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 very, very difficult question to answer. This is the case because each has redeeming characteristics, and personal preference is a big component of the rankings due to theme, amenities, and resort layout & size. (Last updated March 12, 2018.)
Note that this article was almost entirely re-written following major changes at several Moderates two years ago, and will be due for another huge update in another year. The problem is that currently, both Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs are in the midst of multi-year expansion and refurbishment projects, neither of which will finish completely until late 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Until then, we are tentatively recommending people choose between the two Port Orleans Resorts (or the Fort Wilderness Cabins if your party is larger). Currently, the construction is not too intrusive at Coronado Springs, but that could change. As such, in the next couple of years, it’s better to err on the side of caution, and choose one of the resorts where extensive construction is not occurring. We’ll update these rankings again once those projects have finished…
With that said, I think a long-term argument could be made for each of the Moderate Resorts being best, and each being worst. 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 (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 (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.
With that in mind, let’s dig into the rankings!
5. 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. 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.
4. 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.
The divisiveness is mostly predicated upon how Caribbean Beach Resort was prior to its massive overhaul last year. Now the rooms are thematically restrained (see photo below) and best described as “Polynesian-Lite.” This plus the resort’s other selling points caused us to bump it from #4 to #1 on this list.
The current, ongoing refurbishment has caused us to once again drop Caribbean Beach’s stock a bit, as the resort is not even remotely tranquil or tropical-feeling right now. We’re hoping that once the huge projects are finished, we’re able to elevate it once again.
Outside of the rooms, the resort is normally a lot of fun, and a lush playground to explore. 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.
3. 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. Since the initial rankings, we’ve been back to Coronado Springs, and I have to admit that it has really grown on me. I’ve found the theming more appealing, and Pepper Market has become one of our favorite counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
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. In addition to those amenities, we think it has better beds than the other Moderates.
The theming still isn’t our favorite, but it’s not bad, and everything else Coronado Springs has going for it helps push it up into this spot. 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 #3 slot. Despite this position, I still recommend it–for those who don’t mind the conventioneer crowd.
2. 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. Until our recent stay at Port Orleans French Quarter, I didn’t fully appreciate just how much of advantage this offers–especially given its proximity to Port Orleans Riverside.
Beyond that, 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 doesn’t nab the top slot 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, and for those who want a compact resort, this will probably be #1.
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 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. Despite being fairly spread out, it presents as intimate and romantic, and is a great 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. 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!