In many ways I consider myself a lucky man. One of those ways, albeit a minor one, is that I have had the opportunity to stay in all four of Walt Disney World’s Moderate level resorts within the past 18 months or so. The first thing you may notice is that I said four, even though Disney technically lists five: Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans – French Quarter, Port Orleans – Riverside, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. I am omitting the Cabins from this comparison for a few reasons: Firstly, the Cabins are quite a bit different than the other moderates as they are larger, capable of housing more people, and more expensive. Secondly, and more importantly, I have never stayed in one, so a writing of my personal experiences would be very, very short.
So, why moderates? Sure, I would love to be writing this about all of the Deluxe Resorts or, better yet, a comparison of the Grand Villas at all DVC properties. Unfortunately, even though I keep shooting holes in my yard like Jed Clampett, none of them have resulted in oil…black gold…Texas tea. So for my family of four Deluxe Resorts are usually too pricey for more than a couple of nights. We have tried Value Resorts, but find that the slightly smaller rooms (and beds) to be a noticeable difference. For a relatively marginal price increase, we have always felt most at home at Disney’s Moderate Resorts.
The purpose of this writing, much like the Unofficial Guide, is to help you be as well informed as possible. Of course, I cannot help but throw a ton of personal preference in with the facts because that’s just who I am and it’s my article. Feel free to add your own cent or two down in the comments section below. If you are like me and are looking at staying in one of the lovely Moderates at Disney World, hopefully this will help…so let’s get it on!
The most basic of differences in the Moderate Resorts is also the one that should probably least influence your choice. Yes, the themes are all very different, but they are also all very nice. The Caribbean Beach Resort is meant to look like a seaside village in the Caribbean. Coronado Springs evokes the architecture of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. Port Orleans – French Quarter resembles the lively French Quarter of New Orleans, and Port Orleans – Riverside hearkens back to a bayou-based settlement in the deep south.
All four of these themes are thorough and fairly obvious to the casual vacationer, but you’re not here to read pleasant generalities and I’m here to start arguments (note: not my real purpose), so let’s rank ’em! I think the best theme among these is Port Orleans – Riverside, mostly due to its intricacies. Sure, most people will never know the ridiculously detailed back story that went into its design, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Just the way the Magnolia Bend mansions become less opulent the closer they get to the center of “town” and the rustic “working man” vibe of the central area tell a tale of classes and history that you can feel.
This may be a bit controversial, but my second favorite theme is Port Orleans – French Quarter. Sure, it only vaguely resembles the real French Quarter, but Disney was sure as sugar not going to put a drive through daiquiri establishment in the resort. What is does do, however, is create a lovely, European garden environment with decorative iron, well manicured landscaping, and beautiful fountains.
My third place theme is Caribbean Beach, which does exactly as intended by transporting you to the Caribbean. My only complaint is the slightly too wide open space and the lack of a real “village” feel. Coronado Springs is bringing up the rear. While there are absolutely gorgeous areas and views, the theme gets lost in large sections that aren’t the pool or lobby area.
This category is closely related to the theme, but I felt it was different enough to warrant its own section. The way I rank the grounds is on sheer beauty, with no regard to how well said beauty meshes with the existing theme. You may only care if a particular resort is pretty and not if it is a true representation of a Caribbean village (actually, this sounds like a much more sane point of view), which is why I’m discussing this separately. Please note that this does not take into account the inside of the rooms, that’s the next section.
Let me first say that all four of these resorts are incredibly pleasant and beautiful and my ranking is basically picking nits. I would happily stare at any of these resorts for hours (and I plead the 5th on whether I have). Let’s start at the top, which is the Caribbean Beach. As I said, this was close, but the lush landscaping, abundance of water, the beaches, the lighthouse, that awesome island in the middle of the lagoon, and the bright colors that look awesome in the reflected light of a sunrise are just too perfect.
Next I’m picking Port Orleans – Riverside because of those gorgeous mansions, the picturesque town center, the water tower, and the waterwheel. In third place (and boy was this close) is Coronado Springs, which features a huge lagoon and that super-cool Mayan temple near the pool. Again, the buildings hurt Coronado Springs as many of them, especially the Cabanas, are sort of ugly. The back of the pack this time is Port Orleans – French Quarter. Even though I love the grounds and the fountains, there is not much more than that to bump it ahead of the others.
Sure, you might have seen this header and thought “they’re all Moderates, the rooms are the same.” Well you, good sir or madam, are mistaken. In fact, the differences in the rooms make a very large difference to me and heavily influence my overall ranking of the four Moderate Resorts. So what are these differences? Let’s rank some resorts!
Coronado Springs tops this particular list. Not only do I find the style of the rooms very appealing, they have a few advantages. The beds are Queen size, to name a big one (and no, this is not a given…keep reading). In addition, Coronado Springs, being a conference hotel, foregoes the basically useless small table and chairs setup in favor of a very useful desk with a power strip. Even if you aren’t working on vacation, this takes up less floor space while still allowing an area to throw your junk and some extra outlets for charging those cell phones and camera batteries. Yet another advantage to Coronado are the heavy duty doors that separate the sleeping area from the sink area. The other Moderates use a curtain, which is nice, but does not block the light from your sleeping children like those doors. The only downside for Coronado is that it only has a single sink basin.
In second place is Port Orleans – French Quarter. The layout and amenities of the rooms between the two Port Orleans resorts is basically identical with Queen beds and double sinks, but I find the look of the standard rooms nicer at French Quarter. That said, Riverside comes in a close third and if you upgrade to a Royal Room, they are much nicer than the standard room.
Oh Caribbean Beach, why do you forsake me? Why oh why do you still have full size (or double) beds? Yes, that’s right, Caribbean Beach’s beds are smaller than the other Moderate Resorts. This may not be of consequence to your family, but I am tall and on vacation my wife and I are forced to share beds with the children. Therefore, more room is better.
For amenities I am considering everything that I have not previously mentioned such as pool and food court. This was a really hard ranking for me because I find all four of these resorts to have similar strengths and weaknesses. The pool complexes at all four are very good with good, fun themes and nice water slides. If forced to choose I like the Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach pool areas better than the other two, but just barely.
Food courts I find equally similar, but that is not as much of a compliment. The quick service dining options at all four are generally mediocre. Although there is a faint attempt at offering options that are in line with the themes of the resorts, they generally come off as toned-down, American fast food versions. I rarely hesitate to eat at any of the food courts, and they are not bad, but I don’t get particularly excited about any of them either. One food related note I would like to add is that Coronado Springs, being a more business oriented resort, starts serving a limited breakfast earlier than the others (6am) which is definitely a bonus for an early riser/explorer like myself.
Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, and Port Orleans-Riverside all have table service restaurants as well, but I have never eaten at any of them and have little desire to. If in-resort sit-down dining is something that is important to you that may be a knock against Port Orleans-French Quarter.
There are two things that do separate the Moderate Resorts a bit: Watercraft and bars (please do not mix). Both Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans-Riverside offer watercraft rentals while the other two do not. I prefer Riversides just because of the option to cruise down the Sassagoula River, which gives you a little more view variation.
The on-resort bars is another negative check against Caribbean Beach (wait, can I have negative checks? Is that this ^…oh well). You see, Caribbean Beach is the only one of the four without a real, sit down bar. They do have a pool bar and a weird setup with their restaurant Shutters where you can usually order a drink to go, but that’s it. The other three all have much more interesting bar options, and the evening entertainment at the two Port Orleans resorts is a definite bonus if that’s something you’re looking for.
The Buses (and other transportation)
I made this a special category because I’m thinking about myself (as usual). When in Walt Disney World, my family and I are bus people, which means we use the Disney bus system and not that we turn into Transformers-esque bus robots. Anyway, it has been discussed many, many times that the Disney bus system is not as time efficient as driving yourself. This is an especially important subject when discussing Moderate Resorts because of the variance in number of bus stops and routes.
As a quick primer, here is what my family looks for with regards to this category: We like the fewest amount of stops possible. The actual driving time on the bus is close enough between these four resorts that it is negligible. Therefore, what adds time to your trip is the amount of time the bus spends on the resort grounds. As an aside for your information: If multiple stops are necessary (as they usually are in this resort category), we prefer to be the first on and first off. First on the bus means that it is less crowded and you are mostly guaranteed that you will not have to wait for another bus because you are staring at one that is packed to the windows. First off is exceptionally nice when you are dragging almost-asleep children back to the room after the parks close and you can’t wait to get off.
In this category Port Orleans-French Quarter is the clear winner for it is the only one with only one bus stop. Being a small resort only one stop is needed and it is fairly easy to be within close walking distance to the stop. The two edge buildings, 1 and 7, are the only ones that seem far. There is one catch with French Quarter though, and that is because the buses often stop at the Port Orleans-Riverside stops after the French Quarter stop. (While ever changing, last time I was at French Quarter the Epcot and Hollywood Studios buses stopped at both resorts while the other two parks did not). In my opinion, even when the buses stop at Riverside it is still an advantage to be at French Quarter as you are first on and first off the bus.
My second favorite in this category is Coronado Springs, with Port Orleans-Riverside coming in a close third. Both of these two resorts have four stops each, although Riverside buses occasionally stop at Port Orleans-French Quarter before arriving at Riverside, which is why it gets 3rd place. Both of these resorts are also similar in that they are huge and, even with multiple bus stops, very possible that the walk from your room to the stop will be significant. In last place is Caribbean Beach which has a whopping 6 bus stops which can feel like 1,000 late at night. Caribbean Beach is also designed a little different in that the bus stops tend to be across a parking lot from their respective building groups making the walk to them that much further (the far-away-from-the-food-court Trinidad South is the only exception to this).
If, like us, you are bus people, I recommend scouring a resort map to find the closest possible building to a bus stop and requesting that. If you are trying to be close to both the bus and the food court, that is almost impossible unless you are willing to pay the premium “preferred room” rate. I always pick bus over food because I usually go to the food court for breakfast by myself and, without the kids, I don’t care how far I walk. If you’re curious, here are my building choices: French Quarter is building 4 (right next to food court and the bus stop…perfect), Riverside is Magnolia Terrace (although none of the buildings are particularly close to a bus stop), Caribbean Beach is either building 23 in Martinique (if you want to be a little closer to the food court) or 56 in Aruba. Finally, at Coronado Springs I like building 8B in the Cabanas section which is only a few minutes from the food court, a short walk to the pool, and very close to the bus stop.
My totally unofficial and in no way representing anyone but me rankings are: 1) Port Orleans-French Quarter, 2) Coronado Springs, 3) Port Orleans-Riverside, and 4) Caribbean Beach. Hopefully the reasons why were evident in the many words above, but the big winner for French Quarter is its small size. Coronado has a lot of little things that add up to a nice experience, while Riverside has beautiful theming and grounds. Caribbean just can’t overcome it’s 6 bus stops and Double beds in my opinion.
I fully expect many of you to disagree with my rankings and opinions and I welcome all reasoned counter-arguments. I am also sure I missed some positives and negatives, so feel free to add them below. Thanks for reading!