Riviera Resort Tower Studio Review: Terrible or Terrific?

With the new Riviera Resort at Walt Disney World, DVC has debuted the new Tower Studio room category. We’ll offer a video & photo tour of the 2-person hotel room, share our experience spending the night here, comparisons to other accommodations in terms of value for money, and more.

Our full Disney’s Riviera Resort Review is coming soon, but we thought it worthwhile to address the Tower Studio separately. Suffice to say, the resort as a whole is a mixed bag, and pretty much conformed with all of my expectations. A lot of other people seem to love it (which is great–different strokes for different folks!), but it’s not for me.

While I wasn’t exactly bursting with excitement and anticipation for Disney’s Riviera Resort before it debuted, there was one exception to that: the Tower Studio. For a number of reasons, I think this is a really intriguing room category, and a trend that I selfishly hope Walt Disney World continues. So, did it live up to our expectations? Let’s take a look…

At only 255 square feet in size, Tower Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort are intended for couples or solo travelers. These rooms feature a kitchenette (with mini-fridge and microwave), shelving, drawers, two ottoman, closets, and hidden pull-down queen-size bed behind the love seat.

Tower Studios also have a modestly-sized balcony, spacious bathroom, and large flat-panel television with on-demand programming. All this, plus up-scale and modern design. (In case you missed it in the laundry-list above, the bed pulls down from the sofa, making this a mixed-use or convertible room.)

In judging social media reactions, the Tower Studio is a lot of WDW fans’ least favorite thing about Disney’s Riviera Resort. I won’t even say they’re divisive. Aside from a handful of people who will praise anything Walt Disney World does, the bashing is nearly unanimous. It’s also mostly coming from people who have only seen photos or had a quick tour.

It’s easy to see why the Tower Studio is a lightning rod for criticism–this is the smallest hotel room category at Walt Disney World–significantly smaller than any Value Resort rooms–and it’s priced at up to $631 per night. However, those headline-grabbing tidbits don’t tell the whole story.

Given that we’re a couple who have actually spent the night in a Tower Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort, hopefully we can tell more of the story here, offering credible insight into our experience and the pros & cons of these rooms. From our perspective, there truly are both downsides and upsides! 

Before we offer our perspective, here’s a video so you can see the entire room and form your own first impressions:

Let’s start with some of the downsides. The main living area in the Tower Studio is smaller than we expected. We’re used to small accommodations in Asia and Europe (we joked that at least the Riviera is authentic in one regard!), but this is small even by those standards.

We each ended up spending a decent amount of time on the balcony as both of us in the room was a tad claustrophobic after a while. Keep in mind here that we’re smaller people used to smaller accommodations.

Another issue in this regard is that the design isn’t particularly efficient with its limited square footage. There are some befuddling design decisions that really exacerbate this. The size of the living area isn’t maximized and several other areas are larger than necessary.

The most obvious example of this is with the bathroom being disproportionately oversized relative to the living area (we’d gladly take a bathroom half its current size with all of that space reallocated to the living area). Closets and storage could be condensed a bit to provide more (non-flex) seating room, as well.

Given how much space-maximizing designs have been emphasized with recent room overhauls, we expected this room to be maximize every inch, but the normal DVC units are better at that. Hopefully some tweaks can be made to improve the Tower Studio’s use of space in the future.

The lighting also leaves a lot to be desired, both in the main living area and in the bathroom. The first few photos in this post were shot before sunset–the ones that follow were shot at dusk and are how the room looked to the eye.

The dark lighting is especially disappointing because the other rooms at Disney’s Riviera Resort (and recent refurbishments, for that matter) are doing a better job. After the sun goes down, the room is dark even with all of the lighting on. Perhaps others will find this moody and romantic, but we found it lacking. At least the texture from the ceiling lamp is nice–maybe more recessed lighting will be added to the cabinets and headboard down the road.

We’d actually go a step further and say that the design in general is a bit dreary and dull. The Tower Studio is very plain, with scant artwork and darker woods. It’s quite the departure from other recent hotel room designs at Walt Disney World, which are overwhelmingly white and sterile.

The Tower Studio is also a sharp contrast to the Deluxe Studio at Riviera, which feature significantly better design. We’ll circle back to the other big downside at the end of the post…

Next, the good. The design of the room is upscale, the finishings and details are relatively nice, and the pull-down bed is comfortable. (I would say “surprisingly” comfortable, but we’ve had pretty good success with all of these new-ish pull-down beds at Walt Disney World.)

The bathroom, and shower in particular, is definitely a standout. The combination of rainfall shower head coupled with a wand is nice, as is the marble and tile detailing. There’s more than enough space in the shower, which is unquestionably the key feature that will set this room apart from lower tier rooms.

The balcony is also very nice, and another big advantage that the Tower Studio will have over Value or Moderate Resort rooms. We had the middle room on the 5th floor (there are three Tower Studios on each floor), and that offered a nice view of the Skyliner route to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and obstructed view of Spaceship Earth.

We haven’t seen much discussion of the balcony, but this is arguably the main selling point and what differentiates the Tower Studio from alternatives. I think the best Tower Studio rooms would be the highest floors, and left room. That should offer a pretty sweet view of Caribbean Beach, DHS, plus unobstructed views of Spaceship Earth (and no parking lot). The lower floor rooms on the far right are going to be the worst option, with views of nothing but the parking lot.

The final upside is that it’s the most economical way to stay at Walt Disney World’s newest resort, with direct access to the Skyliner. If you take the nearby stairwell instead of going down the hall to the elevator (heresy, I know), you can be on the Skyliner to Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios (via Caribbean Beach) within 5 minutes.

We know a lot of Disney Vacation Club members are frugal (we see you stocking up and taking home those free refreshments at Moonlight Magic!). No shade or shame there, as we’re also frugal. Hence this stay.

Cost seems like a good point to segue into the downsides of the Tower Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort, as this is truly a double-edged sword.

We’ve seen a lot of criticism about the cash rates for these rooms being absurd, with prices starting at $377 per night and going up to $631. No question, those prices are absurd. So too are almost all Deluxe Villa Resort prices, especially pre-discount. We’ve already seen discounted rates of under $250 per night in the Tower Studio, though.

All pointing to the highest rack rate prices does is reinforce the notion that full price at most Walt Disney World hotel prices are astronomical. But we already knew that. We also know that, like Kohl’s, only suckers are paying full price for these rooms. (Disney’s All Star Resorts can cost $246 per night…but there are also deals for as little as $59/night rooms at those same motels.)

The question thus becomes whether Tower Studios are worth the discounted cash rate, which should typically be in the $250-400/night range. For around that price, you could do Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, or pretty much any resort not on the monorail loop or in the Crescent Lake area.

For less money, you could do Caribbean Beach Resort or Gran Destino Tower (or potentially Chronos Club Level for about the same cost), which I think are interesting comparisons. At Gran Destino, you’ll have a larger room with slightly lower quality but no balcony and, critically, only bus transportation to the parks.

At Caribbean Beach, you’ll have a larger room, albeit lower quality finishings and no balcony. You’ll also have convenient access to two Skyliner stations, and you can walk over to Disney’s Riviera Resort to take advantage of the dining there. (Caribbean Beach guests are the biggest winners from Riviera’s opening.)

However, once sales pick up and more inventory is declared, most guests staying in Tower Studios at Disney’s Riviera Resort are going to be Disney Vacation Club members, not cash-paying guests. The real question here is whether the Tower Studio is worth the points.

The nightly per point cost of the Tower Studios range from 11 points on weeknights in Adventure Season to 26 points on a weekend in Premier Season. If you’re a Disney Vacation Club member, your actual cost is going to vary depending on myriad factors, including home resort, whether you purchased directly or via resale, and what year you purchased your membership.

We bought over a decade ago at Saratoga Springs via resale. Accounting for our initial purchase price (prorated for the duration of our contract) plus annual dues, we are paying a yearly cost of ~$8 per DVC point that we own. That would put the cost of a Tower Studio at $88 to $208 for us. It’s easily and unquestionably worth these costs.

In reality, these are nearly impossible to book (for now) if you don’t have home resort priority at Riviera, so that number is also deceiving, though. For the vast majority of DVC members staying here, it’ll be significantly higher. In using the calculator on DVC Rental Store, the range is around $198 to $440. So the true “cost” for most members is somewhere in between those extremes.

What really matters here is probably less the dollar cost/value of the Tower Studio when converting points, but rather, the opportunity cost. Here, it’s worth noting that both BoardWalk Villas and Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas both have rooms that require less points, and are full-sized studios.

In comparing other full-sized options, the Tower Studio typically comes in slightly more expensive than Saratoga Springs or Old Key West (the latter having some of the largest rooms DVC offers), and is typically cheaper than everything else. In some cases–like with Bay Lake Tower, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian–the Tower Studio is significantly cheaper.

Actual amounts vary by season, but the Tower Studio tends to be about 4 points cheaper than a standard Deluxe Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort. It’s worth noting that the Deluxe Studio sleeps 5 and is ~200 square feet larger than the Tower Studio. (Deluxe Studio pictured below.)

Whether the Tower Studio is worth the savings is a value judgment up to the individual couple. Personally, I don’t think so. If cost is an issue, I’d rather do Caribbean Beach (I could probably rent out my points and come out ahead paying cash at CBR) or even Gran Destino.

If cost/points is no issue, I’d stay elsewhere or upgrade to a Deluxe Studio and have a bit more breathing room. As noted above, I think Disney’s Riviera Resort is a mixed bag, but one of the positives is the design and layout of the Deluxe Studio and 1-Bedroom units. To me, the normal studio is absolutely worth the added cost in points.

However, I think there are enough frugal DVC members who will want (or need) to conserve points to keep the occupancy rate pretty high at these Tower Studios. That temptation coupled with low supply (only 24 units, by my count) is too much to resist. I’d hazard a guess that they’ll be a one and done for most guests, who find the same issues with them as we experienced.

Ultimately, the Tower Studios are neither terrible nor terrific in our view. We’d recommend the vast majority of DVC members or regular guests spend more for a Deluxe Studio or simply book a full-sized room at a different resort. It’s tough to convey how these rooms feel until you spend a decent amount of time in them. There are probably some use-cases where the Tower Studio as it presently exists makes the most sense (a couple wanting the cheapest Skyliner room with a balcony is what springs to mind), but we think almost every scenario has more pragmatic alternatives.

Even as ‘pilot rooms’ for this concept, the Tower Studio leaves a decent amount to be desired and has some questionable design decisions. Nevertheless, we hope these are reasonably popular, as we’d love to see Disney Vacation Club iterate on this idea and offer rooms at future resorts that take the same approach. With better effort and success in maximizing the limited square footage to make these rooms feel a bit less cramped, they’d be a smash hit. Couples are a growing market for DVC and Walt Disney World, so here’s hoping we see this trend continue at future resorts!

If you’re considering joining DVC, first be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Disney Vacation ClubIf you still can’t decide whether membership is right for you, “try before you buy” and rent points from DVC Rental Store. If you are convinced a membership is for you, check out the discounted options at DVC Resale Market.

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of the Tower Studio at Disney’s Riviera Resort? Will you be taking advantage of the savings these offer and booking, or would you rather have a full-sized room? What do you view as the ideal use-case for the Tower Studio? Any questions about Disney’s Riviera Resort? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!


42 Responses to “Riviera Resort Tower Studio Review: Terrible or Terrific?”
  1. KenR January 7, 2020
  2. Amanda Yoder January 2, 2020
  3. JR December 27, 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *