Disney’s Riviera Resort Review

Disney’s Riviera Resort is a hotel and DVC property on the Skyliner gondola route adjacent to Caribbean Beach at Walt Disney World. This review features room photos, the pros & cons of staying here, whether it’s worth the money, thoughts on dining & amenities, and a comparison to other WDW accommodations.

This Deluxe Villa Resort offers approximately 300 vacation homes and units, including studios, one and two-bedroom villas, and grand villas that sleep up to 12 guests each. There’s also the new Tower Studios room category that sleep two guests (as these are an outlier from the rest of the resort, we’ve separately reviewed the Tower Studio here).

Disney’s Riviera Resort is marketed as being inspired by Europe and imagined by Disney, as it brings the elegance of a modern European retreat blended with a touch of old-world glamour and Disney charm to Walt Disney World. In reality, it’s a resort of contrasts that in some ways lives up to its billing and in other ways falls woefully short…

Let’s begin by dispensing with the bad. The resort’s location on land that, in large part, used to belong to Caribbean Beach Resort feels lazy. It’s common for Disney Vacation Club resorts to be built adjacent to or as part of existing hotels in order to share infrastructure and save costs. However, those are usually Deluxe Resorts and built in a manner consistent with their design.

Disney is treating this as a flagship DVC property, but it’s essentially on the grounds of a Moderate Resort. Thematically, these two properties clash with one another, and it’s jarring to be sitting in the tropics of Caribbean Beach and see these grey towers looming in the distance. In fairness, Caribbean Beach guests do benefit from upgraded and new amenities at or near their resort.

Next, the architecture is uninspired and boring. The styles of the combined “Riviera” (French and Italian) are rich, varied, and ornate. There’s no shortage of inspiration from which Imagineering could’ve drawn, nor is there a singular style that typifies the regions. Here are examples of buildings in Nice, France–these are consistent with what you’ll find throughout the French Riviera. None of them are like Disney’s Riviera Resort.

Instead, Disney’s Riviera Resort has some mansard roofing, a few colorful awnings and window shutters, and…that’s about it. The architecture has less in common with the Italian or French Riviera and is more like Val d’Europe, a town adjacent to Disneyland Paris built in conjunction with Disney. Except even the modern, suburbia of Val d’Europe has more architectural merit and depth. Disney’s Riviera Resort is more like a knock-off of that than anything noteworthy in the Riviera.

To make matters worse, Disney didn’t even go all-in on this unambitious design. The hallways that connect the wings of the towers lack windows or, in some cases, have one lone window randomly and awkwardly breaking up a stretch of nothing. The aforementioned shutters and awnings aren’t above every window, just a few of them.

One prominent end of the building that should have two windows instead has one glaringly uncentered window. Some archways are distressed and given texture, others are not. We could go on.

Instead of serious efforts at themed design, Disney has used the crutch of adorning the resort with art and photos of Walt and Lillian in Europe. (We’ve visited several places that Lillian and Walt Disney visited in the French Riviera–they’re nothing like this DVC resort.)

Theme and decorations are not the same thing. These prints and photos would be an excellent touch in a lavishly-done resort, but they’re no substitute for actual theme. That’s especially the case given that these European stories aren’t specific to the Riviera, anyway.

For me, this all is a colossal disappointment as there’s so much potential for a Riviera-themed resort, and Disney squandered all of that. If the up-front intent was a resort with a less ambitious design, why not choose something less extravagant as source material?

The major criticism we’ve seen of Disney’s Riviera Resort from others is the lobby. Unlike many other hotels at Walt Disney World, there is no grand, multi-story lobby that makes a strong first impression.

There’s also fairly limited seating, which is insufficient for the number of guests who will mill about or wait here for Disney’s Magical Express.

Honestly, this bugs us far less than the above issues, and would be fairly forgivable if Disney’s Riviera Resort had some other defining design feature.

Grandiose lobbies have become a hallmark of upscale Walt Disney World hotels, but they’re hardly a necessity. Many of Europe’s finest properties forgo this feature in favor of a more intimate entryway.

The lobby seems like a good point to transition into the positives. This is a good example of how Disney has balanced modern luxurious with classicism. The lobby at feels at once contemporary and traditional, and sets the proper tone for the rest of the interior design.

For all of our quibbles with the exterior, the inside of Disney’s Riviera Resort is largely on-point. There are some spots where the finishings feel cheap or rushed, but the good outweighs the bad. There’s a lot of texture and detail in a variety of places: tile, carpet, trim, ceilings, walls, and yes, even that aforementioned artwork.

Disney has made a big deal about the number of original pieces of artwork designed exclusively for Riviera Resort, and many of these are lovely. These provide pops of color throughout the hotel, and also soften up the interiors with touches of Disney in common areas, hallways, and guest rooms.

In general, this approach works really well. At its core, the interior design is probably best described as a low-key mix of French Baroque and neoclassicism. It’s not as over the top or intricate as the best exemplars of either style, but the guest rooms have a subtle formality to them that’s nicely offset via uses of color, artwork, and some contemporary flourishes.

The guest rooms do a good job of balancing competing interests. They’re simultaneously luxurious, modern, and themed. Achieving this trifecta is something with which Disney has struggled in recent years, and the range of various room redesigns reflect this.

My personal preference is for rooms that skew more towards the themed end of the spectrum, as I think that’s what Disney does best (that’s why my favorite resorts are Wilderness and Animal Kingdom Lodges, and why I’m a huge fan of the room reimagining at the latter). I’d hazard a guess that many longtime WDW fans and purists will feel similarly.

However, I can recognize that not everything Disney does needs to cater to my personal tastes. For what Riviera is, the rooms hit the right notes. The studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units are on par with the guest rooms at the Villas at Grand Floridian Resort. Personally, I’d give the edge to the Villas at Grand Floridian, but it’s a close call.

As we noted in our review of that DVC property, those DVC units are superior to the regular Grand Floridian hotel rooms. We’d now add that the guest rooms at Disney’s Riviera Resort are also superior to the new rooms at Beach Club, BoardWalk, Bay Lake Tower, Contemporary, and a handful of other resorts.

As with the Tower Studio, we found the bathrooms to be quite nice in the higher tier rooms.

Pictured above is the bathroom in the 1-bedroom unit.

In particular, we really like the Deluxe Studio rooms. (Above is one in the finished resort, but we have more of model 1-bedroom and studios in our Disney’s Riviera Resort Room Tour.)

These have some nice aesthetic touches that give them a Disneyfied European sensibility, along with practical features that offer plenty of utility.

Having learned its lesson from Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, Disney has opted for a single-building and condensed layout with Disney’s Riviera Resort.

While I prefer a sprawling property, it’s hard to argue against this approach (especially given that the size and layout of the aforementioned resorts is one of their most common complaints).

Disney’s Riviera Resort makes the most of its compact layout, with grounds that are both intimate and having plenty of charm.

The landscaping is lovely, there are some quaint touches and other details that help buoy the property. The lawn and its games are a particularly nice touch.

The pools are sufficient, but will hardly be why anyone books a stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort.

In typical European fashion, it seems like both the Riviera Pool and Beau Soleil Leisure Pool are better suited to lounging and sunbathing than swimming. The pools do offer quality lounge chairs, sun umbrellas, and a variety of seating. Adults should appreciate all of this–we did.

Kids will enjoy the 30-foot tall tower turret water slide. Smaller children will likewise enjoy the S’il Vous Play Area, which features characters from Fantasia.

If these areas fall short and your family takes its pool time super seriously, the Fuentes del Morro “Pirate Fortress” Pool over at Caribbean Beach is a short walk away. (To my knowledge, guests at Riviera Resort can pool hop to Caribbean Beach, but not vice-verse.)

Then there’s the dining–Disney’s Riviera Resort is superb on this front. In our Review of Topolino’s Terrace Character Breakfast à la Art with Mickey & Friends, we called that the best character meal at Walt Disney World. At dinner, Topolino’s Terrace also offers a Signature meal that made a strong first impression.

Our success with three meals down at the resort’s counter service restaurant, Primo Piatto, has been more hit or miss. However, it’s batting around .667, with one entree that’s in the top 5 of all Walt Disney World counter service.

Likewise, Le Petit Café, Bar Riva, Voyageur’s Lounge, and whatever the pool gelato stand is called have all impressed.

When you include the exceptional dining within a 10 minute walk over at Caribbean Beach, you could do an entire trip without ever leaving the Barefoot Bay area for meals. (Seriously, don’t underestimate Sebastian’s Bistro or Spyglass Grill.)

Next, transportation. Having the Skyliner station right next to the Riviera’s towers is a huge asset. The resorts within walking distance of a park will always have the advantage in our minds.

Nevertheless, being able to walk out the door of Riviera Resort, board the Skyliner, and be inside Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios in ~15 minutes is a huge asset that really cannot be overstated. Skyliner transportation will no doubt be one of the biggest selling points Disney’s Riviera Resort offers.

Bus transportation is also available to the parks and Disney Springs. We weren’t able to test the bus service as thoroughly as we would’ve liked (the in-app times were not working yet during our stay), but buses generally seemed prompt and were not overfilled.

We’ve already made comparisons between Riviera and Grand Floridian in terms of the guest rooms, but two other resorts are worth mentioning as counterparts that may be worthy alternatives depending upon your preferences, priorities, and budget. First is the one next door–Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (read our full review here).

Caribbean Beach is a sprawling Moderate Resort with exterior hallways and multiple bus stops, so in some senses it has very little in common with Riviera Resort. However, it’s also within walking distance of Riviera’s dining, has better pools, and two Skyliner stations. Riviera’s advantages are its compact layout, significantly nicer rooms, and overall upscale vibe. Caribbean Beach’s main advantage is that it’s a fraction of the price.

The next comparison is Gran Destino at Coronado Springs (read our full review). This is also different in a few ways; most significant of which is that Gran Destino is not on the Skyliner.

However, it’s also an upscale tower hotel with modern and luxurious amenities and elevated dining. Gran Destino’s rooms are weaker, but it’s lobby is more impressive, the hotel is more adult (Chronos Club Level is excellent), and it’s also significantly cheaper.

As is common for Deluxe Villas, rack rates at Disney’s Riviera Resort are fairly absurd. It’s really difficult for us (if not impossible) to justify these prices. With a 35-40% off discount, the rates become more palatable. Of course, since this is a Disney Vacation Club resort, the vast majority of guests staying here (eventually) will be using points. (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, we’d caution against buying Riviera as a home resort.)

In terms of points, we think the “cost” is more or less fair (with the Tower Studio being too high). Renting points, the average cost for a 1-night stay in a studio is around $250-350, depending upon season. See our Tips for Renting Disney Vacation Club Points article for more info on that.

Overall, I would expect Disney’s Riviera Resort to be a hit with guests. While I stand by all of my qualms with the property, especially the weak exterior, I’m probably going to be in the minority on these points. It’s likely that Disney has made a calculated bet, expecting most guests won’t notice or care.

Perhaps Disney figures that even guests who do will be sufficiently impressed by the transportation, interior, grounds, dining, and other amenities that they’ll forgive the bland exterior. I’m of the mindset that we shouldn’t accept “good enough” from Disney. What the Imagineers can do, even with a similar hotel concept, can be awe-inspiring when they’re given the creative freedom and budget.

Even we are split on whether the upsides of Disney’s Riviera Resort are enough to overcome its shortcomings. For me, the answer is no. I’d be fine never staying here again. Sarah sees the same problem-points but disagrees, noting that you largely don’t see the Riviera’s exterior when you’re in the rooms.

Sarah finds that the resort’s grounds have enough personality and visual interest that you aren’t focusing on the exterior. In her view, the room quality, Skyliner, and dining provide more than enough to make Riviera Resort a worthwhile choice for Walt Disney World accommodations. Regardless, our ultimate recommendation would be visiting Disney’s Riviera Resort before booking a stay here to see how it works for you, personally.

Thinking about joining DVC? First be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Disney Vacation Club. This covers the pros & cons, resale v. direct, how much money you’ll save, and other important things to know before taking the plunge. If 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. Planning a Walt Disney World trip? For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know.

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of Disney’s Riviera Resort? If you’ve stayed here or even just visited the grounds, how would your review differ from mine? What do you think of Riviera’s theme/decorations? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Thoughts on the rooms, dining, transportation, or other amenities? If you’re Disney Vacation Club member, do you plan on trying to stay at Riviera Resort? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!


45 Responses to “Disney’s Riviera Resort Review”
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