DISNEY DINKS podcast 3.0: Monorail Resort Rundown

DISNEY DINKS podcast 3.0: Monorail Resort Rundown

Monorail Resort Rundown

So you’re all-in on staying on-property. But that still leaves you with dozens of lodging options across Walt Disney World. However, we are rather draconian when it comes to where to lay your head. The DISNEY DINKS credo limits you to three choices: The Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, and The Contemporary. Why? Because they’re serviced by the only efficient mode of transportation in WDW, The Monorail. The access and convenience the Monorail ensures saves so much time and energy that the additional cost of staying at these properties more than outweighs the savings of staying at a different resort. 

But didn't we say to have a car while you're staying at Walt Disney World? And can’t you just drive to all the parks anyway? Well, you still have to park at the TTC and ride the monorail to get into the Magic Kingdom, and you also want to avoid parking at Epcot if you can. Nice try. Just go with us on this one—it's DISNEY DINK law. Accept it and never bring up the fact that the Boardwalk/Beach Club is walkable to Epcot. 

Using our own DISNEY DINK-developed 5-star rating system, the below guide and accompanying podcast can help you to decide between the three Monorail resorts of Walt Disney World. 

Before we get started, let's review the stats of a couple off-monorail properties. Please note that pricing and travel time estimates are just that. Estimates. None of the below can be considered 100% accurate. Only Disney can be that precise. 

  • Disney's All-Star Music Resort
    • A standard room runs about $100 (value) to $200 (holiday) per night
    • Travel time to the Magic Kingdom about 27-43 minutes
  • Disney's Art of Animation Resort
    • A standard room runs about $150 (value) to $250 (holiday) per night
    • Travel time to the Magic Kingdom about 22-44 minutes
  • Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
    • A standard room runs about $180 (value) to $300 (holiday) per night
    • Travel time to the Magic Kingdom about 15-32 minutes
  • Disney's Port Orleans Resort
    • A standard room runs about $215 (value) to $320 (holiday) per night
    • Travel time to the Magic Kingdom about 17-38 minutes
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
    • A standard room runs about $350 (value) to $600 (holiday) per night
    • Travel time to the Magic Kingdom about 19-37 minutes
  • Disney's Yacht Club Resort
    • A standard room runs about $100 (value) to $200 (holiday) per night
    • Travel time to the Magic Kingdom about 27-43 minutes

Disney's Contemporary Resort: 3.43 out of 5

 
 The Contemporary

The Contemporary

Number of rooms: 655

Average night's stay in a standard room: $450 (value) to $650 (holiday) 

Travel Time to the Magic Kingdom: 10-19 minutes

Room size and comfort: Following an impressive 2013 refurbishment, the Contemporary’s rooms are spacious (437 square feet), sleek, and modern, if a bit cold and impersonal. While one could argue that the aesthetic reflects the overall theme of the Contemporary, one could also ask that if you’re staying at Walt Disney World, do you want your room to feel like a knock-off of the W? But for what they’re trying to be, the Contemporary’s rooms with their flat-panel TVs, futuristic “hearth” feature, clean lines, and above-average bathrooms, are quite nice.
Rating: 4.5

Magic: There’s certainly magic to be found in a resort where the Monorail glides through the main lobby several times an hour. And the Contemporary’s famous A-frame profile has certainly grown to iconic status within the Disney empire. There’s something to be said for stepping outside your door and gazing down upon the tracks beneath you. Though it can be a bit jarring to see Minnie trundling through on her way to Chef Mickey’s as well.
Rating: 4

Theming: It’s a bit like Ex Machina without the murderous robot. The 14-story open-air Grand Canyon atrium, all balconies and terracing, white rectangles and black lines, is adorned with the 90-foot tall Southwestern-themed Mary Blair mural—the lone outpost of color in an otherwise monochromatic version of the future. Are we at Disney World or an insurance convention? Sadly, both?
Rating: 3

Amenities: Dining, shopping, sundries, laundry, fitness center, jogging trails, artificial beach, and boating via the marina are all covered here, and you’ll likely want for nothing during your stay. The waterfront location is nice for viewing fireworks or the Electric Water Pageant. Interestingly, the Contemporary also features the Game Station Arcade, which can be a fun diversion during resort time (though those quarters do add up). Additionally, several boating expeditions depart from the Contemporary, which can be a fun option for families and couples alike.
Rating: 4.5

Pools: Like the other Monorail resorts, the Contemporary offers two pools for cooling off and splashing about. The Feature Pool get top billing, and it has the requisite hot tub, kids play area, and a rather underwhelming waterslide. The smaller, quieter option is the Bay Pool. Overall, the pools here feel lackluster and not as special as their counterparts at the Grand Floridian or the Polynesian. They serve their purpose, but don’t really lure you in.
Rating: 2.5

Dining: The California Grill is the clear headliner here, serving artfully plated coastal cuisine with a devastatingly good view of the Magic Kingdom and the nightly fireworks show. Chef Mickey’s is extremely popular with the kid set, and you’ll have guests streaming in and out of the lobby just about every day to dine with the characters, which ups the noise and bustle level considerably. We’ve never quite understood the appeal of the Wave (the moderate, table-service option), though Contempo Café is a quality quick-service option. Adults will enjoy Top of the World Lounge over in Bay Lake Tower, where they can relax with a sundowner far from the madding crowd.
Rating: 3.5

Grounds: The best thing we can say about the Contemporary grounds is that they’re a 10-minute walk from the Magic Kingdom (making this the best resort for reaching the MK on foot). In true Disney fashion, they’re nicely manicured and maintained, but lack the otherworldly and immersive quality of the Polynesian as well as the capacious, resort-like feel of the Grand Floridian. Mostly you’re just surrounded by a trio of large monolithic buildings. The water views help, but they’re not unique either.  
Rating: 2.0

Overall DD Rating: 3.43
If the biggest draw of your resort is that the Monorail passes right through your lobby, then are you a tried-and-true destination or a parlor trick?  Such is the age-old question still confronting the Contemporary. The rooms are nice, if coldly elegant, and the location is hard to beat. But beyond that, it’s not a resort that’s going to sweep you away. But if you’re hoping to take a break from Disney while at Disney, this could be for you.

 

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort: 4.71 out of 5 

 
 Trip Advisor

Trip Advisor

Number of rooms: 483

Average night's stay (rack rate) in a standard room: $500 (value) to $800 (holiday) 

Travel Time to the Magic Kingdom: 8-13 minutes

Room size and comfort: At 415 square feet, the Polynesia’s rooms are slightly smaller than the Grand Floridian’s, but still quite spacious by Disney standards. They’re also incredibly comfortable and aesthetically appealing, drawing on the resort’s Pacific Island theme and making you feel like you’re entering a fun and well-appointed escape each time you step through your doorway.

Rating: 5

Magic: It’s the only resort where you get lei’d upon arrival, which adds an extra touch as you enter the Great Ceremonial House and are greeted by the giant smiling Tikiman holding court at the center of the open-air lobby. The otherworldly aura of the Polynesian grabs you quickly and doesn’t let go, enveloping all your senses whether you’re taking in a luau, lounging by the lava pool, or grabbing yet another Dole Whip from Pineapple Lanai.
Rating: 5

Theming: The dream of the South Pacific is alive at the Polynesian. From the names and architecture of the 11 iconic longhouses to the island statuary, palm trees, bubbling fountains and brooks, and countless tiki torches dotting the landscape, the Polynesian transports you to another world. More a fun and loving tribute than mere kitsch, the Polynesian succeeds in celebrating the look, feel, and atmosphere of this far-flung corner of the world.
Rating: 5

Amenities: You’ll find plenty of shops and eateries throughout the Great Ceremonial House, though no on-site exercise facility (guests can use the Grand Floridian’s if they choose). But in keeping consistent with its theme, the Polynesian excels at outdoor and water-centric amenities, from beaches along Seven Seas Lagoon (featuring beach volleyball) to a full-service marina to lagoon-front jogging trails, an outdoor firepit, and a designated viewing area for the Electric Water Pageant. Kids also find daily (and parent-free) entertainment at Lilo’s Playhouse.
Rating: 4

Pools: The Lava Pool and its cascading waterfall and 120-foot slide that travels through the innards of a volcano is the main aquatic attraction at the Poly. It also features an infinity-edge hot tub, the Kiki Tikis splash area for kiddos, and The Barefoot Pool bar for older patrons. The quieter Oasis Pool, nestled in an inner courtyard among longhouses, provides respite for those looking for less hustle and bustle. At night, the many tiki torches lining the pathways to and around both pools create a lovely ambiance and atmosphere.
Rating: 4.5

Dining: Dining at the Poly isn’t as fancy as at the Grand Floridian, but it’s still delightful. Kona Café stands as one of the best moderate table service restaurants in all WDW, and Capt. Cooks satisfies your Tonga Toast craving each morning. ‘Ohana is one of the most fun group dining experiences you can have anywhere on property, and the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show is worth doing once. What puts the Polynesian dining over the top, though, are the inimitable Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, a magical lair of fun tropical drinks and tasty small plates, and the Pineapple Lanai, the only place that serves Dole Whips outside of Adventureland.
Rating: 4.5

Grounds: Don’t feel the need to pay extra for a theme-park view at the Poly, because the tropical grounds spilling forth in every direction are some of the loveliest at WDW. The property itself is quite expansive—and a labyrinthine, especially if you’re wending your way through on the way to the TTC to catch the monorail to Epcot—but that just contributes to the sense that you’re in a lost world of sorts, a lush island unto itself yet only steps away from the MK.
Rating: 5

Overall DD Rating: 4.71
The Polynesian has been a Walt Disney World mainstay since 1971 for good reason—it’s a classic concept that’s extremely well-executed and continually benefits from thoughtful updates and refurbishments. The Poly is by far the most fun, immersive, and magically themed of all the Deluxe resorts, while still offering great dining, comfort, and convenience, and because it checks all the boxes with Pacific-island aplomb, it achieves our highest overall ranking of the three Monorail resorts.

 

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa: 4.43 out of 5

 
 Pursuitist

Pursuitist

Number of rooms: 867

Average night's stay (rack rate) in a standard room: $650 (value) to $950 (holiday) 

Travel Time to the Magic Kingdom: 7-10 minutes

Room size and comfort: At 440 square feet, the GF’s rooms are the largest at WDW, giving you ample space to spread out, kick back, and relax when you’re not hitting it hard at the parks. The rooms are elegantly comfortable and nicely appointed, if a bit unimaginative.

Rating: 4.5

Magic: The Grand Floridian’s “magic” element isn’t your classic Disney magic. Instead, it’s more to do with feeling exclusive—part of a fancy club. Maybe it’s the lobby piano player, maybe it’s the pristine white architecture and noble red rooftops, maybe it’s the snappy staff and well-to-do clientele buzzing about, but the Grand Floridian feels different than any other hotel at WDW. In this case, the magic feels a lot like money.
Rating: 4.5

Theming: Modeled after San Diego’s landmark Hotel Del Coronado (which may or may not be a cop-out), the Grand Floridian evokes Victorian elegance with its gleaming white façade, soaring red gables, and gingerbread trim. Inside a five-story open-air atrium shines with natural light and chandeliers, and the scene is one of pure luxury. But it’s not what you would call fun or imaginative or whimsical. It’s very adulty, and perhaps less unique than some of the other properties.
Rating: 3.5

Amenities: With the only spa in WDW, a wedding pavilion, five gift shops, a salon, exercise facilities, guest laundry facilities, tennis courts, walking trails, and a marina, the Grand Floridian’s amenities live up to its billing as Disney’s flagship resort.
Rating: 5

Pools: The Grand Floridian has two pools—the expansive Beach Pool, which is the more active pool complete with rock formation, waterslide, and waterfall, and the Courtyard Pool, which is designated as the resort’s “quiet pool.” In addition, little ones have a blast splashing in the Alice in Wonderland water play area. Overall, the pools provide lots of square footage though the theming isn’t anything to write home about.
Rating: 4

Dining: The Grand Floridian features the best collection of restaurants of any WDW property, headlined by the Grand Dame of Disney dining, Victoria & Albert’s, where you can dine in luxurious style on a seven or ten-course chef’s tasting menu. Fan-favorite Narcoossees and the more subdued Citricos offer two more decadent signature-dining options, and 1900 Park Fare is the resort’s centerpiece for character dining. For fine-dining aficionados, the Grand Floridian extends the best mix of food, wine, and service on property.
Rating: 5

Grounds: Lush, meticulously manicured, and expansive, the Grand Floridian’s grounds create a picturesque background for your vacation. The resort takes full advantage of its location on Seven Seas Lagoon, affording great views of the Electric Water Pageant and the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom.
Rating: 4.5

Overall DD Rating: 4.43
The Grand Floridian scores high on all counts, with the one exception of theming. In short, it’s the flagship for a reason. You’re going to feel like a VIP staying there, and you’re also gong to pay VIP prices to feel that way. If you can score a deal, it’s well worth it to Disney in the lap of luxury.

 

In conclusion

You can't really go wrong at any of the three Monorail Resorts. We obviously prefer the Polynesian, as it offers the full monty of what we want out of our WDW experience. The Grand Floridian makes us feel monied and fancy, which is its own reward, whereas the Contemporary leaves us a bit limpid and uninspired. The good news is that the three resorts offer three very different looks, feels, and experiences while placing you in prime position to dominate your Disney vacation. And we fully recommend trying all three of them out for yourself and deciding what works best for you. 

 
 
Jaci Lund partner, creative director, designer Jaci’s quick wit and native intelligence comes across as soon as you meet her—and carries over to her design, where she fuses fun and sophistication in just the right doses. With a dual focus on creating original branding for new concepts and revitalizing the look and feel of even the most-established brands, Jaci approaches each project with a fresh and thoughtful perspective. While she recognizes the relevance of current trends, she’s hyper-conscious of the fine line that separates “trend” from “fad,” and tends toward more timeless and classic looks for her clients. Before founding Treebird, Jaci was instrumental in growing the design department at Atlanta’s The Reynolds Group, Inc. Through a five-year tenure that saw her quickly ascend to senior designer and then become the company’s first creative director, Jaci worked on design and branding projects with visionaries, entrepreneurs, and business leaders whom she admires greatly and whose own passion elevates her sense of what’s possible through new design, branding, and communication. Jaci has won nine ADDY Awards (and counting) for her design and branding work and has twice been featured in the national design blog “Art of the Menu.” She holds a B.A. in communications from Michigan State University and completed the graphic design program at The Creative Circus, where she also teaches a quarterly course called “Introduction to Creative Thinking.” To see Jaci's previous work please visit jacilund.com.