Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside are sister Moderate Resort hotels at Walt Disney World that we recommend to anyone who loves themed environments. So…which is the better option for your WDW vacation? This post offers our head-to-head smackdown. (Updated December 31, 2019.)
First, we have to admit that there’s no one-size-fits all answer to that question. This post is not trying to reach a definitive conclusion (although we will) as much as weigh the pros and cons of each Port Orleans Resort so that you can decide for yourself. Notwithstanding theme, we think Riverside and French Quarter each have a lot to offer.
This post will seek to address is whether you should choose Port Orleans French Quarter, or if Riverside is the better choice for your family. With that in mind, we’ll compare theme, cost, dining, pools, and other amenities to help you determine which is right for you…
The upside to this is that both Port Orleans Resorts retain their charm and thematic integrity. The downside is that Gran Destino and Riviera Resort brought with them exceptional new dining and other amenities. Both Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs are now arguably “Moderate+ Resorts” in some regards. Nevertheless, we love both Port Orleans Resorts…
Theme: Port Orleans Riverside – Both of these resorts are the height of romantic theming and Southern charm at Walt Disney World. Due to the expansion projects at the other Moderates, these two resorts are now the pinnacle of theme among the Moderate Resorts.
This is especially true at Riverside, which is divided into Alligator Bayou (bayou) and Magnolia Bend (mansions), and offers a subtle transition between the two and more thematic variety. The backstory at Riverside is interesting, engaging, and cleverly-executed throughout the resort.
The quiet pathways that criss-cross Port Orleans Riverside make it a great place to take a romantic stroll late at night, early in the morning, or (we guess?) under the high noon sun. These grounds are nothing short of stunning, with rich wilderness in the bayou and perfectly manicured gardens around the mansions. Despite being fairly spread out, it presents as intimate and romantic, and we’ve long recommended Riverside as the best budget resort for an adults-only or honeymoon trip.
French Quarter is likewise charming thematically, and its idealized presentation of New Orleans is fun. (It’s also a clever theme for masking the hotel buildings.) It also has a lot going for it, and a great sense of romanticism, but it still falls short of Riverside. The environment is just more enjoyable and has a greater sense of depth at Riverside.
Transportation/Layout: Port Orleans French Quarter – Both resorts rely exclusively upon bus transportation to get to the Walt Disney World theme parks, with boat service available at both to Disney Springs. Transportation is where French Quarter shines. It’s the only Moderate Resort that has a single bus stop, which offers a significant time-savings advantage when you’re trying to get to or from the parks. That can mean a slightly longer walk to the bus stop, but that usually is not the case.
This is because (and this is another advantage), Port Orleans French Quarter has very compact layout. It is easily walkable, and although guest rooms are spread among multiple buildings, French Quarter is not a sprawling resort like the other Moderates. Unless you get stuck in one of the farthest rooms from the lobby, everything at French Quarter is about a 5-minute walk from your room. That’s pretty significant if you have small children, or just don’t feel like making a 15-minute trek to refill your mugs in the morning.
For many people we know, this is French Quarter’s single-biggest selling point. Sarah is one of those people, whereas I’m crazy and actually enjoy the sprawling resort style of Riverside. (Fortunately, I can have the best of both worlds by staying at French Quarter and wandering over to Riverside.)
Rooms: Push – While both have rooms that we’d call perfectly fine, the Port Orleans rooms are the weakest of the Moderate Resorts. Caribbean Beach Resort’s recently redone rooms are so nice that we dubbed them “Poly-lite” and Coronado Springs has rooms that are of a higher caliber because they cater to business and convention travelers.
The upside at Port Orleans Riverside is that the rooms in Alligator Bayou can sleep 5 thanks to the pull-down Murphy bed, so there’s that. On the flip side, we prefer the aesthetic of the Magnolia Bend rooms. At both resorts, the rooms are well-appointed, and tasteful from a thematic perspective. We find them perfectly comfortable, and have zero complaints…but we don’t consider them stand-out Walt Disney World rooms, either.
Dining: Port Orleans Riverside – French Quarter has the least dining options of any Moderate Resort, and is the only one without a table service restaurant. Many people consider this to be a “big deal” when planning a first visit, but we would caution you against giving too much weight to this.
First of all, you can walk to Riverside to dine at there; it’s like a 10-15 minute walk. Second, we don’t think Boatwright’s Dining Hall is anything all that special. In its defense, Boatwright’s is not a bad restaurant, it just wouldn’t be our first or thirty-first choice for a nice meal. With both of these resorts offering boat transportation to Disney Springs–which offers a wealth of exceptional table service options–that is the route you should go if you’re doing dinner outside the park.
Counter service is more or less a push. Both Port Orleans Resorts have large, loud food courts with items of varying degrees of quality. We’ve had bad and good meals at each, so we wouldn’t draw any conclusions from those, either.
Pools: Port Orleans French Quarter – On our list of the Top 10 Pools at Walt Disney World, Doubloon Lagoon at French Quarter ranked #8 and Ol’ Man Island Pool at Riverside is unranked. In reality, the two pools are not that far apart.
Where Doubloon Lagoon has a distinct advantage, from our perspective, is in terms of character. It features have a troupe of musically-inclined alligators, which collectively (more or less) form the Bayou Gator Jamboree. It also has the 51-foot long slide themed as a SerpentDragonSnake, a giant half serpent, half dragon, and half snake creature known to scour the depths of the waters, leaving no one alive.
It’s all of these details at Doubloon Lagoon that have captivated my imagination since I was a kid, and have left a lasting impression. This all gives the pool a fun vibe, whereas Ol’ Man Island Pool is kind of dull and forgettable from our perspective. If you strip away theme, these pools would be pretty closely-matched (if you favor quiet, unthemed pools, you’ll favor Riverside). Why you’d arbitrarily ‘strip away’ theme at a place like Walt Disney World is beyond us.
Cost: Port Orleans Riverside – From the best we can tell, room rates are identical every rate season of the year for standard rooms at each of the Port Orleans Resorts. Prices are a bit less consistent/comparable once you get into the different view options or the specialty rooms, but the point stands that rack rates are the same.
So then, why does Riverside get the edge here? Discounts. If you’re booking a trip far in advance (before discounts have been released), it’s important to know that French Quarter often receives inferior room-only discounts, and is blocked out from other discounts (such as the popular Free Disney Dining Plan at Walt Disney World promo). The ‘discount differential’ can turn these neck and neck rack rates into a huge chasm in favor of Riverside.
Verdict: Port Orleans Riverside – When we think of the best Moderate Resort at Walt Disney World, it’s difficult to look past what Riverside offers in terms of a resort experience. The charming theming, the relaxed & romantic ambiance, the many amenities, and the beauty of its wonderful grounds all are significant selling points.
Add to that the greater likelihood of finding deals at Riverside, and we are inclined to give it a slight edge, overall. Now, this is not to say that some parties will not find more that appeals to them at French Quarter. For first-timers, Walt Disney World can be an overwhelming place, and French Quarter removes that from the hotel by offering a more compact layout.
Port Orleans French Quarter also can be said to arguably offer the best of both worlds. Those in your party who would prefer a compact resort have that option by confining themselves to POFQ, whereas those who want the true resort vibe can easily walk over to Riverside.
There’s no doubt truth to this (and I do it on every one of our stays at French Quarter), but it feels like a cop out. Following this logic, there’s no difference among any of the resorts situated around Crescent Lake, nor does anything separate the monorail resorts. That’s just us, though and your mileage may vary when it comes to some of these categories, or how much weight you put on various strengths and weaknesses of each resort. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Ultimately, both Port Orleans Resorts are wonderful resorts that we highly recommend. Although we gave the edge to Riverside here, we regularly stay at each of them, with which we pick depending upon the nature of our trip (and available discounts!). Important amenities, recreation, and other variables might going to matter differently to you. 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.
Do you agree or disagree with our verdict in this Port Orleans Riverside v. French Quarter head-to-head? What about our conclusions in each category? Is there something we missed or got wrong? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!