My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Disney's Grand Floridianby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
I'm finishing up this article on the first official day of spring and I've got mixed feelings. Sure, the flowers are starting to pop up. The sun is setting later and later, so I'm enjoying the longer days and the warming temperatures. That can't be a bad thing, right? Maybe so, but as a lifelong skier, I'm always sad to see the winter go. We had barely any measurable snow here on Long Island and the nearby mountains were a little better, but not much. This was a terrible year for skiing for sure. But it's certainly been an amazing year for me and Disney. With my boys working down there in the college program, I've been able to squeeze in some weekend visits here and there. Since the first one moved in back in August, I've definitely been getting my fill of magic. We're headed back down to see them again soon, and although the visits have been brief, no week-long trips, mostly just weekends, I'll take what I can get.
One of the perks of being a cast member is getting some tasty discounts. I know they've been doing their Disney collector dad proud and shopping for collectibles and Walt Disney World merchandise while they're there. Some might label me a hypocrite, but I have actually been warning them to curb their shopping while they're there. I can't have them going broke now, can I? They'll just be asking me for more money, so it's kind of a losing scenario. They go broke. I go broke as well, but they get all the cool stuff! The one discount that has really been great is the break that they get on Disney resort hotel rooms. They've managed to get a few days off here and there and when they have, we've scheduled a visit. So far, my wife and I have stayed with them at our beloved Yacht Club, a couple of nights next door at the Beach Club, which was a first for all of us, and two nights at the resort I'm going to talk about today, Disney's Grand Floridian.
Over the past 20 years that we have been a loyal Walt Disney World family, we've stayed at a bunch of the Disney resorts. We started off Moderate at the Caribbean Beach and then developed strong personal attachments to both Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter. Back in 2010 and 2011, we scored back-to-back 40% off room only discounts at the Polynesian and fell in love with that Seven Seas Lagoon classic. Then we gave the Yacht Club a try and, for us, we had found our place. I've waxed poetically about our affinity for this deluxe beauty on the shores of Crescent Lake many, many times here on MousePlanet and I can't wait to get back there again soon. It's got a special place in all of our hearts and collective Disney consciousness.
There's one resort, however, that I have always sort of avoided and that's the Walt Disney World flagship hotel, the Grand Floridian. Early on, during one of our family trips, we booked a reservation at 1900 Park Fare to have dinner with Cinderella, the mice, Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother. We had a wonderful time with our then 5-year-old meeting some of her favorite characters and I thought the food was quite good. Afterwards, we spent a good chunk of time wandering around the resort and its grounds. Both my wife and I came away with the same thought: beautiful, for sure, but we really had no interest in staying there. Once again, I couldn't overlook how beautiful the place was, but to be perfectly honest I thought it was a little cold, maybe a little sterile, and overall I didn't feel like we belonged there. That feeling stayed with me over the years as we continued to dine at the resort. We returned to breakfast at 1900. We've eaten at the always wonderful and fairly easy to get into Grand Floridian Cafe and always enjoyed it. The shrimp and grits is to die for. To top that off, my wife and I had a truly delectable meal at Citricos on our grown-ups only weekend a while back. If you can get the reservation and don't mind a little splurge, Citricos is a terrific option. That said, each time the sentiment was happy to visit, but even happier to return to "our" home away from home resorts like the Poly, the Yacht Club and even Riverside. We just felt more at home at a place like Port Orleans than we did at the Grand Floridian.
So when my son was searching for a room for us to all have one of these previously mentioned visits for two nights this past January, I was intrigued when he said that the Grand Floridian had openings. Was it cheap? No. Was it a good deal, considering what a room here usually costs? Yeah, pretty much. So yes, poor me, I was going to slum it over at one of Disney's most luxurious resorts for a weekend. And how did I feel when all was said and done? In certain aspects, pretty good. In other aspects, pretty much the same as I had imagined. Let me explain with my Top 5 things to love about Disney's Grand Floridian.
5 - Huge Rooms
I can't really complain about the amount of space we've had at places like the Yacht Club, BoardWalk Inn and Polynesian. Those rooms all offered plenty of extra space, especially when you compare it to the moderates like Port Orleans. Then I stepped into our room at the Grand Floridian. It's huge. They are the largest standard rooms on property, clocking in at 440 square feet. For comparison, Disney's Value resorts are all 260. Moderates are 314. Places like Yacht and Beach are around 375. The industry standard from what I've read is about 330 square feet. So yes, the Grand Floridian rooms are substantially larger. And it wasn't just the overall size that made all the difference.
Sunset behind the Grand Floridian. A sprawling resort deserves sprawling rooms, the largest standard rooms on property. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The utilization of the space was very impressive. We were lucky enough to have one of the most recently refurbished rooms at the resort. Granted, this was my first time there, so I have no comparison, but we found some of the storage spaces to be downright cavernous. The four of us had more than enough space in that room and I'm quite sure if our daughter was able to join us and bunk on the more than adequately sized daybed, we'd have plenty of room for five. Add a sizable balcony into the mix and you've got plenty of living space to relax in.
4 - The Sounds From the Hot Tub
This is one of the stranger Top 5 entries I've ever written. The morning that we were checking out, I had some free time before we had to leave and I made sure to check out the whirlpool spa over at the Courtyard Pool. Now, once you've stayed at the Yacht and Beach Club, you are forever spoiled by their incredible pool complex, Stormalong Bay. It's the best pool anywhere. The Grand Floridian pools are nice, but don't even come close to Stormalong Bay, the Volcano Pool over at the Polynesian or the beautifully themed Copper Creek Springs Pool at the Wilderness Lodge. I'd even say that the Fuentes del Morro Pool at Caribbean Bach is more interesting with its Spanish style forts and freeform design. But I digress. I'm a bit of a hot tub junkie and a dip in the tub is always on my to do list no matter what hotel I'm staying in. That morning it was a particularly brisk 49 degrees in sunny Florida so the hot tub was a must.
The main pool at the Grand Floridian is located directly behind the main building and the whirlpool spa is right about where this photos was taken from. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
As I'm sitting there soaking my cares away, I hear the unmistakable sound of the Walt Disney World railroad's whistle blowing. It sounded like it was right at the Grand Floridian and, for all intents and purposes, it kind of is. When you're on that side of the resort, you are extremely close to the Magic Kingdom. Siting there relaxing in the cool morning air, in the 102 degree water and hearing the locomotive's whistle going off in the background was just one of the cooler and more unique Disneyesque things I've ever done down there.
The Walt Disney World Railroad can be heard clear as a bell from the Grand Floridian Concourse Pool. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
I don't think the average guest would care and even my wife sort of gave me the, "Wow, you really are a total Disney geek," look when I told her how much I enjoyed that moment. But I'll stand by it and I'd venture to guess that this is the only place on Disney property where you can experience that subtle moment and that's why it makes the list.
3 - The Walk Around the Seven Seas Lagoon
OK, so you can't walk all the way around the Seven Seas Lagoon. Not entirely. All things considered, it's a pretty huge body of water and a walk all the way around would be quite the hike. Since the addition of the bridge over the Magic Kingdom backstage canal, you can walk from the Transportation and Ticket Center, through the Polynesian, through the Grand Floridian, over to the Magic Kingdom and continue on to the Contemporary.
The jogging path between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian makes its way along the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon. Photo by Donald Fink.
In total, it's about a three-mile walk and it's all completely worth it. The night I arrived at the Grand Floridian, I had no park tickets. My wife met my sons there the day before and because of my work schedule, I had to arrive the next night. I was pretty wired for some reason and when my wife and sons were calling it a day in the room, I set out to make sure I made that walk over to the Magic Kingdom. The path is beautiful and offers some fantastic natural views as well as views of the hotels and the monorail. I highly recommend the stroll, even if you aren't going into the park. Once I made it over there, I decided instead of walking back, I would hop the ferry over to the Transportation Center and then complete my walk by cutting through the Polynesian on my way back home to my room. If you like to walk, this is one of the better opportunities to get your steps in on property.
2 - The Boats
I grew up here on Long Island, which – given its name – is completely surrounded by water. My whole life I was either in, on or under the waves of the Long Island Sound or the Atlantic Ocean. When I go away on vacation I still like to be around the water as much as possible. So why do I enjoy spending so much time at Walt Disney World in landlocked Central Florida? One of the things that impressed me so much on that first trip with my wife and daughter way back when is just how much water there is throughout the grounds of Disney World.
Boat service goes from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian, to the Magic Kingdom, and back again, and this particular vessel is my favorite. Photo by Bonnie Fink.
Indeed, it was Bay Lake itself that Walt famously spotted from the plane and instantly said that that's where they should build his dream resort. I grew up on boats and when I'm at Disney traveling back and forth on the watercraft that ply the waters of Bay Lake, Seven Seas Lagoon, Crescent Lake and even the Sassagoula River is hands down one of my favorite things to do. It makes me feel at home. I'll always opt for water travel whenever possible and the Grand Floridian offers some classic water transportation. I love to ride on them, but I could just sit somewhere and watch them head back and forth on their routes as well.
1 - A Balcony Overlooking Seven Seas Lagoon
As I mentioned above, my wife and sons checked in the day before me and one of the first texts I got from them was, "Wait until you see the balcony!" When I called my wife, it was all she could talk about. "Just wait…I could sit here on this balcony all day and night and be happy!" were her exact words. When you first make the upgrade to a Disney Deluxe resort from the Moderates or Values, one of the things you didn't know you desperately needed was a balcony. Trust me. The balcony is key. Once you have one, you'll always want one. Sitting outside with my breakfast at the Yacht Club watching the resort "wake up" is always one of my favorite moments of the trip. Coming back to the resort after a long day of storming the parks, putting the kids to bed and opening up a bottle of wine as we adjourn to the balcony was practically ritual once we started staying Deluxe. so, when I finally arrived at the Grand Floridian and walked out to our view off of our newest Walt Disney World balcony, I knew just what my wife was talking about.
The view from my Grand Floridian balcony was consistently breathtaking. Photo by Chris Barry.
The Magic Kingdom was to my left. I could see Space Mountain, Tron and Cinderella Castle. The Contemporary was straight across. The Polynesian to my right. The boats were all making their way back and forth across the lagoon. There was wildlife. There were waves lapping on the shore below. I could watch the monorail gliding around its path and listen to the railroad blow its whistle. She was right, I could have just stayed there all day and night and I would have been just fine. Granted, not every room has that view. Indeed, many of the Grand Floridian rooms look at onto other buildings or courtyards. But, if you're fortunate enough to get a room with a balcony overlooking the lagoon, I imagine you'll know just what I'm talking about. It's an attraction all unto itself.
So did I enjoy myself at The Grand Floridian? Yes. I certainly did. Would I stay again? That all depends. If I am staying in a nicely discounted room, then the answer is "Sure, why not?" If not, then to be perfectly honest, I would take my hard-earned money and spend it over at my beloved Yacht Club. Despite really enjoying myself at this grand resort, I still didn't feel at home there, not like I do over in Crescent Lake. Listen, it's hard to beat the location, the monorail, the boats, great restaurants, fireworks over the lagoon and that breathtaking view from some of the balconies. When all is said and done, I'm glad we stayed there. It's beautiful. But in the end, I'll be fine if we don't stay there again. That's just my opinion. I'm quite sure most of you out there would love the place. And more power to you. I won't stand in your way. Take my spot and I'll head over to Crescent Lake, pour a glass of wine and sit on my Yacht Club balcony overlooking the BoardWalk any day.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, share your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
We’ve only stayed in 2 Magic Kingdom area resorts (Polynesian Village and Wilderness Lodge), but we’ve dined at the table service restaurants at all 4 hotels. (Except for Victoria and Albert’s which isn’t our jam.) We mostly stay in the Epcot Resorts area because we’re big fans of the restaurants and lounges around Crescent Lake. Enjoyed reading your Grand Floridian Top 5.
Our family has stayed at the Grand Floridian twice. We love it. Our budget does not especially nowadays. When we win the lottery the first thing we are going to do is spend a month at the GF. Just chill for a month, not answer the phone, just relax and enjoy. We believe the GF truly is the flagship resort at WDW and we love it. A bubble within the bubble. We are moderate people and truly enjoy that bubble but everything about GF is incredible.
5. Proximity to Magic Kingdom. We have never walked there because we didn't know about that option but we will. No Transportation and Ticket Center. Disney needs to fix that....
4. The cleanliness. It seems to be even cleaner and tidier than the extra cleanliness of WDW in general.
3. The staff. I think if you work at the GF you have to be even more Disneyesque than the average Disney employee. We uppity folks demand the best.
2. The food, all the different options are excellent and Citricos rivals the California Grill for best restaurant on property.
1. The vibe, the whole vibe, the architecture, the pathways, the vibe. It's all about the vibe.
Thank you for doing a Top 5 I can relate too.
Chuck, I loved your post. But can I just say, please no offense intended, that I never would have guessed you to be the Grand Floridian type, much less that it would be your favorite resort. Ya learn something every day!😉
We’ve only been to Cítricos once, and that was before the Mary Poppins Returns retheming, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.
It's the American in me, striving to be better, to enjoy the finer things in life.... Of course you know what we think now. You and I are on the same page kid.
Dave1313, your thoughts on this?
Thanks for the comments. Sorry I haven’t been replying as much lately. I will make sure I get back to doing so. I do deeply appreciate my loyal readers.
Next up, I think I’ll do the Contemporary…
We understand, its only Chuck and the carolinakid. We are different....
Better late than never for me to catch up, I guess ? Was quite busy the end of last week and over the weekend, so only catching up a bit now.
I guess I have a few thoughts on various aspects Chris brought up, though I have never stayed at the GF. It's not so much that anything about it specifically turns me away, just that for the very high cost of staying there, I can't see the expense (when compared to other Deluxe) being worth it for me. While I won't go so far as to suggest it makes me feel unwelcome or like I don't belong, it is clearly the flagship for more formal events and visits such as actually hosting weddings, many people visiting on their honeymoon, etc. (I'd assume that is also a large part of why it is generally a higher cost than even other Deluxe resorts)
If I'm going Deluxe, I would more likely stay at AKL, Wilderness Lodge, or something around Crescent Lake. I do enjoy visiting the resort, and the lobby decorations at Christmas are phenomenal (particularly the large gingerbread house)! Didn't know the rooms were huge, that's something to file in the memory banks for maybe being useful in the future.
I have had dinner at Narcoossee's I think 3 times and breakfast at the GF Cafe once, and liked them (liked Narcoossee's a lot, so I'm hoping it isn't changing too much with the renovation). Citrico's, as much as I know it has a great reputation, the once or twice I reviewed the menu on line, there wasn't really anything screaming out to me "Dave, you must eat here!" . It's also sometimes can be hard to get an ADR there, I think, so I never prioritized giving it too much effort.
The below may not really be applicable directly to Chris' Top 5, but things that I consider similar in nature. Forgive the slight deviation from main topic...
So #4, while I'm not a hot tub or pool person, I can sort of relate to what I considered a similar calming " very cool" experience. Oddly, this experience happened when I was at Wilderness Lodge while it was actually under construction(2017, I think), which as we know can generally not make it a more serene experience in general. Due to the construction at the time, the normal quick serve location (Roaring Fork, IIRC) was closed while being renovated. As an alternate, they were serving quick service breakfast at Geyser Point Bar and Grill right on Bay Lake. Starting each day with a simple breakfast and enjoying it while looking out over Bay Lake was a pretty darn good way to kick off each day of that vacation. I'm not sure I can say I ever heard a WDW RR whistle from there, but it was still pretty good. Unless it's changed, my understanding is that GP was only available as a breakfast venue due to the renovations at the time, so I don't think it's a convenient option to do this now (though I guess once could drag quick service breakfast out there to sit, that's a bit of a hassle)
#3, the walk: I haven't done it yet, but want to try that walk one day, whether I am staying at a MK resort or not (being a driver, I am headed to the TTC wrapping up any day I visit MK, assuming I'm not staying at a MK resort). I will admit an earlier article (I forget which one) where Chris wrote about a delay his wife experienced when they opened the bridge made me slightly reconsider that, but I am sure I will do it someday. I almost did on my last visit, but I would have been doing the whole loop, as I was ending the day with dinner at Steakhouse 71 at the Contemporary. After the meal, I decided it was late enough (flying the next morning) there would be a better time to walk the entire thing in the future, so I chickened out (or was smart, your pick ) and took the monorail the one stop from Contemporary to TTC. Related to the full walk, I will say that when I was in the mood for avoiding the Ferry/Monorail huge wait one night at MK close, I took one of the smaller boat launches (which of course had a shorter line) to the GF and then walked to the TTC from there. So I've done a bunch of that walk, just not since they built the bridge.
#2 , the boats: I agree I will migrate to boats if it's not going to delay me significantly by doing so. While I really like the monorail too, I prefer the Ferry from TTC to MK (or the smaller launches, if I happen to be hopping to a MK resort for a meal, shopping, etc.).
#1, balconies: I'll agree. Any balcony looking out across a large water feature or towards a park is pretty cool!
I hope this comment didn't go longer than Chris' original article.