To continue my series on resort exploration (you can read about the Caribbean Beach Resort here), I’ve decided to lure you onto my Magical Express to Port Orleans Resort. As you may know, the resort is split in two; Riverside and French Quarter. Port Orleans Riverside is itself split in two, with Magnolia Bend representing the southern mansions and Alligator Bayou representing the more rustic bayou living (although everything gets properly Disney-fied).
In reality, these were once two separate resorts and they still are. The only thing they share (apart from the occasional bus) is the Port Orleans name which does nothing but confuse people. I will warn you now that French Quarter is one of my favorite places, and I have spent more time there than any Disney resort. I will try not to gush too much.
First a quick reminder that this series is all about the beauty and theme of a resort, not about its rooms, amenities, or services as that information can already be found on this site.
Let’s start to the north with…Riverside
Port Orleans Riverside is a large, sprawling complex with over 2,000 rooms. It is centered around the Sassagoula River which gives it a very lovely, picturesque setting. Unfortunately, the presence of the river also means that guests may have a bit of a walk from their room to the central food court area. Luckily that walk will be beautiful.
Everything about this resort feels relaxing. The food court and check-in area abuts the marina, where the dock makes a wonderfully restful area for a morning coffee. Crossing a beautiful, old looking bridge toward Ol’ Man Island gives you a fantastic view of the giant waterwheel that rotates along next to the food court.
Upon reaching Ol’ Man Island, you are met by a brilliantly overgrown pool area with a free form “swimmin’ hole” (don’t worry, it’s a real pool) and fishin’ hole that reminds this nostalgic kid-at-heart a little bit of the now forsaken River Country.
As I mentioned above, Riverside is divided into two sections; Alligator Bayou and Magnolia Bend. The differences between them are the size and decoration of the building exteriors and the landscaping (the rooms are identical in size and amenities). Alligator Bayou is meant to look slightly rustic and cottage-like, with thicker wooden railings and heavy shutters. Magnolia bend is stately, with soaring columns and grand staircases.
The landscaping also changes based on the area. Alligator Bayou consists of streams and ponds spanned by rough hewn bridges and surrounded by wildflowers (and it makes me want to wrassle gators…well, almost). Magnolia Bend continues the mansion theme into the gardens, with neatly manicured hedges and gurgling fountains (and it makes me want to carry a parasol).
Port Orleans Riverside is a place you can lose time in, not to mention a few rolls of film (if cameras still used film, that is). It successfully takes you to a calmer, quieter place that is reminiscent of the “old south” without beating you over the head with stereotypical “southern” things. I would never hesitate to stay and always love to wander the grounds.
Now on to…French Quarter
As mentioned, I love Port Orleans French Quarter because, much like Riverside above, it’s all about the calmness instilled by the theme. I think the name French Quarter is a bit misleading because, while the resort could be mistaken for its Louisiana namesake, that is only true if one catches the New Orleans French Quarter on an unusually clean, quiet day (and squints…a lot).
The real French Quarter often devolves into a liquor strewn trough where you are just as likely to notice a barker luring people into a “gentlemen’s” club or a woman “earning” beads than the wonderful old architecture and beauty of the area. Since the Disney version obviously omits the seedier elements, what’s left is quaint cobblestone walkways, intricately designed iron railings, calming fountains, and beautifully manicured courtyards.
Since French Quarter is about half the size (number of rooms-wise anyway) of Riverside, it feels very personal in a way that Disney resorts (and especially moderate resorts) usually don’t. Walking the grounds early in the morning can result in finding a beautiful little courtyard with no one in it. Also situated along the Sassagoula River, French Quarter has just as many fantastic photo opportunities as Riverside.
The pool area at French Quarter is also very interesting. Guarded by a harlequin and several jazz-playing gators, the centerpiece is a giant serpent being ridden by King Neptune that serves as the waterslide (you slide out of the monster’s mouth…ewww). I always find the gators to be especially photogenic.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end with one particular feature about the two Port Orleans resorts that really brings home a great theme; the music. Jazz, ragtime, Creole, and Dixieland are heard throughout both resorts and do nothing but add to the ambiance already present.