The Grand Floridian is the pinnacle of Disney luxury, though that demands analysis of what luxury entails. In the real world, you expect the style and service at a Waldorf Astoria to surpass a Motel 6, and you willingly pay more for the upgrade. At the Waldorf, you expect high thread-count bed linens, sumptuous in-room extras (such as bathrobes and living plants), high-quality newish furniture, in-house amenities (such as a spa or salon), and top-notch customer service. At a Motel 6, you expect free shampoo, an extra towel on request, a reasonable per-night price, and efficient personal service when the maid has time.
At Disney, the physical amenities and personal service don’t vary much between the top tier hotels, and even within each hotel, some sections – such as a concierge floor – offer more. All resorts have an array of restaurants with varied pricing and levels of service.
However, luxury has a psychological component too. Calling the Grand Floridian “luxury” when comparing it to, say, Wilderness Lodge relies more on this psychological luxury. It’s why comparing top-tier Disney hotels to other top-tier Disney hotels isn’t the same as comparing hotels outside Disney World.
Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club, Boardwalk, and, to a lesser extent, the Contemporary and Polynesian have equally friendly staff, high thread counts, etc. If you strip away the façade, there is little difference in employee service.
But Americans have a specific vision of a highbrow hotel, and here The Grand Floridian shines. The white/off-white Victorian architecture has an elegance that other hotels actually shun. All Disney employees wear outfits themed to their hotel or park, and Grand Floridian clerks wear semi-formal gray suits and white shirts. A tuxedoed band plays in the evening and high tea is served in the afternoon. A gilded cage sits in the middle of the lobby, ornate chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the resort hosts Disney’s only restaurant that has five stars and a dress code.
Important note, though: The Grand Floridian employees may appear formal at first, but their primary directive is to please guests. They are formal on command, but friendly and warm by default. They take their cue from the individual guest.
Who should stay here
Obvious answer: Those who expect the best and want to stay within Walt Disney World – well-traveled tourists used to better hotels and guests who feel a comfort surrounded by servants. (Or guests not used to servants but who wish they were.) If traveling with a judgmental mother-in-law, pick this one.
Who shouldn’t stay here
It’s not the place to save money, but that’s a given. If traveling with kids who want a fantasy theme – who want to feel as if they’re in a different world – look elsewhere. In addition, The Grand Floridian has nice pools with a fake-rock waterslide, but the pools don’t match those found at some other top-tier hotels. (Yacht & Beach Club, arguably, has the best pool of the bunch.) Even adults used to five-star service may opt for another Disney hotel since they’re on vacation.
The monorail circles the Seven Seas Lagoon (though it’s a big lake, not a lagoon) and connects guests to The Magic Kingdom, Polynesian and Contemporary hotels. It also stops at the Transportation and Ticket Center where guests can transfer to a separate monorail traveling to Epcot. Other transportation is by bus, though there is also a boat option to The Magic Kingdom.
Questions to ask when booking
Not all rooms have a breathtaking view, though all have a buffer zone from the tourist-spewing monorail. If you want the full effect, seek a concierge room close to the lobby. If hoping for something that feels a bit removed from the hubbub of the parks, ask for a room farther out. For beauty, request a lake view rather than a pool view unless you need to keep an eye on the kids.
Disney’s website: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/grand-floridian-resort-and-spa/