We make no secret of the fact that Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter is our favorite moderate resort at Walt Disney World. We like its intimate size, subdued theming, and proximity to the parks and Downtown Disney. The other moderate resorts are far too sprawling, with long internal bus loops and theming that is not to our tastes. However, we found on our last visit, during which we stayed at the French Quarter’s sister resort, that Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside is actually much more quaint and navigable than we’d first thought. In fact, with its superior amenities, this moderate is now neck-and-neck with our beloved French Quarter.
We had stayed at Riverside only once before this last vacation. At the tail end of our 2011 Food & Wine Festival visit, we found ourself “stuck” in Disney World for an extra two days when a freak snowstorm back home grounded all flights in to the NYC area. Disney was very understanding about the ordeal and really bent over backwards to accommodate us for our extended stay. The French Quarter didn’t have any availability to keep us for the extra two nights, but Riverside did. We checked in to one of the rooms that had not yet been touched by the refurbishment that the resort was undergoing at the time, had a very pleasant dinner at Boatwright’s Dining Hall, and enjoyed a little more Epcot time before returning to the real world. We were impressed by Riverside — so much so that we decided to book a ten-night stay there last November. We discovered that there was a lot to love about the larger Port Orleans resort.
1. The Grounds Are Beautiful
The plantation-style buildings in the Mansions section are gorgeous, and the cabins of Alligator Bayou are nothing to sneeze at, either. The space between them all is impeccably manicured. Leslie from DisneyBound once said that staying at Riverside makes her feel like she’s in The Notebook. It makes me feel more like I’m at Tara, but I get what she’s saying.
2. The Dining Options Are Hidden Gems
The River Roost, the lounge at Port Orleans Riverside, is known for its lively atmosphere on the nights that Yeeha Bob Jackson plays. We enjoyed his show while we were there, but we also enjoyed bellying up to the bar for drinks when he wasn’t performing. The River Roost has friendly bartenders and a large lounge area that makes it a great place for a relaxing respite. They also have multiple televisions that are usually tuned to sporting events, so it’s a good place to catch a game.
The resort food court is the Riverside Mill, which features a popular make-your-own-pasta station, for lunch and dinner, some resort-specific offerings such as the Power Wrap for breakfast, and the muffuletta and chipotle barbecue burger for dinner.
Boatwright’s Dining Hall, the a la carte table service restaurant at the resort, is a diamond in the rough. We first had dinner there during our extended vacation in 2011, and loved it so much that we made it a point to return in 2012. We’ll probably always take time to visit the restaurant when we stay at a Port Orleans resort on future trips, and we stay at Port Orleans more often than not. This restaurant introduced me to French onion soup (I know! I was very late to that party), and it was love at first bite. We felt similarly about the complimentary corn bread served to every table, the pork chop, the prime rib, and best of all, the butterscotch crème brûlée.
3. The Recently Refurbished Rooms Are Lovely
Both sides of the Port Orleans resort underwent lengthy refurbishments in 2011 and 2012. We’ve now had the opportunity to stay in both resorts before and after, and Riverside has certainly benefited greatly from the makeover. Aside from the desperately needed sprucing that the rooms received, the standard rooms have gone from full beds to queen, and the new color scheme is much more elegant.
4. Riverside Has More Recreational Activities Than Any Other Moderate Resort
Aside from the beautiful pools, the nightly outdoor movies, and the evening campfire and stories that are common among moderate and deluxe resorts, Riverside also boasts special activities like horse and carriage rides and boat rentals. Were it not for the fact that Riverside has no fitness center, its recreational amenities would be almost Deluxe-worthy. Fitness gurus shouldn’t rule out Riverside, though. The walking path that spans the Sassagoula River is serviceable for middle-distance runners and walkers, and the quiet pools are perfect for lap swimming.
5. The Port Orleans Resorts Have Great Transportation Options
Unlike value resorts and other moderates (and in the case of Animal Kingdom Lodge, even some deluxe resorts), the Port Orleans resorts have an alternative mode of public transportation to Disney World’s internal bus system. Boats along the Sassagoula River take guest to and from Downtown Disney from the late morning until late evening. As a young couple who never rent cars at Disney World and prefer to rely on resort transportation to be our designated driver, we always like staying somewhere that has an alternative to bus transportation. The bus transportation itself can be hit or miss at any Disney resort, but we’ve had good luck in general at Riverside. The buses can get pretty crowded at peak times, especially when they share with the French Quarter, but service is fairly consistent thanks to the close proximity to Hollywood Studios and Epcot in particular.
So how does Port Orleans Riverside stack up?
On paper, Riverside looks like the best of the moderate resorts, and many frequent Walt Disney World travelers would agree. We have a sentimental attachment to the French Quarter resort and would still put it first for our own personal history, its compact size, and bus service when the two sides of the Port Orleans resort don’t share a combined route. We do think that Riverside is easily second among the moderate resorts, with Coronado Springs third for its convention-catering amenities like a fitness center and room service. The Caribbean Beach resort is dead last in our moderate resort rankings. We’re excluding the Fort Wilderness Cabins from the list because we don’t feel that its high price makes it a moderate resort, even though Disney disagrees.
As far as the value resorts are concerned, Riverside is head and shoulders above all of them, and we don’t feel it difficult to justify the jump in price when you compare the square footage of the rooms, the proximity to the parks, and the on-site amenities of Riverside to those of the value resorts. Even when compared to some Deluxe resorts, we think that Riverside compares favorably. We would definitely prefer a stay at Riverside to Saratoga Springs, for instance. The spa and fitness center that the latter boasts do not make up for the hotel’s sprawling footprint and how difficult that can make traveling even within the resort when relying on Disney transportation.
What do you think of Port Orleans Riverside? What is your favorite moderate resort at Walt Disney World?