April 30, 2012

Disney's Monorail Resorts

Disney Deluxe Resorts...Monorail Edition
Earlier posts detailed Disney's Value Resorts and Disney's Moderate Resorts and I'll post more soon about the rest of Disney's Deluxe Resorts and DVC Resorts.

This week we're going to start covering the deluxe resorts. There are so many amenities and extras with these, I thought it best to split them up. First, we're going to go over the monorail resorts because often times first time guests planning a vacation will know only of the monorail resorts. So, which resorts are on the monorail? 

The Grand Floridian
(photo credit: infobarrel.com)

The Contemporary
(photo credit: wikipedia.org)

The Polynesian
(photo credit: disneypicture.net)

Firstly, it should be noted that the monorail resorts are the most expensive resorts at Disney World. For a family of four, it can range anywhere from $315 per night (weekday nightly rate in the value season at Contemporary in a standard room) to $3,210 per night (during the holiday season-December 21st-31st in a Grand Suite on the Club Level at the Grand Floridian). Although, across the board, a standard room will generally cost you around $500-650 per night. 

(photo credit: worl.nycsubway.org)

The Disney World monorail connects the three deluxe resorts, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the transportation and ticket center (TTC). There are two routes: the express which only connects the Magic Kingdom to the TTC from which you can switch trains and go on to Epcot, and the resort line which not only services the Magic Kingdom and TTC (again, from which you can transfer to a train to Epcot) but also each of the three monorail resorts. The monorail itself is almost silent and has been in operation since 1971. Major changes were made in 1982 when Epcot was added, 1988 when the Grand Floridian was added, and 1989 when the "modern trains" began being used. The monorail runs almost completely silent so don't worry about train noise disrupting your stay at one of the monorail resorts. It should be noted that as convenient it is to be on the monorail, you only have direct access via monorail to two parks. You will still have to fold up the strollers and pack into either a Disney bus or your own vehicle to get to either Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.

The Grand Floridian

(as seen from the ferry between Magic Kingdom and Wilderness Lodge)

The most recent addition to the monorail resorts, The Grand Floridian is beautiful. Inspired by San Diego's Hotel Del Coronado, the Grand Floridian has gorgeous verandas and dormers with it's stark white paint and red shingled roofs, it's a stunning image of Victorian architecture. It's also Disney World's most expensive and some might argue most luxurious resort. That being said, don't worry if you're a t-shirt and shorts kind of Disney vacationer. You won't be out of place. It's still a Disney resort and as such is very family friendly. Also, don't let the Victorian atmosphere fool you, it's not a stuffy or snooty resort-we're a t-shirt and shorts kind of family and although this is one resort we would probably not pick for a long vacation (more for budget considerations than anything else) but a long weekend would be great. 

If you are planning on visiting The Grand Floridian with your kids, be sure to pick up an activities guide when you check-in. Such activities include the Lady Bug Release, Adventure Time, Arts and Crafts as well as the popular (read: make a reservation 180 days in advance) Pirate Adventure and Wonderland Tea Party. The Pirate Adventure takes little pirates (ages 4-12) out on a search for treasure on the high seas (aka various marinas on the Seven Seas Lagoon). The adventure lasts two hours and is available Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturdays from 930-1130 and only costs $36.21. The kids must be fully potty trained (no pull-ups) and will be given a snack and beverage so if your little one has an allergy, be sure to mention it when you book your reservation. The Wonderland Tea Party is hosted by Alice and the Mad Hatter. The kids (aged 4-10) play games, decorate and eat cupcakes and drink "tea" (juice). They also do some arts and crafts-usually making a mug that they then get to take home. The party lasts an hour and I've been told that the photopass picture that is taken of the kids with Alice and the Mad Hatter can be added to your photopass card. The cost is approximately $42.50. Both the adventure and the party are available to all Disney guests and not just Grand Floridian Resort guests but it is a convenient perk if you're already planning on staying there. Additionally, the Grand Floridian offers a drop-off childcare program called the "Mousekeeter Club" only available to Grand Floridian resort guests and guests who have booked a dining reservation at one of The Grand Floridian's restaurants. There is a minimum of 2 hours and a max of 4 hours per visit and children must be potty trained and between 4 and 12 years old. The cost is $11 per hour and includes dinner for the child. Also, while there, kids are free to play board games, video games, watch movies or create an arts and crafts project. You can book the Pirate Adventure, the Wonderland Tea Party or the Mousekeeter Club 180 days in advance by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

The resort itself has 900 rooms separated in categories both by price, size and view. You can either have a garden, lagoon or even a Magic Kingdom view. They have a gorgeous Victorian style with meticulous detailing. Where The Magic Lives provides a much more detailed account of each of the many, many rooms available including lots of pictures.

One of the most popular aspects to the resort, the spa, is unfortunately not currently open. Disney is doing a fairly extensive refurbishment and the spa will remain closed throughout 2012. I will update this post when the spa has reopened. 

The Grand Floridian is home to some of the most popular restaurants at Disney. They are...

Victoria and Albert's-Disney's most expensive restaurant...dress code and age restrictions-10yrs and up strictly enforced. Expect to spend at least $125 per person (plus wine pairings, upgrades like kobe beef or caviar, tip and tax) in the main dining room for the 6 course fixed price menu-which will be personalized with your name and whatever occasion you are celebrating to take home
Citricos-famous for their seafood and often compared to the Contemporary Resort's California Grill (a signature meal on the Disney Dining Plan)
1900 Park Fare-Character Buffet...Mary Poppins for breakfast and Cinderella for dinner (table service meal on the dining plan)
Narcoosee's-a waterfront restaurant featuring seafood and steak dinners (a signature meal on the dining plan)

The Contemporary Resort

One of Disney's original two resorts, The Contemporary Resort is a stone's throw from Magic Kingdom. In fact, if you have to inclination, you can actually walk from the lobby of the the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom in just minutes. It's location is obviously the biggest draw for the Contemporary and although some would argue it lacks the thematic elements that other Disney resorts have, the Contemporary has recently be refurbished and is still bringing people in from around the world with it's futuristic styling. Even if you don't reserve a room with a Magic Kingdom view, you can watch Wishes (Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks show) from the Contemporary either on the 4th floor observation deck (open to the public) or while dining at California Grill on the 15th floor observation deck. We've never caught the show from the 4th floor but twice we booked dinner at California Grill (around 8pm so we could eat dinner, watch the show and come back to our table for dessert). The music is broadcast through speakers on the deck and it's truly magical.

Recently the Contemporary joined the ranks of a select few resorts...the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resorts with the addition of the Bay Lake Tower. The tower is attached to the main Contemporary building with a long walkway. The DVC is a great time-share type program that I'll go into in more depth in another post.

The Contemporary offers several recreational options including tennis courts, a fitness center, white sand beaches overlooking Bay Lake (no swimming in the lake), an arcade, two pools (which optional cabana rental), fishing excursions, movies under the stars by the pool or on the beach, parasailing and the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage (once only available to Grand Gatherings).

The Pirates and Pals Voyage sails Friday through Monday nights (Tuesday nights have been added through June of 2012 with no word on if it will continue the traditional Fri-Mon schedule afterward) leaving just over an hour before the fireworks are scheduled to begin. Captain Hook and Mr Smee will be your guides on land (where there are snacks and beverages) and on sea. The boat can accommodate up to 60 people but doesn't always fill up. Prices currently listed are $53.99 (plus tax) for guests 10 years and up and $30.99 (plus tax) for guests 3-9 years. You can book 180 days in advance by calling 407-WDW-PLAY (sign language interpreters are available so long as you notify Disney of this necessity at least 14 days in advance and the boats are all wheel chair accessible-you just roll right on).

Other fun options at the Contemporary Resort include a couple of great restaurants. I already mentioned the California Grill and I really can't recommend it highly enough. There is a dress code (no where near as strict as at Victoria and Alberts...just no cut off jeans or tank tops) and it is closer to fine dining than most of the restaurants at Disney World but it's still very family friendly and most importantly the food is amazing. If you are a fan of sushi or steak, you'll love it! Just be sure to book your dinner at 180 days out so you can make your reservation fall in place with the fireworks. It's a must do at least once. California Grill is on the dining plan as a signature meal.

(who says 14 months is too young to meet the mouse?!)

Another fun restaurant is Chef Mickey's. It's a buffet restaurant where the characters come out and meet you. They stop at each table and give the kids a chance to have pictures taken or autographs signed which can be super helpful if you go at a busier time of year and don't want to wait in line for the kids to meet all the characters. Just keep in mind that you may want to get the kids to eat as much as possible BEFORE the characters start coming out or you may end up leaving with hungry kids. Breakfast prices: $17.03 ages 3-9 & $30.88 ages 10 and up (plus tip, tax is included). Dinner prices: $20.23-$22.36 ages 3-9 & $41.53-$45.79 ages 10 and up based on the time of year (plus tip, tax is included). Chef Mickey's is a table service meal on the dining plan.

The Polynesian

My personal favorite monorail deluxe is also one of the original two resorts, the Polynesian is engrossed in its tropical theme with over 75 varieties of tropical and subtropical plants and picture perfect waterfalls inside a 3-story atrium. Bamboo tiki torches light the walkways between the Great House (lobby, front desk, shops, restaurants) and the eleven different "longhouses" which house the 847 rooms available. Although the Polynesian is a gorgeous deluxe resort, it's clearly the most casual and family-oriented. 
(my boys)

The volcano-themed pool is a particular favorite with kids. It's 40 feet high and includes a waterfall and tubular water slide. It is a zero-entry pool and there is a water wheelchair available to help you enter the water. Additionally, you can enjoy fishing, boating, water-skiing, and parasailing on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon. Unique to the Polynesian, a torch-lighting ceremony welcoming the night includes traditional fire-knife dancing and authentic drumming and chanting.

The Polynesian has both one of the most popular family restaurants as well as one of the most popular dinner shows. The restaurant is called 'Ohana (which translated means family in an extended sense-meaning blood, adopted and "intentional" family) and offers traditional Hawaiian food served family style. Breakfast has more "Americanized" food in addition to some tradition breakfast items and is a character meal with characters from Lilo and Stitch. Dinner is full of fun with story tellers and coconut races (kids race around with brooms trying to get coconuts around the room fastest). Both breakfast and dinner are on the dining plan as a table service meal but out of pocket would cost:

Breakfast: $12.77-$14.90 (based on the season, including tax but not tip) for children ages 3-9 and $22.36-$26.62 (based on the season, including tax but not tip) for adults
Dinner: $17.03-$19.16 (based on the season, including tax but not tip) for children ages 3-9 and $35.14-$39.40 (based on the season, including tax but not tip) for adults

(he's a BIG fan of the Polynesian Resort)

The dinner show at the Polynesian is Spirit of Aloha Luau. It's a signature meal on the dining plan and is both entertaining and delicious. I wrote a much more extenssive post about it specifically and you can go HEREto read more about it. 

If you're plan is to spend much of your time relaxing at the resort but you still want easy quick access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot (read: you don't have to fold up those blasted strollers), the Polynesian might just be the resort for you.