Review: Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort



By Dave Shute

DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

With more than 2000 rooms sprawling in two different sections around Disney’s (man-made) Sassagoula River, Port Orleans Riverside is probably Disney World’s best-loved moderate resort, and has inspired a great fan site.

However, three multi-night stays at Riverside over the past three months (all since it completed its 2012 renovation) confirm that Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort remains the third best of the moderate resorts for first time family visitors.

(For what the moderates provide, and how they compare to the other Disney World resort classes, click here)

You can have a wonderful visit at any Walt Disney World resort.

However, this site recommends that first time visitors to Walt Disney World avoid the moderate resorts, while noting that these resorts are wonderful for visits after the first. (See this for why.)

That said, the moderates represent ~30% of the rooms of Walt Disney World, and will be sought by some because this site’s recommended resorts are sold out, because you are on return visits, or because–sensibly–you’re just not that into my rankings!

So I’ve stayed in each of the moderate resorts multiple times, and published reviews of each.

And after a wave of renovations in the moderates that resulted in new room types, queen beds in three of the five moderates, and other changes, I began in 2012 a new cycle of stays, for refreshed reviews.

This included five multi-night visits to the moderates in 2012, and four more so far in 2013. In total, these add up to 25 nights at the moderates in less than a year.

The refurbs–especially those at Riverside and French Quarter–have not changed the overall rankings of these resorts, but they have tightened up the distance between the first four considerably!

REVIEW: DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Resorts are ranked on this site for first time visitors based first on their kid appeal, and then on their convenience.

On this basis, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside resort is the third best moderate resort for first time family visitors.

(Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is first, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort second, and Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter is fourth; these results are very close.  The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort are ranked last, and this is not close.)

Kid Appeal. The southern bayou and plantation theming of this resort, while charming to many adults (especially the Magnolia Bend section, whose Georgian architecture is quite lovely), will miss most kids entirely.

That said, its main pool is widely viewed as one of the better ones at Walt Disney World, which, when combined with its extra amenities, bumps it slightly ahead of its sister resort Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter. (French Quarter visitors are encouraged to use these amenities; the difference is that for Riverside guests, they are immediately present to kids’ eyes.)

Moreover, the newly re-done Royal Rooms will have great appeal to some kids–though they are more expensive, and less convenient, than alternatives.

Now, I get comments all the time along the lines of “We stayed at Riverside and it had great appeal for my kids!” And I’m sure that it did.  All the Disney resorts have great kid appeal. My point is that some have even more than others…

Convenience. Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside is in the middle of moderates convenience.

While often thought of as out of the way, it is in fact just across the street (or two) from Epcot, and along with Port Orleans French Quarter is the closest of the “traditional” moderates to the Magic Kingdom. It also shares with French Quarter a slow boat to Downtown Disney.

The principal convenience frustration is that, since it shares most buses with Port Orleans French Quarter, it has in effect 5 bus stops. The Magic Kingdom bus is the exception–it has only four stops, as it skips Port Orleans French Quarter.

Buses fill all too often before they get to their final stop (which varies, depending on the route), and the first day or two of a visit, it can be hard to identify from inside the bus whether one is at the West, North, or East Bus Stop.

Getting off at the wrong stop matters, because Port Orleans Riverside is pretty darn big, and can be a challenge to get around.

While at my pace no room is more than a ten minute walk from the central service area and pool, this is assuming you take the most direct path, and don’t get lost.

Getting lost–especially at night– in the far reaches of the Alligator Bayou section is easy.

It’s not widely noticed, but the texture of the concrete paths in the Alligator Bayou section is meant to help with wayfinding.

Where there are groups of buildings, the main path through them is textured to look like a plank road.

The image above shows the junction between the path around the river and one of these plank road paths. The texturing is meant to indicate to you that you are on a main path, and keep you from wandering off accidentally onto a building-specific path.

The image on the right side shows the texture of the plank road a little more clearly.

As a final convenience point, one of its two sections, Alligator Bayou, has no elevators.

Other distinctive features. Only traditional moderate that can sleep five, in the Alligator Bayou section. These rooms provide two queen beds and a short Murphy bed. With Port Orleans French Quarter, the only moderate with no lake, and with the French Quarter the only moderate with boat transport to Downtown Disney.

BEST PLACES TO STAY AT PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE

Port Orleans Riverside has two areas and three distinct room types.

Its Alligator Bayou area comprises the groups of buildings on the lower left corner of the map.  These rooms sleep five in two queen beds and one short (~66 inches long) Murphy bed.

Floor Plan Standard Room Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.netIts Magnolia Bend area (the four blocks of rooms at the top of the Riverside part of the map) has two room types, Royal Rooms and Standard Rooms, each sleeping four in two queen beds.

The three room types are so different that I’ve published reviews of each, with floor plans and photo tours.  The links above take you to these.

This site suggests that first time visitors stay in standard rooms, not preferred rooms (because they won’t be spending much time in their rooms, or going to the main resort food area often; the single exception is visitors to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, who should always pay for savanna views.)

Unless you need the bed for the 5th person, stay in a top floor (quieter) standard room in building 85–”Magnolia Terrace”–in the Magnolia Bend section. This area is much lovelier than the other section, Alligator Bayou. And of the non-Royal options, Building 85 is the best choice–lovely, closer to the pool and central services, and with a nearby bus stop.

If you are do need the fifth person bed in Alligator Bayou, shoot for a ground floor room (no elevators) in buildings 38 or 39—better views, closest to the main pool—or 27 for a balance among views, pool access and closeness to the central services area.

Click the image to enlarge the map–note it is not to scale, and exaggerates the size of Port Orleans Riverside’s sister resort, Port Orleans French Quarter.

BEST FOR:

Five person families

WORST FOR:

Families with mobility issues; families seeking a particularly kid-appealing resort.

MORE STUFF ON DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

This review continues here.

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RELATED STUFF

31 comments

1 Jennifer { 02.07.13 at 10:19 am }

Thanks for the review, Dave! Magnolia Terrace, we’ll see you in April! :-)

2 Dave { 02.07.13 at 10:55 am }

You bet, Jennifer!! Have a great trip–and let me know how it goes!

3 Tricia { 03.13.13 at 8:19 pm }

Dave, looking to go to Disney in October we have no kids and have been there before but I like to relax with few cocktails, in the hotel I’m staying in after along day in the park. What hotel bar/lounge are open till 12 or later?

4 Dave { 03.14.13 at 8:33 am }

Tricia, I’m sorry, but I don’t track that…Do take a look at the Boardwalk, though, which is in walking distance of the Epcot resorts. For the Boardwalk, see this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2012/01/17/review-disneys-boardwalk/ and the Epcot resorts, see this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2012/02/16/the-epcot-resorts-at-walt-disney-world/

5 Kevin S { 04.12.13 at 8:23 pm }

Hi Dave, Great site. I’m planning to do your autumn plan to the T starting on October 19, 2013. 180 days is about a week away! I have 3 daughters that will be 6, 8, and 10 at this time (might have to tell disney she’s 9 as she is on the small side and eats light). We want to go before the “princess infatuation” runs out and this to be our big Disney trip. Youngest is 43 inches tall right now so I’m feeding her growth pills :) Planning to stay at Port Orleans Riverside since we have 5. The last couple of years they have offered the free dining plan during this time, yet as I read your site you never talk about October free dining, only Sept. free dining. What do you think the chances of free dining during this time is? I know you don’t know for sure. Also, if I book all my accomodations and reservations through the WDW site, what is the cancelation policy? Will I be out any money if I decide to cancel and postpone the trip another year? (I’m considering making the 20 hour drive to save money and be flexible in case we decide to postpone or free dining dates change a bit) Thanks again.

6 Kevin S { 04.12.13 at 10:08 pm }

Another question. What are your thoughts of moving hotels to the Art of Animation suites from PO Riverside on Thursday the off day. How accomodating is Disney at making that type of thing happen? I don’t think I can even make it happen on their web site. Is it a real hassle? I’m guessing if I have my car it would be even easier, or will the resort move everything for me? This would save me about $500 on the nights we aren’t in the hotel much. Thanks again.

7 Dave { 04.13.13 at 6:50 am }

Hi Kevin! First, yes, I doubt we’ll see free dining in 2013–unless the economy tanks–during any time except the traditional later August-mid-September period. For more on why, see this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2013/02/07/2013-free-dining-mymagic-implications-disneys-q1-2013-earnings-call/

The basics on the package rules is that you can cancel up to 45 days before without penalty–but there are some annoying subtleties–see this: http://www.mousesavers.com/walt-disney-world-vacation-discounts-and-deals/disney-world-resort-hotel-discounts-codes/#wdtcrules

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8 Dave { 04.13.13 at 7:05 am }

Hey Kevin, the way you work this is with two separate reservations–Disney’s site is not set up to to accommodate a split stay, as you’ve noted. If you are buying your tix from Disney, buy all the needed days as part of the first reservation and make the later-arrival one “room only.” Disney will transport your luggage for you, but you will be “homeless” between the 11a checkout time and the 3p check in time–unless your room is ready early.

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9 Keith B { 04.23.13 at 1:56 am }

Sorry, I know I’ve asked you a lot, but you have seem to have a Ph.D. in Disney!
Do you think Port Orleans Riverside has the same convenience problems on low crowd weeks?
Do busses still fill up, and it is worth staying there (1st time) on a low crowd week?
Thanks!

10 Dave { 04.23.13 at 8:16 am }

Keith even during low-crowd weeks, the WDW resorts can be anywhere between 70% and 100% full…

11 Jennifer { 04.23.13 at 11:42 am }

Apparently there was a “group” booked at the Manor Houses, so we wound up in Building 39 in Alligator Bayou last week (to their credit, the Cast Member at check-in was VERY apologetic). We were on a corner, which was nice, but had the pull-down bed which wasn’t so great since there was just the two of us and I would have preferred the drawer space. Definitely more of a hike, but not a bad one at all; the grounds in Alligator Bayou are REALLY pretty. We were next to a quiet pool and a laundry facility, and were right in between the West and North bus depots, which was convenient. To add to your answer to Keith B’s bus question, we found the buses were crowded BUT we NEVER got passed up and were only on one that skipped a depot (and that was due to the THREE scooters that got on first). The biggest disappointment? Our maid was not into towel animals (despite being tipped pretty darn well), and the maid on our previous visit spoiled us in that regard and set our expectations fairly high. Fortunately Puffles were on sale at Downtown Disney, and they decorated the bed just fine. ;-)

12 Dave { 04.23.13 at 4:53 pm }

Hi Jennifer, and thanks for the update and share to Keith B! I’m guessing you used the North Depot? The East Depot tends to be the most problematic, since, depending on the bus, it’s the last (for most) or second to last (for some) pick-up…

13 Katherine { 04.24.13 at 10:22 pm }

Heading to Disney and PO Riverside in 9 days!!! So excited! My only fear is the transportation issues as frequently discussed here. I’m hoping that by switching up our park dates as u suggested it will also elevate some of the transportation pains? My thought is most folks will be on buses heading to the extended magic hour parks while I’m cruising to the opposite parks u suggested? So better bus rides? Also Dave…..question, we will have to go to HS on Magic hour days (only a 4 day stay) so I can’t escape that one…do you think it’s worth trying to go in early am when park opens then go back to PO Riverside for a long 4 hour break then back to HS for magic hours…or will the transportation just be too time consuming to make that worth it? Sorry for the long question.

14 Katherine { 04.24.13 at 10:29 pm }

Last question….does DW always offer a great special (like 30 %) off your next vacation if u book it before you leave, or is it just whatever the current special is? THANK YOU! I’m excited to see how all my changes I’ve made from your advice ( there’s been a lot of changes ) lol…work. This may be my best trip ever…never strategised it before and just followed the flock. Very pumped to check it out!

15 Dave { 04.25.13 at 7:53 am }

Hi Katherine, if I’m reading you right you’ll be there over the weekend. Since those are the most crowded days in the hotels, the overall lower park crowd levels won’t make much difference (lower crowds have more of an effect of off-site hotels), but avoiding EMH parks, as you note, will!

On your dates evening extra magic hours aren’t worth much at HS, so I’d aim for a long day with a return after Fantasmic…

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16 Dave { 04.25.13 at 7:54 am }

Katherine, I’ve honestly never closely tracked the bounce-back offers, so I don’t know!

I hope you have a great trip, and come back here in later May and let me know how it went, and if it felt better than your prior trips!

17 Kelly .D { 06.08.13 at 1:02 pm }

I have to say that the information you provided about your last stay at the Port Orleans Riverside back in February was invaluable to our family. We took your advice and stayed in the 85 block ( Magnolia Terrace ). The bus stop was right out back of our room, the room was very nice and we stayed on the top floor ( very quiet ). We did a park a day and had the best family vacation ever ! Thanks again for all of the helpful information. Everything you mentioned was spot on and if you ever need my feed back in more detail please email me.

18 Kelly .D { 06.08.13 at 1:05 pm }

Question; How long have you been staying at Disney resorts ?

Kelly

19 Brian T { 06.08.13 at 7:19 pm }

Dave,

Can you request a certain building? I am staying at Alligator Bayou due to 5 people in our group. If you can request a building or room, how and when do you do this? thanks as always!

20 Dave { 06.09.13 at 8:09 am }

Thanks, Kelly, and I’m so glad that the site helped you! Be sure to tell your 1,000 closest friends about it :)

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21 Dave { 06.09.13 at 8:15 am }

Well, Kelly, I started staying at the Disney resorts in 1975, but didn’t start thinking of them in the context of this site until a couple years before I opened it in 2008 (see http://yourfirstvisit.net/2013/04/02/yourfirstvisit-net-has-its-fifth-birthday/). Since I started paying attention in mid-2006, I’ve had more than 50 Disney resort hotel stays…

22 Dave { 06.09.13 at 8:52 am }

Brian you can request a building by calling, and also at the time of check in. Better is to explain what you are looking for in a building (e.g. close to dining) so that they can respond if the specific building you have in mind is full.

You can also put in requests when you do online check in–which you can do up to 60 days before your visit…

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23 Anna { 10.24.13 at 12:58 pm }

I just found your website, but had my first trip at 29 to DW last May. I just so happened to have gotten building 85 in Magnolia Bend, on the top floor, overlooking the river just on the other side on the bridge on the end closest to the bridge. It was awesome. I think it is important to point out that some people’s first visit is with their husband when they are 29, so then a moderate is GREAT! Kid appeal is something we actually avoided. We are Premiere passholders (live in Southern California) and never stay in Disney hotels there because the cheapest one is about 300 off season. We we were able to get our hotel in May at PO for 140 a night! With the ridiculously cheap airfare we found (400 for both round-trip from San Diego), we did 8 days, ate a few fancy meals, and got souvenirs for less than 2k total, including upping our annual passes. The only issue we had was housekeeping. Ours apparently got switched half way through, and it became obvious that they didn’t even come in our room. We called and complained, and they came, just handed us new towels and about 30 shampoos in a bag outside the door, obviously annoyed. That part was less than magical. Overall though, if I could get 85 again, I would stay there again. Chances are, we won’t get to go again till after my husband is out of med school, and we have kids, so we will be looking for something completely different again! Probably Beach Club with that awesome slide and park proximity…

24 Dave { 10.25.13 at 12:33 pm }

Hi Anna, and thanks for the report! Yup, for visitors without kids I’d have very different answers! And the Beach Club is a great choice!

25 Eric Skilton { 11.22.13 at 12:03 pm }

Hi Dave
I know we’ve done it all wrong–Disney at Christmas and no pre-planning. Doing a 9 night stay at Port Orleans. We have 3 rooms booked and requested adjacent ones. We thought Oak would be a good block but your reviews rave about Building 85-does this have a name? If our UK rep e-mails ahead do you think they will give us what we are asking for?
No Christmas day meal booked (I told you we were badly planned) if we do find one in one of the parks and make a reservation does that guarantee access to the park even if it “full”.
Any other tips for new year?
Thanks in advance Dave–web site is awesome. Must be a real labour of love. You’re not Walt Disney reincarnated by any chance?

26 Eric Skilton { 11.23.13 at 4:21 am }

Hi Dave

Correction/clarification of the above.
We have booked standard rooms and are there from 22 Dec to 5 Jan 2014
6 adults, 2 kids 8 and 12.

27 Dave { 11.24.13 at 9:19 am }

Eric–sorry I got so behind on my responses…and thanks for the kind words! I’m just me, trying to help others…

80=Acadian House
85=Magnolia Terrace
90=Oak Manor
95=Parterre Place

I’d think your biggest priority would be having the three rooms near each other, and that would blow out the differences among the buildings–which though I’m pretty firm on them, might make a difference of only ten or twenty minutes a day to you…

And no, having a meal reserved won’t get you in if the park is totally closed…

For other thoughts, see this from last year–the dates and other details are wrong, but the overall approach is right: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2012/12/04/coping-disney-world-holiday-crowds/

28 Sara M { 12.14.13 at 12:35 am }

Stayed at Pop for our first trip this November. I goofed and had us stay in the 90′s section instead of the 50′s so we had a farther walk to the busses and we only got drinks before getting the line for the bus to the parks and then again at night when we got back. We had a BLAST and most days did 12-15 hours with a 2 1/2 and 6 year old. We were rarely even at Pop but did swim twice and it was nice. Bar was nice. People were nice. Food was decent. Gift shop was fun and nice music. Would stay there again, only complaints are no fridges and no towels at any of the 3 pools. Thinking of doing a Moderate in the fall of 2014- most likely November again. Question, how does transportation fare in your eyes at POR versus POP? We thought it was nice and easy to go to one pickup and drop off. However, it seems as though POR will have much more inconvenience with their bus stops? Would you pick POR over POP? Or POP over POR?

29 Dave { 12.15.13 at 10:19 am }

Sara, for staying at a moderate on a return visit, see this: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2013/03/28/the-moderates-remix/

Compared ot the values, moderate rooms are much larger and more comfortable. The landscaping is more interesting, and overall theming not nearly so garish. Most (not POFQ) have sit-down restaurants which are undistinguished but sometimes a nice alternative to the food court. All have AT LEAST 4 bus stops, so it can take as long for the bus to get around the hotel as it take it to get to the park…all but POFQ are massive and can be a pain to get from your room to the main pool/food court/etc. All have pool slides…

30 Michelle Zimmerma { 03.11.14 at 3:17 pm }

Thanks for all the great tips; we prefer not to be close to the main hub, but close to a bus stop; which would you recommend Buildings 24,25 or 26?

31 Dave { 03.12.14 at 6:05 am }

Michelle, 34 and 37 in this area are closer to bus stops…

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