Until last year, one still could ponder: In the 450 hotels with more than 116,000 rooms in Orlando, why is there no true luxury hotel with the cushy robes and fancy little shampoos that make you want to put down roots like Eloise at the Plaza?
Yes, there was the Grand Floridian, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Great Lakes and Villas of Grand Cypress, but it wasn't until August 2014, when Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort opened (I know, the name is cumbersome), that super fancy travelers had somewhere to rest their heads on skajillion-thread-count pillowcases.
The first AAA Five Diamond-rated hotel in Central Florida, the sprawling 5-acre property, one of the largest in the Four Seasons group, boasts 443 modern, airy rooms, including 68 suites. Some are designated "fireworks view" rooms, from which every evening you'll hear "oohs" and "aahs" around 10 p.m. Oh, get your head out of the gutter; it's the view of the Magic Kingdom Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, and this is a family-friendly hotel.
It's true. I spent a weekend there recently wondering: A) How so many large families could afford room nights at a luxury property like this, and B) Am I too old to be adopted? There's even the nine-bedroom Royal Suite on the top floor for those for whom a serious number of progeny syncs up with a serious portfolio.
While spring break and summer are family-intensive periods, September and October are designated "couples season," and the hotel offers special rates from $295 for couples through Oct. 4, with temptations like mixology classes and rom-coms on the big outdoor movie screen.
And here's what else you can do. Some of it involves tapping into a reservoir of childlike wonderment, kids or no: There's a massive 7,590-square-foot family pool, beach volleyball, a lazy river around a "ruined mansion" on which to tube spinnily, a splash zone with dozens of choreographed water jets, a climbing wall and water slides, and these hanging cocoon swing baskets that look like very elegant wasps' nests in which to chillax.
Then, when you've pulled yourself together and can behave like an adult (it took me a while), there's an adults-only pool with private cabanas, tennis courts and the Tom Fazio-designed Tranquilo Golf Club, a par-71 course set on a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. A small 24-hour fitness center is augmented by a full spa. (Treatments can be pricey, but this was totally free: a multisensory shower contraption that you program to simulate a Hawaiian rain shower and such with music, lights and sprinkly mists.) On two mornings I found myself in wonderful one-on-one yoga classes with an instructor when other guests failed to rally for the 9 a.m. start time. You snooze, you lose.
In my mind, two things have always distinguished the Four Seasons chain. First, staff members have that magical ability to know your name, anticipate your needs and be genuinely friendly without ever seeming obsequious. And second, their art collections are always worthy of an hour or two of scrutiny. This particular property has a number of white enamel ceramic installations that are absolute knockouts.
Speaking of KOs, the property contains six restaurants in dramatically different themes and with contrasting decor, so much so that a drive off property hardly seems necessary for a weekend stay. Executive chef Fabrizio Schenardi oversees Ravello, the indoor-outdoor first-floor restaurant that specializes in modern Italian. For Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month through Sept. 30, the $33 menu includes an appetizer choice of carpaccio with cured mushrooms, pickled radish and watercress, Caesar salad or grilled calamari with orange, fennel, arugula and capers; and entree choices of veal Milanese with oven-roasted tomatoes and herb salad, grilled chicken with olive oil and herb-crusted potato, or pan-seared salmon with string beans, pancetta and fregola. For dessert, choose between fruit granitas or a sweet grape focaccia with Nutella gelato.
The prix-fixe menu will save you enough green so that the next night you can splurge on dinner at the 17th-floor rooftop steakhouse and Spanish tapas restaurant, Capa. Steak and tapas? A remarkably agreeable combo in the hands of chef Tim Dacey.
Head for the porterhouse for two and you're firmly in big-spender territory, but an array of small bites, appetizers and sides turns the table into a gorgeous still life. There are jewellike plates of hamachi juxtaposed with clementine lengths and fluffs of peppery horseradish, vibrant sauteed Swiss chard speckled with raisins and pine nuts, and a little glazed ceramic bowl of smoky, grill-warmed Arbequina, Gordal and Empeltre olives.
Yes, the tables positioned for Magic Kingdom fireworks viewing are the premium ones, but there's plenty else to "ooh" over at Central Florida's newest five-star addition.
Contact Laura Reiley at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.