Top theme park hotel spotlight: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

May 14, 2009, 9:49 PM · In preparation for the announcement of this year's Theme Park Insider Awards on July 4, we're looking at some of the top contenders in the four award categories. Today, we start our look at the top five hotels to date in the Theme Park Insider reader ratings. (By the way, both these and the restaurants that Scott Joseph's reviewing are being profiled in no particular order, so don't read anything into that.)

This week, we spotlight Disney's Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

Disney says that the Grand Floridian "conjures the splendor of the Sunshine State's golden era." West coasters know, though, that the Grand Floridian borrowed its look not from a Florida landmark, but from San Diego's Hotel del Coronado. Of course, the Hotel del Coronado earned its fame as the setting for the classic Marilyn Monroe flick "Some Like It Hot," where the hotel stood in for... a Florida seaside resort. So it all evens out, I guess.

Architecture aside, the Grand Floridian earns raves from many readers for its service, its fine dining and not least for its proximity to the Magic Kingdom. It's the closest hotel to the world's most popular theme park. As with other Disney hotels, guests get free transportation to and from the Orlando airport, as well as admission to Extra Magic Hours at the Disney theme parks. But the Grand Floridian is one of just three Disney resorts with monorail service.

No, it's not cheap, but none of the top hotels vying for the Theme Park Insider Award are. But a once-in-a-lifetime splurge can be worth the expense if it delivers a once-in-a-lifetime thrilling experience.

Does the Grand Floridian deliver to justify its price? Is it the best theme park hotel around? If you've stayed at the Grand Floridian in the past 12 months, please click over to its TPI listing page and submit a rating and review. We'd love to hear what you think.

Replies (12)

May 14, 2009 at 10:26 PM · I agree, very nice, but the most expensive on the property (on average, I think). Still, good representative of the fine Magic Kingdom Resorts
May 14, 2009 at 10:28 PM · After a week-long Disney Cruise last year for my partner's 40th birthday, I planned a few nights at the Grand Floridian too, so we could hit the parks for a few days.

I booked it completely separate from the Cruise -- i.e. not as a "Land and Sea" package deal. And since I had booked the room only a few months in advance on Disney's web site, I was pretty much paying full rack rate, somewhere around three hundred bucks a night. Ouch! But, it was only for two nights, and it was a special occasion, so I thought I'd splurge.

Imagine my surprise when we checked in and they had upgraded us to one of the Concierge-level suites -- which are usually MUCH more expensive. And waiting in the room were birthday treats each day like candy, fresh fruit, flowers, and champagne.

Add to that the convenience of the location along the monorail route, the wonderful staff, and the perks of the Concierge-level rooms, and you have one happy customer. It was worth every penny.

My only negative is the room decor. While impeccably maintained and very classy, it felt... stodgy and a bit dry. The rooms could use more personality and charm. Many of the resorts built *since* the Grand Floridian opened have tapped into this -- AK & Wilderness Lodge, most notably. Even the recent redecoration of the Contemporary Resort rooms is an improvement. The Grand Floridian is worth the money for the locale, the overall resort feel, and the *comfort* of the rooms -- but the actual room decor is a bit boring and feels old.

May 15, 2009 at 4:13 AM · The Grand Floridian earns it's place as DisneyWorld's flagship Resort for good reason. It sets the benchmark for the other deluxe Resorts.......and that's saying something because they are pretty much all of a high standard.

From the very moment you pull up at the entrance you are made to feel that little bit special.....probably more than the other Deluxe Resorts. I'm not sure if that's a psychological thing, because it has such a good reputation, but it's true for most of us.

It manages to ooze classy Victorian splendour without ever losing that Disney casualness.......which is no small feat.

We obviously all have our favourite Deluxe Resort and there's not a lot between them to be honest. But the GF is wonderful and that kind of wonderful does not come cheap.

I would say that it's worth staying there even for one or two nights. You'll see. Any real Disney snob will boast of the time they stayed at the Grand Floridian.......and that, alone, speaks volumes.

May 15, 2009 at 6:19 AM · Actually, the resort went through a complete room rehab only a few years ago. The style of the Grand is usually described as "Victorian, but not that stodgy, dark, and heavy Victorian, but the end of the era when things were getting brighter." I think the rooms do a pretty good job of conveying that feeling.

When I worked there as a front desk trainer, we led tours around the resort. A few of the high points (which may or may not still be true as it's been awhile)

The birds in the lobby are bred for the Grand Floridian, chosen because their color matches the lobby color scheme.

The flower arrangments are all fresh, and so popular with guests that the hotel at least used to do a free class on how to do them for any guests who wanted to come to the lobby to participate.

If you want a relaxing evening activity, come out to sit in the lobby. A piano player and band alternate sets performing classical and Disney music. You can order a drink, or come for afternoon tea and stay to relax with the music.

The tea room serves a traditional tea service, with scones, trifle, and cucumber sandwiches. The view over the gardens is beautiful.

If you have the funds, by all means check out Victoria & Alberts. It is true gourmet dining.

May 15, 2009 at 6:21 AM · I've stayed at the Grand Floridian at least three times, from the so-called cheap rooms to a concierge-level suite in the main building.

I have to point out that this hotel is not the closest to the Magic Kingdom. The Contemporary's North Garden Wing (now Bay Tower) is a short walk from the MK entrance. When I've stayed at the GF, there was no pedestrian access to MK (this may have changed).

For my money, BoardWalk is a better hotel. It's just as classy (I've stayed in the concierge level there, too) you can walk to Epcot (and the Studios if you don't mind a long walk) and you have all the BoardWalk activities, restaurants and shops.

May 15, 2009 at 8:22 AM · I was thinking about monorail travel time, where I've found the trip to/from the GF a few ticks quicker than that from the Contemporary.

Also, I'd like to invite everyone leaving comments here to also leave a comment and a rating over on the Grand Floridian listing page. (Those ratings will determine the award winner.) Thanks.

May 15, 2009 at 9:08 AM · When I think of the flagship resort of WDW, I go with Contemporary, but that might just be me!

Still, its a very nice resort that has alot of stuff to do.

May 15, 2009 at 2:18 PM · The monorail goes clockwise from MK to Contemporary to the TTC to the Polynesian to the Grand Floridian. So, from MK it is always quicker to the Contemporary, and from the resorts, it is always quicker from the Grand Floridian to MK. So, whether the monorail route is quicker depends on whether you're going to or leaving MK.
May 15, 2009 at 2:24 PM · FWIW, I've ridden it both directions over the years. I haven't been to the MK since Christmas, so I don't know which way things are running these days, but last time I was at the GF, I could ride the monorail straight to the MK without having go around to the other resorts.
May 15, 2009 at 5:19 PM · I've stayed here, I think, about 40 days over the years starting on my honeymoon many, many years ago. I like the little touches: chestnuts roasting on an open fire at Christmas, strawberries on the pillows at night dressed up in chocolate tuxedos, and the oh-so-comfortable robes they used to have (not anymore--the new ones are thin). One time my wife remarked how much she liked a particular cosmetic they had and asked where she could buy some. She was told it was made special for the Grand and couldn't be purchased. When we got home, there was a year's supply of it waiting in our mailbox!

Picking number two would be harder. A toss up between Wilderness Lodge, Grand Californian, Polynesian or maybe even the Yacht Club. I haven't stayed at comparable hotels outside Disney although the Breakers at Cedar Point is cool because of its history.

May 16, 2009 at 6:07 AM · My random thoughts on the GF. I've stayed many, many places on WDW property, and to be honest I wouldn't stay there again. My wedding photos were taken there - we always visit the GF when we're in town - and I will ALWAYS come back to have tea at the tea room. But, I found the rooms to be 'stuffy' (not in temperature, but decor), and the staff to match. It's almost as if they train the GF staff to be that way - not very 'Disney-esque'. Very stuffy and stodgy...

However, the facility is beautiful - cannot deny them that. Especially at holiday time, with the gingerbread house and the giant Christmas tree.

I've also found it odd that this is the 'Grand Floridian' which looks like the Coronado, and the 'Grand Californian' looks like the Wilderness Lodge at WDW. Interesting...

Personally, if I'd spend 'trip of a lifetime' dollars at Disney, I'd go with Savannah view at AKL. But, if the convenience of the monorail is what you're looking for, MK view at the Contemporary or even a great concierge room at the Poly are the way to go! Can't beat the libations at the Tambu lounge following watching Wishes from the beach at the Poly!

May 18, 2009 at 2:43 PM · As someone mentioned on another thread (another site), the top of the line hotels look very nice, but they just don't look Disneyesque. The value resorts in Orlando are the most Disneyish. Even if I could afford the best ones, I think I would still go for the all stars and pop century. Love the theming.

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