Okay, so I am NOT an expert, but I have lots of thoughts about what's good and what's not when it comes to staying at Disney World. Real mom with four kids who isn't paid for Disney advice kind of perspective - ha!
There are so many options that need to be weighed - cost, transportation, space, etc. I'll do my best to highlight what I think is important (and feel free to ask if I haven't covered something you want to know!).
On or Off PropertySo, the first choice is obviously whether you should stay on or off property. I am 100% an advocate of ON property.
We have done both. When we took Wyatt and Reese as itty bitty babies (19 months and 3 months), we stayed off property. And while our condo was very nice - it wasn't ideal. We stayed there because the kids and I tagged along on Brian's business trip. I'm not a fan of tram parking if it's not needed (more about that here), and I'm also a big believer in the Disney Magic. Cast members go out of their way to make your Disney experience an amazing one.
I am not exaggerating or stretching how wonderful the benefits of staying on property are. First, you get the Extra Magic Hours in the parks. And the bus transportation (so no rental). When Reese had to be taken to the hospital from Epcot on one visit (not to go into detail, but it would be a cautionary tale to always make sure your kids eat properly on vacation, ahem), the concierge desk added an extra day to all of our tickets with absolutely no questions. We were able to make up the time that we missed while she was in the hospital without having to pay out of pocket. I was stressed to the max this year when they messed up our Magic Bands (to the max), and the concierge desk did everything humanly possible to make it better for me. If I had to choose and it was in my budget, I would always choose to stay at a resort.
When you decide to stay on property, there are so many resorts to choose from. We have stayed at two of their Deluxe resorts (Wilderness Lodge three times and Animal Kingdom Lodge once), and we spent our last vacation at the new Art of Animation.
I don't have much perspective to offer about the moderate resorts, except to say that they're Disney resorts and probably amazing! And I know that some places (like the Swan and Dolphin) cater to more business type guests (for conferences - I think the MLB has held their GM conferences there), so I'm not sure how "kid friendly" they are. My aunt stayed there on our last trip, and she really liked it, but I don't know that my kids would have loved it as much!
When it comes to finding a budget friendly place to stay, the value resorts are great! Brian has stayed at the All Star Sports resort for work travel, and he thinks that it's an awesome place for kids to stay. We've had friends who stayed at the All Star Movie resort and they thought that it was great. For our large family, our last trip required a large room that was also easy on the wallet - and we chose to stay in a Lion King room at the Art of Animation. It was amazing. The kids absolutely loved everything about the themes. We actually spent our first afternoon walking the resort, and they had a blast looking at all of their favorite movie characters. The Nemo Pool was also a huge hit (when they finally made it there)! The only downside to the resort was the dining area. It was very, very, very slow. We chose to eat in the parks some nights just to avoid having to eat at the resort. I think the key to understanding a Disney Value resort is knowing that it isn't "perfect" but it is probably better than most cheaper places to stay.
When it comes to Deluxe recommendations: Wilderness Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, Wilderness Lodge. I am sad to say that unless we go back with my in laws and put a kid in their room we probably won't be able to stay there again. Wilderness Lodge only allows 5 people in a room, and we don't fit that bill. Although, I'm sure Brian's parents would make that sacrifice to go back! We absolutely love everything about it. The views, the boat ride to the Magic Kingdom, the easy bus lines, the Roaring Forks restaurant (it doesn't have tons of seating available, but the food is so good), and just how absolutely beautiful the resort is. It is amazing.
Our stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge wasn't my favorite. The hotel was pretty, and it was nice to see the animals from our room, but I didn't think the food or dining was spectacular, the staff wasn't up to my Disney standards, and the walk to our room took forever (and it seemed like it would be that way for most people). I would never pay that money (ever) to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge again. I would definitely choose Art of Animation over that Deluxe resort!
I hope that gives a but of insight into resort options in Florida, and it makes planning a vacation a little bit easier! I still have a few other posts - what to do by age, meal plan or no meal plan, can't miss characters, and which ticket to buy - so make sure to check back!