Photos & Thoughts: Re-Imagined Caribbean Beach Resort

Caribbean Beach Resort’s re-imagining of Old Port Royale & Centertown is now finished, marking the end of a year and a half refurbishment project that was the largest hotel renovation at Walt Disney World in a while. We’re here with photos & thoughts from the re-imagining to complement our newly-updated Caribbean Beach Resort Review.

As anyone who read our last Caribbean Beach Resort Construction Update (or the ~59 before that) knows, we’ve been itching to get inside of Old Port Royale for months. So let’s cut to the chase and head right inside.

The first impression Old Port Royale makes is a solid one. There’s a lot of texture, splashes of color, and evocative sense of the Caribbean. At the same time, it has an aura of luxury and sophistication about it, with everything from the furniture to the artwork on the walls feeling much nicer.

Thematically, Old Port Royale is not as ‘in your face’ as before. Some could argue that this is another case of Walt Disney World going too far in toning things down, creating generic environments indistinguishable from a Holiday Inn. When it comes to some other refurbishment projects (and even new builds), that’s been our position.

In this case, we vehemently disagree. We have stayed at Caribbean Beach a lot, and Old Port Royale has never been the paragon of themed design. The marketplace style of the old food court was clever in concept, but as we wrote in our less-than enthusiastic review, it’s “pretty cool, save for the fact that it looks like this is a market you’d encounter if you stepped into Doc Brown’s DeLorean and dialed in 1988.”

It would be easy to let nostalgia or cherished memories color our opinions here, but there is little denying that the previous incarnation of Old Port Royale felt woefully outdated.

I’d take that a step further and say that previously Old Port Royale was tacky and a bit garish, but that is an area where reasonable minds could differ.

The newly-redesigned lobby most definitely tones down the color palette and has less going on. However, in this case ‘toned down’ isn’t code for saying ‘stripped of theme.’ This is one area that needed to be toned down a bit, and in so doing, Imagineering modernized Caribbean Beach in a way that successfully balances theme with luxury.

The perfect middle ground was reached here. Those who like the bright and colorful style of the previous Old Port Royale still get that, but via beautiful art and murals that evoke the playful vibe of the Caribbean in a more tasteful manner. All in all, this area looks a lot nicer and more inviting.

This lobby has a variety of spaces, and it’s a nice place to simply relax and be. We’ve been calling Caribbean Beach the “Poly Lite” ever since the last room overhaul a few years ago, and the enhancements to Old Port Royale only further reinforce that. Aside from the obvious differences, the look here is similar to the Great Ceremonial House.

It has a lighter and airier look and isn’t quite as loud at the Polynesian’s lobby, but otherwise, there are a lot of commonalities. The similarities don’t end with the lobby; as you can read in our updated Polynesian v. Caribbean Beach comparison, the gap between the two has closed further.

One difference, and this is something we only noticed after spending more time in Old Port Royale, is that it has a bit less character. I feel there’s a certain inarticulable something that’s missing. A degree of Walt Disney World quirkiness or flavor that makes the space feel like an authentic, lived-in environment.

To be fair, this is a “feeling” you don’t often get below the Deluxe Resort level of Walt Disney World hotels. Also, maybe it’s something that, at least to a degree, comes with age–like a fine wine? I do think Caribbean Beach had a bit more charm before via the marketplace area. With that said, I’d take the new Old Port Royale without hesitation over the old one, so this does feel a bit like nitpicking.

Our other criticism is in the theme–or lack thereof–at Calypso Trading Post. It feels like you can pinpoint the exact place in the project where the budget ran out, and this is it. Joking aside, this is probably intentional, as Disney attempts to remove as much “friction” as possible to the shopping experience.

We’ve seen the same with other recent stores, and assume it’s a deliberate trend because someone thought it’d improve sales metrics, or for some reason other half-baked reason. Either way, we aren’t fans.

The exterior of Old Port Royale looks exceptional. This is something we had already seen and commented on, but it’s worth reiterating. There’s more depth and detail than before, and the new environments look great from across the water and blend-in perfectly with the rest of Caribbean Beach, despite being considerably nicer.

Given that other recent hotel expansion projects have not fared so well in terms of blending with existing environments, this is important to point out. It’s arguably one of the big, overlooked successes of the Centertown re-imagining project–it’s a seamless fit with the resort’s aesthetic, while offering a considerably more ‘posh’ guest experience inside.

In terms of functionality, the new area is also an unequivocal upgrade. Previously, Caribbean Beach’s lobby and check-in was located in Custom House, which was inexplicably distant and isolated from the resort’s main dining and shopping options.

The construction of Disney’s Riviera Resort, an upcoming Disney Vacation Club Resort, in between Custom House and Caribbean Beach’s other buildings, necessitated the removal of this check-in area.

While this change might’ve been born of necessity, Caribbean Beach is all the better for that. Old Port Royale is now the ‘port of entry’ to Caribbean Beach, consolidating the hotel’s three main food and beverage locations, shopping, the lobby, and other guest amenities all under one roof. More importantly, all in a centralized location.

The other ‘of necessity’ change induced by construction of Disney’s Riviera Resort is a slight consolidation of Caribbean Beach’s footprint. Half of Martinique and all of (old) Barbados were demolished to make way for the Riviera, which is arguably in the best interests of the guest experience.

The sprawling layout and size of Caribbean Beach Resort have, historically, been one of the most frequent guest complaints about it (at least that we’ve heard).

Personally, I love large resort grounds to explore, and that’s one of the reasons I originally fell in love with Caribbean Beach. However, I feel nearly alone in this sentiment and don’t mourn the lose of Martinique and Barbados as far as my morning walks go.

In addition to the footprint being smaller in a literal sense, it’s figuratively smaller to the extent that guests will now find themselves needing to walk less at Caribbean Beach. The Island Markets and Coke Freestyle machines added during the overhaul, which we expected to be temporary, have stayed.

This is a seemingly little thing that will make a big difference for those who like to fill their refillable mugs every morning. Spyglass Grill will also, obviously, be sticking around, and this is an unexpectedly strong dining option for those who have made the mistake of booking a Pirate Room.

Sebastian’s Bistro, Centertown Market, and Banana Cabana round out the new-look dining options at Caribbean Beach Resort. We thought the food at Caribbean Beach Resort was good before–some sleeper hits, if you will–but this is even better.

We’d go as far as calling Sebastian’s Bistro and Centertown Market ‘best in class’ restaurants. In actuality, that’s not as high of praise as you might think when considering that their class is Moderate Resort restaurants, but they’re still both very good with a balance of ambitious dishes and crowd-pleasing favorites. We’ve been very impressed with our meals there and will have full reviews of each very soon. (We have yet to do Banana Cabana, but it looks like a huge upgrade over its predecessor.)

The other main guest complaint about Caribbean Beach has been transportation. While this removes one frustrating component of that in no more having to ride an internal bus to get to and from Custom House, the larger piece of this puzzle will come in Fall 2019 when the Skyliner gondola comes online.

Guests will have two different Skyliner stations to choose from, making the rooms currently on the outer perimeter of the resort much more desirable. (It actually be interesting to see how Walt Disney World handles ‘preferred’ rooms then; an argument can be made that the current preferred rooms will lose a lot of their appeal when the Skyliner goes live.) Of course, that’s an in-the-future amenity that does not yet exist, so it’s a bit premature to include it in this review.

Overall, the Old Port Royale/Centertown re-imagining far exceeded our expectations. Caribbean Beach is one of my favorite resorts at Walt Disney World, and I was really worried about this, especially after seeing the genericization of other resorts during their refurbishments. Fortunately, what happened here was a clear upgrade both in form and function, and one that did not come at the expense of theme.

Some minor quibbles can be made with regard to the lobby’s charm and personality, but when you consider what they were working with, the resort tier, and the end result, we’d call this a grand-slam home run; it should be the template for future resort re-imaginings. The re-imagining of Caribbean Beach is so good that, honestly, it makes us slightly less apprehensive about–and more deferential towards–other hotel projects at Walt Disney World right now. And that’s saying a lot.

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!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Caribbean Beach’s re-imagining? Any quibbles with the new-look or theme? Thoughts on the restaurants? Do you agree or disagree with our review of the change? 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!

29 Responses to “Photos & Thoughts: Re-Imagined Caribbean Beach Resort”
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