The master planners of Grande Lakes Orlando Resort made a concerted effort to include every type of recreational amenity imaginable.
A Greg Norman-designed signature golf course. Check. An expansive Lazy River Pool swim complex. Check. Lighted tennis courts. Check. And the list goes on and on.
Set on 500 acres about a five-minute drive from SeaWorld Orlando, Grande Lakes Orlando encompasses two hotels, the 582-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando and the 1,000-room J.W. Marriott, a 40,000-square-foot spa, 6,000-square-foot Wellness Center and 13 restaurants and lounges.
Popular amenities at the resort include jogging trails, bicycle rentals, guided fly and spin fishing, eco-tours on Shingle Creek, Ritz Kids program and the JW Griffin Cooking School.
While Grande Lakes is one of Orlando's largest resort complexes, you won't feel overwhelmed or forgotten. The designers did a masterful job of landscaping providing buffers between major outdoor amenities. Better still, the service level at both hotels is extremely high and, arguably, the best in Orlando.
Greg Norman-designed Ritz-Carlton Golf Club
Framing the resort complex, a few hundred steps from the JW Marriott pool complex, is The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes, a layout dotted with lakes, wetlands, live oaks and cypress heads.
A Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course has a natural, park-like ambiance making you feel you're miles not a couple of hundred yards from the hotels.
The course has several appealing attributes that make it an excellent resort course. Wide fairways with generous landing areas, no out-of-bounds stakes throughout the course, short roughs and closely mown green complexes encourage a faster pace of play. In addition, there's an optional Caddie Concierge Program.
If you've never played with a caddie, this is a great place to start. During the winter months, the caddies wear white, Augusta National-style uniforms. Professional and informative, they provide services such as course navigation, target lines, yardage stats and hole descriptions.
Opened in 2003, the course measures 7,122 yards from the back tees (black) with five tee settings on each hole. The shortest are the green at 5,223 yards.
The one hole I can't get enough of is the short, 352-yard, par-4 No. 13 (327 from the gold tees, 317 from the blue, 257 from the white and 264 from the green), which demands a pinpoint tee shot or else. Make a mistake left, and it's welcome to the wetlands. A wayward shot right, and you're in a fairway bunker. Execute a perfect drive, and it's birdie time.
After the round
The clubhouse -- a posh, Mediterranean style stucco design with a barrel tile roof -- is home to Fairways Pub, which has a great selection of beers, scotches, sandwiches and salads.
I suggest the Fairways Signature Sandwich, which is one of the best golf clubhouse sandwiches I've ever eaten during a long career of playing and writing about courses around the world. It's a wondrous combination of smoked strip loin, Muenster cheese, crispy onions, Chipotle mayonnaise and house-made kettle chips. Other favorites include the Bronzed Grouper Sandwich, Philly Burger and the Crab Cake Sliders with green tomato relish and citrus remoulade.
For gourmet dining, I recommend PRIMO at JW Marriott, a restaurant created by highly regarded chef Melissa Kelly that uses fresh ingredients from local farms and suppliers. A cursory glance at the enticing menu reveals sumptuous items such as House Made Garganelli all'Amatriciana Pasta and Pan Roasted Local Florida Snapper.
Ritz-Carlton Spa at Grande Lakes Orlando
Another desirable 19th hole at Grande Lakes is the Ritz-Carlton Spa, a pamper palace with 40 treatment rooms; 4,000-square-foot, outdoor, heated lap pool and healing waters; full-service salon; and spa café.
The spa offers dozens of body treatments, massages, facials and the like. My favorite is the 80-minute East Indian Lime Scalp and Body Massage, which will quickly erase any memories of double bogies, three putts and shanks on the golf course. The treatment features a special recipe of warmed lime-blossom ginger oil.
If you just want a luxurious place to relax and embrace your enviable surroundings, the Lobby Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, elegantly appointed with plush furnishings, is a great place to enjoy a cool libation with views of the gardens, lakes and golf course.
No matter where you venture on the property, rest assured, you'll be engulfed by quality and luxury.