Visitors to Disney wishing to stay in a deluxe hotel have for years flocked to the Grand Floridian, long considered the flagship hotel of Disney resorts.
And there are plenty of reasons why guests choose this particular property, first and foremost because it is inside the ‘park’ so to speak and secondly, no doubt, because the monorail goes directly from the hotel to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
Boat transfers to the park across the lagoon are also available, plus all of the usual shuttle buses. A nice addition is that guests at the hotel can gain earlier access to the parks than the general public as well as access to the FastPass service, restrictions apply, where rides can be booked at specific times to avoid queuing, up to 30 days before arrival. But my favourite perk was that any shopping and merchandise I bought in the park could be signed to my account with the hotel and delivered directly to my room.
This hotel has great surroundings; it’s a perfect location for park access and it offers numerous facilities for all the family. The level of service, however, and accommodation standards do not compete with luxury hotels elsewhere. This is Disney. This is a place for kids and family groups and so true, five-star luxury does not really have a place here. The normal guest attire at this resort is shorts, t-shirts and trainers. Mickey Mouse ears are sported by young and old alike at breakfast and dinner at the Grand Floridian. So, as the old adage goes, you can either beat em or join em. I, for one, chose the former.
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Upon arrival at the hotel there were numerous bellman on attendance who all quickly disappeared when they saw I didn’t have any bags (lost in transit) and I had to ask where the check-in desk was located.
The lobby, the resort itself claims, is Victorian in style. To me, it is reminiscent of what you would expect to find on a Mississippi steamboat back at the turn of the 20th century. Large and about five stories high, there are plenty of sofa areas to sit and relax but it is completely overrun with kids, guests and staff all just standing around, chatting and taking photos. Well, no one comes here to relax do they?
Check-in was efficient and completed in five minutes or less. Formalities over, I was shown where my room and the building it was in was located, and was sent off on my own. I asked if anyone could take me and show me the way and was told to just follow the corridor to the outside and then ask someone if I got lost. Not particularly welcoming, or ‘American’ for that matter and I felt a little sidelined, for want of a better adjective.
Rooms and suites
The room is around 440 ft² (42 m²), large by Disney hotel room standards. The layout of the rooms are all pretty similar with two double beds plus a large sofa bed which means that the room can sleep five in a pinch. There is a small outside balcony which, in my case, offered a pretty ordinary view of some grass and the side view of the ‘lake’. I believe better can be had by selecting a room with a lagoon view or theme park view. If getting a glimpse of the Magic Kingdom and the fireworks is important, then the majority of the rooms in the Boca Chica wing are the best to choose from. Lagoon View rooms feature a view of the waters of Seven Seas Lagoon but may or may not include a view of the Magic Kingdom.
The decor in all the rooms is deemed by the hotel to be Victorian-inspired but I wonder why? I would best describe it as old and dated. With nothing to get excited about, I was pleased that the beds were at least comfortable.
The in-room technology is basic with nothing cutting-edge on offer. The flat-screen TV is a good size and has numerous viewing options with the majority being Disney and sports channels. There is a Bose docking station but it only supports iPhone 4 and older so I couldn’t use it. The lights are all on regular switches and the air conditioning controls are simple to alter.
The bathroom is split into two parts. One, a vanity area with two sinks and a full length wall-to-wall mirror and the other, through a different door, leads to the toilet and bath and shower. The biggest issue I have with this arrangement is that the shower is over the bath tub, which is tiny and surrounded by a shower curtain which I find very off-putting by today’s standards. The area is just big enough to swing a cat and a complete underutilisation of the space. The lighting is good enough to see everything, however it is not well placed and isn’t good quality.
The amenities were in tiny little bottles about the same size as my little finger: 35 ml: the H2O brand. There was one shampoo, one conditioner plus a bar of soap for the shower/bath but no shower gel. There was also a bar of face soap, soothing aloe gel for sunburn, and soothing foot rub, again all in tiny sizes. For potentially five people in the room, this was a vast under-stocking of amenities.
Due to my late arrival at the hotel and the fact that restaurants should be pre-booked, I had no choice but to order my food in the room. It was quick and efficient and the food was average priced, average quality, and average tasting.
Other restaurant options
There are several dining options at the hotel but as you would perhaps imagine with a Disney hotel, food is not the calibre one expects at a five star establishment. It is convenient and satisfactory but do not envision a true, fine-dining experience here unless you perhaps eat in one of the three, high-end restaurants on the premises. Do note that these are generally pricey and may not be part of the dining plan options for some packaged stays.
The restaurants are very busy for all meals and overwhelmingly noisy as are any restaurants which cater for families, so do be prepared for the throng. Character dining is taken to the max here be it breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner, and the food is normally buffet style. Guests can pre-book meals where the characters will be present at the initial stages when hotel bookings are made. By doing this any disappointments can be avoided later on.
Spa and wellness
There is a spa at the hotel, but I didn’t have time to visit it on this occasion.
Pool and beach
There are two pools at the hotel, one with water slides and the other in a courtyard setting. Both are very busy at peak hours of the day and so the best time to utilise them are when others are in the parks. I walked by the pools at about 7 pm and they were heaving with kids and parents keeping watch so great fun for all the kids, but mums and dads, ‘be prepared’.
For those travelling to Disney during the hotter months, the man-made, white-sand beach will come as a welcome sight. It is situated on the edge of the lagoon and is quite convenient for basking in the sun but note that there is no swimming in the lagoon so you will need to walk across to the pool to take a dip.
Staff and service
Everyone working here at the Grand Floridian is friendly, helpful and full of smiles but the level of service provided is not overwhelming. Rather, I found it to be very average indeed which comes down to the norm that the hotel management thinks is acceptable.
To be an excellent hotel by service standards the staff should check each guest in on an individual basis and not by rote. They should show guests to their rooms and provide an orientation of the room, including notification that the minibars are not stocked and guests need to order a drinks package if they wish to use the minibar. Plus, on the way to providing an orientation of the resort, staff should explain the dos and dont’s of the property, pointing out the restaurants and giving an idea of what is served, when and where. All these things are standard in luxury hotels, none of which happens at the Grand Floridian.
At other hotels around the world and including the true luxury competitive set in Orlando, there is just no comparison. This hotel is all about the Disney experience and I think the philosophy is that people who are visiting here will accept a very basic hotel service that is equivalent to a 3-star chain hotel and be done with it.
Multigenerational families and lots of kids everywhere. Nationalities are truly global but I heard mainly American and UK accents around the resort, with also quite a few Asian guests.
The departure was very quick as I had set up express check out which I was thankful for. I wasn’t looking to hang around. The staff member who checked me out was very friendly but wasn’t particularly interested in how I enjoyed my stay. No one offered to help me with my bags (which had been delivered during the night).
How to get here
35 minutes by road from Orlando International Airport
867 rooms & suites