If you’re looking to visit the theme parks of Orlando, then you’ve likely come across accommodation options in both Lake Buena Vista & Kissimmee, but how do you know the differences between each location? and subsequently which location is right for you.
In our opinion, you should only stay in Lake Buena Vista if you’re spending most of your trip at Walt Disney World, and in that case, we’d suggest staying at a WDW hotel. However, for more flexibility and to be within 30 minutes of MCO, WDW & Universal Studios, Kissimmee is the better choice.
However, there’s more than just the distance to your favourite theme parks that you might want to consider before deciding where to stay during your Orlando vacation and having stayed in both of these locations; here’s what I think you should know before making that decision.
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Lake Buena Vista
Lake Buena Vista is actually a city-owned by Walt Disney World and only home to an estimated ten permanent residents. However, each year millions of tourists head to Lake Buena Vista to enjoy the Walt Disney World parks.
While the city is owned and managed by Walt Disney World, there’s still plenty outside of the Disney ecosystem to see and do here, including a vast range of shops, restaurants, golf clubs, nightclubs and theatre shows.
Lake Buena Vista is situated just 20 miles from Orlando International Airport (MCO), which means you can get from the airport to your hotel, villa or resort in under 30 minutes in good traffic.
However, this city is also in a prime location for the incredible Orlando theme parks. As Walt Disney World owns the region, it should come as no surprise that these parks are the closest, with the entrance to the resort being within three miles of the city’s border.
This means that you can be at the park entrance to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT or Hollywood Studios in under 20 minutes from anywhere within the city.
However, the likes of Universal Studios Orlando is still only a 20 to 30-minute drive, and SeaWorld is less than 15 minutes in good traffic.
The hotels within Lake Buena Vista are predominantly made up of those on-site at Walt Disney World. However, there are a small handful of alternatives outside of the resort’s boundaries.
Some of our favourites include;
Rosen Inn Lake Buena Vista – A three-star budget hotel option.
Holiday Inn Orlando – Located in the Disney Springs area of the city.
Four Seasons Resort Orlando – A luxury option with an incredible lazy river.
If you choose to stay outside of the Walt Disney World resort yet inside of the city of Lake Buena Vista, you’ll want to consider the time it takes you to travel to the parks and the cost you’ll incur by doing so.
That’s because, in some cases, it can be more cost-effective and convenient to pay more upfront to stay on-site at a Walt Disney World hotel once you’ve added in the cost of hiring a car, parking, and the time involved with travelling.
However, all this assumes that you’re planning on visiting Walt Disney World during your stay in Orlando.
At this point, you’ve probably realised that if you’re not planning on visiting any of the Walt Disney World parks during your trip, then Lake Buena Vista may be a little too Disney focused, and an alternative city may better suit your needs.
The vast majority of stores, restaurants and bars within Lake Buena Vista are located either inside Disney Springs or within another resort in the city.
As a result, the stores you’ll find in Lake Buena Vista are either on the pricier side or are very product-specific. Therefore, if you’re looking for a Target or a Walmart, you’ll need to travel 10 to 15 minutes outside of the city, either to Orlando or Kissimmee.
The same applies to restaurants and bars. The majority are either inside of Disney Springs or inside of one of the resorts, whether that be within Walt Disney World or Lake Buena Vista as a whole.
Despite this, you’ll still find relatively budget-friendly options such as Blaze Pizzas alongside your higher-end sit-down eateries such as The Boathouse.
However, if you’re looking to dine at a chain restaurant such as Bahama Breeze, Olive Garden, and LongHorn Steakhouse, then much like the stores, you’ll need to head out to either Orlando or Kissimmee instead.
Kissimmee is a significantly larger city compared to Lake Buena Vista and boasts a prime position among the majority of the major theme parks within Orlando.
As a result of the city’s size, you’ll find more restaurants and bars here, more accommodation options to choose from and more amenities.
And unlike Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee isn’t owned by Walt Disney World, and as such, you’ll find more freedom when it comes to the range of stores, hotels, activities and attractions here.
This availability increases competition between amenities and means that you can often pick up a hotel room and meals significantly cheaper when compared to Lake Buena Vista, which makes Kissimmee a popular choice for larger families & families on a budget.
While Kissimmee is slightly further from Orlando International Airport when compared to Lake Buena Vista, you should still make it from the airport to your accommodation within the city in under 40 minutes in good traffic.
And given that this city is so incredibly popular with tourists, you’ll find a range of transportation options available, including a vast array of Ubers, Lyfts, shuttles, and the LYNX bus system.
This city is also in a prime position for all major theme parks, with the entrance to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld all being within a 20 to 30-minute drive.
Whatever your accommodation needs during your Orlando vacation, you’ll find somewhere that meets them in Kissimmee.
There are an estimated 120 hotels and resorts here and a further 70,000 homes, 50,000 of which are family vacation rentals.
All of this makes Kissimmee accommodation options not only flexible but incredibly affordable, with budget hotel prices starting from roughly $45 per night.
Some of our favourite accommodation options in Kissimmee include;
Elite Homes, Cumbrian Lakes – A five-bed villa perfect for large families.
Berkley Lake Townhomes – A four-star resort with a range of facilities.
Reunion Resort & Golf Club – The only five-star resort within Kissimmee.
Given that Kissimmee isn’t owned by Walt Disney World and is almost ten times the size of Lake Buena Vista, it should be no surprise that there are significantly more amenities available here.
This includes hundreds of bars and restaurants, eight shopping malls and five Walmarts. So whether you’re looking for luxury shops and five-star restaurants or travel essentials and a $10 pizza, you’ll find it quickly and easily here in Kissimmee.
However, that’s not all, as the city of Kissimmee is also home to independent amusement parks & entertainment options which can be a welcome break from the traditional Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.
Some of our favourite places to visit during our stays in Kissimmee include;
The Old Town – Home to incredible carnival rides, car shows & unique independent stores.
Fun Spot America – A fantastic theme park offering large roller coasters & smaller family-friendly rides.
Gatorland – Looking to get up-close & personal with some alligators? Then this is the place for you!
What’s The Difference Between Lake Buena Vista & Kissimmee?
By this point, you’ve probably realised that the key difference between Lake Buena Vista & Kissimmee is the number of options available when it comes to accommodation & amenities.
Given that Kissimmee is almost ten times the size of Lake Buena Vista and not owned by Walt Disney World, there’s a significantly higher number of hotels, villas, bars, restaurants and entertainment options.
These options are ideal for those coming to Orlando for more than a week and looking to experience things outside of the Walt Disney World resort or those coming on a budget who want to make the most of the competition to get the best price accommodation & food.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the city of Kissimmee is slightly further from Walt Disney World.
As a result, if you’re looking to spend your entire vacation at the Walt Disney World resort, it may be worth considering staying in Lake Buena Vista but if you do, be sure to draw up the difference in time and money when it comes to making the stretch to staying on-site at the Walt Disney World resort.
The initial expense may be higher; however, the amount of time and money you save in the long term may make your vacation cheaper & more enjoyable.