Caribbean Beach and Riviera Resort are “sister hotels” at Walt Disney World, both located around Barefoot Bay and sharing Skyliner gondola stations. While they’re very different—one a Moderate Resort, the other a DVC property—they share a lot. In this post, we’ll contrast and compare the two, in theme/decor, rooms, dining, transportation, pools, and value for money.
This continues our Walt Disney World Hotel Comparison Series, and actually is not the first time Caribbean Beach faced an ostensibly absurd underdog matchup. In Caribbean Beach v. Polynesian Village Resort, we first made the case for the hotel as the “Poly-lite.” Either we have nostalgia blinders on for CBR, or the resort punches above its weight class.
Not to spoil this head-to-head smackdown for you, but that last category of ‘value for money’ is largely the key. These two hotels are not competitive with one another across the board, but they have enough similarities that we’ll seek to determine whether the Moderate-tier Caribbean Beach Resort is good enough, or if they should splurge on the Deluxe Disney’s Riviera Resort Resort. The verdict might shock you…or not!
Since Disney’s Riviera Resort opened, we’ve been offering passing comparisons between it and Caribbean Beach and treating the two as “sister hotels.” That’s unlikely to be a comparison that Walt Disney World appreciates, as it views the Riviera as a flagship DVC property on par with the Grand Floridian. However, it’s on the former grounds of Caribbean Beach, and actually replaced some of the Moderate Resort’s buildings.
Thematically, these two properties clash with one another and in style the tower of Disney’s Riviera Resort is a sharp contrast to the building clusters of Caribbean Beach Resort. It’s also jarring to be sitting in the tropics of Caribbean Beach and see these grey towers looming on the shore. On the other hand, Caribbean Beach guests benefit from upgraded and new amenities at the new, nearby resort.
While we’ve stayed at both resorts multiple times (many, many times in the case of Caribbean Beach) we had not done near-consecutive stays at the two until fairly recently. (Read about each experience, which focus on modified operations during Walt Disney World’s phased reopening in our Caribbean Beach Resort Stay Report and our Riviera Resort Stay Report.) Now that we have, this comparison becomes a bit easier–and hopefully more fair!
Cost: Caribbean Beach Resort — On average, a standard Deluxe Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort costs nearly triple the nightly rate of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Of course, you could always downgrade to a Tower Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort and pay “only” double the price of CBR, but those tiny yet-overpriced Tower Studio rooms are not going to pass muster for most guests. We’ll thus confine our comparison to the normal rooms at each resort.
Now, the argument could be made that Riviera Resort is more attractive with discounts, as it has already seen 40% off rates and will get the “full” Free Dining discount, whenever that’s offered again. It could also be argued that Riviera Resort is significantly cheaper by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points. However, it’s difficult to book via DVC point rental right now, and that’s not an apples to apples comparison, anyway.
This cost disparity is the backdrop against which the rest of this comparison is set. We’re not suggesting the Riviera needs to be twice as good than Caribbean Beach to be the ultimate victor nor will we grade on a curve from here on out. While cost is objective, its relative weight is subjective. For some people, it matters a lot. For others, money is no object, and absolute best is still absolute best. As with so many things, it’s your mileage may vary.
Theme: Caribbean Beach — This is sure to be the first controversial pick, but hear me out. Caribbean Beach Resort feels like a tropical island escape. It’s a beach resort by name, but could almost pass for a port city in the Caribbean. As a Moderate Resort, not all of the details and architecture are fully-fleshed out, but it coalesces very well in offering a transportive environment that’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–there’s simply a ton to explore and the environment is pleasant and inviting.
By contrast, Disney’s Riviera Resort is not really themed in the traditional sense of the term. The design is not all-encompassing, and does not aspire to transport you to another time or place. Instead, it’s a rather generic luxury tower hotel that offers impressionistic touches, with flourishes, decorations, and art that evokes the spirit of the French (or is it the Italian?) Riviera.
Our Disney’s Riviera Resort Review sharply criticizes the lack of thematic ambition of the new DVC property, using words like “lazy, uninspired, and boring” when describing the architecture and design. The resort is a lot like cookie-cutter suburbia, more reminiscent of Val d’Europe, the Disney-developed town adjacent to Disneyland Paris, as opposed to the more lavish and ornate French Riviera.
What’s most disappointing here is the squandered potential–the ‘source material’ is a treasure trove of rich and beautiful designs. Imagineering could have chosen an iconic exemplar in Cannes, Nice, or Monaco and further romanticized and reinterpreted it. Instead, the style was phoned in with historic photos of Walt Disney, paintings of animated films, and European movie posters being substitutes for actual themed design. Don’t get us wrong–that’s all fun, but it ultimately feels hollow and superficial.
Rooms: Riviera Resort — If you’re starting to question our bias or objectivity here, this category should put at least some of those concerns to bed. This one is not even close. We’ve heaped praise on Caribbean Beach Resort’s redone rooms, and are why we dubbed the resort “Poly-lite” in the first place. These rooms no longer feel like budget motel accommodations, and feature nice details befitting of a higher caliber resort.
Or so that’s how we felt ~5 years ago when those “new” rooms debuted. They were a sharp departure from the brightly-colored, arguably garish, but inarguably basic rooms that came before. We loved them at the time, and still like them. However, a lot has happened in the time since, and Walt Disney World has really refined its approach to room overhauls. Many readers have criticized Caribbean Beach’s rooms as dark, dingy, and starting to feel dated.
After our recent consecutive stays at Caribbean Beach and Riviera Resorts, the contrast between the two was laid bare. While Caribbean Beach is one of the early attempts at this ‘generation’ of room modernizations at Walt Disney World, the Deluxe Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort are the culmination of a lot of room design lessons learned by Disney over the last decade. They iterate on past successes, disregard past failures, and come together perfectly.
Disney’s Riviera Resort features the near-pinnacle of room design at Walt Disney World. The design is elegant and thoughtful, with space-saving features and lovely design flourishes. The room feels upscale and incredibly usable, with sophisticated touches, art, and more.
While Disney’s Riviera Resort as a whole feels weak on themed design, the guest rooms actually shine on this front–here’s where the artwork, use of texture, and materials really come together. There are also balconies, which are absent from all Moderate Resorts.
If the hotel room is your paramount consideration, Disney’s Riviera Resort is the easy winner. Not just of this comparison, but arguably in all of Walt Disney World. (I’d still pick the Villas at Grand Floridian or Polynesian Villas, but that’s mostly a matter of personal preference.)
Dining: Riviera Resort — Another comparison that Disney’s Riviera Resort wins handily. This has the best lineup of any Disney Vacation Club resort, and one of the best dining slates of any resort with Topolino’s Terrace — Flavors of the Riviera, Primo Piatto, Bar Riva, and Le Petit Cafe.
Topolino’s Terrace is the main standout, with the best character breakfast at Walt Disney World and a superlative Signature dinner menu. Primo Piatto flies under the radar, but it has emerged as a sleeper hit of counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
Normally, Caribbean Beach Resort has its own duo of underrated dining options in Sebastian’s Bistro and Spyglass Grill. It also has Banana Cabana and Centertown Market, two other solid options. Still, these 4 restaurants don’t measure up to the volume and variety at Disney’s Riviera Resort. (Additionally, Sebastian’s Bistro and Spyglass Grill are closed during the phased reopening, and it might be years before they both return.)
One thing to note here is that it’s an easy ~5-10 minute walk from many of the guest rooms at Caribbean Beach to the dining options at Disney’s Riviera Resort. In fact, some rooms at Caribbean Beach are closer to Primo Piatto than they are Centertown Market!
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 trio of Mediterranean pools at Disney’s Riviera Resort were unranked (they probably would’ve been #11 or #12).
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?! You might scoff at this as an adult, but after polishing off a couple of Caribbean Smugglers from the Banana Cabana pool bar, you’ll be staggering around questioning, “why is the rum always gone?!” Seriously, this pool is awesome for guests of all ages.
For adults, Disney’s Riviera Resort offers a fairly strong poolside lounging game. Beau Soleil and Riviera Pool offer a ton of variety in terms of seating options, plus a laid back and tranquil vibe that’s absent from Fuentes del Morro Pool. While the S’il Vous Play interactive water play area is nice for kids, it has nothing on the Pirate Fortress Pool.
With all of that said, Disney Vacation Club members do have the ability to pool hop, meaning that they can use both sets of pools. That’s not true going the opposite direction, which along with the dining category, further muddies this resort comparison.
Transportation: Tie — The marquee transportation at both resorts is the Disney Skyliner gondola, which is slightly better at Caribbean Beach. Disney’s Riviera Resort has one station, which offers direct service to EPCOT and connecting service to Disney’s Hollywood Studios via the Caribbean Beach hub station.
By contrast, Caribbean Beach has easy access to both stations meaning direct access to both parks, which can be critical when trying to get to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in time for the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding pass dash. (Sadly, that’s unlikely going away in the next year-plus.)
However, the reason this is a tie is the bus service to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. Caribbean Beach has an internal bus loop, and while that’s not as bad as it used to be, it’s still not ideal. Disney’s Riviera Resort has a single bus depot, which is simpler, less time-consuming, and causes fewer frustrations during peak travel times when buses are in high demand.
The scales will probably tip one way or the other for you depending upon whether you use the Skyliner or bus transportation more. Again, your mileage may vary.
Verdict: It Depends — There’s not a huge point in fixating on a verdict here, as the weight you personally give to each category is going to be outcome-determinative here. For some, the colossal cost disparity between the two will make Disney’s Riviera Resort a total non-starter. If that’s the case for you, hopefully this comparison highlights how you can enjoy some slices of Riviera’s luxury while still staying at the more budget-friendly resort.
For others, the significant advantage offered by the rooms at Disney’s Riviera Resort is going to be the difference-maker. (If you’re simply looking for luxury, you might also want to read our Gran Destino v. Riviera Resort comparison.) Even then, hopefully this comparison illustrates how Caribbean Beach offers some advantages–and how you can utilize those during your stay at the Riviera. Just because it’s the more “posh” resort doesn’t mean it’s better at everything, so don’t turn your nose up at Caribbean Beach’s pool, bar, and lush grounds. As with every resort at Walt Disney World, there’s good and bad, pros & cons to both of these, and each have their unique qualities that make them worth checking out–or checking into, as the case may be!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Is money the deciding factor for you, or are the guest rooms? Do the superior rooms, dining, and condensed layout provide enough value for you to help bridge the price gap? Is there another variable you can think of to make Caribbean Beach Resort the better pick? Are we missing a key variable that tilts the scales more in the Riviera’s favor? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? 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!