Home » Dreams Do Come True In Port Orleans: Tips From Disney’s Biggest, Jazziest, and Most Romantic Hotel

Dreams Do Come True In Port Orleans: Tips From Disney’s Biggest, Jazziest, and Most Romantic Hotel


Once upon a time, a stay at a Disney Hotel took you somewhere. An extension of your day at the parks, a Disney Hotel was something magical; a world in its own right; an idealized, romanticized, historic, and beautiful place to explore. Not a hotel-themed-to-a-city, but a city that happened to be a hotel. There’s a magic to Coronado Springs or Caribbean Beach, where you truly do “leave today” and make believe you’re in a different time and place… and we want to explore how…

Here at Theme Park Tourist, we’ve taken a detour into the stories behind the most iconic hotels on-property at Walt Disney World. Recently, we took a look at two of Disney World’s most mysterious, unique, and talked-about resorts: the Swan & Dolphin

But for those of us who long for the days of beautiful, immersive resorts packed with imagination, charm, food, and things to do, your prayers have been answered. Today, we’ll tell you how “dreams do come true in Port Orleans,” Disney’s jazziest, biggest, and most romantic place to stay! 

The Origin


When Michael Eisner became CEO of Walt Disney Productions in 1984, the creative outsider with a track record in the film industry found himself in quite a dilemma. You have to remember that in the early 1980s, Walt Disney Productions was still a company in disarray. Disney’s theme parks felt like relics from Walt’s time, having gone a decade without a true pop culture infusion. Even the company’s “Hail Mary” attempt to revive their tourism-based industry – 1982’s EPCOT Center – failed to capture the attendance that Disney hoped… and more importantly, that would’ve recouped the park’s massive, billion-dollar cost.

Luckily, Eisner had the kind of risky, ambitious, and creatively-charged leadership style to right the ship. So you can imagine the shock when he arrived with commands that Walt Disney World shift its business model completely and reimagine itself in a new form…

Here’s the secret: most of Michael Eisner’s most revolutionary concepts weren’t really so revolutionary at all. Instead, Eisner was simply willing to look beyond Disney’s tried-and-true practices; to leave the company’s “comfort zone” and learn from (some might say, steal from) competitors. And that’s exactly what happened in the mid-’80s, when Eisner saw the tourism industry booming in Central Florida – all thanks to Disney, mind you! – with hundreds of hoteliers opening properties just outside Disney’s border.

Meanwhile, inside Disney World, the company still had only three hotels – the same three that had opened back in the early ’70s: Disney’s Contemporary, Polynesian Village, and Golf Resorts. It was practically criminal that hundreds of thousands of families flocked to Florida to see Disney World, and didn’t actually have a place to stay on Disney property…

Under Eisner’s leadership, Disney made a major pivot. Though its theme parks may be the stars of Walt Disney World marketing and memories, some suggest that the company’s core business in Florida isn’t entertainment, but hotel occupancy. Today, more than two dozen resort hotels litter the landscape of Walt Disney World, boasting around 40,000 rooms.

So when you get right down to it, nearly every decision Disney World makes – from perks to new transportation to new rides to promotional campaigns – fundamentally revolves around maintaining the careful balance of those rooms’ supply and demand, selling Disney Vacation Club interests, maximizing hotel revenue, and convincing families to pay their (admittedly far-above-market-value) prices to stay “in the magic.”

And it all started when Eisner’s first two resorts debuted in 1988. The first – Disney’s Grand Floridian – was a large, luxurious, beachside retreat in the style of the Contemporary and Polynesian Village. But the second is far more interesting to our story today…

Opened in 1988, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort was the first “moderately-priced” ($65 to $85 per night) hotel on property… and literally marketed as an affordable alternative (“the breezy freshness of a Caribbean morning within everyone’s reach”) to Disney’s three signature lodge-style resorts! 

Disney’s Caribbean Beach was informal and unfussy; a highly stylized, sprawling motel grafted with the vibrant colors and architecture of the Caribbean, all strewn around “Barefoot Bay.” This was the kind of resort calling out to families, defined by quick service food and multiple pools; a “bubble” in its own right, and the perfect addition to the “Vacation Kingdom.” Without a doubt, Caribbean Beach hit a “sweet spot,” meaning that “Moderate” hotels were here to stay… 

The Hotels

Reviving the concept of a never-built expansion of the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Area (today, Disney Springs), in 1989 ground was broken on a second Moderate hotel for Walt Disney World. Designed by Disney and overseen by Fugleberg Koch Architects (the firm behind Caribbean Beach), Disney’s Port Orleans Resort opened to the public on May 17, 1991. 

In the style of Caribbean Beach (and today, the de facto set-up of both “Value” and “Moderate” resorts), Port Orleans wasn’t a mere building, but a town. Guests enter through the wrought-iron, glass-enclosed Mint, stylized as an 1800s bank. That atrium connects to the resort’s quick service restaurant (themed as a factory warehouse where Mardi Gras parade floats are built). 

Beyond, seven guest room buildings dot the riverfront property, each designed to resemble blocks of buildings one might find throughout Louisiana’s Crescent City. It’s all made possible by lamp-lined streets, finely-manicured lawns, pristine gardens of bubbling fountains and magnolia trees, Spanish moss, and ever-present Jazz music. This is the French Quarter – or at least, an idealized, romanticized one – where cobblestone streets and wrought-iron balconies go on for blocks.

And Port Orleans was only the start. While the bustling French Quarter was readying to open, a third Moderate hotel was already under construction just a short walk away. In February 1992, Disney’s Dixie Landings Resort made its debut just up the river.

Stylized after a Deep South Mississippi River delta, Dixie Landings returned to the sprawling complex formula begun by Caribbean Beach. Centered on an oxbow of the man-made Sassagoula River, the resort was split in two. Its western half was the swampy, forests, and dark Alligator Bayou – home to rustic “lodges” decorated with tin roofs and wood – and on the east side, the romantic Magnolia Bend of multi-story (motel-style) “mansions” with a combined 2,048 rooms, making Dixie Landings among the largest Moderate hotels on property to this day.

All of it came together at the resort’s lobby – a repurposed, “historic” building once home to the glamorous Sassagoula Steamboat Company – with its own full-service and quick-service restaurant stylized as the boatworks and mill once used to construct the company’s watercrafts. 

To our thinking, Port Orleans and Dixie Landings weren’t just a natural fit; they were a masterpiece. In these two neighboring and interconnected resorts, Disney had created a sort of mini-campus of gorgeous buildings and spectacular scenery. From the manicured cobblestone streets of the Louisiana’s French Quarter, along the Sassagoula River to the stately mansions with their geometric hedges and water fountains, then around into the untamed bayous where frogs, fireflies, and gators can be found.

Yet despite their geographic similarities and the natural flow between them, Port Orleans and Dixie Landings were two distinct, separate resorts… Until… 

Between 1988 and 1992 alone, the Grand Floridian, Caribbean Beach, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Swan & Dolphin, Old Key West, Disney’s Port Orleans and Disney’s Dixie Landings Resort represented the continued success of Michael Eisner’s new vision for Walt Disney World… and more to the point, a business model that understood hotel occupancy as a key performance indicator.

A height of the era, Port Orleans and Dixie Landings represented perhaps the perfect “bubble” within the property; an immersive, celebratory mini-campus of restaurants, pools, shops, and environments that – arguably – no other Moderate or Value hotel on property can match.

In April 2001 – in response to growing cultural re-examination of celebrations of the Antebellum South and the  negative connotations of the word “Dixie” – Dixie Landings got a name change. In a sweeping rebranding, both of Disney’s neighboring “Deep South” resorts were joined under one brand. Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter was joined by Disney’s Port Orleans – Riverside

The rebranding made sense from several points of view, not the least of which being that the two properties can and do operate as one from a guest’s point-of-view, with a leisurely walk or boat ride along the picturesque Sassagoula opening up a world of new restaurants and bars to explore. 

The combined Disney’s Port Orleans Resort offers 3,056 rooms spread across the French Quarter, Alligator Bayou, and Magnolia Bend – the largest on property. (Riverside would come in at the second-largest resort on property all on its own.) Standing just between Disney’s “Vacation Kingdom” era (when you could boat, swim, fish, hike, and eat without ever stepping into a theme park) and today’s era of immersive environments, Port Orleans is a masterpiece of Disney hotels… And we’ve got some tips for how to enjoy it.

1. Choose your style

Geographically and narratively, French Quarter and Riverside make sense as one giant, sprawling, riverfront resort offering three distinct environments that recall romanticized, idealized versions of America’s Bayou State. When “combined,” they’re a wonderful package. But they are distinct from one another… so choose wisely.

Port Orleans – French Quarter is small and compact (it’s the smallest of any Moderate). It’s clean and tidy, with cobblestone “rues” lit by streetlamps, with little, finely-manicured parks tucked between buildings. With its wrought iron, palm streets, and pastel colors, it’s a joyful little dream of New Orleans.

From its Doubloon Lagoon pool (one of Disney World’s best) to easy access to the lobby, restaurants, and its single bus stop, it’s easy to see why French Quarter is a great first choice for families upgrading from a Value. French Quarter feels more “urban” with its wide roads, cross streets, street signs, and gardens.

Port Orleans – Riverside is much grander in its scale and scope, with a sprawling property where your room may be a half-mile walk from food. It’s defined by winding paths through dense bayous. Rather than wrought iron and glass, it’s defined by wood and brass. Likewise, its not filled with wide cross streets, but narrow paths. 

Even once you’ve settled on Riverside, you still have a few choices you can make (at least, try to make by room request). You haven’t really stayed in Alligator Bayou until you’ve gotten lost there, with winding trails between tin-roofed lodges and bogs and trees. Rooms in the Alligator Bayou are romantic and remote; nighttime strolls there are practically a formative Disney World experience.

The mansions of Magnolia Bend are more regal than remote, with tall columns and stately gardens, each with their own pool. It’s worth noting that despite their upper-crust appearance, these are still, fundamentally, motels with outdoor access. You can imagine why Riverside is a go-to for couples or adult groups, even if its size (and its four bus stops) can cause some frustrations that French Quarter’s small size alleivates. In any case, if you stay at one, we highly recommend visiting the other!

Here’s a tip: don’t be afraid of a “split stay”! Though moving between hotels in the middle of a trip does mean re-packing and taking your luggage to Bell Services, it’s as easy as returning to the other resort after a day in the parks, collecting your bags, and getting a whole new resort experience.

2. Savor the flavors

As you’d expect from a hotel themed to New Orleans, the eating’s good at Port Orleans! Inside the Sassagoula Steamboat Company building is the dinner-only Boatwrights – themed to a boat-making factory-turned-dining-hall. Though the all-you-can-eat Chef’s Platter of ribs, hot chicken, smoked sausage, beef brisket, mashed potatoes, and mac and cheese is the headliner, Boatwright’s also offers jambalaya, shrimp and grits, blackened salmon, and “Mississippi Mud Crème Brûlée” for dessert.

Both resorts also have quick service food courts – Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory and Riverside Mill Food Court – that offer signature southern twists, like chili and jambalaya, pot roast, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, and pastries. Both resorts also offer bars that get lively at night (especially piano nights at Riverside’s River Roost).

French Quarter is the only Moderate resort without a full-service restaurant, but it does have something noteworthy! The Scat Cat’s Club is home to Mickey-shaped beignets – the steaming hot, light and fluffy, pull-apart, powdered-sugared New Orleans treat that’s known to bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened foodie. Beignets are famously served in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, but at Disney World, Port Orleans – French Quarter is the only place to find them. 

3. Enjoy the Port Orleans perks

We all know that aside from vague promises of “magic” or rapidly-deteriorating perks with actual, tangible value, one of the things that makes stayin on-property so unique is that way that Disney hotels are hotels-in-disguise.

If you squint, it’s easy to imagine French Quarter and Riverside as parts of a theme park themselves; easy to pretend you’ve traveled back in time; easy to forget that you’re staying on the same two queen-sized beds you’d find at Caribbean Beach or Coronado Springs, just dressed differently.

Port Orleans has plenty of that “magic” to make you feel like it’s more-than-a-hotel. For example, while Disney’s choice of sprawling resorts made of lots of small buildings has largely fallen out of favor (with ‘towers’ as the new de facto hotel), miles of running and walking paths through the resort make it a beautiful, charming place to get your workout in.

That carriage path also has another use – actual carriages! You can pay for a 25-minute carriage ride along the water at Riverside, and it’s a wonderful little “plus” that Disney doesn’t need to offer, but actually does! 

The resorts also offer surrey bike rentals, playgrounds, fishing, “Campfire on de’ Bayou” and “Cajun Campfire” events nightly, and Movies Under the Stars – each in the kind of “Vacation Kingdom” spirit that can make your hotel stay as memorable as your theme park visits if you choose to take advantage of them.

Connection is a very important part of Walt Disney World Resort, and basically any excuse to escape the frustrations of the Disney Transportation bus system is a good one. Though Monorails and Skyliners don’t swing by Port Orleans, there is a fun transportation system worth trying:

The Sassagoula River Cruise transports guests downriver from Riverside to French Quarter, then on to Disney Springs. The 20-minute trip is a fun way to grab dinner or tour the area before a day at EPCOT. (Just remember: busses do not travel from Disney Springs to any theme park, probably just to keep people from parking at Disney Springs for free.) 

Dreams Do Come True

If you’re staying on Disney World property today, it’s probably not for the perks, because there aren’t many left. Instead, it must be that you want that special “something” that Disney’s best hotels offer – an immersive, idealized stay in another time and place as only Disney can do it!

We’re here to tell you that dreams do come true in Port Orleans – the biggest, most delicious, and most romantic Moderate on Disney World property. Have you had the chance to stay here? Tell us about your experience at Port Orleans and how it compares to other Walt Disney World hotels.