The first time I stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort, I loved it. My husband and I had a wonderful stay and enjoyed the tropical theming. It was our first visit on the free dining plan promotion and only my third time at Walt Disney World. We found the resort very friendly and accessible for my motorized wheelchair.
A Terrible Stay at Caribbean Beach
Although the next trip we tried a different resort, the year after, we returned to Caribbean Beach Resort and had a terrible stay. I can honestly say it was one of the worst resort experiences we’ve had at Walt Disney World (our measure is that, out of 10 visits, we have had two negative resort experiences, so that is a very strongly positive overall record). However, despite the bad resort experience, we still enjoyed our overall visit.
We had the bad fortune of arriving not long after the bridge over the lake was closed due to safety concerns and were assigned to one of the farthest sections (Aruba) from the main hub (Old Port Royale). While the room was accessible, the location was an accessibility nightmare. The shuttle vans put into place for getting guests to Old Port Royale, due to the bridge closure, were not accessible. To go around the accessible path meant a very long trip in my motorized wheelchair (wearing down my battery before I even saw any park gates). We ended up visiting Old Port Royale very little and felt trapped by not being able to even get a morning coffee at the resort. (As a side note, this made the refillable mugs we received with the dining plan virtually worthless.) It also made the main pool virtually unreachable as we could not get there conveniently from the room.
Outages Can Happen, But Accessibility Should Be Planned
While the bridge outage wasn’t their fault, we felt the resort really planned accessibility poorly and didn’t make good accommodations for guests with disabilities. I was amazed that they would have only non-accessible shuttle buses! There were none of the accessible internal buses that you see now at the resort. We complained during our stay and tried to get moved to a closer room, but everything was booked. When we followed up with our concerns after returning home, Guest Services was terrific and made some accommodations for our next trip (which we had already booked using a bounce back offer). They agreed that the resort management had dropped the ball on accessibility, but worked hard to win back our trust.
That was five years ago and we haven’t been back to Caribbean Beach since (although we have been to Disney World every year). I’ll admit the experience really left me with a negative feeling of being stranded and isolated from the amenities we enjoy at Disney resorts, so I had not been eager to return despite reading that the renovations at Old Port Royale and the addition of the Skyliner had made nice upgrades to the resort.
An Unexpected Move from French Quarter to Caribbean Beach
This year we had booked at Port Orleans - French Quarter and were very much looking forward to our first stay at that resort (having been longtime fans and returning guests to Port Orleans - Riverside). Unfortunately, the pandemic had closed French Quarter (among other resorts) and it had yet to reopen, so Disney moved us to Caribbean Beach (the only moderate resort open at the time of our stay).
Although we requested a different location, we were again assigned to an accessible room with roll-in shower in Aruba. However, this time, the bridge was open and the location meant we were smack in between two Skyliner stations. We hoped this visit would be different than the last, and thankfully it was.
Renovations at Old Port Royale Added Accessible Features
First, the new Old Port Royale is beautiful! The open lounge area is very nice and themed with Caribbean colors. The food at the Center Town Market dining hall was excellent (albeit with limited options due to menu reductions during the pandemic). And the shop was large with lots of selection in gifts and room essentials (like water and snacks).
One other improvement I really appreciated was the addition of a companion restroom. These are hard to find in the communal resort areas, but important for me as a wheelchair user to have access to a restroom where my husband can assist. (The only downside is that non-disabled people like it and use it too, meaning we had to wait more than 20 minutes for other non-disabled people when I needed the facilities the day we were leaving for home and had already checked out.)
Paths and Rooms Are Designed with Accessibility
To get to Aruba from Old Port Royale, you go across a winding bridge that was both wide and accessible. I can see how a manual wheelchair could find the bridge challenging because it is quite bumpy, but I was able to manage it in my motorized wheelchair fine (but preferred going a little slow). It is a long walk (although much shorter than going around the lake), so we would plan our trips to and from Old Port Royale strategically, depending on meals and busing to the parks.
The accessible room in Aruba was spacious and comfortable. Although it was just my husband and I, we were assigned a room with two queen beds. There was plenty of space for my wheelchair and, by moving one chair, I could pull up to the table easily. I prefer the newer laminate floors to carpet as I find it easier for maneuvering.
The bathroom had a good amount of room as well, and a pull down bench in the shower. I really liked the bench because it was solid, and not one of the new fabric sling-type benches that are in the Pop Century Resort rooms. I find these saggy and unstable, making transfers less safe and leaving me feeling unsteady in the shower despite being seated.
Pools Are Beautiful and Easy to Access
One of the aspects of resorts that I love is the easy access to pools and the fantastic lifts installed. We saw that the main pool had a zero step entry (gradual ramp) and enjoyed watching the crowds having fun, but our preference is for the quiet pools that are generally less crowded. For me, using the pool is not just fun and relaxing—it is my physical therapy and my preferred method of exercise.
We made it to the pool every day except one and tried out the two quiet pools nearest the room in Aruba and Jamaica. Both had lifts that worked well (self-service and easy to use) and enough quiet and space for me to do my exercises. It was terrific and enhanced the trip to be able to keep my body happier during our stay.
Transportation Options Are Plentiful
Since our room was located between the Skyliner stations, we used both lines—one to go to EPCOT and the other to go to Hollywood Studios. It was easy to get to the stations, so Aruba was an ideal room location for this trip.
We also used the buses to travel to and from the parks. To be honest, the bus service was hit and miss. Sometimes it was fine, and other times the waits were extraordinarily long (sometimes 40 minutes from the resort, and on one occasion 90 minutes for returning from EPCOT to the resort). We attribute these problems to pandemic adjustments and not having everything fine-tuned yet with the return of guests. Only once did we see transportation staff at the main bus area of the resort, and we hope Disney will step this up to improve service.
Caribbean Beach Redeems Itself
For me, this stay at Caribbean Beach was a redeeming one. I think I was fine never to return because of how inaccessible my previous stay was five years ago. Now that the bridge is back and the Skyliner service is operating, these features, plus the general accessibility of the rooms and overall resort quality, bring it back into contention for future trips.