Club Level Showdown: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort and Disney's Yacht Club Resort
It seems that these three Deluxe Resort are often lumped together as the subject of this question: which one should you choose? I have been in Club Level Concierge rooms at all of Disney's Deluxe Resorts and offer my thoughts on these three contenders.
First of all, let's discount the question of proximity to theme parks. If you are really wanting to stay within walking distance of Epcot, or a 15-minute boat ride to Disney's Hollywood Studios, then you have only one choice among these three: Disney's Yacht Club Resort. The same holds true if you want to stay close to the Magic Kingdom: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Disney's Polynesian Resort are your main considerations (along with Disney's Contemporary Resort, which I am not including here for the time being). My caveat would be that if you are a first timer at Walt Disney World and you were wondering which way to go, I would definitely give the edge to the Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resorts. There is nothing like staying within line of sight of the Magic Kingdom -- it is the premier park of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
So here is my ranking and reasons why:
1. Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort is still the crown jewel of Walt Disney World and the hotel itself really is "grand."
As soon as you step into the lobby you know that you are in a Disney hotel unlike any other. This is my preferred location and we stay in the Royal Palm Club, which is the Club Level Concierge area in the main building (there are also Sugarloaf Club Level rooms in one of the outer buildings). For all Club Level rooms, you are supposed to be greeted at the main entrance and whisked away to the exclusive Club Level Concierges for your own check-in system separate from the potential line-ups of the main lobby check-in desk. While they usually get this right at the Grand Floridian, there have been times when the system broke down and we made our way to the regular check-in area in the main lobby. Once they see that you are Club Level guests, they will asign someone to you to complete the check-in. But it's not a foolproof process here.
This is our favourite Disney Deluxe Resort for a few reasons: the rooms are nice and clean and well appointed. The view of Cinderella Castle from the Theme Park View rooms is pretty good. Sitting on the balcony to watch the fireworks is also one of the best locations you can find. (On the downside, you'll have to walk down to the beach to see the Electrical Water Pageant, as it is blocked from view by the Grand Floridian's outer buildings.) The Club Level amenities in the food area of the Royal Palm Club are the best of the three in my opinion. The offering seems to be better than the other two and the food area is quite nice and large. There are a fair number of tables to sit at on two floors and in the evenings you can enjoy the live music playing in the lobby. We have never had a problem finding a seat.
The Concierges at this Resort and the Itinerary Planning Office are both very good. This is one of the best perks of Club Level service. They have done a great job of getting things done for our family that we otherwise would not have been able to get on our own (hard-to-get reservations, for example). Turndown service here is also the best -- they have a few nice little touches that we didn't get at either the Polynesian Resort or the Yacht Club Resort. There were many times that our room had little surprises left for us by the mousekeeping staff as well, for no apparent reason. Little things like this really do make a good vacation even better and it shows that the hotel knows how to take care of its Club Level guests.
The Resort itself is quite nice. There are two pools and I like the set-up here in that regard -- actually preferring it to the much touted Stormalong Bay at the Yacht Club/Beach Club. Proximity to the Magic Kingdom is almost unbeatable (the edge may go to the Contemporary Resort here since you can actually walk to the Magic Kingdom from there). To get to the Magic Kingdom from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, simply hop on the monorail and go one stop. To come home, hop on the boat and the Grand Floridian is the first stop back. Perfect.
We have stayed many times at the Royal Palm Club at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and have not had a bad experience yet. It remains our preferred and most recommended place to stay at Walt Disney World. However, it is also the most expensive.
2. Disney's Polynesian Resort
Right behind Disney's Grand Floridian Resort in my books is Disney's Polynesian Resort. The Polynesian has a totally different feel than the Grand Floridian's Victorian elegance. If you like the darker-toned wood and tropical island feel of a lush resort, then the Polynesian is a close second in our book and is worth visiting. Until the Grand Flordian was built, the Polynesian Village (as it was originally named) was my favorite Deluxe Resort hotel. As kids we would sit around this pool drinking non alcoholic frozen strawberry daiquiris and enjoying the unique feel and style of this property.
The Club Level at the Polynesian is in the Hawaii Longhouse. If you are lucky, you can get a Theme Park View from a Lagoon View room, although if you are on the second floor you won't have a full walk-out balcony in those rooms (they are Juliet style). The ground floor rooms have nice little patios and third floor rooms have proper balconies. I like the way that the Club Level food and lounge area is setup at the Polynesian. While the food area itself is not quite as nice as the Grand Floridian's surroundings and also seems to have a little bit less of a food and snack offering than the Grand Floridian (but still much better than what you will find at the Yacht Club), the seating area has a massive window (two or three stories tall) and you get a great view of Cinderella Castle across Seven Seas Lagoon while you enjoy your snack or drink. The Polynesian does not have a beer fridge like the Grand Floridian does, however, they have started keeping beer on ice on the counter, which is a nice touch.
One thing about the Polynesian in general is that the rooms and buildings feel a little tired and dated and the property is in much need of a refurbishment. Fortunately, as of Spring 2013 a refresh in the longhouses is underway and the new decor is a bit brighter while still maintaining the lush and tropical theme. The turndown service here is good and it remains the only Resort of the three where I have consistently had towel characters made up by the mousekeeping staff every single day.
Right next to the Hawaii Longhouse are the Polynesian's two pools, so pool access is great for Club Level guests. Again, the pools could use another upgrade, but they are okay and the Volcano Pool has a respectable fully-enclosed water slide. The Hawaii Longhouse is also situated right on the beach, so if you have a lagoon-view room of any kind, you can generally catch some view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks and you may have a great view of the Electrical Water Pageant each night -- you will certainly hear both of them loud and clear!
3. Disney's Yacht Club Resort
In my experience, Disney's Yacht Club Resort (and the Beach Club by extension) falls a distant third behind Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Disney's Polynesian Resort. Before ever staying here I had high hopes for this Resort based on some of the things I had heard and read. So when I arrived at the Regatta Club (the Club Level at the Yacht Club), the disappointments began almost immediately.
To begin with, I always research hotels ahead of time before I stay at them. I will even research which exact rooms I want to stay in based on the view and proximity to other amenities that are important to us. At the Grand Floridian I have always been amazed by their ability to get me the exact room I requested -- and at the Polynesian, within a room or two (if not the exact one). When you book six to 10 months in advance, you figure this should not be a big problem, right? Well, not if you are staying at the Yacht Club. Having never stayed there before, I narrowed my room selection down to 17 (yes, that's seventeen) different potential rooms in the Club Level, Lagoon View range that I had booked. I confirmed my reservation over six months in advance. So when I arrived at the Resort, I was extremely disappointed to find that we did not get even one of those 17 rooms, and in fact got the exact room type that I did not want to have. The concierges could see how annoyed I was at this and they seemed to care and try to get something done about it with hotel management (even reiterating to management that I had not asked for one specific room, but any one of 17 different rooms). The Concierges did try, but the hotel was booked and that was that. First mark against the Yacht Club versus the Grand Floridian and Polynesian. This may seem like a small point, but we need to remember that when a guest is a seasoned traveller staying in the premier level of a Resort, the guest expects a certain level of service. Disney's Yacht Club Resort falls short versus its peers in this regard.
The rooms themselves are not bad. They are close in feel to the rooms at the Grand Floridian, but just slightly different enough to be one notch or two less upscale -- but still quite nice. Nothing against the rooms per se. However, the Club Level lounge area at the Yacht Club is quite small, at least compared to the other two Resorts in this review. It can be hard to find a seat (it almost feels like a large hotel room). Also, the food offering seems to be a lot less that what is served at the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian in my experience, so another cut below.
In terms of services, I was disappointed when it came to mousekeeping. It started out quite promising; the concierge asked us what time we prefer to have our room cleaned? Wow! That was nice. We chose the 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon slot from three that were offered, because we always go to the parks first thing and usually get back by around 1:00 p.m. So we thought that this was a great touch, because we had never been asked this at either of the other two hotels. Well, let's just say that not once in the entire week was our room cleaned in that time slot! Inevitably, they would show up at 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. when we just got back from a park or the pool and wanted to relax for a bit. So we spent a portion of each day sitting around waiting for the housekeeping staff to finish cleaning our room. I would highly recommend to the Yacht Club that they should not set up expectations upon which they cannot deliver. It just serves to annoy guests.
On a positive note, the concierge staff at the Yacht Club Regatta Club were the nicest groups of Cast Members that we have had at any of the three Resorts being compared here. None of our issues with this property had anything to do with them. They were always pleasant and tried their best to help.
Disney's Yacht Club Resort vesus Disney's Beach Club Resort. On this question, the only reason I chose the Yacht Club over the Beach Club is that every Club Level Lagoon View room has a balcony. On the Beach Club side this is not the case and I did not want to risk not having a balcony, so I went with the Yacht Club.
All in all, the Disney's Yacht Club Resort is not horrible by any means, but it is a distant third in terms of Club Level service compared to the other two. Proximity to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios is great, no question. If that is your priority, then you may still want to consider staying in this Resort (or Disney's Boardwalk Inn). Stormalong Bay is nice, but in my opinion it does not quite live up to the hype surrounding it. I actually prefer the two-pool setup at the Grand Floridian over this. Given the poor service and the inability of the hotel to address basic requests made a half-year in advance (especially when you are among their highest paying guests), I would not stay at this Resort again and would opt for the Boardwalk Inn across the lake.
~ Mike Belobradic (Originally posted, December 2011. Updated April 2013.)