Caribbean Beach v. Coronado Springs Resort
Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs are hotels at Walt Disney World that have similarities in dining, pools, and rooms–but theme and transportation differences. As the two Moderate Resorts to receive recent reimaginings and huge expansions, vacation planners might wonder which to pick. This head-to-head smackdown helps answer that question. (Updated March 29, 2022.)
Recognizing that the choice between Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs is likely to be a common one for visitors Florida, we recently did stays at both, and have updated a couple of categories here as a result. These two Moderate Resorts are among the largest at Walt Disney World, frequently have the best discounts, and both have a lot of objective selling points. Despite this, each hotel caters to substantially different demographics.
Caribbean Beach Resort is a popular choice with families, particularly ones wanting a tropical getaway. We’ve been calling it the “Poly-Lite” and have recommended it as a Polynesian-esque experience on a tighter budget. By contrast, Coronado Springs Resort is frequently used for conventions, and has upgraded amenities for this audience. As a result, it’s something of a “Deluxe-Minus” resort. Framed that way, it comes down to whether the Poly-Lite or Deluxe-Minus is the better pick…
Note that this comparison will not include anything added by Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs or Disney’s Riviera Resort, the DVC property on the former grounds of Caribbean Beach. Both are short walks (5-10 minutes) from the outlying resort buildings, this comparison is more about the ‘legacy’ Moderate Resorts.
We have a separate comparison of Gran Destino Tower v. Disney’s Riviera Resort. We’d highly recommend reading that too, as many of the amenities at those properties can be utilized by guests of these two Moderate Resorts. In fact, those additions are among the biggest selling points for both of these properties, even for guests staying in standard rooms.
What this post will seek to address is whether you should choose Coronado Springs, or if it’s better to stick with family-favorite Caribbean Beach. With that in mind, we’ll compare theme, cost, dining, pools, and other amenities to help you determine which is right for you…
Theme: Caribbean Beach – Both of these resorts have declined thematically as a result of their recent “reimagining” and expansion projects. While the construction brought substantive gains to each, these projects were thematic steps backwards as large towers encroached upon the seclusion and intimacy of each resort.
Coronado Springs added the more visually jarring and incongruous tower. The new hotel didn’t negatively impact Caribbean Beach to as great of a degree, as Riviera Resort is partially isolated by Barefoot Bay (and the fact that it’s a standalone property). However, Caribbean Beach also had the Skyliner and its support pillars dotted throughout the resort.
Coronado Springs Resort has three different architectural influences in its various sections: Ranchos, Cabanas, and Casitas. These styles transition from urban to countryside as you wander the resort (somewhat akin to Port Orleans Riverside). They also vary in vibrance, with ranchos being pretty neutral, whereas the cabanas are vibrant, almost reminiscent of Mexican beach resorts.
With that said, both retain a lot of their thematic strengths. Caribbean Beach Resort is a beach resort by name, but could almost pass for a port city in the Caribbean. In some ways the details and architecture are not as fully-fleshed as Coronado Springs, but it does the job in conveying an island theme. It’s fun, light, and airy.
Caribbean Beach does an exceptional job of capturing the essence of vacationing in the tropics. Even post-overhaul, the grounds are still lush, there are some beautiful beaches, and it all culminates in a relaxing environment that is a ton of fun to explore. In particular, Caribbean Cay is a gem hiding in plain sight.
I love wandering Caribbean Beach Resort resort late at night or in the early morning–something I cannot say for Coronado Springs. The environment is just more pleasant and inviting at Caribbean Beach.
Rooms: Coronado Springs – We just did stays at both Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs in March 2022 and have updated this category from being a tie to Coronado Springs being the clear-cut winner.
Caribbean Beach Resort’s redone rooms are nice, and are why we dubbed the resort “Poly-lite” in the first place a few years ago. These rooms don’t look like budget motel accommodations, and feature a lot of details. Thematically, Caribbean Beach Resort has the best rooms of any Moderate. However, they are starting to show their age.
Coronado Springs were redone slightly more recently and have held up even better. These are the highest quality rooms of any Moderate, with upgraded bedding, a nicer desk for getting work done, and subtle details that just make it seem nice. These are feature-filled rooms on par with many Deluxe Resorts, undoubtedly done to make it more appealing to business travelers.
We’d describe Coronado Springs rooms as tasteful and high quality, with enough thematic touches to give them personality. They are also brighter and have a certain freshness to them that’s difficult to articulate, whereas Caribbean Beach’s rooms are starting to feel a bit dated and worn (yet again).
Dining: Coronado Springs – Coronado Springs has far and away the most dining of any Moderate Resort, which is the main (but not only) way it’s a Deluxe-Minus resort on the amenities front. The highlight is Three Bridges Bar & Grill, the new over-the-water table service restaurant. This is among the most underrated restaurants at Walt Disney World. Beyond that, there’s the El Mercado de Coronado food court, Rix Sports Bar & Grill, Siestas Cantina, Maya Grill, and more.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort has its own duo of underrated dining options in Sebastian’s Bistro and Spyglass Grill. While the latter is still closed (and may realistically never reopen), the former has a new family-style meal that is the best dinner deal in all of Walt Disney World.
Caribbean Beach also has Banana Cabana and Centertown Market, two other solid options. Still, these restaurants don’t measure up to the many at Coronado Springs Resort–and that’s not counting Gran Destino!
Pools: Caribbean Beach – On our list of the Top 10 Pools at Walt Disney World, Fuentes del Morro Pool (aka the “Pirate Fortress Pool”) at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort ranked #3 and The Lost City of Cibola Pool ranked #9. The Pirate Fortress Pool scores serious points for its Spanish colonial fortress style, fortresses, cannons, and general pirate appeal. It’s an awesome place to pretend you’re a pirate, and who among us doesn’t want to do that?!
Even though these rankings make it seem decisive, the Dig Site pool and recreation area at Coronado Springs has a lot of range that might make it appeal more to you. For kids, there’s the 123-foot water slide, Mayan temple ruins, arcade, play area, and 50-foot tall pyramid. For adults, there’s the large Siesta’s bar, volleyball court, and largest hot tub at Walt Disney World. Dig Site is a very solid, well-rounded pool area.
Transportation: Caribbean Beach – It lost a lot of its lush charm and secluded quality to gain the edge here, but the Skyliner is a huge win for Caribbean Beach in terms of transportation. Thanks to its two Skyliner stations, getting to and from Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is now a breeze. This instantly moved Caribbean Beach from the worst to the best Moderate Resort transportation-wise.
With that said, bus transportation remains the achilles heel of both of these resorts. Since these are both sprawling resort complexes, each have multiple bus stops within the resort. This means a shorter walk to your bus stop than at some other resorts, but the downside is that it takes longer to get to the parks.
On average, both have among the longest room-door to park-entrance time of any resorts at Walt Disney World. As we’ve said before, there’s nothing magical about riding a bus (even one that says “Disney” on the outside), and this can get old over the course of a trip.
Thankfully, bus transportation is only necessary for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs if you’re staying at Caribbean Beach. It’s necessary for all parks if you’re staying at Coronado Springs, meaning you should either have a rental car or be prepared to pay extra for Uber or Lyft there.
Cost: Coronado Springs – On average, room rates are about $10 to $20 higher at Caribbean Beach for almost every rate season of the year for standard rooms. Prices are a bit less predictable once you get into the higher tiers of rooms, but Caribbean Beach is higher across the board.
This can be directly attributed to the Skyliner. Previously, these two resorts were almost identically priced. We’d contend that the Skyliner is easily worth $20 or more per night, but that’s why Caribbean Beach has the edge in the transportation category above. Fortunately, discounts are consistently good between the Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and Caribbean Beach.
Verdict: Caribbean Beach – We are declaring Caribbean Beach the winner here, but at the same time add the significant caveat that there are a lot of Deluxe-caliber amenities at Coronado Springs superior to Caribbean Beach. However, we think that if you have the time at the resort to enjoy all of those amenities, you also have it to explore the resort, which is a more satisfying experience at Caribbean Beach.
There’s also a growing gap between the guest rooms at each. We first became big fans of Caribbean Beach when the “new” rooms debuted, but that was now almost 8 years ago. The rooms at Coronado Springs have been redone more recently, and their balance of form and function is superior. They also have aged better.
However, the Skyliner is a total game-changer for us. Transportation used to be frustrating at both of these resorts for all parks, and now that’s only true at Coronado Springs. This is the kind of transformational, functional addition that by itself outweighs literally everything else. And it helps that Caribbean Beach has not one, but two gondola stations.
The Skyliner makes getting from Caribbean Beach to Epcot or DHS a total breeze, and we often start at one of those parks and hop from there to Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom as a result (or just use Uber/Lyft). We’re huge fans of the Skyliner, and Caribbean Beach is the best Skyliner resort.
On a personal note, we’re entrenched in the Caribbean Beach Resort camp even without the Skyliner. Coronado Springs scores some well-earned points, but ultimately, it’s not a resort that we find ourselves eager to revisit. In fact, there have been times when Coronado Springs is the only Moderate Resort available with a good discount (once the standard rooms are sold out at Caribbean Beach and we’re left with only Pirate Rooms…), but instead of booking it, we’ll look at rates for Pop Century.
Our issue with Coronado Springs is probably that it’s just a bit blah. So many neutral colors and common design elements just make it not stand out in our memories. To be sure, there are splashes of vibrance, an awesome pool area, and we really like Three Bridges Bar & Grill, but we’d still choose Caribbean Beach Resort every single time when the two are comparably-priced.
That’s just us, though and your mileage may vary. When you analyze Coronado Springs ‘checklist style’ it really does have a lot going for it, so maybe we have some misplaced bias against it. However, we’re guessing that a lot of you agree with us, albeit maybe for different reasons. Unlike virtually every other resort at Walt Disney World, Coronado Springs doesn’t seem to have a strong and passionate fanbase.
In fact, aside from the All-Stars, Coronado Springs is the Walt Disney World resort we hear the absolute least about from Walt Disney World fans. We suspect that one part of this is it lacking the distinct character or charm of the other resorts. Another part could be simply because the resort targets business travelers, who aren’t as like to form attachments to Walt Disney World hotels as us Disney geeks. 😉 In any case, we’d really love to hear your rationale for your pick in the comments.
Our goal is for this post to be helpful in offering a head-to-head comparison of the most crucial elements of each Walt Disney World resort experience, but we suggest supplementing this with our full review of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (if you haven’t seen the new rooms, it’s definitely worth checking out just for that) and our Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort Review. With that said, what do you think…did we choose the correct hotel here?
Do you agree or disagree with our verdict in this Caribbean Beach v. Coronado Springs head-to-head? What about our conclusions in each category? Is there something we missed or got wrong? 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!
Oh dear , I have reservations for September at Destino Tower club level. We have a special needs adult daughter as well. We spend a significant time in our rooms and resorts due to her inability to tolerate long park days. We even take days off from the parks. Now I’m getting nervous about all this .
We recently stayed in the Destino Tower and absolutely loved it. The design is strikingly beautiful, and our room was incredibly comfortable. We previously stayed at Bay Lake Tower in a suite and we preferred the room at Destino Tower! So go and enjoy 🙂
@Kat, Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my concerns. We can’t wait for our 11 night stay at Destino Tower! I’m happy you had a good time as well
We have CBR booked for 2023. We love it. We first stayed in 2018 during construction and loved it even then. I may be biased as it was our first ever Disney trip and we also had an amazing location (Aruba 51). We stayed at the Dolphin this past November and managed to end up at CBR frequently. We would just get Joffrey’s and wander around. It’s so peaceful! Skyliner is a game changer too.
If/when CBR rooms get refreshed, HANDS DOWN it will be our favorite in every category. We also love Sebastians.
Tom, were you aware that there are many rooms scattered around CBR that have the ‘wood’ floors? I have seen photos. They do that on a case-by-case basis when the carpet needs to go. I’m hoping they continue this and we get wood in 2023! Or maybe they will announce a return soon?? Fingers crossed!!
“Thematically, Caribbean Beach Resort has the best rooms of any Moderate. However, they are starting to show their age.”
Exactly. The CBR was among the very first of the resorts to get a room refurb in the present round of things, before WDW mastered the art starting with Pop Century. We stayed at yje CBR for the first half of a split stay, and the rooms really showed their age. And we love the CBR, first staying there in 1994. The recent redo of Centertown/Old Port Royale was a major upgrade, but the rooms need a similar update (including elevators). The CBR came out at the start of WDW’s Golden age of resort building (when the Imagineers were in charge, not the bean-counters) and, other than Ft. Wilderness, was WDW’s first attempt at a non-deluxe resort. The result is larger rooms than later moderates and a lush, vibrant campus.
The rooms really need a redo. They should gut the buildings and start anew.
That said, even if the rooms don’t hold up, the Skyliner is just fantastic! It is the best moderate if you’re driving, due to being so centrally located, and the Skyliner makes Hollywood, Epcot & Crescent Lake extremely accessible, including all the dining, drinking and entertainment options.
We stay at CBR almost every trip. The rooms are definitely showing some wear and tear, though. The Skyliner, the pool, the landscaping, and the on-site food options help me look passed the way the room seems to be falling apart. Only thing I can’t handle is an air conditioner that doesn’t work!
We love this resort and the price is very affordable (by Disney standards).
Intellectually I agree with your verdict. But I have a lot of love for Coronado Springs. I had a few great stays at Coronado Springs in the Great Recession and its long aftermath, because the hotel often had the steepest discounts on Priceline. My parents handed me a big stack of non-expiring paper tickets from the 1990s (!!!) and I viewed Disney as a cheap getaway with my then-infant. Very good memories of that Dig pool.
One thing you do not address is that if you have limited mobility, CBR has no elevator For me, this is a game changer. I rent a scooter and do not like to stay in a first floor room due to a past experience at that Hotel. I even prefer Pop Century to CBR.