It was all I could do to contain myself when I discovered that the luxury hotel chain Four Seasons was building a resort at Walt Disney World Resort. Most people who know me understand my unabashed obsession for everything Disney, but they may be surprised to learn that I feel the same way for Four Seasons hotels and resorts. Combining the two is about as perfect as it gets in my world.
I won’t try and hide it, visiting Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort with my daughter and her fiancé was a dream-come-true. The resort is located on Disney property within the gated luxury residential neighborhood of Golden Oak. Homes in the community run in the millions of dollars so even the ride to the hotel is pretty incredible, especially for a house gawker like myself.
The first thing that caught my eye at the new resort was the custom-made firework-inspired chandelier in the main foyer that delicately dangles over the grand stairway. Its Czech Republic designers, Jozef Baca and Veronika Kopecna, were moved by firework displays similar to the ones Disney presents for visitors. Weighing more than 1,200 pounds, the dazzling chandelier has nearly 31,000 crystal components in hues of topaz, light smoke, amber, and honey.
The resort itself rises seventeen stories, taller than many Four Seasons properties, and is surrounded by lavish landscaping that includes palm trees at every turn. Its Spanish Revival architecture reflects Florida’s golden age. The resort includes a conference center, spa, fitness center, and tennis courts, along with Tranquilo Golf Club and Explorer Island, and a 5-acre playground for children of all ages, the first indicator for Mom and Dad that kids are welcome here.
The hotel’s interior is crafted in light marble hues that reflect the sunlight pouring into the lobby. Guest rooms and suites are roomy – some of the largest I’ve seen in Central Florida – and continue the light-colored ambience of the resort. We were lucky enough to snag a room with a view of Magic Kingdom – those Park View rooms are priced a little higher than some others – so on the nights we weren’t in one of the Disney parks, we enjoyed both the fireworks from Magic Kingdom and Epcot from our balcony.
During our stay, we checked out three of the hotel’s four full-service restaurants. Capa, the contemporary Spanish steakhouse on the seventeenth floor, has its own balconies for fireworks viewing. Around ten o’clock, people rush from their tables to jockey for a prime spot.
The more casual Ravello restaurant serves modern Italian cuisine at night and also hosts breakfast. The Four Seasons partners with Disney for its Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy & Pals, held on Thursdays and Saturdays. During school holiday periods, they also add a Tuesday seating.
We decided to spring for the character breakfast to see how it compared to its on-site peers at Disney. We found that there wasn’t any real difference in the content. We did discover that the Thursday event is much less crowded than the character breakfasts in the Disney parks. That gave us more quality time with Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy.
On the afternoon my daughter, Angela, and her fiancé, Andy, were busy exploring Magic Kingdom, I strolled over to Plancha, an intimate Cuban American restaurant at Tranquilo Golf Club. Lunch became very lively when the family at the next table began to dance.
Later in the day we walked over to Explorer Island. The massive playground includes a family pool with a lazy river that winds around a ruined mansion. It also has a climbing wall, waterslides, and the hotel’s Kids for All Seasons program. Activities include beach volleyball, basketball, and a gaming center, as well as outdoor movie nights, and more.
Anyone staying at the hotel who hasn’t made plans for the Disney Parks can do so at the Disney Planning Center in the lobby. Four Seasons also provides motor coach transportation to the parks and you can have your souvenirs delivered to your room the same day you purchase them. If you opt for a “Presenting Your Royal Princess” in-room celebration, complete with a letter from the Fairy Godmother, a tiara, and a magic wand.
So what’s new at Disney World?
This summer, Walt Disney World Resort is presenting the Coolest Summer Ever, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is ground zero for anything to do with Frozen. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf take part in the Frozen Royal Welcome cavalcade, along with a flurry of skaters, skiers, and ice cutters. Anna leads the procession in an elaborate horse-drawn sleigh and Elsa glides by on her own ice palace float.
One of my favorite shows of all time (and I have seen many over the years!) has to be “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration.” The Royal Historians of Arendelle that host the show are a hoot-and-a-half. Yes, most of their ramblings are scripted, but the duo improvises during each performance and the comedic timing was spot-on. We saw the show a couple times and it was different each time. What’s really fun is watching the parents in the audience belt out the songs without looking at the words on the big screens. I wasn’t sure who was having
more fun – the kids or their grownups.
Hollywood Studios normally doesn’t have fireworks, but this summer is an exception. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf help to kick off a Frozen fireworks display set to the music of – wait for it – Frozen, which is accompanied by lightly falling snow.
When you’re in Epcot, be sure to scoot over to World Showcase and catch a performance of the new a cappella group, American Music Machine. They are absolutely fantastic. They perform everything from classic songs to contemporary hits – think Pitch Perfect or Glee, except this group has a beatbox champ that had us on our feet cheering.
If you’re looking for a unique, luxurious experience, check out the twenty Bora Bora bungalows on Seven Seas Lagoon at Disney’s Polynesian. They are the first phase of Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, the newest Disney Vacation Club resort. Perched over the water of the lagoon, the two-bedroom bungalows feature a full kitchen, sleeping accommodations for up to eight people and a private plunge pool. And, they have a view of Magic Kingdom. Prices for the bungalows start around $2,100 a night. Disney Vacation Club members can also use points to reserve the bungalows.
Did your jaw just drop at that price point? Because they know that saving for a Disney vacation can be daunting for some families, Disney has started a program called the Disney Vacation Account that allows you to save money toward your vacation. The program’s online tools can help you estimate the cost of your vacation and manage a savings plan that suits your budget. There are no fees to create or maintain the account and anyone that opens a Vacation Account and uses it to pay for a vacation before December 31, 2017 (that date is subject to extension) will be eligible for a $20 Disney Gift Card for every $1,000 spent on qualified Disney vacation purchases. The accounts can be used for pre-arrival vacation packages, cruise fare, and hotel reservations at Disney-owned and operated resorts in Disneyland Resort in California, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, and Aulani in Hawaii. The minimum amount to open the account is ten bucks, so you can start saving today.
One of the largest expansions in Downtown Disney’s history is now in the works as Disney Springs begins to take shape. The first area – The Landing – is now complete, but you will still have to maneuver around the construction until next year when the entire area is scheduled for completion. When it’s finished, the expansion will double the number of shopping, dining, and entertainment venues from seventy to nearly 150. There are a number of boutiques here, but I spent most of my time in Chapel Hats and came away with a fedora that looks pretty awesome,
if I do say so myself.
But the family highlight of The Landing is The Boathouse, a nautical-themed waterfront restaurant that specializes in steaks, chops, fresh seafood, and a raw bar. During my lunch there, I had the largest crab cake – pretty much all crab with hardly any filler – I’ve ever enjoyed. I was also intrigued with the water offerings at the restaurant that include guided tours aboard a 40-foot wooden Italian Water Taxi, complete with champagne toasts and chocolate-covered strawberries, and guided tours on The Boathouse amphicars.
Captains drive the amphibious autos into the water for a 20-minute tour of Downtown Disney. I had never seen an amphicar before. Apparently they are pretty unique, only 3,878 were produced from 1961 to 1968. The amphicars at The Boathouse have all been completely restored in bright colors. Even if the line is too long to actually ride in one, it’s fun to watch them in the water – it almost looks like a kiddie toy in a bathtub.
This trip to the Four Seasons and Disney was a special treat for my daughter, her fiancé, and me. It was a great way to escape from the long, drawn-out winter we’ve had and to forget the world around us. That’s one thing that keeps carrying me back to Disney – that feeling of being far removed from the rigors of life. And anytime I can stay at a Four Seasons, it’s like coming home. I know I’m going to be pampered and feel relaxed. What a great combination!
Photos courtesy: Don Riddle for Four Seasons Hotels and Matt Stroshane, Mariah Wilsd, Ryan Wendler, Preston Mark for WDW