Once upon a time, a girl dug her heels in the sand and declared, “When I have kids, we will stay at the beach and visit Disney for a day.” And so it was — until the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World opened.
Growing up in Tampa, Florida had its benefits, and proximity to Orlando’s theme parks was one of them. Proximity to the pristine Gulf beaches was another. When my husband and I had kids, we started taking an annual pilgrimage to the Gulf Coast, and during it, a day trip to the Magic Kingdom. This year, however, I was faced with an ideological conundrum when our favourite beach house wasn’t available. Do we take the year off? Find another beach house? Or forego the beach entirely and stay in Orlando?
Our next door neighbour, a Four Seasons devotee, booked an autumn trip to the Orlando Resort last year, mere weeks after it had opened. After several years staying at the Grand Floridian, she gushed, “It was our best Disney trip ever! So nice being on the Disney World property, but not feeling like it every second of every day. We're going again this year.” I took a deep breath and booked our trip.
The Four Seasons has made an increasingly successful hotel business pairing two things that don’t always go together — proper luxury with unassuming and friendly personal service. The company hires people who embrace their philosophy and empowers them to ensure every guest has a good experience. Meanwhile, every physical aspect of the Four Seasons hotels is designed and maintained to the highest standard. In Orlando, this has resulted in Central Florida's only AAA Five Diamond-awarded hotel.
Of course, a family trip to Orlando is supposed to be pure fun, and the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World is set up in a way that pretty much every hour can be. The resort sets the tone with the right amount of elegant whimsy — a pink sofa and piece of art depicting something blue (or “Frozen"?) in a room, minimalist lobby art featuring a quiet display of white ceramic crowns, a magical outdoor canopy of lit palm trees.
At the family pool, the fun is louder. Explorer Island is made up of five varied, sprawling and pristine acres. We spent our time circling the totally fun, not-so-lazy river, racing down the two 242-foot-long waterslides, hanging out in the hot tub, and traversing the splash pad. One evening we watched Toy Story 2 from the beach entry pool, and another night we played Name That Tune. And despite spending a whole day at the resort, we didn’t even get to the games at The Mansion or the complementary kids' camp, (which would have allowed us to escape to the aptly-named Oasis, the adults-only pool).
Our other two days we spent at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. To keep things simple, we didn't rent a vehicle, and took a car service from the airport, and the hotel’s shuttles to and from the parks. At the end of our park days we ate dinner by the pool in our swimming suits, since we couldn’t get enough of the not-so-lazy river. But that wasn’t our only choice — we could have had steaks at Capa, the roof-top restaurant that offers thrilling views of the Epcot and Magic Kingdom fireworks. Or we could have had Italian, at Ravello.
The mornings we went to a park, we picked up very good coffee and baked goods from Lickety Split, and the morning we stayed at the resort, we enjoyed a breakfast buffet with Goofy, Mickey and Minnie (who were dressed for golf). Later that day, we took a golf cart to Plancha, the Cuban restaurant at The Tranquilo Golf Club, for excellent Cuban Sandwiches and Black Bean Soup.
Golf, tennis, yoga, a beautiful spa and an extensive gym made us wish we had five days at the resort. I took a tennis lesson with Alain Labrecque, the pro from Peter Burwash International — they run the tennis program for a number of Four Seasons Resorts — and it changed my game forever. (Turns out a one-handed backhand is something all 40+ players need.)
Staying in such a new resort also offers the pleasure of state-of-the-art hotel design. Our room was large and well laid out, with the closet creating a dressing area outside the bathroom. The drapes opened and closed mechanically with a slight tug in one direction. The most entertaining feature of our room was the bathroom TV seamlessly placed in the centre of the huge bathroom mirror. We thought it was merely novel, until it gave us the opportunity to watch “Scandal" when it aired, after our kids were asleep. We followed the show with the Magic Kingdom fireworks, on display from the balcony of our Park View room.
Now, I know what you’re wondering: Does the girl still have her heels dug in? No. She became a wise grown-up who finally figured out where to take her kids: to the Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World.