfully, all the Disney hotels I’ve stayed at have great swimming holes.
My personal favorite is the wandering lagoon at Disney’s Beach Club & Yacht Club Resorts. Known as Stormalong Bay, it’s a 750,000-gallon, sand-bottom lagoon with whirlpools and shipwreck water slide. Stormalong Bay, with its many decks, bridges and inlets, is a gorgeous spot to while away a day. The only downside? It’s right beside the walkway around Crescent Lake with onlookers passing by.
If you prefer a more secluded pool, I love the one at the Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which looks over the bucolic Bay Lake. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge also has a lovely pool enclave tucked inside the resort. They’re less opulent than Stormalong Bay, but offer their own relaxing charms.
The Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin also share a spectacular tropical pool complex with an enormous waterfall and separate lap pools, which is music to my swimmer’s ear.
Off property, the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes has one of my all-time favorite hotel pools, alongside the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and Grand Wailea in Maui.
Then there’s the lazy river and water slide at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet creek. The 3-acre pool is a swimmer’s wonderland, and the private poolside cabanas cater to folks who prefer to lounge. I loved staying there. This is technically off-property, but still located within the Walt Disney World gates with complimentary transportation to the parks and race transportation for certain runDisney events.
What do all those pools have in common? Lazy Rivers, waterfalls, and lagoon-like settings that make them magical.
Those are my favorite pools among the 10 plus different Disney and Orlando resorts where I’ve stayed. Please chime in in the comments if you’ve got a favorite pool I haven’t mentioned. I’m always on the hunt.
Then are the two water parks at Walt Disney World: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. If you’re hung-ho about visiting Typhoon Lagoon, the Downtown Disney area hotels are closest. For Blizzard Beach, the Animal Kingdom and ESPN Wide World of Sports adjacent hotels are right nearby.
If Your Group Includes Spectators
When you have fans coming to cheer you on at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend of races, where you stay is a whole other ballgame.
If your group includes spectators that you’re counting on seeing during and after the race, I would pick a hotel that makes spotting you and getting around Walt Disney World convenient.
The logistics of watching the races is harder than just getting to the start and home from the finish. Yes, as a runner you have to wake up at 3 a.m. and log the miles, but your spectators have to get around Walt Disney World while most of the roads are closed. That is a feat in and of itself.
Magic Kingdom Hotels
If your group includes cheerleaders, the best place to stay from a logistics perspective is one of the Magic Kingdom resorts on the Monorail loop: Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Villas, and Disney’s Polynesian Resort.
The easiest way for spectators to get around is the Monorail, which starts running at 3 a.m. on race days. The Monorail stops at those three properties and the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC), where folks can catch the express Monorail to Epcot for the start and finish of all four races: Disney Family Fun Run 5K, Walt Disney World 10K, Walt Disney World Half Marathon and Walt Disney World Marathon.
Those three hotels are also right on or near the half marathon and marathon courses either just before or just after runners go through Magic Kingdom between miles 5 and 6 of both races. So your spectators can wander out of their hotel room and down to the course on foot to cheer you on. In the case of the Polynesian Resort, they could catch you before mile 4 and after mile 7, then head to the TTC next door to board a Monorail to see you at the finish.
They can also hop on the Monorail to Magic Kingdom to cheer you on in the park. And they can catch the Monorail from there to meet you at the finish at Epcot. Easy peasy.
If you have spectators traveling with you, my second recommendation is the BoardWalk and Crescent Lake area hotels: Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas, Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts and Villas, and the Walt Disney World Dolphin & Swan Resorts.
The 5K, 10K and marathon courses go right past these properties. So your spectators can pop right out of their hotel to cheer you on. These hotels are also not far from the start and finish of the races just outside Epcot. Spectators will still have to take a bus, car or cab to get there or to get to the Monorail, but it’s a lot closer than many other hotels.
Also, if you have park tickets, you can also just walk through Epcot after the races from the front entrance near the finish to the back International Gateway entrance near the BoardWalk to get back to your hotel, no wheels needed. That is, if you can still walk.
A Race Day Hotel Transportation Comparison
At the 2012 Disney Princess Half Marathon, which has the same course as the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, my sister stayed at the Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort as a spectator while my husband and I ran the race.
My sister came down to the road in front of the hotel near mile 5 to cheer us on, where we spotted her easily. Then she headed back to the Contemporary Resort, took the Monorail from the hotel lobby to the Ticket & Transportation Center, which is the next stop. There she got an express Monorail to Epcot, where she cheered us into the finish and snapped the photo to the right.
Spectating made easy peasy.
Fast forward to the 2014 Walt Disney World Half Marathon.
Once again, I was running and my sister and family were cheering me on. We stayed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. My sister and family tried to meet me at the finish to watch me come in. But they left the hotel after the race started. The roads were so backed up because of closures that they missed me, despite giving themselves an hour for what is usually a 15-minute drive.
Once the half-marathon and marathon start, road closures make travel times much longer than usual.
If you do stay at a property where your spectators will need to bus—and that’s the vast majority of them—my best advice is to get out before the races start, make their way to a Monorail station and get around that way. If they opt to forgo the Monorail, allow more than ample time to get around on the official Walt Disney World or race transportation buses.
As you can see, I never quite know what to say when someone asks me what’s the “best” place to stay. For me, it’s really a question of what you want to do while you’re at Walt Disney World, whether or not you’ve got fans cheering you on, and ultimately, what you’re willing to pay.
After staying at eight different Walt Disney World Resorts and three off-property Orlando hotels, I don’t think I could choose a single favorite overall.
For the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, my personal top pick is Disney’s Contemporary Resort & Bay Lake Tower because of proximity to the monorail, half marathon and marathon courses for spectators and the pool beside Bay Lake. But your top pick might be completely different for varying reasons.
Certainly, I’d choose another Disney hotel for other runDisney races. For Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon I’d rather be on the BoardWalk at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts or Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. But I’ll leave those for another post.
What hotel is best for you at Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend really depends on what you want to get out of your runDisney experience.
As mentioned above, runDisney offered me a complimentary room at four of the eight Disney hotels at which I’ve stayed. My four favorite pool mentions? I paid for my stay at two of those properties—JW Marriott and Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort—and Disney gave me a complimentary room at the other two—Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Other hotels where Disney comped my stay didn’t make my list of best pools. I firmly believe in being honest about my experiences, regardless of any freebies I receive. Read my Disclosure Policy for more.