Hold on to your beads, Best Week Ever readers, because we’re heading to the Big Easy! Long before the Art of Animation resort brought California Adventure’s Cars Land to Orlando in motel form, Walt Disney World’s Port Orleans hotels have stood as the East Coast analogue to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, minus the animatronic pirates and ghosts.
It had been so long since I’d stayed at Port Orleans, that the last time I visited the section now known as Riverside was still named Dixie Landings. The resort has had quite a colorful history, including being partially shuttered for a time during the post-9/11 recession; check out this page at PortOrleans.org for a bit of background.
Since Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside are our top picks among moderate resorts at Walt Disney World, I figured I was way past due for a return visit to WDW’s NOLA. And what better time to let the good times roll than bright and early on a Sunday morning?
Ok, 9 a.m. isn’t exactly “bright and early” for many people, but as a congenital night owl it’s the best I could do.
My first stop after admiring the elegant French Quarter entryway? Breakfast at the Sassagoula Float Works, because nothing says morning in New Orleans like beignets and coffee!
The Mardi Gras parade props are fun to look at, but we’re here for the food:
Ok, so it isn’t quite Cafe du Monde, but it isn’t bad for Orlando. The brew is Joffrey’s instead of chicory, and the fresh-made pastries came out a little too chewy on the outside, and hollow on the inside. But if that much 10-X powdered sugar doesn’t get your heart pumping, nothing will!
It’s a perfect morning to walk the French Quarter’s tree-lined cobblestone streets, which are festooned with fine details like old-fashioned street lamps, horse hitching posts, and customized man-hole covers.
The Doubloon swimming pool has a Mardi Gras theme, and features colorful statues of partying alligators. Perhaps they are cousins of the dancing gators from Fantasia?
The figure riding the pool’s sea serpent slide is supposed to be Poseidon, but he bears a striking resemblance to King Triton from The Little Mermaid, which debuted a few years before the hotel opened.
Most of the WDW resorts show nightly films at their main pools, but French Quarter hosts their screenings on this inviting green lawn.
You can either take a watercraft between French Quarter and Riverside, or simply walk. The riverfront path is quite peaceful, and a few families were out enjoying the sights.
French Quarter is more intimate and easier to navigate, but Riverside boasts a wider array of dining and recreation options. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to travel between the two properties.
For example, the Medicine Show Arcade is one of the better equipped game rooms to be found at Walt Disney World.
I’ve become mildly obsessed with the Star Wars Arcade machines found in seemingly every WDW arcade. This one is a sit down model that appears to be in good working condition, which is increasingly unusual for these aging machines.
Riverside’s lobby is bright and airy in an antebellum-y way, and the main gift shop is filled with some well-themed decor.
Ok, we’ve arrived at the moment you’ve all been waiting for: this is the River Roost lounge where the (Walt Disney) World-famous Yehaa Bob Jackson performs his popular musical comedy act. It’s too early in the day for Bob to appear, but you can still look at his piano!
I’m beginning to think that the folks at Boatwrights are better restauranteurs than builders. They’ve been working on that hull for as long as I can remember, and don’t seem to be making much progress…
The Riverside Mill is one of the more visually impressive food courts at the WDW resorts. That water-driven mill wheel above the drink station continuously rotates, and amazing piece of engineering that many guests simply overlook in their eagerness to eat.
Here’s a scenic look around the Riverside waterfront, just behind the main building:
Riverside’s Old Man Island swimming complex was quite popular by late morning on this warm August day. I love the folk art-inspired design elements that have been incorporated here, not to mention the tall twisty waterslide.
Don’t feel like swimming? Go fish! I watched some kids gleefully catch a minuscule fish, which I’m sure will expand to orca-size in the retelling.
If you’re looking for me, I’m probably taking a nap on one of these hammocks that have been thoughtfully provided along the riverbank.
Riverside’s guest buildings in the Alligator Bayou section look rustic and almost seem to be disappearing into the swamp.
Inside, however, they are just as up-to-date as the rooms in French Quarter or these mansion-styled Magnolia Bend accommodations.
There are so many activities to enjoy at Riverside, it’s hard to imagine getting bored.
Here’s a crew of young scalawags returning from the Pirate Adventure Cruise. We could hear them singing “Yo Ho” from a half mile down the river!
Since I had walked from French Quarter to Riverside, I waited to take the water taxi on the way back. When there is a crowd waiting, the watercraft captain may keep everyone at Riverside from boarding in order to leave empty seats for guests at French Quarter. If you are headed to Disney Springs from Riverside and get shut out of the boat, you may be able to walk to French Quarter before the boat gets there and grab a seat.
Finally, we’ll finish with one last hidden treasure at French Quarter. Near the main lobby entrance, you’ll find a unique pressed penny machine…
…along with this automated player piano.
Ok, so it isn’t exactly Yehaa Bob…but you’ll never have trouble getting a seat for the show!
Have you visited the Port Orleans resorts? Do you prefer French Quarter or Riverside? Share your opinion in the comments below!