After hours of theme park rides’ winding lines in Floridian heat, the oasis-like Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes provides a welcome reprieve. A mere 20 minutes from Disney and company’s parks, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes easily functions as home-base for families partaking in the Mickey machine, but its grounds offer entertainment enough for those indifferent to the theme park’s charms, too (though a view of distant nightly fireworks is a fun perk for all).
The namesake Grande Lake divides the Ritz-Carlton and its adjoining JW Marriott hotel from 500 acres of lush grounds—therein lays the attraction for many visitors, who come for the Ritz-Carlton’s 18-hole golf course and fishing tours on the lake. Guests seeking to get better acquainted with the local environment can also do so by taking two informative tours, both led by a Florida master naturalist—a title earned by completing the training program developed by the University of Florida. Under the guidance of naturalist Shane Kelley, I find myself on an eco-tour of Shingle Creek, along the property’s western border, spotting a spoonbill roseate, an ibis, and the pattern of a turtle’s shell before it ducks below the surface from my canoe on this Spanish-moss-curtained waterway.
If one prefers the life less aquatic, a golf-cart led Sunrise Safari zips along the greens—a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. The Ritz-Carlton has a mandate to protect wildlife habitats and natural resources, and so Kelley demonstrates automatic deer feeders (the resort collaborates with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), notes still more feathered friends (long-necked anhingas), and, though we miss the property’s 12-foot alligator (which Kelley affectionately calls “our dinosaur”), we still spot a five-footer slipping into one of the ponds, its eyes and spine lining the water’s surface.
Pixie dust or no, Grande Lakes is an enchanting getaway.
In a quiet corner of the grounds, our tour makes a stop at the 7,000-square-foot Whisper Creek Farm, complete with a storybook red farmhouse, scuttling chickens and ducks, and buzzing apiary. A prime example of Grande Lakes’ farm-to-table endeavours, the rows of fruits, leafy vegetables, and aromatic herbs fuel kitchens back at the resort’s restaurants.
Speaking of: the Ritz-Carlton’s Highball & Harvest serves refreshing cocktails alongside elevated Southern-inspired fare (think luxe chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits), and to finish: baby doughnuts ready to be injected with an accompanying miniature tube of hazelnut spread. A quick jaunt down the hallway to the JW Marriott finds Whisper Creek Farm: the Kitchen incorporating a least one item from the farm into each seasonal dish (particularly delicious is the prosciutto flatbread with fig reduction) as well as a selection of beers sourced from the on-site nanobrewery.
Whisper Creek Farm’s honey and citrus are also used at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Spa, where I’m advised to arrive early before my appointment to take full advantage of amenities. I do so, peeking into the Technogym-lined fitness centre and patter around the sauna, steam room, and outdoor salt-water pool with doting attendants. When it comes to choosing a treatment, the Grande Hammock Experience is tempting—a “zero gravity” massage on the rooftop garden wherein guests are rocked in a handwoven hammock, a therapist gently kneading from beneath to loosen muscles—but ultimately I select the Grande Citrus Escape. The two-hour treatment, unique to the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Spa, is a true head-to-toe experience. As suggested by the Latin phrase over the spa entryway, In hoc limine relinque mindum (“in this entrance, abandon the world”), I leave the outside world behind me throughout the full-body scrub (a blend of orange peel powder and sugar), sweet orange oil-infused soak, coconut and argan oil moisturizing body wrap and scalp treatment, and honey and shea butter massage finale.
Post-Escape, I sneak a sunset view over the spa pool, the sky’s pinks and blues reflecting off the water’s surface, over the Grande Lake and the moss-covered oaks stretching beyond. It’s easy to get swept up in a giddy sense of refreshment. Pixie dust or no, Grande Lakes is an enchanting getaway.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, 4012 Central Florida Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32837, USA, +1 407-206-2400.
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