Luxury near Disney: A review of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando
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In the Bonnet Creek area of Orlando, next to Disney’s Pop Century and Caribbean Beach Resort, lies an 11-year-old Waldorf Astoria. During a recent stay before the coronavirus shutdown, the Hilton property revealed itself as an oasis of luxury surrounded by the chaos that can be theme parks.
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The property boasts all that you would expect from a Waldorf property: manicured landscapes, polished service, a decadent lobby and amenities designed to relax and refresh.
In a city with plenty of affordable lodging, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando is not a destination for budget travelers. Room rates for a base room typically go between $300 and $400 per night, with those going much higher during peak times. On top of cash rates, there’s a $45 resort fee charged daily along with 12.5% in taxes.
If you’re looking to use your points to book, expect to pay at least 80,000 Hilton Honors points for a base room. But, resort fees are waived on award nights, which is a really nice perk of the Honors program.
One nice, albeit expensive, option with Hilton Honors is to use points and book a premium room, all the way up to top suites at some properties. If you find yourself overflowing with Hilton points, you can book the two-bedroom Governors Suite for 589,000 points per night.
For my booking, I decided to go big as the stay was a quick vacation for my wife and I after a hectic year. I booked through Virtuoso, and the agent found me a deluxe suite with one king bed and a balcony for $501 per night. Here’s a look at the other benefits we got with our booking:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Continental breakfast daily, for up to two in-room guests
- $100 resort credit, (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full, applied towards spa, golf and recreation, once during stay)
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
On top of this, I had my up to $250 annual resort credit form my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. This meant we had free breakfast and $350 in credits to use for our two nights at the property.
In the same development (and sharing the convention center) with the Hilton Orlando-Bonnet Creek Resort, the Waldorf Astoria is located just south of Epcot and directly east from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We took Uber and Lyft to and from the resort multiple times over our two days and each one ran $7 to $9 and took about 10 to 15 minutes depending on which park we were going to.
The resort is nestled down Chelonia Parkway and by the time you pass the Hilton and get to the Waldorf, you are very much sheltered from any noise or stress of the theme parks and surrounding area. The golf course separates the Waldorf from the Disney resorts and we heard no traffic noise from Interstate 4, which is west of the building across Bonnet Creek.
We spent the night before our stay at the Waldorf at a Disney resort that had a rather strict 11 a.m. check-out time. We arrived at the Waldorf around noon, hoping we could leverage my Diamond status and Virtuoso booking and score an early check-in.
Unfortunately, our suite wasn’t ready, and despite the Hilton app showing upgrades available, the polite front-desk agent said no upgrades would be available and offered to take our bags and to send a text message when the room was ready. I had rolled the dice that a nap would be available before an early evening jaunt off to the parks and ended up losing as we didn’t get a room until check-in time at 4 o’clock.
The check-in process was otherwise smooth and all the front-desk agents were friendly and helpful. They gave us a nice folder with a listing of our Virtuoso benefits and Diamond-status benefits as well as resort information.
Like many Orlando properties, the resort is sprawling, so the hotel provides a helpful map that gives an overview of all the facilities available at the Waldorf as well as the Hilton next door.
While we waited for our room, we were treated to a welcome drink at the swanky Peacock Alley lobby bar.
My wife and I both really liked the welcome area with mini clock tower. You’ll also find the concierge, rental-car agency and a third-party theme-park-ticket vendor.
Once we received the text that our room was ready, we headed up to the ninth floor and down the hallway to our room.
We were given a deluxe king suite with a balcony overlooking the pool and golf course area. You entered the room to a four-seat dining table with wet bar and mini-fridge under the sink.
This opened up to the main living and sitting area.
There was plenty of space for just the two of us, though the decor was not our style and felt outdated.
The balcony was definitely the highlight of the room with the entrance off the corner of the living room.
The view was directly over the main pool and the golf course. At night we could look just off to our right and see the Epcot fireworks or look directly ahead to the Hollywood Studios evening fireworks, though the distance didn’t make it feel particularly up close.
The bedroom featured the same style as the rest of the suite and seemed to have a mid-2000s feel to it.
I discovered one of my pet peeves at this luxury resort: no bedside outlets available. We had to pull back the nightstand to plug in our phone chargers. This really befuddles me in 2020.
A small work desk was in the bedroom with another closet that was a companion to the two closets in the sitting area right next to the door to the room.
The bathroom had a separate tub and shower with double vanity. Individual Tuscan Soul bath amenities by Salvatore Ferragamo were replaced daily in the bathroom.
The room was comfortable and spacious but the decor left a bit to be desired for a luxury hotel charging $500/night. We slept well both nights, which isn’t hard after days in the park, and really enjoyed the views from the balcony.
Food and Beverage
Before I dive into the food-and-beverage experience at this hotel, it’s important to note that many things about hotel dining will be changing as people return to hotels after coronavirus lockdowns. Buffets could go away entirely, too, at least for the time being.
The property boasts an impressive nine different food and beverage outlets in addition to in-room dining. Throughout our stay, we tried three different restaurants at the hotel. Peacock Alley is the lobby bar with a minimal bar food menu, Bull & Bear is the fine dining restaurant we visited for dinner one evening and Oscar’s Brasserie provides breakfast each morning on the basement level with a patio overviewing the pool. Let’s start with the included breakfast each morning at Oscar’s Brasserie.
Complimentary continental breakfast was included with our Virtuoso rate. I confirmed at check-in this included the hot dishes as well, as some Hilton properties have a practice of up-charging elites and those with continental breakfast if they’d like the hot dishes.
The restaurant was steadily busy each morning, but service was efficient as the wait staff was really only providing beverages to diners.
The buffet was comprehensive with cold offerings including every kind of pastry, cereal, cheese and fruit juice Americans could expect.
The hot offerings were equal to the cold with two separate buffet lines featuring all sorts of classic American breakfast dishes.
Homemade pop tarts proved to be my wife’s favorite. The Waldorf Astoria Orlando Breakfast Bar including all hot and cold items is $38 per person if you do not have it included with your room rate.
One afternoon during a break between park visits, we had a quick lunch at the Peacock Alley lobby bar where we had our welcome drink.
The bartender took care of the few guests who were eating an off-peak-time lunch and provided quick, friendly service. The lunch menu was enticing compared to other hotel bar menus and my wife settled on the Waldorf Astoria Crab cake, costing $26:
I selected the Waldorf Astoria Signature Burger Bun and Roll, costing $20:
Both dishes were excellent and while they cost Waldorf Astoria prices, they were incredibly satisfying respites from Disney snack food and gave us some calories for our continued day in the parks. Peacock Alley is also known for Sunday Royal Tea which runs $50 per adult.
Bull & Bear
Perhaps the highlight of our stay, we had dinner at Bull & Bear on the ground floor of the Waldorf. We’d heard great things about the restaurant that boasts multiple awards and a menu with re-imagined steakhouse classics.
I requested a reservation the day before, but it turned out the crowd was light and we could have just walked in. The restaurant is dim if that’s something you’re sensitive to, but otherwise, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something to complain about.
The waiter and assistant waiter brought us iPads that contained the menu and I wanted to take a look specifically at the cocktail menu that had a bit of buzz around it during my research. The signature cocktail is the Smoking Bull, which will run you $89 for the drink:
I settled on The Bull, The Bear and The Mule consisting of St Augustine Vodka, Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barenjager Honey, Homemade Ginger Syrup. It was perfect.
The rest of the menu presented plenty of difficult decisions as many different dishes fit mine and my wife’s palate.
We settled on truffled devil eggs and escargot and gnocchi as starters. I’m not a deviled egg kind of guy, but my wife inhaled them with such gusto that I knew we’d made the right decision.
The snail gnocchi was absolutely fantastic. We would have been willing to cancel the rest of our order and just have a few more servings of the pasta.
I ordered the Bull & Bear burger consisting of short rib meat and truffled onion marmalade. It was the best burger I’ve ever had in my life.
My wife chose the Bull & Bear fried chicken — double-fried marinated chicken breast — which left her very satisfied.
We definitely overdid it on our dinner, but we still talk about the cocktails and the escargot gnocchi. We both highly recommend a dinner at the steakhouse if you’re going to stay at the property (or if you just want a nice dinner while in Orlando).
There’s no shortage of activities or relaxation opportunities to take advantage of at the property. If you want to do Disney, the property is an official Walt Disney World Hotel meaning you’ll receive Extra Magic Hours and the ability to book FastPass+ 60 days in advance. There is a shuttle from the hotel to the Disney parks, but it would take so much time based on the loop schedule it runs that a cheap Uber is well worth saving the time.
You can buy Disney tickets in the lobby of the hotel, and my initial hope was that you could place the tickets on your room and use the $250 Hilton Aspire credit to cover the tickets, but sadly the representative selling tickets said they were a third party vendor and couldn’t place charges on your room bill.
On property, there is the golf club, Waldorf Astoria Spa, a kids club and the pool area. Starting outside, two large pools and hot tub take up the majority of the outside real estate.
The narrow pool closest to the building has private cabanas available for rent that include soft drinks, water and fruit platter as well as Wi-Fi and a TV.
A side leg to the main pool has a zero-entry beginning that’s great for the little ones to run in and out and play in the shallow space:
The Aquamarine Pool Bar and Grill is right on the patio serving a full menu.
Moving indoors, just off the pool is the WA Kids Club as well as the gym. The kids club has half-day sessions for $75 for the first kid and $25 got each additional child in the family.
The fitness center had plenty of equipment anyone would need for a hotel stay and was well cleaned with an attendant on duty.
As a Diamond member, I had free access to the spa facilities for my wife and I which included a steam room, sauna, hot tub and changing rooms with showers.
We opted to use some of our $350 property credit towards a joint Himalayan Salt Therapy Room session for 30 minutes that cost $45.
I’d never seen one of these rooms before, but you sat in chairs in a room with fine sand floors while vaporized salt was blown into the room to exfoliate your skin and relax you. I can’t say my skin felt any better but after 30 min my wife and I were fairly relaxed.
After, I enjoyed the relaxation room and sauna facilities before grabbing a shower.
Besides having an early check-in request denied, we had nothing but great service from the hotel staff, housekeepers and food-and-beverage staff. Doormen were always just inside the front entrance opening the door and asking if we needed any transportation or direction help.
Both days we requested housekeeping at a specific time in the morning so we could nap in the room in the afternoon and not be disturbed. I received texts a couple of times throughout the stay asking if everything was to our expectations and if the property could offer any help.
We had a luxurious stay near Disney for two days at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. It was a perfect place to stay and enjoy a few days without kids. We were able to do the parks for some of the days but then retreat back to an adult atmosphere to relax and recharge. Besides the room underwhelming in decor a bit, there really was nothing else to make the stay less than enjoyable.
If you need an oasis away from craziness of the theme park, I would save up your Hilton points or look to a Virtuoso agent to find you a rate with extra perks at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando.
All photos by the author.
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