When I went to Walt Disney World as a kid, we always stayed at Moderate Resorts. I don’t think the Value Resorts were really a thing when I was a wee one — I believe the first round of All-Stars opened when I was around 9-ish — but we always stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort or Dixie Landings.
Dixie Landings, of course, is now Port Orleans-Riverside, and the original Port Orleans Resort is now Port Orleans-French Quarter, all meant to resemble the Old South — the Louisiana Bayou, New Orleans’ French Quarter, jazz and banjos and gators and swamps and water wheels and all that wonderful stuff.
Since All-Star Music and Pop Century had served us well enough in the past, and it’s not really my thing to hang around the hotel when I’m on Disney property. However, when my boyfriend and I signed up for the WDW Marathon, he — already being a marathoner — recommended that it might be worth it to upgrade to a Moderate Resort. Though the race would only be in the morning, we’d almost certainly be in the hotel the rest of the day — ice baths, naps, room service, maybe the pool, if we could manage it. We would definitely be more hotel-centric than we usually are at WDW.
We still wanted a good value, and the most affordable Moderate Resorts were Port Orleans-Riverside, Port Orleans-French Quarter and Caribbean Beach. Coronado Springs was only a few dollars more, but I had stayed there as a kid and didn’t particularly care for the theming. We decided we’d rather be on the bayou than in the Caribbean or in New Orleans, so we chose Riverside.
I was beyond excited when the Magical Express pulled up at Riverside. Even though I hadn’t been there since I was a kiddo, I felt like it was familiar…
Since we didn’t pay for a “preferred room,” we had to head to the furthest reaches of the resort — the depths of Alligator Bayou. However, unlike our stay at the ’90s building at Pop Century, we didn’t have to walk all the way to the front of the hotel near the lobby area to catch a bus to the parks or even the marathon — there were several bus stops located all around the resort, including one quite close to us! That was a definite plus.
Even though we did have to make that initial long trek from the lobby area to our room in Alligator Bayou, I really loved every moment of the walk. We passed horses and carriages available for hire, and there were soft banjo tones and hammocks along the way, which was a pleasant and delightful change from the oversized props at the Value Resorts.
The views seemed be especially beautiful at dawn and dusk, especially along the resort’s beautiful (and storied!) Sassagoula River.
I was especially enamored of the room. There were two queen beds instead of the two double beds in Value Resort rooms, and a really great, spacious wardrobe and dresser set. The bathroom was about twice the size of the bathrooms at All-Star Music and Pop Century, which was much appreciated — there were shelves, a bench/seating area at the edge of the tub (nice for a post-race cold water leg soak!), and two sinks and mirrors instead of one (great for getting ready in the morning)! The theming remained rustic and elegant yet retained touches of whimsy and Disney magic.
I was especially enamored of my alligator friend pillow.
As my boyfriend had predicted, we spent the rest of marathon day lounging around the room — napping intermittently, drinking beer, ordering room service pizza. Though we usually share a bed (#NSFW), we were glad to have two queen-sized beds in our room … we desperately needed to stretch our incredibly sore muscles and also roll around in our own food crumbs and all that.
Speaking of food, Riverside has the quick-service Riverside Mill Food Court as well as Boatwright’s Dining Hall, a table-service restaurant (you don’t get table-service restaurants at Value Resorts!). Muddy Waters is a nice bar right by the pool, but it always closed a lot earlier than I wanted it to. For evening or early a.m. drinks, head back to the main building and find the River Roost, a delightful lounge adjacent to Boatwright’s that serves as the home base for legendary entertainer Yehaa Bob.
My time at Port Orleans-Riverside was amazing and I don’t regret upgrading for a second. Actually, it’s going to be really hard to go back to a Value Resort after how wonderful this experience was, and I’m definitely planning on returning for the 2014 WDW Marathon in January — the little perks are especially appreciated when you’re sorer than you’ve ever been in your entire life.
If you have the budget for a Moderate Resort, I’d recommend making the jump from a Value Resort. While I’ve really enjoyed my time at Value Resorts (and will probably be returning to them soon for budgetary reasons), the subtle, elegant differences are worth the extra pennies.