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Resort polishes Orlando's image

In an area undergoing a hotel-building mini-boom, the new Grande Lakes Orlando in Florida is the only luxury lodging not connected to a theme park or convention center.

June 22, 2003|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

One of the largest resort developments in the U.S. is to open July 1 in Orlando, Fla., bringing a major infusion of luxury lodging into a region known for such family-oriented theme parks as Disney World and Universal Studios.

The $550-million-plus Grande Lakes Orlando sprawls across 500 acres of gardens and lakes and includes two resorts, a golf course, numerous restaurants and a spa with 40 treatment rooms. The resorts, about a half-mile apart, are a 584-room Ritz-Carlton and a 1,000-room JW Marriott, one of a new line of luxury Marriotts. Both hotels are firsts for the brands in the Orlando area.

Grande Lakes Orlando is part of a mini-boom in hotels in that area, recalling the recent buildup in Las Vegas. In fact, central Florida, with more than 100,000 rooms, is second only to Sin City in its hotel capacity, said Marc A. Hoffman, vice president and managing director of Grande Lakes Orlando.

Last year brought the tropical-themed, 1,400-room Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center to Kissimmee, south of Orlando. The $450-million project, built by the owners of the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, offers a Canyon Ranch spa and a fantasy landscape with a swamp and a replica of a 16th century Spanish fort. Also last year, Loews opened the 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort at Universal.

But Hoffman says that in his view, Grande Lakes Orlando is the area's only "destination luxury product" -- that is, one not connected to a theme park or convention center. He expects about a third of the guests to be vacationers, the rest business travelers.

Among the resort's pampering touches will be its "caddie-concierge" program, which Hoffman dubbed "caddies on hospitality steroids."

Besides hauling your clubs and suggesting strategies for each hole, the caddie who accompanies your party will make flight or dinner reservations, Hoffman said. The caddie service will be included in greens fees ($85 to $200, depending on the season) at the resort's Greg Norman-designed golf course. A second course is expected to open next year.

Among the complex's restaurants will be branches of two out-of-town establishments that are rated four diamonds by AAA: Norman's of Coral Gables, Fla., and Primo of Rockland, Maine. Introductory rates, through Sept. 1, begin at $199 per room per night at the Ritz-Carlton, (800) 241-3333, and $159 at the JW Marriott, (800) 228-9290. Grande Lakes Orlando's Web site is www.grandelakes.com.

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