Orlando resort pools give parks a run for their money


Sneaking in one last dip at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, I overheard a father tell his young daughter, whose heart was clearly set on cannonballs, “No honey, this isn’t the pool for that.” I asked if they’d tried the new waterpark at the JW Marriott end of the shared Grande Lakes property.

“No, we haven’t made it there yet,” the father replied. “I’m trying to rally the crew to catch the shuttle to Universal.” He then told me that he’d spent $1,300 on two-day park passes for his family and was having regrets. “I wish I’d realized how much there is to do right here.”

“I’ve heard that before,” I said, recalling years of Facebook posts by friends who had planned epic Orlando vacations but whose kids never wanted to leave the hotel pools.

If a pool is a must for clients who are heading to the theme parks, here are some of Orlando’s best resorts to make a splash.

Grande opening: As I mentioned above, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at Grande Lakes Orlando share one sprawling property and a bursting portfolio of resort amenities filled with watery respites for every guest seeking relaxation, play, solitude or connection.

The newsiest is the 2023 completion of the Grande Lakes Orlando Waterpark at the JW Marriott. It’s packed with wet and wild activities, including a lazy river, three waterslides and an AdventurePark that requires users to don harnesses.

But there’s plenty of places for quiet relaxation, too. Slip into a private cabana, sip a cocktail in the luxe firepit area, dine in comfort at the new Knife Burger restaurant or claim your chaise on Sanctuary Island. Like the eye of a storm, Sanctuary Island is the dead-calm center of the entire waterpark, with sightlines to everything.

Hotel guests gain access to the adults-only lap pool and hot tub at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, a standalone palace of pampering situated between both hotels, by purchasing a day pass or booking a spa service.

Open water adventure: Vacation homes, villas, flats and Orlando’s first Conrad Hotel surround Crystal Lagoons’ man-made bay at the new Evermore Resort. The lagoon is the development’s centerpiece and covers eight acres — about the size of 20 football fields. All of it is open for swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and more. Surrounded by sand, it’s the closest you’ll get to enjoying the beach without leaving the comfort of all the resort amenities. Evermore Resort and Conrad Orlando open in early 2024.

Spa-cation, with a twist: The art-filled boutique hotel the Alfond Inn at Rollins College in historical Winter Park is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new wing that includes a full-service spa with a dedicated adults-only pool that is exclusive to spa guests. After your spa service, take your R&R poolside with food and beverage service.

What’s the “twist”? The Alfond Inn is owned by neighboring Rollins College and directs all of its net operating income toward millions of dollars in four-year scholarships. The Alfond Inn is a walkable distance from the SunRail station (Central Florida’s commuter rail service) as well as Park Avenue’s extensive dining and shopping.

Convention center chill: Don’t mistake the Hilton Orlando as just a “convention center hotel.” It is a reliable go-to for its pool scene that caters to grown-ups and kids alike. The complex includes a zero-entry resort pool, a quiet pool, splash pad and a lazy river that meanders through meticulous tropical landscaping. Add to the mix a solid poolside restaurant as well as shaded cabanas, lawn games and fire pits that take the edge off the occasional cooler evening and you’ve got a solid property that delivers as a vacation destination all on its own.

Pool vacation for all seasons: We can’t share an Orlando pool story without including the reliable AAA five-diamond Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. Its five-acre waterpark offers something for every guest. The Oases is an adults-only infinity-edge pool complete with a hot tub, cabanas and Four Seasons service that understands how to tailor its attentiveness to different guests’ needs.

The zero-entry Family Pool is a delight for staying immersed without ever becoming bored. Lots of chairs with shade and an extensive menu from the Pool Bar & Grill make this a favorite for families with younger kids. Big kids are drawn to Explorer Island, a sprawling complex laced by a lazy river, waterslides, a climbing wall and an indoor game room.

The resort provides an extensive shuttle service to Disney World’s parks. Clients wouldn’t be the first to let those shuttles just pass on by.

Courtesy of Travel Weekly

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