When we visited Walt Disney World in 2015, it was for the Food Blog Forum conference. Our conference included a stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, but we tacked on a couple extra days at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort for a bit of a family vacation. As much as I enjoyed our prior stay at this Moderate Resort, I never wrote about it because I packed our days so full that I didn’t get to experience much more than our room and the quiet pool nearby. For something like 30 minutes. I learned from that mistake and ensured that, on this visit, there would be plenty of down time in our plans to fully appreciate our surroundings.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is currently undergoing refurbishments. What does this mean? Since our last stay, 9 or 10 buildings have been knocked down to make way for new Moderate Vacation Club accommodations. In addition, the restaurants are being rebuilt (more on that below) and the Custom House (lobby/airline check-in/bell services/etc.) will soon be relocated near the Fuentes del Morro pool in the Old Port Royale/Centertown section of the resort. This is a HUGE wahoo!!! for me, since that was the only real drawback to this resort–that the lobby is so far away that you MUST take internal bus transportation to access it. There is no way to walk there anymore.
That said, in most instances, you won’t even need to access the lobby. You can check-in online or through the My Disney Experience app and they’ll send you a text with your building and room number when your room is ready. The magic bands sent to you before you arrive act as your key to your room–instant access. And if you take the Magical Express to the resort, your bags will automatically be sent to your room within 3 hours. (If you arrive by other means and drop your bags off at bell services while you wait for your room to be prepared for your stay, all you need to do is call them when you’re in your room and they’ll send them on over.) Ta-da! It’s just so easy!
In 2015, I reserved a standard room with no particular view and sent in a request for an upper floor room in the Aruba section. I got exactly what I asked for. For this stay, I reserved a standard room again–no extras–and decided to raise my anxiety level a little by NOT making any special requests ahead of time. With the construction on site, I had no idea how it would impact where we stayed, so I left it in the more-than-capable cast members’ hands. My faith in Disney paid off!!! We were upgraded to an upper story preferred room with a water view in Building 23 in the Trinidad North section. I couldn’t have asked for better accommodations! We were two buildings away from the Fuentes del Morro pool and Old Port Royale/Centertown buffet (the tent currently serving as the restaurant), the bus stop was a quick 3-minute walk from our door, and I didn’t see the construction at all. None of it! Not the new Vacation Club, not the new restaurant, and not the new gondola connection to Hollywood Studios and Epcot that’s being built on the back side of the resort.
We discovered an additional benefit that evening–just like when we stayed at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, I had a room with a view of fireworks! This proved to be quite exciting to me, as we never did make it to any of the nighttime shows in the Disney Parks.
Caribbean Beach Resort has six swimming pools. The showpiece is the Fuentes del Morro pool, which is a pirate-themed, zero entry pool with colonial Spanish fortress features, two water slides, and a splash pad/playground for the littles. (There’s also a 12-person hot tub/spa pool, but we found that to be in high demand.) In addition, there are five quiet pools–one in each village section. There are also beach areas on the lake in all of the villages. At these beaches, the lake access is roped off, but there are lounge chairs and hammocks, perfect for an island getaway without the need of a passport.
The day we planned as a rest/pool day turned out to be less-than-ideal, weather-wise. When we awoke that morning, temps were in the 40s. The thermometer topped out at 60 degrees, and it was windy, with gusts up to 15 miles per hour. I tried to beg off the experience, but the kids weren’t having it. The pools are heated anyway. Why was I being such a drag?
It turns out that, if you can find some shelter from the wind, the sun is still quite hot at 60 degrees in Florida. I wasn’t planning on taking a dip, but I actually needed to cool my skin off a couple times. And–BONUS–since it was probably only crazy Northerners at the pool that day, there were plenty of chairs and lounges to choose from. I rather enjoyed the personal space.
One great thing about the pool area, especially if you have littles, is that Disney characters stop by to interact with the guests. With my eyes closed, at times, it had the feel of a resort in Cancun with all the activities going on. Except the music was probably a little more G-rated. And Goofy and Daisy Duck were running a dance contest. Keep this in mind if you have a child who loves meeting the characters, as they’ll have more quality time than they ever could manage in a line in the parks.
The property at Caribbean Beach Resort is rather spread out. Some travelers are irritated by this, especially if they weren’t aware of the expansiveness before they arrived. After staying at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, I can definitely see the appeal to a more compact resort. But the spaciousness is part of why I returned to Caribbean Beach Resort. There is a path that circumnavigates the entire resort, perfect for a run or your daily walk. You can borrow bicycles to explore further. And I like having some breathing room. It makes the resort feel less crowded (in fact, it never did seem crowded, at all) and makes me feel less confined.
As I mentioned before, there are five village sections of the property, each inspired by Caribbean islands: Aruba, Jamaica, Martinique, Trinidad North, and Trinidad South. There used to be a sixth–Barbados–but all of it was knocked down, as well as part of Martinique, to make way for Disney Riviera Resort, a new Vacation Club experience due to open in Fall 2019. Once completed, Riviera will offer somewhere around 300 units, with varying types of accommodations.
The Disney Riviera Resort construction is taking place at the entrance to Caribbean Beach Resort. Construction noise is supposed to be limited to daylight hours (9 AM to 7PM, if I recall correctly), but if you’re at the pool or buffet, you’ll likely hear some of the commotion (and it will more likely come from the Caribbean Beach refurbishments at Old Port Royale/Centertown, instead of Riviera). The photo below was taken as I crossed the bridge from Centertown to Caribbean Cay, the island at the center of the resort, where you’ll find a playground, fire pit, some artificial turf, and gazebos for lounging with a good book. The bridges to and from this island also connect you to the parts of the resort on the other side of the lake, making travel time to/from resort amenities all that much quicker. As you cross over, the construction site becomes more apparent. But, seeing as there is nothing in that direction that is an attraction anyway, it would be easy to ignore, in my humble opinion.
The construction for Disney Skyliner is a different story. The plan is to eventually connect Caribbean Beach Resort and Riviera Resort to Epcot and Hollywood Studios via gondolas. And I’ll admit, I’m intrigued. Being a New England girl, my usual exposure to gondolas is completely centered on skiing, and moving uphill. These gondolas would be covering much greater distances, and I’m not sure how they’ll run, as far as efficiency goes, compared to the bus transportation available on site. Yes, you have to wait up to 20 minutes, at times, for a bus to the parks. And then there’s the actual driving time there. But gondolas are slow and limited capacity–how long of lines will this new demand create? That remains to be seen…
In the meantime, gondola towers are springing up south of Jamaica, and will soon cross over closer to Custom House and Riviera Resort. This means rooms in the Jamaica and Aruba sections will have more construction to consider for the foreseeable future: construction that is harder to escape than the DVC project.
And now we’ve arrived at the buffet tent: the temporary solution to feeding the masses while they build the new and improved restaurant and Centertown Market. It is, at best, depressing. Disney tried to make it more inspiring, with strings of lights and Calypso music. But it’s a glorified cafeteria and I felt much like cattle when I lined up to pick from the breakfast options. Sure, you can still get your Mickey waffles, but that’s about the only bright spot. We ate one meal here. I couldn’t bear the thought to do it again. The food was fine, but the atmosphere was abysmal, and with a sizeable portion of the resort’s other patrons being downright rude in line, I had no desire to replicate the experience. (It was around college spring break time, so that explains the large groups of young men and women, but geez… did anyone ever teach them manners?)
Lunch leaves you with…a food truck. That’s it. There is a dinner meal served in the tent, but, again, I couldn’t do it. We went to Disney Springs instead.
The food truck food was okay, but it’s nothing special. Not like the food trucks back home. You have a choice from three different sandwiches and a handful of sides. We ordered burgers–only burgers. The kids selected mac and cheese AND mashed potatoes as sides, because CARBS! I tried to be slightly more responsible and tried the pasta salad, but it was no good. Lunchtime food truck offerings also included a mojito fruit salad, and that wasn’t bad. But there was no magic to any of this. Luckily, it’s temporary. Within the next year, this should be resolved. At least there are free buses to take you to Disney Springs, where there is a myriad of opportunities for more appealing fare.
The buses are actually a big deal. Part of why we stayed at a Disney resort was their complimentary transportation. With the free Magical Express to take you to and from the airport, as well as internal buses and buses to the parks and Disney Springs, you don’t need a car on this vacation. And I didn’t want one. It turns out, that’s the way to go. According to Disney’s website, for all new reservations made effective March 21, 2018, there will now be a $19/night self-park fee added on to your room, if you plan on bringing a car with you. Prices vary, depending on if you’re staying at a Value, Moderate, or Deluxe resort. Even if you don’t want to wait for the bus all the time, you can use Uber and Lyft. In fact, Disney has its own contribution to this: the Minnie Van. Service is available 6:30 am – 12:30 am and is booked through the Lyft app. But that comes at a cost: $25/ride, which could be double what a regular Lyft or Uber will cost you.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is a resort in transition. There are rumors that, once Riviera is completed, prices will increase at Caribbean Beach. I found our “discounted” rates (offered because it’s under refurbishment) to already exceed what we paid three years ago. If that trend continues, we will soon be priced out of that range of resorts. This would be a shame, because there is an advantage to staying at a Moderate over a Value resort, especially if you have older children or no children at all. But with the added value of the Skyliner, bringing much easier connections to half of the parks, it would also make sense. I guess only time will tell on that end.
Back north, where it snowed today, I find myself missing all the greenery. The snake plants and philodendrons that grow on the premises, instead of confined to pots in my living room. The grass thriving, instead of brown and dormant. Palms and banana plants and so many other tropical species that lend that touch of the Caribbean to a Florida location. It was nice to escape for a few days.