As part of our investment portfolio, we own a small stake in a Disney resort. At least that's what I tell people, because it sounds so much cooler than "We have a timeshare at Disney." Yes, we are proud members of the Disney Vacation Club, but like countless timeshare owners around the country, we rarely choose to visit the resort we technically part own. Instead, we usually stay at one of the other - read: better - DVC properties around Disney, leaving Saratoga Springs as our resort of last resort.
Perhaps "better" is a poor choice of words. There are plenty of convincing arguments for why Saratoga Springs is just as great as its DVC brethren. On the other hand, there are are plenty of reasons why a room can almost always be found at Saratoga, while every other resort on Disney property is booked. Let's take a look at both sides, shall we?
The Resort - Pros
Location - Saratoga Springs can be found just across a small lake from the Downtown Disney entertainment complex. There is continuous boat service between the resort and Downtown, and guests staying in the Congress Park section will find it is just a short 10-15 minute walk away. In addition, golf lovers will love the location of Saratoga because the resort is built around Disney's Lake Buena Vista course. The ability to walk to dinner and golf? Sign me up...
|Downtown Disney just across the lake...|
Value - As one of the largest resorts on Disney property, Saratoga can often be booked at a discount when compared to other DVC properties. There are often online specials through and other deals for Florida residents and Disney passholders. This makes Saratoga a great choice for guests in need of extra space provided by the DVC villas, without breaking the bank in the process.
|You like pics of random fountains right?|
Pool and Spa - Those in need of a little pampering will no doubt find it at Saratoga Springs. The resort features one of the best spas at Disney, but my time and money are usually spent beside the zero-entry pool. That's because it meets my three non-negotiable requirements for a great hotel pool. Slide...Shade...Bar.
|The "spring" which flows into the pool below.|
The Resort - Cons
Size - Saratoga Springs is ginormous. As in - you'll need to drive your car to the lobby - ginormous. Which brings about another point....the lobby is its own separate building. A big no-no in my book, but I digress. The point is, Saratoga is huge, and if you like the convenience of having the pool, lobby, or anywhere else in the resort right at your fingertips, then this is probably not the place for you.
|You'll almost want one of these just to get to the lobby...|
Disney Transportation - During the brainwashing process of booking, Disney sells guests on the convenience of the efficient transportation system throughout their property. If you're accustomed to taking two busses and a train to work, then sure you might find the system convenient. To nearly everyone else, Disney's transportation will be one giant headache, which is only compounded at their larger resorts like Saratoga Springs. Plan an hour to get anywhere.
|Funny...no water = no kids|
The DVC Effect - Saratoga Springs is essentially the center of Disney Vacation Club's operations. This means your walk to the pool will probably involve passing nine tour groups that got suckered into hearing their sales pitch. This probably isn't a big deal for most, but for me it causes flashbacks to my own very informative - and expensive - tour.
|DVC Brainwashing Center|
The Room - Pros
Size - Perhaps the biggest advantage of Saragota Springs as well as the other DVC resorts is the availability of larger vacation villas. Studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units offer guests - especially those with families - the luxury of space and the comforts of home. While we usually opt for a basic studio, which is more or less a glorified hotel room, one day I plan on throwing a big bash in one of the enormous Grand Villas, and you're all invited.
|Another random fountain|
Kitchen - While Disney offers plenty of great dining options on the top end of the spectrum, the choices available for those seeking a quick bite on the go - especially for breakfast and lunch - leaves plenty to be desired. Don't get me wrong, I love Mickey waffles as much as the next guy, but after about 3 days even they get a little old. That's where the full kitchen of the larger units at Saratoga Springs can come in handy. Not only do they offer guests the ability to cook their own meals, the savings from doing so means the premium paid for a villa practically pays for itself.
|The studio kitchenette|
Free WiFi - Disney has been slow to enter the 21st century in terms of internet access for guests, but they have made progress of late. Just this year, they began offering free Wi-Fi to guests at all of their hotels, and it will soon extend to all of the theme parks as well. While this is a great benefit for guests of Saratoga Springs and other Disney resorts, there is still plenty of room for improvement. My experience with the connection at multiple resorts is that your 3G smart phone will probably deliver better service.
|These guys are everywhere around the resort...|
The Room - Cons
Bedspread - There is one. What else do you need to know?
|Why oh why won't Disney adopt the duvet...|
Exterior Hallways - Several years ago, while we were on our own brainwashing session - I mean, tour - of Saratoga Springs, the DVC salesman rambled on about the advantage of exterior hallways, mainly the cost savings of air-conditioning for us "owners." Not only did he overcome my intense hatred for exterior hallways in hotels, he actually had me convinced they were a great idea. This guy was good, and I'm reminded just how good with every check I write for maintenance fees.
No Doubles - One of the most puzzling things about most DVC resorts - including Saratoga - is their lack of villas with two beds. Studios and One-bedroom units both feature a single queen bed, accompanied by a pull-out sofa. Those in need of two beds will only find them in the larger, and more expensive, two bedroom units. This isn't much of a problem for couples traveling sans children, but doesn't make much sense at Disney...
|The setup for most DVC villas|
Overall, we enjoyed the visit to our second home at Saratoga Springs. The resort is still just as beautiful as the day we signed our lives away, but the appeal for this hotel snob is still unchanged. While the location is convenient, the rooms are spacious, and there's a great value for the price paid, when compared to the other Disney resorts, Saratoga Springs has a hard time stacking up. It is a great fall back option when there is no alternative, but that is the place Saratoga will always hold. The resort of last resort.
If you go...
- Request the Congress Park section for easy access to Downtown Disney
- Skip the tour
- Your wallet will thank you