Buildings in this family-friendly, moderately priced resort look like Southern plantation–style mansions (in the Magnolia Bend section) and rustic bayou dwellings (in the Alligator Bayou section), and you can usually pick which section you want. The registration area resembles a steamboat interior; the restaurant decor is inspired by a boat yard; you can take horse-and-carriage rides along the river; and the 3½-acre, old-fashioned swimming-hole complex called Ol’ Man Island has a pool with slides, rope swings, and a nearby play area. The whole resort is set amid mature trees, tropical plants and colorful, formal gardens.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The resort has no elevators, so if climbing a flight of stairs is a problem, request a ground-floor room. It's also a large resort, so walks to the restaurant and pools can take up to 15 minutes.
The standard rooms have two queen beds, with the addition of a child's pull down bed if requested. Cool, soft greens and blues contrast with the crisp white beds, and reflect the waterside setting of the resort. A flat-screen TV and coffeemaker sit atop a dresser with storage drawers and a cupboard that holds a mini-fridge. Near the door is a handy luggage bench, with a coat/hat rack above it.
Separated from the bedroom by a curtain, the bathroom has a door between the two-sink vanity and WC/bath areas, allowing more than one person to use the facilities at a time. Disney's H2O+ toiletries are supplied.
The octagonal entrance to the lobby, bright with white wooden beams and pale yellow paint, leads to a separate registration area, which gives off a paddle-boat vibe. Seating areas beneath the soaring roof and ornate columns offer a spot to rest while your party is checking in. Also opening onto the lobby are the resort's restaurant, bar and substantial souvenir and gift shop.
The expansive, 3.5 acre pool complex is set on an island surrounded by a bend in the river and may be reached via three wooden bridges. Continuing the rustic river community vibe, the decor is inspired by a vintage sawmill, and includes a 95 foot water slide built into the works of the mill. Lots of kid-centric play areas help the younger members of your group run off some of that energy not already sapped by a day at one of the Disney parks. At night, they can roast marshmallows by the campfire and watch a movie under the stars. If a rustic playground isn't what you seek, there are five separate quiet pools scattered around the resort, perfect spots for leisurely swims and lounging.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The river surrounding the pool flows through real Florida woodlands, with real Florida wildlife, and despite the best efforts of Disney officials, that wildlife sometimes shows up where it is least desired. Caution kids that the river is nice to glide over in a boat, but is not for swimming.
No gym, but a jogging trail and bike rentals offer plenty of chance for exercise.
Boatwright's Dining Hall is the place for dinner if you like sit down table service. Inspired by a boat yard warehouse, with walls covered with old wooden tools, the dining room's centerpiece is the huge wooden skeleton of a ship. The menu includes Louisiana favorites: gumbo, jambalaya, catfish and crème brûlée. If you want self-serve for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Riverside Mill Food Court, decorated like a water mill, with a working water wheel outside and the wooden gears above the diners heads, offers full cooked breakfasts, sandwiches and a wide range of hot dinners for a reasonable price. If you'd rather stay in after a long day navigating theme parks, there's always Disney's pizza delivery
River Roost, just off the lobby, offers a full bar, with cocktails, beer and wine, in addition to snacks. There's also a piano player who entertains nightly. Down by Ol' Man Island pool, Muddy Rivers offers a rustic, outdoor riverside spot to have a beer, wine or cocktail.
Boats provide access to Disney Springs, and buses take guests to all other points Disney, as do ride-share services and taxis, so a car isn't absolutely necessary, unless plans include visits to Universal or SeaWorld. Keep in mind that the buses can be slow, and crowded, thus taking a bite out of your schedule.
A 20-to 25-minute boat ride brings you to the dining and shopping extravaganza at Disney Springs. Restaurants include the three-story PaddleFish, a modern-day paddleboat, where seafood is king and the outdoor rooftop terrace offers striking views of the lagoon and the entertainment at the Springs. Nearby you’ll find Raglan Road, an authentic Irish Pub owned by celeb chef Kevin Dundon, featuring refined Irish fare and lots of music and dancing; Morimoto’s Asia, an Asian Fusion eatery owned by, and often visited by, famed Japanese chef, Morimoto; and Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ restaurant, showcasing local, Southern food.
Disney Springs (20-minute boat ride) offers dozens of places to lift a glass. The rooftop bar at Morimoto's Asia offers high-end sake; Raglan Road's Irish pub pours a mean Guinness; wine connoisseurs can head to Wine Bar George, where a master sommelier dispenses a wide range of domestic and imported wines; and House of Blues is the spot for beer.
WHY WE LIKE IT
The surroundings are charming, and the architecture really reflects the Old-South theme. There's no need to leave the resort to eat, as dining choices include a sit-down restaurant and a fast food court that serves 3 meals a day. But best of all is the leisurely boat ride to and from Disney Springs.