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Exploring WDW's Grand Floridian Resort Hotel

Exploring WDW's Grand Floridian Resort Hotel

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Facts and Figures

The flagship resort of all Disney properties is the 867-room Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Completed in 1988 as the fifth Disney resort, it ushered in Michael Eisner's "Disney Decade" of building and expansions at Walt Disney World. Inspired by the Hotel de Coronado in San Diego, the Grand Floridian recalls the grand opulence of Victorian-era structures. Its brilliant white exterior, red clay tile roof and extensive Victorian architectural details recall the elegant hotels of the past. It has received AAA and Mobil 4-star ratings, and has been regularly voted one of the top 50 hotels in the world by readers of Conde Nast travel magazine.

As elegant as the Grand Floridian is, however, one has to wonder what would have happened had the Imagineers actually built the resort originally intended for the Grand Floridian's current site. You see, in the original plans for Walt Disney World there were to have been five resort hotels in the Magic Kingdom area - the Contemporary (which, up until the early 80s, was always intended to be the flagship WDW resort), the Polynesian, the Venetian (to have been located on the shore of Seven Seas lagoon between the Contemporary and the site now occupied by the Ticket and Transportation Center), the Persian (to have been located north of the Polynesian and east of the Magic Kingdom on the northwestern shore of Bay Lake), and the Asian. It was the Asian resort that had been planned, designed, and was almost constructed on the land where the Grand Floridian now resides.

Visitors to the Magic Kingdom from opening day in 1971 to the early 1980s often wondered what that perfectly square, flat, barren, and obviously man-made piece of ground was for that jutted out into Seven Seas lagoon from the western shore. So close was the Asian resort to realization that this prime piece of land was actually cleared and prepared during the initial construction of the Magic Kingdom. In fact, in its annual report for 1972, Disney announced that preparations would begin immediately for construction of the Asian resort, with the resort to have been completed in 1974. Those of you with good memories will even recall that the road on the western side of the Walt Disney World property was originally called Asian way until being renamed Floridian Way upon completion of the Grand Floridian.

So what did we miss out on? Well, the Asian was to have been mainly Thai in theming. A ring of perimeter lodging buildings would have been built on the three sides of the property that adjoined Seven Seas lagoon. Similar in construction to the Polynesian's longhouses, these accommodations would have featured Asian-style architecture and a majority of water-view rooms. In the central courtyard formed by these buildings would have been a large swimming pool and the focal point of the resort - a central tower building reaching more than 150 feet tall. This square-shaped tower building, with huge A-shaped windows on all four sides, would have housed the lobby, shops, and a signature restaurant with unparalleled views and nightly entertainment.

This all sounds great, you're thinking to yourself, so what happened? Why aren't we enjoying nights in Asia now as we do nights in Polynesia or the hotel of the future? Most theories point to an event in the early 70s which had nearly as devastating effect on the Disney company and the travel industry in general as did the events of September 11th. The Arab oil embargo, which created a nationwide energy crisis in 1973, severely curtailed the travel habits of most of WDW's visitors. Serious declines in visitation led to frequent vacancies at the existing Contemporary and Polynesian resorts. Left without demand for its lodging, Disney had no choice but to put off construction of the Asian. It was not until Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took the reins of the Disney Company in 1984 and realized how underutilized the Florida property was that resort building once again became a priority. Unfortunately, the proposal for an elegant, luxurious, Victorian-style 5-star resort eventually won out over the long-mothballed plans for the Asian, and the site so long intended for a bit of Asia in the World now houses the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

All is not lost, however, as the Grand Floridian is a wonderful resort. As the premier destination at Walt Disney World, touches of elegance, luxury, and charm abound at the Grand Floridian. The resort consists of the main building containing the lobby, restaurants, lounges, and shops, 5 outer buildings containing various types of lodging, a large convention and conference center, the spa and health club building, and the wedding pavilion. Each structure is carefully detailed with gabled rooflines, dormers, towers, cupolas, and gingerbread features. The Grand Floridian features a world-class health club and spa, tennis courts, marina, unique shops, convention center, and its own wedding pavilion.

Lodging

Guest rooms at the Grand Floridian are located in one of six buildings on the 39-acre resort site. The main building is five stories tall, and the other buildings range in size from three to five stories. Each of the buildings offers its own benefits and drawbacks, with some buildings nearer some resort features and destinations than others. All buildings have a mix of garden view and water view rooms, with the water view rooms being the most popular and, of course, the most expensive.

Several different room types are available at the Grand Floridian. Standard rooms are about average size for Walt Disney World resorts. Dormer rooms are located on the top floors of the buildings, and feature vaulted ceilings and dormer windows (easily identified from the exterior of the building). Lodge tower rooms are located in the main building in the semi-circular tower-type structures at the corners of the buildings. In addition to the standard size room, the lodge tower room features an additional sitting area in the semi-circular portion of the room which includes a sofa and second television. Honeymoon suites are available with or without Jacuzzi baths in the main building, and several suites of varying sizes and opulence are also located in the main building.

Rooms in the main building are closest to the restaurants, shops, and monorail station. The convention center is most easily accessed from the main and Sago Cay buildings. Nearest the marina are Sugarloaf Key and Conch Key buildings. Access to the boat launch ramp is closest to Conch Key and Boca Chica buildings. Boca Chica and Big Pine Key buildings are closest to the quiet pool, and Big Pine Key and the Main building are nearest the new Beach pool and spa & health club building. Most of the suites and concierge service rooms are located in the main building. Some concierge services are now also being offered in the Sugarloaf Key building.

Dining

Dining at the Grand Floridian is one of the highlights of the resort, with several different options for all tastes and budgets. The only restaurant at Walt Disney World to require formal attire is Victoria & Albert's in the main building of the resort. The premier dining experience at the Grand Floridian, Victoria & Albert's nightly serves a full, custom-designed 5 course menu specially selected by the chef. Reservations are required, and they mean it: no-shows are charged cancellation fees. The award-winning cuisine and accompanying wines are hand-selected nightly and prepared to order. Very, very expensive, but well worth doing at least once to see how the upper crust dine.

Not quite as fancy, but still an upscale restaurant is Citrico's, located in the main building. Citrico's serves Mediterranean-inspired salads, seafood, pasta, and meat dishes. The food here is quite good, but I have found the service to be somewhat spotty.

Narcoossee's, located in its own building on the shores of Seven Seas lagoon next to the Conch Key building, is the Grand Floridian's fine steak house. This restaurant, which has a wonderful atmosphere (especially when it's warm and the windows are open to the outside) is noted for its steak, chicken, and seafood.

1900 Park Fare, located on the first floor of the main building, is the location of the Grand Floridian's buffet. A daily character breakfast is found here, with visits from Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and other Disney characters. A Disney character dinner buffet with Pooh and Friends is also offered.

The Grand Floridian Café, also located on the first floor of the main building, is a more casual dining experience featuring American-style dishes of chicken, salad, pasta, hamburgers, sandwiches, and seafood. While still not inexpensive, this is a great place to catch a quick breakfast or lunch.

Gasparilla Grill & Games is the Grand Floridian's counter-service restaurant, and can be accessed only from the outside of the main building. It's undoubtedly the best of the WDW counter service restaurants, and I have found the food here to be consistently better than that found at any other resort. The usual fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza can be found, along with deli sandwiches, fresh salads, and fresh bakery items.

Transportation

Monorail service is offered from the monorail station located on the second floor of the main building. The resort monorail departs from this station for the Magic Kingdom, and then continues on to the Contemporary, the Ticket and Transportation Center, and the Polynesian. Epcot is accessible by riding the resort monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center and switching there to the Epcot monorail.

Bus transportation to Disney-MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney, and the Ticket and Transportation center is available from bus stops located just outside of the main building entrance.

Boat service is available from the water launch dock next to Narcoossee's with service to the Magic Kingdom and Polynesian.

Activities

There are two swimming pools at the Grand Floridian. A large, free-form quiet pool is located in the central courtyard between the Boca Chica, Big Pine Key, and Sugar Loaf Key buildings. There is ample patio space here and an abundance of lounge chairs for those inclined to sunbathe. Completed in 2001, the Beach pool is located at the southern end of the resort between the main building and the wedding pavilion. This new pool features a zero-entry area from the beach of Seven Seas lagoon, a man-made mountain, waterfall and waterslide.

True to its name, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa features a world class spa located to the south of the main building near the new Beach pool. A fitness facility includes the very latest in fitness machines and equipment, and personal trainers are available to assist you in designing your ultimate workout. A wide variety of spa treatments is also available, including facials, massages, full-body skin treatments, water therapies, manicures, pedicures, and more. If you really want to make points with that significant other, gentlemen, schedule a whole or half day spa treatment with a sampling of several spa services. Trust me, it works!

An arcade is located in Gasparilla Grill & Games in the main building. Somewhat on the small side, this arcade features a fairly limited selection of video games, arcade games, and air hockey tables.

The Grand Floridian's marina is located at the north end of the property and offers rentals of pontoon boats, sailboats, canopy boats and the ubiquitous water mice. In addition, the Grand Floridian offers for charter their 44-foot yacht Grand 1. It can be hired by groups of 2 to 12 people, and includes a captain and deckhand. Bring your wallet - the yacht goes for $350 per hour.

Two clay-court tennis courts are located adjacent to the health club and spa building. Tennis equipment can be rented at the health club, and professional instruction is available by appointment.

Two great activities are available for kids at the Grand Floridian. Disney's Pirate Adventure departs from the marina every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This fun-filled program, just for children ages 4-10, takes kids on a treasure hunt around seven seas lagoon. Each child is given a pirate hat (complete with Mickey ears, of course) after which they board a boat, complete with pirate flag, and cruise to the different resort marinas around Seven Seas lagoon and Bay Lake hunting for pirate treasure. The two-hour adventure includes lunch.

The Wonderland Tea Party is held Monday through Friday at 1:30 pm in the main building for children ages 3-10. Parents are not invited. Characters from Alice in Wonderland, including Alice herself, host a tea party for the kids complete with snacks, games, songs, crafts, and, of course, tea with Alice and her friends. Tea lasts for approximately one hour.

Not to be left out, adults too can enjoy tea at the Grand Floridian. Afternoon tea is served daily from 3pm- 6pm in the Garden View lounge. Tea is accompanied by a wonderful selection of pastries and fresh fruit.

Finally, if you're really bored, why don't you take the afternoon off and get married? The Grand Floridian has its very own Fairytale Wedding Pavilion located on a peninsula extending into the Seven Seas lagoon. From this extremely picturesque spot, you can exchange vows with Cinderella Castle in the background. Full-service wedding planning and coordination services are available.

Insider's Tips and Tricks

As mentioned before, the Grand Floridian's 44-foot yacht, the Grand 1 is available for hire. If you can get a large enough group together to split the cost, charter the boat for the evening and enjoy a gourmet dinner aboard, and then watch the Magic Kingdom's fireworks show while floating in the middle of Seven Seas lagoon. The fireworks look even more brilliant when they are reflected back from the water.

If you have a lagoon-view room booked, be sure to request a dormer room. These rooms are located on the top floor of all the buildings and feature vaulted ceilings inside. Although the rooms are not any larger than the standard rooms, they seem quite a bit larger and, in my opinion, more comfortable with the high ceilings. In addition, dormer rooms are the only standard-level rooms with private balconies. Non-dormer rooms on the lower floors all have shared balconies.

If you need a little extra room, book a lodge tower room. These rooms have an additional sitting/living area that extends into the round tower-type structures on the main building. This additional room is great to have if you need to squeeze in an additional person or just want to stretch out a little bit.

If you have booked a water view room and want to obtain a view of the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle, and the MK fireworks, your best bet is to ask for accommodations in the Boca Chica building. All of the rooms on the east side of this building have fantastic views of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas lagoon. In addition, the Electric Water Parade will stop right outside your window for its nightly performance. However, if you're feeling really lucky and a view of the MK is of paramount importance to you, request a north-end room in either the Conch Key or Sago Cay buildings. These rooms have by far the best view of the Magic Kingdom and the Castle, but there aren't very many of them, and they are in high demand and very difficult to get.

Sign your kids up for the Pirate Adventure and Wonderland Tea Party. Both of these programs are absolutely fantastic and earn rave reviews. In addition to giving you an hour or two for sunning, sleep, or spa treatments, the kids will have a ball and will most likely point to this experience as one of the high points of their vacation. The staff is well-trained and enthusiastic, and really have a good time interacting with each child to make sure they have a great time.

Be sure to experience the afternoon tea. It's a cultural thing you'll be glad you did at least once in your life, and you may find that you'll be wanting to go back. The food served at tea is fantastic, with delicious fresh pastry and fruit. Well worth an hour of your afternoon.

Don't fret if you can't afford a water view room. Although a view of the lagoon is desirable, there really are only a few rooms in the whole resort with really rotten views. Most garden view rooms look out on to the impeccably maintained landscaping and provide excellent views. I do not mind a garden view room at the Grand Floridian near as much as I do at other resorts.

A meal at Victoria & Albert's is a don't miss. While I would not recommend it for every visit, it's an experience that is unlike any other. The food and drink are absolutely wonderful, and the service is what you'd expect for a premier dining location. You'll never feel so pampered and well-served as you do during your meal here.

The new Beach pool is a real gem and is often overlooked on the list of great WDW pools. That's good for you, because it means that it's usually not all that crowded. The fact that not many people know about it, coupled with the fact that the Grand Floridian attracts a more adult clientele, means that an enjoyable and fairly uncrowded afternoon can be spend riding the waterslide and splashing in the waterfall.

Another great fireworks-watching location is from your table at Narcoossee's. Book a priority seating for a late dinner or maybe just for dessert, and enjoy a good meal with an outstanding view of the Magic Kingdom, the boat traffic on Seven Seas lagoon, and the fireworks show.

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