Today I’m pleased to share a guest post from good friend and fellow lover of all things Disney, Brandon Owen. Brandon has spent decades visiting Disney Parks around the world, amassing a treasure trove of great tips and tricks along the way. That’s just one reason of many why I’m thrilled he agreed to share his own unique experiences at the Four Seasons Orlando, a resort that I also dearly love. To learn more about Brandon as well as follow his own travels around the world, please be sure to follow him on Instagram and also check out the interview I conducted with him all about Shanghai on this episode of the Explore the World Travel Podcast.
Looking down at my clothes and back up at the luxurious entrance to the Four Seasons Orlando, I began to wonder if I should have dressed up for my arrival. It was my first time at the resort, although I’d been quietly stalking it online since it opened in 2014, so I thought I knew what to expect. Of course no amount of Instagram images could have prepared me for what was a day in Orlando that I know I’ll never forget.
No, I wasn’t dressed to the nines, or even in a tragically hip pair of designer jeans. Instead, I was comfortably decked out as I would be anywhere else; in a decades old pair of Levi’s, and a (not so new) pair of New Balance sneakers. If you looked closely, you’d even see a few drops from the previous evening’s festivities at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival haphazardly dribbled on them. To my great surprise, and ultimate pleasure though, I wasn’t out of place. I wasn’t made to feel less or not adequate; far from it. I was about to be welcomed into a luxuriously appointed, but incredibly homey resort experience.
Some would call me an expert on all things Disney, although I don’t personally consider myself to be a pro when it comes to the Most Magical Place on Earth. Instead, decades of both intense interest and lots of personal experience have given me a certain insight into the Disney Parks that I admit, isn’t normal. This love of the Mouse though also means that I have mentally filed away any number of facts, including a press release I happened to read about the Golden Oak development – the ultra-luxury neighborhood that the Four Seasons calls home. Also included in that press release were some fairly high dollar figures that, I thought, put any experience in this ritzy part of Orlando out of reach for me; until it wasn’t.
Central Florida has changed in any number of ways in recent years and if you haven’t visited lately, you will be surprised by what you find. Sure, those kitschy (but incredibly fun) Disney themed hotels are still there, as are roadside motels in Kissimmee. The options in and around Orlando though are so much more expansive than they were only a few years ago. Central Florida has begun to shed its bargain basement vacation image in favor of a world-class destination that boasts every sort of accommodation. These include The Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf-Astoria, and yes, even the Four Seasons.
I’m not the first person to fall in love with the accepting atmosphere of the Disney Parks, but even I was a little surprised to see that this inclusivity extends past the main gates to the on-site hotels, including the Four Seasons Orlando. A self-described hillbilly, my first thought wasn’t that I was out of place, but how welcoming everything felt. From the valet to the front of house staff and beyond, I was met only with broad smiles and incredible hospitality during my far too short stay at the resort. Ultimately, it’s that kindness and hospitality that defines any luxury travel experience and is a skillset that the staff at the Four Seasons Orlando have clearly mastered.
That welcoming feeling extends well beyond the front desk, most notably to the 443 well-appointed rooms throughout the 17-story resort. I physically let out a sigh of relief as I walked into my room, inspecting the many elements that separate it from almost every other property on-site at Walt Disney World. Gone were my concerns from the real world – I had once again plunged into the wonderful alternate reality that is Disney, but without ever walking into a theme park.
What truly won me over though was the five-acre relaxation masterpiece – Explorer Island. This jewel of the resort features any number of ways to decompress and enjoy your time on the property, but for me the highlight was the lazy river. To be clear, this is not some half-baked effort that was added on a whim to a 1970s-era Daytona beachfront hotel. No, this is something so special and so unique, that I would stay again for the sole purpose of enjoying this water-themed extravaganza. So much more than a few pools and a lazy river though, Explorer Island features an attention to detail that, well, is very Disney-like. With landscaping that would make the gardeners at Versailles blush with embarrassment, everything is assembled to maximize the resort’s natural beauty.
I normally wouldn’t consider myself a luxury traveler, well, not exclusively. Instead I just like to explore and enjoy the world, which sometimes means a hammock on a deserted Caribbean island, but other times it means a retreat like the Four Seasons Orlando. My brief experience enjoying as much as I could at this unforgettable property wasn’t just a weekend I know I’ll always remember, but it has well and truly convinced me that yes, sometimes where you stay can honestly transform a trip from the average to the extraordinary in a proverbial blink of an eye.