Saturday, December 27, 2014

Comparing MK Deluxe Hotels

In Early November 2014, I finally completed my "Tour de Magic Kingdom Deluxe Hotels."  I have now stayed at the Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary, Grand Floridian and Polynesian.  I also had the privilege of staying at Shades of Green (the former Disney Inn/Golf Resort, but that is not open to the public.  

There happened to be a conference held at their location and I attended.  Otherwise, it's an Armed Forces Recreation Center.  I also stayed at the Disney Institute (now known as Saratoga Springs Resort) by Downtown Disney and the "Disney in Name Only" Dolphin located between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

I swear these are bass and not dolphins: 

I thought it would be a good time to compare, contrast and rank the four MK-area hotels.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.  All are spectacular. You cannot go wrong.

Wilderness Lodge
Advantages: The newest of the four.  Best theming.  Closest in terms of time to Epcot (via bus instead of monorail).
Disadvantages: The only one of the four not on the monorail line.  Difficult if not impossible fireworks viewing.

I first saw the Wilderness Lodge on an architectural tour conducted by the Disney Institute in 1996.  Peter Dominck was the designer and he would also design the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Californian at Disneyland.  I swore I would stay at the WL some day.  A mere nine years later, I did so in August 2005.  It was probably one of my favorite hotel stays anywhere at any time. 

We were on a meal plan.  Roaring Fork was indispensable for counter service meals.  Whispering Canyon provided its own kind of entertainment.  I even like hanging around the lobby and listening to the themed music.  Even though it is not on the monorail line, its boat launch provides its own special service to and from the Magic Kingdom.    

Advantages:  Shortest (and only practical) walk to MK.  Quickest access to Epcot via monorails.
Disadvantages: One of the two oldest properties.  Interior noise.

I managed to stay here during a conference in September 2006.  Oddly, there was a different conference at the Swan earlier in April 2006.  There was no comparison.  Although the wing of the Contemporary where I stayed was demolished soon after my stay to make way for the DVC's Bay Lake Tower, it was still better than what the much newer Swan had to offer.  As it is within walking distance of MK, I took advantage of a blank spot on the conference presentation schedule to take the early morning Steam Train Tour.

 I even got to take the train off the main line and put it on the spur line back to the roundhouse (which is square) underneath the monorail storage bays. 

That would not have been possible with any of the other locations. The coolness factor of having the monorail go through the building has to be offset by the fact that the monorails do make considerable noise when they are on the beam.

Grand Floridian
Advantages: Usually first priority with bus service.  Shortest ride to MK via monorail.  Closes access to Senses Spa.
Disadvantages: Cost.

The Grand Floridian was the land part of a land/sea combo package with the Disney Wonder in July 2007.  In retrospect, I wish I had done 3 land/4 sea nights instead of the 4/3 I did.  It's not because the GF isn't great.  It is great.  I just thought the sea portion of combination was cut too short.  I probably could have done a bonus day before the cruise, but I only got the GF because the sea portion of the package was at the concierge level.  Strangely, it did not include concierge level at the hotel; just on the ship.  Some believe the GF may be a little "too high end" because it doesn't have the same kind of theming as the other deluxe MK hotels.  It draws its theming from Victorian beach resorts such as the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.  I've walked around and through the "Hotel del" and there is more than a passing resemblance. 

Still, pretty much everything here is top of the line.  If you're merely "resort hopping" to take a look around WDW's accommodations, this place should be on the list.

Advantages: Dole Pineapple Whip.  Shortest (and only practical) walk to the Transportation and Ticket Center with access to Epcot's monorail line. Walkable access to Senses Spa.
Disadvantages: One of the two oldest properties.

Another seven years would pass before I finally got to achieve the goal of staying at all four deluxe MK-area hotels.  In between, I was at Shades of Green in February 2010.  The Poly is only a short walk from SoG which would prove practical because the SoG bus service could be spotty at times.  I got to see the Poly before and during its recent reconstruction.  I was saddened by the loss of the lobby waterfall. 

Still, the upgrade to Captain Cook's was overdue.  They even have dinner items which were most welcome after an exhausting day at Universal (see trip report).  I've been to Hawaii a number of times over the years.  The theming, even down to leis distributed at check-in, are, as always at Disney, immersive.  Somehow, it still felt warm enough even though morning temperatures dipped to the 40s. I think the ukulele and steel guitar music may have had something to do with that too. 

Here are some superlatives.
Best Counter Service: Grand Floridian's Gasparilla Island Grill.  Their counter service food rivals some hotels' table service food.
Best Character Meal:  1900 Park Fare (this is kind of by default as it's the only character dinner service).
Best Table Service: Whispering Canyon.  More value and fun than the others.
Best Signature Table Service:  California Grill at the Contemporary.  Not just for the food; it's also for the view.
Best Rooms: Wilderness Lodge.
Best Music: Polynesian.

So, which is my favorite overall?  The Wilderness Lodge.  I would stay there again and again although I know there are other accommodations to try.

Where next?  After a lot of consideration, it is probably going to be the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  This is another Peter Dominick designed hotel.  That would complete a "Tour de Disney/Dominick" because I stayed at the Grand Californian in March 2008.  The GC is just as amazing at the WL.  I first stopped by AKL in 2006. AKL has an advantage over the Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Boardwalk deluxe resorts in that it has counter service breakfasts on site.  Its chief disadvantage is its relative isolation from the parks and other resorts.  I'll get over that while looking at the giraffes and zebras.  

Please feel free to ask any questions!

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