Gran Destino: First Impressions & Photos

We just finished our first stay in Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs Resort in Walt Disney World. In this post, I’ll share some photos and offer some thoughts on theme and how this fits into the Walt Disney World experience for me on a personal level.

I wanted to get this out ASAP to help those of you contemplating whether to book the $199 Rooms at Gran Destino Resort Deal. As we discuss in that post, this is likely the best discount you’ll see on Gran Destino (maybe ever?). Fair warning, though: this post reads like a rambling dissertation on design and my personal qualms about the tower. It covers some of “the usual” topics with which you might be familiar if you read any of our Coronado Springs construction updates.

This is to say that if you’re a first-timer planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you might want to instead read the forthcoming review. (Alternatively, you can just scroll through and look at the photos I got up at 3 a.m. to capture.) My perception of Gran Destino is absolutely colored by being a certain type of Disney fan who grew up in the (late) Vacation Kingdom of the World era…

Gran Destino will undoubtedly make a strong first impression on most guests (us included!), but there’s ultimately no there there in a thematic sense. It’s pretty and extravagant; Disney’s take on the type of hotel tower you’d find in Las Vegas. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–Las Vegas has some truly magnificent hotels that overwhelm and impress.

Like so many of those, Gran Destino seems built with a penchant for grandeur. It’s never as ostentatious as the best (worst?) of Las Vegas, and is more like “Las Vegas Lite.” Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective, but I view this as a positive.

Gran Destino does a good job of toeing the line between eye-catching and nouveau riche garishness.

The good news is that its flashiness is relatively restrained, and works surprisingly well. The bad news is that the design is superfluous, without the real goal of reinforcing any semblance of theme.

Disney’s telltale signs of something being thematically lacking are a surplus of hidden Mickeys and backstory. I realize that many of you probably love both of these things, and that’s sort of the idea–they’re crutches for scoring easy points with fans.

There’s also a lot of both at Gran Destino.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against hidden Mickeys or backstory–so long as they’re accompanied by strong visual design. Don’t tell me a story, show me one. Imagineering’s best work needs no accompanying words to explain what’s going on, whereas the worst usually has plenty (too many) of them.

This is why you don’t need any knowledge of Japanese to adore Tokyo DisneySea, and why mastery of the English language won’t help with whatever it is that Chester and Hester have cobbled together.

In the case of Gran Destino, Imagineering goes for a deep cut: the collaboration and friendship between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali. This ultimately resulted in the short film Destino, which was released in 2003. There’s also Dali & Disney: Destino, a book that is really fascinating and beautiful.

Imagineering credits the surrealist animated short for the visual style of the tower, which it claims is “a whimsical, magnificent visual feast, diverse in its design and execution.” The lobby intends to pay homage to the Catalan Modernism style, and there are flashes of famed Spanish architect Gaudí in the lounge and rooftop restaurant.

Unfortunately, this is indeed limited to mere flashes, and most of the connections to Dali, Destino, and whatever other influences might exist in the design are superficial. Pieces of art, a few fluid lines somewhere, or a ceiling elsewhere. The tower isn’t actually themed to Destino; there are simply a scattering of decorations and stylistic choices to make the connection.

It’s interesting that Disney chose to invoke Dali, Destino, and Catalan Modernism as inspirations. Those are among the most ambitious sources possible, and Gran Destino is not. Even if an earnest effort had been made, there’s no way Disney could live up to Dali or even Gaudí. Imagineering didn’t swing for the fences with Gran Destino, but if they had, you couldn’t fault them if they fell short. So why even try to draw a tenuous connection when there isn’t one?

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that Gran Destino is actually pretty interesting and visually engaging when disregarding the supposed ties and taking its visuals on their own merits. There are a lot of patterns, bursts of color, textures, and those aforementioned flashes are absolutely striking when you’re in their presence.

My view here is that Gran Destino exceeded expectations, but that probably comes down to my low expectations. It’s far from a thematic high water mark, but based on concept art and what I saw as it was being built, I was fearing a casino-esque tower with generic gaudiness. Without question, Gran Destino is more interesting and cool than what I expected.

Inside, Gran Destino reminds me of the imposing and eye-catching look of the Swan and Dolphin, which I view as a best case scenario. It doesn’t have the singular vision or ambition of a starchitect, but it’s also not simply a bland convention center tower.

Others might compare it to a Disney Cruise Line atrium, but I don’t think it’s nearly on that level.

I also find it kind of odd that Coronado Springs is now purportedly themed to Mexico and the American Southwest, plus Spain. If that doesn’t strike you as a lot of varied places, imagine if Walt Disney World had a Canada & Maine Resort that added a giant Big Ben Tower. Same idea.

In this sense, it’s probably for the best that Gran Destino didn’t go all-out for an immersive, richly-themed space. A tower that truly had a transportive sense of Spanish Modernism would’ve been even more visually jarring against the rest of the Coronado Springs Resort’s landscape. The downside of the milder style of decor at Gran Destino means it’s not authentically Spanish, but the upside is that it’s not at extreme odds with the rest of the resort.

This might all sound pretentious, and maybe it is. In fairness, I’m not turning my nose up to Gran Destino in favor of Grand Floridian or other, more hoity hotels. If anything, Gran Destino is more pretentious than my no-nonsense favorites like Fort Wilderness or Port Orleans–immersive themed places, but hardly resorts with an air of pretension.

The difference between Gran Destino and these bygone era Walt Disney World resorts is that they strove for idealized and romanticized themes that transport you to another time and place. Those resorts are immersive, warm, and reassuring. Gran Destino has no theme, isn’t transportive, and strives for something different entirely.

This is not to say Gran Destino isn’t impressive or doesn’t serve a role. It absolutely has a sense of grandeur and lavishness. There are some truly fun touches, and the sense of place is both hip and inviting, which I find lacking at most of the Vegas-style hotels. Gran Destino can be those things and also a bit vapid. Sort of like thematic junk food–it’s innately appealing on one level even if it doesn’t have an overarching sense of theme or cohesive design.

I recognize that Gran Destino is big, bold, and cool. The style accomplishes more than I expected, while never being too bland or too gaudy. While these first impressions probably read fairly harsh in places, I actually like Gran Destino, in isolation and on the inside, quite a lot. It’s different and offers tremendous value for money relative to comparable Deluxe Resorts.

While Gran Destino doesn’t really have a theme and isn’t what I personally want out of a Walt Disney World resort, the finished product will work for many guests. Moreover, I can recognize that not everything at Walt Disney World needs to cater to my personal tastes.

Quite simply, this tower was built for convention-goers who don’t care about Walt Disney World. Gran Destino is going to be a home run for that crowd, plus a lot of other potential guests. That came as something of a surprise to me. (This is something we’ll cover further in our full review.)

At the end of the day, Gran Destino doesn’t resonate for me in a way I’d expect from a Walt Disney World resort. When it comes to Disney resorts, I want something I can’t get in the real world: immersive themed design. Luxury is nice, but far less important, as that’s readily available from real world counterparts.

That’s just me, though. Arguably, fans like me are perfectly served by the some two dozen other resorts at Walt Disney World.

It still pains me that this was built at Coronado Springs–a resort absolutely at odds with the new tower–to save on infrastructure costs. It simply does not fit in terms of theme, architecture, scale, etc., at Coronado Springs. There is no way to justify its presence at this resort from a show perspective.

It’s really unfortunate this lesson wasn’t learned with the Swan & Dolphin. Gran Destino definitely would be more at home in the Disney Springs area than towering amidst one of Walt Disney World’s sprawling Moderate Resorts. Disney likes to tout the Four Keys (show trumps efficiency), until its inconvenient or less profitable, of course.

Nevertheless, I’m sure the target demographic of convention goers will love Gran Destino. Others who simply want a condensed tower hotel environment with a sense of luxury at a reasonable price (compared to other Walt Disney World resorts) will likewise find a lot to like about Gran Destino. We will have a full review soon that breaks the resort down from a less emotional, more objective perspective.

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!

Your Thoughts

Does Gran Destino appeal to you, or does this strike you as too much like Las Vegas, and underwhelming thematically? Think it’s an otherwise nice resort that would have been fine if built elsewhere? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

28 Responses to “Gran Destino: First Impressions & Photos”
  1. dana June 18, 2020
  2. Larissa December 26, 2019
  3. Rick July 24, 2019
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  5. Aaron July 19, 2019
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