Polynesian v. Caribbean Beach Resort
Caribbean Beach and the Polynesian are Walt Disney World’s tropical-themed hotels, and both have received reimaginings and added amenities in the last few years. It may seem like a ridiculous resort face-off, but thanks to improved transportation and dining, it’s a surprisingly close call. (Updated April 24, 2022.)
Essentially, this post head-to-head smackdown answers whether Moderate-tier Caribbean Beach Resort is good enough, or if they should splurge on the Deluxe-tier Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. In other words, the comparison not being incredibly lopsided depends heavily on pricing, since Caribbean Beach is much less expensive. When taking into account the cost differential, the verdict might shock you…or not.
Setting aside the price, this one is absolutely no contest. 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 almost 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, 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 – Caribbean Beach Resort’s redone rooms are nice, and are why we dubbed the resort “Poly-lite” in the first place a few years ago. These rooms don’t look like budget motel accommodations, and feature a lot of details. Thematically, Caribbean Beach Resort has the best rooms of any Moderate.
However, the rooms at Caribbean Beach are starting to show their age both stylistically and in terms of wear and tear. These were among the earliest of Walt Disney World’s “new” rooms, and they’re darker and drearier than more recent counterparts. They also lack the functional improvements and space-saving design features that have been incorporated into newer remodels.
One such remodel is the “Moana Makeover” at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. (See our Review, Photos & Video: New Moana Rooms at Polynesian Village Resort for a tour and thoughts on the changes from our most recent hotel stay.) The room is packed with custom-made fixtures, furnishings, and Moana decor. The furniture is heavy and substantial, feeling high quality and durable. These little upgrades imbue the room with a greater sense of luxury, and the Moana styling provides fun Disney touches.
Size is really the big thing, as the Poly’s rooms are significantly larger than those at Caribbean Beach. This can be critically important for families, as trying to fit 4 people into a Moderate Resort room isn’t always easy or comfortable. The larger rooms of the Poly give adults and kids more space to spread out, and the addition of the balcony for some separate outdoor space also is huge.
If room size doesn’t matter to you, the two guest rooms are a lot closer in quality than you might expect–but the Poly still has a good edge. Overall, 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.
Dining: Toss Up – 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 counter service dining options, Centertown Market and Spyglass Grill, is actually better than Captain Cook’s. Then there’s Sebastian’s Bistro’s new family-style meal that is the best dinner deal in all of Walt Disney World. (I’d take that over ‘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.
If we added the dining slate at Disney’s Riviera Resort, which is a short walk from Caribbean Beach, that would easily tip the scales in favor of the Moderate Resort. Topolino’s Terrace has a ton of range, with a great character breakfast and romantic dinner. On top of that, Riviera has a solid slate of counter service, lounge, and snack options. However, if we include Riviera then we’d also probably have to include Grand Floridian since it’s likewise walkable from the Poly.
This dining comparison is way closer of a call than it should be, and we’re going to call it a toss up. Even though the restaurants are “less iconic” at Caribbean Beach, they’re higher quality. Trader Sam’s is great, but it’s also a bit of a hassle. Personally, if I could only dine at one resort or the other, I’d pick Caribbean Beach. A first-timer might be better suited by the Poly’s restaurants, though.
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. Being able to (easily) get to DHS before Early Entry starts is huge, and makes doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance with minimal wait much easier.
Likewise, the Skyliner gondola station drops Caribbean Beach Resort guests off at the International Gateway entrance to Epcot, which makes it easier to knock out both Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Frozen Ever After during Early Entry. The equation will change a bit with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind being at the front of the park, but there’s still a lot to be said for aerial access to Epcot and DHS.
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, know how to leverage its amenities, and prefer the Skyliner to the monorail.
Plus, traveling without kids negates the size difference between the rooms and we routinely resort-hop for table service dinner, anyway. For us, most of the downsides of Caribbean Beach are negligible, and definitely not enough to overcome that glaring price difference. (Again, for us.) We do use DVC points to stay at the Poly, but it’s just really hard to justify paying rack rates and it’s pretty rare for decent discounts at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
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!
One nice thing about special transportation for both of these hotels is that the monorail and the Skyliner link other resorts directly and give you the opportunity to visit others, especially the restaurants. If Regional Sister Resorts was a separate category, I’d probably give it to the Caribbean Resort for sheer number of locations the Skyliner takes you, including Crescent Lake. (To be fair, the Polynesian has to be the resort I’d most like to go to on the monorail line, so maybe it’s more of a push.)
The balcony is everything to me. I love going out late at night or early in the morning while everyone else sleeps. I can’t stay at a mod simply for that reason. And the rattling stand alone air conditions at the mods…
Good article. We took your advice from previous article about staying cheaper and adding genie so our family of 5 is staying 9 nights CBR at end of August. We added more nights and will add Genie+ and will purchase some Lightning lanes vs staying at more expensive hotel without them. Plus we get to go longer!
I’m a bit surprised one element was not mentioned: Do both feature queen beds? I place a special value on that sleeping space.
All of the Moderate and Deluxe resorts have had queen beds in the standard rooms for quite some time. At some point more recently, the Value resorts did too. (Beware the non-Disney Dolphin! While the Swan and Swan Reserve have queen beds standard, the Dolphin still has two double beds in its standard rooms.)
Thanks for the update. I resist any hotel room that does not have queen beds but instead only double beds. To me that was the most important differentiation that kept me from trying some hotels for their other amenities.
Great and fair comparison, enjoyed the article. Our family of 4 has over 50 stays and we use to mainly stay at the Deluxes with Grand Floridian being our favorite. But over the years the cost difference between deluxe and mods and lack of benefits has made it a very very easy decision to choose a mod over deluxe. The additional amenities like balcony, indoor hallways, and we think that location is over rated for the cost difference and based on time you actually save and none of these any big deal for our family to spend sooooo much more. Heck, our last 2 trips my family has actually picked Pop over a Mod The bottom line is that we have had a great time at the resort that we’re staying at no matter what level. Now if they gave the Deluxes extra night hours every day, then that would be a BIG draw to stay there. But as long as people are willing to pay big bucks to stay there now, why would WDW add anything.
We stayed at the Poly for our first few trips to WDW in the mid 2000s. We loved it, but with the changes that have been made to the resort and the increase in price I can’t see myself ever staying then again. I might pay today’s prices for the old Poly, but I hate all of the changes made to it, except Trader Sam’s. And now with the new hideous DVC planned, I think I might cry if stopped in at Trader Sam’s. I miss the old Poly.
“We do use DVC points to stay at Poly” was what what stuck out at me in the price comparison. I realized how dependent we were on really good room discounts when Disney stopped offering them regularly. Before I had DVC (bought in 2021 when the pandemic discounts started drying up), I remember just a few years ago paying around $450 a night for a cash room at Poly after discounts. Now that same room would cost me twice as much. I think it has gotten to the point where buying or renting DVC points is the only way we as a middle class family can afford a hotel like Poly, especially after you factor in other increased costs like genie+ and dining price hikes. Price is not just the elephant in the room, it’s the blue whale in the room (or maybe godzilla is more apt).
In a lot of ways, the most important subjective aspect isn’t price, but it’s subjective location preference. Lot of families want to be close to Magic Kingdom, they may be planning 50%+ of their park time at MK. But likewise, plenty of vacationers may plan more time at DHS and Epcot. (lots of Epcot festival lovers out there). For those with a DHS/EPCOT preference, Caribbean Beach may be the better choice even aside from the price differences.
But I will say — For a family, the significantly larger rooms at deluxe resorts are a pretty important pro. (though obviously plenty of families squeeze into the value resort rooms, more space is definitely nice if you can afford it)
@Tom – I hope you’ll consider updating the dining category soon now that Riviera has ben open for awhile and you’ve had a chance to check out its food offerings.
Thank you for all of the information you put into this blog – it has been so helpful in my planning. I was wondering if it is possible to get from the Caribbean Beach resort to the Polynesian resort. I am going to be staying at Caribbean Beach but would like to check out the Polynesian on my park free day.
Jessica Shippee Hartman
Yes, but it’s not necessarily simple. You’ll have to use Disney transportation indirectly if you don’t have a rental car, or book an Advance Dining Reservation at the Polynesian if you do have a car.
Yes! You will just have to transfer at one of the parks. Personally I would take the skyliner to HS then get on a bus headed for Poly! You could also take the bus to MK then hop on the monorail or take the ferry to the TTC and walk over
Do you have any photos of the inside of the old lobby?
Everytime I am in the Poly I feel like I’m in the most crowded theme park resort on earth. There are so many people walking around at all times, and the majority of them are not staying at the resort. I also feel like the resort is small compared to others. If I were rich as hell I would pick somewhere more secluded at WDW.
I still miss the amazing waterfall in the lobby of the Poly.
Last year, we stayed at the Beach Club and the CBR, prior to the end of construction, and were surprised at how well the CBR’s rooms compared to the Beach Club’s. Beach Club won on everything else, no surprise, but even then, it held it’s own against a deluxe. One thing to take note of: Beach Club rooms are in many cases going to be in closer walking distance to the Skyliner station at the International Gateway than many rooms at the CBR are to either of the 2 stations at the CBR.
That the Poly wins is obvious on a pure quality standard: It has bigger rooms than the CBR or even Beach Club. The volcano pool is great, although the Pirate Pool is also sweet at the CBR (with both of them holding Stormalong Bay’s beer while it shows them how to really up their game).
However, this article forgets to mention an important X-factor. There is pineapple Dole Whip at the Poly. Game. Set. Match.
Seriously, however, the Poly wins. But this article makes a great point: You get a lot of bang for your buck at the CBR, more so than at the Poly. So, Poly-lite is a great description, as I love the atmosphere at the CBR, which is it’s own island vibe, compared tot he Poly, which has it’s own great island vibe.
However, the Poly has far more intangibles than are listed here. It’s nice that Tom’s going to reconsider this when it comes to Riviera and its resources open soon. However, if you’re going to do that, then you have to also consider the resources of the other monorail resorts and the MK when it comes to dining. Heck, it’s also a boat ride away from the Wilderness Lodge and dining there.
Speaking of boat rides, a resource not mentioned: Marinas. Both the Poly and CBR have marinas for those who want to have fun in a searaycer, or a larger boat. Here, the Poly wins hands down. You get Seven Seas Lagoon AND Bay Lake, and either beats the pants off of Barefoot Bay’s possibilities.
Also, there’s the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Poly, another intangible.
My family loves the Poly. It’s so immersive and beautiful, very relaxing. It’s one of the only resorts that I ever feel is worth the ‘resort day’ option at WDW. The lava pool and Captain Cooks for lunch is great, not to mention watching HEA from the pool with the music pipped in. That said, after several years of annual visits, we decided to switch. Why? Two reasons. First, there was an added bag check on the monorail. We had to do bag check at the Poly, then again at MK. That took a lot of the convenience away for us. Second: Price. It’s was hard to justify our annual 9 day vacation there, even with a discount. We switched to Beach Club and even though it’s definitely lower quality in every way except for the pool, it’s nice enough for us. Walking to Epcot and HS is fantastic and EASY. That said, I do still miss the Poly!
Totally agree. I love Poly and it’s my favorite for a number of reasons, but end of day I think CBR is a much better value and is as beautiful and immersive, if not moreso. Sadly, the Poly’s landscaping has been pared back quite a bit in the last several years, and some of the grassy areas in the “courtyards” closer to the TTC were just big grassy expanses anyway. When we stayed at CBR in early 2017 I, too, noticed the room similarities to the regular Poly rooms and decided it was a solid substitute. Poly DVC studios are a different story as there’s nothing else like them on property.
Every photo of the Poly that I’ve ever seen online makes it seem so much larger than it really feels when you’re there in person. I don’t get these “grounds “that people talk about so often. It is such a compact resort, with the longhouses shockingly close together, and most of the “grounds” nothing more than walkways wedged between the longhouses, separated from being able to see directly into the nearly immediately adjacent first floor guestrooms by shrubbery. The same goes for the pool area which is surprisingly small in person, and similarly wedged. The only really open spaces are the beach areas, and they’re at the far edge of the resort and away from everything else to do. Everything else sits shoulder to shoulder. And it’s the same vibe inside the Great Ceremonial House, too. Surprisingly cramped spaces wedged in surrounding a lobby that has had its best feature is removed. Worst of all, there’s no forgetting you’re essentially back-to-back with the madness of the TTC. Not transportive at all. I may be in the minority, but I tend to think of the Poly as well Disney world’s most over-rated moderate, definitely not it’s best deluxe. I’ll take the actual extensive grounds and roominess of the likes of CSR or CBR every time.
Poly is my favorite WDW resort. I have been fortunate enough to stay their through my DVC contracts. Otherwise, I doubt I could justify paying full expensive price to stay at Poly.