Port Orleans Riverside is a Moderate Resort at Walt Disney World. This hotel review covers its pros & cons, room photos, info on amenities, a stroll around the grounds, and more. We will also cover basics, including our take on it, and who might enjoy it best. (Updated October 14, 2021.)
As Walt Disney World’s phased reopening continues, Port Orleans Riverside is now open! This belated return makes it the third Moderate Resort to return, leaving Port Orleans French Quarter as the only Moderate left on the closed list. In total, there are now only a few hotels that remain closed—see Walt Disney World 2021 Resort Reopening Dates for more info.
Given that Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside returns after Walt Disney World has relaxed most health safety protocol, there aren’t many noteworthy “asterisks” about its return. The Sassagoula River Cruise, pools, buses, and more are now operating as normal. Additionally, most shopping, dining, and recreation are available.
Let’s start with a list of what’s open or available at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside as of its reopening day…
Riverside Mill Food Court
Fulton’s General Store
Notably, Boatwright’s Dining Hall–the only table service restaurant between the two Port Orleans Resorts–will not reopen immediately. In checking website dates, it doesn’t appear to be returning even once Port Orleans French Quarter returns.
Our expectation is that Boatwright’s Dining Hall will return by the Christmas season, once both sides of the sister resort are open, demand picks up, and more staffing shortage issues are smoothed out. While we view Boatwright’s as something of a hidden gem (see below), it’s also one of the less popular table service restaurants.
On a positive note, Yehaa Bob Jackson will be performing again at River Roost Lounge. Per Yehaa Bob, he will return for opening night and perform his regular hours with limited exceptions.
Expect his show to be slightly modified to minimize sing-alongs and other “frowned upon” social activities, but we’ve already seen other ‘modified’ venues at Walt Disney World gradually relax that.
Riverside is divided into Alligator Bayou (bayou) and Magnolia Bend (mansions), which assists it in offering more thematic variety. In addition to these two different styles, each building within the sections uses different materials based upon its location on the river.
The backstory is interesting and engaging (and is executed cleverly throughout the resort), and the quiet pathways that litter Riverside make it a great place to take a romantic stroll. The grounds are absolutely stunning, with rich wilderness in the bayou and perfectly manicured gardens around the mansions.
This variety of theming is really quite impressive and is pulled off remarkably well. The mansions of Magnolia Bend are surrounded by large, perfectly manicured lawns and beautiful gardens, which provide a stark contrast to the untamed wilderness and seemingly uncontrolled growth in Alligator bayou.
In Alligator Bayou you feel you’d be at home floating down the river in a rickety boat hunting for crawdads. In Magnolia Bend, you might be better suited donning your dress seersucker, putting on a bow-tie, and drinking some mint juleps.
Let’s take a detailed look at why we enjoy Port Orleans Riverside so much…
Due to Riverside’s sprawling layout, the aforementioned differing styles of Magnolia Bend and Alligator Bayou don’t visually clash with one another. However, this layout may be perceived as a negative by some guests who aren’t fans of walking or internal transportation.
We don’t mind either, and find the transportation to be more than adequate. We found that the larger layout offers more to explore and a larger area to wander for romantic nighttime strolls (or carriage or bike rides if that’s your thing). With that said, Port Orleans Riverside is now one of the few Walt Disney World resorts that requires bus transportation for getting to all parks–that’s a definite downside for many guests.
In some ways, the Port Orleans Resorts feel like something out of a bygone era. This is deliberate in terms of their design and overgrown landscaping, which imbues the two hotels with a sense of tranquility.
It’s also the unintentional result of development elsewhere at Walt Disney World. Every other Moderate Resort has been significantly overhauled in the last few years, adding Disney Vacation Club wings, tower hotels, and/or the Disney Skyliner gondolas. Not Port Orleans. For better or worse, it’s largely the same hotel complex it was in the early 1990s.
From our perspective, it’s mostly for the better. Most other hotels are more modern, and with that comes a certain hustle and bustle. While the Skyliner and other modern amenities are great, there’s a certain sense of relaxation and charm you won’t find many other places around Walt Disney World (save for Fort Wilderness). As with so many things, there are tradeoffs.
The area around the main lobby ties all of this theming together perfectly with its steamship theming, providing an excellent transition between the bayou and the mansions. In addition to the variety of boat and bike rentals available outside, inside there are a number of dining and shopping options.
Boatwright’s Dining Hall is the table service restaurant at Riverside, and it is themed as a Southern, shipyard warehouse, complete with tools lining the walls and a large wooden hull of a fishing boat suspended from the ceiling.
Riverside Mill Food Court (read our review of the food court) and River Roost Lounge are the other two dining options at Port Orleans Riverside. The food court is themed as a riverside mill…I’ll bet you would have never guessed that based on its name!
The theme here is carried out excellently–it probably has the coolest theming of any food court at Walt Disney World. The menu is also fairly diverse at Riverside Mill, with plenty of options for guests.
Riverside has several pools, with the main pool being located on ‘Ol Man Island in the middle of the resort, where the playground is also located. I wouldn’t necessarily call the pool disappointing, but it’s probably our least favorite pool at any Moderate Resort. The complex is nice and large, and the pool is nice, but the theming leaves something to be desired.
It’s difficult to say what could have been done better with the theming, but I far prefer the approach taken by Port Orleans French Quarter, which combines uses fun gators and a serpentine to overcome what otherwise might be “bland” Louisiana theming for its pool. This is a relatively minor complaint at what is otherwise the best-themed Moderate Resort at Walt Disney World.
As far as rooms go, Port Orleans again shines. Above is what the regular guest rooms in Magnolia Bend (the “mansions”) currently look like.
In addition to these standard rooms, the Royal Rooms are also located in Magnolia Bend.
Port Orleans Riverside received a ‘soft goods’ update to these rooms recently that refreshed some of the furnishings and revised the style (removing the comforters, among other things).
There were complaints prior to the refurbishment that the rooms felt dated. That is not the case anymore, but the style is definitely old-fashioned–from an intentional thematic perspective.
The other section of Port Orleans Riverside is Alligator Bayou. Those rooms feel slightly more rustic, but their biggest upside is that they have removed the dresser and replaced it with a fold-down Murphy bed that enables the Alligator Bayou rooms to sleep 5 adults.
For the most part, the bathrooms are similar to how they looked prior to the refurbishment. I believe the mirrors and maybe the light fixtures were swapped out.
These rooms are the same style (albeit with thematic differences) as those covered in our updated Caribbean Beach Resort Review. We personally prefer the rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort, but the theme and overall atmosphere, we think, is better at Port Orleans.
In terms of amenities, Port Orleans Riverside’s rooms feel modern and clean, with a sufficient number of details and subtle charm to make them distinctly “Disney.” These details are more on the subtle side, rather than overt imagery of Mickey and various other characters.
With that said, if you are traveling with small children, this might not be for you. We view Port Orleans as a more romantic option; this is not to say it isn’t for kids (I loved our stays here as a kid), but it’s not our top pick if you’re primarily interested in kid appeal. You might want to instead consider a different resort or one of the above-mention Royal Guest Rooms for that.
Although the Port Orleans Riverside Royal Guest Rooms are beyond the scope of this review (again, read our separate Royal Rooms at Port Orleans Riverside Review for more on them), above is a peak at the inside of them. They are great rooms for families with kids and would make a great compromise for families looking for an incredibly well-themed Moderate Resort that also has a liberal helping of classic Disney theming.
The Royal Guest Rooms are brought to life by Disney Characters, and special “royal” touches like custom drapes and linens and ornately decorated beds. The headboards on these beds glitter with fiber optic “fireworks” lights. There is a nightly upcharge for these rooms, but the theming likely appeals more to kids than most Deluxes, and the rooms are cheaper, too!
Riverside is also conveniently located just a 10 minute walk from Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter (we also have a separate Port Orleans French Quarter Review where you can see its rooms and hear our thoughts on that hotel’s amenities, etc.), where guests can find a cooler pool and food court. French Quarter doesn’t have its own table service restaurant, but it’s still worth a visit to the (smaller and more centralized) grounds to see the New Orleans theming.
There are also boat rides available from both resorts to Disney Springs, and bus transportation to the parks. The boat ride on the Sassagoula is nice and relaxing, and having dinner at Disney Springs is a great way to conclude a day outside of the parks (or your arrival night).
Overall, Port Orleans Riverside is the perfect resort for guests looking for exquisite theming without breaking the bank. The theming is definitely Deluxe quality in many regards, although I wouldn’t put it above any Deluxe Resort in terms of overall quality. Families looking for distinctly Disney (character) theming may not find quite so much to love in Riverside unless they stay in the Royal Guest Rooms, but couples looking for a romantic resort-hotel should definitely give Riverside a look.
However, the big upside of that tranquility and romantic atmosphere also is the big downside. The Port Orleans Resorts accomplish that sense of isolation and serenity by not having the same degree of development or proximity to the parks. There’s no Skyliner, monorail, or non-bus transportation to the parks here. The grounds are sprawling, which can mean a lot of walking. There’s no flagship restaurant, character dining, or anything else that makes Port Orleans Riverside a big draw for non-resort guests. Whether or not it’s for you is a personal matter–if you want a relaxed vacation, it’s great. If you’re looking for convenience and ease of accessing the parks and popular dining, perhaps not.
How do you feel about Port Orleans Riverside? Does its lack of unique transportation to the parks, character dining, or other ‘big’ draws make it less appealing to you? Or, do you find Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside to be among the best of the Moderate Resorts thanks to its tranquility and atmosphere? Do you dislike Riverside?! Any other opinions or questions about staying at Port Orleans Riverside? We love hearing from readers, so please share your thoughts in the comments!