Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Is the Grand Floridian Truly "Grand?"

Anytime I am about to write a review that is at all less than 100% positive when it comes to Walt Disney World, I feel the need to announce that I really am a huge fan of Mickey and his pals.  So let's get this straight...I am a believer in the Disney magic, period.

But being a believer in the magic does not always mean that I will cover my eyes or stick my head in the sand when it comes to writing an honest review of one of my stays at a Walt Disney World onsite property.  You can probably already sense where this is headed.  So let's just jump into the cold chilly waters at the deep end of the pool, shall we?

My wife and I enjoyed a long 10 day vacation in Orlando back in September of this year.  The trip was broken up into 3 nights at Universal Orlando's (Loews) Portofino Bay Hotel and 7 nights at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. I will write a separate review again of our stay at the Portofino in the coming days.  We had a WONDERFUL stay at the Portofino.  Because of that wonderful stay, we were thinking about how even more wonderful the last 7 nights of our trip were going to be.  I mean after all, we were headed to the creme de la creme of all of the Disney properties.  The grand daddy so to speak.

The resort is eye-poppingly beautiful as you drive up to the main entrance and step inside the main lobby.  It is one of the resorts that so many like to simply make a stop at so they can go inside and take pictures of the towering lobby and timeless decor.  The service staff is mainly made up of veteran and experienced cast members who know the art of service and especially "Disney" service.  So all started well with our arrival.  Check in went smooth as expected and we were escorted by golf cart to our room's building.  We were in a "garden view" room which meant we had a great view of a small section of Bay Lake and the monorail.  I actually enjoyed sitting out on our balcony sipping my morning coffee watching the monorail go by and hearing the train from the Magic Kingdom fire up it's whistle.  That really was the highlight of the room and that is where the positives of the room begin and end.

We noticed as we entered that the room smelled quite musty.  Frankly it smelled like dirty socks.  We thought maybe it just needed to be aired out but the smell did not improve as the week went on.  You are probably asking, "why didn't you go complain and ask for another room?"  Well for one thing, I hate moving rooms.  It is frankly a hassle.  And for another thing, I figured that if "mousekeeping" can't tell that our room smells like stinky socks, that possibly means a lot of other rooms smell like stinky socks. And the last thing I want to do is move to another room and find out the stinky sock smell is commonplace.  So we decided to stay put and made the best of it as we would return each day to our room and exclaim "home stink home."

The room size was average with other deluxe resorts we have stayed in.  The decor seemed faded which is not a big deal, but coupled with the smell, it just made the room seem like an old hotel room that you might find anywhere.  Mousekeeping did a good job of keeping things cleaned up but we did not observe anything that made us feel like we were at the top of the resort food chain.  We tip mousekeeping every time and it is becoming apparent that all you get from that is what you would get had you not tipped...a clean room, other than your standard Mickey head towel when you first arrive.
So let's throw in some positives before this becomes a totally negative nelly review.  Gasparilla's was great.  We enjoyed our snacks and meals there and had great service each time.  Cast members were friendly and helpful and we liked the food choices considering this is a counter service venue.  We also enjoyed the Grand Floridian Cafe for breakfast.  Food was good and the service was very attentive.  The shopping at the Grand Floridian is also plentiful and our pocket books reflected that when we returned home.  Their general souvenir shops seemed a bit slim compared to other resorts like the Polynesian or even the Pop Century, but overall the shopping options were great.  We did not try any of the other table service venues due to budget constraints so I can't include those in this review.

But I now must press on to the more negative aspects again.  You have to keep in mind that staying at the GF is not easy on a bank account.  You pay a premium to stay at this resort compared even to the other 2 monorail resorts (Polynesian and Contemporary).  The nightly rate is comparable to what you would pay at a Ritz property of even a Waldorf Astoria hotel.  So you go into your stay with a HIGH level of expectation.

So to get to some of the huge negatives that Disney has to address at some point, let's talk resort to park transportation.   To sum it up, it is the worst we have experienced to date.  Keep in mind we have stayed at every level of resort, value to deluxe, and this was the worst bus system by far.  For example, Monday's are usually extra magic morning hour at the Animal Kingdom.  So every trip we take, we plan on heading to the AK on our first Monday.  Our routine is that we usually get up and go eat around 6:45am or so and try to be at the bus stop no later than 7:30 to make sure we are at the park by 8am.  We actually got down to the bus stop by 7:15.  Another family was already there and said that a bus had already come by but it was for Hollywood Studios and they had yet to see one for the AK.  That was a tad odd since HS was not having extra magic hours, but ok.  7:30 came and another bus arrives and to our surprise, it too was heading to HS.  2 buses for HS, 0 for AK and we have 30 mins until rope drop for extra magic morning hour.  The family that had been waiting also had an 8am ADR at the Tusker House and you could tell they were starting to get a little nervous. 7:40 rolls by and you guessed it, another bus for HS and no bus yet for the AK.  A Disney "bus coordinator finally arrived around 7:45 and assured the large antsy crowd that was gathering that a bus was on its way. bus. bus.  Finally at 8am a bus for the AK finally arrives.  So families were late for their ADR's and we missed the first 30 mins of the extra magic hour for the first time out of our previous trips.  I was not happy, others were not happy and to make matters worse, when the bus finally arrives, it had already stopped at the Contemporary and Polynesian.  That's right, the GF is the last stop on the bus route which means you may or may not get to sit down depending on crowd levels.

Well...we made it to the AK and still got to do all we wanted to do, but as we made it back to the GF, my wife and I were talking about the horrific bus system and she was asking me if I was going to complain.  My answer to her was that it would be fruitless to complain to someone at the GF since it is really Mears who needs to get their you know what's chewed off for the terrible bus planning.  As I said that to her, a manager of the resort walked by and overheard and stopped us and wanted to know what had happened.  I explained the situation and told him that when you stay at the GF, you are expecting a lot since you are paying a lot.  I let him know that it will be hard for me to recommend the resort to my clients who like to also spend a lot of time at other parks besides the Magic Kingdom.   And heaven forbid the monorail breaks down (which it did twice during our stay).  It is not a pretty site when guests are trying to cram onto the boats to get to the MK or onto the newly dispatched buses for those trying to get to Epcot. But back to the manager.  He listened and acted very concerned.  He asked if he could do anything for us and we politely said no since we were not complaining to try to get a freebie.  But he insisted on taking our names and room number which then set up a little expectation in our minds.  Long story short...nada.  He did nothing.  It is a bad thing to set up expectations as if you are going to try to do something and then simply do nothing.  No bueno!

Well, to top it all off, we took one of the hot sunny days and decided it needed to be a pool day.  Now this is going to sound knit picky, but we had spent three days at the Portofino which has an awesome pool.  Their pool chairs are wonderful, their pool staff was attentive, the pool towels were large and in abundance.  We thoroughly enjoyed our pool days while at Universal.  So again, picturing that the GF was going to be even better, it turned out to be a tremendous let down.  The pool chairs were not that good (again compared to what you would get at a Ritz or Waldorf) and the towels were the size of hand towels.  We actually giggled when we grabbed their pool towels and realized that it would take like 4 of them to cover your chair and the pool bar cast member came by once and that was it, never saw him again. bueno!

Now I know this sounds like a terribly harsh review and I am not happy about having to write it, but it is time for those of us who have been long time supporters of WDW to quit treating it like the a sacred cow.  When they mess up, they need to hear about it and people need to see that not everyone is turning a blind eye to their slips in service and overall experience.  This was the first time that we were ready for the trip to end and that saddens me a bit.  I want to always be able to go and be sad about leaving and I always want my clients to have the extra magical experience as well.  So when I have a less than magical experience at one of their resorts, I want them to know about it so maybe just maybe corrections can be made etc.   My fear is that first time Disney goers are being given an experience that is nothing like what so many of us experience several years ago and that is becoming the new norm.

So to sum it up, poor transportation, bad management follow-through, stinky room and hand towel-sized pool towels makes this a resort that we will not be returning to other than to visit for the day and enjoy one of it's restaurants.  Grand?  Not so much.  I would call it the "Pretty Nice Floridian Resort."