I got to stay at Disney World’s swanky new resort—and it’s even better than the Grand Floridian

Brooke Geiger McDonald

There’s a new way to take a European Disney vacation — and you don’t have to make the trek to Disneyland Paris to do it. Disney’s Riviera Resort, Walt Disney World’s newest hotel, just opened on Dec. 16 and this swanky spot gives Disney World’s grande dame resort, the Grand Floridian, a run for its money.

From Champagne cocktails and fireworks views on the rooftop to gelato by the pool and bocce on the lawn, a stay at this resort — inspired by the old-world glamour of the French and Italian Riviera — satiates that European wanderlust (while sneaking in a fair amount of Disney magic).

I attended the opening of the resort as a member of the media, and I liked it so much that I went back with my family.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

The Rooms

Lest this seem a little too fancy for your family’s laid-back vacation style, it’s more chilled out than it sounds. Riviera does have that old-world elegance vibe, but it’s also modern and comfortable. As a Disney Vacation Club property (Disney Vacation Club is Disney’s vacation ownership program that operates on a flexible points-based system, but all rooms types are available for cash bookings as well), all units include extra features most typical hotel rooms lack.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

Every guest room has a refrigerator, microwave and access to laundry. Those units with at least one bedroom include full kitchens and in-room washers and dryers.

The sprawling three-bedroom grand villas even have dining rooms, allowing guests to have a few meals in the room as they try to temper the sticker shock of a Walt Disney World vacay:

Brooke Geiger McDonald

Artwork Everywhere

Riviera’s design inspiration comes from the European travels of Walt and Lillian Disney, and Walt’s admiration for European art, history and culture shine through in the various flourishes throughout the resort. Artistic interpretations of iconic Disney castles line the hallways and the mosaic archways will probably find their way onto the next list of must-capture Disney Instagram walls.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

Haute Cuisine

If you visit France or Italy and don’t gorge on croissants, pasta and gelato, were you really even there? Start the day with housemade croissants, pastries and made-to-order coffee drinks at Le Petit Café, a Parisian-style coffee shop by day, wine bar by night, named after a spot from the 1970 animated Disney classic “The Aristocats.”

For breakfast and lunch, Primo Piatto elevates Disney’s typical quick-service model. Breakfast highlights include the French staple Croque Madame and the Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes topped with Mascarpone cream. Solid lunch choices include Italian classics like hearth-baked pizzas and handmade pasta or French favorites like the Niçoise salad and Croque Monsieur.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

Riviera’s rooftop signature dining restaurant, Topolino’s Terrace — Flavors of the Riviera, delivers impressive panoramic views of Walt Disney World that are up there with California Grill’s, easily Disney World’s most popular restaurant with a view. The restaurant’s character breakfast, Breakfast a la Art, starring painter Mickey, poet Minnie, sculptor Donald and dancer Daisy, has been getting mostly positive reviews, with the food and experience exceeding expectations, but with the caveat that at $41 for adults and $24 for children, it is still a wallet-busting breakfast for many families.

Dinner is an elegant, but also pricey affair. There’s a kid’s menu but, as with some of Disney’s other highest-end restaurants, parents with little ones might want to save the money for a visit without the distractions of kiddos. Standout dishes include the Burrata con Panna with black winter truffle and the Winter Pumpkin Ravioli to start followed by entrees like Filet Mignon, Braised Lamb Shank and plant-based Tarbais Bean Cassoulet, made with Beyond sausage.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

‘S’il Vous Play’

When it’s time for a break from the chaos of the parks, there’s a lot to keep adults and kids entertained. Sip signature cocktails like the Negroni Spritz and La Petite Fleur from poolside Bar Riva or head to the lawn for a game of bocce, giant chess or lawn snooker.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

Beat the heat in the zero-entry feature pool with a 30-foot waterslide, a kids splash zone called “S’il Vous Play,” themed to the 1940 film “Fantasia,” and a serene quiet pool.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

A Solid Location

Aside from theming and amenities, there’s a bigger reason guests are willing to splurge on a stay at Disney World’s most coveted, but also most expensive, deluxe resorts like the Grand Floridian, Contemporary and Polynesian — location, location, location. Riviera may not be a stone’s throw from Magic Kingdom or a monorail ride to Epcot, but a new transportation system makes this location competitive.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

The Disney Skyliner is a new gondola system that whisks guests from Disney’s Riviera Resort and several other nearby resorts to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Guests can board the Skyliner steps from Riviera, take in aerial views of Walt Disney World and disembark at Epcot or Hollywood Studios in minutes (we tried it recently and traveled from Hollywood Boulevard, the main drag inside Hollywood Studios, to Riviera in less than 15 minutes). A word of warning, though: Bad weather or a Skyliner breakdown could land you in the bus queue.

Brooke Geiger McDonald

Hollywood Studios has become one of the most desirable parks to be near at Walt Disney World thanks to attractions like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the new Rise of the Resistance. There’s also Toy Story Land, which opened in 2018, and new ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens March 4, 2020.

Plus, over at Epcot, a huge multi-year transformation is underway with numerous new attractions in the works, including a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster, trackless ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and a Mary Poppins ride. In other words, the ability to hop on the Skyliner to get to these two parks makes Riviera’s positioning a lot more competitive than it might look on a map.

The Takeaway

Riviera is definitely a beautiful new addition to Walt Disney World’s deluxe resorts but it does come with a hefty price tag, with rates (or Disney Vacation Club points) typically pricing out just shy of the cost of Grand Floridian, consistently Disney World’s most expensive.

If the thought of a European getaway puts stars in your eyes, the theming more than gets the job done here and it does feel “Disney” thanks to the resort’s beautiful artwork. Guests looking for more heavily immersive, exotic theming may still choose to land at resorts like the Disney’s Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge or Animal Kingdom Lodge, but Riviera brings a laid-back yet sophisticated vibe that should appeal to both families and adults traveling sans kids.

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About the Author
Brooke McDonald
Brooke McDonald is theme park, travel and entertainment journalist with an emphasis on all things Disney and Star Wars. Her work has appeared in Insider, The Points Guy, Parents, TravelPulse, MSN, CNBC, Attractions Magazine and more.

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