Sure, a day at Disney World can be delightful, but it can also be downright dizzying. Then tack on a day or two of schlepping the kids to the other Orlando amusement parks—enduring the sweltering heat, massive crowds, endless lines, and extortionate pricing—and you’d be forgiven for wanting a break from the recreational rat race. Happily, there are plenty of standout Orlando resorts that offer a respite from the theme parks. Each is positioned outside the parks themselves but promise enough effortless diversion and distraction (lazy rivers, bike trails, and world-class golf) that you’d be perfectly content to simply kick back and actually get in some relaxation.
Two posh resorts—the 582-room Ritz-Carlton and 1,000-room JW Marriott—share the 500-acre grounds and all amenities and facilities. This mega-resort comes with an array of tempting diversions: the massive Ritz-Carlton Spa, a trio of pools, assorted sports courts (for tennis, beach volleyball, and bocce), a Ritz Kids activities program, and the 18-hole Greg Norman–designed golf course. And you can find more unexpected offerings, too. Looking to get wet? Float the resort-encircling lazy river, or try the new AquaCourse 360, a water-focused obstacle course. Nature lover? Set out on a naturalist-led eco-tour of the surrounding Everglades headwaters with specialized trips for those who want to kayak, fish, or bird-watch; or, try your (gloved) hand at the ancient art of falconry at the on-site school. Sporty types will want to cruise the two-mile bike trail on the resort’s loaner bikes; photography buffs can partake in photo shoots led by the photography concierge; and food lovers can tour the resort’s very own farm, apiaries, and nanobrewery (all of which are featured on the restaurant menus at Grande Lakes). grandelakes.com
Since it opened in 2017, the 878-unit Grove Resort has continued to roll out new attractions and reasons to return. In addition to its three pools (including one just for children), the Grove launched its Surfari Water Park last year—featuring a massive zero-entry pool (with sides that slope from land to water), a nearly 700-foot-long lazy river, a surf simulator, dual waterslides, and a kids’ activity/splash zone. In the Lake Austin conservation area bordering the 106-acre resort property, guests can enjoy boating (kayaks, swan paddle boats, electric boats) or fishing excursions. And last November, the Grove opened a shiny new indoor entertainment center, Flip Flop’s Family Fun Center, which is packed with video and virtual reality games, kiddie rides, arcade classics, and glow-in-the-dark mini golf. It’s a welcome retreat from rainy days or stifling heat, as is the small-kids’ activity center and big-kids’ full-service spa. groveresortorlando.com
Set on 2,300 sprawling acres, Reunion Resort keeps guests happy with an everything-under-the-Florida-sun menu of fun. That includes 11 pools (including one on an 11-story rooftop) and a five-acre water park, complete with a 1,000-foot-long lazy river and twisting waterslides. Golfers will be in paradise here, thanks to three signature golf courses—one each designed by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Arnold Palmer—along with 18 holes of “footgolf” (played with a soccer ball), and a new clubhouse (on the Jack Nicklaus course). For everyone else, there’s a six-court tennis center with pro shop, pickleball and bocce ball courts, lawn games like giant checkers and horseshoes, two playgrounds, a full-service spa, kids’ camps, and bike rentals. The 360-room resort, under new ownership since February 2019, is planning expansions to the water park including a new wave pool and another waterslide, plus the addition of a putt-putt golf course. reunionresort.com
Orlando World Center Marriott
The amenity-rich, 2,009-room Orlando World Center Marriott comes fully loaded with attractions—as expected for the world’s largest Marriott Hotel. The Falls Pool Oasis complex takes center stage on the 200-acre grounds: It’s a watery wonderland with a palm-lined lagoon pool fed by artificial waterfalls; a splash zone and kids’ area; and three waterslides—two 200-feet-high winding ones and a 90-foot-tall need-for-speed chute. (Bonus: The complex is also the site of a nightly laser light show.) Not fun enough? There are three other pools on-site, as well as a kids’ activity center (with Legoland-themed events, Gatorland animal visits, and a “Mermaid Academy”), and the G.R.I.D arcade, which pairs traditional arcade games with Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, and iPad gaming. The fun keeps coming with court sports (tennis, sand volleyball, and basketball) and a full-service spa. Golfers can tee off at the 18-hole Hawk’s Landing championship course, brush up on skills at the prestigious Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf, retreat to the clubhouse, or even have a go at footgolf. marriott.com
Fronting its own private lake, Lake Windsong, the 779-room Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress spreads out over 1,500 tropical acres with an emphasis on outdoor fun. Take a dip in the massive lagoon pool, with features like a waterslide, man-made waterfalls and caves, and a dangling rope bridge. Or perfect your swing on any of four Jack Nicklaus–designed golf courses (or, for lower stakes, on the nine holes of pitch ’n’ putt golf). The resort offers loaner bikes and rock-climbing walls, racquetball and basketball courts, world-class tennis courts, and a Marilyn Monroe–branded spa, too. Camp Hyatt keeps kids busy with a robust activities program, while out on the white sand lakeshore (dotted with lounge chairs, hammocks, and a volleyball court), watercraft like kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, and sailboats await. hyatt.com
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