Luxury hotels like the Breakers, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and Doral have been staples in South Florida for decades, but Orlando’s upscale hotel market has only gained momentum in the past decade.
Once populated with a few luxury hotels like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort, Orlando’s luxury portfolio has now expanded to eight hotels (and 8,486 units) with properties like Rosen Shingle Creek and the first Waldorf Astoria to be built outside of the flagship hotel in New York.
Hotel analysts say Orlando ability over the past 10 to 15 years to lure a diverse demographic of domestic and international leisure, business, extended stay and upscale tourists has helped define its worth in the luxury market space. With nearly 60 million visitors to Orlando each year, hoteliers wagered whether Orlando could support high-end luxury options.
Tourists from South America and the Middle East, where economies are more prosperous and disposable income is in greater, came to Orlando to buy high-end luxury goods and helped fuel the desire to have bring more luxury hotel options to the region. Domestic customers also told hotel chains they wanted to see more luxury experiences offered in Orlando, not just value hotels.
“Orlando continues to reinvent itself and attract new demographics,” said Rich Maladecki, president and CEO of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association. “Hoteliers recognized the potential of Orlando.”
It all started with “a grand experiment,” said Maladecki: Marriott Hotels was the first chain to dip their toe into the Orlando luxury hotel landscape with the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at Grande Lakes Orlando in 2003.
“It was a bold vision to look at Orlando and bring two luxury brands at the same time,” said Jim Burns, vice president and managing director with Grande Lakes. “The Mall at Millenia [the luxury shopping venue in Orlando] was being built at the time, and that was our signal in the marketplace that Orlando was ready.”
Grande Lakes Orlando offers an array of amenities to “create an authentic and enriching experience” said Burns, whether guests want to experience the resort exclusively during their stay or are looking for an indulgent place to unwind after a day at the theme parks.
The 500-acre property includes more than 1,500 rooms and luxurious suites with resort features like kayak and eco-tours; family activities like wiffleball and three-legged races; two pools; a lazy river; a spa; and a Greg Norman-designed golf course.
Grande Lakes Orlando has set itself apart from other luxury hotels by creating a niche with its culinary offerings, enabling guests to experience sessions with a personal chef. The JW Griffin Cooking School offers seasonal cooking and beer-making classes, and both resorts boast James Beard award-winning chefs at on-site restaurants Primo and Norman’s. Primo chef Melissa Kelly is credited with starting the farm-to-table movement in the Orlando area.
With more offerings planned in the coming years, Burns said, “We are creating Grande Lakes to be a destination resort like the Broadmoor [in Colorado], the Breakers [in Palm Beach] or the Greenbrier [in West Virginia].”
While the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott are credited with changing the luxury hotel landscape in Orlando, Burns says the addition of the latest luxury brand resort, the Four Seasons Orlando, means more choices for consumers and creates more demand overall.
To maintain their foothold in the market, Grande Lakes Orlando is currently in the midst of a multiphase renovation project timed with its 10-year anniversary, refurbishing all of the resorts’ guestrooms and meetings space. Renovation of the Ritz-Carlton Spa and JW Marriott lobby lounge are scheduled to begin in the next three to six months. Two new restaurants are also scheduled to open this fall: the Whisper Creek Kitchen at the JW Marriott and Highball and Harvest at the Ritz-Carlton.
The Four Seasons Orlando resort promises a “true luxury experience,” with its signature level of personalized service and exclusive amenities. Guests can request their favorite drinks stocked in the room’s mini-fridge before arrival, take advantage of a free daylong kids club and rent luxury cars on site for trips to the theme parks.
Thomas Steinhauer, regional vice president and general manager, says the real selling point of the Four Seasons is the personal level of service that guests have come to expect, and he says it starts with a approach to training that is significantly different from the other luxury hotels in Orlando.
“To better serve our guests, we train and empower our staff. You are in charge of that person’s experience at that time. Read the guest and know the balance. Don’t follow a script and be consistent,” he said. “The ability to customize is everything. It’s all about the experience: what do people feel when they walk out of the resort.”
While executives say the Four Seasons brand will be prominent for guests who wish to enjoy the resort without the Disney experience, the resort’s partnership with Walt Disney World Resorts will enable guests to enjoy the benefits with a wide array of concierge services and amenities like Disney character breakfasts and spectacular views of the nightly fireworks show over the Magic Kingdom.
Location is key. The 444-room Four Seasons Orlando resort is located on Disney property but is tucked away in an exclusive corner next to Golden Oak, the luxury single-family home community, and away from the busy tourist arteries.
The Four Seasons Orlando also offers what Steinhauer says is the first multiple-connectivity suite option in the market. The Royal and Presidential suites on the 16th floor can be connected together to create nine suites to accommodate large, multigenerational families with extended travel plans or other large groups, enabling guests to buy out the entire floor.
The property also offers 37,500 square feet of event space, including two lakeside meeting rooms with private terraces; two children and teen family centers; a family pool with zero entry access; an adults-only pool area with cabanas; a five-acre waterpark with an interactive splash zone and lazy river; and five on-site restaurants. There is also an 18-room spa and access to the redesigned Tom Fazio golf course.