If you’re a long-time Disney Vacation Club Member, you’ve probably been faced with this dilemma at some point: Old Key West or Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. Both are Deluxe Villas at Walt Disney World that are on the low end of the demand and point chart spectrum.
We know there are bound to be fans of each of these resorts; fans who call each of these resorts “home” or their favorites. That’s totally fine. We love a lot of things at Walt Disney World that are unpopular (Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, and Impressions de France, just to name a few…). That does not change the fact that a lot of (most?) people debating between these resorts are doing so due to a lack of other options.
Aside from Old Key West and Saratoga Springs having low demand in common, there are a few other commonalities between them. Both are sprawling resorts located across from one another (and adjacent to Disney Springs) with largely similar slates of amenities. Both they also built with the main purpose of being prototypical timeshare resorts, as opposed to hotels with a DVC presence tacked-on.
As with our other comparison, we use 6 elements of these two Walt Disney World villa hotels to determine which is “the best.” With that preface, it’s time to compare and contrast…
Theme: Old Key West – Despite the two being very similar in style, this is no contest. Old Key West captures the feeling of a bygone-era community in the Florida Keys that Disney has dubbed “Conch Flats,” with a mix of Victorian and Gingerbread architecture. The lush grounds and other thematic details go the extra mile in reinforcing the sense of community. The way it is romanticized sufficiently distinguishes it from the (nearby-ish) real thing, and the overall ambiance has a relaxed, Jimmy Buffett-esque vibe that works really well for vacationing. If anything, Old Key West is underrated on the thematic front.
I’d argue that Saratoga Springs is the worst-themed resort at Walt Disney World. I know there’s bound to be some blowback on that, particularly from upstate New Yorkers who contend that it’s “just like how actual Saratoga Springs looks!” The threshold question, for me, is whether a theme is interesting, not whether it’s authentic. This is the same trap people fall into with Dino-Rama. Sure, it’s authentic as a tacky roadside carnival sorta thing. Likewise, Saratoga Springs is authentic as a cookie-cutter condo development in a slightly upscale area of New York. That doesn’t make either interesting concepts that Walt Disney World should have replicated. Thematically, I’d take any one of the All-Stars over this (no joke). I couldn’t drive 5 minutes and see an oversized Mighty Ducks helmet; I could see about 5 condo developments.
Rooms: Push – For all of my qualms about theme, I think Saratoga Springs does a decent job with theme inside of the guest rooms, while also maintaining a certain level of quality. It still feels like a high-end condo unit, but not so much a cookie-cutter one.
Old Key West completed a room refurbishment a few years ago, toning down the “grandma’s cottage” look significantly, but they still feel dated. (Exactly like your grandma’s cottage in Florida would look–another example of authenticity not being so ideal!) However, the rooms at Old Key West are much more spacious, so they have that going for them. I can’t say I feel all too strongly about the rooms in either resort, and Saratoga winning on quality and Old Key West winning on size is enough for me to consider this a push.
Dining: Saratoga Springs – If you did a survey of Disney fans and asked them to name a restaurant at either of these resorts from memory, we’re guessing many would come up empty. Of those who could name one, it’d probably be Olivia’s. It’s about the only option between the two that has any sort of following. Despite this, our pick goes to Saratoga Springs for having a more well-rounded slate of options.
During our visit to Saratoga Springs last fall, we were quite surprised by the menu depth of The Artist’s Palette at Saratoga Springs (we’re not sure when this changed, but during our prior stay it was weak), and Good’s Food to Go at Old Key West is weak by comparison. Saratoga Springs also has a second quick service restaurant (Paddock Grill) offering added convenience. We feel quality of quick options when you’re on the run is the ultimate criterion here, as those wanting an excellent table service meal are better-suited heading over to Disney Springs.
Transportation/Location: Saratoga Springs – Both of these resorts have the same kind of multi-stop bus transportation. Whether you view this as more or less convenient is a matter of personal preference. Anecdotal experiences to the contrary aside, neither is better or worse. (We’d recommend these as good places to have a car.)
Both also have boat service to Disney Springs, which is convenient. The reason Saratoga Springs wins here is because its walking path (and they both have them) to Disney Springs is more convenient, and makes it quite easy to drop into Disney Springs for a quick meal.
Pools: Saratoga Springs – Neither of these has a single pool that is going to blow anyone’s mind. However, Saratoga Springs offers a more formidable slate of pool options, and its secondary/quiet pools generally bring more to the table. I prefer the theme and atmosphere of the Sandcastle Pool at Old Key West, which I would consider the single-best pool at either of these two resorts. Still, it’s not that special, and certainly not enough to overcome the supporting cast of pools at Saratoga, each of which brings something unique to the table.
Cost: Old Key West – Room rates are identical almost every night of the year and discounts are going to be comparable at each (both offer some of the deepest discounts at Walt Disney World). In our estimation, these two resorts are tied for dead-last in terms of value for money if you’re paying out of pocket.
Still, Old Key West claims a decisive victory here for one, simple reason: DVC point charts. We are guessing (and hoping) most people trying to decide between these two resorts are not paying out of pocket, but instead are scrambling to find last-minute DVC availability and are left with these two choices–and these two choices only. The point charts at Old Key West are slightly more favorable, and it wins as a result.
Verdict: Old Key West – Theme ultimately carries the day here, as Old Key West brings much more to the table in that regard. It’s difficult to articulate, but Old Key West also has a certain x-factor (actually, let’s call it the “Buffett-Factor”) that just makes it so much more pleasant of a place. If we’re looking past that at amenities and convenience, it’s hard not to give a victory to Saratoga Springs. So…like almost all of these comparisons…it’s going to come down to how you weigh each variable, along with individual preference.
Personally, I like Old Key West a lot more. Sarah prefers Saratoga Springs. (You might recall that we grappled with this last year…before ultimately having a waitlist come through!) With that said, neither of us would consider either resort our favorite, or in our top 5…or even in our top 10. (Top 15? Maybe.) We would never consider paying out of pocket for either as the prices are astronomical for what you get. In fact, even when we book one of them with DVC points, we always make a waitlist for something else. While we don’t mind staying at either, and can find the silver linings in each, there is always a better use of those points.
Now, I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks. Here’s a poll so you can vote for your favorite of the two:
Considering theme, rooms, dining, pools, location/transportation, etc., which of these two Walt Disney World villa hotels do you prefer:
— Disney Tourist Blog (@DisTouristBlog) January 30, 2017
My prediction with the poll is that Old Key West captures a narrow victory. As the original Disney Vacation Club resort, a lot of long-time members and Disney fans harbor nostalgia for it. On the other hand, Saratoga Springs is undoubtedly the home resort for a lot of newer fans, and its ‘freshness’ will score it points with many.
As you can probably see, we’re not all that passionate about this showdown. However, we are guessing some of you are. If you have a strong opinion about either (or even a tepid one!) we want to hear from you! While we hope this post is helpful in offering a head-to-head comparison of the most crucial elements of each Walt Disney World resort experience, we know it’s not definitive or the final word for every guest. In addition to reading the comments before making your own decision, we suggest supplementing this with our full review of Disney’s Old Key West Resort and our Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa Review. With that said, what do you think?