Monday, September 26, 2011

(Go to the Mardi Gras: Port Orleans French Quarter)

The second of two sister resorts inspired by New Orleans, Port Orleans French Quarter is without a doubt one of the best options in Walt Disney World's moderate price range. Opened on May 17, 1991 as Port Orleans Resort, it was not yet a partner with Port Orleans Riverside (then Dixie Landings). While they have since joined to make two parts of a whole Port Orleans, each resort is quite unique. With over 1,000 guest rooms, French Quarter has a lot to offer its guests.

From the moment you walk into the lobby, you are immediately hit with the luscious sounds of New Orleans jazz. I'm quite sure that our check-in would have gone smoothly, but in our excitement, we left North Carolina much too early and arrived in Orlando at about 430am. I certainly wouldn't recommend attempting to check in at that time - needless to say, we were SOL for the moment! So, after a 2-hour nap in the car, we again attempted the check-in process. We were bleary-eyed and totally groggy, so I don't remember much, to be honest. I think the cast member who checked us in thought that there was something wrong with us. In any case, we got all set up and moved on to some breakfast.

At breakfast - it was a bit early for pictures!

As silly as it sounds, I really do recommend arriving to your Disney resort in the early morning hours, especially if you're driving. You're exhausted yes, but there's something very magical about that hour. The grounds are quiet and peaceful, the grass is covered in dew and the weather is cool. There's next to no one in the cafeterias, and it's truly a great time to wander around and familiarize yourself with where you are going to be staying. Plus, you have an entire day to enjoy the parks or go mini golfing (a tradition for us), or whatever you want to do. It definitely maximizes your vacation time. Anywho, end of tangent - on to breakfast. Port Orleans French Quarter really only has the one option for dining, and that is the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory. French Quarter's sister resort, Port Orleans Riverside, has a full-service restaurant that does serve breakfast, so if you're interested, you could take the hike (or ride) over there. It's less than 10 minutes from door to door at either resort - a pleasant walk.

You can pretty much expect the same from Sassagoula as you can from the other moderate resort cafeterias, and for that matter, the value resorts as well. The breakfast is great - it has sort of become a tradition for me to grab a cheese danish on the first morning of our vacation. You can also expect to find a great variety of hot breakfast options such as french toast, pancakes, and Mickey waffles. There are also great cinnamon buns and delicious beignets - but more on those later.

Sassagoula Floatworks has a fun atmosphere. Everything that you think of when you think Mardi Gras is hanging from the ceiling of the dining room. Trumpets, crowns, beads and much more, all set in what resembles a warehouse.

While French Quarter does not have a table service restaurant, they do have a pretty great bar. Scat Cat's Lounge offers alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in a relaxed atmosphere until 12:30am daily. We were fortunate to catch an entertaining one-man band outside of the bar one evening. He definitely seemed to favor Neil Diamond, and his version of Sweet Caroline had the crowd going crazy! We really enjoyed watching him - I hope that he still works there (he told us he splits his time between FQ and Universal Studios!)

The grounds of Port Orleans French Quarter are gorgeous. Flowers are abundant, as are the water fountains. It's really a great place to just wander around and enjoy the surroundings. You can also catch a carriage ride from Port Orleans Riverside. I have not done this personally, but I imagine that there is no better way than to really participate in your surroundings and take it all in.

There is one pool at Port Orleans French Quarter, and it's a good one! Scales, the huge dragon slide ridden by King Neptune, will certainly tempt you into taking a ride. My personal favorite are the members of the Alligator Band, which can be found all around Doubloon Lagoon. Watch out though, their instruments shoot water!

Since both Port Orleans resorts are located in the Downtown Disney area, they offer access by boat to the shopping district. One of my favorite elements of our stays at both of the resorts was the boat ride to Downtown Disney. The scenery is great, and it's another way to get a tour of your surroundings. The boat ride is leisurely and relaxing...and probably a bit slower than the bus (a boat arrives only every 20 minutes). If you're in a hurry, maybe this isn't the best option. Note though that French Quarter does share a bus with Riverside, which can be a hassle during the busy seasons. Riverside has 4, count 'em f-o-u-r bus stops, so overcrowding is inevitable. Our stay was in early May, and we really didn't experience any bus issues; certainly not like we did at another moderate resort that won't be named. Cough Caribbean Beach cough...

Powder face! The beignets are scrumptious! 

Now, on to those man-catching beignets (as they say in my beloved Princess & the Frog). I have not yet had the privilege of visiting the real New Orleans (but mark my words I'll get there!) so I have no real basis for comparison of Disney's beignets to those of the Big Easy. I do, however think that Disney's are quite tasty! Don't think that you're just going to mosey on up and get some though, unless you're one of those people who always seem to get lucky. There's almost definitely a line, and if there's no line, there's still a wait. These guys are made fresh and it's a good thing too! You can get three beignets for about $3, and they're served oh-so-warm with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. We had to wait about 15 minutes once we placed our order, but it was worth the wait. We brought the sweets back to our room (and I'm glad we did, because we both had mad cases of powder face when we were through) and chowed down. One of the biggest complaints that I have heard about Disney's beignets are that they tend to be on the heavy side, rather than the light and airy version that is supposedly found in New Orleans. J shared this sentiment, and said that while he found them to taste good (doesn't anything fried and covered in powdered sugar?) he wished they were a bit lighter.

Our rooms were clean, comfortable, and everything that you expect from a Disney resort. The sizes are comparable to the other three moderate resorts as well as those at the value resorts. There are three options for your rooms; Standard View, Garden View and Water View. Of course, all vary in price. We had just a standard view room, and were in building two. There are two floors in each building, and this is one of the few places where you actually want to be on the bottom floor. There are no elevators in the buildings, and carrying all that luggage up the stairs can be quite tiring! French Quarter is a decent sized resort, but not so big that any building is better than the other. We had a very short walk to the main building and the bus stop, and we were as happy as clams in a pot of New Orlean's jambalaya.

photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Ready for the best part? In March of 2012, 512 guest rooms at French Quarter will be converted into Royal Guest Rooms, inspired by one of my favorite Disney animated films, the Princess & the Frog! It's a perfect fit, and I'm excited to see the final result! Reservations are now being taken for a stay in one of these rooms. If you're a lucky guest, tell me all about it!

So....would I recommend a stay at Port Orleans French Quarter?

Yes! Si! Ja! Oui! Sea! Da!

Ok, those are all of the languages that I know how to say the affirmative. Port Orleans French Quarter is a great place for families travelling with or without children. There's plenty for the kids to do - they'll love the waterslide - and romance is definitely in the air for couples travelling without kids. The flowers are fragrant, the jazz is hot, and the bar is hopping! You can bet your beignet that you're going to have a great time at this resort.

Before I go, take a look at this video created by the amazing folks over at AllEars. It's a good tour through the resort, and features some fantastic music (Dr. John does Disney proud!)

Happy Vacationing!

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