It’s been a few weeks since Disney’s Riviera Resort opened, so I thought I would share my thoughts on the resort.
On occasion, I like to put a little distance between me and a review. This is especially true with things like the grand opening of a hotel. You can get caught up in the excitement and anticipation, and as is the case with most fanboys, I can let that cloud my judgment. I find it’s usually a good idea to wait, process and see how I feel once the glow wears off.
First and foremost, it must be said that this might just be the strongest launch of a hotel in the 20+ years that I’ve been covering Walt Disney World. The guest experience (from my perspective) on opening day was about as seamless as it could have been. I’ve commented several times that on opening day it felt as though the hotel had already been open for a few years. This is a testament to the resorts General Manager (Thea Sargent) and her team.
Check-in – The check-in experience at Riviera is a little different. Rather than queuing up at the front desk, a cast member will greet you, direct you to a comfortable seating area, and check you in via their tablet. Disney had started doing this at Grand Destino Tower, and I expect we’ll see more of it resort-wide as time goes on. It’s a small thing, but one with a big impact. It felt very personal and welcoming. A great way to start a vacation.
Room – While some have described the rooms at Riviera as ‘sterile’, for the life of me, I don’t know what they’re talking about. I found the rooms to be exquisitely appointed, bright without being obnoxious, with a wonderful blend of blues, creams and dark woods that really evoked a casual elegance. It felt distinctly ‘french’ and I thought it carried the theme of the resort brilliantly.
Topolino’s – Topolino’s restaurant may end up being the sleeper hit of Riviera. Serving an a la carte character breakfast and table service dinner (no characters at dinner), the food here was widely praised by our team. This was especially true of dinner, where many on the team gave it favorable comparisons to Citricos. One thing to keep in mind with dinner: They are going for an authentic Italian experience, which means multiple courses spread out over the course of a few hours. If you’re looking for a quick bite for dinner, this is not the restaurant.
Artwork – Many people have commented on the artwork at Riviera and for good reason. The resort is FULL of unique and interesting Disney artwork, much of which is done in the style of famous French artists. You could spend hours just walking the resort admiring the art. I should point out, I’m the furthest thing from an ‘art enthusiast’ that you’ll find. My version of an art critique is akin to “picture pretty”. It’s the unique take on great Disney icons and themes that captured my attention. There is rarely any artwork in Disney resorts that I would consider hanging in my house. This resort is an exception. The good news – much of it is available at the Art-On-Demand kiosk in the store!
Merchandise – I really liked the merchandise on offer at Riviera. LOTS of great (and unique) logo merchandise available. The quality was particularly good as well (although that’s often reflected in the price). The store itself is on the small side, but it’s jam-packed with great stuff to discover.
Cast Members – Cast Members at Riviera were handpicked and it showed. It honestly seemed as though everyone had been working there for years. In my opinion, the choice of a seasoned, experienced staff paid off huge dividends for this resort and the positive word of mouth the service has been getting.
More for adults – I realize I’m taking my life in my hands by writing this, but it’s important to mention. While this may be a big negative for many, for me it’s a positive. This resort is geared more towards adults than any of the other Disney resorts at WDW. It’s not that it’s “family hostile”, but I felt that the resort caters more towards adults in terms of its theme and its amenities.
Quick Service – According to our team, and virtually everyone we spoke to, the quick-service food at the resort was a disappointment. This stands in stark contrast to the superb food being served at Topolino’s. Not sure what happened here, but Riviera needs to revisit quick service. A number of people (including at least one member of our team) decided to walk over to Caribbean Beach the next day for their quick service rather than eat Primo Piatto again.
Beds falling out of the wall – Anyone who was following on Facebook is aware of the issue that took place in one guest room. The 1 bedroom units at Riviera feature a king bed in the master bedroom, a murphy bed and a trundle bed in the living room. The trundle beds are usually located under the TV and are generally designed for small children to sleep on. That being said, there is nothing to indicate that an adult could not sleep on that trundle bed. Such was the story here – where an older woman slept on the trundle bed – that is until it pulled out of the wall and collapsed on top of her. Fortunately, she was not seriously injured and the next day Riviera notified all guests not to use the trundle bed as repairs were underway. However, it was a bit of an embarrassing story for the resort.
Muddled theme – I’m not sure how to classify this. I think the Riviera Resort is gorgeous, however, I got confused. When I think of the Riviera, I think of the south of France. Yes, portions of Italy are also located along the Riviera, but that’s not what really comes to mind for me (and yes, I’ve sailed the Riviera on more than one occasion). So, it was a bit disconcerting to see the vast majority of the resort as ‘french themed’, while certain select portions were Italian. I realize this sounds petty, but – it’s part of a trend I see getting worse with Disney. There was a time where the theme and story were everything. With resorts, the themes were broad and easy to grasp. Grand Floridian: turn of the century Victorian seaside resort. Polynesian, Contemporary, Fort Wilderness – you get the idea. Quick, easy themes to grasp without many nuances. Riviera requires a bit more from you, “French unless it’s not”. Even the servers in Topolino’s (an Italian restaurant) were confused, greeting guests in French, not Italian.
If it was just this, I probably wouldn’t mention it, but there’s another issue. Remember the concept of ‘line of sight’ theming? If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, it was an important part of the development process within Disney for many years. It means that your experience is fully immersive and that you shouldn’t see things that don’t belong there. It’s why you can see the Contemporary from Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, but not the Grand Floridian. The Contemporary fits in with Tomorrowland’s theme. You should not be able to see anything that disrupts the theme of the area you are in. There has been a slow move away from this over the year, but Riviera Resort firmly kills the concept of ‘line of sight’. Why? Because I can stand on my balcony at a Riviera themed resort and stare directly into Barbados. Riviera is built a stone’s throw from the Caribbean Beach resort. I’m sorry, but even the suspension of disbelief precludes any reasonable person from explaining the logic behind this. The same applies to guests staying at the Caribbean Beach – why are they staring at a gray tower that purports to be from the south of France – or Italy – or maybe Malta, I don’t know. Am I being picky, yes – will it stop me from staying at Riviera again, of course not. It just embodies some of the unfortunate changes Imagineering has chosen to embrace over the last few years.
Overall, I really liked the Riviera Resort – but not enough to overlook the unfortunate and ill-advised resale restrictions. This is, in my opinion, the first WDW DVC resort to stand on its own as a deluxe property, and that’s saying something. Will I stay there again? Absolutely, in fact, I look forward to it. Would I recommend this to people? Yes, however, I would advise families to consider it carefully. As I mentioned earlier, this resort seems more geared toward adults.