Disney's Port Orleans Resortby Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer
Even though we are Central Florida residents and spend much of our recreational time in the Disney theme parks, we still find a great deal of enjoyment in checking in to a Disney hotel and pretending that we are on vacation.
We have found that we can get the biggest bang for our money by staying at one of Disney's Moderate Resort hotels, and in that category, our hands-down favorite has to be Disney's Port Orleans Resort.
We have stayed there enough over the last few years that it is almost become a tradition for us. There is no specific time of year that's better another, other than those times when Disney discounts the rooms, so we watch the websites and occasionally book a stay when one of the hotels goes on sale. During our last stay, we took some time to take images of the hotel and thought we would share them here.
There are two areas to Disney's Port Orleans: Riverside, and the French Quarter. Riverside is the larger of the two, with 16 buildings with 64 rooms each, totalling 1,024.
The lobby of Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside is patterned after the interior of a Mississippi River steamboat. Overhead in the ceiling, you can see the names of river destinations. Photo by Donald Fink.
Riverside is separated into two areas: Alligator Bayou and Magnolia Bend. Magnolia Bend is patterned after the plantation homes of the Old South, with their massive brick and wood columns and formal rose gardens.
Imagine travelling north from New Orleans along the Mighty Mississippi River in the early 1800s. First, you would see the great plantation homes represented by Magnolia Bend. Then later, as you moved further away from civilization, you would begin to see more rustic and simple family dwellings in the backcountry bayou. These more modest dwellings are the inspiration for Alligator Bayou, where you can see rougher cut wood exteriors and tin roofs.
Many rooms in the Alligator Bayou are surrounded by lush plants and trees, giving the feeling of seclusion. You'd never guess that you are staying in a hotel with over 1,000 rooms. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Of course, the rough exterior is just an appearance. Alligator Bayou—like all Disney hotels we've visited—is first class in terms of craftsmanship and maintenance. One example of the extra effort Disney makes in its presentation of the rooms is the hickory headboards on the beds. Our information tells us that Disney brought in a woodworker from North Carolina specifically to make each headboard from hickory wood. We have noticed that the headboards in the rooms we have visited are slightly different, indicating that they were individually handmade.
Rooms at Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside are well-appointed. They typically include a single king or two queen beds. This room also had a fold-down Murphy bed that's big enough for a single child or an adult under 5-foot-2. Photo by Donald Fink.
There's a walking and jogging path that travels through the resort that's a pleasant 0.7-mile loop. Combine it with a one-mile round-trip path to the French Quarter side of the resort for a quiet evening stroll or a quick morning workout. Both paths amble along the scenic Sassagoula River.
Most Disney resorts have a food court where guests can get quick-service food. At Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside, the food court, called Riverside Mill and Market, is located in the main building. Inside this representation of a Deep South cotton mill, you'll find seating for 450 people and plenty to eat. There are five separate serving stations that include pastries and ice cream, pasta, a carved meat station, pizza, and more.
The Riverside Mill and Market is the food court at Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside. Originally called Colonel's Cotton Mill, this building is patterned after a cotton mill and includes a 35-foot water wheel with moving parts throughout the dining room. Photo by Donald Fink.
The table-service restaurant at Riverside is called Boatwright's Dining Hall. This restaurant is open for dinner and features cuisine from the South, including a great chicken gumbo in Cajun-spiced broth, and a chicken, shrimp, and sausage jambalaya.
We think that much of the great dining on Disney property can be found at the Disney hotels, and the Boatwright's Dining Hall didn't disappoint us.
This 46-foot reproduction of a "New Orleans Lugger" sailboat was built from plans obtained from the Smithsonian. It was constructed at the Dauntless Ship Yard near Essex, Ct. The "Lugger" is similar to the small ships that would have travelled the Mississippi River in the 1820s, hauling cotton and other cargo. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
The ol' swimmin hole on Ol' Man Island features a swimming pool themed after an old saw mill, with a water slide, several waterfalls, and fountains. There is a separate kids' wading pool, as well. Photo by Donald Fink.
There are several swimming pools at Disney's Port Orleans. We saw six of them at Riverside and one at French Quarter. The two larger pools were themed for their surroundings and included supervised poolside activities for the kids, while the smaller pools were more secluded and intimate, offering families and individuals some quiet time.
All Disney resort hotels have swimming pools for recreation, but very few have real live fishing holes. At Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside, on Ol' Man Island, just behind the Muddy Rivers Pool Bar, you can find a fishing hole where you can use cane poles and bobbers to catch bluegill (perch), bass, and catfish. We're even told that you'll occasionally see a river otter stealing your catch, but he's not part of the cast. Hours are usually from 7:00 a.m. until 1:45 p.m., with the last pole going out at 1:15 p.m.
The French Quarter area of Disney's Port Orleans originally opened in May 1991. Originally, there were 432 rooms in three buildings but that number soon increased to 1,008 rooms. The original name of the resort was simply Disney's Port Orleans Resort. The Riverside part of Port Orleans opened in February 1992 and was called Disney's Dixie Landings Resort. The two resorts were officially merged in April 2001 and took the name Disney's Port Orleans Resort, with the two distinct areas known as French Quarter and Riverside.
Disney's Port Orleans - French Quarter gives you the true look and feel of New Orleans French Quarter. Its Mardi Gras-inspired decorations bring the celebration to an authentic level. Many of the decorations were actually acquired from the New Orleans Mardi Gras warehouses in New Orleans. Others were created by the world famous Kern Studios in New Orleans, a Mardi Gras float and prop provider.
The entrance to the main lobby of Disney's Port Orleans - French Quarter is themed after a mid-18th century bank building in New Orleans. The early Spanish and French architecture is evident throughout the resort. Photo by Donald Fink.
The Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory is French Quarter's food court. Many of these decorations were actually purchased from the Mardi Gras warehouses. Many were made by Blaine Kern Artists, Inc., a well known float and decoration builder for mardi Gras and other parades around the world. Photo by Donald Fink.
The Sassagoula Floatworks is the go-to food court for Disney's Port Orleans - French Quarter. You can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are needing something after hours, there is always the Sassagoula Pizza Express Delivery Service. They will deliver pizza to your room from 4:00 p.m. until midnight.
There's one swimming pool at Disney's Port Orleans - French Quarter. It is located behind the main lobby near the edge of the Sassagoula River. Its Mardi Gras design comes with a clam shell water fountain and a water slide that looks like a sea serpent (named Scales). This pool, like the main pool at Riverside, hosts daily organized fun activities when weather permits. There is also a kid's wading pool and a spa nearby.
The buildings at French Quarter are three stories compared to two stories at Riverside. The good news is that each building at French Quarter has three elevators, while some buildings at Riverside have none.
There's river transportation to Downtown Disney from Riverside and French Quarter. This dock is at Disney's Port Orleans - Riverside and marks the end of the two mile journey down the Sassagoula River from Downtown Disney. Photo by Donald Fink.
Disney's Port Orleans Resort is connected to Downtown Disney by a waterway called the Sassagoula River. With boats running about every 20 minutes, this has always been a pleasant mode of transportation. The river is meant to represent the Mississippi River, and the name "Sassagoula" is, we're told, a Native American name for "Mississippi." There are two stops along the way: one at French Quarter and another at Riverside, with Riverside being the turnaround point of the route. There is another branch of the Sassagoula River that goes to Disney's Old Key West Resort, as well.
When you travel one one of the flat bottom boats along the Sassagoula River, pay particular attention to the color of the river. In the area of French Quarter and Riverside, the water is dark brown as it would be in a bayou setting with swamp water full of tannin. As you near Downtown Disney and begin to enter Lake Buena Vista, the water turns to a more normal color, as you would expect any freshwater lake in the south to appear. More Disney magic?
We have stayed at Disney's Port Orleans Resort on several occasions over the years. While we have stayed at a few other moderate resorts on Disney property and several of the deluxe resorts, we keep coming back to Port Orleans. We're not sure if it's due to the price value, the proximity to Downtown Disney, or just the comfort that Port Orleans provides, but we keep coming back.
If you make only one trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, we would suggest that you stay on property at a deluxe resort. There's nothing we've found that can replace having the "whole package" in terms of the Disney experience. If, however, you're a more frequent visitor and simply want to experience Disney with more value in mind, we would suggest one of the moderate resorts—and on the top of that list for us is Disney's Port Orleans Resort.