FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - Americans are on the move-southeastward, apparently. According to a report by Visit Florida, the state's official tourism planning source, an estimated 31.4 million domestic visitors (in person-trips) traveled to Florida during the second quarter of 2022., up from the same periods in 2021 (+1.7%) and 2019 (+8.3%). The report further cited that quarterly hotel demand, specifically, in Florida exceeded pre-COVID (2019) levels for a second consecutive quarter in Q2 2022 with growth benchmarks across the board: number of hotel rooms sold up +7.5%; average daily rate (ADR) up +14.4%; and occupancy rate up +2.7%. All of these indicators exemplify that Florida is flexing its tourism muscle as travelers increasingly stream into the Sunshine State.
One unequivocal Florida draw is the Orlando tri-county area, which boasts year-round mild weather, an abundance of theme parks and other activities and over 127,000 guest rooms to choose from - from value-priced hotels to 4- and 5-star resorts.
Speaking of luxury accommodations, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Orlando, Florida for a resort experience that actually exceeded my decidedly high expectations: The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.
This beautiful, award-winning hotel is located within Grande Lakes Orlando, a 500-acre oasis of natural beauty, which also features the JW Marriott Orlando. With its expansive natural setting, legendary hospitality and breadth of on-property, world class experiences, Grande Lakes Orlando is central Florida's premier-multi-hotel resort that's hidden in the heart of Orlando.
The five hundred and eighty two-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando recently emerged from an extensive multimillion-dollar transformation, which unveiled a series of enhancements to its seven restaurants, common areas, Club Lounge, pool, private poolside cabanas and guest rooms and suites-all of which feature generous layouts and balconies, dual vanities and views. Families in need of more space can choose from the expansive three-and four-bedroom Ritz-Carlton Residences.
Every interior detail has been impeccably updated with the highest quality fixtures, luxury textiles and furnishings, drawing upon the natural beauty of Grande Lakes' lush grounds and eleven surrounding lakes.
Guests who upgrade to Club Level accommodations are provided with exclusive privileges and access to The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge, where they can enjoy five daily food and beverage presentations. Club Level amenities also provide entry to Ritz Kids programs, curated events and activities, exclusive areas and balconies for viewing fireworks, and dedicated concierge service.
All guests enjoy access to a stellar collection of bars, lounges and restaurants, including Primo-a Michelin 'Recommended Restaurant' at the sister JW Marriott property that's in walking distance, as well as The Ritz-Carlton's own signature steak and seafood restaurant Knife and Spoon by award-winning Chef John Tesar, who's a proud recipient of a Michelin Star as of June 2022.
The hotel is also home to the 40,000 square foot Ritz-Carlton Spa, which is a rejuvenating stopover for resort-style wellness programs and treatments, as well as the newly renovated pool with luxurious cabanas.
Hotel guests can also enjoy Grande Lakes Orlando's championship golf course that serves as a PGA Tour Challenge event site, and the eighteen thousand-square-foot Whisper Creek Farm that's on-property.
There are also abundant sports and recreation activities, including serene fishing spots, falconry adventures, fast-paced mountain biking, guided canoe eco-tours on Shingle Creek, a Sunrise Safari, tennis, and more.
I learned yet more about the property courtesy of John McGavin, Area General Manager of Grande Lakes Orlando. Here are some highlights of that conversation.
MK: While there is much to love about Grande Lakes, Orlando how would you summarize the area on the whole?
JM: With its expansive natural setting, legendary hospitality and breadth of on-property, world-class experiences, Grande Lakes Orlando is the region's most unexpected luxury resort destination. An oasis inspired by the golden age of Florida hotels, the destination actually features accommodations and provisions from two iconic, luxury hotel brands: The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott. The expansive grounds they share, including 11 lakes, provide a spectacular setting for an unsurpassed collection of guest rooms and suites, amenities and leisure activities. Grande Lakes is a haven for those who want a distinctly different Orlando experience.
MK: I know there were recent renovations. What can you share about that?
JM: Yes, we're committed to always enhancing the guest experience. A multi-million investment was made in property-wide renovations, spanning both The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels and their shared amenities. Renovations have meant reinventing, expanding and building new with respect to areas that include accommodations, lobby and lounge, restaurants and bars and pools featuring full waterpark experience and luxe cabanas.
MK: As a luxury-oriented property, how would you describe your ideal clientele?
JM: The modern affluent client-guests that are on a journey for deeper meaning and satisfaction. They choose brands that share their values and reinforce their beliefs. Our hospitality approach resonates with luxury travelers who don't want the typical Orlando experience. Those who are looking to visit a place that's a destination of its own. That, once drawn to Florida, their primary intent of travel here isn't necessarily the area's surrounding attractions, although that may be a part of their plans during their stay, but rather who seek full satisfaction of their respite directly tied to their accommodations. We appeal to guests who expect and see the value in a certain level of hospitality that can only be found at certain establishments and by brands who've earned that reputation.
In short, we deliver GRANDE service that is: Gracious, Relational, Aspirational, Nostalgic, Diverse, Excellent.
MK: With a fair amount of completion through the Orlando tri-county region, what are a few things that truly sets The Ritz-Carton Grande Lakes apart from other area luxury hotel and resort properties?
JM: For one, in a lush, natural 500-acre multi-hotel property setting, our curated resort amenities and bespoke activities are second to none. We have numerous high caliber resort staples that include an 18-hole championship golf course that's host to the PNC Championship. We also have a sprawling 40,000 square-foot spa where we are the exclusive provider of Biologique products and services in the U.S. In fact, in 2002 USA Today honored The Spa at Grande Lakes, which it coined "the grand dame of spas," by naming it as America's #1 "Best Hotel Spa."
Our natural environment is another of our unique discriminators. With 11 lakes, mountain biking, fishing, falconry, eco tours through the headwaters of the Everglades, a newly expanded waterpark with features enjoyable for all ages and more, being outdoors in Florida has never been easier or more fun.
As a few fun facts, we are the only Florida resort to offer falconry experiences and we also have an on-site Olympic champion ice carver and a fishing director.
For foodies, our culinary program also sets us apart from the pack. This most notably includes MICHELIN-award winning dining lead by James Beard affiliated chefs: Chef John Tesar of Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton that earned a 2022 MICHELIN one star rating, and Chef Melissa Kelly of Primo at JW Marriott, which is a Recommended Restaurant in MICHELIN Guide Florida 2022.
In all, there are over 12 dining options, inside and outside, across the property. Many of these outlets draw inspiration, and ingredients, from the property's own working farm and plentiful garden allowing us to offer true farm-to-table fare.
Our location is private and expansive compared to nearby resorts. Of course, we are conveniently situated for access to local attractions, but guest still feels worlds away. Grande Lakes Orlando is truly hidden in the heart of Orlando.
MK: COVID-19 has certainly presented its fair share of challenges that do persist. How will the property continue to navigate the difficulties presented by the pandemic?
JM: In response to current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we have implemented a variety of new protocols and elevated practices, keeping with our high standards of cleanliness and luxury service.
This includes engaging in-house and outside experts in food and water safety, hygiene and infection prevention and hotel operations. Our Marriott Cleanliness Council has, in fact, redefined our cleaning and safety standards. We actively monitor and evolve our solutions to respond to current events and conditions and otherwise ensure a continued focus on the health and safety of our guests and associates.
Guests also appreciate the ability to have contactless check-in and access their loyalty information conveniently. The Marriott Bonvoy App has several features to improve the guest experience including local area and dining information, mobile chat to communication with guest services and the ability to submit service requests as well.
From my own experience at The Ritz-Carton Grande Lakes, I can attest that they create a service-driven hospitality experience so exceptional and personal that not only do those memories stay with the guest, but also fosters guest loyalty-the kind that inspires repeat visits year after year. The kind also helping guests trust that the setting, experiences and service provided makes the property a perfect fit for special life celebrations and business events.
In my estimation, for Orlando vacations there is no more grand experience than The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.
Merilee Kern, MBA is an internationally-regarded brand strategist and analyst who reports on cultural shifts and trends as well as noteworthy industry change makers, movers, shakers and innovators across all categories, both B2C and B2B. This includes field experts and thought leaders, brands, products, services, destinations and events. Merilee is Founder, Executive Editor and Producer of "The Luxe List" as well as Host of the "Savvy Living" lifestyle TV show that airs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta and other major markets on CBS, FOX and other top networks; as well as the "Savvy Ventures" business TV show that airs nationally on FOX Business TV and Bloomberg TV. As a prolific lifestyle, travel, dining and leisure industry voice of authority and tastemaker, Merilee keeps her finger on the pulse of the marketplace in search of new and innovative must-haves and exemplary experiences at all price points, from the affordable to the extreme. Her work reaches multi-millions worldwide via broadcast TV (her own shows and copious others on which she appears) as well as a myriad of print and online publications. Connect with her
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above may have been provided or arranged at no cost to accommodate if this is review editorial, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***
Image courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, Orlando
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