In the Shadow of the Mouse: Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs
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To The Point
The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is one of the Disney Springs hotels that offer Disney World benefits for less than the Disney-owned resorts. Pros: Disney benefits, close to Disney Springs and free breakfast for elites. Cons: dated decor and a distinct lack of Disney Magic.
Deciding where to stay on a trip to the Walt Disney World isn’t easy. There are hundreds of options, all at different price points, with different amenities, different benefits, locations and themes. By the time you actually meet Mickey, no one can blame you for being a little … goofy from all the work you’ve already had to put in. (Sorry!)
We decided to take the guesswork out of the equation and did a data-driven assessment of the best hotels for using points near Disney World. We pored over the paid rates, award rates, availability, amenities, perks, the distance to Disney and so much more, and finally emerged from the fog of numbers with a clear winner with value that’d make even Scrooge McDuck happy.
And the hotel that came out on top as the best hotel for using points near Disney World in 2018 is the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista.
This doesn’t mean the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is the nicest or Disney-est hotel near Disney World. What it does mean is that it offered the best overall value for your points.
Of course, what looks great on paper doesn’t always necessarily knock your socks off when you go there in person, so we had to do our due diligence and check this hotel out for ourselves. So on my most recent trip to Walt Disney World, I booked a night at this property to see if it lived up to its title.
Historically, Disney hotels have had an edge over non-Disney-owned properties when it comes to Disney World benefits. But in 2018, Disney decided to share Disney benefits with Disney Springs hotels, including the Hilton Lake Buena Vista, including 60-day FastPass+ access and Extra Magic Hours. Even better, Disney extended access to those benefits through at least 2019, so you can plan your Slinky Dog Dash FastPass+ ride with ease 60 days before the first day of your trip.
The Hilton Disney Springs cash rates vary between $116 in low season to close to $300 in high season, plus taxes and fees. Since I booked a stay in low season, my rate was $116, though taxes and fees took the final bill to $170. The room would have cost 35,000 Hilton Honors points if I had chosen to redeem points instead of paying cash. At just under a half-cent return per point, I decided to earn points on this stay rather than burn them.
Hilton Honors has dynamic rewards pricing that makes blanket advice regarding using cash versus points difficult. I have seen points rates vary between 35,000 and 50,000 points a night at this property. Your best bet is to compare the all-in cash prices to the all-in award price. TPG values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents each. In general, I find that high-season rates at this property are often a good time to use points, while low-season rates often don’t get you a solid return per point.
That said, remember that Hilton offers the fifth award night free on all points bookings for elite members and waives resort fees (but not parking fees) on award bookings. This means you avoid the $35-per-day resort fee if you stay on all points! Additionally, the whopping 12.5% occupancy taxes in Orlando add up quickly on paid rates. Award bookings help you save on both resort fees and taxes.
If you decide to spend cash, know that the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is categorized as a resort for the purposes of Hilton promotions. With the current promotion of 2x points at Hilton hotels and 3x points at Hilton resorts, that meant an additional 1,700 Hilton Honors points in my pocket with a one-night paid stay.
If you’re working toward a future Disney trip, your family can easily start building a stash of Hilton Honors points with a Hilton credit card such as the Hilton Honors American Express Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card.
The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs Area was one of the most convenient Disney Springs hotels, with the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment complex a six-minute walk away. There was dedicated transportation to the parks, with two bus routes sharing the load between the seven hotels.
One perk of Disney Springs hotel transportation over other off-site resorts was that most hotels only took guests to the Disney Ticket and Transportation Center (closest to Magic Kingdom), while the Disney Springs buses ran to the other three parks as well. Disney Springs buses also ran continuously every half hour from one hour before park opening to 90 minutes after closing. I tested the buses at closing, and from Animal Kingdom, the ride took 30 minutes to the hotel. From Epcot, it was 19 minutes.
Pro tip: The Animal Kingdom bus stop for the Disney Springs hotels was not marked well. Head toward the parking lot and you’ll see a gazebo — that’s the bus stop. At Epcot and Magic Kingdom, the bus stop was much more clearly marked.
Look for the Disney Springs hotels Route A bus for the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, but if the Route B bus comes first, don’t hesitate taking it, as it stops at the Wyndham just across the street. I would not recommend taking the Disney Springs bus back, though, unless you want to walk through Disney Springs, as that bus stop was at least a 15-minute walk to the Hilton.
Disney Springs hotels don’t take part in Disney’s Magical Express airport bus. If you drive, budget $18 per night for self-parking or $24 for valet parking. An Uber to the airport runs around $40, depending on the time of day.
I booked a two-queen room and was given a room facing the front of the resort. I would have taken a photo of the view, but the window was fogged up from the air conditioner my whole stay.
The bedding was comfortable, and I slept well, though being tired from closing down Animal Kingdom may have played a part. The room would’ve easily fit a pack and play or a crib, but a rollaway bed would’ve been a pretty tight fit. There was an easy chair, desk and plenty of drawer space.
The bathroom addressed of my hotel pet peeves by separating the vanity and the shower and toilet area. It even went one better and had a second vanity in the shower area and one outside the door.
The bathroom also featured a bathtub, which seems to be going the way of the dodo in most hotels. (Not having a bathtub puts families with babies or toddlers who aren’t ready for showers in a bind.) Toiletries were take-home-worthy Crabtree & Evelyn lavender and verbena.
I especially appreciated the empty fridge (no $8 Cokes) and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee with real half-and-half. Real half-and-half is such a simple feature that so many hotels miss, but this one got it right.
My only complaint with the rooms is that they felt a bit dated. Based on the walnut-colored granite and lamps with electrical outlets but no USB ports, I’d trace their last room remodel to about 2005.
Food and Beverage
Hilton offered their Gold and Diamond members complimentary breakfast (and remember you can get Hilton Gold or Diamond status simply by having a cobranded credit card). The Hilton didn’t have a traditional lounge, but they set up a dedicated space in one of their restaurants for elite guests. The breakfast buffet was pretty standard for a club lounge, including fruit, cereal, pastries, juice and coffee. A hot bar added eggs, bacon and potatoes to the mix.
Why did the Hilton keep elites away from the restaurant where the hotel had a character breakfast every Sunday? My guess is they didn’t want elite guests to think they got access to that meal for free — they didn’t.
The Hilton Honors policy is that the elite breakfast benefit is only for the guest and one additional person, but I saw families of four and five eating in the elite section with no issues.
If you weren’t a Hilton Honors elite member, you had two breakfast options at the Hilton. First, there was the Covington Mill restaurant, which had an a la carte breakfast and lunch menu along with a breakfast buffet. The only noteworthy feature was the Sunday character meal. (The Wyndham’s breakfast right across the street had a character breakfast on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.)
The Mainstreet Market was better. It had hot breakfast sandwiches, pastries, oatmeal, cereals, fruit and pretty much anything you could want in the morning. Even better, two cups of Starbucks coffee were included in the resort fee, and there was a cute seating area right outside of the market.
Plus, it was open 24 hours a day, which was very useful after a long park day. Even most Disney-resort markets close at midnight.
At dinner, the two restaurants that were open included Andiamo, with an Italian-ish menu, and a Benihana steakhouse. I would encourage you to consider the many options at Disney Springs for dinner if you are up to venturing a bit further afield. Pretty much anything in Disney Springs will top the dining options at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista.
To round out the dining options, there was a pool bar and room service, both about what you would expect from a 3.5-star hotel (pricey, not horrible, not amazing).
The Hilton had a pool area featuring two heated pools right next to each other. Both were standard rectangles, no zero entry, no waterslide or other fun features. Next to the two pools was a baby pool, and a bit further afield were two hot tubs.
The hot tubs added a bit of visual interest with their staggered placement and a small water feature between the two. The pool was officially open from 7:00am to 11:00pm, but since there was no lifeguard, I wasn’t sure how heavily the exact hours were enforced.
The pool hit one of my resort must-haves with good-quality chairs that were plentiful. I even saw three daybeds, available on a first come, first served basis. A couple of hammocks dotted the area as well.
The gym was open 24 hours a day and featured enough aerobic and weight equipment to satisfy most exercisers’ needs. On an early weekday morning, I saw three people using the facilities.
The entry to the pool area and gym had a dedicated elevator. Strolling through a hotel lobby dripping with water (or post-workout sweat) is a major downer, especially in a hotel with as many conference attendees as the Hilton, so I was glad they got this right.
There was nothing wrong with my stay at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs, but I missed the Disney whimsy and magic. Even some of the other Disney Springs hotels I’ve visited offer some version of the fun, whether it be a multicolored throne or a multitiered water-play area. Some nearby hotel options even have a director of fun or a lazy river, and this hotel sadly does not.
Every Disney Springs hotel has a Disney Store, and most have it front and center in the lobby so that Disney is the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Here, though, you have to go to the bowels of the lobby and round a corner to find the Disney Store. This may be good if you want to avoid another souvenir request from your children, but it is one of the many ways that the Hilton Lake Buena Vista feels like it could be anywhere instead of right next to the most magical place on earth.
All that said, the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs will help you keep Disney vacation costs down by using Hilton Honors points (especially in peak season) and allows you to leverage Hilton Honors elite perks to save on breakfast. It also puts you right next to Disney World in Disney Springs. Just don’t come here expecting the magic of Disney parks to follow you to your hotel room at night.
Want to read more about Disney parks around the world? Check out our other Disney guides…
- The Best Points Hotels Near Disney World in 2018
- TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Resort
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- How to Save Money By Renting Disney Vacation Club Points
- The 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World
- How to Use Points for Disney Tickets
- Disney World Without Kids: 10 Ways to Enjoy an Adult Trip to Disney
- 10 Things Kids Will Love at the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii
- How to Ride Every Disney World Ride in One Day
- How to Eat Healthy at Disney World
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