First, a little history: I grew up in the San Francisco area, visiting Disneyland often (the first time in 1959). I moved down to Orange County to work at Disneyland in 1976 (a couple of years as a seasonal cast member). I have been an annual passholder from the beginning, except for the few years I lived back in the Bay Area, and our current passes are the Premier Passports good for both Disneyland and Disney World.
Over the years since 1978 I have been to Disney World 8 times, staying at the Contemporary, Polynesian, Dixie Landing (now PO Riverside) and a few off-site hotels. In July of 2005 my wife set up a trip as sort of a second honeymoon that would also include my then 12-year old step-daughter. She picked Old Key West Resort because they had a good deal on 1-bedroom suites. A really nice resort and perfect for larger families, but also very large and too spread out. It was a hassle to get on an in-resort shuttle just to get up to the main bus pick up for the parks. (Word of advice, if you stay at OKW ask for a room closer to the front and main pool!)
The catalyst for going to Disney World this year was 3-fold: We had the money to have a great time and not penny-pinch, my sister was planning to go with her two boys (ages 12 and 15 – my 3 year old niece would stay home with her dad), and my daughter, having grown up going to Disneyland, was at the right age (7-1/2) and height to enjoy most everything in Disney World.
We would choose dates that would fit both our schedules. My sister’s cut off was July 4 as they needed to be back for another event, but we wanted to be there for the entire week. So it was planned my sister would arrive at Disney World a couple of days before us and leave July 4, and we would be there July 1 to 7, overlapping our stays for a couple of days.
Both my sister and I agreed we did not want to shell out the rate for one of the deluxe resorts, but still wanted to stay on property at Disney World. My first choice was one of the family suites at the Art of Animation, but they were far more expensive than I thought at about $300 per night. The standard room rate was good, but only offered the smaller double beds. I next looked into staying at either the Swan or Dolphin. Having walked through these resorts years back I remembered how nice they were, and the close proximity to both Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios was perfect. The rates were very reasonable at less than $200 per night, but unfortunately they were booked up. Next up was looking at the “moderate” resorts. Remembering I loved the locations of both PO Riverside and Old Key West, being along the Sassagoula River waterway and a boat ride away from Downtown Disney, I honed in on the smaller Port Orleans French Quarter resort.
Both my wife and I have been to New Orleans a couple of times (prior to Katrina) and were married at The Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney (a New Orleans based restaurant at Disneyland). We also love Creole and southern food, so this hotel was a perfect fit for us! And the rate was almost unbelievably low (more on that later). A standard view room (two queen beds) was only $196 per night. We upgraded to a garden view room for only $10 more, so $206 total. Wow! During the week of 4th of July no less! So both my sister and I booked our dates.
So that is how we chose at Port Orleans French Quarter. Yes I know, on with the actual review please! But with so many resorts to choose from I wanted to state why we opted to stay here. And I’m glad we did!
This is an absolutely beautiful resort and it really has the feeling of New Orleans (a clean, well maintained New Orleans). Upon entering through the main atrium (check-in to the right, food court and bar to the left) we were often greeted by a doorman dressed in Mardi Gras styled suit. He would give out plastic doubloon coins to the kids to throw into the fountain just inside. My daughter looked forward to this each day. Passing through the atrium takes you to the large back courtyard, flanked either side by the food court and a gift shop/store, with the pool area ahead.
Prior to our trip we went online and did the advanced check-in, choosing a preference for a room location (yes we chose the upgrade view garden room, but this was more specific – near the pool, or front of the resort, etc.). As I said before, my sister arrived a couple of days before us and the front desk arranged our rooms to be next to each other, so I already knew exactly where we would be. It turns out it was a perfect location: Building 5, second floor, 3 rooms down from the stairs, facing the pool’s spa area, and just a few steps to the food court. There was also a side path that led around the entrance area and out to the resort buses pick up area. A large garden area was just outside, and the pool area beyond that.
The room itself, while not huge, was certainly on par with most other moderate hotels and resorts. Like the exterior, it was well themed and nicely done with numerous New Orleans touches, including the wonderful Herb Ryman concept art for Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. The dual vanity sinks are separated from the toilet and shower, so two people can be using the sinks while another is using the bathroom (very convenient with kids!). The dresser/credenza has a small refrigerator with a coffee maker and flat-screen TV on top (no microwave). Free wifi (a must for us) is provided. Curiously, while there are inputs for SD cards and video cables to view content on the TV, there are no USB connections or an extra outlet for charging devices. I bring along a travel power strip that has a USB input, but I had to plug that in to a wall outlet and use a chair to place my devices on for charging.
The grounds of the resort are beautiful and lush and certainly mimic the real French Quarter with minimalist versions of Jackson Square and other courtyards. One drizzly late afternoon my daughter and I took a leisurely walk around the resort to take photos and explore. Design touches abound within the look of the lamp posts, “street” signs, wrought-iron fencing, fountains, even a tiles set in the sidewalks with street names are all very real details you’d find in The Big Easy! It all makes for a very calming afternoon or evening stroll. At night the resort takes on a magical feel, almost like an iconic painting of New Orleans. The back side is set along the river where there is a meandering path that follows the water’s edge. The boat launch for Downtown Disney is also located here.
The look of the architecture here is spot on. Unlike PO Riverside that has two very distinct room building styles, here they are all the same. But the at the end of each building (where the housekeeping facilities are), instead of looking all the same, they created what almost looks like a separate 3-story brick building that you would find in the actual French Quarter. This is what makes a Disney resort special, details that only folks who have visited New Orleans would catch.
The “Doubloon Lagoon” pool area is still another area that is very festive in design with a Mardi Gras theme complete with comical alligator figures. Young kids will enjoy the small water slide fashion like a sea serpent with King Neptune riding on top. This is actually one of the larger Disney World resort pools so there is plenty of room and lounge chairs (depth goes up to about 5 feet). A wading pool is off to the side and a spa is located adjacent to the path leading to the pool. There is also a pool bar with some wonderful tropical drinks (with or without alcohol) and bagged snacks.
The one and only dining area is the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, which looks like a Mardi Gras parade prop house. Inside there is plenty of seating with a beverage bar at the center. The food court area consists of several stations where you can pick and choose what you want, from a full meal or just side orders – no problem. All the usually family friendly options are available here (pasta, pizza, burgers, etc.) but where it really shines is the numerous Creole and southern food options – there are a lot to choose from. As I said before, we love that type of food and this place did not disappoint. Fried chicken, jambalaya, Po’boys, gumbo, greens…on and on. Even made to order beignets! Breakfast items again are numerous with all the usual items and more southern offerings such as biscuits and gravy and grits. There are plenty of grab and go items to take with you either back to your room or to one of the parks. Desserts are plenty too, but we really liked the hand-scooped ice cream and sundaes. It’s open to midnight (during the summer anyway), so coming back from a park we often stop there and have a late dessert (or for me, getting a nice bourbon from the adjacent Scat Cat’s Club lounge!). Overall we did not miss having a sit-down restaurant and with kids (and adults) not always wanting a full meal, this was perfect. The prices were, at least to us, about 30% less than what we would spend at Disneyland in California and a bargain for the most part. My fried chicken dinner, 4 pieces with two sides, was about $10 not including a drink (see the full menu and prices online at their web site), that’s what you would pay at an affordable family restaurant chain like Denny’s. And this was good food! I wish this concept was a stand-alone restaurant in our area—We would be there often!
Other amenities at the resort were basic but enough: A small arcade located by the lobby area, and a store that offered a good selection of Disney World merchandise, travel needs (even luggage, a nice extra if you find the luggage you brought was not enough for all the stuff you bought), food items, liquor, and more. Nearby the pool is a small park for kids with a climbing structure. There is also a horse-drawn carriage ride that can be had for $45 – perfect for the New Orleans theme!
So who is this resort for? It is perfect for small families with 1-2 kids and this is primarily what we saw staying there. Because there are no other room options (other than 1 single King bed), larger families would need to request connecting rooms or might want to opt for a family suite elsewhere. It’s also great for couples being that it has a very romantic atmosphere, or just a couple of friends who want a great place to stay without spending a lot. And personally I like being in a room where I can just walk out the door and be outside rather than in a huge tower having to take an elevator numerous times a day.
Bottom line: Overall, a fantastic resort. We would absolutely stay here again. All in all, to me staying at POFQ was a bargain! The whole time I was there I kept thinking I can’t believe a resort of this quality, amenities, beautiful grounds and attention to detail was only $200 per night.
Are you a fan of Port Orleans French Quarter?