The Grand Floridian is by far my favorite hotel at Walt Disney World (WDW). If you’re looking for Victorian-style elegance, white and pastel shades, carefully manicured lawns, and wonderful restaurants, then the Grand Floridian (GF) is for you.
My family has stayed there 4 times, the last visit being October 2009. We headed down to WDW for what was then our 17th visit to stay at the GF. (We’ve just returned from our 18th visit, which took us to the Polynesian. A separate trip report on that hotel will be posted.)
My family has been fortunate enough to return to Disney again and again – it’s our vacation spot of choice. One might think the Disney experience would get old, and we’d become pretty jaded; but nothing could be further from the truth. We had as much fun this time as we did on our first visit – actually, probably a ton more, because we didn’t have that newbie, overwhelmed look on our faces, our youngest was now old enough to run and hug the characters, and our eldest was now old enough for all the big kid scary rides that mom would rather sit out.
As old hands at the Disney experience, we have more than a few tricks up our sleeves on how to make the most of our experience. Here are best tips from our most recent stay:
1.) Stay in the heart of the magic.
In 17 (now 18) visits, we’ve stayed off site, and we’ve stayed onsite. It’s a decision every family makes based on size, space and kitchen requirements, budget, etc; and I help clients walk thru that maze and find what best suits their family. But, the value you get, and the extra benefits that come with onsite, definitely make it the preferred choice.
The “extra magic hours” alone for onsite guests is a huge benefit – Disney accords onsite guests this perk of getting into one park an hour early, or staying at another park up to three hours later than regular park guests. Plus you get free shuttles from the airport, and free transportation around the parks, you can purchase the meal plan, shop at the parks and have your purchases delivered back to your hotel, and be surrounded by the magic for 24 hours.
I have a separate blog post that deals with the onsite vs offsite debate. There is no doubt that I prefer, and recommend to my clients, an onsite hotel – and the Grand Floridian is the best of the best.
2.) If you can, stay at a monorail hotel.
On our 17th visit (and 3 other visits prior), we’ve stayed at the Grand Floridian. Not only is it one beautiful hotel, with a canyon-themed pool and waterslide that everyone loves, but it is a short monorail ride from the Magic Kingdom (which is the first stop once you get on at GF).
We zipped back and forth from the park with ease. Heading out early in the morning let us hit the parks before they were crowded, then we could zip back to our hotel for a swim and lunch, and head out again after we were feeling refreshed. And, for a change of pace, you can also catch a resort ferry boat between Magic Kingdom and the GF.
There are 3 monorail hotels that are on the resort monorail line, with quick access to the Magic Kingdom: the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, and the Contemporary. We’ve stayed at all 3, and they all have their own theming, feel and flavour, and magic; and I’d return to either one of them in a heartbeat. However, the GF has a special place in my heart.
3.) Go during a special event.
This year was our 3rd time to take in the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We had a blast. Adults and kids alike are encouraged to dress up – even the characters dress up. Magic Kingdom has a special parade and fireworks, and the kids go trick-or-treating through the park. We also attended the Wishes Dessert Party that night – death by chocolate!
And, of course, staying at the GF meant we could catch the monorail back home quickly at the end of the night. Worked well when the wee one had had enough, and older daughter wanted to keep riding the roller coasters – I zipped back to the hotel with Ceili, while Bill and Ciara kept riding late into the night. (Gotta luv the extended hours for special events.)
4.) Buy the meal plan.
My family always gets the regular meal plan. It provides ample food for us (in fact, we have a hard time using up all the counter service meals) and good value when it comes to taking in the various restaurants and character meals.
And the GF has some terrific restaurants to sample – from the elegant chef’s table at Victoria and Albert’s, to the award-winning Narcoossee’s, to Citrico’s, to the Grand Floridian Cafe, to 1900 Park Fare (where the character meals are) to casual fare at the Gasparilla’s Grill. There are plenty of spots from which to choose. And the food is delectable at all!
5.) Plan your itinerary.
No one wants their vacation planned down to the last minute. I always build my clients an excel spreadsheet that is customized for their vacation. I note what park is open when, with extra magic hours outlined for each day, times of parades and fireworks, and then I plug in their advance dining reservations. With reservations being accepted 180 days in advance, you really need to plan to have breakfast with Cinderella at the castle, or supper with Chef Mickey. I help my clients get that all sorted.
6.) Park hop, and get the max days on your park tickets.
Disney charges the most for one-day tickets, and then every day you add, the price per day goes down. It costs only a few dollars more to go from a five-day ticket to a ten-day ticket, and a park hopper add on gives you ability to come and go between the parks. You’re investing valuable vacation time and dollars to get to Disney – why not maximize your family’s vacation time, and give yourself the maximum flexibility to come and go as you choose.
And, staying at the GF makes it easy to park hop – you can zip over to Magic Kingdom for the morning, zip back to the hotel for a quick swim and lunch, and then zip over to Epcot for an afternoon of fun and supper. It’s easy to hop between the parks, and that way you can take each day as it comes!
7.) Take time to veg each day.
Sure, Disney is a busy holiday. We’ve gone “commando” (no, I don’t mean without underwear- there is another meaning for WDW fans). We often get up early, and go until late at night, collapsing in bed, exhausted, at the end of the day. That’s fun. But it does wear you down for the next day. Rest, swim, take a break so you can do more the next day.
(Thanks, Aunt Ann Biava, for the photos around the GF pool!)