Picture it: you’re strolling down a tree-lined street, surrounded by low-lit lamps as the horn of a riverboat sounds in the distance. The calm river abutting the street reflects the pale purple-pink sky above, the image of the clouds perfectly still until the waves from the riverboat ripple softly across the surface. In the distance you can see the French Quarter, and to your right you see the deep orange wheel of the mill spinning in its constant rhythm, lightly dusting the surrounds with water. It hits you: you aren’t in New Orleans, Louisiana; you are at Port Orleans – Riverside, a not-so-secret hidden jewel of a resort at Walt Disney Word.
About Port Orleans – Riverside. Port Orleans – Riverside (which I will refer to as “Riverside” or “Port Orleans – Riverside”) is a “moderate” Walt Disney World resort. (Reminder: Disney categorizes its resorts by price tier: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villa.) It’s themed to a rural Louisiana bayou from yesteryear. It is located close to EPCOT, but due to how the roads are configured, it takes about the same time to get from Riverside to EPCOT as it does to get to the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom. (For a guide to using the monorail, see How to Use the Monorail at Disney World.) It is also a quick drive or bus ride to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Thus, despite not being on the monorail, not being served by the Disney Skyliner, and not being on a boat route to a theme park, its central location makes it an easy drive or bus ride to all four Disney World theme parks.
Theme and Layout. The main building at Port Orleans, instantly recognizable by its deep red, pitched roof, is called the Sassagoula Steamboat Company, and it anchors the resort. As you enter the main building you will find yourself at the crossroads of a steamship ticket station. From the main entrance, the building extends into U-shape facing away from the entrance. If you walk straight outside you will see horse drawn carriages, the Sassagoula River, the river boat launch, and trails extending towards the resort buildings.
From the entrance, to your right you will find the grand lobby with tall ceilings, ornate fixtures, and the check-in desks. There are several couches and seating options, and a small television with small chairs for the kids. Further past the lobby in this direction is the Medicine Show Arcade.
From the left of the lobby entrance is Fulton’s General Store, the River Roost Lounge, the Riverside Mill, and Boatwright’s Dining Hall, each of which will be addressed in turn below. For now, just know that the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building is the heart of the resort.
There are two sections of resort rooms at Riverside, Magnolia Bend and Alligator Bayou. When you make a reservation, you may be assigned to either (unless you reserve a Royal Guest Room—more on those rooms below). Both sections consist of standard rooms: there are no Disney Vacation Club (DVC) villas at either Port Orleans Riverside or the French Quarter. Like other Disney resorts, prices differ on the type of view from the room—e.g., standard view, woods review, river view.
Magnolia Bend buildings are recognizable by their stately white columns that emulate Southern charm. Large, swooping trees provide a canopy for prim gardens, grand staircases, and winding walkways. Within Magnolia Bend are four buildings—Acadian House, Magnolia Terrace, Oak Manor, and Parterre Place. The theming inside the rooms in Magnolia Bend mirror the exterior, mostly consisting of pale colors, dark wooden furniture, and pictures of Louisiana, rivers, and steamboats.
The Royal Guest Rooms are located exclusively in the Oak Manor and Parterre Place buildings within Magnolia Bend. The rooms are heavily themed to The Princess and the Frog and also Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Royal Guest Rooms add a certain whimsy to otherwise standard rooms. The ornate designs are little strong, however, which, along with the bulky furniture and darker colors make the room feel busy. Of course, those qualms aren’t concerns for children: my kids loved every detail and have asked to return back to the “princess room” ever since we left the resort. I admit that the sink faucets shaped like the magical lamp from Aladdin are a nice touch. If you are going with little ones, the Royal Guest Rooms are a great option, though they will cost a little more than a regularly-themed standard room.
Alligator Bayou. The buildings in Alligator Bayou are clustered in groups set amid a low-key, wooded area. Alligator Bayou buildings look like rustic lodges in a secluded area, surrounded by streams, vegetation and smaller pools. (Fun Fact: I stayed in a room in Alligator Bayou on my very first Disney World trip!) The rooms in Alligator Bayou are also rustic in nature, with The Princess and the Frog touches sprinkled throughout. There are fold out beds just beneath the TV that are perfect for kids, and perhaps even teenagers, so consider that flexibility if you need that extra space.
The Alligator Bayou buildings are less flashy than Magnolia Bend buildings, somewhat hidden by their paint color that blends in with the surrounding nature. The Royal Guest Rooms over at Magnolia Bend tend to get a lot of attention, but the Alligator Bayou section offers a quieter, tranquil experience that is worth considering. Further, the location of the Alligator Bayou rooms offer its own advantages: if you stay in the “Preferred” location, you are within immediate walking distance to the Riverside Mill Food Court, and the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building. This is perfect for grabbing a quick breakfast before a busy parks day, or walking with luggage at check-in and check-out. Also, depending on your building, you may be close to several bus stops—the West Depot, North Depot, or the South Depot.
Tips for Parents. If you are staying in Magnolia Bend, request a room in either Acadian House or Magnolia Bend for close proximity to Ol’ Man Island. If you are staying in Alligator Bayou, request a room in the preferred location. Time is money, so try and save time by staying close to the amenities.
Finding Your Room. There is no denying that this is a large, spread out resort that requires lots of walking. The resort rooms, depending on their location, can be accessed by walking along a path that starts at the Riverside Mill and encircles the entire resort. Walking along this route is easiest for guests staying in Alligator Bayou because it is located on the northwestern side of the resort, just next to the Riverside Mill food court. Guests can also find their rooms by crossing bridges over the Sassagoula River. A main bridge connects the Sassagoula Steamboat Building area to Ol’ Man Island, where the main pool and a bar are located—more on both of those below. From Ol’ Man Island, you eventually reach other bridges that will connect you to the Magnolia Bend buildings. Once you stay at Riverside a few times you will easily crack its hub-and-spoke style layout, but if it’s your first time, it’s worth studying the map—or taking this guide along with you!
Parking. If you are driving to Disney World, you can park in spaces close to the building that houses your room. Note that after entering the gate to the resort you take an immediate left or right to get to these buildings, instead of driving straight towards to the main building. If you, like me, often have kids and ice chests and bags and blankets and boxes of diapers, this is a welcome reprieve. Several other Disney resorts—Bay Lake Tower, Disney’s Yacht Club, and Disney’s Polynesian Resort, to name a few—require you to park in a lot far from the entrance and even further from your room. This results in lots of time and effort spent loading and unloading, trying to find a bell cart, and then carrying it all to your room. Not at good ole’ Riverside.
Reminder: Disney is no longer charging per-night parking fees—rejoice!
Transportation. If you’ve read my guide to the Monorail, my guide to Disney Boat Transportation, or my guide to the Disney Skyliner, you are aware of how much I nerd out over the Disney transportation options. Sadly, Riverside is not served by any of those options. Instead, it is served only by the Disney bus system. Guests can board from several bus stations: the South Depot (which sits outside the main entrance to the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building), the West Depot and the North Depot (both in Alligator Bayou) and the East Depot, which is just behind Magnolia Terrace in Magnolia bend.
Luckily, there are two redeeming qualities here: boats and proximity to the theme parks. Let’s start with the first: water taxis. Just outside the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building is a water launch, where water taxis (Disney’s word for boats that aren’t ferries) take you to Disney Springs. The boat makes one stop at Port Orleans – French Quarter along the way, before heading straight to Disney Springs. The entire trip usually takes around 15 minutes. This service is included with your resort stay; there is no need to pay to ride the water taxi.
Tip: When returning from Disney Springs, pay close attention to the signs and the colors of the flags indicating where the final destination of the water taxis. Because the water taxis services several other Disney resorts (Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, and Port Orleans – French Quarter), you want to be sure you board the boat that is traveling to Port Orleans – Riverside.
Tips for Parents: Make a trip out of the boat rides. My kids look forward to the boat rides and we often plan to ride the boats to different locations as part of our “resort days” when we don’t visit the theme parks. Also, parking at Disney Springs is an absolute nightmare. If you ride the boats, you can avoid the stressful parking garage situation, giving you more time to shop, and perhaps visit Gideon’s Bakehouse.
The second redeeming quality is Riverside’s location within the Disney World. Though categorized by Disney as an EPCOT Area Resort, Disney World pros know this resort is also deceptively close to the Magic Kingdom, and a quick drive to both Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Basically, if you take your own car, or choose a ride share option, Riverside is a great option to get to all the four theme parks, fast.
Dining Options. Riverside doesn’t boast any must-do table service restaurants or character dining , but it does have a food court that to me, is one of the most underrated dining options at Disney World. Here is a quick summary of the dining options at Port-Orleans Riverside.
Riverside Mill Food Court. This large food court serves typical American eats, with some options inspired by Louisiana cuisine. Unlike other Disney World resorts, there are five different counters to select from, much like a mall food court. (Those options are a bakery, grill, pizza and pasta, specialties, and sandwiches.) There are also grab and go options, and drink stations (where you can use your refillable mug, if you purchased one). The Riverside Mill food court is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it is often busiest at times when people are heading out to the theme parks.
The Riverside Mill offers tons of various seating options, and even a room with a TV showing Disney shows for the kids. There are also views of the of the massive orange water wheel and the Sassagoula River. Due to its large size, options, and location, the Riverside Mill is a true hub of activity, which results in a fun atmosphere no matter the time you eat. Because most vacation meals are quick-service meals, the Riverside Mill is perfect for a longer trip where you need lots of options at all hours of the day. Once you get used to the food court, other quick-service locations at Disney Resorts pale in comparison.
Tip: you can also mobile order from your room, or when you are heading back to the resort, and pick your food from a pickup window dedicated to mobile- orders inside the food court. This is helpful after a busy day when the kids need to eat and get to bed as quickly as possible.
Boatwright’s Dining Hall is the lone table-service restaurant at Port Orleans. Offering southern Louisiana-inspired cuisine, Boatwright’s is only open for dinner. As with most table-service restaurants, Disney encourages that guests make advanced dining resevrations.
River Roost. This southern-themed lounge is located between Boatwright’s Dining Hall and the lobby. There is a full bar and occasional piano and singing performances by Yehaa Bob Jackson. This gem of a lounge is especially lively after the theme parks close.
Tip for Remote Workers: Because the bar is closed during the day, the lounge seating area is mostly empty during those hours. Tons of seating options with outlets to charge your laptop (and restrooms nearby in the lobby) make this a great option for those unfortunate instances where you need to work while on vacation.
Muddy Rivers. This poolside bar is located on ‘Ol Man Island and offers typical alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. A seating area with tables is located close to the bar.
Dog-Friendly Accommodations. Can’t leave the pooch at home? No problem. Riverside is one of the four select Disney resorts that permits pets. (The others are Disney’s Art of Animation, Disney’s Yacht Club, and Disney’s Fort Wilderness.) Note that a separate deposit is required for your dog to stay—in addition to your resort costs—and there is an additional $50 fee per night of your stay. It’s sort of pricey, but our dog sure enjoys his stays there.
Pools. The main pool at Riverside on Ol’ Man Island, which is themed to an abandoned sawmill. Ol’ Man Island sits in the middle of the resort, and can be accessed via several wooden bridges that connect the resort buildings to the island. There is a large water slide, a whirlpool tub, and a small kiddie pool. There are also five quiet leisure pools around the resort—three in the Alligator Bayou Section, and two in the Magnolia Bend section. The main pool is decently-sized, but the seating areas beside the pool sometimes feel cramped. This is a large pool and it is busy at most times of the day. In my opinion, the quiet pools offer more space to swim in a relaxing setting.
Amenities. Riverside offers a range of activities to keep you and your family entertained. In addition to typical resort fare like Movies Under the Stars and s’mores (called Campfire on de’ Bayou), you can ride a Horse Drawn Carriage around the resort, rent bikes and Surrey Bikes, and fish. There are also 24-hour self-service laundry rooms adjacent to each quiet pool around the resort.
For the kids, there is a large playground on Ol’ Man Island adjacent to the main pool, and Medicine Show Arcade. Surprisingly, there is no gym at Riverside.
Is The Resort Kid-Friendly? Riverside receives high marks from this dad. The Riverside Mill food court, while not particularly flashy, makes it easy for kids with various eating preferences to find a meal—without the table service cost. With so many food options, a large seating area, and close proximity to the amenities, the Riverside Mill makes it easy on parents to plan meals and activities. Easier for parents, is key, and that’s what Disney does so well. The large layout of the resort itself acts as an activity trail, giving you and the kids a chance to walk and explore the Port Orleans resorts. Instead of one large dedicated pool, there are several pools located around the resort. The playground next to the pool is large and suitable for several age groups. The pools and amenities at Port Orleans – French Quarter (more on that resort below), are a short walk or boat ride away, expanding the opportunities to keep the kids entertained. Speaking of boats, you are just a short ride away from Disney Springs. And then there is the arcade, the surrey bikes, and Fulton’s General Store. Families of all sizes can likely find something to do at Port Orleans – Riverside.
The French Quarter Component. At a risk of turning this article into a treatise, I must briefly mention Port Orleans – French Quarter, the sister resort and neighbor to Riverside. With a much smaller footprint and more focused theming to the New Orleans French Quarter, this resort has its own charm, without a table-service restaurant or food court of its own. I will save a full review of the French Quarter for another day; suffice to say that it has a great splash pad area and you can get Mickey-shaped beignets at Scat Cat’s Club, which are both easily accessible for Riverside guests.
Any Downsides? Of course, no resort is perfect. As mentioned, Riverside does not have monorail access, Disney Skyliner stops, or boats straight to the Magic Kingdom. Think about which theme parks you will be visiting most and whether you need direct access to those resorts without worrying about parking or waiting for a bus. This can make or break a trip among the stroller crowd (read: me), and you must weigh the money you will save at Riverside against the time and physical effort you will save if you stay at a resort with different transportation options.
Additionally, the layout of the resort requires lots of walking, which can be a pain in the Florida heat. Bus stops, boat stops, and parking can be located far from your resort room, and it’s worth considering your travel time to each when planning theme parks days. (Don’t neglect to wear comfortable shoes, too). There is only one table-service restaurant, and it’s not necessarily a fan favorite. As much as the Riverside Mill food court offers, there is only so many fast food options you can tolerate on one trip. The pool area on Ol’ Man Island tends to be busy, always, likely due to the sheer size of the resort. The moderate pricing is great for your wallet, but there are no DVC villas or larger room options, which can make it hard if you, like me, sometimes really need that separate room area after the kids go to sleep. As with most things, these cons come down to personal preference, so be sure to consider take them into consideration when planning your next Disney vacation.
The Verdict. If you’ve made it this far, you likely can glean that I consider Riverside a great Disney World resort. From its layout, theming, food options, and amenities, Riverside accommodates families looking for a trip that allows for a good mix of theme park time and resort time. The blend of nature with Disney magic results in a moderate resort that punches above its weight class. And that is perhaps why I consider Port Orleans – Riverside the best moderate resort at Disney World.
If you’re looking for other in-depth Disney resort reviews (with tips for parents and Disney adults alike), check out my guides to Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas, Disney’s Yacht Club, Disney’s Bay Lake Tower, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort.
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And if you want a no-frills, succinct guide to Walt Disney World—whether it’s your first trip or first trip back after a long time—try out my ebook, The New Parents’ Guide to Disney World. Written by two Disney World experts, it breaks down everything you need to know about Disney World theme parks, attractions, resorts, and dining, so your next trip will be your best.
See you real soon!