Does your definition of luxury include playing on a golf course with lush championship fairways and manicured greens that regularly host the game of golf’s all time greatest players? How about an exotic luxury driving experience where you drive or ride in a Lamborghini or other exotic sports cars that takes you from zero to 130 mph in less than five seconds? Perhaps your definition of luxury includes a private shopping session in a Gucci boutique with champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Maybe you prefer to stroll out of your private VIP cabana complete with your own personal attendant to swim with dolphins, sharks and stingrays within backstroking distance. All of these experiences seem luxurious to me and are available in Orlando.
The definition of luxury in my humble opinion is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Does the perfect destination exist to feed everyone’s definition of luxury? I now believe it does.
I just returned from a five-day jaunt to Orlando, Florida dedicated to a quest to learn more about Orlando, the destination. I arrived with so many questions. Can Orlando appeal to the luxury market? Is there magic outside of the Magic Kingdom? What options are there in Orlando for clients that want more than an amusement park? I have returned home with a much greater understanding and appreciation for Orlando and believe there are options that will appeal to what most would consider a luxury experience.
My arrival experience was nothing less than luxurious by most standards. It is always special to arrive at an airport and be met by a professionally dressed driver holding a welcome sign with my name on it. I was escorted to retrieve my luggage and whisked away in a brand new Cadillac Escalade headed for the newly opened Four Season Orlando Resort.
Upon entering the security gate and driving through the newly build upscale community that is made up of seven figure townhouses and homes the Four Seasons Orlando came into sight and I knew I had arrived someplace special. Located within the Walt Disney World Resort the Four Seasons Orlando offers the perfect blend of Disney benefits and Four Seasons luxury experiences.
The resort is not an official Disney hotel. However, there is a unique relationship between Disney and the Four Seasons that allows the resort to provide Disney benefits and amenities. The Disney Planning Center is located near the front desk in the lobby. It is here that you can meet one-on-one with a Disney Cast Member to plan the wonderful details of your stay, make ticket arrangements for the Disney theme parks and reserve your table at a Disney restaurant. The team can assist you with your planning prior to arriving in Orlando as well. The resort offers the Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy & Pals character breakfast twice weekly at Ravello restaurant, adjoining the main lobby. The buffet-style breakfast is offered on Thursdays and Saturdays and features an assortment of traditional breakfast offerings along with an omelette station. There is a photographer on site to capture family memories with the characters. The resort offers complimentary transportation to the four main Disney parks and you can have your Disney merchandise delivered to your room.
The Resort has 443 guestrooms, including 68 suites. All rooms have spacious balconies with different views based on where your room is located. The entry-level room category is a Four Seasons Room and has an obstructed view. The Four Seasons suites also have an obstructed view. The Golden Oak room and suite categories have residential views. The Lake View room and suite categories have views of the lake, golf course and pool areas. The Park View room and suite categories have wonderful views of the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks display. Many of the Park View rooms have views of both Magic Kingdom and Epcot fireworks displays.
This family-friendly resort truly offers something for everyone. There is Explorer Island Water Park. A family should plan on one full day just to take advantage of the amenities that Explorer Island has to offer. It is packed with family-friendly features that include a family pool, splash zone, lazy river, and The Drop. The Drop is a 242-foot water slide that offers a thrilling ride with a big splash at the end. It is also made of see-through fiberglass that adds to the thrill. The Mansion is a family hangout spot with outdoor table tennis, pool tables, bocce ball, and a fireplace and observation deck. The Hideout is a where kids of all ages can get their gaming fix. The complimentary Kids For All Seasons program is also located on the Island and has its own indoor volcano that frequently erupts.
The Oasis is the adults-only pool and features many sophisticated design elements. The pool overlooks the lake, is 92 feet long and is equipped with underwater audio.
There are many different dining options. Capa is a rooftop Spanish-style steakhouse specializing in expert cuts, tapas and fresh Florida seafood. It’s a great place to watch the fireworks from Magic Kingdom and Epcot in the evenings. Ravello is an Italian restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating available. PB&G is a poolside, southern-style casual restaurant. In the lobby there is a great bar overlooking the lake as well as Lickety-Split, a coffee bar with grab-and-go culinary creations.
Golden Oak, the Spa at Four Seasons Resort Orland is truly an oasis of serenity. The 13,000-square foot spa is beautifully appointed with a contemporary design that includes a natural palette and imagery of the Florida Everglades.
My first full day in Orlando started at Discovery Cove. Discovery Cove is a unique reservation-only, all-inclusive park. Attendance is restricted to about 1,300 guests per day and provides a more intimate, resort-like experience than a large amusement park. Guests are able to participate in the park’s signature 30-minute Dolphin Interaction, snorkel with tropical fish and stingrays in the Grand Reef, wade beside marmosets and otters in the Freshwater Oasis, hand-feed parrots, toucans and other exotic birds in three aviaries and relax in the large resort pool and lazy river. Other amenities include breakfast and lunch, as well as unlimited snacks and drinks (including alcoholic beverages) and all equipment needed for activities.
As I was on a quest to discover luxury in Orlando it was with great pleasure that I experienced the VIP Package while at Discovery Cove. This package includes a personal escort, private cabana, reserved seating a Laguna Grill, photo package, tote bag, up-close animal encounters in your cabana in addition to all of the amenities included with reservations.
Later that day I headed to SeaWorld and experienced the Private VIP Tour. This was a real treat and highly recommended for my discerning clients. The Private VIP Tour provided highlights of SeaWorld for up to 7 hours with the intimacy of your own tour guide. This tour includes preferred parking, front-of-the-line access to rides, reserved seating at guest’s selection of shows and a fine-dining experience at Sharks Underwater Grill. The highlights of the tour for me included feeding dolphins, sea lions and stingrays as well as all of the insider tips I learned about the park and the animals from our guide.
Following my whirlwind day of VIP touring I had dinner at the Ritz Carlton Orlando, Grand Lakes. This luxury Virtuoso resort features 582 guest rooms, including 60 Executive Suites, 56 Club Level rooms and suites, two Presidential Suites and one Royal Suite. All guestrooms feature a walk-out balcony with views of the lakes and golf course.
Highball & Harvest is the resort’s signature restaurant featuring cuisine created by celebrity Chef Norman Van Aken. There are six additional dining options on property.
The resort also features a fabulous spa, an outdoor heated pool, three tennis courts, Ritz Kids program and bikes. There is a sand volleyball court, a lazy river pool, ropes course and game room. Challenge is a Greg Norman-designed 18-hole golf course also located on property. The resort offers eco tours, daily fish feedings, guided bird watching and fishing.
My second full day in Orlando started with the Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy & Pals character breakfast at Ravello restaurant in the Four Seasons Orlando.
After breakfast I continued my quest to find luxurious accommodations and experiences and was delighted to begin with a tour of the Loews Portofino Hotel. This four-star Virtuoso property has a true similarity to Portofino, Italy with its piazzas and overall design. Loews Portofino Hotel is one of four official Universal resorts and represents the high-end option of the four.
There are three additional, soon to be four, on-site Universal hotels:
- Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the moderate/value hotel option. This retro themed hotel has a 50’s and 60’s theme complete with two huge pools, a lazy river, the first on-site bowling alley and more.
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort is a deluxe resort with a Polynesian theme complete with an authentic Luau experience.
- Hard Rock Hotel is a deluxe resort with a “party like a rock star” atmosphere and a 12,000 sf pool with an underwater sound system. You can even have a guitar and amp delivered to your room for personal use.
- Opening in Summer 2016: Loews Sapphire Falls Resort will add another deluxe hotel option to the Universal collection. This resort will offer a sunny island vibe in a laid-back environment blending tropical and modern touches.
There are multiple ticket options for the Universal parks which can be confusing. I walk my clients through all of the different options and ensure the correct package is purchased for their specific needs making it an easy process.
There are several exclusive theme park benefits offered to guests that stay in a Deluxe Universal Orlando Resort including complimentary daily Express Pass access in both theme parks. This is a free benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day (valid theme park admissions still required). The Express Pass is not valid on The Forbidden Journey or Escape from Gringotts Bank attractions. This is where that early admission to the park really comes in handy. Additional deluxe hotel benefits include complimentary water taxis to and from the parks and priority seating at select restaurants. It is important to keep in mind that guests at Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort do not receive the Express Pass benefit as this property is a benefit only available to guest staying with a Deluxe Universal Resort.
Guests of all Universal Orlando hotels enjoy early park admission, resort-wide charging privileges with hotel room key, complimentary delivery of merchandise and access to Universal Orlando character dining. You also can start your day with a wake-up call from one of your favorite Universal Orlando theme-park characters.
In keeping with my search for all things luxury in Orlando I ventured on a Universal Orlando VIP Ultimate Theme Park Experience. This was a true WOW! I totally had the red carpet rolled out for me. Along with a personal guide I received priority front of the line access at all rides and attractions including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Spaces for the VIP Experience are limited so it is important to reserve this wonderful experience well in advance of your travel dates.
A quest to discover luxury would not be complete without a VIP Shopping Experience. This evening I headed over to Mall at Millenia and stopped in the Gucci and OMEGA stores for a visit with their personal shopper. Dinner this evening was at the uber-fabulous Capital Grille located at the Mall at Millenia.
Day Four of my luxury quest in Orlando started with a morning VIP Tour of Magic Kingdom. My favorite attractions were Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and my longtime favorite Pirates of the Caribbean. After lunch my tour continued at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where my adventure continued with Toy Story Midway Mania, Star Tours, and Rockin’ Roller Coaster.
This evening I checked into the fabulous Waldorf Astoria Orlando. Once you step inside this luxury resort you will almost be convinced the iconic New York hotel was transported here by magic. This is the first Waldorf-Astoria to be built from the ground up since its New York flagship almost 80 years ago. The stunning marble lobby is complete with a round velvet settee topped with a handcrafted replica of the New York Waldorf’s signature clock. This resort sits in the middle of Walt Disney World Resort. It is not an official Disney property however it is next door to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and only a 5-minute drive to Downtown Disney. It offers exceptional amenities, including complimentary transportation to all Disney theme parks. The resort is a Virtuoso hotel and my clients receive Daily Complimentary Breakfast for Two, Upgrade upon Availability at check-in, and a $100 Resort Credit, once per stay.
The accommodations at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando include 497 guestrooms and suites. The suites are truly luxurious and are stylishly appointed with crown molding, maple wood furnishings and all modern technical conveniences. Balconies are only available in the suites unfortunately.
There are plenty of fabulous dining options. I had the pleasure of experiencing Bull & Bear. This AAA Four Diamond Recipient restaurant took me on a culinary journey of epic proportions. The restaurant was named Best Fine Dining by Orlando Home & Leisure. Bull & bear offers a club-like warmth, compliments of its handsome furnishings and impeccable service. Other dining options include The Clubhouse Grille in the golf club and Oscar’s which is a casual three-meal buffet option. There is also AquaMarine poolside restaurant and In-Room Dining.
The resort has a Rees-Jones designed 18-hole championship golf course that beautifully winds through a wetland preserve. The Golf Club offers a fully stocked Pro Shop as well as club and golf shoe rental. After a round you can relax in the Clubhouse Grille, serving refreshing drinks and traditional clubhouse dining. The practice range features target greens, a chipping area and a putting green. Guests who would like to experience the course but do not have time to play a round can enjoy the practice facility for a fee. Proper golf attire is requested at all times.
The WA Kids Club will keep your children happily entertained and feeling welcome. Each adventure begins with a color-you-own WA Kids Club “Waldy” tee shirt. From poolside scavenger hunts to roasting marshmallows and cool craft creations, the WA Kids Club program offers parents a chance to unwind while your children enjoy an engaging escape. WA Kids Club programs are available for children ages 5 – 12. Advance reservations are required.
There are two fabulous pools on property. You can add a splash of luxury at the pool with your own poolside private cabana for the day. The cabanas accommodate up to six (6) guests and offer a plethora of amenities. In addition to poolside attendants who will cater to your every need, your private cabana features an HD flatscreen television, beverage refrigerator and wireless connectivity, along with complimentary water, soft drinks and a fruit platter. Private cabanas are available for a daily rate of $300.
The Waldorf Astoria Spa is spectacular. It is a “must do” to take time to indulge in the 24,000-square foot spa, which features 22 treatment rooms and offers a full menu of soothing spa and salon services. Even if you should not have enough time to enjoy one of their luxurious treatments, I recommend taking some time to relax in the spa’s tea lounge complete with steam room and hot tub. The fitness center area exceeds 4,000-square feet and features a variety of cardio and weight training machines. The entrance fee to both the spa and fitness center is included in the daily resort charge.
My fifth and final day in Orlando started out really fast! The Richard Petty Driving Experience puts you in either a luxury sports car or NASCAR race car for an adrenaline pumping thrill ride of a lifetime. You can choose one of their Driving Experiences that puts you behind the wheel or let someone else do the driving. I chose the latter and held my breath as a passenger in a Pontiac GTO experiencing the thrill of going from zero to 130mph in five seconds.
My last stop on this whirlwind five day jaunt to Orlando was a stop at Sammy Duvall’s Watersport Centre. Located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort marina this state-of-the-art facility offers parasailing, water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing and personal watercraft rental.
I came home from this educational trip with a clear understanding that Orlando truly offers something that will appeal to everyone. There is magic in Orlando and a whole lot of luxury!