Port Orleans Riversideby Sue Holland, contributing writer
My first visit to Disney's Port Orleans Resort Riverside was within a year of its opening, back when it was named Dixie Landings. I fell in love with the resort and stayed there many more times in the years to come. Since joining the Disney Vacation Club six years ago I spend much less time at the non-DVC resorts, but I recently returned to Riverside for a weekend getaway.
Port Orleans Riverside is one of four moderate resorts, which means there are smaller rooms and fewer amenities in exchange for a significantly lower room rate than the deluxe resorts. On the other hand, the moderates have many more amenities and a higher room rate than the value resorts. Among the amenities not found at Port Orleans Riverside are a fitness center, beauty salon, room service, interior hallways, queen-size beds, valet parking, and childcare facilities. Amenities here that do not exist at the cheaper value resorts include a slide at the main swimming pool, larger rooms, full service restaurant, indoor cocktail lounge with entertainment, hot tub, bicycle and boat rentals, and more attractive surroundings.
Checking in is pleasant in the bright attractive lobby.
Visitors enter the main building and find themselves in an attractive courtyard. To the right is the lobby, which houses the front desk. Here people check into their rooms, purchase park passes, or drop off postcards for mailing. There is an area with child-size furniture set up to occupy the young ones while the adults take care of business. With approximately 2,000 rooms, the lobby is set up to handle large crowds, and they have enough front desk stations to keep any line moving steadily.
River Roost bar.
Across the courtyard from the lobby is the River Roost bar. Sports games are broadcast here, and a fireplace serves as a popular gathering spot. The furniture is overstuffed and comfortable, although guests can sit at the bar if they choose. In addition to beverages, several appetizers are served here, and since smoking has been banned it is a very pleasant spot to enjoy some conversation and a light bite to eat if a full dinner seems like too much.
There is a second bar located by the main pool. Muddy Rivers Pool Bar serves beverages and snacks, and is generally open from 11:00 a.m. until dark. The wooden rocking chairs on the shaded porch are a great place to enjoy a frozen drink.
Boatwright's Dining Hall.
Next to River Roost is Boatwright's Dining Hall, where southern hospitality and cuisine are served up for breakfast and dinner daily. Shipbuilding artifacts adorn the restaurant, along with fireplaces and a view into the bakery that serves in the food court. Several breakfast skillets are popular for people with hearty appetites, and some people make a trip to Boatwright's even when staying at other resorts. Breakfast is served 7:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. (making brunch a possibility), and dinner is served from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Priority seatings are taken here, but not completely necessary.
Riverside Mill Food Court.
Next door to Boatwright's, at the end of the hallway, is the Riverside Mill Food Court. This was the only area that was a disappointment during my trip, as compared to my earlier stays. The seating area is nice, but the selection of food was limited by having one or more stations closed during the day.
The former market section is now a cooler with pre-made sandwiches, salads and beverages. The bakery sells donuts and cinnamon buns during breakfast, and cookies, slices of cakes, brownies and cheesecake later in the day. There is a pizza station open all day, and a grill where they cook burgers and french fries. Breakfast is the usual eggs, bacon and accompaniments. .
Exterior of Riverside Mill Food Court.
The exterior water wheel actually causes the cotton mill equipment inside the food court to rotate. Children sometimes consider a table by the wheel something special, and it's certainly a nicer setting than next to the television showing Disney animated movies.
The large arcade.
Port Orleans Riverside has a number of recreational opportunities for people of all ages, including a fairly large arcade. Located on the other side of the lobby, older children can be sent here while their parents are waiting in line to check in. In all the times I've wandered through the arcade, it's always been clean and not terribly busy.
Family catching fish at the Fishin' Hole.
Something unique to Riverside is the chance to drop a cane pole over the dock in a private stocked Fishin' Hole. Four dollars will rent a pole with bait for 30 minutes, during which time most people manage to catch a number of fish (catch and release only). During my visit, I met a man with two young daughters, and the girls caught a few fish during the 10 minutes or so I visited with them. The girls were thrilled, to say the least. The fish stocked include catfish, bass and bluegill.
The resort's marina, Riverside Levee, is the place to rent bicycles and boats. A variety of boats are available, from pontoon boats seating 10 passengers ($37 for 30 minutes), canopy boats seating five passengers ($26.50 for 30 minutes), Water Mouse (two-seater $22 for 30 minutes) and kayaks ($6.50 for 30 minutes or $11/hour). The minimum age to rent is 18, but children 12 years of age can drive the Water Mouse if they are at least five feet tall.
Ferry boat takes guests to Downtown Disney.
Riverside Levee sits on the Sassagoula River, and a ferry transports guests to nearby Downtown Disney during the day and evening. Hours tend to vary with the season and weather, but right now the boat runs on the hour until 4:00 p.m. and then every 20 to 30 minutes after that point. The drop-off point is at the Marketplace, at the dock next to the Rainforest Café.
Bicycles and surrey bikes are also available for rent from the marina, for use within the resort only. Regular bikes are $8 an hour or $22 per day, while the surrey bikes rent for 30-minute periods ($18 for a two-seater or $22 for a four-seater).
Tour Riverside in a horse-drawn carriage.
Another unique recreational opportunity is the horse-drawn carriage ride throughout the resort. Hours vary slightly, but the ride generally operates from 6 to 10 p.m. The ride lasts 30 minutes and reservations are recommended. Prior to your trip, it can be booked at (407) WDW-PLAY (407-949-7529). The carriage will hold four adults or two adults and three children. The cost is $30.
Playground near the main pool.
Most Disney resorts have a playground, and the one at Riverside is quite large. It's located next to the main pool and tends to be closed when the pool is closed.
'Ole Man Island.
'Ole Man Island is the location of the main swimming pool, which is the only one at the resort with lifeguards. It's pretty large, with lots of deck space, and a great water slide. In addition, they have shooting water, a spa, and a separate children's pool. Snacks and drinks can be obtained from the nearby Muddy Rivers Pool Bar, making this area a nice escape from the theme parks.
One of the quiet pools in the Magnolia Bend section.
In addition to the pool on 'Ole Man Island, there are five other pools scattered throughout the two sections of the resort. These pools do not have lifeguards on duty, but do have coin-operated laundry facilities. They also tend to have fewer children present, since there is no water slide or other fun stuff to attract them. It makes for a very peaceful experience for adults, and if you need to do laundry on vacation this is the way to do it.
One of the buildings in Magnolia Bend.
Lodging at the resort is broken down into two distinct sections. Magnolia Bend is the home to four large buildings designed to resemble elegant plantation homes. There are columns, sweeping staircases, beautiful fountains or gardens, and lots of white paint. The buildings are grouped together, with a quiet pool between the first two and another between the second two, so every building is next to a pool.
One of the quiet pools in the Alligator Bayou section.
The other section is called Alligator Bayou, and consists of 16 smaller buildings. This section is designed to be rustic, with tin roofs, the appearance of porches, and three swimming pools that are made to resemble swimming holes as opposed to fancy pools. The Alligator Bayou section has the rooms closest to the main building, but also has the rooms the furthest distance from everything. Many people have a preference for one section over the other, and Disney tries to accommodate that if you make a request when you book your room.
Beautiful scenery, Alligator Bayou section.
The entire resort is lushly landscaped, and walking along the pathways is very pleasant. Much of it is shaded, and all of it is scenic. It really makes walking to the food court or swimming pool a treat.
Alligator Bayou guest room.
The guestrooms are the same size, price and contain the same amenities regardless of whether they are in Magnolia Bend or Alligator Bayou. The décor is vastly different, however. In Magnolia Bend the furnishings and décor are more elegant, as would be expected in a plantation home. In Alligator Bayou (pictured above) the beds appear to be made from trees (twigs) and the bedspreads have a definite country charm.
Alligator Bayou room.
Each room has two double beds, although rooms in Alligator Bayou have a small trundle that pulls out from underneath one of the beds. This allows up to five people to share a single room, although it will seem very crowded in there. All rooms have a table with two chairs, a television in an armoire with several drawers, two pedestal sinks outside the bathroom, a closet rod (no enclosed closet) and a small bathroom. Many rooms connect, so renting two rooms with a door between them is an excellent option for larger families.
Water towers near the marina.
Overall Port Orleans Riverside is a beautiful, comfortable resort, and a good value. Transportation to the theme parks is via bus, and due to the large number of rooms the buses come quite often. The landscaping is especially pretty here, making this resort one of my top picks. Right now Port Orleans French Quarter is closed for refurbishment and when it reopens they will begin closing small sections of Riverside to refurbish those buildings. I did not see any obvious signs that a refurbishment was needed, but I'm sure the resort will be even nicer when this work is completed in about a year or so.