When it comes to “best places to go for a walk at Walt Disney World,” Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter rank highly. In terms of hotels, they’re right behind the Magic Kingdom and Crescent Lake Resort Areas, but ahead of Barefoot Bay, Disney Springs, plus the Saratoga & Old Key West Area.
To their credit, the Port Orleans Resorts have horse-drawn carriages, Mickey beignets, and beloved nighttime entertainment. They’re also just underrated settings with spectacular atmosphere. While so much has changed at Walt Disney World in the last 5 years and is slated to change in the next 5, not much is different at Port Orleans as compared to a decade ago. Sometimes the best things at Walt Disney World are the constants.
Wanting to take my own stroll down memory lane, I was recently going through photos from our last stay at Port Orleans Riverside. These included a lot of sunrise, sunset, and nighttime photography–I thought maybe it’d be worth editing some shots and doing an peaceful photo post from these resorts (mostly Riverside) with my random thoughts mixed in along the way…
When it comes to choosing between these hotels, or any of the Moderate Resorts for that matter, we have a really difficult time. The easy answer is “not Coronado Springs.” After that, it’s really difficult. The last couple of years, it’s also been a bit easier due to construction at Caribbean Beach, which is otherwise one of my favorites.
When comparing Riverside and French Quarter, it depends upon whether you want a sprawling resort to explore or something compact with only one bus stop. For a while, we went with a “best of both worlds” approach, staying at Port Orleans French Quarter so we’d be close to the bus stop when we were in a hurry, and able to walk over to Riverside when we wanted to slow down.
Our most recent stay at Port Orleans Riverside reminded us of how nice it is to actually be there. It’s truly a setting like no other, and the last sprawling unspoiled Moderate Resort.
As regular readers know, we love Caribbean Beach. In the last couple of years, we’ve paid it disproportionate attention due to the developments there, which have enhanced its convenience. There’s no denying that the Skyliner is a huge advantage, as are the amenities and dining offered by Disney’s Riviera Resort.
In terms of places to be, none of the Moderate Resorts hold a candle to the Port Orleans Resorts. Arguably, no other resort at any tier does, period.
While almost every other hotel at Walt Disney World has had Disney Vacation Club or some other ill-advised expansion shoehorned in, Port Orleans remains true to its original design. If anything, it has aged like a fine wine, with trees maturing and wildlife returning as the resort has aged.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Alligator Bayou section.
This area is akin to if Fort Wilderness had clusters of guest rooms, and is very taste-specific. Thematically, it’s a gem–perfectly secluded and feeling a lot like a bayou (that probably is home to some real alligators).
We love both Fort Wilderness and Alligator Bayou, but prefer simply walking through the latter while staying in Magnolia Bend.
The buildings look nicer, the grounds are meticulously manicured, and the rooms themselves are more to our tastes.
There are also a lot of unique details and flourishes around each building.
Moderate Resorts already have a bit too much of a motel vibe, and the mansion theme helps balance that out. At least, in our view.
One of the most popular room types in Magnolia Bend is the Royal Guest Rooms, which have princess-inspired decorations.
In recent years, the layout and style of the Port Orleans Resorts, with a central lobby and amenities area surrounded by outlying clusters of guest buildings, has fallen out of favor among Walt Disney World guests.
Instead, self-contained towers–like what you’d find in a major city–are all the rage.
Caribbean Beach Resort saw some of its buildings replaced by the towers of Disney’s Riviera Resort by Coronado Springs was likewise ‘supplemented’ by Gran Destino Tower last year.
We’ve long been proponents of the cluster approach. A sprawling resort like Port Orleans is much more unique, and one of the upsides of Walt Disney World’s “blessing of size.”
Convenience-wise, it’s easy to understand the complaints.
Navigating the sprawling resorts to use the amenities or eat can be a hassle, especially with small children. Transportation is also more time-consuming, especially at resorts with internal loops or multiple bus stops.
On a go-go-go Walt Disney World vacation, this can become frustrating.
We usually favor slowing down and savoring the resort experience–but we also have the luxury of visiting more often and not feeling so rushed.
Regardless of the past pros and cons, we anticipate a resurgence in the popularity of sprawling resorts.
Going forward, there’s definitely something to be said for exterior hallways, wide open-air pathways, and not needing to use an elevator to get anywhere.
Obviously, these are all minor things in the big picture, but every bit of mitigation will help, or at least be valued by some guests.
We have no Walt Disney World hotel stays booked, but we’d definitely be picking the space and open air of Port Orleans over the convenience of Gran Destino Tower in the next couple of years.
This particular stay, however, was at a more carefree time when none of that was encumbering our experience.
We chose Port Orleans Riverside simply to savor the serenity of the experience.
And savor we did!
After a late evening spent photographing an empty Port Orleans Riverside, I left our room super early the next morning for sunrise.
Rounding the corner here, I was struck by the steam fog glowing pink as it was illuminated by the morning light.
The photo doesn’t do the scene justice, but it was the epitome of Port Orleans Riverside’s tranquility. I almost felt disappointed about not seeing another guest for ~15 minutes while lingering around this area as it was unfortunate no one else got to enjoy this.
Recreation is one of the many highlights of Port Orleans, including surrey bike rentals and the marina (among many other things).
Our favorite thing is simply taking a ferry boat down the mighty Sassagoula River to French Quarter or Disney Springs.
If French Quarter is our destination, we typically just take the pathway–it’s about a 10 minute walk, lobby to lobby.
This is one of the nicest and unheralded jogging trails at Walt Disney World. Including both resorts, it’s a beautiful 1.7 mile trail.
About 75% of my Port Orleans French Quarter photos feature this alligator band.
Another 20% are of the Doubloon Lagoon feature pool:
Substantively, Doubloon Lagoon is not one of my favorite pools at Walt Disney World.
Ol’ Man Island over at Riverside is generally better suited to our pool purposes, but it’s also blander. Even though I don’t generally use pool slides, I appreciate the larger-than-life, over-the-top style of Doubloon Lagoon. It has more eye candy and feels more distinctly Disney, if that makes any sense.
All in all, Port Orleans Riverside is a romantic and charming place for a peaceful promenade, and strolling through the serene scenery here feels worlds away from Walt Disney World in many spots. Hopefully this was a fun and relaxing post that helped illustrate why we love Port Orleans so much.
Which of the Port Orleans Resorts do you prefer, Riverside or French Quarter? Do you appreciate the romanticism and serenity of a stroll along the Sassagoula? More of a rustic Alligator Bayou person or Magnolia Bend mansion-dweller? Are you more likely to stay at one of these sprawling resorts in the future? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!