I recently spent three nights at Walt Disney World – each night in a different resort. I experienced a value (Pop Century), moderate (Port Orleans Riverside), and deluxe (Wilderness Lodge Villas) resort. I did this so I could update some of the pictures on Allears.net and to gain information in order to write reviews.
But before I start discussing Port Orleans Riverside, I’d like to share with you some of the general differences between resort categories.
The first interesting fact is the “room charging privileges” afforded guests. In each case, I secured my reservation with the same credit card. In the value resort, I was told I could use my room key to charge up to $500 to my account. In the moderate resort I could charge $1,000 and in the deluxe $1,500.
There was definitely a difference in the quality of the toilet paper and the thickness of the towels between the budget and deluxe resorts.
The deluxe room offered shampoo, conditioner, and body scrub. The budget and moderate resorts only provided shampoo.
And of course, room size. The more you pay, the bigger the room.
Okay, onto Port Orleans Riverside.
Construction started in the fall of 1989 and the resort opened on February 2, 1992 as Disney's Dixie Landings with 2,048 rooms. On April 1, 2001, the resort merged with the nearby Port Orleans Resort. Dixie Landings was renamed Port Orleans – Riverside and what was Port Orleans became Port Orleans – French Quarter.
From this point forward, I will refer to the resort only as Riverside.
The Riverside Resort harkens back to the old south of the 19th century. The place? Somewhere along the Sassagoula River. Sassagoula is an Indian word for Mississippi. A small town has sprung up along the river’s banks and both the wealthy and common folk have populated the surrounding area. This was a graceful era when jawin’ with your kinfolk on the front porch with a mint julep in hand was the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Your stay begins underneath the porte-cochère where bellmen can help you with your luggage and direct you to the check-in desk. Also in this area is the Airline Check-in counter. At departure time, those guests using American, Continental, Delta, United, JetBlue, US Airways, AirTran and Southwest can check their luggage and receive boarding passes at this location and skip the hassle found at the airport.
Check-in takes place inside the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building. This area was designed after the inside of an actual riverboat. Check-in time is 3pm. If you check in early, you can make arrangements for the front desk to call you when your room is ready to be occupied. Bell Services will be happy to store your luggage until that time.
Be sure to check out the ceiling in the check-in area. Circling the room are a number of cities serviced by the Sassagoula Steamboat Company.
Located off the main lobby is Fulton’s General Store. In addition to the typical Disney souvenirs and clothing, snacks, sundries, magazines, and baby products are available. This shop also has several animated Disney characters worked into the displays.
Next to Fulton’s is the River Roost Lounge. This cozy location offers overstuffed chairs and an inviting fireplace. If you want to mingle with others, have a seat at the bar and strike up a conversation with fellow vacationers and the friendly bartenders.
But the best thing about the River Roost Lounge is “Ye Haa” Bob Jackson. This hilarious guy performs Wednesday through Saturday from 8:31pm to midnight. To call his show a sing-a-long would be a misnomer. It’s more like a bunch a friends getting together for a toe-tappin’ good time. Familiar songs, antics, and audience participation fill the evening – and kids are more than welcome.
I can’t recommend this show enough. Bob has a loyal following and to many, a trip to Walt Disney World without seeing his performance is unthinkable. Plus, the show is free! There is no cover charge and no minimum drink order. So even if you’re not residing at the Riverside Resort, I strongly urge you to head this way one evening during your stay for a knee-slapping good time.
If you’re looking for a quieter, more intimate moment, check out the River Roost Lounge on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday evenings. This establishment is open daily from 4pm until midnight.
I have put together a five minute video featuring some of the highlights of “Ye Haa” Bob Jackson’s show. This will give you a good idea of what’s in store.
The River Roost Lounge is also a good spot to wait for a table to open up at Boatwright's Dining Hall next door. This restaurant is fashioned after an old ship building facility and actual tools of the trade line the wall. The center piece of the restaurant is the under-construction “New Orleans lugger.” Lugger boats were used to haul cotton up and down the Mississippi River in the 1820s. This authentic reproduction was built by the Brewer’s Ship Yard with plans secured from the Smithsonian Institute. Other sections of the restaurant feature a more intimate atmosphere complete with fireplace. Boatwright's can seat 208 guests.
I wrote a review of Boatwright's Dining Hall in July 2008 and you can read it by clicking here. Boatwright’s is open only for dinner. The hours are 5pm to 10pm. Reservations are strongly suggested and can be made online or by calling 407-WDW-DINE.
The other dining option at the resort is Riverside Mill Food Court. This eatery was themed after an old Southern cotton mill and features a cotton press powered by an authentic 35 foot water wheel. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from five stations and offers a wide variety of options. Everything from pizza, pasta, hamburgers, chicken, custom-made salads, and outstanding carrot cake are offered. In addition, a selection of beer and wine are on hand. I’ve had a number of meals here over the years and have always been pleased.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 11am. Lunch and dinner from 11am to 10pm. The bakery is open from 6am to midnight and a limited night menu is available from 10pm to midnight. The seating area can accommodate 450 guests.
A word of warning… I ventured into the Riverside Mill Food Court around 10am on the morning of my visit. I have never seen such an onslaught of people. The line at each food station had between 15-20 people waiting to order – and the lines at the cash registers were similar. I strongly suggest dragging yourself out of bed early to avoid this madhouse unless you really enjoy standing in line and eating cold food due to the long wait to pay.
The Medicine Show Arcade, located in the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building, offers kids, big and small, a chance to lose themselves for a while in electronic magic. The arcade is open 24 hours a day.
When you stand back from the main buildings of the resort, you can see that they are designed to look like a small town along the river.
In the mood for a little recreation? Then head over to the Riverside Levee. A number of boats, bikes, and surreys are available for rent by the hour and half-hour. In the evening (6:00-9:30), 25-minute carriage rides are the perfect way to enjoy the resort’s ambiance. The carriages can hold four adults or two adults and three children.
But for me, nothing beats seeing this resort by foot. Numerous walkways pass by manicured lawns, through the woods, and along the Sassagoula River. It’s very easy to forget you live in the 21st century while strolling along these pathways. Your imagination can effortlessly transport you back to a simpler time. Be sure to notice the leaf imprints in the pavement. These were made by pressing real leaves into the wet concrete and removed once the cement began to set.
Another wonderful feature of the Riverside Resort is the boat service between here, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Downtown Disney. Service begins each day at 10am and ends at 11pm. The two and a half mile river offers a lovely and relaxing way to travel and the boat ride is an attraction in its own right. I especially enjoy this journey at dusk. The river takes on a whole new magic at this time of day.
Legend has it that Ol’ Man Island was settled in 1835 by a young man. This retreat became his home deep in bayou country. As the years passed, a nearby town was settled and prospered. Eventually, the children of the settlers discovered the island and the many wonders it presented. Today, a number of activities can be found here for the young and young at heart. Everything from a fantastic swimmin’ pool, playground, and fishing hole tempt guests.
The pool (12,980 square foot and containing 158,000 gallons of water) offers numerous waterfalls and fountains along with a great slide. Towels are available at the Ol’ Man Island pool. However, the “quiet” pools do not offer this service and you will need to bring them from your room. If you need more, just call housekeeping and they’ll be happy to replenish your supply. There are plenty of lounges, tables and chairs scattered around the pool – some in the sun and some in the shade. Children under twelve must be accompanied by an adult while in the pool area.
At the Fishin’ Hole, cane poles and bait are available for some leisurely recreation. Catfish, bass, and bluegill are just waiting to nibble at your hook in this stocked section of the river. Also available are two-hour guided fishing adventures down the Sassagoula River in a pontoon boat. Twenty-four hour advance reservations are required for this event.
Need to cool down after a long day in the parks? Check out Muddy Rivers Pool Bar for a cold beer, frozen Margarita, or soft drink. This shady spot is the perfect place to unwind and relax.
While on Ol’ Man Island, be sure to check out the giant live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) located on the back side of the swimmin’ hole. On Earth Day, April 22, 1991, this tree was transplanted to the island. Months of preparation and three days of effort were required to move this 85 ton tree from an area located in what is now Disney's Animal Kingdom.
The guest rooms at the Riverside Resort are divided into two sections, Magnolia Bend and Alligator Bayou. Each section has 1,024 rooms. Although furnished differently, the rooms are all the same size and configuration (315 sq ft). Most rooms sleep four in two double beds; however there are a number of rooms that offer one king. Almost half of the Bayou rooms offer a trundle bed (extra charge) enabling you to accommodate another child. Both resorts feature “quiet” pools that may be closer than Ol’ Man Island and definitely more peaceful. Ice and vending machines are plentiful and self-service laundry facilities are available at each quiet pool.
The rooms at Magnolia Bend have been cleverly incorporated into what looks like stately plantation mansions that were once plentiful throughout the old south. Here, grand staircases, stately white columns, and intricate railings create a regal atmosphere befitting a wealthy gentleman and his lovely lady. The grounds have been planted with azaleas, oaks and magnolias with the occasional fountain to be found within the manicured lawns.
Alligator Bayou is located in “cajun country” and features small cottages or “villages” that would be indicative of the rural bayou regions of Southern Louisiana. Once again, numerous guest rooms have been cleverly incorporated into large, weathered wood buildings with tin roofs. The buildings’ massive size has been ingeniously masked by the numerous trees and vegetation that encircle each structure.
Here are several pictures of the interior of a bayou room. Although Disney is currently replacing all of their tube TVs with flat screen models, the room I stayed in had not yet been changed over. Note, the shower and toilet area has a door; however the vanities can only be separated from the bedroom with a curtain.
Other room amenities include high-speed internet access ($10 daily fee), safe, iron, ironing board, refrigerator, coffee maker, and hair dryer. Disney is also promoting “green” behavior. On the back of the room door is a sign asking you to check that the television and lights are turned off, to make sure the faucet isn’t dripping, and suggest that you use your towels an extra day.
Transportation to the four theme parks and Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon is available via Disney buses. Four bus stops are positioned around the resort for your convenience.
Port Orleans Riverside is a physically large resort. Some rooms are definitely further from the Sassagoula Steamboat Company and its facilities than others. If mobility is an issue for you, be sure to note this when you make your reservation and again when you check in.
I like this resort. And I’d have a hard time choosing between staying at Alligator Bayou and Magnolia Bend. Both are unique and offer so much beauty in entirely different ways. The elegance of the “mansions” is compelling, but the simple charm of the Cajun cottages beckons as well. There is no wrong choice. No matter where you stay, you’ll fall in love with is graceful resort.
I have created a nine and a half minute video covering most aspects of the resort. Since I know someone will ask, the music selections are as follows: Let the Rain Pour Down (from Disney’s Song of the South), Shenandoah, and Banjo Clog. Enjoy.
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