Victorian elegance meets the Magic Kingdom? At Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, that’s exactly what the marketing copy promises. And while the original ambience of the staggering five-story open lobby atrium is overshadowed somewhat by the hordes of cartwheeling toddlers in princess gowns and dozing parents waiting for their airport transportation or dinner reservations, the resort itself, from its flawless grounds to its genteel lodging houses, is still a Disney experience like no other.
Disney’s flagship resort since its opening in 1988, the Grand Floridian overlooks the Seven Seas Lagoon from an enviable position just southwest of Adventureland. Sit out on your balcony, and you won’t even need to pay for a theme park view room to know exactly where you are: the toot of the Liberty Belle’s steam whistle as she sails around the Rivers of America, the passing steam trains, and even occasional wafts of parade music and pops of fireworks drift over the water from the Magic Kingdom.
But the resort grounds are as peaceful as the theme park pace is frantic. Stop here for cool breezes off the water, rustling the tall palm trees and scattering azalea blossoms over the lawns. The sparkling courtyard pool splashes with fountains, and is lined with a popular pool bar–it’s easy to while away a sunny day here. Lawn games like croquet and early-morning yoga are offered on the silken green grass.
When it’s time for the Magic Kingdom, there’s no walking path, despite popular rumors to the contrary–the necessary bridge over the canal that holds the Electrical Water Pageant floats has never been built (or even planned, as far as I know).
The fastest route to the Magic Kingdom is the resort monorail, which stops here last on the way around the Seven Seas Lagoon. It might be full and your princess may have to stand up in her sparkly heels, but at least you’re just two minutes away.
On the way back, the resort launch is the most direct route. These lovely leisure launches make a triangular sailing from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian, then on to the Polynesian before returning the theme park entrance. They get busy late at night (you might well check to see if a bus is running back to the Grand Floridian, rather than facing the long loop of the return monorail–ask a Cast Member if one is running and check the board in front of the bus loop for the stop number) but during the day they’re usually uncrowded enough to let you choose the spot you want, close to the water and offering panoramic views of the resort.
The Grand Floridian is undeniably expensive, but when rooms go on sale, the location and amenities can make it a splurge-worthy experience. It’s great for littles because it’s so close to the Magic Kingdom, but you could just as easily make this lovely resort, with nightly fireworks over the Seven Seas Lagoon, and first-class dining inside, a staycation unlike any other.
It’s also home to Disney’s Wedding Pavilion. Even if you’re not invited to a wedding, you can slip over to the pavilion’s entrance loop for some eye-popping views–on any given day you might see the bride and groom depart in Cinderella’s glass coach, drawn by six white ponies, or the Grand Floridian’s signature vintage car, looking like they’re heading to East Egg for the reception. Check the board inside the hotel lobby for the day’s wedding times–there are often as many as three on a single day.
So don’t be spooked by the stuffy-sounding theme… or the children’s shouts echoing off the white marble in the Grand Floridian’s lobby. The heart of the resort, tranquil and serene as a Victorian seaside resort should be, is outside that imposing lobby building… and it’s a beautiful place to stroll, stay, or play.