Tranquility is not a word I’d usually associate with Walt Disney World.
From managing your Genie+ selection starting at 7 a.m., rushing to each park in time for rope drop to navigating seas of tired parents and their overstimulated kids, this place can feel more chaotic than magical.
So if you’re thinking your Disney World vacation may stretch your sanity, consider Disney’s Old Key West Resort.
Opened in 1991 as the very first Disney Vacation Club resort — that was literally its name for its first five years — this sprawling, 761-room property feels as secluded as anything can be at the world’s most-visited theme park resort. Its DVC lineage also means it was designed with extended stays in mind, making it a great option for any family that needs a day or two free of theme parks.
If you’ve stayed at other Disney resorts, Old Key West rooms may feel a bit more spacious. It’s not your imagination.
Deluxe studios like mine are somewhere between 376 and 390 square feet (sources vary), but either figure would still make it second only to the newer Riviera Resort, whose studios can sleep one more person than Old Key West.
For more on the room, check out my video tour and review:
A big bonus for Old Key West is how close you’ll be to your car, should you have one. The buildings are arranged in clusters quite like suburban subdivisions, so you’ll always have easy parking just steps away from your front door.
If you want to include a “resort day” free of theme parks in your Disney World plans, you’ll find plenty of ways to stay relaxed but occupied at Old Key West.
The resort sports four pools, with the star being the Sandcastle Pool at the Hospitality House.
It’s an appropriately-named pool. The slide is housed inside a sand castle and has large areas of real sand surrounding deck chairs and a kids’ play area. The pool area feels a little on the small side for a Disney Deluxe.
Around the pool you’ll find tennis and basketball courts, shuffleboard, beach volleyball areas, and the resort’s arcade. Hank’s Rent and Return houses all the equipment needed for the sports activities for free, along with paid bike rentals.
The Hospitality House is also home to Old Key West’s gift shop, the Conch Flats General Store. Along with the typical Disney merchandise, you’ll find a larger-than-usual selection of resort-specific gear.
The store also carries more food and drink options than your typical Disney store, catering to those DVC visitors who are staying long enough that making some of their own meals becomes a necessity. Be warned, the prices for simple items like a frozen pizza are outrageously inflated. If you have a car, you should absolutely venture off Disney property for whatever groceries you need.
One perk that thankfully survived the pandemic was Old Key West’s direct boat transportation to Disney Springs. Called the DVC Ferry, you can catch boats from the resort every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., with the final return from Disney Springs departing at 11:30 p.m.
To get to the rest of Walt Disney World, Old Key West guests are reliant on bus transportation — and where the downside of its seclusion becomes apparent. It takes around 25 minutes to get to any of the theme parks, and depending on where your room is located on the sprawling resort property, you may be going through multiple stops before you even leave Old Key West.
Driving your own car will only save you about six or seven minutes at most (for Magic Kingdom, buses are always the better option to avoid the extra monorail ride). The resort’s location is what it is, so I’d recommend just dealing with the bus system.
Your dining options at Old Key West are one table service restaurant and two counter service locations.
Olivia’s Cafe is the table-service spot and one I consider worth visiting even if you’re not staying at the resort just for the Southernmost Buttermilk Chicken.
As I’ve said in my past reviews, I’ve got simple food tastes and consider myself unqualified to be a food critic. But with Olivia’s crowd-pleasing menu, you can’t go wrong eating here. I didn’t get a chance to try its breakfast, but the banana bread French toast gets rave reviews. The DVC member photos lining the walls is a nice touch that makes the place feel like a friendly home-away-from-home (and for early DVC adopters, it is).
The two counter-service options are located close by. The small menu at Good’s Food to Go includes Mickey waffles at breakfast to burgers and loaded nachos for lunch and dinner.
Turtle Shack Poolside Shack has even a smaller menu that shares several items with Good’s, with the addition of some pizza.
While Olivia’s Cafe is worth seeking out, the two counter-service restaurants seem too limited for a resort this size. I’d prefer something along the lines of the multi-station food courts found at other Disney resorts over these two options. On the plus side, Disney Springs is a quick boat ride away if the resort’s food offerings aren’t enough.
The resort’s bar has one a great name — The Gurgling Suitcase — but it unfortunately happens to be about the size of a suitcase, too. Indoor seating was still off limits at the time of my stay, but its kitschy charm was apparent, if you managed to snag one of the few seats inside.
A word on price
If you’ve read past hotel reviews here on Theme Park Tribune, you’ll see that I’m upfront about what a room cost and where I booked. My final grade absolutely factors in the price. You don’t need me to tell you that a Disney Deluxe resort is better than a $42 per night room in Kissimmee, but I can explain whether or not that more expensive hotel was worth what I paid.
In the case of Old Key West, I paid only $154 for my single night in May 2021. Old Key West is typically one of the least expensive in Disney’s Deluxe category, but it’s never been that low. I snagged this deal through good timing, buying a confirmed DVC reservation through DVCShop.com just before COVID-19 vaccines became widely available.
Prices for the same deluxe studio room can often reach over $400, though at the time I’m writing this, I could find a single-night, confirmed DVC reservations for as low as $250. That’s the price range I kept in mind to make my judgment on the resort’s value proposition, since my extra-lower rate was the result of circumstances that are unlikely to happen again.
I say this as someone who typically considers Disney’s deluxe resorts overpriced and overhyped: I would absolutely stay at Old Key West again, even at its usual prices.
That’s because at this price point, a hotel should be more than a place to rest between theme park days. Old Key West has enough amenities to keep you entertained but still relaxed. Its hideaway feel helps, feeling as removed from the Disney madness as you can be while still being on property.
The downsides are small. Sure, the pool could be bigger, but there are four of them. The counter-service restaurants aren’t great, but Olivia’s Cafe is, and Disney Springs is a boat ride away.
If you want your resort to offer a respite from a hectic Disney family vacation — while still being on a Disney vacation, of course — this is the place to go.
DISCLOSURE: This review is based on my own opinion and perspective. I paid for my own stay at the hotel and was not granted any special access, nor was hotel staff aware that I was conducting a review.