Outside the Mouse House: The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes
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Is an in-state weekend getaway just a three-hour drive from home considered a staycation? Call it what you want — staycation or vacation — but my weekend spent at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, was pretty fantastic, despite my dated suite.
I was decidedly perplexed when it came to booking my two-night stay at this Florida Ritz-Carlton property. Should I use my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to book on hotels.com Venture to get 10x miles on my stay? (Offer ends Jan. 31, 2020) Or, should I use my Platinum Card® from American Express to book via the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts Program for perks such as free breakfast, upgrades (not to club rooms, though) and a $100 credit?
In the end, I decided to book via the phone using my Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card so I would be able to use a club level certificate, one of the many perks of the card (you get three annually, and they can be applied to paid stays only). The certificates were about a $200 value per day (this is how much it cost to upgrade to a club room during my dates), so I got a $400 value out of them for my two-night stay. Considering I also ate breakfast and several other meals and snacks there, including drinks, I would say I even got a much higher value. To top it all off, I got a $100 credit from using the card (this is valid on stays of two days or more), allowing me to enjoy poolside snacks. I also could have used this at the spa.
However, I did have to book an upgrade-eligible room for $303 per night rather than one not eligible for an upgrade but priced at $247 in order to use my club certificate. Thanks to my Platinum elite status, I also ended up getting an upgrade to an executive suite (which cost $889 per night). So for $303 per night and one club certificate, I ended up with an executive suite and club access (for two people; access was through the room), saving us an immense amount on meals and cocktails.
Although I could have booked a number of different ways for various perks, I was happy to use my Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card and the accompanying club certificate and credit, which saved my spouse and me quite a bit on dining and drinking.
If I'd used points for my stay, the Tier 2 property would have cost 40,000 points per night. But I came out on top by paying $304 in cash because TPG values Ritz points at 0.9 cents per point, meaning one night would have been a $360 value — I paid $56 less than that. Plus, I earned a total of 14,755 points: 10,525 for the two-night stay and 4,230 by getting 5x per dollar spent using my Ritz card. Considering the 0.9 TPG valuation, I earned the equivalent of $132.80.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando is in the Grande Lakes section of the city, great for travelers planning on going to Disney who don't want to sacrifice on luxury. The hotel offers shuttles (included with the resort fee) to the theme parks, which are about 15 minutes away. The hotel is a short drive from restaurants and other activities and next door to the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. It's about a 20-minute drive from Orlando Airport (MCO), and parking costs $37 per day for those who drive to the hotel.
Check-in and Lobby
One of my favorite things about staying at the Ritz is the amazing service, which usually starts from the second I pull up and lasts until the moment I depart. This time, I was greeted at the car, but not at the entrance of the hotel, though I was offered sparkling wine (in a real glass) shortly afterward.
The lobby was pleasant, a typical Ritz lobby with a bar overlooking the pool. At reception, I was offered a tube of orange-flavored local honey and thanked for being a Platinum elite member.
There wasn't a special club check-in like at other Ritz properties, but that was long forgotten when I was offered an upgrade to an executive suite. The catch? It wouldn't be ready until 3:00pm. So, I headed up to the club. I was fine waiting an hour if it meant I'd have a suite!
My room was ready after an hour and a half, but I only found out by asking the club concierge to call down and check. Maybe it was ready earlier, but nobody told me. I didn't mind waiting longer, as it was for an upgrade, but I wish that I had been notified instead of having to ask.
Even though the staff was notified that we were heading to the room, it still took 20 minutes for our luggage to arrive at the suite.
My executive suite was one of 60, and the hotel has 582 rooms and suites in total.
The huge space was separated into a living room, bathroom, bedroom, another half bath and two balconies overlooking the property and beyond.
Although the suite was large at just under 1,000 square feet, it felt old and I think it desperately needs a revamp.
The A/C looked moldy, there were rust stains on the carpet, and the sofa was also stained.
The furniture was old and scratched, and the moldings and trim looked drab.
The entrance had a nice tiled marble floor, which I wish had been throughout the entire room instead of the crusty carpet, though I know families with young kids prefer carpeting for safety's sake.
The minibar with all the alcohol, soft drinks and snacks was in the bedroom, even though the living room's wet bar was empty. I know that parents with children often prefer to keep those items safely tucked away, but the hotel could've taken care of that by putting a lock on a living-room liquor cabinet or moving those items to a more convenient location (the wet bar) once they realized we were an adult couple.
I did appreciate the extra half bath even though we didn't entertain while there, but if you were planning to have people in your room, this would be an added bonus. I also noticed there were no envelopes or stationery in the room. Is this no longer a standard? I guess people really don't write anymore.
When I'd booked, the website said that construction was supposed to end June 1. Although I arrived after this, there was still construction going on, with roped-off areas and scaffolding around the exterior. I received no notice of this, and I feel that all guests should have been advised, though it wasn't bothersome to me since construction was on hold over the weekend.
The soundproofing of the room wasn't great, either, and I heard the kids next door clearly. That said, this hotel may be perfect for families!
While the bathroom was spotless, the small sink area and tiny tub and shower seemed out of place in such a spacious room.
The shower test was a huge fail, and I'm only 6 feet, 1 inch, not 6 feet, 7 inches like TPG, so if you're tall, this bathroom is not for you.
When I asked the staff about the rooms looking rather past their prime, I was told the hotel was approximately 14 years old and that they were sampling new room styles that they hoped to have in place by 2020. They mentioned they had two prototypes ready, but no, I wasn't allowed to see them.
The room wasn't all bad, though, as the mattress was extremely comfortable and the TVs were large with plenty of channels. Having the in-room Nespresso machine was handy, although I also had a few coffees in the club.
The views from the corner suite were excellent. I appreciated that the room was luminous and extremely clean (despite the stains).
Having such a huge space to spread out in the suite was relaxing, and although the room wasn't aesthetically perfect, it was comfortable during our stay.
With eight restaurants, two bars, three pools, a Ritz-Carlton spa, fitness center, kids club, tennis, golf and fishing facilities, there was plenty to do even if you didn't head over to Disney. I was there with my husband, but it would be a great spot for families with many activities for kids.
We could have rented bikes, paddle boats and kayaks. We also had access to the JW Marriott's lazy river and accompanying floaties.
The resort fee was $35 per day, but just $30 for Platinum elites. That included Wi-Fi, phone calls, the driving range, some kids activities, access to and floaties at the JW Marriott lazy river and shuttle transport to Disney and SeaWorld (reservation required at least 24 hours in advance) and one-hour bike rental, among other things. The hotel said that the resort fee was a $221 value, but that seemed like hyperbole to me.
I enjoyed dipping into the pools, especially the serene spa pool, which was part of the Ritz spa.
You could access the spa facilities with a treatment booking or by paying $50 extra, which offered access to the sauna, the child-free pool, the spa restaurant with healthy food options, various hot and cold jacuzzis, steam showers and more.
The fitness center was part of the spa, though you could access it free of charge. The center had classes like yoga, pilates, cycling and boot camp, plus all the latest workout and weight equipment.
I also had a lot of fun reliving my childhood with floaties in the lazy river at the JW Marriott.
The main Ritz pool also had conveniently placed buttons that you could press for service. It was so convenient not to have to flag down staff in the hot sun. All hotel pools should offer this.
I didn't get a chance to try any of the restaurants, but I really didn't need to, as I mainly ate in the club. I did order a quesadilla and chicken wings by the pool, which were fine. Luckily, I had my $100 credit from using my Ritz card, so I used that to pay for the pool food.
I know I sound like a broken record, but I absolutely loved having club access, meaning I could snack on things like sandwiches, homemade chips, brisket, pasta, veggies, cookies and more throughout the day.
I ate breakfast here and also had more than my money's worth of cocktails (alcohol was available after 11:00am).
In fact, the club was like a luxury hotel within a luxury hotel, a whole different dimension! I really got into the cookie section.
The three club certificates I got with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card (each of which can be used for one stay up to seven days) were a solid reason for me to get this card, especially since I love to eat and drink (who doesn't?!).
Although the suites were dated, they were spacious and comfortable, and the hotel had the perfect location for those wanting to be close but not directly in or next to Disney. The Disney shuttle bus was included in the resort fee, and your stay will be relaxing and fun, especially with pools and other amenities and club access. While I don’t plan to head to Disney or Orlando often, I think this is a solid property, and I wouldn’t mind returning myself after the rooms are renovated.