Hey everybody, there’s a new itinerary out for arrivals 8/31 through 10/26/2019. You can find it here.

By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Walt Disney World’s Moderate Resorts

By Dave Shute

The Basics: Where to Stay

THE MODERATE RESORTS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

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 do represent almost 30% of the room capacity of Walt Disney World, and will be sought by some you because you aren’t a first-timer, or because this site’s recommended resorts are sold out. Or you are just contrary. (For what the moderates provide, and how they compare to the other Disney World resort classes, click here)

Because of this, I’ve stayed in each of the moderate resorts multiple times, including in each of their major room variants, and published and updated detailed reviews of them all. Since I began working on this site, I’ve stayed in the moderates almost 40 times, for more than 100 nights.

What follows is an overview of the group, and them specifics on each option–see the links for even more detailed reviews than you’ll find on this page.

OVERVIEW OF THE MODERATE RESORTS

Disney World offers five moderate resorts:

If I cheat a bit on the “The” in the cabins, these are not only in alphabetical order, but also the order I would recommend them for first time visitors. That said, there are some big differences among them, so you probably ought to keep reading…

Standard moderate rooms are found in all moderates except the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. These standard rooms cost, on average across 2020, about $100/night more than standard value resort rooms and about half the cost of an average standard deluxe resort room.

Your extra $100/night buys you about 50 more square feet than value rooms, in addition to queen beds (except in Caribbean Beach’s “Pirate Rooms”), double sinks, a coffee-maker, a table service restaurant (except at French Quarter), an indoor bar (except at Caribbean Beach), a pool slide, and hot tubs. The moderates also provide the most cost-effective way to sleep five (in the Alligator Bayou section of Riverside and in many Caribbean Beach rooms) and the most cost-effective way to get a full kitchen in the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. New rooms in Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs represent the first high rise moderate rooms, and the first such with access from interior corridors.

Compared to the deluxes, the moderates have limited dining options (with the exception of Coronado Springs), no character meals, are less convenient to at least one theme park, and have far fewer services and amenities. Fortunately, living areas are more comparable in size to those in the deluxes than you might expect, especially deluxe resorts with smaller room sizes like those at the Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodges.

Of the moderates, all but Port Orleans French Quarter are large and spread out, with dozens of guest buildings spread out over hundreds of acres. All have multiple bus stops (including shared buses at French Quarter). All have more amenities than the values, but fewer than the deluxes. Coronado Springs offers by far the most amenities, including the only suites, club rooms, spa and workout facilities among the moderates. French Quarter offers the fewest, including no quiet pools, and no sit-down restaurant.

Moderate resorts favor tranquility and a more sublime atmosphere when compared to the values, but don’t offer the lushness and detail of the deluxes. This may translate to less overt kid appeal. There are no 50-foot-tall Mickey Mouse icons at the moderates, and other than some subtle references, nothing about them screams Disney World.

Among the moderates, kids prefer Caribbean Beach Resort, with its beautiful white sand beaches, hammocks, and colorful buildings. It also features a pirate-themed pool and water play area that kids adore. Caribbean Beach will become the hub of the new Skyliner gondola system with gondola transport to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, alleviating its historic transportation issues, I expect, and has also upped its dining options to second best among the moderates.

Adults prefer Port Orleans French Quarter for its compactness and easy transportation, and Coronado Springs for its amenities.

Each of the moderates, except for Port Orleans Riverside, has both strong pros and strong cons. Port Orleans French Quarter is the most compact and easy to get around, but has the weakest amenities. Caribbean Beach is strong on amenities, and will be stronger with the Skyliner opening, but still has too many bus stops. Coronado Springs has, by far, the best amenities, but business travelers here for conventions or meetings may diminish the mood, and clutter the bars. Port Orleans Riverside has no strong pros, but also no strong cons, which might in fact be its biggest pro.

(The Cabins at Fort Wilderness are so different than any other moderate that I refer you to the detailed material later on this page and elsewhere on this site.)

CARIBBEAN BEACH

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is themed around Caribbean islands, their beaches, and the pirates who once voyaged among them. Rooms in the resort are found in five “villages” ringing a lake, all named after Caribbean destinations: Barbados, Trinidad, Martinique, Aruba, and Jamaica.

Caribbean Beach

Caribbean Beach

Each colorful village has palm-tree lined beaches, and each has its own pool and bus stop. The central Centertown area includes another bus stop and the main pool at the resort, the pirate-themed Fuentes del Morro Pool—the best pool of the Disney World moderate resorts. After the removal of more than 550 rooms here in 2017, this pool has the best match of capacity to demand among any moderate.

Caribbean Beach

Caribbean Beach

Six pools and six bus stops may sound like an abundance of riches. They are not. Rather, there are this many pools and bus stops because of design flaws that make Caribbean Beach large and hard to get around—especially for guests staying at Trinidad. Currently, all transport to theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs is via buses. Because of the number of required bus stops, Caribbean Beach is not particularly convenient to anywhere, but is closest to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Later in 2019, the Disney Skyliner will open at Caribbean Beach, providing gondola service to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort- from yourfirstvisit.net

Caribbean Beach

Many rooms at Caribbean Beach have Disney theming—a light touch in most, and deep pirate theming in the distant (and overly expensive) Trinidad area. The combination of Disney-themed rooms, sparkling beaches, bright colors, swaying palms, and the pirate-themed main pool give Caribbean Beach high kid appeal among the moderates. Adults like most of this, too, but can be frustrated by the walking distances and all the bus stops.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort Floor Plan from yourfirstvisit.net
There are three types of standard rooms at Caribbean Beach, all about 314 square feet: pirate-themed rooms that sleep four on two full beds, and two types of non-pirate rooms—rooms that sleep four on two queens, and rooms that sleep five on two queens and a murphy bed under the TV that’s about 30 inches wide by 64 inches long.

Caribbean Beach

Caribbean Beach

Rooms come with a table and two chairs, a dresser/TV/mini-fridge combo, coffee-maker, hair-dryer, a smaller storage chest in four-person rooms, and a divided, family-friendly bath. In the bath, the sinks and closet/dressing area are shielded from the rest of the room by a curtain in the Pirate rooms and sliding solid doors in all other rooms, and the tub and toilet have their own room. The two-story buildings that hold these rooms have no elevators, and no rooms have balconies. All rooms are accessed from exterior corridors.

Dining is available at the table service restaurant Sebastian’s Bistro, and counter service venues in Centertown and Trinidad. Sebastian’s Bistro is strong but not worth a special trip, and the Spyglass Grill counter service offering in Trinidad is small but sound. The counter service offerings in Centertown opened with excessive waits and no lunch service, but waits are now down and lunch is available.

Other amenities include movies, campfires, bike rental, fishing, a Pirate Adventure cruise, great jogging trails, and playgrounds.

In much of 2020 prices at Caribbean Beach are typically comparable to those at the Port Orleans Resorts, and more expensive than standard rooms at Coronado Springs.

CORONADO SPRINGS

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort’s theme is based on the American Southwest, Spanish-colonial Mexico, their architectural inspirations in Spain, and the physical remnants of Mesoamerican civilizations. Rooms in the massive resort are found in four areas surrounding a lake: the Casitas, elegant colonnaded three- and four-story buildings; the new Gran Destino fifteen-story tower, with Spanish theming; the Ranchos, a sharply contrasting, desert-inspired area; and the Cabanas, a beach-house themed area with beaches, too—fewer than at Caribbean Beach, but more than at any other moderate.

Coronado Springs

Coronado Springs

Check-in and guest services are in Gran Destino, as are a fine rooftop restaurant and two bars. The El Centro area, between the Casitas and Gran Destino, includes more dining, shopping, and access to the Coronado Springs Convention Center.

Pool at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Coronado Springs

Away from El Centro, and near the actual center of the resort—and most convenient to the Cabanas and Ranchos—is the Mesoamerican-themed main pool, the Lost City of Cibola, in the Dig Site area, the second-best pool among the moderates. Three of the four room areas have their own smaller pool, and each of the four has a bus stop. The 2019 addition of about 25% more rooms but no more pool capacity has made space at the main pool harder to find, and over-pressed the Gran Destino bus stop.

All transport to theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs is via buses. Coronado Springs is labeled as an Animal Kingdom Area Resort in Disney’s way-finding material, but is in fact the most centrally-located of all the moderate resorts. This, combined with its “only” four bus stops, makes it the second most convenient of the moderates—among them, only Port Orleans French Quarter is more convenient for park travel. The resort itself is massive, and some buildings in the Ranchos in particular are quite distant from El Centro and Gran Destino.

Coronado Springs is the only moderate with convention facilities. This has led to much fussing, largely unfair. The same number of rooms occupied by conventioneers rather than families means fewer people in total at the resort (because conventioneers average fewer people per room) and fewer people at the bus stops and pools (as the fewer conventioneers are in meetings, not going to the parks or the pools). Most of the time, except breakfast, there’s also fewer people in Coronado Springs’s public dining spaces, as most meetings have meals served as part of the meeting program. However, when a thousand people leave a meeting at once, and all want to go someplace, things clot up quickly.

On the other hand, because of the demands of the business travelers at the convention center, Coronado Springs has a much higher level of services and amenities than at the other moderates. There are the usual movies, campfires, bike rental, fishing, playgrounds, and arcade. In addition, uniquely at Coronado Springs among the moderates, you’ll find not one but two gyms, spa services, a main pool menu with real food, the largest hot tub at Disney World, six bars, four table service restaurants, and a business center. The effect of these extra services is to make Coronado Springs quite attractive to adults and to returning visitors looking for better amenities at moderate prices. Kids like the beach-themed Cabanas, the Dig Site area and main pool, and, if they aren’t familiar with the geography, the exotic Southwest theming.

Rooms in Coronado Springs’s Casitas, Cabanas, and Ranchos areas completed a refurb in late 2018. Standard rooms in these three areas at Coronado Springs hold four people on two queen beds in about 314 square feet.

Coronado Springs

They are similarly sized to those at the other traditional moderates. In a concession to convention travelers, they come with a desk rather than the table and two chairs you’ll find in the other traditional moderates, but add a family-friendly easy chair and some Disney art. Most other room amenities are similar to those in other traditional moderates—a dresser/TV/ mini-fridge combo, coffee-maker, and hair dryer. The bath is divided and family friendly, and after the refurb now has two sinks. Sliding wooden doors separate the bath from the sleeping area, rather than the fabric curtains you’ll find in the other traditional moderates except the standard rooms in Caribbean Beach. All buildings have elevators, and no rooms have balconies. All rooms in these three areas are accessed from exterior corridors.

Gran Destino Tower opened in July 2019 and added 545 more rooms, including 50 suites. Upper floor accommodations in Gran Destino can have very nice views, and are the only moderate spaces accessed from interior corridors. Standard two-queen rooms, at about 400 square feet, are nominally much larger than those elsewhere at Coronado Springs, but most of the extra space is in the entry hall, and thus not of much use to most. The bath is larger and nicer than those in the rest of Coronado Springs, but is awkwardly laid out. The sinks share a space with a glass-walled shower, and the toilet is in a separate space. This bath would be more livable if the shower was also in the separate space. Other room fittings and fixtures are similar to those in rooms in the rest of the resort—except you won’t find any Disney theming in them.

You’ll find both more and better dining at Coronado Springs than in any other moderate. Dining is in four areas. Gran Destino Tower has the rooftop Toledo, featuring wonderful views and tapas, seafood and steaks, at a quality level comparable to dining in many deluxe resorts. The bottom-floor Barcelona Lounge serves appetizers and functions as a coffee shop in the morning. In next-door El Centro you’ll find El Mercado de Coronado, the counter-service offering, Cafe Rix, a grab and go shop, and two more table service options, Maya Grill, with a menu suited to the Southwest theming of the resort, and Rix Lounge, the closest thing to a club you’ll find in a Disney-owned hotel, which also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The final table service option, Three Bridges Bar and Grill, is on the water between the Casitas and the Dig Site pool, and serves dinner. At the Dig Site itself, uniquely among the moderate pools you can find even more hot food. There’s also six bars—two in Gran Destino, one in El Centro, one on the water outside El Centro, one in Three Bridges, and one at the pool. Of these, I particularly recommend Dahlia Lounge for its Gran Destino rooftop setting and views.

In 2020, standard Coronado Springs rooms are typically the least expensive among the moderates.

PORT ORLEANS FRENCH QUARTER

Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is one of two moderates with “Port Orleans” in the name—the other is Port Orleans Riverside Resort. Some mistakenly call these one resort. The only point of commonality most guests will ever notice is that guests at either are welcome to share the other’s pools. The confusion comes from Disney shutting down, more than a decade ago, the table service restaurant and bike rentals at what was then known as Port Orleans Resort, and is now Port Orleans French Quarter, and then renaming both resorts as Port Orleans—indicating to guests that these amenities weren’t really missing, but just more distant, at Port Orleans Riverside, part of the same resort now.

Disney does not much bother with this distinction anymore—other than making it clear to guests that they are welcome to partake in everything offered at both. It turns out that despite the missing amenities at Port Orleans French Quarter, it is the most highly valued of the Disney moderates—among the moderates it is least seen in Disney’s discounts and other special offers.

Port Orleans French Quarter

Port Orleans French Quarter

French Quarter has as its theme New Orleans and Mardi Gras, combining lacy wrought iron, lovely gardens, and cobblestoned streets. Mardi Gras figures and decorations are scattered about, especially near the main pool. French Quarter has half as many rooms as Port Orleans Riverside and Coronado Springs, and two-thirds as many as Caribbean Beach, the other traditional moderates, and has—with no lake or river in the middle—a more compact footprint for those rooms. As a result, it is, by far, the easiest moderate to get around. It has no distinctively themed separate areas for its seven accommodations buildings, though you’ll see North Quarter and South Quarter signage meant to help you find your building. Near the entrance at the center is dining, shops, and guest services in the Port Orleans Square area.

Port Orleans French Quarter

The only pool, the Mardi-Gras themed Doubloon Lagoon, is just steps away, and the sole bus stop is right out front. A terrific kids splash pool–the best among the moderates–was added in 2016.

All transport to theme parks and water parks is via buses. French Quarter sometimes shares buses (except to the Magic Kingdom) with Riverside, but the single bus stop on the MK route (and on other routes when buses are not shared) makes it the most convenient of the moderates. Disney Springs is accessible by both boat and bus.

Port Orleans French Quarter

Port Orleans French Quarter

There’s no special kid appeal at French Quarter, and in fact the Mardi Gras theming—including, for example, an enormous depiction of a sea serpent at the pool—wigs some kids out. But French Quarter is the loveliest and most romantic of the moderates, and that, when combined with the ease of getting around and to the parks, makes it a great favorite of adults and of returning visitors among the moderates.

Rooms at French Quarter were refurbed in 2018, gaining wooden floors, added power points, and larger TVs. They sleep four on two queens in about 314 square feet, and all come with a table and two chairs, a dresser/mini-fridge, coffee-maker, hair-dryer, and a divided, family- friendly bath. In the bath, the two sinks and closet/dressing area are shielded from the sleeping part of the room by a curtain, and the tub and toilet have their own room. All buildings have elevators. No rooms have balconies. All rooms are accessed from exterior corridors.

Port Orleans French Quarter

The only dining at French Quarter is at the food court Sassagoula Floatworks Food Company, which, after its late 2016 refurb, is well above average among the moderates, and has a nice sprinkling of themed offerings—for example, beignets, Po Boys, jambalaya, and BBQ ribs served with collard greens. The indoor bar, the Scat Cats Lounge, is not as rollicking as the River Roost Lounge at Riverside, but one should always have the option to not rollick.

Amenities are thinner than at the other moderates, although most that are missing are nearby at Riverside. On site, you’ll find (besides the pool) an arcade, playground, and movies. (Some nights, movies are at Riverside or French Quarter, but not both.)

In 2020 prices at French Quarter are typically comparable to those at Riverside and Caribbean Beach, and more expensive than Coronado Springs.

PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE

Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort is one of two moderates with “Port Orleans” in the name—the other is Port Orleans French Quarter. Riverside has as its theme the 19th century American South, particularly the bayou and riverine areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Port Orleans Riverside

Port Orleans Riverside

Rooms in the massive resort are in two areas, Magnolia Bend, with four large buildings meant to be reminiscent of plantation mansions, and Alligator Bayou, with many smaller buildings meant to evoke a more backwater feel. Found in the Sassagoula Steamboat Company area near the entrance to the resort are dining, shops, and guest services.

Port Orleans Riverside

Port Orleans Riverside

The main pool, located on a central island called Ol’ Man Island, has a bit of saw-mill theming, and is average among moderate pools. Testifying to the sprawl of the resort and the distance of many rooms from Ol’ Man Island, you’ll find five additional smaller pools around the resort. The resort proper has four bus stops, but sometimes shares buses (except to the Magic Kingdom) with nearby Port Orleans French Quarter, making it less convenient than either Coronado Springs or Port Orleans French Quarter. In late 2017, Riverside became dog-friendly.

All transport to theme parks and water parks is via bus. Disney Springs is accessible by both boat and bus. The resort itself is massive, and some rooms are a hike from the main services, and others from the main pool…some from both.

There’s no special kid appeal at Riverside compared to that at Caribbean Beach, and no special adult appeal compared to that at Coronado Springs and French Quarter. But even so, Riverside is for some reason likely the best-loved, most frequently recommended, and most loyally defended of all the moderate resorts.

There are three very different room types at Riverside. All are about the same size as those at the other traditional moderates, about 314 square feet, and all come with a table and two chairs, a dresser/TV/mini-fridge combo, coffee-maker, hair-dryer, and a divided, family-friendly bath. In the bath, the two sinks and closet/dressing area are shielded from the sleeping part of the room by a curtain, and the tub and toilet have their own room. The two story buildings in Alligator Bayou have no elevators, but the taller Magnolia Bend buildings do. No rooms have balconies. All rooms are accessed from exterior corridors.

A room refurb project is complete in Alligator Bayou, and should be completed across Magnolia Bend in later 2019 or early 2020. My floor plans and room photos are of not-yet refurbed rooms.

Port Orleans Riverside Alligator Bayou 5 Person Room Floor Plan from yourfirstvisit.net

The Alligator Bayou section of Riverside is one of only two areas at Disney World with traditional moderate rooms that sleep five—two each in two queens, and the fifth in a small murphy bed (about 66 inches long by 31 inches wide, and meant for a kid ten or younger) that folds down beneath the TV. (Caribbean Beach is the other.)

Rooms in half the Magnolia Bend section have “Royal” theming, and are more expensive. These rooms sleep four in two queens, and have much prince and (especially) princess detail, including a lovely headboard light show based on the Princess and the Frog triggered by an easy-to-miss button on the side.

Port Orleans Riverside

Port Orleans Riverside

Rooms in the other half of Magnolia Bend also sleep four in two queens, but do not have the special royal theming—nor its extra cost. They are also largely more convenient than the Royal Rooms, and, if you don’t need the fifth sleeping spot, more livable than the Alligator Bend rooms.

Dining is at Sassagoula Steamboat Company, with a food court that’s average among the moderates and a table service restaurant, Boatwright’s Dining Hall, that’s also average. The food court is too small for the crowds it faces, but has some menu items that reflect its theming—e.g., a Swamp burger, a Cajun chicken sandwich, fried green tomatoes, etc. The indoor bar, the River Roost Lounge, has a widely loved family-friendly show from “Ye Haa” Bob Jackson most Wednesday through Saturday evenings. There’s also a bar at the main pool.

Amenities available at the resort include movies, campfires, bike rental, fishing, jogging trails, playgrounds, and an arcade. (Some nights, movies are at Riverside or French Quarter, but not both.) The main pool is far too small for the resort, and can’t fit everyone who would like to be there.

In much of 2020 prices at Riverside are typically comparable to those at French Quarter and Caribbean Beach, and more expensive than Coronado Springs.

THE CABINS AT FORT WILDERNESS

Disney has had some trouble over the years communicating what’s in the Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Now that there are also starkly different “cabins” at the similarly named Wilderness Lodge, we see even more confusion (see, for example, page 93 of The Unofficial Guide 2020). The Fort Wilderness cabins—each its own little building—are distinctive spaces, sleeping six in two rooms, and with full kitchens. There used to be a “home away from home” category which the Cabins were in, but everything else in this group was a “deluxe” class room, and the Cabins didn’t match up well with them.

So to eliminate the confusion about amenities, in 2009 Disney re-classed these Cabins as “moderates”. This is a fair description of room-level amenities and spaciousness, but there’s really few other ways that the Cabins are like the other moderates (inconvenience is one, and thinner kid appeal another). As a result, the phrase “traditional moderate” started being used for all the moderates except the Cabins.

Cabins at Fort Wilderness

The Cabins are one of two lodging options at Fort Wilderness—the other being campsites. Fort Wilderness is one of America’s great campgrounds, and the Cabins share in all the wonderful recreational activities available in the rest of this resort. The Cabins are each small, standalone buildings, looking on the outside like a nice small wood-paneled mobile home, and on the inside like a rustic cabin. If driving, you park right in front. Each cabin also has an outdoor barbecue grill and a big deck with picnic table. In late 2017, the Cabins became dog-friendly.

Floor Plan Renovated Cabins at Fort Wilderness from yourfirstvisit.net

As you walk in, you’ll find first the full kitchen with four a two burner stove and a combined microwave and convection oven. The microwave/oven works better as an oven than you might think, but it is short (with only 6 inches of clearance between the rack and the top of the oven) and can’t exceed 450 degrees. Adjacent is a small dining table and small living room. A queen bed folds out from a couch, so this space sleeps two—typically the parents. Further back is a full bath. It’s not divided, and is short on hot water, so it doesn’t always well suit the six people that these cabins can sleep. Beyond this is the back bedroom, with a tight-fitting queen bed on one side and a pair of bunk beds on the other.

The Cabins are not the least expensive way to get a Disney room for six—a family suite at All-Star Music is that. But they are the least expensive way to get moderate-level fittings and fixtures for six, and are by far the least expensive way to get a full kitchen. The challenge, though, is some crowding, especially around the bath, thin kid appeal—unless your kids love campgrounds—and great inconvenience. If you don’t have a car, it takes two transport acts to get off Fort Wilderness and to a park—the first bus gets you to another bus stop or boat dock, from which you go to your final destination. I couldn’t imagine staying here if you don’t have a car. (Much-loved golf carts are also available for rent. They limit walking or bus waits at the Fort proper, but can’t be used off the campground.)

Fort Wilderness has some family-friendly table service dining—the storied Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, for example. (Mickey’s Backyard Barbecue closed at the end of 2018.) There’s also Trails End restaurant, with great value for money. Plus you have that kitchen. But there’s not much in the way of counter service, and to get to these table service venues from the Cabins, you need to take a bus.

Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Cabins at Fort Wilderness

The resort has two pools. One is dull but within walking distance of the Cabins; the other, the main pool, remains the weakest among the moderates. This pool is farther (a bus trip for most), and is in the same Meadows area as where you’ll find many of Fort Wilderness’s other amenities. At the Settlement end of Fort Wilderness, you’ll find (via bus…you can’t drive to these) the beach, marina, boat docks (with boat service both to the Magic Kingdom, and also to the nearby Wilderness Lodge and Contemporary resorts), and the dining noted above.

Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Cabins at Fort Wilderness

If you need the lowest-priced kitchen you can find, need to sleep six, and have a car, the Cabins are a wonderful option. Otherwise, not so much. On average, a Cabin is about 75% more expensive than a standard moderate room.

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly, can book you into a moderate room–or any other Disney World hotel!  Contact her using the form below.

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