The Hotel del Coronado – Inspiration for Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

One look at the exterior of the Hotel del Coronado can confirm that it was a major inspiration for Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The Grand Floridian was inspired by Victorian Era beach resorts that were popular during the turn of the 20th century (late 19th into early 20th).

Mount Washington Hotel

The Grand Flo’s exterior was modeled after a few famous hotels – two of which also boast the iconic white building with a red roof look – making them the closest visual relatives to the Disney Resort. Those are the Mount Washington Resort in New Hampshire, and of course, the Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island (just across the bay from San Diego, California). 

In 1886, Coronado Island was developed as a planned resort community centered around the Hotel. When the Hotel opened in February of 1888, room rates were around $2.50 a day which included three meals! That is about $68.50 with inflation. Today, lodging at the Del will run you between $200-1200 a night, depending on which accomodations you choose. 

Hotel del Coronado in the early 1900s. Image curtesy of Hotel del Coronado Press Room.

Total construction cost for the Hotel was around $600,000, with an additional $400,000 spent on furnishings.

Oh, and also, it’s all wooden! When it opened it was the single largest resort in the world and today it is the second largest wooden structure in the world. It is one of the few surviving Victorian era wooden seaside resorts.

Historical Photo

At the time it was built, it was one of the largest building in America with electricity and it supplied electricity to the whole island city of Coronado. It had some of the first steam powered hydraulic elevators and fire sprinkler and telephones systems in the country for a building its size. 

It also had another 1888 rarity, private bathrooms! Private bathrooms used to be a luxury in U.S. hotels (and still are in some parts of the world), but The Del had 70 when it opened. 

Marilyn Monroe on set of Some Like it Hot, 1958. Image curtesy of Hotel del Coronado Press Room.

The Hotel del Coronado hosted many celebrities and dignitaries over the years. Movies began to be filmed there as early as the 1900s, but most people probably recognize the exterior from the 1958 film Some Like it Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. It is still hard to believe that the interior scenes were not filmed on-site, as the set directors did such a good job of recreating the inside of the Hotel for the film. 

It used to be that a ferry was the only way to get to the island, but we opted for the bridge that was built in 1969. If you plan a trip there today, you can still take a cute little 15 minute ferry ride to the island! Visit https://coronadoferrylanding.com/ferry-info/ for more information. 

Much like at Disney Resorts…

… you don’t have to be an overnight guest of the Hotel to explore the property and use some of the amenities.

We arrived on the island at around 9am and left at around 2pm. There is lots of other shopping and dining on the island itself, but for this trip, we stuck to the hotel grounds. We were early enough to find free street parking close to the Del, right on Ocean Drive. This parking can fill up fast during peak times, but the Del offers paid self-parking and valet.

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Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton
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Even if you are not an over-night guest of the hotel, they still treat you like a guest. We had a great experience with everyone there and were not treated any differently just because we didn’t book a room. The only off-limit spots to day guests are guest room areas and the pool. So, we spent some time on the gorgeous beach took a self-guided walking tour around the exterior of the hotel, visited the gift shops, and ate at the Sun Deck.

The Sun Deck is a gorgeous patio with a breathtaking view of the shore. And just like most Disney Resorts, eating and/or drinking here will cost you, but be so worth it! They already have items on their menu that can accommodate many diets and are also happy to customize anything they can. Definitely Disney-level service. Alex had the Chicken Bao Buns (Dairy free) and the Hotel del Colada and I had the California Sunset Bowl (GF and Vegan as is) and the Patio Punch. Our meal cost $73 before tip and the service was excellent so we gave $87.

Now, what was that about $2.50 a day plus three square in 1888? But seriously, we felt the experience was every bit worth it. The food and drinks were very good and the atmosphere was unbeatable. Just imagine the Grand Flo with an actual beach! We felt the connection between the Grand Floridian and one of its most influential sources at the Hotel del Coronado.

The Haunting at the Del?

In 1892, a 24 year-old woman named Kate Morgan checked into the hotel alone, using the alias “Lottie A. Bernard” from Detroit. Five days later, she was found dead on an exterior staircase leading to the beach with a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner determined the gunshot wound to be self-inflicted, but with rumors of a possible affair and pregnancy, there is still some mystery and skepticism surrounding her death. Since she used an alias, it took a while for her to be identified, so she became known as “The Beautiful Stranger”.

We picked up a copy of Beautiful Stranger in The Signature Shop on property.

Kate’s spirit is said to still occupy her former room (current room 3327). She is described as a playful ghost who pulls terrifying, yet harmless antics. She is known to turn lights and TVs on and off and fleetingly appear in the hallway or windows. The hotel even published a book about Kate called Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost Of Kate Morgan And The Hotel Del Coronado. You can find out more about Kate on the Hotel del Coronado’s websites or order the book on Amazon.

The Hotel del Coronado used to shy away from the “ghost story”, but now they embrace it and treat Kate as one of their own. They even offer docent-led historic tours of the property that include Kate’s story. (Temporarily unavailable due to safety measures). So, we will definitely be back one day to ride the ferry over and take a tour. 

Some of you may know that Alex gets a sixth sense sometimes that we call his Sympathetic Vibrations. (You can see it in the video Spooky New Orleans – a “Real Life” Haunted Mansion). Well, we did walk around to some of the areas where Kate has been reported to be active, but Alex did not receive any sympathetic vibrations from her during our visit. Kate actually died on a cold, rainy night, but it was such a lovely day, we bet she wasn’t interested in disturbing it for anyone.

Let us know what you think! Do you see the inspiration? Have you ever been to the Del, or seen it featured in Some Like it Hot? Have you ever encountered Kate’s spirit? Or do you plan to visit now to find out for yourself?

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