Every time Disney’s Magical Express turns through the gates of Port Orleans Riverside, I giggle like a little girl on Christmas morning. I’ve been coming to this resort since I was a child (back when it was called Dixie Landings) and have been back multiple times. Although I’ve stayed at several other resorts, I keep returning because I feel like I get to experience a deluxe hotel at a moderate price each time I stay.
Port Orleans French Quarter vs Riverside
Port Orleans is a unique Disney resort because it is actually two unique resorts right next to each other. Port Orleans French Quarter has a unique Mardi Gras feel to it, with beautiful details that make it feel like you’re walking down the streets of New Orleans.
Port Orleans Riverside is the larger of the two resorts, with theming that brings you right back to the antebellum south. At both resorts, taking a walk through quiet walkways by the Sassagoula River or through lush courtyards makes you literally feel like you’re stepping into a more quiet and peaceful pace.
I have always preferred Riverside over French Quarter (although I’ve stayed at both resorts). French Quarter is the smallest Moderate resort on Disney property and while this can be helpful after a long day at the parks, I don’t think that the amenities offered by this resort match up with its price. Riverside’s consistent theming, tranquil atmosphere and friendly cast members make a stay here worth every penny.
Staying at Port Orleans Riverside
Even though it has over 2,000 rooms, Port Orleans Riverside still manages to feel cozy. Unlike larger resorts like Coronado Springs where the distance between your room and the resorts amenities can feel overwhelming, Riverside is manageable. Standard Rooms start at $218/night (depending on what time of year you’re planning your trip) can go as high as over $320 for a riverfront room in peak season.
Riverside has two distinct areas: Magnolia Bend and Alligator Bayou. Big, beautiful mansion buildings and carefully planned gardens line the Sassagoula river in Magnolia Bend. It truly feels like you’ve been transported back to the old south. It’s enough to make you want to put on a big hat and sip a mint julep. This area of the resort is where Port Orleans Riverside’s royal rooms are located as well.
Each of these mansion buildings has carefully planned gardens and quiet walkways. Even when I stayed in a room which overlooked the parking lot, it was still a quiet and peaceful area. There are many quiet pools around the resort if you don’t feel like trekking up to the resort’s main pool, Ol’ Man River.
If you’re looking for river view rooms or closer proximity to the food court, definitely request these rooms. Those traveling with smaller children will also find that these rooms are closer to the movies on the lawn which are held most evenings as well as other family-friendly activities.
Over in Alligator Bayou, there is a more rustic feel to the buildings (think raised wooden lodges with tin roofs). The dense greenery definitely makes you feel like you’re in the middle of Louisiana. I actually prefer Alligator Bayou. Tucked into some lush wildlife, it is super easy to forget you’re at a big resort in these rooms. The quiet pools in this area of the resort are hidden in into the trees and don’t leave you with the feeling you’re at another hotel pool.
The theming in this area is especially on-point, from the tiled roofs of the lodges to the wooden bed-frames. These rooms can be a longer trek to Disney transportation and meals but if you book a preferred room it’s not that bad. These preferred rooms in Alligator Bayou do have a murphy bed option but beware that these beds would only work for kids (or really short adults).
Even though the theming is very different in these distinct areas, the resort is large enough that these two styles don’t clash. That said, the resort is large. There are busses that you can use to travel internally but be prepared to do some walking to get to the Riverside Mill (which houses the registration desk, food court and other amenities). This can make check-in and check-out seem a little overwhelming. I typically use bell services to help me with my luggage rather than try to lug it through the resort.
All the rooms in the resort are pretty standard for a Disney moderate resort. Each room is 314 square feet and offers a small table and chairs, a flat-screen TV and mini-fridge in each room. The shower and toilet are in a small room connected to the vanity area.
I have always appreciated that the vanity area can be curtained off from the rest of the room if needed. Each room has a safe but it’s only really big enough for jewelry or cash. Your laptop or DSLR camera won’t fit inside. All areas of the resort offer Wi-Fi. I’ve never had a problem checking email or streaming video at Port Orleans.
Are the Royal Rooms Worth it?
Port Orleans Riverside has the distinction of being the only resort on Disney property with Royal Rooms. These rooms are definitely worth the upgrade, especially if you’re traveling with little ones. The theming is magical. Each headboard has fiber-optic fireworks that light up your room in the darkness. The faucets are shaped like Genie’s lamp from Aladdin. There’s even a special note from Princess Tiana welcoming you on your table. The detailed decor make these rooms feel like a deluxe room at a more affordable price!
Practically, the Royal Room rooms have upgraded beds and TVs. They’re not especially close to the food court or Disney transportation but are closer than most Alligator Bayou rooms. If you really want to splurge, you can choose a riverside room to have a beautiful view of the resort from your window.
These royal rooms start at $272/night (during non-peak times) and go up to $409/night (for a riverfront room during the peak Christmas rush). In my opinion, it’s not really worth it to pay the extra for a better view as there aren’t any balconies on these rooms for you to properly enjoy the view.
Eating at Port Orleans Riverside
Port Orleans Riverside is one of the friendliest places in the World (which is really saying something). I’ve had multiple cast members go out of their way to make my stay special. This especially true of the cast members at the Riverside Mill Food Court, who always have a smile and kind words even in the middle of the breakfast rush.
Located in the resort’s main building, this food court is full of American classics such as Mickey Waffles for breakfast, soups and sandwiches for lunch, and burgers and pizza for dinner. It isn’t anything special and won’t be making any best of Disney lists but it is an easy place to stop for a meal in between your time in the parks.
What makes this food court special is its ambiance. Located in a mill, it has the same sleepy, calm vibe that the rest of the resort has as well. From the windows, you can gaze at the river over your morning coffee and watch the mill’s wheel go round-and-round. While it can be a busy place (especially in the mornings), I’ve never had a problem snagging a table and have never felt rushed.
Port Orleans Riverside also has a table-service restaurant, Boatwright’s Dining Hall. It’s quiet place to grab a bite to eat when you don’t want another meal at the food court; I’ve never seen the restaurant full even during Christmas week. The shipyard theming of the space is minimal and easy to miss.
Boatwright’s specializes in the food of deep south but isn’t anything special. The cornbread appetizer is amazing and the Jambalaya was good. However, I’m not sure a meal at this restaurant would be worth wasting a table-service credit over (especially if you had other options).
Part of what makes Riverside so magical is that it is easy to forget that you’re in the middle of Walt Disney World. However, if you are the type of person who likes to be surrounded by lots of Disney theming (or are traveling with children), this may not be your favorite place to stay. This resort has a quiet charm that is better suited for adults on a getaway or multi-generational families who are looking for a place that has something for everyone.
What to do at Port Orleans Riverside
One of my favorite Disney vacation tips is to be sure to give yourself time to catch your breath. When I am looking for a resort at Walt Disney World, I always try to find somewhere that has plenty of options for that resort day when I’m ready to just spend some down time resting my feet and exploring the resort.
Luckily, Port Orleans Riverside has several options to keep you busy on your resort day. Here are my favorites:
Rent a bicycle or surrey bike to explore the different parts of the resort. There are so many little walkways around the resort to explore that it’s easy to spend a few hours traveling up and down the river (or even heading up to Port Orleans French Quarter to explore).
Spend a romantic evening gazing at the river from a horse-drawn carriage. These 25-minute carriage rides take you up the river to French Quarter and back to Riverside. I recommend timing it so you’re traveling during sunset when the sun is shining over the river.
Take the short walk over to Port Orleans French Quarter to swim at their Doubloon Lagoon pool (the giant water slide is so much fun!) or to grab an order of beignets. It’s also fun to walk around the beautiful courtyards.
Rent some equipment and do some cane pole fishing on the river. You can rent everything you need at the resort but remember that all fishing is catch and release. If you’re serious about catching some bigger fish, you can also schedule a 2-hour guided fishing excursion to catch some bass on the Sassagoula River.
Go listen to YeHaa Bob Jackson sing at the River Roost Lounge. The man is a living Disney legend for a reason. Seriously, you don’t want to miss Bob’s family-friendly nightly show on Wednesday-Saturday evenings from 8:00-12:00pm. Make sure you come early to grab your seat. You’ll laugh so hard your stomach hurts. He’ll probably persuade you to sing along. And you’ll come back over and over again (even if you aren’t staying at Port Orleans Riverside). The last time I saw Bob play, Pixar animator John Lasseter was in the audience!
Should you stay at Port Orleans Riverside?
Port Orleans Riverside is a great choice for anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the parks during their trip to the Walt Disney World resort. It has all the perks of staying on resort that you’re looking for: free transportation, exceptional service, and extra magic hours. Although it is a large, busy place, even when I’ve visited during peak times (such as the week in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), it was never overwhelmingly busy.
This resort is on my top list for how to do Disney World for adults for a reason. There are many family-friendly amenities (I mean, it is Disney World!) but the romance of this resort just lends itself to a honeymoon or romantic getaway.
It doesn’t have the access to nightlife or fine dining that some of the deluxe resorts have but it is only a boat ride away from Disney Springs which has some amazing restaurant and entertainment options. Multi-generational families traveling to Disney will also find that the resort offers something for all ages which can help keep everyone happy.
Like every resort, there are some downsides. If you don’t book a preferred room, be ready to walk a while to get food or to catch a bus. I do wish that it had a better table service restaurant on-site or a better pool (Ol’ Man River is just adequate). And for the price, I’ve always thought that moderate rooms could have some basic upgrades that would make life easier, such a microwave or bigger safe. But overall, the laid-back atmosphere, fun entertainment and amazing theming will probably draw me back again and again.
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