Disney World Stay Report: Our New #1

We head back to the Villas at Grand Floridian for a Christmas stay. In this Walt Disney World hotel report, we’ll share our recent holiday time experience, including a look at new decorations in the main lobby and DVC wing, how the walkway enhanced our stay, and why this is our new #1 resort.

What we won’t be doing is focusing on any of the health safety protocol, enhanced cleaning, or anything else unique to Walt Disney World’s phased reopening. This is for two reasons: we’ve already done it several times (notably here and here) so it’s redundant at this point and, really, not a ton feels different from normal on the resort side of things.

Instead, we’ll focus on the seasonal aspects of our stay and recent upgrade to the Grand Floridian. If you saw the latest version of our Disney Vacation Club Resort Rankings, you already know that the Villas at Grand Floridian jumped a couple of spots to #1. Not a huge surprise there. What we’ll do here is better contextualize that, look at some of the pros and cons, and more…

The first caveat I want to offer is that Villas at Grand Floridian is our “compromise” top resort at Walt Disney World. It’s our shared choice, arrived at through a subjective lens but while trying to be reasonably objective. By that, I mean we factor in the variables we think will be most important to other guests, but the weight we give each might differ from others’ assessments. It’s our attempt at being reasonably objective about something inherently subjective…if that makes any sense.

If I could only stay at one Walt Disney World hotel ever again, I’d choose Wilderness Lodge without a second thought or hesitation. It’s my personal favorite by a decent margin–there are few things in all of Walt Disney World that I enjoy more than late nights in that lobby at Christmas. So that’s the more “biased” view. (Animal Kingdom Lodge would be right behind it.)

Speaking of Christmas, the Villas at Grand Floridian are not decked out in spectacular fashion.

To the contrary, it’s probably among the weaker Disney Vacation Club resorts in terms of holiday decor.

While many of the villa wings are more reliant on the hotel side to decorate for Christmas, they also usually do garland, wreaths, and moderately-sized Christmas trees.

For instance, both the Beach Club Villas and Boulder Ridge at Wilderness Lodge have memorable Christmas trees in their atriums. With its own sizable tree, Kidani Village is an even more extreme example–but it’s also a much larger resort.

The problem here might be that the centerpiece of the Villas at Grand Floridian is the Mary Poppins penguin fountain, which can’t exactly be relocated for a Christmas tree.

As a work around, perhaps next year Walt Disney World’s Holiday Services team can dress these penguins up as Santa Clauses. It’s well known that penguins love playing Santa. Or Disney could buy Warner Bros. and give these fellas a Batman Returns overlay. Everyone loves that great Christmas film, and it’d be excellent synergy!

Joking aside (the Batman Forever part is only a joke if it doesn’t happen–I’m totally on board), there are sufficient wreaths and garland to give the lobby a festive feel.

Failing that, the real lobby is a 5-minute walk away…

As usual, we spent a lot of time in the Grand Floridian’s lobby, just soaking up the holiday atmosphere. We also enjoyed the lack of crowds.

Unsurprisingly, the lower occupancy rate plus the lack of a gingerbread house plus three popular table service restaurants still closed has resulted in significantly fewer guests at the Grand Floridian this Christmas season.

If ever there were a year to book a stay in the main building for the holidays, this would’ve been it. I sort of regretted that we hadn’t…until pricing a night out.

Even with the Half-Off Hotels Disney Visa Discount, we were disabused of that idea pretty quickly. Guess we’ve grown too accustomed to DVC “pricing” at the Grand Floridian!

For the last couple of years, Holiday Services has quietly been refreshing Christmas decoration packages around Walt Disney World. This has received almost zero fanfare, despite having a bigger impact than something like a new roadway arch. (With a few exceptions–likely fueled by nostalgia–we’ve been fans of almost all of these changes.)

One of the most recent changes is the Grand Floridian receiving new ornaments along with a “12 Days of Christmas” motif, plus a few other decor changes. In our view, this is a nice enhancement. It’s every bit as timeless and classy as the prior decor package, but with significant fewer birdcages. Since Christmas is, at its core, a holiday about caging birds, there are thankfully still a few of those in the tree.

Migrating back over to the Villas at Grand Floridian, here’s a look inside our room.

We love these rooms. However, after recent experiences with the innovations and enhancements at both Saratoga Springs and Riviera Resort, we have to say that we prefer those.

This is discussed at length in our Disney’s Riviera Resort Report Highlights, but you can really see the evolution in DVC rooms over the last decade, with each iteration bringing incremental improvements.

The Grand Floridian rooms are most of the way there, but the Riviera does it better in ways big and little. There’s also more attention to detail and the rooms convey theme better.

Obviously, since the Villas at Grand Floridian is #1 and Disney’s Riviera Resort isn’t in the top 5, the former makes up ground on virtually every other front.

Common areas, resort-wide theme, dining, pools, and other amenities are better at the Villas at Grand Floridian.

Speaking of which, one huge addition is the new walkway to Magic Kingdom.

We’ve already breathlessly covered this in “Photos & Video: Meandering the Magnificent Magic Kingdom to Grand Floridian Walkway.” In case you missed that, it’s now possible to walk all the way from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Magic Kingdom.

In that post, we say that this walkway will likely go down as our favorite and most-used Walt Disney World “new attraction” of 2020–ahead of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Our enthusiasm for the walkway is not hyperbole. You might recall our pre-closure “Stroll-less Stay at the Grand Floridian,” which was booked due to our “guess” that the walkway would be open by then. We’ve since had a couple of cancelled stays, and were eagerly awaiting this one.

Although the walk from the Villas at Grand Floridian to Magic Kingdom should be longer than from the hotel side, that’s not necessarily true.

The path from the villas goes through the porte-cochere, in front of the main lobby, along the bus stop path, before cutting behind the convention center. It can be a bit tricky due to signage, but those last couple of steps essentially amount to a shortcut over the route hotel guests will use.

Between that and proximity to the Polynesian, the argument could be made that the location of the Villas at Grand Floridian is superior to that of most of the hotel buildings. That would be our perspective–those who regularly use the monorail or Gasparilla Island Grill would likely disagree.

In any case, we took full “advantage” of the new walkway, using it several times…even without visiting Magic Kingdom!

In other “news,” Grand Floridian Cafe is now doing outdoor seating…sometimes.

We debated doing this–I really wanted that Buttermilk-fried Chicken: Hand-breaded Chicken Breast with ‘Loaded’ Smashed Potatoes and Warmed Bacon Vinaigrette again. Maybe my New Year’s Resolution can be to eat that meal at least once per month.

Our stay ended up being split pretty evenly among the main lobby, new walkway, and our room’s patio.

Our balcony v. patio view is normally a toss up, but we discovered during this stay that we prefer the balconies here. On the plus side, the nearby fountain provided lovely ambient noise.

Ultimately, it was another great stay at the Villas at Grand Floridian. We’ve been anxiously awaiting our first “post-path” stay here, and it absolutely lived up to the hype.

The Seven Seas Lagoon resorts have always had a “heart of the action” vibe to them thanks to their views, monorail access, and location near Magic Kingdom…but that walkway really takes that to the next level. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s a really big deal. It essentially renders Bay Lake Tower obsolete for us. Most “normal” people probably won’t understand our effusive praise for a path, but hopefully other Walt Disney World fans will get it!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


Have you stayed at the Grand Floridian since that glorious walkway debuted? Did you use it or the monorail? Think it’s a big addition for the rank of the hotel and DVC villas? What do you think of the Villas at Grand Floridian? Deserving of the #1 ranking? Are you a fan of its rooms, lobby, etc? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

15 Responses to “Disney World Stay Report: Our New #1”
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