Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Choosing among Disney hotels for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (Photo: Kent Phillips/Disney)

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

Choosing among Disney hotels for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Walt Disney World Half Marathon finishers. (Photo: runDisney)

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.

Choosing among Disney hotels for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

A Dopey Challenge runner races around the BoardWalk. (Photo: runDisney)

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.

Chooming among Disney hotels at Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

The Wishes Nightime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom. (Photo: Disney)

Magic Kingdom

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.

How To Choose Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon

Enjoying a Dole Whip float. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

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.

How to choose Disney hotels for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

More than 200 mammals and birds populate the 33-acre savannah at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. (Photo: Disney)

Animal Kingdom

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.

The Villas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and All Star Sports, Movies and Music Resorts are also convenient to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

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.

Disney's BoardWalk is walking distance to both Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. (Photo: Disney)

Walk to Epcot or Hollywood Studios from the BoardWalk. (Photo: Disney)

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.

Choosing Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon

The Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa are a secluded oasis. (Photo: Kent Phillips/Disney)

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.

Chosing a Disney Hotel for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts is a 750,000-gallon, sand-bottom lagoon with whirlpools and shipwreck water slide. (Photo: Disney)

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.

Disney 'Marathon Weekends' at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek pool. (Photo: Hilton)

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.

How to choose a Disney hotel for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Lazy River Pool at JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. (Photo: Marriott)

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
Choosing among Disney hotels for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

The Monorail Transportation & Ticket Center is next door to Disney’s Polynesian Resort. (Photo: Disney)

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.

BoardWalk Hotels
Disney Family Fun Run 5K

The 5K, 10K and marathon courses go around the BoardWalk area.

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

Disney Princess Half Marathon, run Disney

My sister snapped this picture just before the finish. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

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.

Choosing among Disney hotels for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

ChEAR Squad members cheer runners on. (Photo: runDisney)

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. (Photo: Kent Phillips/Disney)

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 six favorite pool mentions? I paid for my stay at four of those properties and Disney gave me a complimentary room at the other two. 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. Seriously. Read my Disclosure Policy for more.

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Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.

16 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    This post came at such a perfect time for me! My mom and I are heading over to Orlando next weekend to celebrate Mother’s Day (a little late). We’re dining at Citricos (our favorite), but my budget cannot afford two nights at The Grand Floridian. An awesome pool is definitely on my top needs list since the only thing on our agenda is laying out and shopping 😀
    Kristina recently posted..Ramblings: Friday EditionMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      I’ve stayed at Grand Floridian. As lovely as the hotel and setting are, and as yummy as Citricos is (love it!) the pool isn’t my favorite. Definitely check out JW Marriott if you don’t mind the drive (15-20 mins). The pool is over-the-top amazing and they have some great AAA rates if you’re a member. Sounds like a fun weekend!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon WeekendMy Profile

  2. 3

    Great post!! I have to chime in about the Grand Wailea pool. That is where my husband and I stayed when we got married/honeymoon’d in Maui. We LOVED it so much!!

  3. 5

    I stayed at the Contemporary in January for Marathon Weekend and felt that taking the monorail to the start of the race was the height of luxury. It’ll be hard not to do that again in 2015, but right now I’m planning on the Yacht Club because I’ve never stayed there and STORMALONG BAY LOOKS INCREDIBLE.

    • Karla Bruning

      It is! I stayed at Yacht Club for 2013 WDW Marathon and I spent every waking non-running moment at that pool. Loved it. No, you won’t have the luxury of the monorail, but being on the BoardWalk and close to Epcot/Hollywood Studios is great. And if you’ve got spectators with you, they’re literally sleeping on the course. All around, it’s a fantastic place to stay for WDW Marathon.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon WeekendMy Profile

  4. 7

    Ahhhh this makes me want to do this even more! I miss Disney! Someday I hope to run the Disney Marathon, but at a time when I can actually look around me and take it in rather than eyeballs on the prize to try and win/be at the top. This looks like so much fun! Please hold me to this; someday I WILL need this post 😛
    Tina Muir recently posted..The Importance of Keeping a Training LogMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Yes, Tina you will! But you’ve got plenty of years ahead for that. For now, enjoy being an elite and as fast as you are. Competition at your level is something most of us will never experience :) When you retire, Mickey Mouse will be waiting with open arms!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Disney Hotels For Walt Disney World Marathon WeekendMy Profile

  5. 9

    What a great comparison of the different hotels. I stayed at the Contemporary several years back and absolutely loved how close it was to the Magic Kingdom! One of these days I really need to try Bay Lake, especially to try out the pool!

  6. Bradley #

    I am going to do the wdw marathon this year and I was looking at staying off property or staying at a value or at a moderate resort. Which would you say is a better choice? The price of what is available right now at the Disney resorts are in the $200/night which is a bit over my budget but I would probably do it just for the convenience of not driving around. I will be running but l will also going with my mom, niece and my girlfriend. Any suggestions are greatly welcomed as I have never stayed off property for a runDisney event. Thank you for any advice you can provide. If you can email me, that would be great. Bradleyv1714@gmail

    • Karla Bruning

      Hi Bradley, There are a few off-property hotels around Orlando which offer race transportation for runDisney events. The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek offers its own race transportation for runDisney events and special packages for runners. The Downtown Disney area hotels might be another option; some of those have runner packages too. One of those might be a great choice for staying within your budget and having the convenience of not driving around. Hope you find something and happy training!

  7. Joan Lerch #

    Hi Karla – Thanks for all the great info you have on Disney races! I am entering my 1st-ever Disney race this year – the Half in September. I was all excited about the Hilton Bonnet Creek, until I realized that hotel is at Disney WORLD, and this year’s Half is at Disneyland. (duh) Do you have any information on hotels at Disneyland for race participants? Thanks!

    • Karla Bruning

      Not as yet. I’m headed to the Tink Half in May and will do some reconnaissance then. I’ve only been to Disneyland once (for Tink Half 2012) and stayed at the Grand Californian, which was lovely. But I know that there are many other hotel options in the area, many of which have transportation to Disneyland. So stay tuned…

    • 15

      Any hotel around Disneyland is great. I did Star Wars this year and last. Last year stayed at Candy Cane Inn and you have about a 15 min walk to the corrals. This year we stayed at Best Western Stovall because close to corrals and then found out we still had to walk around (10min walk, ~.70 miles). It is super close to Downtown Disney. But Disneyland has so many nice hotels near the entrance to the parks. It’s very different than Disney World, closer. I think I liked Stovall because they offered breakfast earlier for the runners and was still open after I completed the race to reblenish. For less walking, the Grand California has a park entrance and short walk to Disneyland gate and corrals. Also Paradise Prier is super close to corrals and Downtown. Stovall was on the corner of where mile 12 goes into mile 13. Disneyland Hotel is the same place as expo and close to monorail entrance to get into Disneyland. Most time you will be walking through Downtown to get to the parks. Disneyland Hotel is also the best for a short walk to corrals cause you won’t have to ‘walk around’. Hope that helps. I have done 3 runDisney events at Disneyland. Dark Side will be my first at Disney World and I am super nervous about transportation because so use to quick transitions at Disneyland because everything is close. We are staying at Grand Floridian so any advice would be great!! How long is the trip after the finish back to the hotel from ESPN complex.

      • Karla Bruning

        Thanks for the input, Charity! Your travel times at WDW will be MUCH longer than at Disneyland. This is the first time Disney has a race finishing at ESPN. That said, having stayed at Grand Floridian for races that start at ESPN and going to the expo there, it could easily take an hour, give or take, to get back to your hotel after the finish—depending on how long you have to wait for your bus and if your bus stops at another hotel (like Polynesian) before stopping at Grand Floridian. In no traffic, it’s a 15-20 minute drive between the two, but when you add in all the race day factors it will take a lot longer. The good news is if you use the free runDisney transportation, you know you’re going to get there. They really do make it easy. Before the race will be quicker–the start at Epcot is closer and the bus will take you straight from the hotel to the start. Hope you enjoy it!
        Karla Bruning recently posted..Running Jackets & Vests To Go The DistanceMy Profile


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