When choosing a luxury hotel near Magic Kingdom on the monorail loop at Walt Disney World, vacation planners debate between two Deluxe Resorts: Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village Resort. This head-to-head comparison weighs the pros & cons of each, picking a “winner” in theme, dining, transportation, pools, and other categories. (Updated August 8, 2021)
This continues our Walt Disney World Hotel Comparison Series, which includes several other difficult dilemmas you might face when trying to pick a hotel. Other versus posts include Animal Kingdom Lodge v. Wilderness Lodge, BoardWalk v. Beach Club, Port Orleans Riverside v. French Quarter, and even Caribbean Beach v. the Poly.
This Grand Floridian v. Polynesian comparison pits Walt Disney World’s flagship hotel against a fun fan-favorite that some might argue should be WDW’s “crown jewel” hotel. While both are similar in terms of location (literally a short walk from one another) and pricing, there are many differences in terms of theme, atmosphere, restaurants, and amenities.
While we will draw our own conclusions as to which is better, along the way we will explain our reasoning, so you can form your own conclusions. Since so much of this is a matter of subjective, personal preference, we feel that’s the best way to approach these comparisons. Plus, it would be a pretty short blog post if we didn’t offer explanatory text along with the winner of each element.
Okay, with that, it’s time to see whether the Grand Floridian delivers a sick People’s Elbow to the Poly, or if the Poly can pull off a surprise Stone Cold Stunner… (Sorry, I’ll stop with the wrestlin’ talk–those are the only terms I know, anyways.)
Theme: It Depends – Theme is such a tricky subject since so much of it is predicated in personal preference. Rather than making a value judgment about which theme is inherently “better,” we approach this from their respective execution of theme.
Grand Floridian is no doubt the most elegant and refined hotel at Walt Disney World, befitting of its high-brow Victorian theme. The lobby oozes sophistication and class, and makes a strong first impression. From that alone, it’s easy to see why this is Walt Disney World’s most luxurious and flagship resort. It is, as the name suggests, grand.
If there’s a good “opposite” of opulence, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is it. The Poly captures the essence of vacationing at a tropical resort. From the lush grounds to the South Seas vibe throughout the resort, it’s the confluence of 20th century tiki culture and authentic island paradise. It’s a great place to decompress and has an undeniable “vacation mode” vibe.
Both stumble on executing their themes in some regards. There are areas where the Grand Floridian feels dated, like a 1990s interpretation of the elevated Victorian theme. Some say it reminds them of “grandma’s house.” Then there are spots where modernization feels a bit bland and off-theme, the the Beauty and the Beast bar. Likewise, the Poly’s theme has been chipped away at in recent years with the removal of its lobby waterfall and other tropical elements, but other enhancements make it feel like a good blend of mid-century and modern.
For what it’s worth, if this were simply our personal preferences, we’d give the win to the Poly. Objectively, they are difficult to compare and both succeed and stumble in the same ways, so we’re calling this a push.
The Poly’s new Moana rooms are bold, with distinctly “Disney” style and use of characters. They have a lot going on in terms of colors, patterns, and textures that won’t appeal to everyone. We think they strike the right balance, but some will undoubtedly disagree, finding them too “loud.” Regardless of that, the quality of finishings, features, and functionality is all high–much higher than the Grand Floridian’s older rooms.
Grand Floridian’s rooms are bland and lightly-themed, with a look that is virtually indistinguishable from a nice Marriott or Hilton. The rooms aren’t bad by any stretch, they are just dull and not what you might expect at this price point. They need more luxurious details and finishings, in addition to thematic enhancements.
The rooms at Grand Floridian could also benefit from a number of functional upgrades–ones that have become ubiquitous at nearly every other hotel that has received room reimaginings in the last ~5 years. It’s highly likely Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort will receive its own room reimagining in 2022, so hopefully this large chasm won’t exist for much longer.
Dining: Grand Floridian – The culinary scene at the Grand Floridian is befitting of its flagship status. Narcoossee’s and Citricos are two of the most highly regarded restaurants at Walt Disney World, and the latter just received a Mary Poppins-inspired overhaul that took it to the next level. Then there’s Victoria & Albert’s (closed until 2022), which is in a league of its own.
At the less expensive end of the spectrum, Grand Floridian Cafe is an underrated gem and has become one of our favorite spots for a casual meal or last minute Advance Dining Reservation around Magic Kingdom. Gasparilla Island Grill is likewise a strong counter service restaurant. There’s also the recently-reimagined Enchanted Rose Beauty and the Beast Bar, we aren’t fans, but others seem to like it.
We ultimately give the edge to Grand Floridian due to the Poly’s lack of fine dining options–a big misstep for a Deluxe Resort–but this is another category that comes down to personal preference. It should also be kept in mind that resort-hopping for meals is incredibly easy among the monorail loop resorts.
Transportation: Push – This should come as no surprise given that the Polynesian and Grand Floridian are right next to one another. Both are on the Magic Kingdom Monorail loop. Both offer boat transportation. Both have comparable (shared) bus service to other parks.
Grand Floridian is closer to Magic Kingdom, giving it the edge there. However, the Poly is closer to the Ticket & Transportation Center, which means it’s more convenient for walking to the monorail to Epcot. All of that makes this a tie.
Pools: Polynesian – Our favorite pools at these resorts at Beach Pool at the Grand Floridian, which we ranked #4 on our list of the Top 10 Pools at Walt Disney World, and Lava Pool at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (#2). We give the edge to the newly reimagined Lava Pool because it’s more imaginative, immersive, and ultimately, more fun for kids.
Both of these resorts have a couple solid pools beyond their main feature pools, but none of the quiet or secondary pools at Grand Floridian move the needle back towards it. If anything, the retro style (and shade structures!) at Polynesian’s Oasis Pool provide an adult foil to the more family-friendly main pool. By contrast, both of the “main” pools at the Grand Floridian skew towards adults.
Cost: Polynesian – While these are the two most expensive resorts in all of Walt Disney World when comparing standard rooms, the Grand Floridian is significantly more expensive.
While rates vary by season and room category, you can expect to pay about 20% more for a comparable room at the Grand Floridian. That’s a bit difficult to swallow given the Polynesian’s other victories in this comparison…
Verdict: Polynesian – For us, this is an easy one. In looking back, even at the categories that Grand Floridian won, I have a difficult time seeing the Grand Floridian with an advantage that matters to me in pretty much any regard. In fact, everything we love most about the Grand Floridian–dining and lobby atmosphere–can just as easily be enjoyed while staying at the Poly and doing a “date night” at the Grand.
While the Grand Floridian has grown on us, the Polynesian is a masterpiece of Imagineering, and is transportive in theme. It’s where we actually want to stay while on vacation, with atmosphere, amenities, rooms, and other features we’d regularly use over the course of a trip. We would take the Poly even if prices were equal, and with the Poly being $100+ cheaper per night, it’s no contest.
When comparing any two resorts, other factors will obviously come into play. Important amenities, location, recreation, and other variables are going to matter and weigh differently for different parties.
Which of these two Deluxe Resorts is the better one, in your opinion? Is money the deciding factor for you or is something else? Is there anything you can think of to make Grand Floridian the better pick? Do you prefer the Moana rooms at the Poly or Grand Floridian’s more subdued style? Are we missing a key variable that could, potentially tilt the scales in the Grand’s favor? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? 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!