Checking out Disney World’s Magic Kingdom resorts has long been a popular activity for Disney World visitors eager to soak in more of the Disney magic, and an increasing number of people are realizing that these highly themed resorts are attractions unto themselves. These “day guests”—including both those staying off property and those staying at other Disney World resorts—have discovered that touring the Magic Kingdom resorts is an excellent way to enhance a Disney World trip.
Making Time for Resort Touring
A day (or evening) trip to a Disney World resort can be a great way to stay inside the Disney “bubble” while taking a break from park touring. But when should you fit a resort visit into your vacation? I recommend visiting the Magic Kingdom resorts on a day when you’re already going to Magic Kingdom. That way, you will spend the minimum amount of time traveling from the resort to Magic Kingdom and vice versa. In fact, a relaxing monorail or boat ride will only enhance a leisurely pace.
There are numerous options for the time of day to visit a resort and what to do. For example:
- Make some late morning FastPass+ reservations for Magic Kingdom and begin the day with a leisurely breakfast at one of the resorts. This strategy works especially well when you are ready for a break from hitting the parks first thing.
- Take a mid-afternoon break from the heat and crowds in the park by exploring one of the resorts’ incredible lobbies or finding a comfortable spot to sit and rest up for more park time.
- Plan to spend the day in Magic Kingdom and then the evening touring one or more resorts, stopping for dinner or drinks along the way.
- Another alternative is to make visiting these resorts part of a “non-park” day during your vacation. Tour the resorts and save on your park tickets.
There are just so many options, whether indulging in an unhurried meal, spending some time indoors during the hottest part of the day, unwinding with a cocktail, shopping, or enjoying an activity specific to the resort.
Part 1 of this article looks at the Polynesian Village Resort and Grand Floridian Resort as destinations for day guests, including their general atmosphere and dining options that are worth the trip for day guests. Keep in mind that some Magic Kingdom resorts are more popular among day guests than others, and so some experiences require planning ahead. Even so, the fantastic theming of these resorts can make a trip just to sightsee worthwhile.
Atmosphere. The Polynesian’s South Pacific theme inherently lends itself to relaxation, with its dark woods, warm upholstery and wall colors, natural stone floors and accents, tropical foliage in both its outdoor and indoor spaces, and the nostalgia evoked by its Tiki culture vibe. In fact, the Polynesian’s excellent theming is a main reason it is so popular with day guests.
The recent extensive renovation of the resort, including a complete redo of the Great Ceremonial House housing the Polynesian’s lobby, plus the addition of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, has made the resort an even more popular destination for day guests. So, although you can relax by taking it slow at the Polynesian, it often has the most day guest traffic of the Magic Kingdom resorts.
Dining. ‘Ohana is definitely worth the trip for both breakfast and dinner. ‘Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch will help satisfy the kids’ desire to meet characters before you even get to the park. At dinner, there are no characters, but games such as coconut races keep the kids entertained.
With a more subdued atmosphere, Kona Café is known for breakfast specialties such as Tonga Toast and its 100% Kona Coffee French Press Pot (especially helpful for adults needing a boost in the morning before a day in Magic Kingdom). Kona Café is also open for lunch and dinner, and lunch there can be a good escape from the mid-day heat.
Located close to Kona Café, Kona Island Sushi Bar has a bit more intimate atmosphere with seating for around 20 people. It doesn’t take reservations, so it can be a good last-minute option; in addition to sushi, the full menu from Kona Café can be ordered at the bar. Also on offer is Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show (but click the link to find out why it may not be worth the trip).
Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, is the Polynesian’s new, highly themed lounge that is worth a trip to the resort all by itself. Along with its abundant display of South Pacific artifacts (with several paying tribute to attractions in the parks), it features signature drinks served in collectible mugs and accompanied by their own special effects.
Planning ahead. ‘Ohana is extremely popular and making a reservation to dine there is number one in terms of planning ahead for the Polynesian, particularly for dinner, which often has no available reservations months ahead of time. Kona Café requires less advance planning; reservations can sometimes be found the week or the day before, though you are unlikely to have your pick of times.
Tip: It’s best to make advance dining reservations as soon as possible because you have the flexibility to cancel up to the day before the reservation. In turn, you may be able to snag a last-minute reservation as people cancel to avoid the $10 per person fee for no-shows.
The popular Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto opens at 4 PM and doesn’t take reservations. By lining up about ½ hour before opening, you will usually be in the first group to enter. Wait times can vary after opening from no wait to up to an hour or more when the resort is busy; if there is a wait, you will receive a pager. (Note that Trader Sam’s is for guests 21 years or older only starting at 8 PM). Tip: The outdoor counterpart to the Grotto, Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace, lacks the special effects of the Grotto but has lots of patio seating and the same menu.
Last, if dining is not a focus of your resort tour, the food at Polynesian’s Capt. Cook’s makes it one of the better Magic Kingdom resort quick-service restaurants (another good choice is the Contemporary’s Contempo Café).
Other fun at the Polynesian. The Electric Water Pageant and Magic Kingdom’s Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks can be viewed from the Polynesian beach. Also, get your Dole Whip fix at the newly added Pineapple Lanai, found just outside the lobby toward the pool.
Atmosphere. As Disney World’s flagship resort, the Grand Floridian features Victorian elegance and a more formal atmosphere than the other Magic Kingdom resorts. Its sizeable lobby has plenty of comfortable seating areas and good traffic flow so that even when the lobby is busy, it doesn’t seem all that crowded. It is one of my favorite places to simply chill during an afternoon break from the parks.
Dining. The Grand Floridian has three signature restaurants that serve dinner, all of which are well worth a trip to the resort and all of which are pricey. Narcoossee’s back porch view of the Electric Water Pageant and Wishes make it my pick for dining after a day in Magic Kingdom. You can complete your day with Wishes and avoid exiting with the park crowds. If you can’t get a reservation, it’s fun to sit at the bar. Cítricos has an excellent menu that changes with the seasons plus a full view show kitchen.
Victoria & Albert’s is Disney World’s premium dining experience and requires a jacket for men and evening attire for women. Dining there should be the centerpiece of your day, not an experience worked into a Magic Kingdom break.
Afternoon Tea at the Garden View Tea Room can be just the thing to refresh you during an afternoon break (service starts at 2 PM). 1900 Park Fare offers character meals for breakfast (including Mary Poppins, the Mad Hatter, and others) or dinner (including Cinderella, Prince Charming, and often Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella); it also hosts the afternoon Wonderland Tea Party for kids ages 4-12. However, with its bright lighting and loud dining room, 1900 Park Fare might not be the best restaurant for getting some respite from Magic Kingdom.
Planning ahead. The need for planning ahead at the Grand Floridian ranges from extreme (reservations for Victoria & Albert’s can be nearly impossible to score even when they open at the 180-day mark) to easy (no planning necessary to have drinks or appetizers at the bars at Narcoossee’s or Cítricos or at Mizner’s Lounge).
Reservations are almost always needed in advance for the rest of the Grand Floridian’s table service restaurants. However, if you find yourself planning at the last minute, the Grand Floridian Café is a hidden gem that often has availability. The Grand Floridian is also home to Senses Spa, which should be booked in advance to guarantee availability.
Other fun at the Grand Floridian. A highlight of the Grand Floridian is the grand pianist and the orchestra that play in the lobby in the afternoon and into the evening. Listening to them play Disney tunes while relaxing in a comfortable chair is a great way to rejuvenate after several hours in the parks. Although not as popular as the Poly beach, the Grand Floridian’s boat dock is another option for watching Wishes outside of Magic Kingdom. Also, one of my favorite times to visit the Grand Floridian is during the holiday season to see its Christmas decorations and life-size gingerbread house.
What are your favorite restaurants and activities at these resorts? Do you usually plan to visit them ahead of time or are your visits last minute? Part 2 of this article will focus on visiting the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness Resort as a day guest.