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.
It’s been a few years since we did one of these resort showdowns, in large part because we ran out of logical comparisons. Fittingly enough, one of the last resort versus posts we did was Caribbean Beach v. Coronado Springs. At the time we published, neither expansion project had been announced. Both were shortly thereafter, requiring an extensive update and the addition of a “Construction Impact” section covering the next couple years.
Now things come full circle as those Moderate Resort expansion projects themselves both have a lot in common, albeit for reasons totally different than the similarities between Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach. 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 polar opposites of their sister resorts.
In a way, Gran Destino Tower and Disney’s Riviera Resort 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.
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 the best character breakfast at Walt Disney World and a superlative Signature dinner menu.
At Gran Destino, Toledo is top notch, Dahlia Lounge is delightful, and Barcelona Lounge is beautiful. Even the Chronos Club Level brings its A-game on the food front. 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.
Including all of the convenient Coronado Springs dining options that are a 5-10 minute walk of Gran Destino would give it the easy victory here. In particular, we love the El Mercadero de Coronado food court and Three Bridges Bar & Grill over-the-water table service restaurant, but Maya Grill and Rix Cafe are also solid options.
However, not doing the same for dining that’s a short walk from Riviera Resort at Caribbean Beach seems arbitrary and unfair. Once we do that, and include Sebastian’s Bistro, Banana Cabana, and Centertown Market (we’ll exclude Spyglass Grill since it’s a much longer walk), it’s a much closer call. Ultimately, there are no losers here, and anyone staying at either result will have an embarrassment of culinary riches.
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.
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.
We’ve spent more time at Coronado Springs since Gran Destino opened, and we’ve found the bus service there to be downright abysmal. 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.
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.
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 more focused on hotel amenities than on the theme park experience.
This is definitely true of Gran Destino, which is aimed squarely at convention guests who may never step foot in a Walt Disney World theme park. It’s probably less true of Disney’s Riviera Resort, but our view is that it’s still going to disproportionately picked by couples rather than families once the initial “new DVC resort smell” wears off and it starts carving out its guest niche.
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. From that perspective, 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 or Lyft–which guests will easily be able to afford 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.
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!