Grand Floridian vs Grand Californian

Are you planning a dream vacation to a Disney theme park? Or would you like to take several of them over the years? The brilliance of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is that you have your pick of the most luxurious resorts in the entire Disney lineup. Specifically, you can stay at the grandest of all Disney hotels. Here’s a DVC showdown between Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

Comparing DVC Contracts

Here’s my boilerplate for comparing DVC properties:

“Let’s start with a few statements of the obvious. All DVC resorts feature mind-blowingly spectacular amenities. Generally, they have delicious restaurants and luxurious pools, creating a kind of special club life for DVC members. Your home away from home at Disney might be nicer than your actual home. As such, any evaluation of a DVC property will be a matter of scale. No matter which one you choose, you’re going to love it.”

The final statement is undoubtedly true of the Grand Californian and Grand Floridian, the crown jewels of the DVC lineup. The two resorts are relatively recent additions to the DVC catalog. The Grand Californian opened to the public alongside Disney California Adventure (DCA) in 2001. It wouldn’t add a DVC component until 2009, though. In fact, September marks its 10th anniversary!

The Grand Floridian became the stateliest of all Walt Disney World resorts when it debuted in 1988. It wouldn’t add DVC villas until May of 2013. In many ways, the Grand Floridian is the inspiration for the Grand Californian, even though the latter property became a DVC participant first. Disney executives loved having an upscale theme park hotel that could cater to the highest class of vacationers. When they built DCA, they tethered it to a luxury resort to boost the appeal of the park.

As is so often the case with opulent resorts, exclusivity is a vital part of the appeal of both properties. Disney maintained that philosophy with the DVC component of each hotel. These are the two smallest DVC locations with regards to inventory.

The Grand Floridian has 100 DVC units onsite, with maximum availability of 140 rooms. When you’ve struggled to book the resort at the seven-month window, this is why. Somehow, the Grand Californian is that much smaller. It sells 48 units, with 71 rooms available in inventory. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. For comparison, Disney’s Old Key West Resort books up to 761 rooms.

The conclusion to draw from this information is obvious. Should you want to stay at either the Grand Floridian or Grand Californian regularly, you need to buy a DVC contract. Otherwise, you will run into extreme booking issues. That’s especially true with the Grand Californian, which is currently the only DVC presence at Disneyland Resort. The DVC supply can satisfy only a tiny fraction of the demand here.

Grand Floridian Contract Facts

Since both resorts are fairly new to DVC, their contracts don’t expire for a long time. DVC ownership at the Grand Floridian lasts until January 31, 2064. That’s so far away that Lady GaGa III will be President of the Even More United States by then.

Availability is an issue at the Grand Floridian, but it’s less of one than at the Grand Californian. The explanation is that the Walt Disney World complex is home to 10 different DVC properties with an 11th coming later this year. While program participants understandably want to stay at the Grand Floridian, they can book rooms elsewhere in Orlando.

My family has stayed at the Grand Floridian some, but we’ve probably spent more time at Bay Lake Tower and the Polynesian for a simple reason. We don’t own at the Grand Floridian, and so it’s just easier to book at the other two monorail resorts. The logistics are similar, and we’re only a monorail ride away from the other (spectacular) amenities at the hotel.

Should you feel strongly about vacationing at the Grand Floridian, you should buy there. In my family’s experience, the seven-month window bookings are few and far between. We’ve had most of our luck with Waitlist reservations triggering. Typically, a couple of days at the Grand Floridian is all we can book seven months out.

In general, the 11-month booking window is one of the most substantial advantages of DVC membership. At these two resorts in particular, it’s crucial to stay where you want when you want. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the Waitlist Booking Fairy, and she’s fickle.

The Points Chart at Grand Floridian is about what you’d expect, which is to say that it’s expensive. You’re staying at the highest profile resort on the Walt Disney World campus, and Disney charges you that way.

A single night at a studio costs no less than 17 points on a weekday, and the starting price on Friday/Saturday is 20 points. Those numbers spike to 31/36 points during Premier Season. Let’s just cut to the chase. You’ll need more points to stay at either of these properties regularly. When you want the deluxe treatment, you must pay deluxe pricing. That’s how the world works.

On the plus side, the rooms at the Grand Floridian are spacious. Even the studios are 374 square feet. The one-bedrooms are more than twice as big at 844 square feet, and the two-bedrooms expand from there to 1,232 square feet. The spectacular Grand Villa room type at this resort will blow your mind, too. It’s 2,800 square feet of majestic excess. You’ll feel like royalty when you stay here.

Finally, I should quickly mention the amenities at this hotel. Obviously, they’re spectacular. The restaurants here are arguably the best set at any Disney resort on the planet. The pools are lovely, there’s a delightful children’s aquatic play area, and the logistics are par excellence. You can take a boat straight to Magic Kingdom or ride the monorail there or to Epcot (after a monorail switch at the Transportation and Ticket Center).

The Grand Floridian has earned its reputation as the best of Walt Disney World, holding that title for more than 30 years. You will love staying here. It’s the ultimate in Orlando vacations.

Grand Californian Contract Facts

The expiration date for Grand Californian contracts is only four years sooner than at Grand Floridian. Members can enjoy the benefits of the DVC program until January 31, 2060. I think Lady GaGa III will only be an Intergalactic Senator at that point.

Anyway, the point is that the length of the contracts at the two resorts is mostly a wash unless you were watching Disney Junior programs as recently as this year. It’s more than 40 years from now. Think of all the Sharknados you must survive to see the end of your contract! Yes, I’m being silly, but it’s an important point. When you purchase an ownership interest at either resort, you’re effectively set for life.

The points chart at the Grand Californian is even less forgiving than at the Grand Floridian. The cheapest stay is a weeknight at a studio, which costs 17 points. A Friday/Saturday is 22 points. Realistically, Disney could charge what they want here since this hotel is the only game in town for DVC members. Be thankful that it’s in line with the Grand Floridian rather than dramatically more expensive.

The studios at the Grand Californian are 379 square feet, and this fact demonstrates just how similarly DVC has managed the hotels with Grand in the title. Similarly, the one-bedroom suites are 865 square feet, and the two-bedrooms are 1,257 square feet. The only huge difference between the two hotels is in the three-bedroom. The one at the Grand Californian is “only” 2,462 square feet. It’s still bigger than most people’s houses.

The amenities at the Grand Californian are on a par with the Grand Floridian, although I slightly prefer the latter property. At the Grand Californian, Napa Rose and Storytellers Café are both wonderful places to eat, but they can’t match the offerings at the Grand Floridian.

Conversely, the logistics at Grand Californian are better than at the Grand Floridian, at least in one specific way. The resort connects directly with Disney California Adventure. You walk out the hotel lobby, turn left, and then turn left again. You’re now in line to enter the park! With Disney funneling so many resources toward improving DCA, the Grand Californian connection is a brilliant asset that will only grow valuable with time.

Current Pricing for Both Resorts

I won’t lie. Most people will feel a pinch when they evaluate prices at both hotels. Sticker shock is a factor. These are the two most expensive properties in the DVC lineup.

I like to list current pricing as an exercise to demonstrate for posterity’s sake how much DVC contracts tend to rise in value. Similarly, it’s a good way of tracking how much Disney increases the prices of direct purchases over time.

Currently, a direct contract at the Grand Floridian costs $245 per point. I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath. Okay, I’ll now take it away again. The Grand Californian is even more expensive at $260 per point.

Thankfully, resales contracts exist for the express purpose of giving Disney fans a more viable purchasing option at expensive DVC resorts. Right now, you can find Grand Californian contracts for as little as $190 per point. Some of them have crept over $200 per point, but the median is still in the $190s.

At the Grand Floridian, better deals are available. Some of these contracts are in the upper $150s, with most falling under $175 per point. I have seen some above this, and I want to stress that they’re not necessarily bad deals, depending on how many points are available. It’s just that the Grand Floridian has a larger per-point range than the Grand Californian, which blurs the calculations a bit.

Overall, the Walt Disney World resort is clearly cheaper than the Disneyland one, though. Again, this comes back to the Grand Californian being the only game in town. Potential buyers have no pushback here. If they want a contract at the only Anaheim DVC property, they must pay what’s asked.

Deciding Where to Stay

To a certain extent, this conversation is the simplest to resolve. Will you spend more time at Disneyland or Walt Disney World? If it’s the former, you should buy at the Grand Californian. If it’s the latter, the Grand Floridian is the logical choice, although you have other DVC options here that could also work.

The fascinating part of the discussion is how similar the two resorts are. First, Disney strategists took the best parts of the Grand Floridian and mirrored them at the Grand Californian. Then, the DCA-adjoining hotel became a DVC participant first. So, DVC’s management team used it as a blueprint when they introduced the Grand Floridian to the lineup.

Also – and this is the crucial takeaway from the entire piece – you’re unlikely to stay at either property consistently unless you purchase a DVC ownership interest. There’s simply too much demand and too little inventory at both hotels.