Grande Lakes vies to be Orlando 'oasis'

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ORLANDO -- The latest and most dramatic attempt to snare the upscale market here is the new, $600 million Grande Lakes Orlando resort complex, which had its ribbon-cutting on July 1.

The 500-acre property features two major-brand hotels, the 584-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando and the 1,000-room JW Marriott Orlando.

The complex also includes a 40,000-square-foot spa, a 6,000-square-foot fitness center and an 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed golf course.

The goal of the facility, according to Bruce Seigel, director of marketing, is to create "an oasis of elegance unlike anything in this market."

Grande Lakes is targeting three groups:

• Adult visitors who have no interest in visiting Disney, Universal or any other theme park.

• Parents who want to take their children to the major parks without sacrificing the quality of their own experience.

• Corporate groups attending conventions at the nearby Orlando/Orange County Convention Center.

For guests with children, the Ritz has a number of special features, including a Ritz Kids activities program and a Golf Fore Kid's Etiquette Program.

In the corporate niche, Grande Lakes is benefiting from an expansion of the convention center -- and vice versa.

The center will open an addition in November that will increase its overall capacity from 1 million square feet to 2.1 million square feet.

"We are seeing professional associations use the convention center that didn't use it before," said Seigel. "It's because of our facilities, the amenities, the space, golf and spa. Their members require high-end brands. They want the service and amenities that Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott offer."

Seigel added that he thinks the attraction of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott brands lies in their standards of service.

"Anyone can build a $600 million hotel," he said, "but what makes it a Ritz is the heart and soul of the cultures of our companies. We don't hire, we select. [Our employees] are top service professionals because of their heart and soul."

Before the opening of the hotel, the Ritz-Carlton had a 10-day countdown during which it brought in 150 trainers from Ritz-Carlton properties around the country.

The JW Marriott Orlando is one of 28 Marriott hotels worldwide that carry the JW Marriott designation.

Each of the hotels has several restaurants, including one signature restaurant featuring celebrity-chef cuisine.

Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton is built on Norman Van Aken's New World cuisine.

Primo at JW Marriott offers Italian cuisine from Melissa Kelly. Both chefs are James Beard Award winners.

Both properties will open with introductory rates: $199 per night for the Ritz-Carlton and $159 per night for the JW Marriott.

For reservations or more information, call (800) 576-5750 or visit the complex's Web site at www.grandelakes.com.

Sales pitch

• Contact your upscale clients and sell them on the high-end brand hotels that make up the Grande Lakes complex -- the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott -- as well as the opportunities for golf at Grande Lakes' 18-hole course and the complex's 40,000-square-foot spa.

• Check your database of clients who honeymooned at Disney in the past. Contact those who have a significant anniversary coming up and let them know they can get quality services and amenities at Grande Lakes properties, located 15 minutes from the major parks, without the theme park crowds.

• E-mail corporate clients to promote the location of the Grande Lakes complex -- just three minutes from the expanded Orlando/Orange County Convention Center.

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