Which Walt Disney World Moderate Resort hotel is best? It’s a question I often hear asked, and unlike Value Resorts, I think it’s a difficult question to answer. Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside & French Quarter each have their strengths and weaknesses, and my “worst” might be your “best.” (Last updated August 4, 2019.)
With that said, we’re going to attempt to rank the best and the worst Moderate Resorts, being as objective as humanly possible here. We’re also going to note the pros & cons of each, discuss theme, amenities, resort layout & size, and other variables that impact the ranking. That way, you can choose the Walt Disney World Moderate Resort that will appeal to you most, irrespective of its ranking here.
Note that this article was pretty much entirely re-written following in August 2019. This follows the opening of Gran Destino Tower, which is itself a separate entry on this list. Both Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs just finished multi-year expansion and refurbishment projects, the Port Orleans Resorts have had their guest rooms redone, and Fort Wilderness is currently seeing a Disney Vacation Club Resort added to its perimeter. Suffice to say, all of these Moderate Resorts are dramatically different from what they were like even 2 years ago…
With that said, we rank the Moderate Resorts as they exist today, with all of these projects finished (save for the Fort Wilderness Disney Vacation Club addition). That means that this is the most current resource you’re likely to find anywhere concerning the Moderate Resorts at Walt Disney World.
In general, the Moderate Resorts don’t receive enough attention. Budget-minded tourists flock to the Value Resorts (read our Value Resort Rankings), and guests seeking more extravagant trips go to the Deluxe Resorts (read our Deluxe Resort Rankings). 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 solid theming, which is far superior to the Value Resorts (unless you have small children who really like the style of the Values). Moreover, Moderates are significantly cheaper than the Deluxe Resorts. This makes Disney’s Moderates the ultimate “compromise” option.
With that in mind, let’s dig into the rankings…
N/A. The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness
We’ve decided to remove Fort Wilderness from our rankings as it’s a complete disservice to them and the other resorts on this list to even draw a comparison. Walt Disney World has Fort Wilderness listed as a “Moderate Resort” but that’s only because the campground doesn’t fit anywhere else. Ultimately, Fort Wilderness is a love it or hate it kind of thing, and you probably already know whether it appeals to you.
I happen to love Fort Wilderness. It’s 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. It’s a great resort, if that’s what you’re after, but it is a definite outlier from the rest of this list in terms of what it offers and its price point. For that reason, I’m ranking it last. It’s by no means a bad option, but that’s with the “if you have a larger party wanting to stay in a cabin” caveat.
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 shouldn’t be looking at the Fort Wilderness Cabins.
5. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Our full Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort review has long considered the hotel something of a “mixed bag.” On the one hand, I think the rooms are among the nicest of all standard Moderate Resorts as they utilize space very well, are very modern, and have a variety of substantive enhancements not found at other resorts.
Moreover, Coronado Springs has an excellent pool area, far and away the most robust slate of dining options of any Moderate Resort, and other amenities not found at other hotels on this list. While not to everyone’s tastes, some of the outlying buildings are nicely themed, as well.
On the other hand, Gran Destino towering in the distance is a blight on the rest of the resort. This boxy, Vegas-style hotel aimed at conventioneers is definitely at-odds with the rest of the resort’s theming, and doesn’t belong at Coronado Springs. (Others who rank Coronado Springs low feel the convention clientele drags down the atmosphere; we disagree, but it’s a common enough complaint to warrant listing it here.)
With Gran Destino now open, our position on Coronado Springs Resort is that you should stay in that tower–if it appeals to you–or at a different resort entirely. More than anything else, themed design is what separates Walt Disney World resorts from the competition. In that regard, Gran Destino too huge of a blow to the rest of Coronado Springs to ignore.
4. 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, 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. However, with the opening of Gran Destino Tower, French Quarter has been bested in that regard, and falls down the list a bit as a result.
Nevertheless, the theme at French Quarter is very nice, with a romanticized take on New Orleans. It is intimate, has beautiful fountains and wrought-iron details, plus the alligator band pictured here (who doesn’t love a musically-inclined alligator?!).
The main reason why French Quarter rank higher is due to a lack of certain amenities and fairly average rooms. The pool is strong, the grounds are charming, and the layout is a definite selling point for families. French Quarter still has a lot going for it, but there’s really nothing it does better than any of the other resorts on this list.
3. Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
Thanks to its massive reimagining, Caribbean Beach Resort has addressed some of its biggest weaknesses and is now a contender for the title of best Moderate Resort at Walt Disney World. If you’ve read our full review, you know that I love Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and consider it “Polynesian-Lite.”
This is now true not just in the guest rooms, but also the slate of amenities, including the pool, restaurants, and main lobby. These have all been enhanced, and Caribbean Beach Resort now feels nicer and chicer. Banana Cabana pool bar has been upgraded, Sebastian’s Bistro is a quality waterfront restaurant, and the lobby is modern.
Unfortunately, it’s not all upside. These upgrades came as several guest buildings were razed to build Disney’s Riviera Resort, a new Disney Vacation Club property that’s thematically at-odds with Caribbean Beach. Additionally, the Disney Skyliner gondola system has added here, improving transportation options to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, but haphazardly being installed over guest buildings.
These two projects have together destroyed some of the serene, tropical charm of Caribbean Beach. Suffice to say, it’s no longer the lush tropical paradise that it once was–even if the new lobby and check-in, transportation, and dining options all count as substantive upgrades. Consequently, it’s not as thematically-strong as Port Orleans Riverside, causing it to slip a bit in our rankings.
2. Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs Resort
Gran Destino Tower is destined to be a polarizing, love it or hate it, resort. If you read the above section on Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, you might assume we fall in the “hate it” camp. However, our full review of Gran Destino Tower reveals a bit more nuance.
We hate Gran Destino while standing in the outlying buildings at Coronado Springs Resort. From inside Gran Destino Tower, we…well, love is too strong of a word, but we recognize its strengths. Quite simply, Gran Destino is an excellent option for adults, honeymooners, or anyone wanting consolidated accommodations with everything they need under one roof.
The biggest upside to Gran Destino Tower is price. While the slate of amenities here makes this hotel tower comparable to many Deluxe Resorts, pricing is more like a Moderate Resort at a slight premium. Granted, it’s not located near any theme park and the themed design is not on par with the Deluxes, but if you’re not a “Disney person” or don’t care about theme and are just after a luxurious stay, Gran Destino is a very compelling option.
That lack of a distinct theme is arguably the biggest downside of Gran Destino, but we are cognizant of the fact, that this won’t matter to everyone. Gran Destino would not be my personal #2 pick, but in trying to be objective, I think it sneaks into this spot with a laundry list of amenities and features the other Moderates just cannot touch.
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 and quality, location, and dining (although its dining is excellent).
The biggest strength of Riverside, I feel, is the theming. Riverside is divided into the rustic Alligator Bayou and more stately Magnolia Bend mansions; this gives it more variety, and richness in detail and design. The backstory is likewise interesting, engaging, and executed cleverly throughout the resort.
The grounds are absolutely stunning, with rich wilderness in the bayou and perfectly manicured gardens around the mansions. The quiet pathways that litter Riverside make it a great place to take a romantic stroll or evening surrey bike ride. Despite being fairly spread out, it presents as intimate and romantic, and offers the most immersive themed environments of any Moderate Resort.
Thanks to the bikes, carriage rides, and fishing, there’s a lot to do at Riverside. There’s also some great entertainment for adults. 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.
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–and personal preference makes a big deal here. 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!