**Special note about our reviews: The DIS policy regarding reviews is that we only review experiences that we pay for. We pay the best publicly available rate at the time of booking. That means we may utilize annual pass discounts or other Disney-offered special discounts, but only if they are available to the general public. For this review, we paid the standard rack-rate available for the room at the time of booking which was $237 for Wednesday night, and $262 per night for Thursday and Friday.
Of all the resorts at Walt Disney World, none has been as maligned in recent years as the Caribbean Beach. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of die-hard fans, but even many of them were forced to admit that a once-storied resort had fallen far into the depths of disrepair, and what appeared to me at least to be an utter disregard for quality.
Then, a few years ago, the resort began a massive transformation. Old Port Royale (the area of the resort designated for food and shopping) was shuttered to allow Disney to completely reimagine the space. This meant moving the food court to what literally amounted to a tent and food trucks for an extended period of time. Concurrently, the rooms at the resort underwent a long overdue rehab. In the midst of this, the announcement was made that Disney would be adding a Disney Vacation Club property to Caribbean Beach (the Riviera Resort) and a Skyliner transportation system. So, in short, this resort has been pretty much a construction site for the better part of the last 2 years.
In late 2018, the new Old Port Royale was reopened. The check-in desk was moved to this location. (Inexplicably, check-in had been located in a separate building near the entrance to the resort, with the Old Port Royale a good distance away.) In addition, the food court was reimagined from several themed locations to one central hub. The resort also added a table service dining location called “Sebastian's,” along with Banana Cabana as the poolside bar.
So, with it being a few years since my last review, I decided I would see how the experience at Caribbean Beach was shaping up. My stay at the resort was in January of 2019. I booked a preferred room (Martinique building #26) and the cost per night averaged about $250. Construction is still taking place on the Rivera and Skyliner station, but I can honestly say that other than it being an eyesore, it had absolutely no impact on my stay.
The rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort are located in several sprawling locations around the 200-acre property. I chose a preferred room — these are rooms that are closer to Old Port Royale (and if you like coffee in the morning and don’t want to go for a bus ride or a 20-mile hike, this is a mandatory choice). In order to set up my review of the room I had at the Caribbean Beach, it's important to do a compare and contrast to the condition these rooms were in 4 years ago, in January of 2015.
Here is what our room looked like then:And here is the current room:
The newly designed rooms are the same size as the old ones (300 sq. ft).
My room had two queen beds (an upgrade from the two doubles previously) with heavy, dark wood headboards. The beds are fairly comfortable, with cozy white sheets and a white comforter. A recent trend at Disney (as inspired by Disney Cruise Line) is to have the beds raised up a bit off the floor, allowing space underneath the bed to store suitcases. For some reason, they decided not to do this with the new rooms at Caribbean Beach and for the life of me I can’t figure out why.
A pull-down twin bed is located on the other wall below the mounted 50” Samsung TV. Three small drawers for storage are underneath this area, with two larger drawers available to the left of the bed (although one of these drawers has additional blankets and pillows). Opposite that, there is a mini fridge (as is standard across property). I found the drawer space wanting, and without a place to store your luggage underneath the bed, I think most people (especially a family of 4 or 5 in one of these rooms) will find themselves living out of suitcases during their stay. The lack of storage coupled with the lack of space under the bed is a big mistake by Disney, in my opinion.
Another trend they chose to buck was the addition of wood-look laminate flooring in place of carpeting. This has been a trend for Disney on both coasts in recent years, and it’s a very good trend to embrace. Especially in Florida, carpeting is a magnet for dust, mold, odors, and dirt. The addition of laminate flooring makes the room cooler (carpets do not help cool down a room in 90-degree heat) and it also makes the room feel "cleaner." (In fact, it does make the room cleaner in my opinion.) Again, they chose to rehab these rooms with new carpeting. Now, since these rooms are early in their life-cycle, the carpet in my room was clean and did not show any major signs of wear (although there were stains near the door).
The layout of the bathroom hasn’t changed, with two sliding doors separating the bathroom area from the main part of the room. Two sinks, along with a safe and ironing board are in one part of the bathroom, with the commode and shower in a separate room, allowing two people to get ready at the same time. I know this is a popular configuration, but personally, I hate it.
It is important to note here that my basis for comparison coming into this was the state of these rooms as they existed a few years ago, which is to say they were filthy, in horrible disrepair and the beds were akin to medieval torture devices covered with a polyester comforter that made sleeping here feel more like a punishment than a vacation. I know that sounds harsh, but it's true. By that standard, these new rooms are like staying at a Park Hyatt. However, when compared to other moderate resorts at Disney (namely Coronado Springs) or even the newly redesigned rooms at Pop Century, this room suffers by comparison. Why Disney chose to go another route with the design of the beds and flooring in these rooms is beyond me, but they did and the room is worse for it. In my estimation, the room is okay — perfectly acceptable. But at $250 a night, I’m looking for better than "acceptable," even if the location is close to the main building.
Caribbean Beach has a few options in terms of dining. There is a food court area called Centertown Market, a table service restaurant called Sebastian's, and a limited menu at Banana Cabana (the pool bar). We reviewed Sebastian's the night it opened back in October of 2018 and you can watch our video review of it here or read our article on it here. In short, we gave this restaurant very high marks! Banana Cabana offers a limited selection of food items from Sebastian's and we indulged more than a few times during our stay. If what we were being served is any indication, Sebastian's is still as good as ever.
A particular highlight of my stay at the Caribbean Beach were the cast members. Every one of them that I interacted with was warm, friendly and very helpful. I noticed a trend, however — virtually every cast member I met was not on the Disney College Program. This has long been a complaint of mine — the use of temporary help in the resorts really diminished the quality of the guest service in my opinion. I have nothing against the college program, but Disney’s unhealthy reliance on a cheap labor force has had a devastating effect on the quality of service over the years, both in the resorts and in the theme parks. According to one cast member I spoke to, Disney has started putting college program people in more roles in the back of the house. The difference in service was measurable, and reminded me of "the old days," when Disney service was the envy of the industry.
One thing I should point out: Upon arriving at our room, we noticed an area just outside the door where the paint was chipping away. We tweeted a picture of it and copied @wdwtoday (the official Walt Disney World twitter account). Within 5 minutes we received a direct message from Disney asking us our room number, and 15 minutes after that a maintenance worker showed up to fix it. I was blown away. The resort gets very high marks for service.
I'm also embarrassed to say that this visit was the first time I've utilized Disney's Minnie Van service. If you're not familiar with the service, this is a Disney partnership with LYFT (an Uber competitor) to provide on-demand transportation all around Disney property. The downside to this service is the cost. A trip from the Caribbean Beach to the Magic Kingdom was a whopping $35 (keep in mind that an Uber from downtown Orlando to the Magic Kingdom is $31 using UberX). However, you do get special perks using Minnie Vans. You get dropped off in areas that Uber can't access (in this case, bus stop #8 at the Magic Kingdom), when going resort to resort there is no need to take multiple busses, and no need to deal with security at the gate about getting in.
In the course of three trips with the Minnie Van I was hooked, and here's why: Yes, convenience is a big perk, but it's the cast members that make this a must-do for me. Each driver I had ranked among the best CM's I've ever interacted with. "Knowledgeable," "friendly," "funny," and "helpful" are just a few words I'd use to describe them. They are also very happy with their jobs. They are paid a salary plus tips. (Meaning they get something approaching a living wage for their work.) For that reason alone, I'm all in with Minnie Vans. I understand the cost may be prohibitive for some, but if you're looking for quick, reliable transportation (especially if going resort to resort without a vehicle of your own) you really can't do better than a Minnie Van.
Overall, I found the Caribbean Beach a much-improved experience over my last visit. That being said, while I would stay there again it's not something I feel strongly about. There are better rooms at moderate resorts on property. The cost of a preferred room (averaging $250 per night in early January) was way above what I feel the experience was worth. A price for a preferred room below $200 a night would have changed my opinion on it. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Caribbean Beach, but only at a more reasonable price. Be sure to consider the other Disney moderate resorts (Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter and Coronado Springs) as you might find better pricing.
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