Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — Riverside (sometimes “Port Orleans — Riverside” or “Riverside”) is a moderate-level hotel at Walt Disney World. Often considered one of the best moderate resorts, Riverside comes up a lot in planning a Walt Disney World trip because of its reasonable prices and huge room count. So, should you pay a visit to this lush resort along the Sassagoula River? Read on to find out!
Basics of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — Riverside
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — Riverside is one of four moderate hotels at Walt Disney World (the other three are Port Orleans — French Quarter, Coronado Springs, and Caribbean Beach). This means it will fall between the value resorts and deluxe resorts in price and quality. Nightly rates in 2019 start at $232 (includes tax). Guests at Port Orleans get all the perks of staying at a Disney hotel.
Port Orleans — Riverside vs. French Quarter
We don’t want to rehash the discussion of why there are two Port Orleans resorts (Riverside and French Quarter) and what that means practically. You can find that over in our review of Port Orleans — French Quarter, which you should probably read anyways if you’re already considering Riverside. The short version is that these are two separate resorts located within walking distance (5 minutes campus to campus). This post will make a lot of comparisons to French Quarter because its proximity makes it an obvious alternative choice.
Theming and Grounds at Port Orleans — Riverside
Honestly, I don’t really know how to succinctly describe the theming of Riverside. Wikipedia goes with “antebellum South.” Disney says it reflects the “romance and casual charm of a bygone era.” Personally, I like the Port Orleans fan site (a great site), which goes with “Experience the sprawling mansions and genteel feel of the picturesque Louisiana towns along the Mississippi.”
Whatever the case and however you want to describe the theming, there’s little denying that it’s a beautiful resort. The best way to convey the theme is just to let the pictures (below and throughout the review) speak for themselves.
Port Orleans Riverside Layout
Riverside can be divided into four areas—Sassagoula Steamboat Company, Ol’ Man Island, Alligator Bayou, and Magnolia Bend. Here’s a map of the resort:
Sassagoula Steamboat Company is the main building where you’ll find check-in, the main bus depot, dining, and shopping.
Ol’ Man Island is the island in the middle of the resort with the pool, playground, and “Fishin’ Hole.”
Alligator Bayou contains original Dixie Landings buildings—16 buildings of hotel rooms, with a nature/cottage concept.
Magnolia Bend consists of four (very large) Southern-style mansion themed buildings. Two of these contain the Royal Guest Rooms.
I will say, I find the mansions to be a bit much. Let’s remember, these are moderate rooms.
Riverside sits at the north end of Sassagoula River, so doing a lap around the resort requires you to walk around the end of the river and then across it by bridge. There are five bridges at Riverside. Three connect the north end of the river to Ol’ Man Island, and two cross the river farther south. A full lap around the resort is 0.9 miles, making it larger than Disney’s Boardwalk (home to Yacht Club, Beach Club, and BoardWalk Inn).
Booking Port Orleans — Riverside
We booked our stay at Riverside through our our great travel agent Lauren Quirk of Enchanted Escapes Travel. We actually had two separate bookings for the Standard View Royal Guest Room and the (non-Royal) Garden View room. For the Garden View room, we paid $225 nightly using a Disney World annual passholder rate. The rack rate was $281, meaning we saved 20% with our discount.
For the Royal Guest Room, we paid $229.50 nightly using an annual passholder rate. The rack rate for the room was $287, meaning we saved 20% with our discount.
Arrival and Check-In
We checked in online, which we generally recommend unless you have questions for the front desk or you’re staying club level (not an option at Riverside). At the moderate resorts, you might make an exception and at least plan to visit the front desk to get a map. The moderate resorts are huge and the buildings fairly indistinguishable, so it helps to get directions to your room.
Most guests will arrive via Disney’s complimentary airport shuttle, Disney’s Magical Express. We were already in town, so just took an Uber over.
Our room was ready at 2:28PM when we’d indicated a noon arrival. This is totally fine. Check-in isn’t technically until 3PM anyways, and it was marathon weekend so I knew the resort was operating near capacity with many arrivals that day. Often, if you check-in online and your room isn’t ready when your arrive, it’s worth stopping by the desk to see if they can assign one to you.
Our Rooms at Disney’s Port Orleans — Riverside
You’ll recall we booked two rooms—a “regular” Garden View Room and a Standard View Royal Guest Room. We’ll review these separately.
Our Garden View (Regular) Room At Port Orleans — Riverside
Our Garden View room was in the Magnolia Bend area.
Overall, the room mostly felt like what it is—and older version of the rooms over at French Quarter.
If you really prefer carpet to hardwood, then you might prefer this room to the ones at French Quarter. On pretty much every other metric, though, French Quarter scores higher—bigger/newer TV, more outlets (including USB), newer furniture, and bigger bathroom mirror.
The Riverside rooms have some good detail, to be clear. And the finer points were in slightly better shape than the Royal Guest Room we stayed in, but still pretty worn.
But here’s the good news—Riverside is in the middle of a refurbishment, and the rooms that are done look fantastic! We recommend heading over to the Port Orleans fan site for more. (To see the photos of the new Riverside rooms, scroll through the embedded instagram post on that page.) There’s no way to guarantee you’ll get a refurbished room at Riverside right now. By contrast, French Quarter’s refurbishment is complete.
Our Royal Guest Room At Port Orleans — Riverside
The Royal Guest Rooms are a great “bucket list” item for Disney fans. They’re not too expensive (under $300 and only about $55 more than a regular room) and they’re something that will really impress kids.
If you don’t mind moving your stuff, you could easily do a split stay between these rooms and another room at Riverside or French Quarter.
The Royal Guest Rooms are themed generally to the Disney princes and princesses. While Tiana is particularly prominent in the rooms (you’ll recall she’s from New Orleans), there are also nods to several Disney princess films.
The bathroom heavily features gold, including on what might be the top “wow” item, the Genie lamp faucet.
Now, these rooms are certain to impress kids. Adults might be a bit more on the fence. Yes, there are some cool features, but unfortunately the closer you look the more disappointing the room becomes. These rooms are starting to show their age (going on seven years).
If Disney refurbished these, I’d come back in a heartbeat to see what they came up with. As they are, I’ll be waiting at least until I have a prince or princess of my own.
Dining and Drinking at Port Orleans — Riverside
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort — Riverside has one table service restaurant, one quick service restaurant, one lounge, and one pool bar. You also may want to remember there’s boat service to Disney Springs from 10AM until 11PM, if you’re looking for more food and drink options. The Sassagoula Float Works Food Court at French Quarter is also worth considering.
Boatwright’s Dining Hall
Boatwright’s is the only table service restaurant at the two Port Orleans resorts. It’s located just a few steps from the Riverside lobby. It’s a casual restaurant requiring one table service credit for those on a Disney dining plan. We passed on the chance to eat at Boatwright’s, as it’s unfortunately open only for dinner. Here’s a review from WDWNT. The menu is available here.
Riverside Mill Food Court
The Riverside Mill Food Court is—you guessed it—the food court at Port Orleans Riverside. It serves three meals a day, opening at 6:30AM and closing at 11PM. There are four stations—bakery, grill, pizza & pasta, and salads & sandwiches. There are a few “local” items, like the Bayou Burger, Cajun Turkey Club, and Southern Fried Shrimp Platter. The full menu is here.
There is ample seating. In contrast to the floats factory theming over at French Quarter’s food court, the Riverside Mill is relatively plain—though it does have a gigantic mill system operating inside it, which is pretty cool.
Muddy Rivers is the pool bar at Port Orleans—Riverside. Not much else to say about it, honestly. It’s not a standout pool bar.
River Roost Lounge
River Roost Lounge is the main bar at Riverside. It’s relatively spacious and has a small food menu. Apparently there are sometimes performances by Yehaa Bob Jackson, though we’ve never had the pleasure of seeing him. We did see another pianist perform, and that was enjoyable enough.
Transportation at Port Orleans — Riverside
From Riverside to the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot) and two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach), you’ll be relying on bus transportation. The bus makes four stops around Riverside. Buses will also occasionally be shared with French Quarter.
As we wrote in our review of Caribbean Beach, multiple bus stops are a nice convenience for a huge resort, but they make for long travel times and crowded buses. There’s no way around the size of the resort, so this is just something you’ll have to plan for until Disney World resolves its abysmal bus problems.
And in general, we still recommend using Uber to get around Walt Disney World. But remember—you have to walk to the main building to catch an Uber, so you might not save time over catching a bus closer to your room.
You can get to Disney Springs by bus or boat. The boat runs roughly every 20 minutes and takes 15 minutes to get to Disney Springs. The last boat departs Disney Springs at 11:30. I suppose that beats the bus, but it’s not a huge benefit in our mind.
Recreation at Port Orleans — Riverside
Like every Disney hotel, Riverside maintains a decent roster of activities. These vary day-by-day and month-by-month, but some highlights include:
Daily pool party
Weekly trivia night
Campfires (multiple times each week)
Movies under the stars (multiple times each week)
Surrey Bike Rental ($)
The main pool at Port Orleans — Riverside is on Ol’ Man Island. It has a cool saw-mill-inspired water feature as well as a small water slide. Nearby is a jacuzzi, as well as a pair of hammocks.
Shopping at Port Orleans — Riverside
The store at Port Orleans — Riverside is Fulton’s General Store. In addition to the typical vacation items, Fulton’s has a decent collection of Riverside gear.
Conclusions About Port Orleans — Riverside
In my mind, the two Port Orleans resorts are easily the best two moderate resorts at Walt Disney World. Recent work at Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs narrowed the gap, but Port Orleans is still a bit ahead.
Riverside in particular is one of Disney’s most beautiful properties. The first time I visited, I was in awe of my surroundings. It’s stunning—more stunning than several deluxe resorts.
Once you look past the scenery, things come a bit down to earth. Your dining and drinking options are average for the moderate resorts. Transportation is a problem. The old rooms are below average, though the refurbished rooms are looking great.
But Riverside would still be the best moderate resort at Disney World if it weren’t for one problem—French Quarter is better. Staying at French Quarter puts you within walking distance of all of Riverside, but you’ll have better rooms and transportation. Given all that, it’s really hard for me to justify staying at Riverside over French Quarter.
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