Which Walt Disney World Moderate Resort hotel is best? It’s a common question among vacation planners, and unlike Value Resorts, it’s difficult to answer. Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans Riverside & French Quarter each have strengths & weaknesses, and our “worst” might be your “best.” (Updated November 6, 2022.)
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.
This article was pretty much entirely re-written following the opening of Gran Destino Tower, which is itself a separate entry on this list. Both Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs also finished multi-year expansion and refurbishment projects and the Port Orleans Resorts have had their guest rooms redone. We’ve again revisited the rankings in Late 2022 based on recent stays and visits this year. Suffice to say, all of these Moderate Resorts are dramatically different from what they were like even a few years ago.
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.
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 with young children 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.
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 – Riverside
It breaks my heart a little to put this in the #4 slot. For years, Port Orleans Riverside was our favorite Moderate Resort, and where we stayed more than anywhere else on this list. That hasn’t been true for at least a few years, and if I’m being honest with myself, I now love the idea of Port Orleans Riverside more than the actual resort. We still love to visit and spend time at this thematic exemplar, but when push comes to shove and we’re actually doing a stay for practical purposes, Riverside ranks low on our list of choices.
The simple fact is that each of the top 3 entries offer actual advantages to improve the quality of your vacation. That comes either via superior ease of access or luxurious accommodations. Riverside has neither of those things, instead having some of the most inefficient transportation and basic rooms, even following the recent refresh. Those downsides have become too big to ignore, and are the reason we find ourselves visiting Riverside rather than staying here–even though we love it.
With that said, Port Orleans Riverside has many strengths. It has an underrated slate of dining options, from the food court to the hidden gem table service restaurant to the lounge. It offers the theming of a Deluxe Resort for the price of a Moderate. It has the entertainment offerings of a Deluxe Resort for the price of a Moderate.
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 great evening 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.
3. 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. French Quarter now “shares” these amenities, plus watercraft rentals and carriage rides, with its sister resort, Port Orleans – Riverside. While annoying, it’s fairly easy to access all of this with a short walk or boat ride over to 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. 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. However, the two aren’t really comparable–especially in price–so it’s difficult to penalize French Quarter in that regard.
Then there’s the exceptional themed design at French Quarter, with a romanticized take on New Orleans. It is intimate, has beautiful fountains and wrought-iron details, plus the alligator band (who doesn’t love a musically-inclined alligator?!). The pool is strong, the grounds are charming, and the layout is a definite selling point for families.
French Quarter has a lot going for it, and we ultimately give it the slight edge over Riverside because it’s likely you’ll see more upside from the condensed layout and convenient, single bus stop than you will downside from having to walk to Riverside for a table service dinner or various recreation.
While the guest rooms are once again starting to show their age (and will likely be refreshed again in 2023), the pool, restaurants, and main lobby are all top-notch. 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.
The biggest upgrade at Caribbean Beach Resort is the Skyliner gondola. Caribbean Beach Resort is the hub for the Skyliner, with two stations offering access to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT, plus Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Riviera Resorts. This is an absolute game-changer for easily accessing those parks within minutes, which is great for Early Entry and midday breaks. Not having to rely on buses to get to these two parks is huge, the value of which cannot be overstated.
Then there’s the addition of Disney’s Riviera Resort, a new DVC tower that replaced several guest buildings at Caribbean Beach. The advantage here is in the amenities that Disney’s Riviera Resort offers. Dining is the big thing, with Primo Piatto, Le Petit Café, Bar Riva, and more easily accessible. Most importantly, there’s Topolino’s Terrace–both the Signature dinner and the Character Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends.
It’s not all upside. The construction of Disney’s Riviera Resort and the Disney Skyliner gondola system together destroyed some of the serene, tropical charm of Caribbean Beach. 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 huge substantive upgrades that will improve the quality of your trip.
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. In fact, an argument can be made that Gran Destino Tower is one of the best luxury resorts at Walt Disney World.
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. It sneaks into this spot with a laundry list of amenities and features the other Moderates just cannot touch. We’ve found ourselves staying here more and more, especially when rates are competitive. All-bus transportation is a definite downside, but it’s worth the hassle for getting Deluxe Resort caliber accommodations at a Moderate+ price.
Ultimately, there really is something for everyone at the Moderate Resort tier. If you want sprawling grounds that feel worlds away from Walt Disney World amid a richly-themed resort setting, Port Orleans Riverside is for you. If you want most of that minus the sprawling layout and with better transportation, check out French Quarter. For unrivaled transportation thanks to the Skyliner and easy access to exceptional eating, Caribbean Beach is your best bet. Looking for luxury accommodations that might be more at home in Las Vegas than Walt Disney World? Gran Destino Tower is unbeatable.
Even when it comes to those takeaways, our opinions aren’t the gospel. What separates any of the resorts on this list is pretty insubstantial or a matter of personal preference. That plus the priorities for your Walt Disney World vacation make a big deal with how these will rank for you. Given that, we’ve laid out the pros & cons of each Moderate Resorts so you can weigh the relevant considerations accordingly and make an informed decisions when booking your hotel!
Which is your favorite Moderate Resort? How would you rank the hotels in this tier? Are there any that you dislike? Do you agree or disagree with our list, or the pros & cons for each Moderate Resort? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!