It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was our favorite resort; it was our most despised resort. It is Port Orleans Riverside, and it is the resort that we have a love/hate relationship with.
The first time we stayed at Riverside, it was like a honeymoon. We were located in the Magnolia Bend section, which is brimming with Southern charm. There are four grand mansion buildings that resemble manor homes of Southern plantations: Acadian House, Magnolia Terrace, Oak Manor, and Parterre Place. They each have three stories with grand staircases and stately white columns. Large magnolia trees with Spanish moss and azaleas surround the buildings.
Our room was on the ground floor of the Magnolia Terrace building. It faced the rear parking lot and was secluded, quiet, and very near to the East Depot bus stop; perhaps a one minute walk. The room was also located such that it was a short walk back to the main building which houses the lobby, Riverside Mill food court, Boatwright’s Dining Hall, and River Roost Lounge (and our beloved Yehaa Bob). We had everything we needed in short distance to our room.
The furnishings inside the room were just as pleasing as the exterior of the mansion buildings. Each standard room here has two queen beds, a table and chairs, fridge, coffee maker, flat screen TV, luggage seat, dresser, and nightstand. I must note that the Magnolia Terrace is a standard building, not a royal room building (Oak Manor and Parterre Place). It has undergone interior changes since we were last there. The bedding has been changed to the new standard all white with themed runner, but at the time of our stay was a serene blue. The room itself was clean and relaxing which reflected the general feel of all of Magnolia Bend.
Running in front of the Magnolia bend section is the Sassagoula River which connects Riverside to Port Orleans French Quarter and ultimately Disney Springs. The river offers another mode of transportation to these destinations. It is approximately twenty minutes of pure relaxation. Leaning against my husband’s shoulder, I even took a small nap on one of these trips while listening to the boat’s motor hum and the waves lap along the hull.
During our whole stay we were entranced with the lazy river, the swaying Spanish moss, and the Southern architecture that felt so romantic and lazy. It set the whole tone for the trip. Even my morning jogs between the mansions and river over to French Quarter and back were more of a leisurely stroll than anything else. I just couldn’t help myself to not rush the day. Watching the sun rays hit the Port Orleans water tower was like therapy. The stress from the real world just seemed to roll out and float away on the Sassagoula. It was lazy; it was relaxing, it had quickly become our favorite resort on Disney property.
The next time we booked Riverside we were eagerly anticipating the lazy peaceful vacation from before. We entered our second floor mansion building request at the time of booking and counted down the days until we were in that stress melting Southern atmosphere once again.
The day of check in finally arrived. We were quite shocked to learn that requests are merely that: just requests, not guarantees by any means. Instead of the stately manor house we desired, they had given us a first floor room in Alligator Bayou. All we knew was that it was NOT a mansion building. Last time there we had never even walked over to that side of the resort so we didn’t really know what to expect. But it is Disney right? And how different of a feel from Magnolia Bend can it be? It is the same resort after all. It wasn’t like we booked Riverside and they were moving us to All Star Sports (nothing against Sports – just an analogy folks). We could not have been more wrong.
The Bayou section is said to resemble small cottages or villages that are located in the Cajun bayou regions of LA. It features two story rustic, weathered wooden buildings that are surrounded by pines, irises, and swampy water features. It is much larger than the four building Magnolia Bend section. Alligator Bayou contains sixteen lodges situated on a catacomb of pathways. Even after eleven days there we still easily got lost when trying to get to and from our room. The path lighting here was dim and it was creepy walking back to the room each night; especially after we saw what another guest on the path called a weasel walk right out of a swampy section onto the walkway and mosey along to the next swamp area. Who knew what else was lurking in that overgrown (but I am sure precisely manicured) landscaping; an actual alligator perhaps?
The twisting and turning walkways that seemed to double back on themselves also made any trip to and from our room seem quite long. The closest bus stop was the West Depot and it seemed to take forever to walk there. The main building was equally as distant. I could not image trying to drag young tired children back to the room each night after a long park day. Every time we tried to find a shorter route it ended up taking us even longer because we got lost in the swamp.
The furnishings of the room are rustic inspired. The headboards and tables are made of hand-carved hickory and the other furnishings resemble packing/shipping crates. Each standard room has two queen beds, a Murphy (fold down) bed, a table and chairs, flat screen TV, coffee maker, and fridge. The Murphy bed takes the space of the traditional dresser, but larger families do seem to like the extra sleeping space. Since it is just the two of us, the space taken by the bed just seemed wasted and we ended up living out of our suitcase since we couldn’t really unpack our clothing.
No matter where we vacation one requirement we do have is cleanliness. We have never had an issue with this at any Disney resort and we certainly had not had an issue with it during the first stay at Riverside. The room in Alligator Bayou was an eye opener: broken bed and table, black shower scum, left over makeup and ice still in the bucket from the last guest, and spattered grime on the side of the nightstand that resembled the spray of someone sneezing while lying in bed. We let mousekeeping in the first day and came back to dirty towels on our bed (not ours – ours were still hanging in the bathroom where we left them). I cleaned up myself after that, hanging the DO NOT disturb sign each time we left. It was frustrating, we couldn’t relax, and we just plain hated our stay in Alligator Bayou. Riverside, in the matter of a week, had gone from our favorite resort to our most despised. I vowed never to stay there again.
TIME HAS PASSED
Looking back, the Alligator Bayou section is, in pure Disney fashion, perfectly themed. It just was not the theming we had bargained for when we booked the reservation. The room interiors and the landscaped exteriors all bring to mind a swampy Southern Bayou as it was meant to. I can appreciate the detail and extra space for families. We were, however, expecting another peaceful, relaxing, Southern charm filled stay and were disappointed on that aspect. It was perhaps our fault for not researching the Alligator Bayou more. We didn’t think we would not get placed into another mansion building as requested. Perhaps we should have read Katie McNair’s article on Where to Stay at Port Orleans Riverside.
Could we have experienced the dirty room, broken furniture, and long tiresome walks to the bus stop in the Magnolia Bend side? Possibly. But we didn’t. For us it truly feels like two different resorts in one; the coveted grand mansion living versus the poor swamp life. With the number of standard rooms in the Alligator Bayou far outnumbering those in Magnolia Bend, I vowed that we would not stay at Riverside again; the chances of repeating that experience are too high. But… it has been almost a year since the Alligator Bayou incident and the discount we were offered for a Riverside stay was incredible. I won’t know for a few more months whether Riverside has won my heart back or if I will be kicking myself in the pants and saying I knew better. Either way I hope to have a great follow up piece for you!