I have stayed at all but 4 of the 11 value & moderate resorts at Disney over the years (& visited all but one of the remaining hotels). I have a favorite in both categories, but sometimes I'm just not willing to pay more for a moderate resort. Here's my reasoning.......
My Reasons to Stay at a VALUE Resort
Lowest room prices (can often get for less than $100/night with discounts in off-season)
Big food courts for breakfast with plenty of options for everyone
Lots of drink machines open 24/7 for refillable mugs (mugs come with the dining plan)
In general, more buses running to various locations (though they tend to be fuller)
Veridict: I pick a value for shorter trips or when I'm spending minimal time at the resort.
My Reasons to Stay at a MODERATE Resort
Bigger beds (usually but not always)
Ceiling fans - can I get an Amen on this one??? (again, not always)
Themed in a more "adult" way than the brightly colored Value resorts
Sit-down restaurant on-site (except the French Quarter)
Feels less crowded & congested than Values
24/7 drink stations for refillable mugs
Decent sized food court (not as expansive as values)
Waterslides at the main pools
Verdict: I stay at a moderate for a longer trip because the rooms are more spacious & comfortable, plus on weeklong trips I'm not going to parks every day so I'm relaxing more at the resort.
Despite general similarities in each category, there are some key differences in the various resorts besides just their theme. Here are some tips & advice on each one based on my personal experiences:
My favorite value resort! I prefer the 50's section since it overlooks the lake for nice views, has a pool nearby, and is pretty close to the main building for grabbing a meal or picking up the bus. Even better, at various times throughout the day, you can learn to do the hustle with cast members in food court and get a special button. Just a little extra magic! Each section is themed by decade, but it isn't decorated overly "Disney".
Art of Animation
I haven't stayed here, but since it's across the lake from Pop Century I have eaten at the food court here & looked at all the theming. I love how each section immerses you in some of the best of Disney movies (Finding Nemo, Cars, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King). For families of 5-6, this is one of your few options without staying in a deluxe category hotel because they offer suites for bigger parties. Only The Little Mermaid section has regular (aka cheaper) rooms (keep in mind these rooms are the furthest from the main building & are often excluded from 'Free Dining' plans). If you stay at Pop Century, you can easily walk across to AofA & get your picture taken with your favorite characters! Another nice thing is that the bus stops at the from of the resort are covered, so no matter the weather (rain or blistering sun), the wait is at least a bit more comfy.
Truth: My family stayed here without me once while I was taking college finals years ago, and clearly I haven't forgotten this fact. But regardless, there are some suite rooms now available here as well for bigger families. Always check prices though, you can sometimes get 2 adjoining rooms for cheaper than a suite, depending on deals that are running & what season you are in. Each section is themed after various Disney movies (duh), but keep in mind little ones may be lost when they see "The Love Bug" & "The Mighty Ducks" - you may need to have a few old-school movie nights before you leave home!
Growing up, this was where we stayed, long before Pop Century was built. It doesn't feel very Disney in its decorating. Lots of school groups that come in for various sports meets & competitions stay here throughout the year, so be prepared!
Again, not too "Disneyfied" in its theme, but still a generally nice resort.
***General Tips about the All-Star Resorts: In the off-season, 2 or more of these resorts may end up sharing buses to the parks, which can make for long lines and super full buses. This doesn't always happen, but be prepared (another reason I love Pop Century)! Large travel groups also usually are at the All-Stars, so if you see them when you arrive, try to time your food court visits & trips to the bus stops in the morning a bit earlier, otherwise you'll spend forever in lines, and that's not very magical.***
The Campsite's at Fort Wilderness
Technically I haven't stayed here because in my mind staying at a Days Inn is camping, but I have seen the pads & facilities there and I must say they seem pretty nice. If your crew loves to camp, this can be the cheapest way to see Disney. Pitch a tent or pull up your camper & set up for a week in the "woods" of WDW. Fort Wilderness has a ton of things to see & do on the property which is so large that they have their own internal bus system only for that resort. Or you can rent a golf cart to travel around at your convenience. There's a petting zoo, the stables for all of Cinderella's horses which you can visit, a nightly campfire with Chip & Dale, boat access to the Magic Kingdom, and more. They don't have a "food court" of sorts, but the shop on site does offer more food options than most, should campers run low on supplies.
Port Orleans - Riverside
In my heart, this will always be Dixie Landings, the original name for the resort, & the very first moderate I stayed at. There are two resorts under the name Port Orleans, but this is definitely the best. They are themed deep south (think Georgia or Louisiana) with one half where you feel like you are walking through the nicest bayou/swamp you could ever imagine, and the other resembles huge plantations with pristine Magnolia trees. I prefer the bayou side, but both are equally nice. There are ceiling fans in all the rooms and clearly I love my ceiling fans. The pool is great. The food court is great. I love the restaurant here too. But my favorite part of all are the pontoon boats that you can take directly to Disney Springs. Sure you could take a bus and it might be a bit faster, but it's so relaxing to sit back, get a glimpse of other resorts & golf courses, all the while having a nice Florida breeze roll through your hair. If you have hair, of course, otherwise scratch that part. Overall, it's a great break from the buses! Oh, and earlier in the series, Amber shared a picture of her crew in their Princess Royal themed room at Riverside, so that's always an upgrade option.
Port Orleans - French Quarter
My second choice of the moderates, you get a classic New Orleans feel here from the garden between buildings to the wrought iron railings on the balconies. The boat to Disney Springs stops here as well, but keep in mind there is not a restaurant. The fact that their food court serves beignets more than makes up for that fact though! Of note, this resort is often excluded from 'Free Dining' promotions.
This is hands down my least favorite moderate resort, though this is based on one stay there, so hopefully it was a fluke. This is the largest resort on property, and because of that has it's own internal bus system. The problem is that at peak times, the buses get full then they just head on to the parks. Forget those of us still sitting at the remaining stops who wait for OVER AN HOUR, while watching full buses drive right past. Let this serve as a lesson to you! Go to the front & take a bus from there! The food court is very small, with very few options. The most exciting part here is that there are special Pirates of the Caribbean themed rooms, which is why my sister & I decided to stay there in the first place.
I haven't stayed here, but overall, it feels a bit less Disney than the other moderate resorts. There is a convention center on site, so it typically brings in families of business folks. I have heard they have a good pool!
Cabins at Fort Wilderness
In general, the cabins do cost more than most of the other moderate resort rooms, but they can hold larger families. We stayed here once (at the time a family of 5) years ago, and despite my lack of desire to camp, it was so much fun! There are bunk beds & a pull down murphy bed, plus a mini-kitchen & an outdoor grill. It was like semi-camping with air-conditioning and no bugs. You are on site for all the pony rides, campfires, and more (see above comments about the Campsites at FW). The Hoop-De-Do-Revue dinner show is held here at Fort Wilderness - plus the buffet restaurant on property, Trail's End is also great, so the cabins can be pretty convenient deepending on what activities you plan.
I could go on forever about other hotel options, but you're probably already bored, so I'll leave you with this. The deluxe hotels are beautiful but I just can't rationalize that kind of money for the fact I'm spending so little time in my rooms. Instead I visiting them or make a reservation at their restaurants. You can take a walk down the Boardwalk, grab a pastry, & kick back to watch the entertainment. Have dinner at Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge & go early to walk outside the rear of the lobby to see the giraffes and other wildlife up close for free. Take the monorail tour of the Magic Kingdom resorts for an afternoon. Save yourself some benajmin's.
You can usually get good deals at the "Good Neighbor" hotels, which are located just outside Disney Springs in Lake Buena Vista. They will feel like any other hotel along I-95, but will provide bus access to the parks (though less conveniently). The Swan & Dolphin resorts are a bit more affiliated with Disney, but overall I didn't "feel" like I was staying on Disney property when we stayed there in 2015. The buses were more convenient with closer & less crowded bus stops than the Good Neighbor hotels, but I personally would prefer Pop Century. Basically I want to immersed in the magic and not feel like I'm at a Marriott.
If you are traveling with a large party, there's always the option of booking villa's at the Deluxe resorts, or trying to rent Disney Vacation Club points through various outside agencies for the DVC locations at WDW (Old Key West Resort, Saratoga Springs, & various additions at other deluxes). My advice is to price out the options of multiple rooms at value & moderate resorts vs a larger capacity room at a higher end resort.
Wherever you decide to stay, I certainly hope it's magical!