Polynesian v. Caribbean Beach Resort

Now that Caribbean Beach’s re-imagining is finished, we thought it’d be a good time to revisit this comparison of these two Walt Disney World hotels. It was an interesting comparison before, but following our Christmas 2018 visits, we think it’s an even closer call. (Last updated November 23, 2018.)

This post offers our head-to-head smackdown between the two to answer the question of whether Moderate-tier Caribbean Beach Resort is good enough, or if they should splurge on the Deluxe-tier Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. The verdict might shock you…or not.

Actually, a lot of Walt Disney World fans could be thinking that this is not a fair comparison. After all, if our Polynesian v. Grand Floridian post was any indication, the Poly is better than the flagship resort of Walt Disney World. However, we were already calling the rooms at Caribbean Beach “Poly-lite” and now that Caribbean Beach Resort’s re-imagining of its common areas and dining is complete, the resort makes a strong case…

What this post will seek to address is whether the gap in quality between the two resorts is enough to justify the giant chasm between the two in price. With that in mind, our first comparison here will be cost, with everything else following from there. While we won’t grade on a curve in the subsequent categories, you should mentally be doing that yourself, considering your own budget, how much time you’ll be spending at the resort, and other pertinent (to you) factors.

Now, it’s time to see whether Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort can pull off a Rudy against the heavy favorite…

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Cost: Caribbean Beach Resort – On average, Disney’s Polynesian Resort costs somewhere between double and triple what Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort costs. Even with discounts factored in, the Poly is still at least double the cost of Caribbean Beach every single night of the year. (In some cases, such as during Free Dining, Caribbean Beach is an even better value.)

This is the backdrop against which the rest of this comparison is set. Now, we’re not saying the Poly needs to be twice (or more) as good than Caribbean Beach to be the ultimate victor. As mentioned, we’re not grading everything else on a curve. The reason being is simple: 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. In other words, you might want to make a mental note of that huge price difference as you read the rest of this. Or, you might not…

Theme: Polynesian – Technically, we’re comparing Polynesia to the Caribbean, which are separated by vast expanses of ocean, but are nonetheless fairly similar to casual guests. Both “feel like the islands.” Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has some of the nicest grounds of any hotel at Walt Disney World, and is truly transportive. From the vegetation to the carved signs to the longhouses, theme here is really effective.

By contrast, Caribbean Beach Resort feels like a hotel masquerading as another place. The details and architecture are not as convincing, so it falls short of being a wholly immersive themed environment. That’s the downside. The upside is that it does a really good job capturing and conveying some of the essence of vacationing at a tropical resort. (The other downside, of late, has been all of the construction, which remains ongoing on the Skyliner and Riviera Resort.)

While it’s not as good from top-to-bottom, the grounds are lush and provide a relaxing morning walk, the new Centertown area is exceptional, from the interior of the new lobby to Centertown Market, Banana Cabana, and Sebastian’s Bistro. Even the outlying room buildings look a lot like Jamaica or Cayman when partially-obscured by palms or if you squint just right. There’s a ton to explore at Caribbean Beach, and I love wandering this resort late at night or in the early morning.

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Rooms: Polynesian – Although Caribbean Beach Resort’s redone rooms are shockingly nice, they still fall short of the Poly’s rooms by every objective measure. The Polynesian’s rooms are larger, showcase better attention to detail, have far better bathrooms, and do a good job of balancing theme and luxury.

Caribbean Beach Resort’s new rooms no longer make it feel like budget motel accommodations, and now feature a lot of nice details befitting of a higher caliber resort. That’s still not enough to elevate it to the same league as the Poly. Size is really the big thing, but there are definitely nicer finishings in the Poly’s rooms, too. If room size doesn’t matter to you, the two guest rooms are a lot closer in quality than you might expect.

Dining: Polynesian – As a Deluxe Resort, it should come as no surprise that the dining scene is solid at the Poly. Captain Cook’s is one of Walt Disney World’s better counter service restaurants, and the tandem of Kona Cafe and ‘Ohana are great casual table service options. With Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, the Poly has one of the best lounges at Walt Disney World.

With that said, this is not as much of a runaway victory as you might expect. The duo of new counter service dining options, Centertown Market and Spyglass Grill, is actually better than Captain Cook’s. Then there’s the new Sebastian’s Bistro table service restaurant, which has a menu far more ambitious than ‘Ohana or Kona Cafe. Add to that Banana Cabana, which is now arguably the best pool bar at any Walt Disney World resort, and you’ve got quite the formidable lineup.

However, it’s still really tough to measure up to the tandem of ‘Ohana and Kona Cafe. Even though the food is better at Sebastian’s, that’s just one restaurant, and few things compete with ‘Ohana in terms of fun. Same goes for Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. This one is way closer of a call than it should be, but we’re still giving the edge to the Poly.

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Pools: Polynesian – If there was one battle where Caribbean Beach Resort could’ve pulled off an upset without grading on a curve, it’s here. On our list of the Top 10 Pools at Walt Disney World, Fuentes del Morro Pool (aka “Pirate Pool) at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort ranked #3 and Lava Pool at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort ranked #2.

In those rankings, we gave a slight edge to the Poly because it’s totally new pool area has a slightly nicer and more diverse feature set, we could just as easily flip those rankings and call Caribbean Beach #2 because pirates. We were tempted to do exactly that for this post, but integrity won out over making this more competitive. We really do think the Poly presents the ever-so-slightly better option here–but keep in mind, the advantage is slight.

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Transportation: Polynesian – No contest. The Polynesian has some of the best transportation at Walt Disney World, with direct monorails to both Magic Kingdom and (if you take the peaceful walk to the TTC) Epcot. From Epcot, you can walk or take a bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (how we get to that park 95% of the time). This means you only need bus transportation to Animal Kingdom.

For us, this is the biggest difference between the resorts. Not the rooms, not the theme, dining, etc. Transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot from the Poly is not only easier, but there’s a certain cohesion to the experience. When gliding in the sky on monorail or taking a tranquil boat ride, it’s like a continuation of the in-park experience. I guess you could say it’s part of the magic.

That themed experience then continues at the resort–you never leave the so-called Disney bubble. By contrast, there is absolutely nothing magical about riding a bus. Beyond being inconvenient and a hassle, it’s a bit of a jolt back to reality that we’d prefer to avoid at Walt Disney World.

By contrast, Caribbean Beach requires bus transportation to every park, and thanks to the internal loop, it’s among the least-pleasant bus experience in all of Walt Disney World. To its credit, Caribbean Beach has improved its transportation experience by eliminating the Customs House for check-in and Disney’s Magical Experience departures, but that’s just a small part of the transportation experience.

Once the Disney Skyliner opens in Fall 2019, we’ll revisit this question once again. Those gondolas will transport Caribbean Beach Resort guests to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and should definitely further narrow the gap here.

Verdict: Polynesian – The Poly is one of Walt Disney World’s most iconic resorts, and it beats Caribbean Beach Resort in most regards. Still, the gap between the two has closed–and will continue to get closer as other improvements are made. The debut of the Skyliner and opening of the adjacent Disney’s Riviera Resort in Fall 2019 will both help.

This story of this battle should be viewed like that of Rocky. Even though Creed wins in the end, no one cares because Rocky put up such a valiant effort as the underdog. The story of Caribbean Beach Resort here is similar: it put up a commendable effort, and the Poly’s victories were not nearly as decisive as you might’ve expected.

On a personal note, if we were ‘forced’ to choose between paying rack rate at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, without question, we’d choose the latter. Every. Single. Time.

Even with normal discounts, the price difference is not proportionate to the quality difference for us. We can have a perfectly nice time at Caribbean Beach Resort, and know how to leverage its amenities. Plus, traveling without kids negates the size difference between the rooms and we routinely resort-hop for table service dinner, anyway. The biggest downside for us is location and transportation, but it’s not enough to overcome that glaring price difference. (Again, for us.) We do use DVC points to stay at the Poly, but I can’t imagine ever paying out of pocket to stay there again. We’re just too frugal.

That’s just us, though and your mileage may vary on the question of value for money. That’s really what we’re most curious as to what everyone else thinks with this one. Obviously, in a strict question of which is best, the Poly wins. However, when you factor in cost, which is the relative champion for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and also this poll:

(Note: Keep in mind that the results of this poll pre-date Caribbean Beach Resort’s re-imagining. If we ran the same poll today, and again once the Skyliner debuts, we’d expect very different results.)

When comparing any two resorts, other factors will obviously come into play. Important amenities, location, recreation, and other variables are going to matter and weigh differently for different parties. 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 Polynesian Village Resort Review. With that said, what do you think…did we choose the correct hotel here?

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

We’d really love to hear your rationale for your pick in the comments. I think other readers would like to hear too, so please make your case in the comments. Deciding whether Caribbean Beach Resort is “good enough” or if it’s “worth it” to splurge for the Poly is a tough decision, and multiple perspectives beyond ours will help others when making that big (expensive!) decision. 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!


66 Responses to “Polynesian v. Caribbean Beach Resort”
  1. Michael Thaddeus Doyle December 30, 2018
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