As much as my kiddos and I have enjoyed theme-park trips to Orlando over the years, for our most recent vacation in the Sunshine State, we wanted some beach time, too. After all, coming from the landlocked Colorado mountains, I often find myself longing for a stint in sand and surf. My teens are also ocean-loving creatures; it’s hard for us to be a short drive from any coast and not want to dip our toes in the salty sea!
So, we opted for our ideal combination of an inland adventure at Walt Disney World® Resort and a relaxing stay on the Atlantic—all in the lap of luxury at two very upscale (but very different) hotels, the year-old Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort and the Boca Raton Resort & Club, which dates back to 1926.
Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World
After being delayed in Denver, we were sweaty and slaphappy by the time we pulled into the palatial porte cochere at the Four Seasons Orlando in the dark of night at 10:30 p.m. But the gracious valet, bellmen, and front-desk folks didn’t blink an eye at the fast-food containers that fell out of our car, nor our silly and self-deprecating remarks as my girlfriend and I checked in with our wired teens (two 15-year-old girls and my 13-year-old son).
Viewfinder Tip: Don’t forget—reservations are required for the entertaining, twice-weekly Disney character breakfast at the Four Seasons Orlando.
Two suites—a Park View and a Park View Deluxe—proved more than enough space to accommodate our group of five. Light and airy, modern and classy, the rooms exuded comfortable sophistication, with creamy white and light-blue hues, pretty glass vases, and shimmering light fixtures, as well as some fun surprises—a television screen in the bathroom mirror and expansive balconies with views of nightly Magic Kingdom® fireworks. As is typical with Four Seasons properties, our teens were welcomed with some personalized sweet treats in their room—always a nice gesture.
White-glove service and lovely lodging go hand in hand at most Four Seasons resorts. But where the Orlando property really shines is its outdoor amenities, namely the pools and water-play areas. With a lazy river and waterfalls, pool volleyball and basketball, a splash zone, a zero-depth-entry pool for tiny guests, and two huge and twisty waterslides, I defy any child not to have fun playing in the water here.
When the kids get waterlogged, they can run around on full-size basketball and sand volleyball courts, ascend a climbing wall, or take a break inside the “Hideout” lounge with pinball, foosball, billiards, video games, and board games. All of these fabulous family-friendly amenities are complimentary, and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
Water sprays and shallow pools at the Four Seasons Orlando
Another nice option for families at the Four Seasons Orlando is the Kids for All Seasons children’s camp, which is completely free for ages four to twelve. It includes full-day supervision in a beautifully designed, colorful space that features arts and crafts, lots of toys, board games, a climbable volcano that “erupts,” and an outdoor playground.
That all said, if you’re overnighting in Orlando with young children, chances are you’re spending some time at the Disney theme parks. The resort makes it easy to transfer to any of the parks via its complimentary motor-coach transportation. An on-site Disney Planning Center has dedicated staff to help guests purchase tickets, plan their day at the parks, and make Disney meal reservations.
The Four Seasons Orlando is a lovely, upscale lodging option close to the area’s best theme parks. It’s near enough to Disney’s entertainment to make enjoying a day (or two) of rides and snapping photos of your favorite characters incredibly convenient. But perhaps more importantly, it provides a welcome oasis for travelers to rest and relax amid pretty surroundings and upscale amenities away from the park crowds.
Boca Raton Resort & Club
While we could have gotten our beach fix with an hour’s drive east to Florida’s Space Coast, we opted to drive further south to swanky Boca Raton. The Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria property, wowed us with some really delicious dining options, easy access to the beach, and an incredibly fun FlowRider wave simulator.
Now, I recognize that an enclosed pool with a steady wave for prolonged boogie boarding or surfing can be found just about anywhere in the world—even on some Royal Caribbean International cruise ships—and is certainly not unique to the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Still, the FlowRider totally made our short stay. Friendly instructors had the teens—and I—boarding in a safe environment within minutes. Constant lines proved it’s a popular daily attraction, and it was fun to watch the kids get a bit more daring, doing spinning tricks and standing up, as they got more comfortable.
Of course, our goal was to play in the ocean. It’s important to note the Boca Raton Resort & Club is not directly on the beach; it’s a quick shuttle or water-taxi ride (across a small channel dubbed “Lake Boca Raton”) away. But sister property the Boca Beach Club is on the beach, and here we enjoyed the resort’s pools; a yummy poolside lunch of sandwiches, burgers, and salads; and a dip in the ocean.
The Atlantic waves weren’t terribly big (practically nonexistent) during this June visit. If they had been, I would have booked my children a surfing lesson right from a kiosk on the beach, which also rents paddleboards, Jet Skis™, catamarans, and more.
The grounds at the Boca Raton Resort & Club have a genteel and historic feel. The centerpiece is the original pink Cloister building, nearly 90 years old, and the Tower, filled with basic guest rooms that are surprisingly plain for a Waldorf Astoria resort. However, pretty porticos, charming courtyards, and other public spaces—like the sunny Palm Court atrium where we had a delicious and healthy buffet breakfast—are filled with colorful mosaic tiles and plenty of green foliage.
I’d be remiss not to note the excellent evening meals we enjoyed at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. We dined on delectable seafood and steaks at The Blue—on the top floor of the Tower building—which had charming servers and an expansive view of the marina and the ocean. At the more casual 501 East Kitchen Bar, we had burgers, beers, salads, and pastas, including some of the best baked macaroni I’ve ever eaten.
What’s your favorite Florida vacation destination?