It’s sort of silly to try and compete with Dave from yourfirstvisit.net, who has literally stayed in and reviewed over 100 different room types over the years, but we’ll set out to check out a refurbished room at the Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR) anyway.
The Old Moderate Landscape
It was not so long ago when it was easy for the website to recommend the “best” Walt Disney World Moderate Resort. Certainly people (that were obviously wrong) disagreed from time to time, but those counterarguments usually came down to, “Well, we like it and we haven’t stayed anywhere else so there.” Historically, my top two Mods were French Quarter and Coronado Springs.
French Quarter enjoys the smallest footprint of any Moderate, making even the furthest rooms from the main building and bus stop less than a five minute walk away. When it switched out full beds for queens during a major refurbishment before Riverside and Caribbean Beach, it became even easier to recommend. Add the best bus service and Downtown Disney boat to the mix and you have yourself a strong argument that it was the “best” Moderate. On the other hand, French Quarter suffers from the fewest amenities of the Moderates, including a lame feature pool, no sit-down restaurant, and an inadequate quick service. Sure you could walk or take the boat/bus to Riverside to take advantage of some of their amenities, but trudging back to your room carrying leftovers or dripping wet from the pool doesn’t exactly scream convenience. And just about everything else about the resort “feels” smaller and less grand.
Coronado is a significantly larger resort, but with the convention gig, offers the most amenities, including a gym, salon, full room service, expansive pool bar with food options, and “night club.” It also offered queen beds before any of the other Moderates and was the only Moderate that had a wooden divider between the vanity and sleep areas, offering additional privacy and reducing noise pollution. But its size was always a detriment with rooms in the Ranchos section a solid 15+ minutes away from the main building. The southwest theme was not to everyone’s tastes and the convention atmosphere was occasionally “not Disney,” in addition to the fact that no true American goes to the gym on vacation or is going to order a $250 bottle of scotch (present company excluded) in their room, anyway. For a long time, the Pepper Market setup was “weird,” with a hostess and a mandatory gratuity, in addition to a sit-down restaurant that offered bland food at prices only those with an expense account would happily pay.
Riverside has a decent sit-down restaurant in Boatwright’s and a significantly nicer feature pool complex than French Quarter, in addition to several quiet pools, but still suffered from the same full size beds as French Quarter and Caribbean Beach, in addition to a much larger size. Prior to the CBR refurbishment the Alligator Bayou rooms were the only Moderate room-type outside of the much more expensive Ft. Wilderness Cabins that could officially sleep five people, so long as one was under five feet tall and could fit on the trundle/Murphy bed. Riverside is also picked up and dropped off after French Quarter when the two resorts shared buses to the theme parks, resulting in Riverside guests standing more often than not. With several bus stops, bus rides were typically longer than French Quarter. On the plus side, Riverside guests are picked up and dropped off first on the Downtown Disney bus and boat routes.
Caribbean Beach Resort was easily dismissible for years, still rocking full beds long after the other Mods upgraded to queens with a fresher look. The resort is so large that not only is there an internal bus that does nothing but circle the resort, but the building where you check in is across the street from the rest of the resort. Historically, its table service restaurant was easily the worst of the bunch. On the plus side, the feature pool area is vastly superior to the others with two hot tubs, in addition to a great kids’ splash area and multiple slides. A lot of people enjoy the relaxing beach theme and bright sunny areas.
The Current (or slightly in the future after the Caribbean Beach refurb wraps up) Landscape
While people may have differing opinions on “theme,” standard room amenities are very similar across all four properties. Caribbean Beach’s refurbishment adds queen beds and wood doors separating the vanity and sleep areas. That puts it on par with Coronado Springs and ahead of the Port Orleans properties. Caribbean Beach also added a Murphy bed in most standard rooms, so it will be able to sleep five just like the Alligator Bayou section at Riverside. The in-room Finding Nemo motif has been replaced with a look not dissimilar to Coronado Springs and enjoys a classier, if not more subdued vibe. Still, none of the standard rooms scream “Disney” like Art of Animation.
Dining has improved across the board. Pepper Market at Coronado operates like other quick services with no more required gratuity. Maya Grill is better with a nice selection of south-of-the-border favorites, in addition to steaks, chicken, and fish. Shutters at Caribbean Beach is an above average respite from the theme parks and Boatwright’s is very good with its rotating selections and standby favorites. All of the resort quick services have added unique items that fit the resorts’ themes.
Intrinsic problems persist in resort size, transportation, pools, and theming. Caribbean Beach is not getting any smaller, French Quarter isn’t adding any quiet pools or a sit-down restaurant, and Coronado isn’t scheduling any fewer conventions.
But enough improvements have been made in some of the lagging categories that it’s difficult to push for a Moderate resort that is head and shoulders above the others. And in reality, many of the differences are more quibbles than deal breakers, but when resorts cost about the same in each category, it is important to take a look at what’s important to your group and pick a resort that caters to what you actually want to do. If a resort table service meal isn’t in the cards and you’re visiting in January and pools gross you out because they’re disgusting cesspools, then French Quarter may be the clear victor. On the other hand, if you like to spend some time in the hammock, plan to eat a few meals back at the resort, and don’t mind swimming in other kids’ urine, then Coronado or Caribbean Beach may be more your thing.
Let’s take a look at what Caribbean Beach offers.
Choosing A Room
The full PDF map: https://www.easywdw.com/reports12/cbr.pdf
Buildings 24, 25, and 26 in Martinique and 31, 32, and 33 in Trinidad North are billed as preferred rooms and cost an astonishing $49-$82 extra per night (with the bigger differences actually during the less expensive seasons) more than a standard room elsewhere at the resort. On a six night stay, you could spend as much as $492 more dollars just to be a shorter distance to the main building. That’s how big the resort is and how in demand preferred rooms are. Or perhaps more realistically, the preferred rooms are the ones that are available when Disney runs “Free Dining” and the $82 extra helps cover the actual cost of all those “free” Mickey burgers and ice creams.
The “new balance RUNNING TRAIL” is a handy way to see how large the resorts actually are and a good way to find people to push over as they try to “earn” those obnoxious 13.1 stickers. CBR’s trail is a whopping 1.2 miles and doesn’t even include the path around Trinidad South, which would add another eight tenths of a mile or so. Coronado’s trail goes around the interior of the entire resort and measures an even one mile. At the Port Orleans property, it’s one mile around Riverside and less than a third of a mile all the way around French Quarter.
The key location on this map is the “K,” which is the lone bridge that connects the Aruba/Jamaica area with the Old Port Royale area where you’ll find most of the resort’s amenities, including the quick service, restaurant, and concierge, in addition to the feature pool and bar. My advice is to forego the astronomical cost of the preferred room and instead request the Aruba and Jamaica buildings, ideally 45 or 51, but 46 (where our room was) and 52 are nearly as close. These rooms are also convenient to a quiet pool and the first bus stop for most destinations.
Check in and Magical Express drop off/pick-up are at Custom House. If you’re driving yourself, it’s conveniently located just inside the resort’s main entrance on the left. If you’re arriving/departing via Magical Express, it means checking in and then waiting for the internal bus to one of the six other bus stops closest to your building.
Check in is usually fast, even on a Saturday afternoon when the most people are typically checking in and out.
Online check-in is possible up to 60 days in advance with an expanded set of choices to help you hone in on your preferences. At Caribbean Beach, you may select up to two choices from:
- Aruba Village
- Barbados Village
- Jamaica Village
- Martinique Village
- Trinidad North Village
- Corner Room
- Ground Floor
- Second Floor
- Near Transportation
- Water View
We requested Aruba and Jamaica, both of which are relatively convenient across from the bridge and both buildings are completely refurbished. Barbados is just about done being refurbished, but requesting it would only put you further away from the main building and pool. Water View and Trinidad North are both usually upcharge categories (about $35 per night for water and then another $30-$45 dollars on top of that for preferred) and I’m not entirely sure what would happen if you were to request both.
Airline check-in is also available here from 5am-1pm.
One of CBR’s assets is its relaxing beach vibe, something perhaps no resort other than the Polynesian adequately captures.
With sandy beaches and hammocks surrounding the resort, the tropical quality may be just what you’re looking to return to after a long day at the theme parks.
The Refurbished Room
The refurbishment brings replacements to just about everything from the beds to the furnishing to the carpets to the lighting.
The blue cushions on the chairs add a much needed burst of color to what is otherwise a neutral palate.
This is a corner room so we have an extra window behind the table.
The main console with the coffee maker, fridge, storage, Murphy bed, television, ice bucket, and glasses.
The left set of drawers opens up to a fridge.
This is your pull-down Murphy bed that is otherwise a staging area for your luggage or bench seating. It measures 30″ wide by 64″ long (thanks Dave) with a depth of 5″. It’s expected that Caribbean Beach will add availability for five people in early 2015. Until then, you’ll have to stuff junior in a suitcase.
A very shallow safe with iron and ironing board nearby.
The standard pod coffee makers with Joffrey’s coffee.
USB charging ports…another nice touch.
Like the other standard Moderate rooms, Caribbean Beach offers about 310 square feet of space.
The TV lineup:
Fortunately it’s not yet an argument between Magic Mike and the Washington game.
Overall, the rooms are a significant improvement in substance. I thought the colors were bland, but if you go brighter you may be in Little Mermaid land where it looks like the rainbow threw up in the room.
Pirate rooms are a separately bookable category. A better look in this previous review: https://www.easywdw.com/uncategorized/a-peek-inside-the-caribbean-beach-resort/. At a cost between $80-$100 more per night over a standard room, it seems like an awfully expensive “upgrade.” Also, these rooms are not currently on the docket for a refurbishment, which means older fixtures and full beds. And Trinidad South, where all the Pirate rooms are located, is horrifically far from the main building.
You always want to open up the packet on the table inside the room and look inside the Be Our Guest Guide to see if there’s a bounce back offer available:
If you don’t see these pages around the middle of the book, you can try dialing ‘8844’ anyway and ask if there is an offer available should you be interested.
You’ll also find the room service/pizza delivery menu.
And other official information on transportation options and such.
Pools and Recreation
CBR’s Fuentes del Morro pool complex is the best among the Moderates. As Disney describes it:
Hold the fort at this old Spanish citadel with a zero-entry pool, 2 slides and water cannons. Climb a spiral staircase to the top of a turret for an 82-foot trip down the larger slide, which penetrates the fortress wall! Two relaxing spas with the capacity for 12 allow for sweet surrender.
The website would prefer you to hold your sweet surrender for later.
Kids under 48 inches tall will love being marooned at the nearby shipwreck play area, where a barrel periodically dumps a deluge and 3 small slides delight little scallywags.
Reminiscent of the Alice in Wonderland play area that the Grand Floridian added during the Vacation Club construction, you won’t see anything like this outside of that and Stormalong Bay elsewhere.
Should you prefer a potentially more relaxing experience, each of the six villages offers a quiet pool.
In addition to some Halloween activities this week, you can catch a popular movie or send the kids off on an Island cruise.
The marina for bike and watercraft rentals.
The playground is located on the Caribbean Cay walkway that connects Aruba/Jamaica to the Old Port Royale area.
The surprisingly well-stocked arcade is located in Old Port Royale.
Pricing is surprisingly good if you’re willing to plunk down about $25 in advance.
The Banana Cabana pool bar is located in back of Old Port Royale and to the right of the main building:
This is actually a pretty decent beer list, including Cigar City Maduro Brown, Sweetwater 420, Florida Beer Hurricane Reef Pilsner, Sam Adams Seasonal, Kona Big Wave, and Bud Light on draft, in addition to aluminum bottles and cans of things like Jai Alai, Goose Island Urban 312 Wheat, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, and others.
In addition to some somewhat unique cocktails.
Old Port Royale Food Court is open from 6:30am-midnight, offering hot breakfast from 7am-11am, lunch from 11am-4pm, and dinner from 4pm-11pm. It’s grab and go before and after then, Full menus: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/caribbean-beach-resort/old-port-royale-food-court/menus/
In addition to the standbys like Mickey Waffles, French Toast, Pancakes, Bacon, Sausage, etc. most quick services now offer themed additions, in addition to items a little more imaginative than a few years ago. For example, Caribbean Beach has a Breakfast Cuban Sandwich, in addition to a Turkey and Black Bean Omelet, Steak, Egg, and Cheese Quesadilla (pictured), and a Parfait bar with Fresh Fruit, Berries, Dried Fruits, Grains, Nuts and Seeds.
The quesadilla with a side of lettuce, sour cream, and salsa was a ton of food. The “steak” was more attune to a cheap French Dip filling than sliced tenderloin, but it did the trick.
Lisa stuck with the classic Mickey Waffle and sausage.
For dinner, expect to see items like the Chicken and Mushroom Marsala; Turkey Carbonara; Cuban Burger with Pulled Pork, Ham, Mango Mayonnaise, and Swiss Cheese; Caribbean Catch Sandwich with Chayote Slaw and Chipotle Sauce; Mojo Pork with Cornbread; Lime Chicken Wrap with Chicken Breast Lime Cilantro Yogurt, and Dried Papaya, and more, in addition to the usual burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, spaghetti, Caesar Salads, etc.
Pictured above is Lisa’s Cuban Sandwich – Pork, Ham, Cheese, and Pickle with House-made Jerk Chips $10.99. It adds a bit more Caribbean flair to the experience.
A hearty chicken noodle soup.
My Jerk Chicken Sandwich – with Crispy Onions, Chipotle Sauce, Swiss, and Wedge Salad – $10.29 was a creamy blend of spices with some crunch from the onions all on a fresh roll. Very good.
The wedge salad classes things up a bit with the addition of tomato, carrot, and cucumber. Grab and Go items are similar property wide:
Sauces and teas.
RapidFill is still the name of the game at the resorts.
Cocoa, Gold Peak Tea, and Joffrey’s Coffee remain unregulated.
A cute “to go” station with additional plates, covers, drink holders, bags, etc.
Sit Down Restaurant
Shutters is the resort’s table service.
The website reported on something you virtually never see late last year – a Shutters review, along with some nighttime pictures around the resort.
Menus are changing resort wide today (October 29th), so this is somewhat useless right now, but here’s an idea about what the restaurant offers:
While Shutters historically suffers from one of the worst reputations on property, it has improved immensely in recent memory with the acquisition of a key chef from the Disney Cruise Line. While I certainly would not go out of my way on vacation to go over here, it shouldn’t disappoint if you find yourself back at the resort.
Out in front of the restaurant sat an actual menu along with several glossy menus available to go, which was another nice touch.
Calypso Trading Post is the resort’s store up on the left in Old Port Royale. The arcade is on the left in front of it and the food court and restaurant are on our right. The “concierge” here is in addition to the area at the Custom House check-in area. More merchandise is located in the center just in case you forgot Disney sold stuff.
Any of the major theme park or Downtown Disney stores would offer a larger selection, but the resort store is helpful if you forgot to pick up something for the kid watering your flowers and walking Dogney.
Or if you forgot to pack your belt ($48.95).
Or forgot your swimsuit.
Or you’re looking for stuff:
Wine prices are actually fairly reasonable. A bottle of Once Upon A Vine bubbly was $15.95 compared to the $12.95 price you’d probably pay at the store. The 3-liter box of sangria is $30 compared to $20 at the store.
A 375ml bottle of liquor is usually $13-$16.
Beer pricing is considerably rougher with a 6-pack of Miller Lite running 15 bucks. Still, it’s cheaper than the $6 singles price.
Some prices are better than others, but Disney doesn’t usually take you to the cleaners for something you forgot.
As an Aside
The Christmas stuff is really, really, really cute this year.
Like really cute.
It’s much more difficult now to condescendingly smile down at someone that prefers Caribbean Beach Resort over the others. The rooms are appointed as well or better than the other Moderates in its class. The resort is pretty in the sunshine and the beach atmosphere is a relaxing respite from the hubub of the theme parks. The size remains a deterrent, but with a smart couple of online check-in requests, you can situate yourselves in a convenient area of the resort close to the main building and a bus stop.
We left impressed.