Review: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, p3
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa opened in July 1988, and recently completed a major renovation.
When it opened, it replaced the Contemporary Resort as Disney’s flagship resort, and remains Walt Disney World’s most expensive and loveliest resort.
(Some cast members at the Contemporary call the Grand Floridian the “red roof inn”; in turn, some Grand Floridian staff refer to the Contemporary as “the toaster.”)
Any one of Victoria and Albert’s, Citricos, or Narcoossees would mark it with distinctive dining; to have all three is astonishing.
According to Disney World’s website, the Grand Floridian is
“a Victorian-style Disney Deluxe Resort distinguished as the flagship hotel of Walt Disney World Resort and offering world-class dining, entertainment and luxurious accommodations in its 6 striking red-gabled buildings. This magnificent hotel sits along the white-sand shores of Seven Seas Lagoon …With its gleaming white exterior, intricate gingerbread trim and gorgeous stained-glass domes, the Resort is an architectural marvel.”
The theming is sometimes claimed to reflect the design and grandeur of Flagler’s Florida hotels, which were meant to attract well-off Ohioans and northeasterners to his Florida East Coast railroad.
Anyone who has seen, for example, the remaining Flagler hotel buildings in St Augustine, will understand that this is nonsense.
The Grand Floridian is a creation of the Disney imagineers, and more influenced by southern California and New Hampshire hotels (especially the Hotel del Coronado) than any Flagler edifice.
It is the only hotel at Walt Disney World fundamentally designed by Disney’s imagineers, and they did a glorious job with it.
To relax at the main pool, surrounded by the glorious buildings, is to fully take advantage of the ability of architecture to add peace to life.
The vaulted lobby is also a favorite, and there’s a group that returns to the Grand Floridian every year in November to watch its famous Christmas decorations be re-created here.
As noted on the first page of this review, the decor is conventional and somewhat dull, and the resort has no particular kid-appeal.
But for adults who welcome, or can overlook, the dull decor and lack of kid appeal, the Grand Floridian is a wonderful place to stay.
LUXURY AT THE GRAND FLORIDIAN
The Grand Floridian is a step above other Walt Disney World deluxe resorts on a couple of dimensions, with architecture, dining and minor amenities–such as robes–being at the top of the list. For this, expect to pay at least $40-$60 a night more than the next most expensive deluxes.
Its self-parking is the dimension other than kid appeal where it suffers comparatively, with the parking lot too far and too strikingly ugly to belong to such a lovely resort. If you don’t valet, self parking is a pain.
What it is not is a peer to world-class luxury resorts such as the Ritz-Carlton.
The issue is not the people. Great hotel service comes from hiring the right staff, training them properly, empowering them, and deploying them in sufficient numbers that they can support guests in their various needs. On the people front, the Grand Floridian has no real deficits.
The difference is hard to put your finger on–even though I happen to be writing this from the Ritz-Carlton at Laguna Niguel and have a direct comparison in front of me. But I think it comes from tone and scale, and has the following dimensions:
- Disney World Cast members are friendly and helpful. Staff at world-class resorts are respectful and supportive but will do everything they can to help solve guest problems. To exaggerate a bit for clarity, they are your servants, whereas Disney staff are your friends.
- Reinforcing this difference is dress. Grand Floridian cast members wear fun but appropriate uniforms that support the theming of the resort. Staff at world class resorts simply dress well.
- The common areas at world class resorts are larger compared to their number of guests, and contain very few children. As a result, they tend to be hushed, and despite being common give the guests the impression of privacy. Grand Floridian common areas tend to be more populated and noisy.
A Four Seasons resort is being built in Disney World at the top of Bonnet Creek–more or less between Fort Wilderness and Port Orleans Riverside.
This will put one of the highest-end brands there is on property, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the Grand Floridian.
There’s a comic element to guest sorting at such high-end resorts
- Some who could afford to go to such resorts go out of their way to avoid them, as they are concerned that they don’t really “fit in,” and that the staff are secretly making fun of them. (Note that the Grand Floridian cast members are not at all stuffy or supercilious–they are great and friendly.)
- A second group would actually enjoy a different hotel much more, but will always go to the most prestigious and expensive brand available, so that they can build buttresses against their insecurities and better manage brand-dropping in their conversations with their peers.
- A third group who would quite enjoy these high-end hotels actively avoids them to keep from having to encounter, or be mistaken for, the second group…
- A final group has no identity invested in these decisions, but simply goes because it knows what the brand will deliver and is comfortable with that.
Will this sorting pull guests out of the Grand Floridian and into the Four Seasons? E.g. those who are looking to avoid kids, to avoid the 99%, to avoid the extension of the Disney experience into their hotel, and/or to capture the ego or comfort dimensions of the Four Seasons brand?
If so, this will give the Grand Floridian the branding headroom to add some more kid appeal…
I’m also wondering how the Four Seasons will handle park transport…I’m sure it’s not gonna share buses with a couple of moderates…perhaps stretch limos?
LINKS FOR THE GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT
MORE ON WHERE TO STAY AT DISNEY WORLD
- For where to stay, see this
- For what you get in each resort price category, see this