We continue our Club Level review series with the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Last week, we considered the King Kamehameha Club Lounge at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and then we previously looked at the Atrium Club Level at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Stone Harbor Club at Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
The Grand Floridian is home to two different “levels” of Club Level at two very different price points. On the Disney website, the less expensive version is referred to as “Outer Bldg – Club Level Access” and is located inside the Sugar Loaf building. Like at the Polynesian, this is a self-contained space with everyone in the building staying Club Level, which means that you’ll need to scan your MagicBand at the entrance to the building for access.
From an overall convenience standpoint, Sugar Loaf is probably the most convenient outer building. It’s maybe 20 seconds away from the main building, 30 seconds from Gasparilla Grill, 30 seconds to the boat over to Magic Kingdom or the Polynesian, and 15 seconds away from the courtyard pool. For the beach pool, you’re looking at a 2-minute walk, if that.
The “lounge” itself isn’t much to write home about – it “literally” takes up residence in what would otherwise be the open space just inside the entrance of any of the other buildings. There are no windows and outside of the carpet, a tea pot display or two, and a couple of paintings, no real atmosphere or ambiance.
Worse, the loud, cavernous space is lined with guestrooms from the ground floor on up. Your room could quite possibly be three steps away from the seating area. With service from 7am through 10pm along with setup before and vacuuming after, you’re looking at quite a bit of in-room noise from 6am through 11pm. Without exaggerating (much) we “felt” like we could hear every time a fork or knife touched a plate – not exactly what you would expect from a $1,000/night room at Walt Disney’ World’s flagship resort.
Inside the rooms, which I’ll review separately, there’s no barrier blocking noise outside of the largely-useless door. Of course, not everyone’s room is located right on top of the lounge, but at least a quarter of them circle the downstairs area. If you do opt for Sugar Loaf and find yourself looking down at the lounge once you exit your room, visit the front desk and request a different room. They may not be able to move you until the next day, but putting new guests in a room near the lounge and then moving them down the hall the next morning is an ordinary occurrence.
View types and pricing on the outer building rooms are similar to what we saw at the Polynesian, though the least expensive room at the Grand is about $110/night more expensive than the least expensive room at the Polynesian:
A Theme Park View room at the Grand is “only” about $20 more expensive than a Theme Park View room at the Polynesian, even though the base Grand Floridian room is considerably pricier. That’s probably because the views across the water are so much better at the tropical getaway directly across the water from Cinderella Castle.
Here’s Club Level pricing:
An “Outer Bldg Club Level” room is “only” $4 more per night than the Theme Park View room without access to all of the beer, wine, and food. The cost to upgrade from a regular Garden View room to Club Level Access also starts less than the prices that we’ve seen at other resorts. The upcharge begins around $115 more per night. But on a Friday night during Regular Season, the cost to upgrade from a regular Standard View room to a Club Level Standard Room is about $270, so prices do rise quickly.
Main Building Club Level is considerably more expensive – a minimum of $217 per night more than Sugar Loaf Club Level and $331 per night more expensive than a standard room. That’s also the least expensive main building room on the least expensive date. With tax, a Deluxe Main Building Club Level King Room will set you back as much as $1,794 for a single night. With tax, a Friday night during Regular Season for the same room would cost $1,382, or about four hundred dollars less. We’ll check out the main building experience in a separate post as to not spoil sweet Sugar Loaf. Note that the food options are 97% to 100% the same regardless of whether you find yourself slummin’ it in Sugar Loaf or enjoying the opulence of the main building.
While there’s something to be said for being able to walk out onto your private balcony to watch the fireworks, I’m not sure a Theme Park View is worth an extra $110/night, particularly when you may only take advantage of said view once or twice over the course of a seven-night stay. The picture above was taken outside Narcoossee’s in an area where anyone can stand and enjoy the show. You don’t even have to be staying at the resort.
Don’t expect too much from your Sugar Loaf balcony view – there’s a reason why there aren’t any view upgrades. There aren’t any particularly desirable views. You can try requesting the highest floor possible – that’s what I did – and I ended up on the second floor largely staring at this tree.
Here’s the Club Lounge schedule:
Interestingly, the Grand Floridian was our only Club Level experience so far where the welcome letter wasn’t personalized with our last name. It was also the only Club Level experience where we weren’t walked over to the Club Level building or up to the Club Level floor after checking in at the main desk.
Otherwise, the 7am to 10pm Club Lounge hours are the exact same as the others we’ve visited and the offerings are similar, though the Grand Floridian does take its Victorian theming seriously with Afternoon Tea scheduled from 2:30pm through 4pm. The end times for each period are typically exact, so you can expect the appetizers to disappear right at 7pm, for example.
The main buffet line is compact, but has enough room for 35 or more options.
Breakfast choices were similar to what we’ve seen elsewhere, but it seemed like each specific offering was elevated in some way. For example, these fresh blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries are available to mix in with the plain or strawberry yogurt.
The mixed fruit probably leaves something to be desired, but the melon and pineapple were in the vicinity of ripe.
I don’t think the oatmeal will ever look appetizing, but if I have to look at it, you have to look at it.
Pecans and raisins.
One of the more disappointing aspects of Club Level has been a complete lack of hot food items for breakfast outside of the oatmeal vat. Luckily, the Grand offered some little egg frittata bites, which were a welcome addition. It’s not the most attractive picture.
Also unattractive looking on “film,” the sticky buns were out-of-this-world ooey-gooey – deliciously sweet with a ton of crunchy pecans on top. A 15 out of 10.
I really enjoyed the maple pastries with their delicious, sweet brown sugar flavor.
At the other Club Level Lounges, the breakfast meat selections have been your typical grocery store quality, but the Grand Floridian’s were significantly better. The turkey was legitimately hand-carved and juicy with a nice blend of spices, while the prosciutto also impressed. The sliced ham wasn’t kosher so I can’t help you there.
The cheese again left something to be desired on flavor and texture – pure rubber.
The best I could do on the eggs – under-staffing is one problem that you’ll run into at all of the Club Level Lounges. There aren’t enough cast members to clean up the buffet area, clean plates, grab drinks, answer questions, etc. And unlike your typical Disney restaurant buffet, where there’s always more of something, you may well be looking at the last batch of an item. So if you see something you want and there’s only two left, don’t wait for the next platter. It may not be coming.
The Grand Floridian hit it out of the park with made-to-order Mickey Waffles one morning.
These aren’t offered every day – you’ll typically see this station either at breakfast or during the evening appetizers, but it was a great touch. It seems like it would cost Disney around $150 a day to offer Mickey Waffles at each of the lounges every morning, including staffing, ingredients, and cleanup. It seems like it would go a long way to putting a smile on people’s faces to start the day. Not that the oatmeal vat won’t, I suppose.
A selection of cereal.
Butter and cream cheese.
After four Club Level stays in the last six months, our breakfast expectations were low, and the Grand exceeded them on most fronts with the Mickey Waffles, sticky buns, pastries, turkey, and prosciutto. It was easily the best spread that we’ve seen so far.
2:30pm to 4pm brings “Afternoon Tea” with additional snacks available between 11:30am and 4pm.
If the scones look familiar, it’s because they’re the exact same as what’s served at the Garden View Tea Room as part of that $35+/person experience that I review in this post.
They’re served with as much Devonshire clotted cream, apricot jam, butter, and strawberry jam as you like, in addition to red velvet cake and some of the best banana bread I’ve ever tasted.
For tea, you’ll find a Twinings spread.
With nine choices.
And Hot Cocoa packets.
As far as other afternoon snacks, expect pretzels, jam tarts, chips, vegetables, pastries, croissants, crackers, and gummy bears. We’ll see most of that during other parts of the day, too.
As usual, 5pm to 7pm brings the best and heartiest food of the day. I’ll start with what you can expect to find daily and then move on to the items that switch out each day.
While I would honestly be embarrassed to serve 95% of the cheese that we’ve seen at other Club Lounges in my own home, the Grand stepped up the game considerably with nine selections along with grapes, raisins, and honey.
The mixture of colors, flavors, and textures impressed, even if nothing is necessarily noteworthy on its own.
Accompanying crackers and breadsticks.
The vegetable selection was also a vast improvement.
Where else have we seen cherry tomatoes and zucchini, let alone baby asparagus and scallions? Coleslaw accompanies instead of ranch dressing. Luckily, I still had some in my pockets from the Polynesian stay. You can never be too careful.
You’ll find the same gummies, Goldfish, and animal crackers during the evening service, in addition to cupcakes and sprinkles.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Uncrustables – neatly sliced.
What a life.
“Crisped rice treats” and brownies.
What all this looks like from further back.
This freshly-baked cranberry bread was popular with a nice chewiness.
Then there are a couple different hot and cold apps offered each evening.
On the first night, we enjoyed the cool flavors of this avocado hummus with the crunchy pita chip.
The seared salmon with mango and plantain raised the bar as well.
It’s a small bite, but it was offered with an attractive presentation and a nice variety of fresh flavors and textures.
A chilled soup is typically offered, here with a tomato bisque that I would have preferred heated up.
A fresh salad with juicy tomato, piquant red onion, and soft mozzarella in a a light vinaigrette.
The duck confit with cranberry chutney was incredibly flavorful with the richness of the duck cut nicely by a little bit of a sweet and sour flavor from the fruity chutney.
The crab cakes with Cajun remoulade might have been predominantly filler, but each bite was still satisfying with a mild spice and a little bit of a seafood vibe. You can always grab two or three.
While it’s far from the most photogenic picture that we’ve seen, the turkey meatballs with marinara provided some familiar flavors along with the side of parmesan cheese offered in a bowl alongside it.
In addition to all of that, a chef was preparing fresh pasta.
It was a vibrant, fragrant dish that was heavy on the garlic in a delightfully creamy sauce – a filling portion of restaurant-quality pasta.
Coming off of a lackluster visit to the Polynesian, we were blown away by the offerings at Sugar Loaf – crab cakes, duck confit, fresh pasta, seared salmon, avocado with pita, meatballs, soup, and more. Everything tasted a lot better than it probably looks in the pictures.
On the second night, we were greeted by Caesar salad with a crispy, cheesy cracker.
1900 Park Fare’s signature strawberry soup – sweet, chilled, creamy, and decadent.
A similar salad to the one we saw the previous night, this time with cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, croutons, and feta in a zesty vinaigrette. Fresh and flavorful.
This roast beef tart might not look like much, but it was a really tasty, nuanced bite topped with a spicy horseradish sauce that was cut by sweet onions underneath.
Moroccan spiced lamb with yogurt sauce – another gem with a nice blend of garlic and spices mixed with tender, juicy lamb. Impressive.
The potato reuben is not the most photogenic dish and probably didn’t work quite as well as some of the other items, but it was an interesting and filling take on the typical potato skin. The corned beef was lean and meaty, but the potato underneath wasn’t crispy enough and the thousand island dressing was on the bland side. But a nice effort nonetheless.
Not to mention the presence of CHICKEN NUGGETS served with honey mustard and ketchup.
I came down hard on all of the “little plates” at the Polynesian, but it seemed to be less of an issue at the Grand with all of the other items and the short distance from the buffet line to the tables. It’s obviously not a great distance from the window tables to the food at the Poly, but having to dodge all the chairs and people and get in line for two potstickers was more cumbersome than the situation at Sugar Loaf.
Overall, we felt like the selection and the quality of the food during the appetizer portion of the evening made for a solid meal or a really heavy snack. There were six or seven unique items each night along with solid standbys. Those looking to grab a little something on their way elsewhere should also be pleased with what they find.
5pm is also the beginning of the alcoholic beverage service with five standard wine choices. Like the other Club Levels, these are mostly $8-$13 bottles, but the Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs is a solid choice and the other varietals taste like wine.
A lousy shot of the beer and cider choices – Sam Adams Seasonal, Bud Light, Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider, Funky Buddha Floridian Hefeweizen, and Stella Artois.
Considering these pictures are from the middle of December, they’re a little late serving the Octoberfest, but each of these bottles would set you back $6-$9, so you can theoretically do some damage if you drink nine or ten of them a night like I do.
Non-alcoholic juices, milk, and filtered water are available, in addition to the usual canned soft drinks. In the morning, small bottles of water were placed above the fridge with the sodas. All of the lounges have these waters, but they’re rarely offered without asking.
You also have the opportunity to be the person that breaks the Nespresso machine.
Dessert is served from 8pm to 10pm:
Mini cheesecake with fresh fruit.
Key lime pie tarts.
“Pastry chef’s selection.”
Chocolate chip cookies.
The same banana bread and red velvet cake that we saw earlier.
Chocolate mousse cups.
Mickey Mouse pot de creme (vanilla custard with coconut flakes).
Crisped rice treats.
With 15 selections equal in quality to your typical Disney fireworks dessert party (read: just okay), there’s plenty of variety for guests to end their day or start their late night bar crawl with something sweet. The Mickey pot de creme and the nightly chef’s pastry selection were particularly good.
Dessert also adds Grand Marnier, Courvoisier, Frangelico, and Bailey’s to the wine, beer, and cider options we saw earlier.
In addition to Kahlua and Ferreira Quinta Do Porto 10 Year Tawny Port. That’s easily the best selection of apertifs that we’ve seen.
Overall, the Club Level food and drink offerings at the Grand Floridian were easily the best of the lounges that we’ve visited so far. And it’s not close. The Contemporary offered far fewer options each day, but the main appetizers were quite good. Beach Club was more rudimentary, but what was available did the job. The Polynesian largely disappointed on food quality and selection.
On the other hand, Sugar Loaf’s atmosphere left a lot to be desired. It’s little more than a bunch of tables shoehorned into the lobby area of one of the resort’s buildings. It’s not “bad” necessarily, but it lacks the views of the Polynesian or Contemporary and doesn’t enjoy the nooks and crannies of the Beach Club’s space. That’s not a deal breaker, especially for those that prefer to carry their haul back to their room, but it may be worth noting if you have extended family planning on hanging out together.
Unless you’re immune to sound, the lounge is also loud. If you find yourself in one of the many rooms that line the area on the first, second, or third floors in particular, you’re going to hear a lot of noise inside the room. The only time it’s relatively quiet is 11pm to 6am. That gives me a lot of pause in recommending Sugar Loaf or returning myself. Comfort and a good night’s sleep are important and a poorly placed room assignment near the lounge could make for a very loud, very unpleasant stay. It’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect when paying a $200+ per night premium. The room views are also below average.
Service was spotty. About 75% of the cast members were incredibly warm and friendly, but two stuck out as being particularly poor. My very first interaction with a Club Level cast member went like this, after we arrived around 4pm:
- “Hello, is it possible to get a glass of wine before the appetizer service?”
- “What do you want?”
- “Two glasses of prosecco would be great.”
- “We don’t have prosecco” in a condescending tone.
- “Oh…ummmmm…two glasses of white wine then, please.”
- “Dry or sweet?”
- “Probably sweeter…”
- “We have riesling.”
- *laughing a little* “Okay, dryer then.”
- “Chardonnay” as she stomps off.
Now, it’s true that they don’t have prosecco. But they do have the Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs, which is another sparkling wine. I didn’t know that at the time since we had just arrived. But the proper response to my question would have been offering said sparkly. “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have prosecco. We have a similar sparkling wine called a Blancs de Blanc that’s a little less sweet that you might like to try?”
On our second night, as we looked over the desserts, I commented to Erin that I thought we had seen the mini cheesecakes on the night before. A cast member that was standing behind us heard me and said, “Actually, all of the desserts are the same every night. They have a huge pastry kitchen here so I have no idea why they don’t try and do something a little different.” It struck me as a little too candid for your average vacationer.
Other than that, service seemed to be largely indifferent as we have come to expect. It’s a shame that Disney doesn’t have a mechanism to move friendly, knowledgeable cast members to front-of-house positions in a more efficient way.
But if you’re looking for the best food and drinks, then the Grand Floridian is it. For a more pleasant experience, spend the extra $300+ a night for a main building room. The Lounge up there is fantastic.