We discover a grown-up side to the home of Mickey Mouse in Orlando, Florida, where all of your luxury dreams come true
When one thinks of a theme park, one does not think luxury. Orlando, Florida is the theme-park capital of the world and is home to the mother ship of Disney’s global enterprise, Walt Disney World. Disney’s famed attraction is the main pull for the U.S. state’s 60 million-plus visitors a year, but there are still many other reasons why Orlando is a magical place to visit for adults and kids alike.
While adrenaline and fast food junkies are still well catered for, Orlando has very much come up in the luxury market division in recent years and now plays host to world-class hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. This more sophisticated side to the city can be found in the suburban area of Winter Park. Business magnates parked their wealth in this sleepy neighbourhood in the 19th century and today it is complete with quaint boutique stores, museums and art galleries, as well as historic points of interest.
Winter Park is the gateway to downtown Orlando for commuters and here, along with the city’s impressive skyscrapers, you will find great bars, such as the Eola Wine Company. For shopping, head to the upscale Mall at Millenia, where luxury brands such as Chanel and Jimmy Choo reside next to mall staples Victoria’s Secret and Sephora.
Of course, it would be sacrilege to go to Orlando and not frequent any of the parks, each one offering something completely unique and different from the next. Walt Disney World itself is made up of four – the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – but there’s also Universal Studios and the famous marine zoological park, SeaWorld. The latter recently opened its newest ride, Mako, which has been touted as the tallest, fastest and longest ride in Orlando. Finally, end your trip with an early morning hot air balloon ride, enabling you panoramic views of Orlando’s spectacular landscape, from theme parks to orange groves, as the day dawns.
Where to Stay
Opened in 2014, the Four Seasons Orlando is situated in the exclusive gated community of Golden Oak, otherwise known as ‘millionaire’s row’, located within Walt Disney World. The hotel is unique in being the first on-site that does not fall under the Disney umbrella. This is why guests can expect little in the way of Disneyana – except for the character breakfasts where guests are joined by Mickey and co. for Instagram-worthy snaps – but very much in the way of five-star luxury. The impressive property – incidentally the largest Four Seasons in North America – has 443 rooms, including 68 suites, which range from Deluxe to the top-level Grand, Royal and Presidential categories.
In true American style, nothing is done by halves, particularly when it comes to the amenities on offer. Guests can make free use of the three pools (one of which is adults-only), the supersized 14,000 sq ft spa, fitness centre and an 18-hole Osprey Ridge golf course. With all this, you could easily spend your entire holiday without leaving the hotel, but where would the fun be in that? The hotel provides a Disney Planning Centre so families can map out their full itinerary of the parks, or leave it in the capable hands of the experts at the VIP Tour Services, who can organise everything from door-to-door transportation to reservations at shows.
British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at the 5* Four Seasons Resort Orlando, from £1,589pp including ‘Stay 6 pay 4’ offer on Golden Oak Room or above, between May 28 – June 28. This includes World Traveller return flights from London Gatwick and accommodation. Book by 28 February. For reservations, please visit: ba.com/orlando or call: 0344 493 0122
What to Do
Day one of your trip can either be spent relaxing into your surroundings at the hotel, or heading straight to the parks. If you choose the latter, Disney’s Magic Kingdom should be your first port of call, as it epitomises Disney’s heritage. For your next day, however, I would recommend visiting Universal Studios, which caters more to adults with its movie- and television-themed rollercoasters and state-of-the-art 3D rides and simulators. Highlights include The Transformers ride, which sees the robot cars brought to life in front of your eyes using the latest in 3D and projection screen technology.
Next, enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, undoubtedly the most popular attraction at Universal, which certainly exceeded all my expectations. Here, visitors can delve into the magical world of this much-loved children’s books by wandering the streets of Diagon Alley. Enjoy an ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, purchase a wand at Ollivanders or do battle with dragons on the two themed rollercoasters, before taking the Hogwarts Express across to King’s Cross Station (the other side of the resort).
Book by 29 March to enjoy 25 per cent off Disney Tickets plus Disney’s 14-Day Ultimate Ticket for the price of a seven-day ticket
Where to Eat
Whatever you might think, Orlando is no longer all fast food chains and doughnut stands. The city has made a concerted effort in recent years to move with the culinary times and there is now a flourishing food scene that extends beyond burgers and beef joints, and surprisingly, this is even applicable to the parks themselves.
Epcot, Walt Disney’s utopian city opened in 1982, features an annual International Food & Wine Festival celebrating gastronomic mastery and innovative cookery from around the world. This sensory tour of 30 different marketplaces brings together the cultural food offerings from Germany, Japan, North Korea and Africa all in one place.
For sheer novelty value, I’d recommend paying a visit to the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, located in Universal Studios. Sugar addicts’ cravings will be well satisfied in this 19th century-inspired dining establishment, where even the bread and butter is made out of chocolate. In Winter Park, you’ll find many excellent restaurants, arguably the most well-known of which is Luma on Park, incidentally Paul McCartney’s favourite restaurant when he visits Florida. This upmarket American eatery prides itself on using only the best locally sourced produce to create its menu.
The best time to visit Orlando is during the spring or late autumn, when the crowds are just manageable and the hot weather bearable. However, this summer will see the latest attraction to land in Animal Kingdom, Pandora: The World of Avatar, which has been based on James Cameron’s 2009 epic sci-fi film, Avatar.
Sneak peeks released at the end of last year reveal that the immersive land will feature two major rides, including a canoe ride down the fictional Na’vi River within a bioluminescent rainforest. According to the ride’s spokesmen, even those who haven’t seen the film will be able to appreciate and enjoy the animated experience.