Welcome Guest Blogger Amy Simpson Swiss as she shares her Grand Floridian experience...
Sometimes, Plussing the Magic can come in the form of realizing a long-standing Disney Dream.
The story begins more than 20 years ago, during one of my very first trips to Disney World. I boarded the monorail- a thrill in itself, as I felt I was stepping into the future – and glided, like magic, towards the grandest, most extravagant hotel I’d ever seen. A Victorian gingerbread house brought to life - The Grand Floridian. First impressions often last forever, and so it was that these first glimpses, through the monorail glass, of that stunning fairytale building burned forever into my memory. I didn’t get any closer than that first glance, but that was enough to plant the seeds of my dream. I knew that someday, someway, I wanted to come back, and stay at the most enchanting hotel at the most magical place on earth.
Since then, I have been back to Disney many times. I’ve visited Disney on a shoe-string budget, and I’ve traveled first-class all the way – and everything in between. I’ve stayed off-property occasionally and also at many wonderful Disney Property resorts, but I’ve never returned to the Grand Floridian. The time has never been right to fulfill that dream – until now. This past weekend, at long last, the dream came true. This, for me, was the ultimate way to Plus the Magic- fulfilling that long-held dream at last, and doing Disney in high-style, at it’s flagship resort.
So, admittedly, all this sets up some pretty big expectations. Would the Grand Floridian live up to my expectations? The short answer is – YES. The longer answer is: Yes, yes, yes!
How exactly did the Grand Floridian Plus the Magic? Details, details, details. Here are just a few examples...
The moment we stepped off the Magical Express, a Cast Member – dressed impeccably in the Victorian-era costume appropriate for this Victorian-era recreation – was by our side, welcoming us and ushering us directly in to the desk for check in. This level of helpful and friendly, but not pushy, service continued through out our stay. Cast members seem to be everywhere, waiting unobtrusively to meet any need that may arise. Throughout our stay, the moment we looked confused- wondering where to go, or how to find something -a cast member appeared to not only direct us, but escort us. The moment we wanted to snap a picture of ourselves, a cast member appeared like magic to offer to take the photo- from several angles, to get the best background. Every cast member we encountered – no matter job they were doing, not matter what time of day – was friendly, helpful, warm and welcoming.
Our room was in one of the smaller, separate buildings in the resort. Initially I was disappointed and dreading what might be a long walk to the room. I also thought a separate building would make it feel like we were not really part of the main resort at all. (I have stayed in at least one other deluxe resort where this was exactly the case). Not here. The separate building where my room was located was in fact very close to the main building, along a short, pretty, flowered path. All of the separate buildings retained the feel of the main resort and were situated in such a way that you felt like you were part of the main building, despite the short outside walk. The separate building had a lovely lobby as well with a view of the water, and the room, on the fourth floor, was perfect. We didn't have a water view - our room faced inward, overlooking the pool (which was under construction) and the main resort building. Despite being a “less desirable” view – who wouldn’t want to face the beautiful Seven Seas lagoon? - the view of the main resort itself was absolutely lovely. The beds were comfortable, the room was cozy and spacious, and the bathroom was full of luxurious extras to make us feel pampered, such as mint foot rub cream and quilted bathrobes. The gabled ceilings of the room and the tall poster beds in warm wood retained my general impression that we were staying in Victorian gingerbread house. One final detail that brought a smile to my face- the elegant bathroom wallpaper, on close inspection, was full of character topiaries!
Of course, the grounds were visually spectacular. No surprise there. What about the layout? One frequently heard complaint when visiting many Disney Resorts, and of course the parks as well, is the amount of walking involved. In general the resorts are huge and very spread out. At the larger resorts, there may need to be shuttle buses involved to get to the pools or to the resort entrance from your room. I have, on occasion, had the unfortunate experience of kids complaining about the amount of walking involved before we even got to the parks. NOT here! Despite it's massive appearance, The Grand Floridian is very well laid out. Nothing is very far away within the resort. It’s not more than a short walk from just about every room to the main lobby, the quick service restaurant, the pool area, the waterfront, the monorails and the fitness center.
The music was one of the biggest plusses of this resort. The amazing orchestra, "The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra", has a permanent residence on the second floor balcony of the lobby. They were a steady and wonderful presence throughout our stay, playing every evening we were there and during the day on Sunday. The musicians were incredibly talented, the music was so much fun, and the amazing acoustics of the grand lobby made it feel like we were in a concert hall. Saturday and Sunday evenings, each time the orchestra took a break, a pianist on the main floor of the lobby quickly took their place, so the music was continuous. The music was a major draw to the lobby.
The Décor and Ambience
The building is a stunning piece of architecture. This, combined with the small and intricate details in theming and décor, make the resort a luxurious masterpiece. Here are some examples of the details that stand out the most in my memory:
The Color Palette: The Grand Floridian manages to capture the spirit and essence of the Victorian era without resorting to the dark woods and heavy, stuffy feel of other, similarly themed resorts. Instead, the décor throughout is light, airy, breezy and upbeat.
The Antiques: The antiques, which fit so nicely in with the theming, were beautiful and elegant. At the bottom of one staircase in the main lobby was a true work of art – a framed antique, crocheted tablecloth. As I examined the intricate needlework one afternoon, and wondered about it’s origins, a cast member named Art appeared, as if by magic, to answer my questions. According to Art, there’s a rumor floating around that Walt’s wife made the antique tablecloth. However, he was quick to point out that he didn’t believe the rumor – rather, he had a more likely explanation; he thinks the gem came from the Olde World Antiques shop that was part of Liberty Square for many years.
Several other examples of whimsical and delightful antique show pieces were found just outside of Victoria and Albert’s - a colorful, playful ferris wheel from the late 1800’s, and an old barber pole.
The Orchestra Pit: When the orchestra wasn’t playing, the orchestra pit was a site to behold, full of beautiful old instruments, and wonderfully fingered sheaves of music.
The Marble Floors – The intricate, elegant designs on the marble floors throughout the resort have hidden surprises. Here is one example: note the elaborate leaf work below. Seamlessly worked into the design – something easily missed, but so fun to find if you happen to be looking in the right place – are Disney characters. Note this picture, lower right corner – goofy inset.
As far as locations go, this resort has one of the best, if not the best, locations. The monorail pulls up right along the second floor lobby, and the first stop is the Magic Kingdom. If you time it just right you could be in the Magic Kingdom in five minutes. Wow! The third stop on the monorail is the Ticket and Transportation Center, where you connect for the Epcot monorail. My trip to Epcot took about about 20 minutes. I personally never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a monorail. Bus rides are available to the other parks, and they run frequently.
The lobby at The Grand Floridian is a destination in it's own right. It brings together all the details I’ve mentioned so far- amazing architecture, music, decor, luxury, comfort. Stunningly beautiful stained glass sun lights hover above the immense chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. Plenty of cozy couches that make you want to curl up and get comfortable. There were young couples curled up with a bottle of wine in one corner, children dressed up as princesses dancing near the piano, and elderly couples waltzing nearby. Large families with many generations gathered chairs around to relax and enjoy the orchestra together. The room was bustling with people, all enjoying themselves, and yet the spaciousness and sweeping ceilings made it feel like you had complete privacy with the person you were with.
The Water Views
At this resort, no matter where your room is, you are no more than a few steps for a breathtaking sunrise over the water in the morning, or the fireworks display at night. The resort offers multiple water excursions, including a super-fun Pirate Adventure for the kids, as well as a ferry, with relaxing rides back and forth to the Magic kingdom. But really, this picture sums everything you need to know about the benefits of being on the water:
I have watched countless fireworks shows from many locations. Watching from this resort is definitely one of the best ways to see the show at the Magic Kingdom. The Grand Floridian is essentially directly across the Seven Seas Lagoon from Cinderella’s castle, so there are multiple locations around the resort from which to watch. Most of these are just steps from your room, with no crowds and no long trip back to your room afterwards. The best spot would have to be just outside Narcossee’s restaurant – the back deck pipe’s in the music from the Magic Kingdom, so you don’t miss any aspect of the magic. The fireworks reflecting on the sparkling waters of the lagoon is an added bonus.
The resort had all the usual amenities you would expect at a top-notch resort. Senses- a world class spa and fitness center- is located in a separate building just a short walk down another pretty, flowered path from the main lobby.
An arcade stands ready and waiting to occupy any child who might be bored between activities. One of my very favorite amenities here was an easily accessible, large, well-stocked 24-hour quick serve restaurant. It was great place to grab a quick breakfast on the run before a full day in the parks, an early morning cup of coffee, or late afternoon tea on the way back to the room before dinner. And of course, the resort has several pools, as well as this super fun children’s play area:
Was it perfect?
Well, what is? There are always minor problems in life, and there were some here too. The free in-room wifi service was flaky, which was a little frustrating – but only during those brief periods of time we were actually in the room. Not a big deal, overall. Pin trading opportunities seemed to be very limited. Very few of the Cast Member’s at the resort were wearing pins, outside of the store. The pin board in the store was only scheduled to be taken out at limited – and inconvenient – times, although the staff was flexible about taking it out at other times when asked – if they weren't busy.