My Disney Top 5 - Things I'm Looking Forward to at Port Orleans French Quarterby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope you are all healthy and safe out there.
The school year is screaming towards an end. The long pants and long sleeve shirts have just about been retired for now. The days are longer and warmer. It must be summer in New York. Summer on Long Island is a wonderful thing. Most people seem to forget that we are, in fact, surrounded by water. We are an island after all, and a rather large one at that. Summer means the beach. It means sailing, surfing, kayaking, windsurfing and all other things associated with being in, on or underneath the water. It's also something most of us here truly wait for each year. Winters here can be frigid at times, so summertime is always welcome.
Summer to me has also meant a trip to Walt Disney World is probably on the nearby horizon and so it is this summer as well. We are eagerly awaiting our first post-pandemic trip to Disney this coming August. Obviously I can't wait. That's a given. At this point, I'm thrilled to be going anywhere for an entire week. We haven't been on a full week's vacation in four years, July 2018 for my 50th birthday to be precise. That's too long. And it's only fitting that our first week-long getaway is going to be at Walt Disney World. Last time we were at the Yacht Club, our all-time Disney favorite. This time, prices were high and even with the Disney+ discount, the Yacht Club just wasn't in the cards. So we're headed back to a resort that we haven't stayed at in 18 years!
Our return trip is taking us to Port Orleans French Quarter this time around, and we're quite excited. Last time we were there it was my wife and I and our daughter who was only 5 at the time. It was only our second family trip to Disney. Our twin boys were only 2, so they stayed home with the grandparents. We were there for 8 days, I believe, and smack in the middle of our trip Hurricane Charley came tearing right through the Orlando area. That's a whole other story, and you can actually read the article I wrote about being at Disney during a hurricane. The focus of this article isn't Hurricane Charley but Port Orleans French Quarter. I can't wait to go back. This time the boys will be 20. My daughter, now 23, will hopefully be joining us for a few days and my wife and I? Well, we're older and wiser, let's just go with that. But all of us are excited about being at French Quarter. Why exactly? Let's take a look at my Top 5 things I'm looking forward to at Port Orleans French Quarter.
5 - Mickey Beignets
Anyone who has been to Walt Disney World a few times knows that food is a rather big deal all throughout the resort. Recently I spent a day at Hersheypark chaperoning a school trip. Earlier in the week, I chaperoned a separate trip to Six Flags Great Adventure. It's hard to knock the roller coasters in either park. They're world-class coasters and I screamed my happy head off on each one. However, I can certainly knock the food options in both parks. Walt Disney World has its fair share of chicken tenders and fries for sure, but there's literally a world of other delicious dining options available just about everywhere. It may sound insignificant to talk about a piece of fried dough when trying to differentiate Disney from other theme parks, but trust me, the beignets in the French Quarter food court are no funnel cakes.
I'll go out on a limb and say that if you're a non-French Quarter guest and you're spending some time at Disney Springs one day, it's probably worth hopping on the riverboat up to Port Orleans just to have the Mickey beignets. It's the only place on Disney property that you can get them. Better yet…don't listen to me. Stay away and leave more of them for me.
4 - Riverside at your Disposal
After our first time at the French Quarter we got a very good deal at its neighbor resort Port Orleans Riverside. My wife was running in a triathlon on Disney property and the rooms at Riverside were $89 for the registered athletes and their families! You heard that right - 89 bucks! That stay was once again just my wife and I and our daughter. What we soon realized was that once we started bringing the twins with us, we would need room for 5 and Riverside offered a 5th trundle bed. That began a long love affair between Riverside and the Barry family. I think we stayed there for the next four or five years in a row. Riverside is a beautiful resort with wonderful gardens, plenty of pools, a great restaurant and an overall fantastic vibe.
This smaller, more intimate pool is located in the Alligator Bayou section on the north side of Riverside. You could frequently be swimming by yourself and it's a short walk or boat ride from French Quarter. Photograph by Bonnie Fink.
Let's say that you are staying at the French Quarter and you are in the mood for a different pool or food court. All you have to do is take a walk or take the riverboat over to Riverside. They have an awesome main pool, but they also have 5 quiet pools—three of which, in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort, are some of my favorite pools on property. It's like getting two completely different resorts in one stay. Actually, it's more like three if you consider the fact that Riverside has two very distinct sections to it: Alligator Bayou with it's more woodsy, rustic feel, and Magnolia Bend with its grander, more regal plantation-style setting.
3 - The Sassagoula River
One of the things that surprised me quite a bit on our very first trip to Walt Disney World is just how many bodies of water there are, given its landlocked status in the dead center of Florida. Indeed, Bay Lake up by the Magic Kingdom was reportedly what Walt spotted during an early flyover of the property when they were searching for the spot to build his next great venture. Just about every Disney resort has a body of water attached to it and given its name. Port Orleans is no exception. You have to ignore the fact that places like the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Magic Kingdom, Crescent Lake surrounded by Disney's BoardWalk and the Port Orleans' Sassagoula River are, in fact, man made. Once they've been there this long, nature has taken over these bodies of water, and they are a part of the natural surroundings.
A walk along the river from French Quarter and back is a great way to take a peaceful evening stroll. My wife likes to wake up super early each morning and go for her run along the river and though the two resorts. She'll follow that up with her morning coffee on a bench along the river's banks. And you can't beat the riverboat ride down to Disney Springs past the Treehouses, especially at night. Access to the river is one of the key features of staying at French Quarter. Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs each have a beautiful lake at their center, but the Sassagoula River at Port Orleans is the only functioning waterway at a Disney Moderate resort.
2 - New Orleans Theme
I've never been to New Orleans, which given my proclivity for seeing live music seems to be quite shocking. It's on my list of places to go for sure. I imagine that Disney's version of the French Quarter has been, how should I say, sanitized? That may be true, but it's one of the things that I really love about this resort. They took all the nicest features of New Orleans architecture and style and imported them over to Central Florida. The buildings are all colorful and adorned with classic wrought iron details. Truth be told, there's wrought iron everywhere you look and it creates a New Orleans vibe.
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. Photograph by Donald Fink.
I love how the walkways of the resort look like they're actually old roads leading through a small city complete with brick inlays and street signs. There are several large fountains scattered throughout the property, each of them unique and all helping to reinforce the sense of tranquility you feel when you're here. The gardens are meticulous, featuring lots of perfectly trimmed hedges and large open grass spaces. The main lobby, one of my favorite lobbies on Disney property, features a soaring glass ceiling, a beautiful fountain, and more of that classic wrought iron detailing that makes this resort so unique. I can't wait to soak it all in this summer.
1 - The Small Size
It's a little difficult to refer to a resort with just over 1,000 rooms small, but that's exactly how French quarter feels. This is especially true when you compare it to the other resorts in the Moderate class. Caribbean Beach has 500 more rooms. With the addition of Gran Destino Tower, Coronado Springs now has 2,300 rooms. Even sister resort and neighbor Port Orleans Riverside dwarfs French Quarter with 2,048 rooms. When you factor all of this in, French Quarter seems downright tiny. And while it's not as small as some of the Deluxe category resorts—our favorite, the Yacht Club, for example, has a paltry 635 rooms—it feels much smaller and much more intimate.
I'm always amazed at the amount of serenity that can be found at a Walt Disney World resort. Escaping the busy parks and retreating back to a peaceful resort is a necessary thing on a Disney trip. French Quarter serves up a serious dose of tranquility. It's a close walk from even the furthest rooms to the resort center and pool area. This makes a huge difference when you've got kids in tow. Speaking on behalf of all the parents out there, we all know what it's like to lift a sleeping child off the Disney buses and carry them all the way back to the room. That can be a 15-minute walk at Riverside; just what you need after a long day in the parks. French Quarter feels small and feels quaint when compared to most of the Disney resorts that I have stayed in. That puts in in its own special class and that's why it's the thing I'm most looking forward to when we get back there this summer.
I've got a few co-workers that have come to me for Disney advice for their upcoming trips with their young families. Both weren't looking to spend Yacht Club or Polynesian money, but they were also looking for a step up from the Value resorts. Despite not actually staying there in years, I didn't hesitate to suggest French Quarter. If you've got a family of four or less, especially little ones, I don't see how you can go wrong with Port Orleans French Quarter. For that matter, I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a moderately priced Disney stay. It's got a little bit of everything all wrapped up in a classy, small and peaceful setting. I thought it way back then in 2004, and I imagine I'll still be thinking when I'm back there this August, that French Quarter is one of Disney's best kept secrets—and, have I mentioned, the beignets are to die for!
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on Port Orleans French Quarter. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.