The Caribbean Beach is Disney’s first economy resort as well as Disney’s first moderate resort. (The resort lost its economy status when the “Pop” resorts debuted.) It has the best location of the moderate bunch – close to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. It’s also the largest Disney hotel and can feel that way in the public areas, but because it covers so much land, select rooms feel almost intimate.
The resort recreates islands of the Caribbean with five subgroups of buildings surrounding a big lake. Each subgroup, or “village,” has the name and style of a Caribbean island – Aruba, Barbados, Jamaica, Martinique, and Trinidad (North and South). Buildings in each match the style of their island name, though – as all things Disney – in a bigger and bolder way than their namesakes. It’s not just Jamaica, for example – it’s the Jamaica that exists in travel brochures and James Bond films. There is no poverty.
Since the buildings are identical under the paint and trim, the major difference lies in their bright colors, railings, and trim. In addition, each building has a single style that’s representative of its host island, so the effect is more like a Jamaican hotel than a Jamaican village.
The resort has a central restaurant, food court, and large Caribbean-themed pool. And a gift shop, of course. There’s always a gift shop. Upon arrival, guests check in at the Custom House.
If trying to imagine the feel of the Caribbean Beach to decide if it’s right for you, think of it as six smaller self-sufficient hotels (the villages) that have their own small swimming pools. Since the lake is big and the villages separated, some guests have at least a 10-minute walk to the food court, which in August makes your last shower moot. That distance, though, makes the far-out villages intimate. Few guests wander through your complex because it’s not an important connection point to or from anywhere.
Since the resort is too big for many guests to easily hoof it to the central hub, called Old Port Royale, each village has a bus stop. On the plus side, it’s a short walk from your room to a bus. On the downside, a bus heading to one of the parks may take 15 minutes to arrive (if one just departed) and then make seven stops before leaving the Caribbean Beach. If it doesn’t make seven stops on the way out, it will make them on your return.
One note: Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is big business, and Disney started pushing the pirate theme to boys after it found great success pushing the princess theme to girls. Some rooms sport “pirate-ship beds, buccaneer accessories and swashbuckling décor.” Kids love it, but some parents think it goes a bit too far, even for a vacation. Compromises must be made.
Who should stay here
Some people drive everywhere because when they’re ready to go somewhere, they’re ready to go now. They don’t want to wait for a bus. If that’s you, the layout of Caribbean Beach won’t hamper your style. In addition, the Caribbean theme lends itself to heat, which seems appropriate to guests traveling from Northern climates. The resort feels right. And, of course, a child who loves pirates won’t be happy anywhere else.
Who shouldn’t stay here
People who love Disney’s resort-wide transportation system – especially those who don’t have a car – will soon tire of walking unless they’re close to Old Port Royale; they’ll also tire of waiting for a bus and making multiple stops before reaching their final destination. Guests who want to avoid children should also think twice about staying here, since it’s the most kid-friendly of the moderate resorts and popular with families. Disney is making it even more family-friendly, redecorating rooms with a Nemo theme (from the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo).
Busses connect guests to all points within Walt Disney World. While busses make frequent stops, it’s a relatively short trip to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The Magic Kingdom is not unbearably far.
Questions to ask when booking
Decide whether you want to be on the quieter edges of Caribbean Beach or closer to the restaurant and request the appropriate room. Also ask about the pirate-themed rooms and book or avoid them accordingly.
Disney’s website: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/caribbean-beach-resort