by Disney Magic Diva
For months now, we’ve been hearing about all the construction that will be happening over the next year (or more!) at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Buildings are being demolished to make room for new shopping, restaurants, and even a gondola system which will connect the resort with parks. So what’s it like to be a guest at the resort right now? My husband and I just returned from a trip, and while it’s definitely not “business as usual” we found it to be more “Caribbean calm” than “construction craziness.”
We knew about the construction when we booked this trip. In fact, we purposely chose it because it’s long been on our bucket list to try, but the situation just was never right. When Disney offered a promotion (which ended in March) to receive a $75 gift card for each night you stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort, we thought it was finally time to give it a try!
Although we had checked-in online and requested to be texted our room number, we had not received our notification by the time we arrived at the resort. This trip was a little unusual for us in that we had our luggage with us, (no Magical Express delivery this time, unfortunately, for reasons completely of our own choosing) and we arrived before 10:00 am. Given the early arrival, I expected our room wouldn’t be ready yet, and was frankly pleasantly surprised when the cast member was able to tell us our room would be in Aruba, building 54. I was less than thrilled, however, to discover it was impossible to walk from the Custom House, where the lobby is located, to our room. This had nothing to do with construction, but rather just the way the resort is laid out. While I knew it was a large resort with multiple bus stops, I had not realized it was impossible to walk from the lobby to your room.
Except for arrival and departure day when we needed to catch the Magical Express, I suppose not being able to walk to the lobby is not a huge inconvenience. Unlike other moderates we’ve stayed at (Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Coronado Springs) the main dining area isn’t located within the same building as the lobby, so the need to visit the lobby area isn’t as important as the other resorts. Yet we found this arrangement to be an annoyance, and it would definitely be a factor in any decision for a future stay at Caribbean Beach Resort.
After checking our luggage with Bell Services, we decided to head to a park. Again, I knew Caribbean Beach Resort is one of those “huge” resorts with multiple bus stops. I didn’t fully appreciate, though, how much extra time it would take to use the internal shuttles. From Custom House we had to take an internal shuttle to a regular bus stop, and from there take the bus to the parks. Considering both the internal shuttles and the regular park busses stop at each island village, that’s a lot of bus stops!
Diva Tip: Having your own car at Caribbean Beach Resort would definitely have advantages. I have never seen so many people using Uber as I did on this trip. I have long been an advocate of the Disney bus service, but this trip convinced me that having a car can save time in certain instances.
As we rode the internal bus around the resort, we were able to get a feel for exactly how much the resort is changing. Prior to construction, the resort had six island villages – Martinique, Trinidad North, Trinidad South, Jamaica, Aruba, and Barbados. Dining, shopping, and the main pool are located in Centertown, which is between Martinique and Trinidad North. Now, Barbados is essentially gone! We got glimpses of buildings which had outer walls completely torn down, reminiscent of photos you see after earthquakes or bombings. There are gigantic piles of cement rubble and dirt, and numerous construction vehicles and machines. While Martinique is still functional, there is also some activity in that area. Construction barricades can be seen, and the walkway along the lake to Centertown is closed resulting in guests needing to walk a little further along a much less scenic pathway to get to Centertown.
Diva Tip: Given that the bulk of the construction activity seems to be located in Barbados and Martinique, I would suggest requesting a room in Aruba, Jamaica, or Trinidad North. The Pirate themed rooms in Trinidad South would also appear to be relatively safe from construction inconvenience, at least at the time we visited.
After a lovely day at the park, and still no text notification about our room, I called the front desk and was told our room was indeed ready. Apparently, the cast member told me, they had neglected to turn on the notification feature to let us know we could return. We made our way back, and were delighted to discover our room was a quick 1 minute walk from the Aruba bus stop. In fact, we could see busses arriving and departing from our window! I had requested a room close to transportation and on the ground floor, and both of these requests were honored. We also were happy to have a corner room, so we had an extra window.
This was the first time we had booked a room with just a king bed, and I was delighted with how much extra floor space was available compared to a room with two queens. I was also impressed with the refrigerator we had – it had a clear front door giving it a more upscale feel than any other room refrigerator we’ve ever had at a Disney resort. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the location of our room!
We were tired and hot, and in search of a cool drink. Due to renovations, Disney has created “grab and go” Island Markets in each island village of the resort. Essentially, this consists of a hotel room which has been refurbished into a quick market. You can find cereal, yogurt, bottled beverages, wraps, fruit, sandwiches, granola bars, a few snack items, and some frozen treats (thankfully Mickey Bars were there!). You could also pick up (or purchase) refillable drink mugs here. We were a little disappointed, though, not to see a drink refill station.
Thankfully our frowns quickly turned upside down when the cast member told us a Freestyle Coke machine was just around the corner in a small ice-vending room. Actually, “room” may be a little generous with this description. It was so small only one person at a time could be in the room, and a line would sometimes form in the hallway as patient guests waited their turn to fill their mugs. Probably “closet” would be more accurate. Overall, though, we were happy to have all the beverage options available with a Freestyle Coke machine, and it was less than a 2-minute walk from our room.
Although we didn’t get a chance to confirm if the Freestyle Coke machine was installed to help offset the pain of construction, we had that definite impression. Without these beverage stations or Island Markets we would have been forced to walk quite a distance over to Centertown to fill our mugs or grab a bite to eat.
Diva Tip: If you enjoy the variety of Freestyle Coke machines and can be satisfied with a limited choice of food items at the Island Market, the refurbishment period may be an ideal time to choose Caribbean Beach Resort. Your walk to refill your mug or grab a quick bite will be dramatically shorter than it was pre-construction.
With our thirst quenched, we decided to explore a little, and check out the surroundings in Aruba. Immediately to the north of the area (where Barbados is – or used to be) was a green mesh construction wall, beyond which you could see and hear construction equipment. It was mid-afternoon, so we were not surprised. Disney had advised us that construction noise may be heard during daylight hours, but kept to a minimum between dusk and 9:00 am. The noise we happened to hear that afternoon was not tremendous – no loud banging or pounding. Instead, it reminded me of an occasional roar or growl. I thought of my grandson, and knew he would think it sounded like one of his beloved dinosaur toys! It may have been enough to awaken a light sleeper in a building close to the wall, but other than that it was hardly noticeable.
We made our way to the pool. It’s important to note this was a satellite pool – the main pool, Fuentes del Morro, is located in the Centertown area between Martinique and Trinidad on the opposite side of Barefoot Bay. (More on that pool, later.) The Aruba pool was a typical hotel pool, nothing very remarkable or impressive. We had hoped to enjoy it given the hot, humid afternoons during our visit, but there were quite a few families at the resort attending a youth baseball tournament, and they were having a great time in the pool. It was nice to see those families having such fun, but a little loud for us to spend a relaxing afternoon.
The main pool, Fuentes del Morro, is fully functional and, when we visited, very popular! Designed to look like a Spanish fort, complete with water cannons and a pueblo style fortress, it was a beautiful and inviting location to spend an afternoon away from the parks. There was a white sand beach, tables and colorful umbrellas nearby if you preferred that to the actual pool. There are also dressing rooms available, so if you walk from your room you can wear your street clothes and change once you’re at the pool. More importantly, after enjoying a lovely swim, you can change into dry clothes and enjoy a meal at the food tent located nearby.
Caribbean Beach Resort’s food court area is in Centertown, at Old Port Royale. The table service restaurant, Shutters at Old Port Royale, is also located there. With the advent of this refurbishment, however, both of those restaurants are closed. A large white catering tent has been set up which offers an all-you-care-to-eat buffet for breakfast and dinner. (Both meals are a quick service credit on the Disney Dining plan!)
We didn’t get a chance to try the buffet, but we did get a peek inside the tent. It was colorful and comfortable – air conditioning and strings of lights gave it a festive feel. Likewise, the pool bar, Banana Cabana, is closed, but a temporary bar was located just outside the tent. Finally, the gift shop is gone, but a truck is set up just down the pathway from the pool with a few typical souvenirs. (I was able to purchase a Caribbean Beach Resort pin here to add to our collection!)
The cast members at Caribbean Beach Resort were all very accommodating and willing to help with any questions. They clearly are ready to help your vacation be the best it can be, despite the construction. One afternoon when we returned to our room, we experienced a little “pixie dust” when we found an insulated bag filled with bottled water, snacks, breakfast items, and milk on our table along with a note from the General Manager of the resort thanking us for staying with them during construction.
Overall, even with the construction, we were pleased with our stay at Caribbean Beach Resort. If you plan on spending a lot of time at the resort, or if you tend to rely on the resort for the bulk of your meals, you will probably want to look elsewhere. But if you use the resort simply to sleep and shower, with an occasional dip in the pool, Caribbean Beach Resort may be a good choice if the price is right. I certainly wouldn’t choose it over other moderate resorts unless there was a discount, but that has more to do with the necessity of internal busses than the construction inconvenience. While the noise did not severely impact our stay, the sight of completely demolished buildings, huge piles of cement rubble, large construction equipment, construction walls, etc. certainly take away from the feeling of the “Disney Bubble” you typically have while staying at a Disney resort. Although Caribbean Beach probably won’t rank as our favorite moderate, we’d definitely consider a future stay once construction is complete to enjoy the reimagined enhancements.
Are you ready to book your stay at Caribbean Beach or any other Disney resort? Leslie at Pixie Vacations can make all the arrangements for you, and her services are FREE! Why not get in touch with her today, and begin planning your next trip to Walt Disney World Resort? You can leave your hardhat at home.
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