Grand Floridian Photo Tourby Brian Bennett, contributing writer
The Grand Floridian Beach Resort officially opened its doors on July 1, 1988 (although it had been open for a few days prior). Just a few years later it changed its name to the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa to highlight the services available to guests at its nearby spa facilities.
The style of the Grand Floridian is intended to be reminiscent of the turn of the century Florida hotels that were founded by railroad magnate Henry Flagler as get aways for the jet set (before there were jets, of course) from the East Coast. Photo by Brian Bennett.
It was very difficult for me to decide back during the fall of that very year to honeymoon in Central Florida with my new bride and not stay at the gorgeous new flagship resort. Unfortunately, prices drove me to a much less expensive off-site resort. Since then, Barbara and I have visited this beautiful resort many times for dinner and the occasional lunch away from work, but we still have yet to stay overnight here. Someday...
The bus stop provides transportation to Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, and the water parks. The Magic Kingdom and Epcot can be reached via the monorail that stops at the resort. Photo by Brian Bennett.
A beautiful 1929 Cadillac sets the stage for the rich and famous that stay at such Florida resorts. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The resort consists of a main building that includes the check-in and concierge desks, several restaurants, a handful of shops, and the main lobby. The main building also contains some of the guest rooms.
The first view of the expansive lobby is very impressive. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Other buildings contain the vast majority of the guest rooms. One restaurant, Narcoossee's (which we'll see in a little bit) is located right on the edge of Seven Seas Lagoon and is located in its own smaller octagonal building.
The Grand Floridian has several large and beautiful plant arrangements scattered throughout the property, but none are more impressive than the one that first greets resort guests in the lobby. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The lobby of the Grand Floridian is a wonder of Victorian-style. Photo by Brian Bennett.
In addition to the salon, arcade, pools, marina, and shopping the resort also hosts the Wonderland Tea Party, Disney's Pirate Adventure, and Adventure Time for children. Adults may enjoy attending the Grand Adventures in Cooking class and the full-menu spa.
The lobby ceiling's stained glass domes top off the five-story atrium in grand style. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The resort's late Victorian- (or perhaps Edwardian) era atmosphere is carried throughout the property. The turn-of-the-century costumes (for the cast members), birdcages, late 1800 style chandeliers, sconces, and decorates all evoke that period. The music played on the piano and by the resort's orchestra in the evenings just add to the atmosphere when the sun goes down.
Light streams from the windows on the upper floors of the lobby's west end. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Viewed from above, the lobby shows off its magnificence. Photo by Brian Bennett.
One of the resort's restaurants, called 1900 Park Fare, provides a great venue for character meals. The breakfast meal is hosted by characters from Mary Poppins including Mary herself. Cinderella's Gala Feast is hosted by Cinderella in the evenings.
The organ and instruments play occasionally during the character meals. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Besides the centerpiece organ with percussion and other instruments, the restaurant is decorated with several merry-go-round animals.
The merry-go-round's menagerie includes a camel... Photo by Brian Bennett.
...a horse... Photo by Brian Bennett.
...a rabbit... Photo by Brian Bennett.
...and a very interesting sea horse. Photo by Brian Bennett.
On the day that I took my little walk around the resort, just a few days before Thanksgiving 2006, some of the resort's Christmas decorations were already up. One annual treat, the gingerbread house, was set up in the North East corner of the lobby.
The gingerbread house is huge, probably 15 feet tall, and contains 1,050 pounds of honey, 140 pints of egg whites, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 700 pounds of chocolate, 800 pounds of flour, and 35 pounds of spices. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The house, open daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm has a cast member on hand selling everything from gingerbread and chocolate chip cookies to gingerbread Christmas tree ornaments, and even gourmet chocolatesas well as a complete miniature gingerbread house.
The house also features several neat architectural details above the windows around the entire structure.
Lilo and Stitch. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in a holiday wreath. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Mickey and Minnie taking a midwinter sleigh ride. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Some familiar princesses. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Chip and Dale. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Directly adjacent to the Gingerbread House is the Garden View Lounge where classic English Tea is served from every afternoon from 2:00 to 6:00. Various tea selections are available for about $5.95 per person including white, black, and green teas and blends. Alternatively, you can purchase a more inclusive spread such as the Grand Tea, Prince Edward's Tea, Buckingham Palace, Sally Lunn Tea, and Mrs. Potts Tea (for the littler ones) all of which provide different a varieties of wine, sandwich, and pastry options to enjoy with your tea.
Cast members set up for tea time. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Around the corner, Sandy Cove gifts provides resort guests with a little shop to purchase various needs such as snacks, toiletries, and over the counter medicines. The shop also has a nice selection of resort souvenirs
By late November, Sandy Cove was already selling a lot of Christmas themed items. Photo by Brian Bennett.
More typical resort shop items are available at Sandy Cove, too. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Continuing down the corridor, guests run smack into the Grand Floridian Cafe. The restaurant has a fairly simple lunch menu, but goes strongly upscale at dinner time. The Cafe is a nice restaurant, reminiscent of the Plaza Restaurant over at the Magic Kingdom although a bit more subtle in its decor.
The Grand Floridian Cafe is a great place to have a laid-back luncheon. Photo by Brian Bennett.
From the lobby of the Grand Floridian Cafe, I walked outside and enjoyed a walk around the garden courtyard and other outdoors portions of the resort.
The first view of the garden courtyard is almost as breathtaking as the first view of the main building lobby. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Just around the corner of the main building is the resort's marina. A small Sea Raycer can be rented for $37.55 for an hour. At the other extreme, the Grand I Yacht will set you back $375.58 per hour, but includes a crew to operate it. Private dining can be arranged on the Grand I.
The marina offers a wide variety of boats to rent by the hour. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Pontoon boats and catamaran sailboats can also be rented by the half hour. Guided bass fishing and children's fishing expeditions are available, too! Finally, parasailing, water skiing, tubing, and wake boarding are also available by appointment. Photo by Brian Bennett.
The boats are kept in near-pristine condition. The prices, while steep, can be well worth it for a time away from the regular hustle and bustle of the Walt Disney World resort complex. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Continuing on with the tour, just beyond the marina one of the five guest out buildings is Sago Cay. Sago Cay is a good choice as it is close to the main building and the bus stop. Sugar Loaf Key contains all of the concierge rooms and is more centrally located within the Grand Floridian property itself. Conch Key, Boca Chica, and Big Pine Key buildings are all scattered around the edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Sago Cay is a typical guest building at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Photo by Brian Bennett.
Spinning on my heels from Sago Cay, and located directly opposite the marina, is Gasparilla Grill and Games. Gasparilla Grill is a counter service restaurant.
Gasparilla Grill is a counter service restaurant.. Photo by Brian Bennett.
And located within its interior seating area are a handful of arcade games.
Although nowhere near as large an arcade as at many of WDW's resorts, Gasparilla Games offers the kids at least a few places to drop some quarters after lunch. Photo by Brian Bennett.
We will continue our tour of the resort in part II of this series.