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The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
by Jack Spence
AllEars® Feature Writer
A slightly abbreviated version of this article first appeared in the
September 9, 2008, Issue #468 of AllEars® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure
to confirm all current rates,
information and other details before planning your trip.
Have you ever wondered why the body of water in front of the Magic Kingdom is called the Seven Seas Lagoon?
When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 the Imagineers had a five-year plan that called for additional hotels to be built along its shore. These included the Persian, Venetian, and Thai/Asian resorts. When added to the existing Polynesian Resort, these hotels would give the area an international flavor, thus, the name Seven Seas Lagoon was born. But for a number of reasons, these other resorts never materialized. However, for many years you could see a square piece of land jutting out into the water that was earmarked for the Thai/Asian Resort. A third Disney hotel, the Golf Resort (now the Shades of Green) opened in 1973. But other than that, Disney failed to build any new resorts during the first decade of operation.
In the early 80's, Disney fought off several hostel takeovers. To the company's rescue came the Bass Brothers of Texas and Roy E. Disney (son of founder Roy O. Disney), and in 1984 they hired Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to turn the corporation around. One of the many directives the new executives were given was to develop the vast, unused acreage of Disney World.
Any casual observer could see that many other companies were cashing in on Disney World's success by building their own hotels and motels at the Mouse's doorstep. During this same time, Disney's three existing hotels were running at near capacity year-round. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that one of the first things that should be done was to build more Disney owned and operated resorts on their property.
Since the original five-year plan called for three more resorts to be built around the Seven Seas Lagoon, this was the logical place to start construction. However, Epcot had opened in 1982 and featured an International playground called World Showcase. This pretty much ruined the idea of building "international" hotels anywhere else on property. Disney didn't want their guests to experience the same sights and sounds in two separate areas, so a different concept needed to be developed. To help this new direction take shape, the architectural firm of Wimberly, Allison, Tong, & Goo (WATG) of Newport Beach, CA was hired and told to come up with a "deluxe" hotel that could be considered the "flagship" resort of Walt Disney World. For inspiration, the design team visited the Bellevue Biltmore in Clearwater, Florida; the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan; and the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California. In the end, a luxurious Victorian era hotel grew on the west shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and has been wowing guests since its opening on July 1, 1988.
When entering the hotel's five-story lobby for the first time, most guests look up in awe. The delicate balustrades, the stained glass ceiling insets, the massive chandeliers, the ornate furniture, and the abundant artwork combine beautifully and make you long for a bygone era when women wore bustles and men donned top hats. But then you come to your senses and realize that you can still enjoy this lush atmosphere in your shorts and sandals as the Grand Floridian may be elegant, but it allows for 21st century theme park casualness.
After the initial astonishment wears off, you start to notice the many details that make this hotel special. Located on the ground floor of the lobby is a large Chinese-styled aviary that was crafted in Spain. Up until just a couple of years ago, this birdcage housed a pair of lovebirds. On the other side of the room is an equally elegant "cage" elevator that takes guests to the second floor. And beyond the elevator is a sweeping staircase worthy of Tara from "Gone with the Wind." Often, bridal parties can be seen on these steps, posing for elegant photos.
The majority of the lobby's ground floor is comprised of numerous seating areas where you can relax and soak in the atmosphere. In the center of it all is a concert grand piano where a musician plays melodies suitable to the surroundings. Requests are also honored. As evening approaches, a ragtime/jazz band called the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra joins in and plays alternate sets with the piano player.
The Grand Floridian is the only Disney resort to have dedicated men's and women's clothing stores. Summer Lace, located on the first floor, features designer fashions for the ladies, along with perfumes, jewelry, swimwear, and Grand Floridian logo items. Commander Porter's, located directly above on the second floor, offers men's designer clothing such as Tommy Bahama and Ralph Lauren Polo. Men's fragrances, golf apparel, and gift items are also available here. Both shops are open daily from 9am to 10pm.
Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry Shop offers a large array of Grand Floridian logo merchandise. And if you enjoyed the music you heard in the lobby, CD's of the pianist and ragtime band can be purchased at this location. Also sold here are drinks, snack items, postcards, stamps, wedding items, and a limited selection of reading material. This shop is open daily from 8am - 10pm.
On the second floor of the lobby you will find M. Mouse Mercantile. Disney souvenir items including children's apparel, toys, books, pins, and watches can be purchased here. This shop is open from 8am - 10pm. Also on the second floor is Basin White. Decorated to look like a giant, old-time bathroom, at this shop you can stock up on a wide variety of bath salts, soaps, and shampoos. Although operated by the same folks who run the Basin shop at Downtown Disney, it is my understanding that the merchandise sold here is slightly different and of a higher caliber than its more pedestrian cousin. The hours of operation are from 10am - 10pm. Next door to Basin White is Ivy Trellis Salon. Men, women, and children are welcome here. Services range from a simple haircut to a complete styling. Manicures and pedicures are also available. Appointments are recommended and the shop is open from 9am - 6pm.
Recently added to the resort is a Disney's PhotoPass desk where you can order prints of any of the pictures you've had taken by a Disney photographer during you vacation. Professional portrait sessions can also be arranged at this location. Hours of operation are from 8am - 10pm.
Besides the "cage" elevator, there is a second elevator on the other side of the lobby. Any guest may use this elevator for access to the first and second floors, but only guests staying on the concierge levels may access the third through fifth floors.
All of the rooms on the third, fourth, and fifth floors of the main building are either suites or concierge rooms. I've never stayed in one of the suites so I can't tell you much about them, but I did stay in a concierge room on my first visit to the Grand Floridian. Actually, the concierge rooms are roughly the same size and configuration as the standard rooms in the lodge buildings, which I will discuss in more detail later. But what makes these rooms special is they are located in the "main" building. That means it's an easy (indoor) walk to the shops, restaurants, and monorail.
Another factor that sets these rooms apart is the services offered. On the third floor of the main building is a concierge desk. Only seasoned cast members with extensive knowledge of Disney World man these posts. And they're here to help make your vacation whatever you want it to be. From restaurant reservations, personal tours, and suggestions you have never even imagined, these well-informed hosts and hostesses are there to make you happy.
Need private tennis lessons? They can arrange it. Want to rent a cabana at the beach pool? They can arrange it. Want an elegant picnic lunch to take out on a pontoon boat? A lavish cocktail party for 40? An intimate dinner for two on your balcony? They can arrange it. If you've got the bucks, they can arrange it.
On the fourth floor you'll find a quiet lounge. A wonderful continental breakfast is served every morning and snacks and appetizers are available in the afternoon and evening. This is a great place to escape from the outside world.
The majority of the rooms and several suites can be found in the five lodge buildings. Each is named after an island in the Florida Keys and includes Sago Cay, Sugarloaf Key, Conch Key, Boca Chica, and Big Pine Key.
Standard rooms are approximately 448 square feet and sleep five. Dormer rooms are slightly smaller and sleep four since they do not have a daybed. I feel that the vaulted ceilings in the dormer rooms add a lot of charm and are worthy of consideration if you can do without the daybed. But be aware, the balconies for these rooms are about half the size of a standard balcony.
All of the rooms have been updated to include a new chest of drawers that houses a refrigerator and a flat screen TV. I noticed that Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and German language channels are available. You can also view your daily videos on these TVs by connecting your camera with either RCA jacks or an "S" video cable. However, these TVs do not support HDMI cables.
A nesting desk is useful for those of you who wish to keep connected to the world via your laptop. Internet access is available for $9.95 per day and a RJ-45 connecting cable can be found in the closet. Note, a $10 fee will be charged to your room if you take the cable with you. When I arrived, I could not locate my cable and immediately called the front desk. A short time later, a cast member knocked at my door and did a quick check of the room before giving me a replacement.
Sitting on the desk is the most elegant Mickey Mouse lamp you'll ever see. Donning a top hat, Mickey's head sits atop a faux marble column. A white shade tops it off. If you want one of these marvels for your own home (I know I did), they can be purchased at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop for a mere $250.
The beds are VERY comfortable. If you'd like one of these mattresses, pillows, and/or bedding for your own home, a catalog offering these items can be found in the room. A queen mattress runs from $1,100 - $1,250 and pillows go for $20 - $110. For more information, check out www.disneyresortcollection.com The Mickey Mouse Lamp can also be ordered from this site.
A trend I see spreading among deluxe resorts is the use of a third sheet. This sheet is used to cover the top of the blankets. That way, once the bedspread has been turned down (a nightly service provided at the GF - complete with chocolates), you never have to touch bedding that has been used by a hundred other people before you. I like this A LOT!
Located on the nightstand between the beds is a clock radio that allows you to dock your iPod so you can play your own selection of music. In the closet you'll find a safe that does not require a credit card or room key to operate. Just punch in a four digit code, press "LOCK" and you're set. It couldn't be easier. Also in the closet you'll find several Grand Floridian robes. Once again, if you're taken with these, plusher copies can be purchased for $100 at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop.
The bathrooms are the best. A large marble counter affords plenty of space for your toiletries and two sinks allow a family to get ready for their day all the quicker. H2O+ products are provided and two LARGE bars of soap are a welcome relief from the slivers so often used in other establishments. These products can also be purchased at the Sandy Cove Gift and Sundry shop. I especially like the hamper where you can toss your used towels rather than leaving them on the floor or over a hook.
The toilet and tub/shower are located in a separate room, complete with its own telephone for those calls you simply must take at inconvenient times. The shower head has three settings, soft spray, hard spray, and pulsate. Also, the shower curtain rod bends outward at the top so you have more room when standing in the tub.
In the morning, a copy of USA Today will be waiting for you outside your door.
The Grand Floridian has two swimming pools. The Courtyard Pool is the more relaxed and dignified of the two and is surrounded by four of the lodge buildings. The newer, Beach Pool can be found on the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon and is the better place for energetic kids. An in-ground fountain, waterfall, and water slide add a lot of excitement that the Courtyard pool lacks. In addition, the Beach Pool also offers zero access entry for toddlers and those in wheelchairs.
The white sandy beach that surrounds the Grand Floridian is the perfect place to relax and watch the Magic Kingdom ferry boat in the distance. Covered lounge chairs dot the beach and add a touch of class found nowhere else on property. Please note, there is no swimming in any of the Disney lakes and canals.
A short walk from the Beach Pool is the Grand Floridian Spa and Health Club. Run by Niki Bryan Spa, this facility will pamper you until you cry uncle. At least 10 different massages are available, as are numerous facials, skin therapies, and body wraps. They even offer a program called "My First Massage" for guests ages 4 - 12. (Children must be accompanied by and adult.)
If you've never had a professional massage, I highly recommend it. Having someone rub your muscles for an hour is beyond description. You will leave the session limp as a dishrag, but thoroughly rejuvenated. One of these afternoons, instead of riding Space Mountain for the umpteenth time, visit the spa here. Reservations are required, but you do not need to be a guest of the Grand Floridian to use this facility. I've always promised myself that when I win the lottery, I will have a standing, weekly appointment for a massage.
There are a number of restaurants at the Grand Floridian, each worthy of a full review. However, due to a lack of time a space, I'm just going to briefly mention them here.
I'm often asked, "What's your favorite Disney World Restaurant?" My answer always begins as follows, "If you don't count Victoria & Albert's, it's "
Victoria & Albert's, or Vicky & Al's as we regulars like to call it (just kidding), is one of the most outstanding restaurants where you will ever have the pleasure to dine. Located on the second floor of the Grand Floridian, this establishment offers a Prix Fixe Menu and you should expect to spend well over $100 per person. Also, plan on spending two to two and a half hours here. Dinner jackets are required for gentlemen (tie optional) and dresses or pants ensembles are recommended for ladies.
Last year, in order to preserve the formal ambiance of the restaurant, a new rule was implemented that stated that no children under ten would be admitted. Disney braced themselves for a backlash, but from what I understand, their guest comments were almost 100% in favor of this policy.
Seven sumptuous courses are skillfully presented to you by a talented team that leaves nothing to chance. All the while, a harpist plays softly in the background. After your meal you can sip an after dinner drink selected from a well stocked cordial cart.
The experience is unbelievable and I highly recommend it! Reservations are an absolute must.
Although completely different from one another, Narcoossee's and Citricos are both what I classify as Disney "upscale" restaurants. Both are open for dinner only and offer a large menu selection with equally impressive wine lists. Citricos is one of my favorite Disney eateries and I will be doing a full review of this location soon.
A friend of mine recently dined at Narcoossee's which is located on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon. He was able to secure a table next to a window with a magnificent view of Cinderella Castle and hoped to watch the fireworks while enjoying dessert. He asked me to let others know, that several minutes before the presentation began, a number of diners left their tables and went outside onto the balcony to obtain their own view of the spectacle to come. Unfortunately, they completely blocked his view. You have been warned.
Reservations are necessary for both Citricos and Narcoossee's. The dress code is "Resort Casual."
The Grand Floridian Café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is a charming spot if you're in the mood for a more casual meal. However, even though you might classify this establishment as "casual" its still elegant. Fresh roses adorn each table and massive, lace curtained windows look out onto the manicured gardens. Reservations are suggested, but often not necessary.
Character dining is also available at the Grand Floridian. 1900 Park Fare serves a Supercalifragilistic Buffet Breakfast from 8-11 and Mary Poppins and her friends stop by to liven things up. From 4:30-8:20 Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner offers a fairy tale-inspired evening meal.
Dominating a section of the restaurant is Big Bertha. This organ was built almost a hundred years ago in Paris by Gavoli & Co. and used from 1909 to 1955 in Ramona Park, an amusement park in Grand Rapids, MI. The instruments include pipes, drums, bells, cymbals, castanets, and a xylophone played by a piano-roll score. Periodically during your meal, a short concert is played to the delight of children and adults.
This being a Character Meal, reservations are absolutely mandatory!
One of the most unique and charming activities you can engage in at the Grand Floridian is the traditional English-style tea served daily from 2-6pm in the Garden View Tea Room. As you might expect, a large selection of tea is available and served "very properly." A number of other menu options are on hand to accompany your tea like finger sandwiches, scones, jam tarts, strawberries and cream, pastries, and an array of English Cheeses. I know that many of you might be put off by the "formality" of this event, but I can assure you, Disney always does everything possible to make their guests comfortable in every situation and this dining experience is no exception.
This is a very popular event and reservations are definitely required. Call 407-WDW-DINE to secure a table at any of the above mentioned restaurants.
Gasparilla Grill & Games is a 24 hour, counter service restaurant where you can order freshly made sandwiches, burgers, wraps, salads, and pizzas. Also available are a large selection of beverages, sweets, fruits, and other snacks. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. Also, a number of arcade games are at hand for the young ones.
Before I close this, I want to talk about transportation. The Grand Floridian is a "monorail" hotel. This means that if you wish to travel to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, you just hop on the monorail and with very little effort, you're there. However, if you wish to travel anywhere else at Walt Disney World, you need to take a bus.
Since I live locally, I always have my car with me when I'm visiting Disney World, and my recent trip to the Grand Floridian was no exception. My friend Anita Answer was visiting Disney World last week and I decided to join her and her family at the Animal Kingdom. Since I was gathering facts for this article, I decided to ride the bus.
First, I want to say that the Disney buses are clean, maintained extremely well, and you couldn't ask for more helpful cast members. These drivers have to be extremely knowledgeable about almost everything as guests expect them to have the answer to the most unusual questions - and they usually do.
But keep in mind, the buses at WDW are "mass" transit, not "rapid" transit. If you want to get someplace fast, the bus usually isn't your best bet.
I arrived at the Grand Floridian bus stop at exactly 11am. Disney says that buses to most locations run approximately every 20 minutes. I apparently had just missed the Animal Kingdom bus because I had to wait the full 20 minutes for one to arrive. Then I discover that this bus does "double duty." Before proceeding to the Animal Kingdom, it makes a stop at Blizzard Beach. By the time I arrived at the Animal Kingdom bus drop-off point, it was 11:45. If I had chosen to drive, I could have made this trip in half the time.
Also, if you plan on eating dinner at another hotel, there are no direct buses from one resort to another. You must catch a bus to one of the parks (or the monorail to the Magic Kingdom) and then transfer to a different bus.
People often ask me if they need a car when visiting Walt Disney World. I always say "No, you don't "need" a car. But you'll be happier if you have one."
On the other hand, I would like to add that the Grand Floridian is designed for guests to valet park - at $10 per day. They do offer self parking, but it is located across the street and not convenient at all to the hotel.
Believe me; I've only scratched the surface when talking about the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. I can think of a dozen things that I didn't even mention, but there simply isn't room here in this newsletter.
This resort is the most expensive at Disney World. Is it worth it? That depends on your taste and especially your budget. I'm certainly glad I've experienced this resort a couple of times. It was nice to spend a few days in the lap of luxury. But I can't say I'd want it as a steady diet. Often when I've been on a cruise, eating rich food every night, I can't wait to get off of the ship and have a meal at Burger King. That's not to say I didn't enjoy everything about the cruise, but I like variety as well. Disney World has a lot of great and unique places to stay. For me, I enjoy the All Stars, the Grand Floridian, and everything in between.