Typically, when I’m sitting poolside at a resort, the last thing I expect to see in the next lounger is a falcon. Or any bird of prey, really. But there I was, enjoying my afternoon at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando pool and sipping the excellent mango margarita, when I turned and locked eyes with the magnificent creature. As a Florida Man, I’ve seen stranger things, but still—it’s not every day you share such a moment.
Except at Grande Lakes Orlando that’s not necessarily true. In fact, regular guests are accustomed to seeing the falcons exploring the grounds of both the Ritz and JW Marriott Orlando, because they’re some of the most important employees—they keep the vermin away. And they also play multiple roles, serving as the prize pupils in the resorts’ falconry classes, where guests get to “walk with a hawk.”
That’s just a feathery example of the many fun things a family can enjoy year-round at this conjoined pair of Central Florida resorts, but what elevates the overall experience for guests of all ages are the unique seasonal offerings. Hardly a month passes here without new experiences, perks, and festivities to enjoy, but summer? It always takes the cake.
A Truly Grande Time
With the 4th of July right around the corner, many families will be focusing on fireworks, food, and water for their target destinations—and obviously it helps if several theme parks are nearby. On top of the myriad activities available to younger guests, the cornerstone of the “Grande Summer” experience is fireworks displays every Saturday. But as anyone who stayed over Memorial Day weekend can attest, everything is bigger on the holidays, and it’s safe to assume that this year’s Independence Day weekend will offer a little extra bang.
Now, I know what you’re sarcastically thinking: “Fireworks in Orlando? How rare.” Yes, you can see the theme parks’ nightly shows from quite a few balconies, and some resorts even offer their own spectacles. However, families always have the option for the VIP treatment at Grande Lakes Orlando, and in this case, it is a special in-suite viewing experience that will make parents and children feel like every explosion is just for them.
Speaking of Accommodations
Normally, a resort’s renovations are the lead story, but with the scope and magnificence of the festivities here, the new bells and whistles are the cherry on top. I was fortunate enough to visit the Ritz-Carlton Orlando shortly after the completion of extensive renovations last year, and it is always amazing how properties that we already have high expectations for manage to blow us away all over again.
From the moment guests open the door to their rooms, they’ll be inspired and calmed by the natural tones—it’s almost as if someone dropped a Caribbean resort in the middle of Florida. New dining options quickly became the talk of the town (and well beyond), but that’s never been a surprise here. The key aspect that ties it all together is family, as our getaways will be even more special and memorable, from the epic meals at Knife & Spoon to poolside cocktails and snacks in the redesigned cabanas that are somehow even more private than before.
Families looking to feel at home in this destination within a destination will be thrilled with the JW Marriott’s new Executive Family Suites, which offer two- and three-bedroom options that include bunk beds for the kids, king size beds for the parents, and separate living spaces for those times when everyone could use a moment to themselves. Wouldn’t be a family vacation without a break.
Always Something New Coming
Speaking of Knife & Spoon, the new eatery from celebrated chef John Tesar is buzzing like crazy after recently earning a Michelin star. However, fantastic food is no rarity here. I’ve ascended a mountain many times to sing the praises of Highball and Harvest, not just for the amazing creative cocktails (namely the to-die-for Spring Break drink) but delicious meals any time of day, and inarguably one of the best kids’ menus in a region where the pickiest eaters rule our lives.
Between the rooms, food, activities, pools, golf, and spas—monthly curated spa treatments will make guests feel reborn—there’s never a dull moment. There’s also never a redundant vacation experience. The best Central Florida resorts know that this is a new era for family getaways, as it’s not just about the theme parks anymore. What matters more than anything are those moments in between, when parents and children bond and appreciate the time they get to spend in these magical settings.
Be it lounging in the pool, salivating over the Asian Chili Lobster at Knife & Spoon, or watching a glorious fireworks display, those moments simply land so much better here. And if you’re lucky, you might just get to meet a falcon, too.