Take a Best Week Ever grand circle tour of Disney’s Grand Floridian and the other WDW monorail hotels. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
Welcome aboard another Best Week Ever, where we’re off on a “grand circle tour” at the Vacation Kingdom. That phrase may have brought to mind the iconic Walt Disney World Railroad, but there is another kind of transportation loop at the Magic Kingdom — and this one is (mostly) free to enjoy, well without paying admission anyway. I recently spent an afternoon exploring Walt Disney World’s monorail hotels via foot, boat, and (of course) monorail.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
I began my tour of the WDW monorail resorts at the recently retro-named Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort because it is the easiest to access from the Transportation and Ticket Center’s parking lot. (The hotel’s parking lot is reserved for guests with room or dining reservations, and we’d never sanction sneaking in…)
Current map of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
The “Poly” has seen plenty of changes in the last couple years, and the transformation isn’t finished yet, as you can tell by the construction walls that confront you along the approach from the TTC.
Mystery, adventure, and lots of rum await at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto soft opening. (Photos and video by Seth Kubersky)
It took a couple days longer than originally expected, but WDW’s hotly anticipated Trader’s Sam Grog Grotto soft opening finally began on Saturday, March 28th. Of course, we were on hand when the new watering hole’s doors opened for the first time, in order to bring you these photos and video (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it). So grab a bottle of rum and take a virtual visit to the Polynesian Village Resort‘s trendy tiki bar, minus the long line or hangover.
Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar in the Disneyland Hotel has a loyal following, and its east coast cousin looks to be a hit right out of the box, based on the crowds attending the Grog Grotto’s initial days of operation. For the first day of soft opening, some guests got in line 5 hours early, and by an hour before the 4 p.m. scheduled opening there were already well over 100 people waiting.
Hi, Everyone! Welcome to the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World! This week we’re stopping by Disney’s Hollywood Studios to say goodbye to The American Idol Experience and The American Film Institute Showcase. Next, we’ll stop in to see how things are going with the Polynesian Resort refurbishment, and then we’ll wrap up this week at the Magic Kingdom. Let’s get started by taking a look at American Idol. While I’m not surprised that this show is going the way of the dodo, I’m sad to see people lose their jobs. Hopefully there are better plans to utilize this space for all the talented actors who worked here. In the short term it seems pretty obvious that with the Frozen Sing-A-Long suddenly offering FastPass+ on September 2 that the show will be moving into this space. Does anyone want to see video of American Idol before it closes on August 30? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to include it next week.
Already closed as of August 17 is The American Film Institute Showcase. I stopped in this weekend to get a final look and video walk-through for you, but first, the gift shop:
Click to read more and more see video of the Showcase.
When Disney Imagineer Bob Jani looked out over Seven Seas Lagoon at night he saw a black gulf, void of interest. It was late 1971 and Magic Kingdom, Polynesian Resort, and Contemporary Resort opened soon. The lifeless lagoon, formed from draining the swamp that dominated the land Magic Kingdom occupies, would presently be filled by ferries and water attractions, including a water ski show. But something was missing. His mind turned to his hometown of Los Angeles, where any body of water reflected myriad lights every night. Somewhere this need to fill the dark with twinkling lights sparked the idea of the Electrical Water Pageant: a train of barges sporting colorful animated lights.
The final float in the aquatic scene.
A brochure given to guests in the Summer of 1972 entices the guest to “watch porpoises leap . . . seals play . . . even a sea monster breathe fire!” Guests were directed to see the Pageant nightly 9:00 PM through 10:00 PM along Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, advice that is still good today. The whimsical attraction’s appeal eventually inspired the Main Street Electrical Parade — even copping the song “Baroque Hoedown” as its theme.
Today the Pageant is one thousand feet long and features 25-foot tall screens on fourteen barges. The show is split into two parts: an aquatic theme featuring King Triton and various sea creatures followed by a patriotic salute. Total time, nose to tail, is about ten minutes.
Just like last week, you’re able to search by room view (Garden, Lagoon, Magic Kingdom), beds (e.g., 1 king or 2 queens), and ADA accessibility, plus walking distance to the lobby and transportation, and more. You can also do side-by-side comparisons of two rooms when you mark them as “favorites.”
The Poly is a gorgeous resort, no doubt. Still, some room views are better than others. For example, rack rate starts at $422 for a Garden View room with 2 queen beds. If you leave it up to Disney, you could get room 1418 at Tuvalu, with a nice view of … a wall. And trees:
To me, dining at a restaurant with a beautiful view makes the meal taste just a bit better. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived so much of my life in snowy trundra and urban wastelands (where very few restaurants have wonderful views); or maybe I’ve just always been the type of eater who’s greatly influenced by surroundings like table location, smells, sounds, crowd level, etc.; but an incredible view from my table is something I’m willing to fight for.
So, whether you want to do some people-watching, see the Magic Kingdom fireworks or Illuminations from your table, spend your dinner spotting African wildlife, or just relax with a tranquil lookout, here are a few Disney World dining spots that I think afford incredible views:
California Grill Sunset
The California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort is probably my top suggestion when someone wants an outstanding restaurant view. From the top floor of the resort, the floor to ceiling windows offer amazing views of the whole of Walt Disney World — and the rest of Orlando. Watching the sun set behind the Grand Floridian Resort, or catching the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks show from this location, will probably be one of your grandest memories from your vacation.
Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room
Because this is one of the most well-known “good view” locations, it’s also one of the very crowded! Guests line up nightly to wait for Rose and Crown‘s outdoor patio tables where the view of Illuminations is one of the most spectacular in Epcot, but I also suggest booking a table for lunch. Sitting outside on the lovely patio, watching the boats glide back and forth over World Showcase Lagoon, and taking in the detail of the other pavilions within your view is a wonderful way to spend a mealtime.
View of Giraffe from Sanaa Table
Sanaa Sanaa‘s casual, relaxed atmosphere and tucked-away location make it a wonderful place to detox after a hectic morning in the theme parks. But what I find enchanting about this place is that it’s the only Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort restaurant that actually has a view of the hotel’s main draw — the African animals on the savanna. Go for lunch or an early dinner to guarantee plenty of daylight, and request to be seated next to one of the restaurants large picture windows. Expect to see giraffe, zebras, Ankole cattle, African birds, and other incredible animals.
Another one of the best views in Walt Disney World, ‘Ohana‘s wall-to-wall windows give guests a generous view of Seven Seas Lagoon, the Polynesian Resort grounds and Volcano pool, and the major landmarks of the Magic Kingdom. Book a spot here when the restaurant opens for dinner at 5pm to take in the relaxing late-afternoon and evening sunlight spilling over Seven Seas Lagoon, or make an advanced dining reservation just in time to catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant!
The View From Tokyo Dining
An excellent restaurant for sushi gourmands, Tokyo Dining also offers one of the best views in Epcot’s World Showcase. During the day, look out over the World Showcase promenade and amuse yourself with some wonderful people-watching; in the evening, schedule your meal in time to see Illuminations: Reflections of Earth explode over World Showcase Lagoon.
Other great spots to enjoy the view, in my opinion of course, are Narcoosee’s, in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort; Cantina de San Angel in Epcot’s Mexico — I imagine the new incarnation opening in the Fall will have some astounding views of the World Showcase Lagoon; and Animal Kingdom’s Flame Tree Barbecue, where you can enjoy a stunning view of Expedition Everest from the seating area.
What are your thoughts? Any additions to the list or experiences you can share about great views from Disney restaurants — and whether or not they make the meal better for you?
AJ Wolfe from the Disney Food Blog returns with information about a Disney attraction not advertised in the brochures!
Drinks Available at Ohana and Tambu Lounge
While we all enjoy hitting the theme parks for some great attractions during our Disney World days, there’s still fun to be had once the parks close! I’d like to introduce you to a tidy little excursion called the Monorail Crawl.
But the original way to have a grand evening of imbibing in Disney World was to visit one of Disney’s resort hotels around Seven Seas Lagoon. And if you’re going to visit one…why not visit them all? Thus, the birth of the Monorail Crawl — it’s a great way to resort hop, but still feel like you have…you know…a purpose!
Here’s How It’s Done
When taking part in the Monorail Crawl, participants can begin at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, or Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Have a drink at your starting point, then load up on the monorail and head to the next resort hotel. Pretty simple, eh?
Jazz Band Outside Mizner's Lounge
You can even think up themes or games for each hotel, e.g. have a Hawaiian-themed drink at the Polynesian, a classic liqueur at the Grand Floridian, then a good old draft beer at the Contemporary (just be sure to do them in the right order!); or have three members of your party each bring a recipe for a new drink to sample — try one of the new recipes at each new resort!
However you plan to spice up your Monorail Crawl, be sure to designate a driver or two.
Some Favorite Watering Holes to Consider Mizner’s Lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort: This snazzy spot is the perfect place to begin your crawl. Relax in the lounge with a classic cocktail while you listen to some live jazz.
Outer Rim Lounge at Disney’s Contemporary Resort: This will take you from the Victorian decadence of the Grand Floridian into the George Jetson age! The Outer Rim Lounge offers deep, cushy chairs and an incredible, floor to ceiling view of Bay Lake and the Contemporary pool. If you hit it at the right time, you can even see the Contemporary’s movie on the beach from the Lounge! Click through images of the full menu here.
Outer Rim Lounge Bar
Tambu Lounge at Disney’s Polynesian Resort: A Hawaiian-themed paradise of a lounge, this one features live music from the islands as well as a big-screen TV (which could matter if it happens to be game day!). Schedule your crawl so that you can hit the Poly in time to watch some of the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from the Lounge’s huge picture windows, or get your drinks to go and watch the Electric Water Pageant from the beach.
Remember, this activity can cost as little or as much as you’d like; you don’t need any theme park tickets, and you don’t even have to pay for parking!
Last Minute Suggestions
Here are a couple of suggestions that might make the Crawl even better:
Schedule this excursion when you’re staying at a monorail resort. As fun as it is when staying elsewhere, it’s even better when you can just monorail it back to your resort and head to bed at the end of the evening.
If you’re staying at another property, take a Disney bus or a shuttle to the starting point. You’ll be glad to not have to drive at the end.
Bring friends! While a small party is fun, sharing the Crawl with a crowd can make it even more of a memory.
My friends and I had to opportunity to stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort in December. We had a great time at one of WDW’s most beloved hotels on property. The tropical atmosphere is enchanting and is a welcome respite from the busy parks. With its tiki torches, lush greenery, and deluxe accommodations, the resort is sure to please. This resort is one of the most relaxing places I’ve experienced on the Disney property.
But if sitting still isn’t your thing, recreational activities are plentiful at this resort. The pool at this resort is quite an attraction in itself. I can’t think of anywhere else featuring a water slide with an erupting volcano. There are also several different kinds of watercraft available for rent at the marina. Guests can also lounge on the beaches of Seven Seas Lagoon, but no swimming is permitted in the man made lake. Hammocks and palm trees dot the shoreline providing an excellent viewing spot for the Magic Kingdom’s evening fireworks. Unfortunately being that it was December, it was a bit too chilly to experience any of these activities, but I’ll be sure to report back when I have the chance. Hungry? The Polynesian features two table service restaurants, Kona Café (one of my favorites!) and O’Hana as well as Captain Cook’s, the counter service eatery on the ground floor. If you’d like to catch a show while you eat try the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. We hit the Tambu Lounge one night and had great time. It wasn’t crowded around 1 am (all the sane people were asleep after being in the park all day) and the bartenders were friendly and helpful with recommendations. There is also a pool bar, but we didn’t get to make a stop there. In later blogs I’ll discuss these locations in more depth.
And now for a bit about the rooms. We booked a standard room since we figured we wouldn’t have much time to enjoy the view. We wound up in Tokelau, which was a great location; close to the Great Ceremonial House as well as the bus stops, quiet pool, and TTC. The room was spacious enough for three adults to be comfortable with use of the day bed. At first I was concerned at there only being one sink, but we seemed to manage just fine. The small refrigerator in the room made it easy to keep bottles of water (or whatever else you’d like) cold and ready for the next day in the parks. It was also nice to have nicer sheets, towels, and a real hair dryer. We felt spoiled and wondered if we could ever go back to a value resort again!
While I love most things about this resort, I think my favorite amenity was being on the monorail! If you ask me, the Polynesian has a leg up on the other monorail resorts because you can walk to the TTC. If guests want to spend the day at Epcot, just walk to the TTC without having to go all the way around the loop and then transfer, like they would have to at the other resorts. Additionally, boat service is available to the Magic Kingdom. It offers a lovely view from the waters of the Seven Seas Lagoon. Since we couldn’t take the monorail everywhere, we had to try the buses as well. We rarely waited long and the buses were rarely crowded during our entire stay. The only transportation issue I had came at the end of the trip when I had to check in for my flight. It took forever and the scene seemed like a disorganized mess. I’ve had far better service at the airline check in counters at value resorts.
Overall, we had a wonderful stay at the Polynesian Resort. I highly recommend it to anyone who can swing financially swing it. One of the great things about being a 20-something Disney traveler is you get to split the cost of accommodations with your friends!
Next time I’ll take a look at the first of many ways to stop and smell the roses while touring WDW….