This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.
As we continue our Back to Basics series, it’s time to take a look at one of the most beloved Walt Disney World hotel categories: the Moderates. In previous Basics posts we first discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World category, and later dug into how to select the right Walt Disney World Value hotel. The Moderate category hotels are a great blend of quality theming, beautiful atmosphere, a strong selection of amenities and features, all without the higher price tag found at the Deluxe resorts. They are some elements at the Moderate resorts that are also found at the Value resorts, but you can definitely see these are a step up from the Value category.
It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best. There are four hotels in the Moderate level. For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:
- Room features
- Resort layout
- Food and beverage
- Recreation / Activities
- Additional information
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
First came the Deluxe resorts. Then in the 90’s, the Disney Decade, the first Moderate resort came unto the scene: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, which was a prototype of sorts. Disney had never built a resort that was scaled back in order to provide a more affordable price tag, yet it couldn’t just be a hotel, it needed to be a resort. Caribbean Beach ushered in a new resort experience for Walt Disney World, and while it does have its flaws, there is lots of beautiful scenery and enjoyable amenities.
The Moderate resorts offer…well, moderate space. Clocking in at 314 square feet, there is more breathing room here than the Value resorts, though can still be a little tight for frantic families. The great news is this resort just completed an extensive renovation last year. One of the most meaningful enhancements made is the change from two double size mattresses to two queen mattresses.
The decor is great for that relaxing vacation vibe, neutral beach tones accented by bright tropical colors. All Moderate resorts don’t have balconies,and all passageways are open air. Rooms in Trinidad South are themed to a Pirates of the Caribbean motif. These rooms cost about $50–$75 more than comparable ones elsewhere in the resort. I’ve stayed in a pirates themed room. It is a great choice for celebrating a kid’s special occasion. I did find the beds in these rooms to be very uncomfortable because the mattresses are thinner to fit the pirate ship shaped frame. The soft goods and headboards in all non-Pirates-themed rooms have a subtle Finding Nemo theme.
Unlike every other Disney resort, Caribbean Beach’s check-in area is in a standalone building: The Custom House. A dedicated parking lot across from the Custom House serves as temporary parking for those who need it while checking in. This being the first Moderate resort there are a few examples of certain design concepts being tried out, and the Custom House is one of them (they assumed incorrectly that most people wanting a cheaper resort would be driving). As an indicator as to its lack of success, this separate check-in building concept was not duplicated at any other resort.
Caribbean Beach consists of six sections, each containing 2-story buildings full of guest rooms. The villages are: Martinique, Barbados, Aruba, Jamaica, and Trinidad North and South. A tranquil lagoon known as Barefoot Bay sits in the middle of the resort. In the middle of Barefoot Bay is a little island known as Caribbean Cay, bridges allow access to the island, a pleasant spot to relax and enjoy a little quiet. Old Port Royale, contains the food court, gift shop, and arcade, towards the back of the resort.
Food and beverage
One of the nice features about a Moderate resort vs. a Value property is the addition of a full-service restaurant. This is in addition to a casual food court and pizza delivery. Due to how spread out Caribbean Beach the dining area can be as much as a 15-minute walk from some of the guest buildings.
Shutters is Caribbean Beach’s full-service restaurant. The menu is of course Caribbean and island themed and relatively well presented. Found in the Old Port Royale building, Shutters is only open from 5:00 pm until 10:00 pm for dinner. This is one of the least visited Disney owned and operated restaurants on property, though that doesn’t mean you won’t have a good meal.
Old Port Royale contains Shutters and the food court. There is a fun outdoor market motif, complete with painted blue sky. This is the first food court to be built at a Disney hotel and it uses a unilateral setup that was never repeated in any other Disney food court setup. There are several different stations, each selling one particular type of food such burgers at one station and pizza and pasta at another. The food court is open 6:00 AM – 12:00 PM.
Pizza delivery is also available to your room, though it is priced relatively high. Banana Cabana, the pool bar, has some (mostly) wasted potential. Still it is nice to grab a drink and stroll through the tropical atmosphere of the resort.
Caribbean Beach offers transportation to all Disney World destinations by bus. It is practically down the road from Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but sadly it is not a safe walk. Besides depending on where your room is located you’ll do enough walking to and from the transportation area. Epcot is the next closest park, followed by Magic Kingdom then rounded out by Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It should be noted that Caribbean Beach has 6 bus stops, so you’ll need to allow some extra time just to get out of the resort.
Caribbean Beach has an incredible amount of pools, with seven! The largest is themed to resemble a Caribbean fort complete with turrets and cannons. This main pool sits directly behind the Old Port Royale food court area and features two waterslides, one a massive 82 feet in length. This pool is often overlooked when compared to Deluxe resorts, but it really deserves an extra look. Adjacent to the main pool is a water play area, where small children can play in a very shallow pool punctuated by a climbing structure with mini-waterslides and a periodically spilling water bucket. These play areas have become quite common at many Orlando area hotels, including a few resorts on WDW property.
Recreation / Activities
The little island of Caribbean Cay is a great place to relax. Accessible by bridge, there is also an inviting playground, a great place to let the little ones burn off any steam. For those that enjoy a brisk run, jog, or walk, one lap around Barefoot Bay is a scenic 1.2-mile/2 km course. There is no gym or fitness center here so if you are fitness nut you’ll have to get a little creative.
There are plenty of other recreational activities including bikes and boats are available to rent at the marina, which is found at the lighthouse. Beach volleyball is also available if you really want to dig into the sand. Falling in line with the tradition of pretty much every other Disney resort, Caribbean Beach’s free Movies Under the Stars program shows a different Disney film every night of the week on a small outdoor screen set up near Old Port Royale. There is also a marshmallow roast.
Overall, Caribbean Beach is a good choice if you desire a relaxing tropical vibe. It is also typically slightly less per night compared to the other Moderate resorts. A word of caution, this resort is often utilized to house youth groups which can sometimes lead to a lively and busy atmosphere, somewhat taking away from the calming atmosphere. If this is a concern it is a good idea to ask your travel agent or reservation agent if they’re able to look into this for you. Being the first Moderate resort there are some unique characteristics that add to its charm.
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
The last Moderate resort to be built has something no other Moderate resort has: convention space. This one thing influences a lot of characteristics throughout this resort. Whether those characteristics are a good or a bad thing depends on who you ask. For me personally, an adult without children, and used to the convention, business person lifestyle, I enjoy Coronado Springs on a different level. Others express concerns that Coronado Springs does not feel as Disney or family friendly.
The rooms are one of the reasons I tend to favor Coronado Springs. The rooms here were the first to be renovated and receive a next generation design. Rooms measure 314 square feet and most contain two queen beds, however, there is a decent supply of king rooms when compared to other moderate resorts, though there can be an increase in rate for such rooms (which is standard procedure for most hotels).
A versatile desk and chair, a mini-fridge, a coffeemaker add some nice functionality that the Value resorts lack. Rooms are decorated with a subtle Southwestern theme, with turquoise accents and crisp colors. The bedding is a slight upgrade from what was there previously, fairly plush, and pure white. Sliding partition doors of rich, dark wood have a colonial Mexican motif and provide amble privacy and separation between the sleeping area and the vanity / bathroom.
I love that Coronado Springs has three different sections, each representing a different region of the American Southwest and Mexican territories. The Casitas, Ranchos, and Cabanas have the same guest rooms, but the exterior of each section is distinct and different. There is a wonderful Spanish influence throughout the resort. The centerpiece is Lago Dorado a tranquil lagoon that provides a relaxing, albeit spread out layout as the resort is one large circle enveloping the lagoon. By day the brightly colored buildings and blue sky reflect of the water and by night the warm glowing lights dance on the water’s surface like stars.
At the bottom of the circle, let’s say 6 o’clock, is El Centro, which is the main building housing the front desk, lobby, merchandise shop, four dining options, and the convention spaces as well. Here you will also find the Business Center, a feature not found at any other Moderate resort. On either side of El Centro are the Casista and Cabanas sections. Over at the Casitas there are three and four story buildings meant to represent urban areas with manicured courtyards and elegant fountains.
Moving around Coronado Springs’ lagoon, going counter clockwise, the next area is the Ranchos. Some guests are put off by the desert landscaping reminiscent of Southwestern cattle ranches, however, I find the theme to be beautifully executed. If you will be traveling with family members that want to spend lots of time at the main pool and recreation area (i.e. children) then Ranchos is a great section.
The final section is the Cabanas, which is colorfully evocative of the Mexican coastal villages. I personally love this atmosphere best, it has the feel of a tropical getaway. Building 9B, the closest Cabana building to the lobby is now club-level, meaning that staying there gives you access to a club lounge, but also means that they are more expensive. This is yet another way that Coronado Springs is very different than the other three Moderate Resorts.
Food and beverage
Here again is another area in which Coronado Springs differs from its Moderate resorts brethren. All Moderate resorts have one counter service outlet and one full, table service outlet. Yet Coronado Springs has this and more, in total there is one quick / counter service, one casual dining, one full service, two outdoor bars, plus an ultra lounge. The outdoor bar near the main pool even has a respectable food menu. Overall dining a smidge pricier here due to catering to convention guests, many of which will be reimbursed for their expenses.
The full service outlet, Maya Grill has gone through some recent evolution. The menu is better than ever. The thing many people do not realize is all of Coronado’s food and beverage is operated by a third party. In fact this is the same third party that operates all of the food and beverage at Epcot’s Mexico pavilion. So I like to think of Maya Grill as being akin to having Epcot’s San Angel Inn or Hacienda right at the resort. Open for dinner only, 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM.
Rix Lounge which is a hot spot whenever a large convention is at the hotel, and even if not it is a beautifully decorated ultra lounge with a fantastic drink menu and delicious appetizers. The casual service option, Pepper Market was original very different than traditional counter service. There were multiple stations serving a variety of food including Mexican fare as well as deli sandwich, salads, and more. You walked up to your desired station, ordered your selection which was then noted on a ticket. Your food was brought to your table and after dining you took your ticket to the register and paid a service charge on top of your meal cost. Disney said adios to this model about a year or so ago, and now the Pepper Market is very similar to the rest of Disney’s counter service locations.
For a while Pepper Market was the only casual option besides the limited menu at the pool bar. Then Cafe Rix opened a few ago. Here you will find lots of grab and go options from breakfast to dinner. This is right off the lobby, making it a shorter walk for guests in the Cabanas section, or checking out of the resort with left over DDP credits.
Another unique feature is Laguna Bar. Nearly all outdoor bars at Disney resorts are anchored to the main pool. Here at Coronado Springs there is an outdoor bar just outside of El Centro, Laguna Bar. This outdoor bar is a popular debriefing spot for the convention crowd. There is also Siesta Pool Bar which follows the traditional model of being located at the main pool bar. Both are typically open 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM, and Siesta Pool Bar has a light food menu.
All Moderate resorts use Disney bus transportation for the parks and all but one (read on!) have multiple bus stops at each guest room section and the main building–Coronado has 4 stops. Coronado Springs is a little to the West side of property, making Animal Kingdom the closest of the theme parks. Hollywood Studios and Epcot are about 10 minutes away and Magic Kingdom is the furthest, about 15-20 minutes away, once you are on board the bus.
Pool and Recreation / Activities
Each guest room section has their own “quiet” pool. These pools do not have any bells and whistles like a water slide, but they are ideal for relaxing and generally are far less crowded than the main pool.The main pool is the main attraction of the area called The Dig Site, which also contains the playground and arcade. A 46 foot tall Mayan stepped pyramid towers over the pool. The cherry on top is the 128 foot water slide.
Adjacent to the main pool is a water play area, very popular with smaller kids. There is a playground and a few recreational games like foosball, plus the arcade is here too. And if you want to get competitive you can have fun at the beach volleyball court. And of course, as is tradition, there are movies under the stars, one movie each night of the week.
Fitness Center / Salon
Another advantage of staying at a conference hotel is that Coronado Springs has a fitness center, unlike the other Moderate Resorts. The center is located near the quiet pool in the Casitas section, between buildings 3 and 4. There is also a Beauty Salon in the same location. This is a great option for conventioneers as well as anyone wanting a little pampering without shelling out the dough for a full spa experience. You do not have to be a guest of Coronado Springs to engage in services at this salon.
Coronado Springs is a great choice typically for guests that have older children or are not traveling with children. The convention focus does not dominate the resort but does give the resort a slightly upgraded feel and perhaps a little more catering towards adults. I try not to play favorites, but I think it just might be my personal favorite of the Moderate resorts.
Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter Resorts
These two resorts are sister properties and act as one large campus, yet stand on their own two feet. Port Orleans is usually the favorite of many Disneyphiles, especially Riverside. The theming feels the most Disney-esque and fantastical, providing a romanticized version of the South. It is fairly well located, and very scenic. Southern Hospitality permeates this resort, set along the Disney made Sassagoula River, the leads to Disney Springs.
In line with all the other Moderate resorts, rooms at both Riverside and French Quarter measure at 314 square feet. Most rooms have two queen beds, though a select number of rooms with king beds are available. Many of the rooms with queen beds also have a pull down child size bed.
There are two main sections of the guest room buildings. Magnolia Bend is what most people associate or envision Riverside to be. Grand, white, Southern mansions glisten in the sun. Over at Alligator Bayou the rustic side of the South comes through. The rooms at each section have the same features, but the décor is different. Rooms in the Alligator Bayou section of Riverside feature brass bathroom fixtures, hickory-branch bedposts, Murphy beds, and quilted bedspreads. Rooms in the plantation-themed Magnolia Bend section of Riverside are more conventional, with light-green walls, chestnut-colored wood furnishings, olive carpets, and dark-blue bedding accents.
There are also Royal Rooms in the Magnolia Bend section. There are touches from all the main Disney princesses, but this is The Princess and the Frog’s domain, with appearances by Tiana’s other princess friends. These rooms cost around $70 more per night than other rooms.
Over at the French Quarter, which is smaller than Riverside, there are no separate themed sections and instead all guest room buildings have the jazzy feel of the French Quarter. The rooms feels rich, evoking the feeling of staying in a historic building in the French Quarter. Deep jewel tones and dark woods set an aristocratic yet approachable mood. All of the features in terms of items in the room are the same between Riverside and French Quarter.
Port Orleans is a long resort along the banks of the Sassagoula River. Riverside is bigger than French Quarter and is therefore wider. But both resorts are very long. They almost resemble a Y shape, with the main building at the stem of the Y and the guest rooms stretching out on either side.
Riverside has it’s own main building with the front desk, lobby, merchandise shop, and food & beverage options all under one roof. French Quarter has its own building with similar offerings as well. They each stand alone as their own resort, however, you can easily walk to either one and can enjoy the facilities at either one.
Food and beverage
Port Orleans Riverside follows the traditional model of offering one counter service option and one full service option. Riverside Mill Food Court is one of the most well themed resort food courts anywhere on property. A high ceiling leads the eye to immediately take in the large gears and workings of the water wheel located just outside, on the front of the building. There are inviting views of the resort and river throughout the food court. The food court is open for all meal periods with three different stations plus a dessert station.
Boatright’s Dining Hall is a great dining option for guests staying at Riverside as well as French Quarter. However, it is only open for dinner, 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM. It used to be open for breakfast, with a very hearty, delicious menu including sweet potato pancakes (a moment of silence for our loss, please.) The dinner menu is Disney’s interpretation of Cajun and Southern flavors. As someone who has traveled to New Orleans and lived in the semi-South my entire life I will say the menu is a little toned down, but still enjoyable.
Port Orleans French Quarter does not have a full service option, just a counter service. Sassagoula Float Works is also open for all meal periods. Some standout entrees from the Lunch and Dinner menu include the Jambalaya and Pot Roast. None of the desserts are particularly interesting but there is a nice assortment of ice cream sundaes and shakes. The décor is fun with larger than life props that are replicas of Mardi Gras parade float decorations.
Another factor that makes Port Orleans resorts a favorite in the Moderate category are the River Roost and Scat Cat’s lounges. At French Quarter the Scat Cat’s lounge is just off the lobby. Live music is offered most nights, though this lounge has not been able to maintain a long standing permanent musician for many years. The walls of the lounge are adorned with instruments and jazz music memorabilia.
Over at Riverside, a bit down from the lobby is the River Roost lounge. This lounge draws attention from many Disneyphiles and is often attended by guests that aren’t staying at the resort itself. Though the lounge itself is inviting enough it is the resident performer, Yehaa Bob Jackson. You’re sure to have a good time at a Yehaa Bob performance. His high energy, comical piano performance has been a favorite for many years. He typically performs on Thursday – Saturday nights.
Both lounges offer the standard Disney resort lounge menu and a small appetizer selection. You’ll also find a pool bar at each resort.
Port Orleans has another unique feature among its Moderate resorts brethren: boat transportation. To get to the theme parks bus transportation is the only option. Since Riverside is larger it does have 4 bus stops around the resort to serve the guest room sections, however since French Quarter is smaller there is only one bus terminal at the front of the resort. The two resorts share bus service to some parks on some days, with French Quarter always being the first stop. The closest theme parks are Epcot and Magic Kingdom, about 10 -15 minutes away once you are on the bus. Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are about 15 – 20 minutes away.
Boat transportation is offered to Disney Springs. What a lovely, scenic boat ride! From Riverside it takes about 20 minutes to arrive once you are on the boat, and French Quarter about 15 minutes. These sister resorts share the same boat. During inclement weather the boat service is suspended and replaced by bus transportation.
At the French Quarter: Doubloon Pool has 1 95 foot water slide that all ages are free to use. I have to say right here and now, I find it to be one of the biggest let downs. The sea serpent that the slide is built into makes you think that the slide is going to be really cool, but sadly it is a short and slow slide. Pool hours are at least 9AM to 9 PM, extending to as much as 8 AM to 12 AM during busy times.
Riverside has the better pool, mainly because it is the bigger of the two resorts and therefore has a bigger pool. There is plenty of seating around the pool as well as in quiet shady area. There are a total of five quiet pools, two at Magnolia Bend and three at Alligator Bayou.
Recreation / Activities
Both Riverside and French Quarter are incredibly scenic resorts. A brisk walk or jog around both resorts provide stimulating exercise. The traditional movies under the stars are offered at both resorts as well as marshmallow roasts. Each resort also offers a playground and an arcade.
Port Orleans actually offers even more recreation fun with bike rentals, horse-drawn carriage rides, and fishing excursions. All of these activities are an additional cost and can be arranged at Riverside.
Ask any Disneyphile which Moderate resort is their favorite and chances are Port Orleans, especially Riverside, will be their pick. It is the most family friendly of the Moderate resorts. It can also get very busy during peak periods, so if you have apprehensions towards staying at a crowded, busy hotel it may be a good idea to consider one of the other moderate resorts.
It is worth noting that the Cabins at Fort Wilderness are also considered a Moderate Resort by Disney, but they are quite different and more expensive than the other four traditional-style resorts (with regard to the cabins). Because of how different they are from the traditional Moderate resorts I have not included a full break down. However, if you are interested in Fort Wilderness I suggest you check out this info page and this blog post.
Once you’ve selected your resort make sure you take advantage of the Touring Plans Room Finder. If you’re on the fence about which category is right for you check out this post about selecting the right hotel category. And finally keep an eye out for The Basics post about selecting the right hotel in the Deluxe category, and in the meantime you can check out selecting the right hotel in the Value category.
Additional Back to Basics Posts
- Walt Disney World First Timer’s Guide — The Minimum You Need to Know
- A Timeline for a Disney World Trip
- Using the Crowd Calendar to Decide When to Visit Disney World
- Disney Dining Basics
- Using Touring Plans
- How to Use FastPass+
- FastPass+ Strategy
- Selecting the Right Disney World Hotel Category
- Selecting the Right Disney Value Hotel
- Disney World Hotel Discounts
- A Cost Analysis of the Disney Dining Plan
- Meeting Characters at Epcot
- Meeting Characters at Animal Kingdom
- Meeting Characters at Hollywood Studios
- Planning a Universal Orlando Trip for a Disney World Veteran