When you set out to plan a family vacation to Walt Disney World, the choices can be overwhelming, with where to stay topping that list. Every Disney World resort is family friendly, but with three tiers of accommodations and amenities (value, moderate, deluxe), plus theming that runs the gamut from no-frills with in-your-face characters at Art of Animation to refined (albeit wallet-busting) Victorian elegance at the Grand Floridian, it makes sense to do some serious research before choosing the resort that best suits your taste and budget.
To add to your choices, last December Disney World opened a new resort, Disney's Riviera Resort, which takes its place among the nicest—but also most expensive—resorts on the property. Here, we break it down to help you decide if a stay at Riviera is right for your family.
What's Disney's Riviera Resort Like and Who Should Stay Here?
Inspired by the grand turn-of-the-century European holiday resorts lining the French and Italian Riviera, Disney's Riviera Resort has a decidedly swanky vibe. Despite its nods to the past, this "Deluxe"-tier hotel feels more like a modern European retreat. Disney theming is subtle but abundant across the property, with nods to Walt Disney's European travels showcased throughout the resort's artwork, décor, and even in family photos, books and souvenirs displayed in the Voyageurs' Lounge just off the hotel lobby.
For Parents: If sipping coffee at a French café or twirling pasta at a cliffside restaurant in Italy is more your style than downing a theme park hot dog while sweating in line for character meet-and-greets, this is the place for you.
For Kids: There's a lot to entertain the youngest guests here, from a highly rated character breakfast at rooftop restaurant Topolino's Terrace (more on that later) to a zero-depth feature pool and fun "Fantasia"-themed splash area with two small slides, but we think older kids will probably find the most to appreciate. Activities like bocce and giant chess on the lawn, a 30-foot water slide at the Riviera feature pool, Disney movie posters in foreign languages, and hidden mickeys to hunt around every corner will all go a long way toward keeping older kids engaged while parents enjoy their European escape.
Biggest tip to know before you go: Be sure to snag a weekly resort schedule to make sure you don't miss any of the kid-friendly activities on offer at Riviera. From build-your-own lego race cars for a mini grand prix on the lawn to a toy boat race to open the pool each morning to a scavenger hunt by Skyliner that takes you from Riviera to other area resorts, there's a lot to keep families busy around the property.
Brooke Geiger McDonald
How's the Location?
Just a few months ago, Riviera would never have topped any list of best-positioned Disney resorts. But, thanks to the opening of the Disney Skyliner, Disney's newest transportation system, Riviera is now a quick gondola trip to both Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. With Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Disney's most ambitious attraction to date, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, now open and another new ride, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, on the way at Hollywood Studios, plus a whole slew of new attractions in the works over at Epcot, seamless access to these two parks puts Riviera's location on par with the highly coveted "monorail resorts" that provide easy access to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
For Parents: If you've ever been to Disney World, there's a good possibility you share the widespread disdain for bus transportation from the resorts to the parks. Service can be inconsistent, buses crowded, and schlepping strollers and squirmy kiddos on them is not the most enjoyable way to start or end the day. The Skyliner changes all of this. Lines move quickly, single strollers can be rolled right on (doubles do need to be collapsed), and travel time is typically much shorter than on the buses (or boats or monorails).
For Kids: Forget the parks, from a thrilling whoosh at "take-off" and return to the station to breathtaking aerial views of Disney World from the air, the Skyliner is a ride in its own right. My kids, who moan and groan when it's time for the bus, are as excited to hop on the Skyliner as they are to ride Splash Mountain.
Biggest tip to know before you go: Many of the Skyliner's gondolas feature character wraps that, while charming, seriously impact your view from inside the vehicle. If there's not a long wait, ask the cast member at boarding if you can wait for an unwrapped gondola to better take in the sights.
Brooke Geiger McDonald
What Are Riviera's Rooms Like?
Riviera is a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resort. DVC is Disney's vacation ownership program that operates on a flexible, points-based system (cash reservations are also available). Because all of the rooms are DVC rooms, they have some extra amenities rarely found in a typical hotel room, including a microwave, refrigerator, toaster, wet bar and, depending on the room type, much more. Rooms sleep anywhere from two adults plus an infant in the Tower Studios (a warning: adding a pack and play would make these a very tight squeeze) to up to 12 guests in the massive three-bedroom grand villas.
For Parents: One-bedroom and larger rooms come with a full kitchen, dishwasher, and washer and dryer. This means you can pack lighter, plus save money by eating some of your meals in the room.
For Kids: At Riviera, queen-size Inova murphy beds replace the traditional lumpy sofa beds kids are typically stuck with. The cutest part? Beds pull down to reveal whimsical original artwork created exclusively for the resort and showcasing scenes from classic animated Disney films set in Europe like "Peter Pan" and "101 Dalmations." A small single bed also pulls down from the wall to reveal a sleeping Mickey that kiddos will love to snooze alongside.
Biggest tip to know before you go: When you book your room, you'll have the opportunity to include special room requests such as "first available" or "high floor." To maximize your ease of access to the Skyliner, request "close to transportation." Some rooms are mere steps from its entrance. We timed it on our last trip and traveled via the Skyliner from Hollywood Boulevard, the main drag at Disney's Hollywood Studios, to Riviera, in less than 15 minutes.
Brooke Geiger McDonald
Where Can We Eat?
You can't pretend you're in Europe without eating all the food, can you? Here's where to indulge your culinary wanderlust around the resort.
Le Petit Café In the morning, this Parisian-style café, named after a spot in the 1970 animated Disney film "The Aristocats," serves up coffee and delicious pastries. At night, the café, located just off the lobby, transforms into a relaxed wine bar.
Primo Piatto The resort's main quick-service location, Primo Piatto is a firm step up from most other resort quick-service spots around Disney World. Everything here is accessible to the average American palate but gets a European twist: Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes are topped with mascarpone and scrambled eggs get served over mascarpone polenta with a sweet brioche roll. Of course, Mickey waffles for the kids are always an option. Lunch and dinner feature Italian classics like handmade pasta (delicious!) and hearth-baked pizzas—a big hit with kiddos. French fare highlights include the Croque Monsieur and, for a lighter option, the Tuna Niçoise Salad.
Bar Riva While officially this is Riviera's pool bar, it doesn't feel quite fair to call it that when other deluxe resort pool bars like the one at Disney's Boardwalk Resort offer little more than a hot dog and a bag of chips or a Mickey pretzel with cheese. At this beautiful poolside space bathed in a rainbow of calming shades of blue, families can enjoy a truncated, table-service version of Primo Piatto's upscale menu. Parents will want to try the inventive cocktails like the Coco Paradiso and La Petite Fleur. If your kids don't see something they want on Bar Riva's kids menu, be sure to ask. They're happy to bring you most everything that's served next door at Primo Piatto. My 6-year-old highly recommends the handmade Linguine with Tomato Sauce!
Topolino's Terrace — Flavors of the Riviera For breakfast or dinner with a view, head to Riviera's rooftop restaurant, Topolino's Terrace ("Topolino" is the Italian name for Mickey Mouse). Here, you'll find one of the best character dining experiences on property. Breakfast à la Art with Mickey and Friends is a relaxing antidote to the typical chaotic buffet character breakfast. No need to stress that characters will show up at your table while you're at the buffet, at your table you'll be served fresh pastries then your choice of entrees like Quiche Gruyére, Sour Cream Waffle or Wood-fired Butchers Steak. Dressed in some of our all-time favorite costumes, painter Mickey, poet Minnie, sculptor Donald and dancer Daisy will all visit your table. Breakfast is a pricey affair, but at $41 for adults and $24 for kids, we think it's a pretty good value when compared to other character breakfasts on property.
Dinner at Topolino's Terrace is a showstopper. Take in sweeping views across Disney World that, if you time it right, will include fireworks from both Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Menu standouts include the Buratta con Panna with black winter truffle, Winter Pumpkin Ravioli, Filet Mignon with truffled mashed potatoes (can you ever have too many truffles in a meal?), and my favorite, the Tarbais bean Cassoulet, a plant-based take on the classic French dish, made with Beyond sausage.
For parents: The character breakfast at Topolino's is a memorable experience for the whole family, but dinner is definitely a more grown-up affair. While kids are welcome, parents may enjoy booking an in-room sitter through Kids Nite Out, an excellent local babysitting service, to enjoy a special adults-only evening.
For kids: Aside from the resort's main dining locations, kids won't want to miss a scoop from Vivo Il Gelato, the poolside outpost of the world-famous Florence gelato shop.
Biggest tip to know before you go: When making your reservation for dinner at Topolino's Terrace, consult the park hours for Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Fireworks times typically align with park closing times, so if you time your reservation to coincide with that, you'll catch quite the show!
How Much Does Riviera Cost?
With the elegant vibe and deluxe amenities comes a hefty price tag: Current pricing for Riviera ranges from about $400 to $4,539, depending on the room type. While this is no doubt pricey, amenities like in-room kitchens and dining areas can help remove some of the sting by allowing you to save some money on meals out. Becoming a Disney Vacation Club member also makes staying at deluxe Disney resorts like Riviera much more cost effective. Our family joined several years ago and we've been able to afford far more Disney World vacations than we ever could have by booking direct with cash.
Biggest tip to know before you go: When it comes to saving money at Disney World, timing is everything. Peak travel times make everything more expensive, from flights, to hotel rooms, to park tickets so if your travel dates are flexible, be sure to price out different dates for both resort rates and park tickets (you can also price both out as a package) to find the cheapest time to travel.