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…)
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!