We stayed at Disney’s Riviera Resort, the first all-new Disney World hotel in 7 years
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Some Disney resorts are covered from wall to shower curtain in cartoon characters. Others have actual safari animals roaming about. Then there are those with campfire sing-alongs and cabins set in the woods. Regardless of theme, most Disney World resorts are overtly geared toward families and children.
And then there's Disney's Riviera Resort.
Disney World's first all-new freestanding resort to open in seven years is distinctly different than many other Disney resorts that came before it.
At this brand-new resort that walks the line of adult and family-friendly, there are rooms made for two, a European and Mediterranean theme that is light on traditional cartoon characters but rich on gorgeous tile mosaics that feature familiar scenes, high-end bathrooms and rich, soothing colors that are an interior decorator's brilliant answer to long days at a bright, primary-colored theme park.
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It can be risky to stay at a hotel on opening night, as kinks are likely, but this is Disney. I have no horror stories to tell as one of the first guests to stay at this brand-new addition to Disney World. Instead, my 4-year-old's and my stay at Disney's Riviera Resort tells the tale of a new chapter for Disney where adults are catered to just as much as children and families.
The last time an all-new resort opened at Disney World, the year was 2012 and the resort was the cartoon-themed Art of Animation. There have been multiple expansions of existing resorts since that time, including the Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs earlier this year, but the excitement was extra high for the first all-new Disney World property in quite some time, and opening night at the Riviera sold out.
My previous two nights with the family at Disney World before this stay were at Disney's Art of Animation using fixed-value points from my Barclaycard Arrival Plus. This final night of the trip was booked directly with Disney World using my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3 points per dollar on the travel charge.
Related: Best credit cards to use at Disney
You can no longer book Disney resorts with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, but you can use Citi ThankYou points from cards such as the Citi Premier® Card at a value of 1.25 cents per point.
We just wanted to book the cheapest room at the lowest price for opening night, and that was available directly from Disney for a not-so-cheap rate of $486 or more.
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That booking method was the only viable choice by the time we knew we'd be able to check out the resort for opening night, but please don't pay what I paid for this room -- ever. There is a much better way to book Disney Riviera Resort and other Disney Vacation Club properties when you're able to plan ahead.
Riviera is actually a Disney Vacation Club property, which is Mickey's version of a timeshare. But you don't have to own a timeshare to stay here or use DVC points. You can rent Disney Vacation Club points from a service such as David’s Vacation Club Rentals at a flat rate per point. Then you can lock in anything from the two-person Tower Studio room we stayed in all the way up to a three-room Grand Villa, such as the one we have stayed at on rented DVC points at Bay Lake Tower. By renting DVC points, you can sometimes book in a way that costs much less than booking with cash directly.
Related: How I saved hundreds of dollars at Disney by renting Disney Vacation Club points
As an example, tiny rooms for two at Disney's Riviera Resort start at 11 DVC points per night, and standard rooms for up to a family of five start at 15 points per night for Disney Vacation Club owners (or point renters). At $17 per rented point (a common rate charged by David's), that would cost you an all-in rate starting at $187 to $255 per night, depending on if you need a room for two or a family. There are no added taxes or fees when renting points, but note that daily housekeeping when booked with DVC points is extra. However, even parking is included when you stay on DVC points, which is not the case if you book a room directly with Disney.
Whether you're staying at Riviera or even somewhere far-flung such as Disney's Aulani in Hawaii, renting DVC points can literally knock 50% off the cost of your stay certain times of the year. Just plan at least six months ahead to have a good shot at availability.
One of the many great things about Disney Riviera Resort is that it's on the new Disney Skyliner route. This system connects Riviera Resort, Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios via a network of gondola lifts.
Riviera Resort has its own station, where you can board the Skyliner to either go directly to Epcot or to the Caribbean Beach Resort. From Caribbean, you can transfer Skyliners to Hollywood Studios or another Disney resort hotel.
If want to visit the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, you can use the free Disney bus system or take a Minnie Van via the Lyft app. A Minnie Van from the resort to Magic Kingdom costs about $40, so save that for when you really need it. You could also take a Skyliner from Riviera to Epcot and transfer from there to the monorail that goes to Magic Kingdom.
Opening days for hotels are always quirky, even under the best of circumstances. But we were already in town on a Disney Christmas family vacation, so adding a night to see this hotel made sense.
In this case, opening day meant a busy lobby when we arrived just before noon. Following the trend of various boutique hotels (Riviera only has around 300 rooms, which is small for a Disney resort), there wasn't a formal check-in desk but rather roaming staff with tablets. Still, since it was so busy, guests queued up where a check-in desk would normally be.
Everyone was friendly and excited for opening day, but since the hotel was full, there were no magic-pixie-dust upgrades. The good news was that our room was ready hours before official check-in, since it had never been occupied. Despite the buzz in the lobby, the Disney cast member checking us in took the time to ensure my 4-year-old got the chance to swap out her gray, standard-issue Disney Magic Band for the color of her choice. One purple Magic Band attached to her wrist later, and it was time to head to our assigned room.
Our room was a two-person Tower Studio on the sixth floor in the west wing.
I'd stayed in plenty of rooms with bunk beds, but I'd never stayed in a room that didn't have an actual bed. I had no idea whether this'd be good or bad, but I did know was that the Tower Studios are the smallest guest rooms in all of Disney World, around 220 square feet.
We walked into a room with a two-person couch, a TV, small desk and chair.
That was it. We'd now seen the entire room.
Mounted into the wall was a Murphy bed that came down to reveal lovely Peter Pan-inspired art on the wall.
The bed easily came down from the wall with a decent tug. You didn't have to be a superhero, but if you have mobility limitations, call housekeeping for assistance.
Pulled down, the bed pretty much filled the room. If you plan to spend hours hanging out in the room, put the bed back into the wall ... or consider a larger room.
This is a good place to mention that while I had no issues, at least one guest on opening night reportedly sleeping in a different sort of trundle bed at this property had a pretty major issue when the bed collapsed. If you are staying here in the very near term, your room type may be altered as Disney is reportedly inspecting all of the trundle beds to ensure that doesn't happen again.
Now, back to my room ... there were lots of outlets, including two in a nook right by the bed. The lighting was intuitive, plentiful and dimmable. I've read complaints about the lighting in the Tower Studios at night, but was I simply was too tired to notice if anything was wrong in that department.
There was a small fridge, microwave and Keurig.
The small, two-chair balcony overlooked the resort, Skyliner and evening fireworks from neighboring Epcot.
There weren't enough pillows. There were two pillows in the closet, but two total pillows in a room for two was half what we needed. Plan ahead or call housekeeping if you like building sleeping pillow forts like I do.
Though our room was petite, the bathroom was not. In fact, the bathroom was almost as large as the room itself. The full shower and large vanity made for the prettiest Disney bathroom I'd ever seen.
The plentiful towels were soft and fluffy.
Bath amenities were wall-mounted Disney H20+ shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
The body lotion was also available in a to-go (i.e., single-use) size.
The wall-mounted TV had Disney movies on demand, like on our Disney Cruise. In the era of Disney Plus, this might not be as novel as it once was, but we still enjoyed it. I highly recommend the Disney bedtime stories if you have little ones settling in for the night.
Our room, 8619, was in a small, three-room area off the main hallway. The door to our room was heavy -- too heavy for my 4-year-old to open. You could easily hear the doors shutting every time the room neighbors entered or exited their rooms.
All in all, the smallest Riviera rooms were the first ones designed for just two people -- and it felt like it. I had no issues at all with the room for the two of us for one night, and it comes in at the lowest price point for the resort precisely because it's made for two. However, the price we paid is more than what the room's worth if you aren't trying to review the property on opening night. If you can book the room for around $200 less and also noticeably cheaper than a standard room for five, it's not a bad deal for a new deluxe Disney resort. Otherwise, it's a tougher sell.
Size aside, the design of the room was smart and pretty darn lovely -- and even with the Neverland drawing, dare I say, this room was quite "grown up." It was certainly a massive departure from the Cars-themed room I'd been one night before.
You stay at a Disney resort for the location and amenities. All Disney resorts provide shared amenities including Magical Express Bus transportation to and from Orlando Airport (MCO), access to FastPass+ reservations 60 days before the first day of your vacation, access to Extra Magic Hours in the parks and so on.
But each resort also has unique amenities, too. In Riviera's case, its own Skyliner station is a fantastic amenity that made getting to Epcot and Hollywood Studios a breeze. We even rode the Skyliner around just for fun.
Then there are the pools. Riviera had what may be my favorite preschooler splash area at any Disney World resort.
In its own fenced-in area with its own seats, the splash area had two slides, including a tunnel slide for bigger kids. There were also multiple little-kid-friendly interactive water elements -- and no annoying big bucket of water splashing down on everyone and causing tears every 60 seconds.
The main pool had a larger slide and a zero-entry area. Like at all Disney Resorts, this main pool had lifeguards on duty and life vests that were free to use.
There was even a poolside gelato stand ($6.50 a scoop).
There was a small hot tub in case it was too cool to hop in the pool.
There was also a smaller pool without all the slides, snacks or lifeguards, and it was open longer, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. during our December stay. (And, yes, the pools were heated.)
If the 20,000 steps you're going to get Disney World each day weren't enough, Riviera had a gym on the ground floor near the pools.
You could play chess or bocce, relax on a porch swing or just do cartwheels on the resort's inviting outdoor open space. Between the porch swings and the calming music playing around the resort, this was actually a place to stop and sit to take it all in.
In the evenings, you could roast marshmallows to make s'mores and then go watch outdoor movies on artificial turf behind the main pool. The night or our stay, we were almost the only ones watching "Ratatouille."
While not an amenity in the traditional sense, a highlight was unquestionably the two mosaic murals in the walkway tunnel to the Skyliner.
It took over 1 million hand-cut tiles to create these true works of art.
One of the murals was the lantern scene from "Tangled," while the other was Neverland. These murals were definitely Instagrammable.
In keeping with the adults-welcome theme, Riviera Resort had some grown-up dining. In the main lobby was Le Petit Cafe, both a daytime coffee shop and evening bar.
On the morning menu were coffees and pastries such as blueberry muffins and perfectly flaky croissants.
The Parisian staff at Riviera was raving about the croissants, so I gave one a try and can vouch for it being pretty great.
It wasn't too hard to find a place to sit in the cafe.
In the evening, the vibe transformed. The night menu had adult beverages, brownie bites and small pastries.
You could have these in the cafe or in the grown-up lounge just behind the cafe, though it did get full in the evening.
The primary quick-service restaurant at Riviera was on the ground floor. You ordered and paid at Primo Piatto at the counter, but staff delivered most food to your table This made it feel like a full-service restaurant, even though it wasn't. While mobile ordering wasn't up and running during my visit, it should be eventually.
Related: Best restaurants at Disney World
On the menu were pizza, salad, pasta and other Mediterranean foods. I loved the $12.99 grilled vegetable pita so much it became my lunch and dinner. The spices on the roasted veggies combined with the coolness of the cucumber yogurt dip were a far cry from chicken fingers and fries.
However, there were still chicken fingers and fries ($7.49) on the kids menu -- and in my daughter's belly.
The service and food here were absolutely outstanding.
A truly full-service meal at Riviera meant a visit to Topolino's (Italian for "baby mouse," which is what they call Mickey). Topolino's was on the highest floor of the Riviera and had the views to go with the location.
At Topolino's were a bar, restaurant and outdoor patio with a nearby bar cart. Again, it was an adult touch at a resort not just for kids.
You needed to make reservations for dinner, so we didn't try it on this trip. However, we did walk around during dinner, and it smelled great.
A better match for us would be the character breakfast at Topolino's, with Mickey, Minnie and friends in European-style costumes unique to this location (adults $41, children $24).
Bar Riva near the main pool served cocktails, burgers and salads outdoors.
One night at Disney's Riviera wasn't enough. I absolutely loved the new resort. Yes, the room was very compact, and the bed came down from the wall, but so what? The room for two should work fine for those who know what they are getting -- if, and only if, it is priced right.
At the price we paid for opening night, I'm not sure the value was there for a longer real vacation. But if you can secure the room using DVC points or at a lower cash rate, the room would work for two people. But if there's little difference in price between this and a standard room, paying extra for the bigger room would be money well spent unless you are truly OK in tight quarters.
The resort's overall design was elegant and pleasing to adults, but with thoughtful touches that made kids feel equally welcome. The tile mosaics are worth a visit even if you don't stay here, and the Skyliner station makes getting around Disney that much more magical. And the food, well, this ain't your carnival corndogs and funnel cake. The food at Riviera makes you look forward to Disney meal time.
You always expect staff to be excited and put their best foot forward on opening day, but I have a hunch that the extremely friendly and accommodating demeanor of the Riviera staff will stick around long after the grand opening pins are sold out in the gift shop. I hope to plan ahead, rent Disney Vacation Club points and come back to Riviera with the whole family at some point, as I think even my non-Disney-crazed husband will enjoy a relaxing stay at the new Disney's Riviera Resort.
Here are more tips to help you plan a Disney World vacation:
- Guide to Visiting Disney World
- Best Restaurants at Disney World
- Best Times to Visit Disney World
- Is the Disney Visa Worth It?
- How to Save Money at Disney World
- Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
- Best Credit Cards for a Disney World Vacation
- Booking Disney World Tickets Using Points
All images by author.