When you think of a Florida theme park hotel, I’d bet you probably don’t think of deep, rich colors, hardwoods and a refined turn-of-the-century, New England-style nautical-themed resort.
And when you think of a hotel pool, you likely don’t conjure up images of a 3-acre waterpark complete with a life-size shipwreck replica that is home to a long, twisting, turning waterslide.
But all this, and actually a lot more, is precisely what you’ll find at what has to be one of the best hotels at Disney World, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. In fact, when we picked this resort for a short Florida getaway, we actually considered not spending any days in the Disney theme parks to go along with it. We amended that plan for one day at Epcot, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to do an entire vacation here without getting on a single ride. In this case, the resort could be the destination.
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Disney’s Yacht Club (1990) opened in the same era of rapid Disney World development as Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (1988), and both share a type of ocean theme. However, the two couldn’t be more different from one another. With just over 600 rooms (compared to more than 1,500 at Caribbean Beach), this deluxe Disney resort offers guests a vacation within a vacation both in terms of comfort and amenities.
After a recent stay at the property, it was all I could do to not add another night when the time to check out unfortunately arrived. And while not everything is postcard-perfect at this Disney resort at the moment, I promised myself (and my kids) we’d be back. It’s that special.
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Let’s start with some bad news: Disney’s Yacht Club is often expensive.
This is one of Disney’s deluxe resorts and there is no Disney Vacation Club wing of this hotel. This means you can’t rent DVC points to potentially book a room for less the way you can at places such as Polynesian Village Resort. (Note that you can do this at the neighboring Beach Club Resort.)
If you can snag a room during a sale or with a solid discount, you can probably get the rate down to $350-$400 per night, but it’s unlikely to go much lower. It’s common for rooms here to go for $500 and up, especially once standard rooms are sold out and you need to pay even more for a water view, which is precisely what I had to do. The view itself is (in my mind) not actually worth an upcharge, but sometimes that’s all that’s available.
While I booked during a 30% off sale, my water-view room at the Yacht Club still came to just over $500 per night. There are some ways to use points for Disney World vacations, such as using miles from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to offset the expense at a 1 cent = 1 mile valuation, but there’s no way to get outsize value for your credit card points at Disney properties.
If you do decide to book a Disney resort like this one, it can make sense to go through a Disney Vacation Planner as that doesn’t add to your cost and they do a great job staying on the lookout for sales and discounts and keeping track of all those ever-changing components of a trip to Disney World.
Related: How much does a trip to Disney World cost?
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No doubt it sounds a touch insane to spend $500 for a theme park-adjacent hotel room, but the location is one reason why Disney’s Yacht Club commands that rate (and often sells out).
This hotel is just a 5-10 minute walk from the World Showcase entrance of Epcot. It is also within walking distance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or you can hop on a boat to take you there since that walk is a bit longer.
Being so close to Epcot also means that the Skyliner stop at Epcot is within very easy reach, opening up even more Disney locations such as the Riviera Resort, Caribbean Beach Resort and more.
Yacht Club is also an incredibly short stroll away from the BoardWalk, which is home to even more shops and restaurants.
I’m happy to save money and stay off Disney property on the first night of the trip, or for trips when we aren’t going for an all-in Disney family vacation. But when we do go all-in on Disney World, I want to be in the “Disney bubble.” Staying at Yacht Club puts you in the heart of the Disney bubble, well-cushioned in your own deluxe nautical-themed space, but just an arm’s reach from lots of great Disney dining and entertainment options.
Related: Guide to visiting Walt Disney World
We arrived at Disney’s Yacht Club in the early afternoon, after starting the vacation off with a character brunch at Topolino’s Terrace at the top of the nearby Disney Riviera Resort. (Which I highly recommend you add to your to-do list if you love characters and can snag a reservation.)
Since we arrived a few hours before official check-in time, I didn’t have high hopes our room would be ready, given the era of pandemic precautions, but that became the first pleasant surprise of the trip when Room 2077 was ready and waiting for us several hours early.
Check-in is also where we were informed that while room service has returned as an option for breakfast and dinner, regular housekeeping had not yet returned to Disney resorts. Towels and trash would be attended to every other day. For our two-night stay, that meant there would be no formal housekeeping services, though we could ask for more towels and such.
If you are able to manage stairs, you can easily access the second level of the resort — where we stayed — via the lobby without using the elevators.
In fact, heading up the lobby stairs reveals some fun touches, such as a ship’s wheel, among other themed decor.
Our room was a bit of a walk down several hallways, so if that’s an issue, ask for a room closer to the lobby if available.
Inside a room at Disney’s Yacht Club, you aren’t going to find bright colors, Disney characters or loud decor. If that’s what you want, I recommend Disney’s Art of Animation, which has plenty of color and characters.
Yacht Club was renovated in recent years to appeal not only to traditional Disney vacationers but also to conventiongoers who frequently stay at the resort during normal times. And in this case, everyone won with a redesign that maintained the overall theme but upgraded the offerings.
The rooms still carry out the resort’s high-end nautical theme, but in a way that is elegant and more refined than the previous 1990s-era version.
Like with other Disney resort upgrades, the beds are now raised and the floors are now hard instead of carpet. As Disney renovated rooms across its properties, this has been the standard it is changing to.
There’s a pullout sofa that can be used as a sleeper and a small writing desk.
Most notably, there were outlets everywhere. We travel with a lot of things that need charging and we didn’t come close to using them all up. Some furnishings may be made to look like turn-of-the-century New England, but they are loaded with modern-day power.
The two queen beds were perfect for a good night’s rest after a busy day at Disney.
In the room, you’ll also find a minifridge and Keurig.
We were impressed with the amount of storage the room had in the form of shelves, racks, cubbies and drawers. We were able to stay far more organized than normal with a family’s worth of stuff, thanks to the storage options.
There was a balcony with two chairs that overlooked a well-manicured green lawn and technically some water. Remember, this was a pricier water-view room after all.
I adored the drapes, both because they did a great job keeping light out in the morning but also because they were adorable and perfect for the room, featuring constellations.
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Like at many other similar Disney resorts, the bathroom had a vanity with two sinks located in a cubby between the main room and the bathroom, so it could be used while someone was in the shower.
The bathroom area had a sliding door for both the room itself and the tub/shower combo. There were plenty of Disney H2O+ bath products in the shower and bathroom area.
We found the room incredibly nice, but do know that it doesn’t take much to hear what’s going on in the hallway or other rooms around you. If you like total silence, you’ll be well-served to pack some earplugs and a white noise app to go along with your Mickey ears.
Related: Why you need more than just a ticket to get into Disney World this summer
The Yacht Club room is plenty comfortable, but that’s probably not why you stay at Disney’s Yacht Club — it’s certainly not why we paid what we did to stay here.
Stormalong Bay pool complex
What makes this resort so special is the 3-acre pool complex shared with the neighboring Disney Beach Club Resort.
Dubbed Stormalong Bay, this pool complex has everything from a 230-foot waterslide to a lazy river, whirlpool, shallow splash area, toddler slide, hot tubs and more. It even has a sandy bottom in some of the areas, which feels so much nicer on your tired Disney feet than a hard surface.
This pool area is almost a mini-waterpark and certainly worthy of planning some time in your schedule just to enjoy it. Right now, it can get busy to the point where there is no way to get in during peak times.
However, we had a blast also going late at night after the parks closed, when there were very few people in the pool at all. While the hours can vary, it was open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. during our stay.
There are four cabanas at the pool you can book if you want extra space and service, but you need to reserve well in advance if you want those because they go quickly.
Getting into the pool requires verification you are a resort guest and you’re then assigned the colored wristband of the day to wear. There’s plenty of towels at the pool, as well as a small army of lifeguards keeping a close watch on the various areas of the pool.
Stormalong Bay is adjacent to Hurricane Hanna’s Waterside Bar & Grill, so it’s pretty easy to pop over there and order a snack or cocktail. The $12 seafood roll turned out to be a perfect snack for us.
My 11-year-old gave the $6 Lava Smoothie (made of raspberry, coconut and pineapple flavors) high marks and my $14 Frosé was excellent.
Whether your group is made up of adults, some teens, tweens or toddlers, this pool area is truly excellent, especially if you build in some time to enjoy it when most people are sleeping, eating or in the Disney parks.
Evening movies on the beach
Several nights per week at 8 p.m., a Disney movie is shown along the “beach” at the Yacht Club. This is free to enjoy and the week we were there the films showing were “Zootopia,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Disneynature: Earth.”
I’ll never fully understand who needs a treadmill at Disney when it’s normal to walk 10 miles a day in the park, but Yacht Club has those and more in its gym that overlooks Stormalong Bay.
Magical Express Bus
Until the end of 2021, if you want to take the included Magical Express Bus transportation to and from the Orlando airport, that’s available to those who stay at this and any other full-fledged Disney resort hotel. If you decide to self-park at Yacht Club, it’s going to cost you $25 per night. The upside is that the fee also gives you access to parking at the Disney theme parks at no additional charge.
The Magical Express Bus stop is right in front of the hotel entrance, and the bus stop to go to the various Disney theme parks is just to the side of the hotel entrance.
If you remember when I mentioned there are still some small bumps at Yacht Club, here’s where they begin.
Those looking for the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime Yacht Club experience may want to hold off a tiny bit longer if you want to experience all the amenities. The Club Lounge remains closed, as does one of the main sit-down restaurants.
On top of that, the onsite Ship Shape Salon is still closed, along with the Lafferty Place Arcade.
Normally, you can rent boats or even sign your kids up for a pirate-themed adventure that leaves from the dock outside of the Yacht Club, but all of that is also still on pause.
We had plenty to do for a few days without any of those amenities, but just keep in mind that some things remain shuttered for now.
Related: Changes to expect at Disney World in 2021
Ale & Compass Restaurant
Just off the lobby of Yacht Club is a dark, subdued restaurant called Ale & Compass. While you do need reservations to eat breakfast or dinner here, it’s one of the easier reservations to get at Disney World.
Described as “Yankee comfort food,” this menu has options such as lobster-and-corn chowder; a fantastic salad called the Ale & Compass salad with additions such as pumpkin seeds and beets; steak; pasta; and a burger with bacon and Vermont cheddar served with thick fries.
Getting good photos in the dark restaurant was next to impossible, but we enjoyed our salad and burger.
And while we didn’t eat breakfast here, I’ve heard good things about the dark chocolate waffles.
Our service here was quite friendly but incredibly slow. The wait for our reservation was pretty extensive, followed by another wait for a server to arrive at our table to start the meal-ordering process. This is likely at least in part due to the restaurant having a brisk business of to-go orders that you can make from the Disney app, along with the other sit-down restaurant at the hotel remaining closed.
Related: These are the best restaurants at Disney World
Ale & Compass Lounge
Another alternative to the restaurant is the adjacent Ale & Compass Lounge, which also has a sleek, updated, but pretty dark look once day turns to night.
In the back of the lounge is a bar, with the front portion offering a variety of seating options and a reduced menu that still includes the burger and chowder.
The Market at Ale & Compass
In the gift shop area of the hotel is the Market at Ale & Compass, where you can order grab-and-go options in the Disney app.
We tried the $12 breakfast bowl that had a little bit of everything on it and was actually almost enough food for myself and two kids for a quick pre-park breakfast.
The $7 ham and cheese breakfast sandwich on a pretzel roll also looked really solid.
In the afternoon and evening, you’ll find a variety of sandwiches, a hot dog and a panini on the menu.
Beaches and Cream Soda Shop
If you’re going to splurge cash on staying at the Yacht Club, I highly recommend also splurging some calories at Beaches and Cream. You’re going to need to make a reservation here well in advance (dining reservations are accepted 60 days before your trip) or get very lucky.
We planned our trip pretty close-in and were never able to snag advance reservations, but got lucky with timing that they had an outdoor table available for us to order the most exciting item on the menu … the Kitchen Sink.
This $35 sink of ice cream is made of eight scoops (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream and mint) along with every single topping in the house. Oh, and there’s also an entire can of whipped cream on top.
It’s epic, huge, ridiculous and a lot of fun.
The three of us barely put a dent in it but certainly had fun trying.
There are more regular-sized ice cream options on the menu, too, but if you’re doing a once-in-a-lifetime trip, try this once-in-a-lifetime dessert.
Should you want more than just sugar for your meal, this is also where you’ll find burgers, sandwiches, chili and other 1950s classic-style treats.
This second sit-down restaurant has not yet reopened, but when it does, this is where you can go for those post-convention expensed sales dinners … or a very nice meal out for two. The menu features a $135 seafood tower, prime porterhouse, lobster, filet mignon, elk, lobster and other similar entrees that start around $50.
I’m a total and complete sucker for a well-themed, well-located Disney World resort. Resorts such as this one, along with Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and others, have me hook, line and wallet.
For me, the resort hotel isn’t just a place to sleep at night, it’s also a destination much like the theme parks themselves. I enjoy the scent in the lobby, the storyline of the property, the Disney touches throughout and the convenience of being fully immersed in Disney magic.
While my kids vetoed the idea, I’d have been totally happy having Disney’s Yacht Club Resort serve as our actual final destination for the weekend with no park time at all. However, since it is such an easy walk to Epcot, adding that park on was actually a whole lot of fun, too.
If what you want is just a decent bed close to the parks, don’t stay here. You’re probably overpaying to stay at Yacht Club if you don’t truly value the Stormalong Bay pool area. You can stay at the next-door Disney Swan and Dolphin for a fraction of the cash if you’re just after location.
And right now, with some amenities still closed, I don’t recommend staying here if you are going to be upset when things aren’t 100% full service and perfect. The prices are as high as ever to match demand, so don’t expect a reduced price to match the reduced amenities.
But if you can overlook a few things and what you want is a fun, slightly grown-up hotel theme, a great location, access to the best resort pool at Disney World and easy access to multiple restaurants, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort is now officially one of my favorite Disney hotels — and one that I can’t wait to return to in the coming years.
Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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