When it comes to a family-focused getaway to Central Florida, the unrivaled home of theme parks, what role does the hotel or resort play? Better yet, what role should it play? For some families, it’s as simple as having a quality, budget-friendly place to crash after a day of navigating ride lines with the best wait times. For others, the majesty of the property should be in line with that of Cinderella’s Castle. After all, some clans don’t see Epcot’s giant golf ball more than once a decade, if that, so for many of us it’s a matter of maximizing the overall experience for the sake of happiness and memories.
But just as the Magic Kingdom and Islands of Adventure evolve and add bigger, better, faster rides, the area’s best hotels and resorts also face crucial decisions. Competition is no joke here—renovations are announced with celebrations just shy of Rose Bowl parade proportions, and when one property unveils an incredible new experience, it doesn’t take long before the others have something even more elaborate.
And because newer is often perceived as greater, older resorts are sometimes at a major disadvantage. Sometimes. No one bothered sending that memo to the Orlando World Center Marriott, a Central Florida mainstay that could very well have been passed by and overshadowed by those other big-name brands and even some sister properties. But then a very creative and enthusiastic staff wouldn’t be doing its job, would it?
From the lobby to the golf course, this is a shining example of a resort that does it all and aims to impress in the process. Impressive doesn’t even start to describe the new developments at this resort, though.
Who Doesn’t Love a Waterslide?
If a resort undergoes millions of dollars in renovations, travelers generally like to focus on aspects like the new look and comforts of the accommodations, dining, and amenities. However, there is no denying that the best part of Orlando World Center Marriott’s effort was the overhaul and reimagining of the Falls Pool, which was already considered a crown jewel in the region, in terms of outdoor on-property entertainment.
Every great resort in the Orlando/Kissimmee area has a pool worth sharing on Instagram, and while the perks are awesome, some are limited to a slide or two, maybe a lazy river, and a handful of nice, private cabanas. Nothing wrong with that. The Fall Pool, though, is like an all-ages water park combined with a sports bar and maybe even a nightclub, but without the chaos. In fact, the best part of this experience—well beyond the thrilling slides and extremely entertaining kid’s area—is how well the seating has been spread out to maximize fun, comfort, and safety.
Guests who want to sit poolside can do so without having to worry about waking up at sunrise to claim space, and those who want to be away from the action are able to spread out without having to walk 10 minutes to get to the water. There are daybeds for outdoor nappers and even more cabanas for larger parties or people who simply want to watch a football game or round of golf without bumping into strangers in the pool (the large screens made for a heck of a fun time watching college football when I visited).
At the heart of this is the happiness of the younger guests, and as much as parents will get a kick out of this cool pool and the delicious cocktails, it will successfully entertain kids when it’s time for a break from the parks, which is more important than ever thanks to Disney doing away with fast passes. The zero-entry area is great for little ones still working on their gracefulness, and the slides are fast and fun, with a full staff of lifeguards that are probably the nicest in town.
As if we need more, miniature golf and myriad poolside games will make it so easy for parents to not even bother with park passes for one or even two days of a visit. That means money saved for some of the other special perks here.
Everything in Between
It’s always funny to check into a hotel you haven’t visited in years and realize it has undergone serious changes. At least eight years have passed since I visited Orlando World Center Marriott for a friend’s wedding, so the new rooms absolutely blew me away. The beds are bigger, the clunky old bathtubs are gone in favor of walk-in showers, and the balcony even feels a bit homier for those moments when you want some fresh air and the chance to bask in the glory of a successful family vacation.
When it comes to dining, Siro Urban Italian Kitchen is the kind of restaurant you can enjoy five nights in a row without ordering the same thing twice, although no one would blame you for wanting the braised pork shank and Woodford old fashioned every time. But there are great options here, and the addition of Mikado Japanese Steak House especially elevates this resort into the same conversation as some of the top options in town. After all, who doesn’t love when the chefs put on a show?
One more advantage Orlando World Center Marriott has over a lot of resorts is Hawk’s Landing. There is a lot of golf to be played in Central Florida, certainly at some of the better Orlando-area resorts, but this is a course that truly caters to golfers of all experience levels, as written by someone with a handicap as high as his word count. Efforts to upgrade this course have been underway for several years, and visitors have definitely enjoyed the new Diamond Zoysiagrass greens (even if they can be punishing and infuriating).
The cherry on top for the new look of Hawk’s Landing is the new look of Hole 18, which was redesigned as a par 3 island. What golfer doesn’t love finishing strong with the opportunity for one last amazing shot? Or what golfer doesn’t love being able to donate that last ball to Poseidon? Either way, it’s a picture-perfect change that turns this into a must-play course.
The Best is Yet to Come
You would think that these changes are good enough, but, again, that’s not the Orlando World Center Marriott style. There might as well be a giant neon sign at the entrance declaring “Bigger is Better,” because hot on the heels of the new Falls Pool will be the opening of the River Falls water park. Funny enough, I remember thinking how the only thing missing was a lazy river, and the staff was so quick to point out that one is on the way.
This new experience will not only include the lazy river, but guests will be able to access it from a 50-foot slide tower and plunge pool. The tower will also introduce innertube slides named the Boomerango, Aquasphere, and Tailspin, and while I don’t know anything else about them, I can already hear myself complaining that I should have waited to have the cheeseburger.
Orlando’s best resorts simply don’t need to go over-the-top with their amenities, but this one feels obligated to spoil guests beyond the basics. This hotel, unlike a lot of its peers, keeps guests coming back year after year instead of operating with the mentality that “it’s Orlando—new people will visit all the time.”
Spoil your guests and they’ll never forget the experience. Maybe that’s the phrase that should be in giant neon letters, because it certainly applies.