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color our opinions here, but there is little denying that the previous incarnation of Old Port Royale felt woefully outdated.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.
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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!
Family and I are going in September. Very excited to b staying at the CBR. What a beautiful resort. By the looks of the resort, I’m sure you won’t hear much complaining from me. Looking forward to staying here.
I just stayed here for the first time, choosing it based on the steep discount offered as well as Tom’s positive reviews. Never again will I stay at CBR, choose my Disney resort based mainly on price, or trust Tom’s opinion. It was like staying at an All-Star resort but for higher prices.
The room was OK, but not as nice as French Quarter’s rooms. It was VERY loud. The construction is supposedly mostly over, and my room wasn’t even near Riviera or the gondola station, but I heard construction noise every morning. It was also messy looking everywhere, with mud and chainlink fences in every area I walked around. Lots of screaming children (and adults) near my door at all hours of the night and early morning, lots of doors slamming, and the paper thin walls made me feel like the screaming baby in the next room was in bed with me. Once the couple with the loud infant checked out, dozens of groups of preteen dancers and their obnoxious parents checked in (I thought these groups stayed at the All-Stars?!). They practiced their screaming cheers in the grassy courtyard areas starting at 6 am, and crowded walkways and the buses. Oh, THE BUSES. Even before the hoards of preteens showed up, the buses were the worst I ever experienced. We never got a seat and always waited 30 minutes or more. Waiting at the parks after closing, we’d see multiple buses pass for another resort before even one CBR bus showed up. And the CBR stop was always one of the most distant from every park’s entrance.
It was the opposite of a relaxing tropical oasis, and I didn’t enjoy going back there each night. It was honestly like a punishment to stay there, and I would recommend it to no one, even once the gondolas start running.
We just returned from a week stay at CBR. Overall it was pretty nice. Unfortunately, our room was in the last building in the Aruba section very far from Centertown. We received a message (around Dec 10) on our room voicemail that the two Island Markets were permanently closing the next day. Not a big deal to us. They didn’t really have much there and the one in Aruba wasn’t easy to locate. Just had some of the same offerings that the Centertown grab ‘n go had which we found to be pretty lame too. Snack credit options were limited to mostly pre-packaged goods or small bakery items. That was disappointing as on past trips at other resorts we would use snack credits for breakfasts. It is a big resort and I guess the reason for an internal resort shuttle bus, but something that seems to be rarely used by guests. The only time I figured to use it would be to take our luggage back over to the lobby for checkout, but found out luggage isn’t permitted on the bus. Weird. I didn’t mind the walking in general, but a 30 minute round trip to grab a cup of coffee was a bit inconvenient. Overall it has nice grounds and main pool, but inconvenient for the more remote buildings. Assuming the new DVC hotel amenities will be available to the regular CBR guests in the future, most of those issues would seemingly go away for Aruba.
We stayed here in Oct this year, right after it opened back up. It was Great! We loved everything, except one thing. I got food poisoning from breakfast one morning and spent the whole day we had slated for the Food and Wine festival. Missed the whole thing, not one lick of food for me. What got me was the eggs Benedict. It wasnt very good either. But the resort was Great. Pools were nice grounds were beautiful room was quite and clean.
“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.”—
Bravo! This is how I feel about recent changes to resort rooms in Beach Club & Coronado Springs! Generic and not much different from your average higher end chain hotel on any interstate exit. The New England, Turn of the Century, Beachside Resort theme of BC ends abruptly when you enter your room. I love that theming!!! Can I please sleep in the lobby? Maybe the interior designers thought “turn of the century” meant 1999-2000??
I know you’ll go into it further when you do the review of eating at Centertown, but I’m afraid that the line will be so long with only one ordering area. Also, I agree it was outdated before, however, I loved the old street market feel. I had expected them to do the same thing but only better, (like the Mexico Pavilion) so when I saw this new version I was really disappointed. It’s just another standard place to order food. The tree thingy looks cool, but the actual dining area is just a giant cafeteria. And maybe I’m wrong but there appears to be less food options than before. We will be staying here again in May, and though I’m a little disappointed, it’ll be 100% better than the fema tent we ate in last time…
We headed over to Centertown Market for a late dinner the night we arrived earlier this month, and the updated Port Royale space is really nice. I have a hard time understanding how anyone could ever complain about the refresh – it’s a clean, modern and sophisticated design. Port Orleans – you’re next! Our food at Centertown Market was just ok. One of our meals was quickly replaced after arriving cold, and as others have noted, the service seemed to have been finding its footing in the first month. I loved the enthusiastic staff who played the Plinko game with my 5 year old son though, and gave him a pirate’s patch as a prize. That’s the Disney Difference! As far as food advice, skip the fries and go for the plantain chips as a side for any dish. And for the spice-averse, skip the “cheesesteak” entirely – I took a bite of it and it’s not what anyone from the Northeast would ever consider even remotely passable (even knowing going in that its on cuban bread versus a traditional roll).
i THINK IT REALLY SUCKS. If I were going to the Caribbean it would be great, but I’m not I’m going to DISNEY. Where is the Disney in those photos. It sure looks like its all gone to me. They could have left the Disney in it and just made it more tasteful. It makes me so sad. My Granddaughters are going to be so disapointed. We might as well stay at the Hilton or something off Disney and then we would even get free parking. its pretty sad they make you pay a stupid amount to park at the hotel which should be free at any hotel, after all you already are paying the outragest price for the room. Now they get milloms and millons more off the same people and for what? To take all the Disney away?
I understand what you are saying. But there is still the option of Art of Animation and All Star Movies and even Pop Century as resort that come with heavy to moderate Disney theming (characters, etc). So if disney theming in the resort is important to your grandkids, maybe consider those.
Going back to the original ideas for “themed hotels” (Polynesian and Contemporary) one would note that they were not heavily “disney” themed. They were meant to do something Walt loved…. to take people to other places and time periods. He did this with the lands in Disneyland and with his TV shows. Poly was meant to continue the theme of Adventureland (the same could be said of the Caribbean Beach Resort) and Contemporary meant to continue the theme of Tomorrowland. One could say a stay at these themed resorts give children and adults the chance to “pretend” to be in a land or time different from everyday life (for most of us) and this gave Walt pleasure to do this for the public …. so in that sense, it could be said that they ARE “Walt Disney-themed”. In the many differing resorts of WDW, there is something for everyone!
This old lady, uhh I mean mature lady can’t wait to try this resort in a couple weeks! It sounds fantastic. My daughter and I have been to the wilderness cabins, loved them!!!!!, pop resort, loved it too, and most recently the port Orleans, so elegant, loved the river walk a lot, and the carriages clomping by. Food was delicious. Taking boats from wilderness and Orleans was convenient and enjoyable. I’m so excited to see the Christmas decorations. My other daughter and son in law are at Disney now with 9 of their children, 2 years to 16years, staying off property in a house if course. A trip of a lifetime!!!! Yes, we live Disney world!! Blessings to you.
The first photo is stunning!
And the first photo on https://www.disneytouristblog.com/caribbean-beach-construction-update-january-2019/ is absolutely stunning as well. Tom, Disney should thank you (preferably with food) for helping this resort look so awesome and inviting!
There has been no mention of the limited hours of the food court at CBR since the update. We were there just days after the re-opening this October, and were sad to find out that lunch was not served at the food court (which is right beside the pool). For families planning for a pool/resort day, it is a real inconvenience. They have coolers with pre-made salads and sandwiches, but that doesn’t appeal to everyone. Having a drink/snack spot in each “village” was a nice perk, though.
Lastly, the proximity between rooms and gondola posts can be strikingly close, so I’m curious to hear the noise that system generates and/or guest reactions.
Good news! Centertown Market now offers lunch. It was a bizarre negative not to offer it from the start, but Centertown Market is now open from 6:30 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. The lunch menu can be viewed on Disney’s main website or the My Disney Experience App.
I’m excited to read that check in has been moved from Custom House to Old Port Royale…this fact by itself may convince me to give this resort another try. We stayed at CBR last December and had such a horrible experience (including losing three hours one morning just traveling to/from Custom House then to parks) that I swore never to stay there again. But the bus transportation was so screwy that I probably will wait until after the Skyliner opens.
Tom, Thanks for your great review! Our family of 13 stayed at CBR in February, none of us were bothered by the construction going. The gift cards we received for “enduring” the (non) inconvenience was especially welcome as it covered all our gratuities for meals, souvenirs for the kids and a few Christmas gifts on Cyber Monday! I was SO glad to read that the Island Markets are staying, as we would have never walked to Centertown for drinks/refills and snacks each day. We were in the Island Market every morning and on the way to the pool each afternoon. They were the best part of the construction that never bothered us at all.
Loved the update about CBR.
We are from the UK, now in our 70s and it is our very favourite resort. Stayed there over 20 times in the past 25 years. Stayed at other including Sarotoga Springs but give us CBR any time.
We are returning in May for 2 weeks., That is because of the long flights. We spoilt our Grandaughter when she was 8 with CBR , she always said it was a happy place and 20 years later spent her honeymoon there. So I hope that is still a happy place. We were fortunate to have a guided tour last May because of our concerns and we faith in your reports and booked for May. We love it
We just stayed at CBR the week before Thanksgiving. We all enjoyed it very much, with not much to complain about. The only “problems” we had were with meals. They still seem to be working things out in that department. First meal, I received the wrong salad, and strangely all meals were plated since we were dining in, but mine was in a to-go box. Corrected salad was brought to our table in a to-go box?? Next morning, we received the wrong kids meals. It took extraordinarily long to receive the right entrees. (BTW, the kid meal with the jungle juice will probably not last long, because I don’t see any kid liking it. I juice & do green smoothies, and my kids like them, but this one is sour and a bit bitter. I like it though.) One morning, I used mobile ordering to see how it compared. It was only 6:45 & nobody was really there, so it wasn’t necessary, but I wanted to try it out. It was a big mistake. I ordered right when we arrived. My parents waited in line & ordered at the register (there were about 5 or 6 people ahead of them.) They received their food and finished breakfast while I was still waiting. There was absolutely no line & I still waited. The manager chatted with me as I waited. I explained that I had ordered before my parents & they were already done with their food (along with almost everyone else in the place) but my concern and aggravation didn’t seem to register with her. Frustrating because we lost our head start to the MK that morning. At Sebastian’s we waited a long time for the food. The manager had to come out to soothe some irritated customers, it was that long. On the plus side, the food is very fresh & good quality. Plantain & yucca chips are made fresh and are really good. My daughter can’t have gluten, rice or potatoes, so it was great to have those as an option. Went to Spyglass one day, since Centertown is closed for lunch & it was great. I love the new subdued Caribbean colors, but I wished they carried over to our rooms. Still felt dark, not light, airy & beach-y like I would like them to be. All the staff were very helpful and pleasant during our entire stay. This was our first stay at CBR, so I can’t make any comparisons, but we were happy with our stay & I would stay here again.
I’m right there with you on enjoying the larger resorts. Riverside and Caribbean have been my go-to for a while now. I like exploring/going on morning runs along the resorts. And a bit of a walk to get food or catch a bus doesn’t bother me much. However I can certainly see why those would be drawbacks to some.
We are going to WDW in March and staying on property for the 1st time. CBR made sense with a family of 5 with the child sized pulldown. I really appreciate you updating us on the renovation. I read them all and you are always so reassuring. Especially when I mention it to people who poo poo on it- it is the oldest, why would you want to be near the construction, etc etc. Thanks, Tom!
So does this mean that the construction and refurbishment at CBR is complete? I know the Riviera Hotel construction is still going on. But is CBR complete? And did rooms get refurbished also? Thanks so much
There’s also construction ongoing on both Skyliner stations, but those are on the perimeter of the resort (technically outside the current resort boundaries), so yeah, I’d say it’s done. The vibe now is definitely of a ‘finished’ resort.
Rooms had a huge refurbishment a few years ago, finishing just before this project started. They’ve since had larger televisions added (yay!) and bed runners removed (boo!), but other than that, no changes of which I can think. They didn’t really need anything else, though.
We have several room photos in our full Caribbean Beach Resort Review: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneys-caribbean-beach-resort-review/
Thanks Tom. You’re the best!
whats the construction where the temporary banana cabana was- next to the pool? the rolling plant barriers were up there when we were there last week.
What a timely update- thank you! We are there in 23 days for the Christmas holiday and it looks so amazing!
Caribbean Beach has always been my favorite resort. If I had to list my top three they would be:
1. Caribbean Beach
3. Wilderness Lodge
You can see what my personal theme is … outdoors, trees. I was never a fan of the Contemporary, Grand Floridian or Polynesian. The Epcot hotels are nice but give me tree covered walkways, themes and I’m in heaven. That’s why I too liked Caribbean Beach. It was spread out and a great place to walk. I just hope the new giant Riviera Resort doesn’t take away from Caribbean Beach.
I’ve heard rumors that the new gondola’s will not be air conditioned. I don’t know if this is true or not but can only imagine floating alone in July and melting! LOL.
I can’t wait to stay at the Caribbean Beach now next Thanksgiving!
If you read Tom’s previous post about Epcot, he actually addresses the A/C issue (or lack thereof). The issue seems to be overblown and most gondolas don’t have A/C’s even in more tropical environments.
When my son was younger, we were in boyscouts and our fall trip was always to Gatlinburg, TN. Each year, we would take the Skylift gondolas and all I can say is that they were quite stuffy inside… to the point that I remarked how glad I was that everyone seemed to be wearing deodorant that day… and that is at much cooler mountain temps than Florida.
I’m not a person who borrows trouble, so I say we will see once they’re running, if it’s an issue or not. Either way, I’m not worried about it. We’ve gone this long without gondolas and nobody is forcing anyone to use them if they don’t want to. Whatever happens with them, I’ve lost nothing and my life has not been altered in any way 😉
Elisa, I’ve been to Ober Gatlinburg several times, and you can’t compare the Disney skyliner system to that one. That lift has about 4x to 5x the capacity that these vehicles do. And, like you said, Ober stuffs people inside them like sardines for the trip during the busy season, which during the summer can get in the 90’s.
Maybe I’m just being overly hopeful, but of the things that concern me on Disney property (and there’s plenty), the gondolas aren’t one of them.