Which Walt Disney World Moderate Resort hotel is best? It’s a question I often hear asked, and unlike Deluxe Resorts and Value Resorts, I think it’s a very, very difficult question to answer. For Deluxe Resorts, there’s a clear-cut best (Disney’s Polynesian Resort) and the same goes for Value Resorts (Disney’s Art of Animation Resort). Ranking Walt Disney World Moderate Resort hotels is more akin to ranking Disney Vacation Club resorts, and a lot of you enjoyed my list on those last week. I don’t want to render my own article superfluous in the first paragraph, but I think an argument could be made for each of the Moderate Resorts being best, and each being worst. (As long as you don’t rank Port Orleans French Quarter last because you’re scared of alligators, and there are some alligator-decorations around the pool–unlike some people in our overly-sensitive society, I do believe that there is such a thing as a bad opinion!)
The reasons that explain my rankings are more important than the numbers themselves, as they set forth what matters most to me and what doesn’t matter much to me. For instance, if staying at a compact resort is important to you to minimize walking, you’ll want to take note of my preference for more spread out resorts that offer more to explore and walk.
This is an important topic to discuss because, I believe that the Moderate Resorts don’t receive enough attention. Budget-minded tourists flock to the Value Resorts, and guests seeking more extravagant trips go to the Deluxe Resorts. While these are good reasons to stay at Value and Deluxe Resorts, what about those who want a little compromise? Those for whom cost is a concern, but not the overriding concern?
We often find ourselves in this position, and frequently pick Moderate Resorts when looking for the best compromise. I feel that all of the Moderate Resorts offer exceptional theming (in many cases on par with the Deluxe Resorts) that is far superior to the Value Resorts (unless you have small children who really like the style of the Values), at a significantly lower cost than the Deluxe Resorts. The compromise, it seems, is typically that Deluxe Resorts offer significantly better dining options and are usually located closer to at least one of the Walt Disney World theme parks. Walking from Disney’s BoardWalk Inn to the International Gateway entrance of Epcot is pretty awesome, especially if you’re visiting during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival or the Flower & Garden Festival, but if you won’t take advantage of this much, how much is it worth to you? Likewise, does it matter if you have fine dining in your hotel if you’re always going to be in the parks for lunch and dinner?
Being in walking distance of a theme park is a huge benefit for us (now that we’ve done it, I can’t imagine visiting for New Year’s Eve and not staying at Bay Lake Tower–it was so nice to walk to the Magic Kingdom at our leisure for midday breaks during that busy time of the year) and one around which we plan our trips. If we stay at a Magic Kingdom-area hotel, we spend a lot more time in the Magic Kingdom on that particular trip. Similarly, we tend to book Epcot-area hotels during festival seasons at Epcot and make that our park of choice. Conversely, while we enjoy fine dining, we rarely predicate our dining decisions upon where we’re staying. While we frequently leave the parks for dinner, it’s usually not to dine at our hotel, but rather, at a particular restaurant in a hotel that caught our attention. The point here is that everyone’s preferences differ, and your mileage may vary on how much these benefits (and other things like room service, valet, etc.) matter to you. My general point is that you shouldn’t default to a Deluxe Resort without considering what, exactly, you expect. You might find that these Moderate Resorts can deliver everything you want.
With that in mind, let’s dig into the rankings!
5. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter used to be its own resort, simply “Port Orleans.” When the post-9/11 dip in tourism hit Walt Disney World, the former Dixie Landings and Port Orleans Resorts, which were in the process of being consolidated (purportedly because of Dixie Landings’ name), anyway, received further consolidations to save on operating expenses. This is significant because it meant shuttering Bonfamille’s Cafe table-service restaurant, and the loss of bike and boat rentals at French Quarter. French Quarter now “shares” these amenities, plus watercraft rentals and carriage rides, with its sister resort, Port Orleans – Riverside.
Fans of French Quarter are most likely to point to its size–it’s the most compact of all the Moderate Resorts–as the primary reason why it’s the best Moderate Resort. Personally, this gives it less for me to explore. More objectively, I think calling French Quarter the most compact is a bit deceiving. To enjoy many of its amenities, you have to walk all the way over to Riverside! This effectively makes it just as spread out as any other Moderate Resort if you plan on enjoying those amenities.
Beyond that, the theme at French Quarter just doesn’t do as much for me as the other hotels on this list. It is intimate and some of the wrought details look nice, but it seems like a bland take on New Orleans and Mardi Gras, with the exception of the alligator band picture here (who doesn’t love a musically-inclined alligator?!). Whereas some of the other Moderate Resorts have nuanced details that help tell their stories, French Quarter seems to have a lot of random junk scattered about (Imagineer A: “What can we put in this corner of the food court?” Imagineer B: “Oh, I know! How about a creepy jester head?!”) The main reason why French Quarter falls to the bottom of this list is its lack of amenities and fairly average rooms. I am firmly “neutral” on it because of this–I won’t give it a “recommend” or “avoid” rating if only because its compact layout may be a huge plus for someone who doesn’t care about the lost amenities. Anyone else should look to a different Moderate Resort.
4. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
I caught some flak in the comments section of my full Coronado Springs review for calling Coronado Springs a “mixed bag.” On the one hand, I think the rooms are the nicest of all Moderate Resorts as they utilize space very well and are very modern in comparison to the other Moderates with by far the best bedding. The theming of the rooms is also more subtle, yet distinctly Disney. The pool is really cool with a fun slide, and the theming of the resort in general is really cool in places. Although we have not dined at Coronado Springs, I have reason to believe that the restaurants are good (from what I understand, the Pepper Market buffet is one of the best values in Walt Disney World dining).
Others who rank Coronado Springs low seem to do so because they feel the convention clientele drags down the atmosphere (they don’t want to see people in suits on vacation…I guess?). This is not a concern for us, as I would rather be stuck in a room next to some convention attendees than next to a rowdy group of cheerleaders or a tour group. We believe that the amenities that Coronado Springs has in order to appeal to this convention crowd, if anything, helps its rank. Another drawback for others is that the resort is really sprawling, and involves a lot of walking. As mentioned above, I enjoy early morning strolls, so I do not view this as an issue.
That said, and the reason Coronado Springs is #4 on this list is because a lot of the theming doesn’t suit my personal tastes. The neutral color scheme found in many of the buildings leaves a bit to be desired for me and makes large chunks of the resort very bland. This may seem like a more quibble in comparison to the many strengths, but in a tight competition, it’s enough to land Coronado Springs in the #4 slot. Despite this position, I still “highly recommend” it.
3. Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
Caribbean Beach Resort is perhaps the most divisive Moderate Resort, and if you’ve read my full review, you know exactly where I stand in this debate. I love Caribbean Beach.
For me, the biggest selling point of Caribbean Beach Resort is the theming. The rooms are a bit bright (they’re also the largest of the Moderate Resorts), but we enjoyed this. Some people might consider this garish or tacky, but I disagree with them. It’s a place to stay while on vacation. What’s wrong with fun, bright, and festive colors? It’s not like you have to live in the place your whole life. This is a big problem that I have with how hotels are judged in general. Some people believe that “quality” and “kitschy” are mutually exclusive, or that in order to be nice or luxurious, something has to be understated or discreet. Everything has a place, and there is nothing necessarily wrong with some loud colors or over-the-top theming.
To be sure, Caribbean Beach Resort doesn’t have a restrained color palette anywhere in the resort. Bright, tropical colors are used in abundance, and to the benefit of the theme. The grounds pop because of this, and the buildings really stand out from the mature and lush greenery. Thanks to this, the tropical paradise theming is well-executed, and a morning stroll around the sprawling resort is a lot of fun.
Caribbean Beach also has a nice fortress themed pool, complete with cannons, and a food court that offers plenty of variety. While it is the oldest of the Moderate Resorts, recent refurbishments have nicely modernized it. I “highly recommend” it, except for those who don’t like a spread out resort.
2. The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness*
*I almost didn’t even put the Cabins in my rankings because they’re not one of the resorts typically discussed in a conversation about which Moderate Resort is best. However, Disney has them listed as a Moderate Resort, so I’ll go with that…
Fort Wilderness is one of my favorite places (calling it a “resort” is playing a bit fast and loose with the term) in Walt Disney World. Until Shades of Green came into being, we stayed at Fort Wilderness every year on our family trips, and I made a lot of memories there. Beyond that, it’s one of the few vestiges of the original “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” and is a stark contrast to most other places to stay at Walt Disney World. The theming is natural: an undisturbed bastion of wilderness, with just enough artifice carved out so that Disney guests never are truly “roughing it.”
Fort Wilderness certainly isn’t for everyone, but preconceived notions and misconceptions of what it is will likely preclude some from giving it a chance. The Cabins are, in essence, Villas in cabin form, and are nicer than many other hotel rooms. This gives guests the best of both worlds: the ability to enjoy the natural world while staying in a nice hotel room. Fort Wilderness offers fishing, boat rentals, and a myriad of other activities that families (especially those with young boys) will enjoy, and has some great dining, too.
All of that said, given its price and the nature of the cabins, it doesn’t really make sense for me to compare it to the Moderate Resorts. I realize I’m still ranking it #2 on this list, but it’s #2 with an asterisk. For what it is (an alternative to a Villa or Family Suite), I’ll give it a “highly recommend” ranking, but if you’re in the market for a single Moderate Resort room, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the Fort Wilderness Cabins.
1. Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
Port Orleans – Riverside has the theming of a Deluxe Resort for the price of a Moderate Resort. It has the entertainment offerings of a Deluxe Resort for the price of a Moderate Resort. So, where does it falter as compared to Deluxe Resorts? Room size, location, and dining (although its dining is excellent). Still, it does the things that it does so well that this is probably the best option for anyone who would like to stay at a Deluxe Resort but doesn’t want to pay Deluxe prices.
The biggest strength of Riverside, I feel, is the theming. Riverside is divided into Alligator Bayou (bayou) and Magnolia Bend (mansions), which assists it in offering more thematic variety. The backstory is interesting and engaging (and is executed cleverly throughout the resort), and the quiet pathways that litter Riverside make it a great place to take a romantic stroll. The grounds are absolutely stunning, with rich wilderness in the bayou and perfectly manicured gardens around the mansions. These grounds are fun to traverse on foot or by renting surrey bikes, and make the resort a lot of fun to explore. The beauty of the grounds really cannot be over-emphasized. It’s not just the natural beauty of Riverside that makes the theming shine. From the little details like the ports of call in the lobby to the huge working water wheel outside the Riverside Mill, Port Orleans – Riverside is absolutely the best-themed Moderate Resort. Despite being fairly spread out, it presents as intimate and romantic, and is the perfect budget resort for an adults-only or honeymoon trip.
Thanks to the bikes, carriage rides, and fishing, there’s a lot to do at Riverside. There’s also some great entertainment for adults, as Yehaa Bob, who performs at the River Roost bar on select nights. Bob has long been considered a hidden gem at Walt Disney World by fans, and I would put him right up there with the dueling pianos at Jellyrolls in terms of nighttime entertainment in Walt Disney World. Dining is also great at Riverside, with an excellent (and well-themed) restaurant in Boatwright’s and a very fun food court that offers plenty of variety in Riverside Mill.
Nice rooms, a fun pool and play areas, the kinetic energy of the Sassagoula River, and boats to Downtown Disney, round out the rest of the strengths of Riverside, and easily land it the top spot on this list. Riverside earns a “highly recommend” rating from us, and should cause some to seriously consider whether they need to splurge on a Deluxe Resort.
As stated in the outset, we know our opinions aren’t the gospel, and what separates any of the resorts on this list is pretty insubstantial–although we do prefer Riverside by a decent margin over the #2 Moderate Resort on this list (which is, in reality, Caribbean Beach…while great, Fort Wilderness is basically here because of a clerical error). Given that, and since we want our readers to have a variety of opinions upon which they can base their decisions, we’re curious to know how you feel about the Moderate Resorts. If you’ve stayed at any of them, please leave some thoughts in the comments!