Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever July 9, 2015: WDW Monorail Hotels

Best Week Ever WDW monorail hotels
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.

 


In-progress exterior maintenance was also evident on some guest buildings closer to the Great Ceremonial House.

 

 

Alas, (at the risk of singing what starting to sound like my regular refrain) lightning storms on the horizon had closed the resort’s recently refurbished pool during my visit. That didn’t dissuade a few hardy folks from hanging out at the pool bar, however.

 

 

The threat of storms may have keep many guests off the beach, but the cloudy sky over the water was certainly spectacular.

 

 

Curious about renting a watercraft from the Poly’s marina? Here’s how much it will cost you:

 

 

Fortunately for my liver, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto wouldn’t open for a few more hours after my visit. When the weather is nice, you’ll find the bar’s patio filled with families eating lunch from Captain Cook’s next door.

 

 

The overhaul of the Polynesian’s lobby, which involved the removal of the vintage rainforest water feature, was controversial to say the least. I can’t say I don’t miss the original decor (and its distinctive damp smell) but there’s no denying the post-refurb results feel much roomier.

 

 

Furthermore, the waterfalls that flank the hotel’s entryway look wonderful now that they’ve been spruced up.

 

 

You can hop on the monorail from the Polynesian to Disney’s Grand Floridian, but I wanted to see what the walk was like. It started out with some unglamorous views of the Poly’s service areas…

 

 

…continued under the monorail beam on a path mostly used by speeding maintenance carts…

 

…passed by the Spirit of Aloha luau dinner theater…

 

 

…and ended on the white sand beach outside Disney’s Wedding Pavilion.

 

Disney’s Wedding Pavilion

 

 

Believe it or not, I got married here way back in 1996. There were no activities happening on the nuptial island, so I took my first stroll around the wedding pavilion in nearly 20 years.

 

 

Interestingly, the picture window behind the ceremony stage seems to have a magnifying effect, making Cinderella Castle look closer than it actually is. When posing at the picture arch outside the wedding chapel, you’ll need a long lens to make the castle look like much more than a speck.

 

 

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort

 

As the flagship of WDW’s family of resort hotels, most of us mere mortals will never spend a vacation at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stroll around the grounds and enjoy the hotel’s exquisite landscaping and luxurious lounges.

 

 

I generally only run if I’m being chased, but if you are in a marathon-ing mindset, here’s a handy map of jogging paths around the Grand Floridian:

 

 

Like the Poly, the Grand Floridian had also closed their pool — including the nifty Wonderland-inspired water playground — ahead of the approaching storm.

 

 

The gardening staff does a great job at all the resorts, but the carefully manicured lawns and flowerbeds at the Grand Floridian are truly, well, grand.

 

 

But the hotel’s lobby is even grander!

 

 

For the next leg of my journey, I took a leisurely cruise from the Grand Floridian’s boat launch to the Magic Kingdom, with a brief stop back at the Poly in-between. The water taxis are one of my favorite amenities at Universal Orlando’s resort hotels, and while WDW’s aren’t quite as efficient, the views are even better.

 

 

Intermission: 55 minutes in the Magic Kingdom

 

This it probably going to blow some reader’s minds, but during my loop I ducked into the Magic Kingdom for less than an hour, and left without riding a single attraction. For vacationers, that would be an obscene waste of a ticket, but as a local annual passholder, running an errand inside a theme park isn’t that much different than a trip to the mall (just sweatier).

I arrived just in time for the 3 o’clock parade — please don’t ask what time that is — or at least I would have, if it hadn’t been delayed 15 minutes by the weather conditions.

 

 

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was also having operational issues. By the time it began cycling again, the FastPass+ queue stretched far outside the entrance, and the standby queue was estimated by cast members at over 2 1/2 hours.

 

 

It was a busy day throughout the park. There was even a crowd for Stitch’s Great Escape, if that gives you a sense of the peak season insanity.

 

 

30 minute wait for it’s a small world? Welcome to the Magic Kingdom in July!

 

 

The big excitement of my Magic Kingdom visit was a quick lunch at the seldom-open Tomorrowland Terrace, where I took another step in my ill-advised effort to sample every quick-service lobster dish on property.

 

 

The lobster roll sandwich at Tomorrowland Terrace appears more or less identical to the one served at Columbia Harbour House. There is actual lobster involved, as evidenced by the red claws, but most of the meat appears to be from the legs and body, rather than the tastier tail. There’s also way too much mayo and romaine lettuce, and the bun could use some toasting and butter. But the flavor is pretty good, the portion is surprisingly generous, and the house-made chips are a much better potato side dish than WDW’s usual limp french fries. Foodies from Maine should stay far away, but shellfish addicts with modest expectations should find it sufficiently satisfying.

 

 

Disney’s Contemporary Resort

 

My last stop of the day was at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Please forgive the relative paucity of pictures, but by this time my iPhone’s battery was nearly drained, and so was mine.

 

 

To be frank, while the architecture of the Contemporary’s main building (and the newer Bay Lake Tower, to a much lesser degree) is timelessly futuristic, the interior public spaces and recreational facilities feel a bit dated, and aren’t nearly as photogenic as the other two monorail resorts.

 

 

On rainy days, cast members set up board games and other indoor distractions for the kids near the check-in desks on the Contemporary’s first floor.

 

 

The spectacular Grand Canyon Concourse is a notable exception.

 

 

Where else in the World can you board a monorail inside your hotel without exiting the air conditioning?

 

 

Thanks for joining me on this grand circle tour of the WDW monorail hotels. Which one is your favorite? Where would you like Best Week Ever to visit next? Let us know in the comments below!

Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

16 thoughts on “Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever July 9, 2015: WDW Monorail Hotels

  • July 9, 2015 at 8:05 am
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    Thanks for some nice photos . I enjoyed all the beautiful landscaping around the grand Floridian. We usually make the monorail loop resorts a must do during November when the gingerbread house goes up. First visiting the lobby of Wilderness Lodge, boat to Contemporary and follow the monorail from there.

    • July 9, 2015 at 10:47 am
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      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! Wilderness Lodge and Ft Wilderness are on my short list for next week.

  • July 9, 2015 at 9:51 am
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    How much time should we plan if we are wanting to do this? We are going in November and we are planning to do a tour of the monorail resorts as well as the wilderness lodge, I am just wanting to make sure that we are planning properly. I am already planning to skip the poly that day as we will be there for dinner later in our stay.

    • July 9, 2015 at 10:00 am
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      If you are skipping the Poly I would suggest starting with the Grand Flo, Contemporary and then the Wilderness. You can jump on a boat from the Contemporary boat dock and be at Wilderness Lodge in 10 minutes, and that boat ride is just lovely.

      I’d set aside 3-4 hours to have a good explore / take in the details if you are not stopping for drinks / snacks as you go.

    • July 9, 2015 at 10:48 am
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      This loop took me a little over 4 hours, including visiting MK.

  • July 9, 2015 at 10:36 am
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    Thanks, Seth. This is your best Best Week Ever ever! Mainly because it’s relevant to my upcoming trip. We’ll be staying at the Poly and one night, I’d like to walk over to the Grand Floridian to listen to the Orchestra. How long is the walk in between these two resorts?

    • July 9, 2015 at 10:49 am
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      So glad you liked it! The walk from Poly’s lobby to Grand Fla was about 15 min at a moderate pace.

  • July 9, 2015 at 12:44 pm
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    Are the pools at Grand Fla and Poly locked like the Beach Club? One of my favorite things to do on our WDW trips is to hotel hop. I’ve never tried getting into those pools before.

    • July 10, 2015 at 10:26 am
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      I was able to enter pools at the Grand Fla & Poly without a room key, but pool hopping is not officially allowed unless you are DVC.

  • July 9, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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    Thank you for yet another great article – it helps to feel in touch with what’s going on back “home” when your countdown is long 🙁

  • July 9, 2015 at 4:17 pm
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    Thanks for sharing!! We enjoy following along. We got a good laugh about going into The Magic Kingdom just to run an arrond, because we have done that ourselves! We love exploring what WDW has to offer every time we go. 🙂

  • July 9, 2015 at 5:35 pm
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    Beg to differ, Seth. The tail of the lobster is easier to get to, but the claws are definitely more tender and tastier. But I hate too much mayo or fillers. I think I’ll play it safe and save up any lobster roll cravings for home sweet home (Boston / the Cape) — where btw I have some great lobster shack recommendations for you if you’re ever in town! Cheers!

    • July 10, 2015 at 10:28 am
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      I like claw meat, but my wife does not because of the texture. But the claw meat on the lobster roll is mostly for show, the majority seems to be the little bits you pick from between the gills. If you have access to real lobster rolls at home, stick with that!

  • July 10, 2015 at 5:31 pm
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    Thanks so much for this post Seth. Like some others, we are planning a resort tour, including Wilderness Lodge, during our visit the first week in December. Its nice to know that its doable in half a day, or so. I’m really looking forward to seeing the resorts decked out for the holidays.

  • July 12, 2015 at 7:29 am
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    I love your posts! I recently had a conference at the GF & absolutely fell in love with that place. I had a discounted rate as a result & I will go back! I love using the monorail & boats. It was also fun going to the Poly to experience Trader Sams – I will do that again! I miss them – thanks for sharing!

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