Gran Destino v. Riviera Resort

Gran Destino Tower and Riviera Resort are the two newest hotels at Walt Disney World. While they are seemingly very different–one aimed at convention guests and the other at DVC members–they have a ton in common and seem built with the same goals in mind. In this post, we’ll compare and contrast the two, crowning a champion in several categories including theme/decor, rooms, dining, transportation, pools, and cost. (Updated October 3, 2020.)

With Coronado Springs Resort set to return as part of Walt Disney World’s phased reopening–after the NBA Finals end and the Los Angeles Lakers finish off the Miami Heat–we thought it would be worthwhile to revisit this comparison. Even though these are Walt Disney World’s two newest resorts, both having debuted last year, there are some things that will change.

Before we get into that, it’s worth noting that these are two “upmarket” properties that each have sister hotels at significantly lower price points. If you’re interested in taking advantage of most of their upsides (except for the rooms) without paying a premium, check out our Caribbean Beach v. Coronado Springs hotel comparison…

While Gran Destino Tower is technically part of Coronado Springs and Disney’s Riviera Resort occupies the former grounds of Caribbean Beach, they’re both very different from their sister resorts. In a way, both additions are over-corrections to the approach taken decades earlier with Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs. These tower hotels are not just differing styles, but incongruous ones that are at-odds with the sprawling resorts around them.

In any case, Gran Destino and Riviera Resort have much more in common with one another than they do their predecessors. With that preface out of the way, let’s get to the comparison of Gran Destino Tower and Disney’s Riviera Resort. As with our previous Walt Disney World ‘versus’ posts, we use 6 elements of the two different resorts to determine which is “the best.”

Theme/Decor: Gran Destino – Neither of these resorts are themed in the traditional sense of the term. The designs are not all-encompassing, and they do not transport you to another time or place. Rather, they both are more impressionistic, with flourishes and decorations that evoke Europe and Spain.

With that said, Gran Destino has a more finely-tuned and ambitious artistic sensibility. The lobby pays homage to the Catalan Modernism style, and there are flashes of famed Spanish architect Gaudí in the lounge and rooftop restaurant. The tower doesn’t go all-in on this, but it’s nevertheless pretty good. Specific pieces of art reference the collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali that resulted in the short film Destino, which is quite the deep cut. In general, the lobby is more grandiose and pretty.

By contrast, Disney’s Riviera Resort purports to be themed to the Mediterranean coastline in France and Italy, but there’s very little in the design that reinforces this supposed theme. Rather, pieces of European-inspired artwork and photos of Walt Disney in Europe dot the property. It’s still nice, but it’s a vaguely European luxury hotel, not a sumptuously-themed resort borrowing design cues from the actual Italian or French Riviera.

Rooms: Riviera Resort – This one isn’t even close. While Gran Destino has large rooms that can work well for a solo traveler or a couple, they’re otherwise lacking. Gran Destino Tower was designed in large part for conventioneers who aren’t particularly interested in Disney and the design is thus very muted.

In addition to that, none of the rooms have balconies. The bathrooms are nice, but the design is perplexing in that the shower and sink cannot be used simultaneously except by those who are intimately familiar with one another. For at least the first few months post-reopening (and probably through Spring 2021), the exceptional Chronos Club Level will also be unavailable–that’s normally a very worthwhile upgrade at Gran Destino.

On the other hand, the standard rooms (Deluxe Studios) at Disney’s Riviera Resort are arguably one of the hotel’s highlights. The design is elegant and thoughtful, with space-saving features and lovely design flourishes. The room feels upscale and incredibly usable, with sophisticated touches, art, and more. There are also balconies.

Dining: Toss Up – Both of these resorts are exemplars of Walt Disney World’s dining scene. Riviera Resort has a strong lineup with Topolino’s Terrace – Flavors of the Riviera, Primo Piatto, Bar Riva, and Le Petit Cafe. Topolino’s Terrace is the main standout, with an excellent (albeit modified right now) character breakfast and a superlative Signature dinner menu.

At Gran Destino, Toledo is top notch, Dahlia Lounge is delightful, and Barcelona Lounge is beautiful. The only “problem” here is that Gran Destino has no counter service restaurant, with the (reasonable) expectation being that guests will walk over to El Centro, which used to be the main lobby and is only ~5 minutes away from Gran Destino Tower.

Unfortunately, during the phased reopening, both resorts suffer from an incomplete supporting cast of dining options. It’s unknown what will not open at Coronado Springs, but we’re guessing that most options in El Centro will be unavailable. El Mercadero de Coronado food court might reopen, but we’d expect Maya Grill, Rix Cafe, and other El Centro options to remain closed. Three Bridges Bar & Grill, the over-the-water table service restaurant that’s one of our Walt Disney World hidden dining gems, may reopen. 

Over at Caribbean Beach Resort, both Sebastian’s Bistro and Spyglass Grill have not reopened and are unlikely to return until 2021 or 2022. On the plus side, Banana Cabana and Centertown Market are back…but not worth seeking out. Ultimately, neither are the embarrassment of culinary riches that they were pre-closure, but both are still solid–it’s still a toss up.

Transportation: Riviera Resort – This is an easy one, as Riviera Resort has its own Skyliner station with access to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Both can be reached in ~10 minutes, which is far more efficient than any bus service at either resort will ever be. This is especially true during the phased reopening, when buses are limiting capacity.

Accessing Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom from Riviera Resort requires taking buses, and we found that to be inefficient in our limited experience at Riviera Resort. However, at least it’s not making multiple stops, nor is it sharing a bus with another resort, which is more than can be said for most Deluxe Resorts.

Pre-closure, we found the bus service at Coronado Springs to be downright abysmal since Gran Destino opened. In addition to there being multiple stops around Coronado Springs, it seems that Walt Disney World did not increase the frequency of buses once the tower opened to account for all of the added guests. Consequently, buses are routinely full and over-crowded, especially at peak hours.

We are worried that this will be exacerbated with the buses operating at reduced capacity. At this point, unless you are planning on renting a car or using Uber/Lyft, we’d caution against booking Coronado Springs until reports emerge about the post-reopening bus service.

Pools: Gran Destino (With An Asterisk) – This is a tough one. Technically, it’s “Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.” That at is the operative word here, and it means guests of Gran Destino can use the Dig Site Pool. That’s imperative to Gran Destino having any shot here, since it otherwise doesn’t have a pool.

By contrast, Disney’s Riviera Resort is not technically “at” Caribbean Beach. In fact, Disney Vacation Club would probably prefer that we stop calling them sister resorts as, despite their proximity to one another, DVC wants to situate Riviera Resort as a luxury property. That lack of an “at” means regular guests paying the cash rate at Riviera Resort cannot use the exceptional Fuentes del Morro “Pirate Fortress” Pool. DVC members do have the ability to pool hop, meaning that they can use both sets of pools.

This muddies the comparison and makes things tricky. Ultimately, this comparison post is pretty pointless for DVC members, so it only makes sense to cover what the general public booking cash rates can use. From that perspective, even though Riviera Resort’s pools are nice, they don’t compare to the Dig Site. If we threw the Pirate Fortress Pool at Caribbean Beach into the mix here, it’d be the easy winner, though.

Cost: Gran Destino – Another easy one. Before discount, Value Season nightly room rates at Gran Destino Tower are $263 and Regular Season are $309 per night. These are for a regular room with a standard view. With convention business drying up until at least 2022, our expectation is that deals will become even more abundant for Gran Destino Tower going forward.

By contrast, Deluxe Studio rooms (a standard room in DVC parlance) at Disney’s Riviera Resort with standard views are $623 per night in Value Season and $731 per night during Regular Season. Across the board, Riviera Resort is roughly two and a half times the price of an average night at Gran Destino.

Now, the argument could be made that Riviera Resort is more attractive with discounts, but Gran Destino also has seen aggressive discounting during its opening months. It could also be argued that Riviera Resort is significantly cheaper by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points. However, it’s difficult-to-impossible to book via DVC point rental right now, and that’s not an apples to apples comparison, anyway.

Verdict: Gran Destino – There are obviously exceptions to this, but we view both of these properties as largely targeting adults without kids (be it solo travelers, honeymooners, retirees, etc.) looking for a relaxed and low-key trip focused on a balance between hotel amenities and the theme park experience.

From that perspective and for its target demographic, Gran Destino is the more attractive resort. Both have upscale amenities and exceptional dining, but Gran Destino has more that will appeal to adults, in particular. One of the biggest strikes against it is the lack of balconies on the guest rooms. Another big strike is the transportation, but that can easily be sidestepped by using Uber, Lyft, or renting a car. Guests will easily be able to afford any of those options considering the massive savings they’ll enjoy by staying at Gran Destino rather than Riviera Resort.

Overall, this comparison ends up coming down to one thing: price. If these two resorts cost the same amount or close to it, we’d almost certainly choose Disney’s Riviera Resort. The transportation and rooms are superior, dining and decor are both close enough, and the pools and other amenities that are better at Gran Destino don’t move the needle enough to give it the win. The Skyliner is a huge advantage that it’s tough to put a price on…until you realize that price is ~$400 per night, and it is most definitely not worth anything close to that amount.

While we hope this post is helpful in offering a head-to-head comparison of the most crucial elements of each Walt Disney World resort experience, we know it’s not definitive or the final word for every guest. In addition to reading the comments before making your own decision, we suggest supplementing this with our full review of Disney’s Riviera Resort and our Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort Review.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

Is money the deciding factor for you, or is transportation? Do the Skyliner or superior rooms provide enough value for you to help bridge the price gap? Is there another variable you can think of to make Disney’s Riviera Resort the better pick? Are we missing a key variable that could, potentially tilt the scales in the Riviera’s favor? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? 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!

17 Responses to “Gran Destino v. Riviera Resort”
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