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.
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!