Before our stay for the purpose of a Disney’s Grand Floridian review, I admit to harboring high expectations. I imagine this is typical; after all, the Grand Floridian is Walt Disney World’s flagship resort. The moment we stepped off the Disney Magical Express bus into the generously appointed porte-cochère and were greeted by no fewer than three cast members, however, I knew we were in for a memorable stay.
Excellent service can (and should) be expected at all Disney resorts, of course, from deluxe to value, but for the room rate at the Grand Floridian, it’s natural to look for that little something extra. I’m happy to say we found it during our three day stay…again and again throughout the property. First off, there’s the attention to detail to the property itself. High quality storytelling and immersion is the Disney standard, but it’s on overdrive at the Grand Floridian. Every aspect of the buildings and grounds echo back to the golden era of the Florida beach holiday, from the immaculate white buildings to the meandering walkways and the water views in many directions.
The lobby is visually stunning; the moment we walked in, we simply had to look up. The eye just goes north, up story after story to elegant chandeliers and inside balconies. The entire main building is light and airy, filled with furniture to match the Victorian charm of the architecture. There’s a grand staircase leading to the second floor shops and Monorail station (more on that in a moment) and countless verandahs and benches where guests can settle in and take in the passing activity.
We were given a third-floor room in Building 5, Sago Cay. With a Seven Seas Lagoon view looking directly to Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, we loved this location. We were only one building away from the quick-service food offerings at Gasparilla Grill, and were steps from the marina, where guests have a perfect view of Wishes (fireworks show). We were located on the far side of Sago Cay, toward the maintenance area and the convention center, so we did notice some noise in the mornings, and we did not have a view of the Magic Kingdom castle. If this is important to you, a room on the water-side of Sago Cay would likely fit the bill. Each building in the Grand Floridian has its own smaller lobby, complete with comfortable seating, and each is small enough that there’s never a long shag to the room.
Our room included two queen beds, plus a couch/day bed that could be used by a small child. The room was larger than most by Disney resort standards, and included a balcony with table and chairs. There is room service available at the Grand Floridian, and cuisinart coffee makers in every room. There are also hair dryers, of course, complimentary wifi, and robes. What we did not have: a mini fridge.
A noticeable omission: as we covered, the Grand Floridian sports luxury hotel room rates, but there were a few omissions from their service that we’d never see in other luxury properties. Firstly, we were not asked if we’d like a bellman to assist us with our luggage. Did we need one? No, but the service should be offered to all guests. Secondly, doors were not held open, and at times, landscaping and maintenance work presided over guest areas during day time hours. Again, did we mind? No, not particularly, but we’re easy to please. It’s worth noting as this is a departure from top level luxury service elsewhere.
Grand Floridian pools, activities, and recreation:
The Grand Floridian boasts two large pools, the Courtyard Pool and the Beach Pool, plus a water play area with climbing areas and slides. There is also a beach area (for sand play only; no swimming), but at the time of our visit in 2013, the beach was closed due to the construction of the Grand Floridian Villas. The Courtyard pool includes beach-entry (gradual), with wading depth for most of the pool. There’s also a hot tub and poolside snacks and drinks. At the Beach Pool, kids will find a quite ambitious water slide (for resort hotels), plus a full bar and quick service dining venue. There are also cabanas for rent.
If you’re feeling very adventurous, the marina offers a variety of personalized watercraft rentals, and the generously staffed concierge staff can assist you with any other dining reservations, golf tee times, or spa treatments. (The Grand Floridian is currently the only Disney resort with an on-site spa, though at the time of this writing, another is under construction at Sarasoga Springs Resort.) Side note (because it seems to be but an afterthought for Disney, too): a small video game arcade is located at the back of Gasparilla’s.
In addition to the character dining experiences available at the Grand Floridian’s 1900 Park Faire, the Grand Floridian hosts an afternoon tea for children with Alice in Wonderland and a Pirate Adventure from the Marina. These activities are open to any WDW guest, but are highly convenient to Grand Floridian guests. There is also a full brass band that plays live in the evenings, and poolside games and entertainment in the afternoons. On select nights, outdoor Disney movie events are held on the Courtyard lawn.
Theme park transportation:
One of the best aspects of a Grand Floridian stay is the ease of Disney transportation options to and from the parks. Transportation to and from the Magic Kingdom is so convenient, in fact, that you never feel as though you’ve left the ‘magic’ at all. To the park, you simply take the Monorail from the second story of the main building directly to the park, a five-minute commute. Back to the Grand Floridian, you take the boat: the dock is located directly across from the theme park exit, and boats come every 15-20 minutes. The boat ride takes no more than 10 minutes, and is fun for kids and relaxing for parents. During our stay at the Grand Floridian, we also took the Monorail easily to dining options at the Contemporary and the Polynesian. We also took it to Epcot, but this does require a transfer, adding to the commute. Still, it was quicker than bus service, and more fun. For bus service to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, water parks, and Downtown Disney, the Grand Floridian is the final resort stop (of three), making it a direct commute. (However, on the return, you can expect to stop at the Contemporary and Polynesian before arriving at the Grand Floridian.)
Dining at Grand Floridian:
The Grand Floridian is home to some of Walt Disney World’s finest dining, including Victoria and Albert’s, Citricos, and and Narcoossee’s. Did we eat at any of the above? No, though had we time for a parents’ night out, babysitting is available at the Grand Floridian. Instead, we focused on the quick service venues, which were less crowded than their counterparts in moderate and value Disney resorts. We loved the poolside service, and the Grand Floridian Cafe, which offers relaxing table-service meals in a kid-friendly environment. (Breakfast is especially great here.) The aforementioned character dining experiences at 1900 Park Fare will appeal most to little princesses and those hoping to see Alice’s gang at the Wonderland Tea Party or Mary Poppins at the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast. At night, 1900 Park Fare turns into Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner.
Throughout our stay, we felt relaxed, happy, and well-immersed in the famous Disney magic. Is is possible to feel this way at less expensive Disney on-site resorts? Yes…if you don’t think so, you’re doing it wrong. However, with the constant views of the lagoon and passing Monorail, the glimpses of the castle as you round a bend, and the cheerful greetings at every turn, you’d have a hard time not feeling the love.
At the time of our visit (mid-April), room rates began at approximately $600 per night. During ‘value’ season, you can find them for less. Like at all Disney resorts, room rates include Disney transportation (including Magical Express transport from the airport), extra and early magic hours, and the option of the Disney Dining Plan add-on.
Is it worth it?
I hear this question more often than any other when it comes to Disney–or any–luxury resorts. Of course, whether a particular resort is ‘worth it’ to you will depend on your personal tastes, budget, and expectations. That said, having reviewed many luxury and not-so-luxury resorts for kids, here are our opinions on circumstances in which the Grand Floridian may be worth the splurge:
1. If you have small children or babies, and plan to spend the majority of your time at Magic Kingdom. The beauty of the Monorail system (to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and three deluxe resorts) is that babies and toddlers do not have to be taken out of strollers. No need to fold it up as you would on the bus: simply roll it in and out, letting sleeping children sleep. This in itself, but especially combined with the very fast commute to the Magic Kingdom, makes the Grand Floridian a prime resort for the younger set.
2. If you have kids of any age and ease of Disney transportation is a high priority to you. There’s nothing more tiring at the end of a long theme park day than trudging along winding paths to your bus stop or room, or enduring long bus commutes. You’ll experience considerable less of this at Grand Floridian. As mentioned above, it’s the last bus stop en route to parks, and the option of the Monorail and boat are highly convenient. Also of note: the property is not nearly as spread out as some Disney resorts in the moderate and value categories. What does this mean? You won’t be walking half a mile to your room from the bus stop. We were a one minute walk to and from the bus stop at Grand Floridian, in Building 5.
3. If you plan to spend significant time in your resort (as opposed to spending every waking moment in the parks).
Let’s face it: if you pay for the ambiance and comfort of the Grand Floridian, you want to spend some time enjoying it. If you’re the type of family who likes to spend all day (and into the night) at the theme parks, your vacation dollars might be better spent elsewhere. However, if you want a slower-paced Disney experience, you would do well to stay at the Grand Floridian and take afternoons off pool-side or get late starts after leisurely breakfasts by the marina.
As I disclose whenever applicable, I stayed at the Grand Floridian as a guest of Disney for the purpose of review.