Disney’s monorail is one of the most recognizable and iconic parts of Walt Disney World, familiar even to those who’ve never set foot in Florida. Three resort properties allow you to board to the monorail, which takes you to the Magic Kingdom, right from your resort. While all are Deluxe properties, they nevertheless offer very different experiences. Wondering which is the best fit for you? Read on!
The three resorts on the monorail loop, starting at Magic Kingdom and working your way around the loop clockwise, are the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian. Because each of the monorail resorts is a Deluxe property, they share a lot of the same core amenities and features. Specifically, you will find these amenities at all three properties:
- Destination dining, with Signature Restaurants — many of these restaurants are very popular and you’ll want to reserve early if they’re on your must-do list.
- Heavily-themed common areas and rooms
- Feature pools with waterslides, whirlpools, and splash areas for kids
- Some of the largest standard rooms at Disney World
- Club/Concierge level rooms
- Very high satisfaction ratings
- The ability to rent watercraft to use on Seven Seas Lagoon and/or Bay Lake
- Footpath access to the Magic Kingdom (though, some are closer than others).
Also, because of the monorail, all three resorts have access to the other monorail resorts for dining, shopping or just exploring in a way that is far easier than resort-hopping between other resorts. It takes zero planning and a matter of just a few minutes to travel between the resorts, making it possible for guests of the Contemporary to just pop over to Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian for a tiki drink on a whim, for example.
The monorail resorts are predictably not cheap. In fact, all three sit near the top of the heap when it comes to cost. The following represents what you can expect to spend per night for a room, excluding high and low season.
- Grand Floridian ($817.15-$1048.14)
- Polynesian ($697.89-$921.34)
- Contemporary ($584.83-$739.17)
Setting aside cost, however, each of the resorts has its own unique qualities and will appeal to different types of travelers, as noted below.
Grand Floridian — Elegance & Fine Dining
The Grand Floridian is Disney’s most expensive Deluxe resort. It’s styled as a Victorian-era luxury property, and wood accents throughout and piano music playing in the massive lobby help set the formal, elegant atmosphere. The Grand Floridian is the only monorail resort to have a spa, and the resort as a whole gives off a refined, sophisticated feel. It’s the best resort if you’re wanting to “feel fancy,” and it’s no coincidence that Disney’s wedding venue is located at the Grand Floridian.
This opulent energy is matched by the largest rooms of any of the monorail resorts. In fact, the Grand Floridian has the largest standard rooms in all of Disney World, coming in at 440 square feet.
The Grand Floridian is home to some of the most coveted dining reservations at Disney, including central Florida’s only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant, Victoria & Albert’s. Victoria & Albert’s does have a strict dress code and reservations fill up fast, so make sure you plan ahead if you’re wanting to check it out. Other notable restaurants at the Grand Floridian include Narcoossee’s (seafood-centric, currently closed) and Citricos (Mediterranean-inspired). The resort also has several lounges and more casual dining options, giving it the most culinary variety of any of the monorail resorts.
Polynesian — Laid Back Tiki Energy and Wonderful Views
The Polynesian (aka “The Poly”) is the opposite of the elegant Grand Floridian, with a Tiki-inspired vibe, and a relaxed, South Pacific energy. You’ll be greeted with a lei upon your arrival, and the lush landscaping, natural wood, and music help sell the island theme. The Poly provides the biggest “escape,” and has the greatest sense of being somewhere other than Central Florida.
One of the nicest things about the Poly is the white sand beach facing the Magic Kingdom just outside of the Lava Pool. While you can’t swim in the Seven Seas Lagoon, it does really help mentally transport you to a tropical island. Additionally, at night, it’s a wonderful place to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Disney will play the music from the park on the beach, so you can enjoy the show from the comfort of your resort.
The dining and lounge options follow the tropical theme, with island-inspired menus. ‘Ohana for dinner is essentially a churrascaria, where you will have a non-stop parade of meat on skewers delivered to your table. Breakfast is a different, but no less popular, experience, a character meal featuring Lilo & Stitch. Kona Cafe (Table Service) and Capt. Cooks (Quick Service) are both solid options as well.
The Poly also has two of the most popular places to grab a drink in Disney World— Tambu Lounge outside of ‘Ohana, and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto downstairs off the lobby. Trader Sam’s is known for its fun atmosphere and tropical drinks served in tiki mugs. It does, however, offer some mocktails for those that want to enjoy the tiki vibe without the booze.
The Poly has the most convenient transportation to EPCOT of the monorail resorts. Guests can walk across the parking lot to the Ticket and Transportation Center and board a monorail that will go straight to EPCOT. The other resorts, in contrast, take the resort monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center and then transfer to an Epcot monorail.
One downside of the Poly is that it is the only monorail resort that doesn’t have a fitness center. Guests of the Polynesian have access to the fitness center at the nearby Grand Floridian, but it’s not as convenient as the other two resorts. The Poly is also the only monorail resort that doesn’t offer watercraft rental.
Contemporary — Convenience and Destination Dining
Even people that have never been to Disney are familiar with “that one hotel that the monorail goes through”— the Contemporary. This retro-future property has a clean and modern style, with nods to The Incredibles throughout the room décor. The styling is a lot more understated compared to the other monorail resorts, which some view as an example of sleek, minimalist design and others view as stark and lifeless.
By any objective standard, the sense of place that you get at the Contemporary isn’t nearly as strong as it is at the Polynesian or Grand Floridian. The common areas might remind you of a Westin, or similar contemporary (if you’ll pardon the pun) hotel brand. The rooms in the main building all have balconies with views of Bay Lake, the Seven Seas Lagoon and/or the Magic Kingdom, which is a great feature.
Ironically, while the Contemporary is best known for its association with the monorail, you might not actually need to use it as much as the other resorts in the area. There is a short walking path between the resort and the Magic Kingdom. It’s typically faster to just walk back and forth when you’re visiting Magic Kingdom than waiting for and riding the monorail.
The Contemporary path is only half a mile, much shorter than the Grand Floridian (.9 miles) and the Polynesian (1.4 miles) paths. Having easy access to the monorail is still wonderful for those instances where you’re headed to EPCOT or don’t feel like spending the energy to walk to or from Magic Kingdom.
The Contemporary is home to one of the most iconic restaurants at Disney World, the California Grill, which sits atop the hotel with views of the Magic Kingdom. In addition to wonderful food, California Grill is a sought-after destination because it provides a unique vantage point to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
Another extremely popular destination, Chef Mickey’s, is located at the Contemporary. The buffet-style food at Chef Mickey’s is fine, but the real reason most go is for the character interactions with Mickey and the gang. Chef Mickey’s is currently serving family-style all-you-can-eat dining, but will return to its traditional buffet format on March 1, 2023.
Which is the “best” of the three monorail resorts? All are highly rated and have large rooms, multiple dining options, and the convenience of direct monorail access. The biggest factor is likely going to be which theme you like the best.
At any given time, you might see dramatic pricing differences. Accordingly, for someone like me who doesn’t have a strong preference for one theme over the other, it can sometimes be as simple as which place is offering the best deal. After all, as noted above, one of the best things about these resorts is how easy it is to stay in one place and visit the others to eat or take advantage of their other amenities.
So, what do you think of the monorail resorts? Do you have a favorite? Let us know in the comments!