Now that Caribbean Beach’s re-imagining is finished and the Skyliner is open, we thought it’d be a good time to revisit this comparison of Walt Disney World’s tropical-themed hotels. It may seem like a ridiculous resort face-off, but thanks to improved transportation, dining, and amenities, it’s a really close call. (Updated December 8, 2019.)
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…
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 & Atmosphere: 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. Moreover, due to the way the Skyliner and Riviera were constructed, it doesn’t have the same serene atmosphere that it once had, and simply doesn’t compete with the Poly in terms of ambiance.
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.
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. We’ll revisit this once Disney’s Riviera Resort opens, as that sister property to Caribbean Beach will bring with it a slew of dining options of all varieties, and it could be what Caribbean Beach needs to claim victory here.
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.
Transportation: Tie – You might be wondering: how can this be a tie? 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. This means you have easy non-bus transportation to two theme parks.
However, now that the Disney Skyliner is open, Caribbean Beach offers something similar to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Due to having the hub Skyliner station and a second station, Caribbean Beach has direct access to both parks, with less overall transit time than the monorails from the Poly.
Granted, Magic Kingdom is the flagship park at Walt Disney World, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the big ‘up-and-coming’ park thanks to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Then there’s bus transportation, which leaves something to be desired at both resorts. Caribbean Beach has an internal bus loop, and while that’s not as bad as it used to be, it’s still not ideal. Similarly, the Polynesian frequently shares buses with Grand Floridian, so it’s no faster than Caribbean Beach. Truly, this is a toss-up.
Verdict: It Depends – The Poly is one of Walt Disney World’s most iconic resorts, and it beats Caribbean Beach Resort handily in overall quality. Still, the gap between the two has closed considerably in terms of rooms, amenities, dining, and transportation. The resort’s reimagining and Disney Skyliner gondolas have been instrumental in turning Caribbean Beach into a resort with near-Deluxe offerings.
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.
To the contrary, the most decisive victory of all here is Caribbean Beach on the pricing front. It wins that one by a wide margin, and is the main reason this is now a toss up. With that said, if money is no issue to you, choose the Polynesian–it’s the objectively better of the two resorts when price is taken out of the equation. Not by a huge margin, but by a big enough one to make that our recommendation.
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, a really strong argument can be made for Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.
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.
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!
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!