So you’re headed
to Orlando... but where to start? You’ll find such a wealth of fantastic resorts
and restaurants it can be difficult to choose exactly what you wish to indulge in.
How best can you plan a visit in which each day comes with the finest this marvelous
vacation spot has to offer? In order to help you in making the overwhelming decisions
of where to stay and what places to dine, here are what I believe to be Orlando’s
On Disney property
it’s the Grand Floridian with its upscale Victorian atmosphere and lagoonside setting
facing the Magic Kingdom. Off-property, hands-down, it’s the Ritz Carlton Grande
Lakes where you may never even feel the need to leave the property. At Universal,
go for the Portofino Bay Hotel with its unsurpassed ambience of an Italian seaside
Best Resort Pool
! Disney's Yacht and Beach
Club’s Stormalong Bay, a 3-acre mini water park
! The Walt Disney World Swan
and Dolphin’s lush grotto-style lagoon pool
! The Volcano Pool at Disney's
Polynesian Resort with its luxuriant waterfall, smoking peak, and perfect view of
! The boulder-strewn wonderland
at Disney's Wilderness Lodge with its very own erupting geyser
! The lush fantasyland pool at
the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress cooled by twelve waterfalls
Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge with its Bay Lake frontage and national park
character or Disney's Beach Club Villas conveniently located next door to Epcot.
Best Resort Atmosphere
Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge where hundreds of animals roam the savanna and
the air is pulsating to the beat of African drums. Running a close second
is Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel where guests are transported to a romantic, seaside
Best Resort Lobby
How to choose? Three of Disney's resorts make the cut: the Wilderness Lodge, the
Grand Floridian, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge, all eye-popping in their grandeur.
Best Access To The Parks
The Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian with monorail access to the Magic
Kingdom, Epcot, and the Ticket and Transportation Center. At Universal, the
Hard Rock Hotel is just a 5-minute walk or boat ride away to Universal Studios,
Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk.
Best Resort For Romance
Disney's Polynesian Resort whose lush tiki torch-lit grounds and white-sand beaches
with views of Cinderella’s Castle are simply dreamy or Universal’s Portofino Bay
Hotel where an evening stroll along the bay with Italian arias playing in the distance
can’t be beat.
Best Resort For
Disney's Wilderness Lodge, a nature-lover’s dream of rushing waterfalls, spouting
geysers, and bubbly creeks, all surrounded by stately pine trees and beautiful Bay
Best Resort Lounges
! California Grill Lounge
found on the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort with unrivaled views of
the Magic Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon, great for cocktails, sushi, and a view
of the Wishes fireworks display.
! Disney's Grand Floridian's
lobby. Pick up a cocktail at Mizner’s, then head down to this magnificent oasis
to relax in the cushy seating while listening to the sounds of a big band orchestra
or live piano music.
! Tambu Lounge at Disney's Polynesian
Resort’s Great Ceremonial House. Sip on tropical drinks amid lush foliage and views
of the Seven Seas Lagoon.
! Territory Lounge, a rustic
retreat in Disney's Wilderness Lodge.
bar at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, the coolest place around.
! Velvet, the ultra-hip cocktail
lounge at Universal's Hard Rock Hotel.
! Bar America, Portofino Bay
Hotel’s sophisticated lounge overlooking the romantic piazza.
! Top of the Palace Lounge, a
sophisticated bar with the best views around high atop the Wyndham Palace Resort
near Downtown Disney.
Palio at the Walt Disney World Swan where the Tortellini con Aragosta topped with
enormous amounts of lobster is amazing, or Portobello Yacht Club at Downtown Disney
for a fantastic, thin-crusted pizza followed by the Rigatoni with Italian Sausage,
crimini mushrooms, plum tomatoes, black olives, and escarole.
Flying Fish at Disney's Boardwalk for Potato Wrapped Red Snapper with creamy
leek fondue and red wine reduction, or the newcomer on the block, Todd English’s
bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, where seafood is taken to new heights.
Off Disney property it’s got to be Roy’s on Sand Lake Road near Universal for Roy
Yamaguchi’s remarkable Hawaiian Fusion cuisine.
Shula's at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, a standout for sensational Angus beef
steaks cooked to perfection, or Vito’s Chop House on International Drive for the
filet mignon stuffed with gorgonzola.
Victoria and Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian, the only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant
in Central Florida. Here you’ll savor a sumptuous six-course meal served on elegant
fine china to the accompaniment of enchanting harp music. Or try Delfino Riviera
at Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel whose breeze-swept terrace overlooks the resort’s
picturesque bay and piazza. And I can’t forget Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton for
fine dining in plush surroundings all enveloped in the grandeur of an amazing resort.
Children love the Rainforest Café at the Animal Kingdom or Downtown Disney where
they’re bombarded with thunderstorms and noisy audio-animatronic wildlife. A close
runner up is Whispering Canyon Café at Disney's Wilderness Lodge; come prepared
for plenty of hoopin’ and hollerin’ and please, whatever you do, don’t ask for the
ketchup unless, that is, you like a lot of attention.
Cinderella's Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom, a chance to feast in a fairytale
castle with Cinderella, Jasmine, Aladdin, Belle, and Snow White. Or try the Crystal
Palace at the Magic Kingdom for a tasty, bountiful buffet hosted by Winnie the Pooh
and his friends.
Best Hip Atmosphere
Todd English’s bluezoo at the Dolphin, the coolest spot this side of South Beach,
or Tchoup Chop at Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort, a knock-em-dead, Asian-inspired
Best Disney View
Arthur’s 27 at the Wyndham Palace whose drop-dead setting is only topped by
its creative cuisine, or California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort with its
picture-perfect views of the Magic Kingdom, the Seven Seas Lagoon, and the Wishes
Best Disney Resort Restaurant
Tough call. My favorites are the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort (just
about anything on their exceptional menu is fantastic), Victoria and Albert’s at
the Grand Floridian (particularly the Chef’s Table where Chef Scott Hunnel oversees
an 11-course meal designed especially for you), and Todd English’s bluezoo at the
Dolphin (try the miso glazed Chilean sea bass with warm sesame spinach).
Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort. Wonderful Asian and Polynesian-influenced
cuisine in a stunning setting of bamboo, waterfalls, and a lotus-filled reflecting
pool. Share the Crunchy Shrimp with butter lettuce leaves and hot & sour chili glaze,
move on to the Firecracker Fresh Fish served with papaya-serrano salsa, Asian pesto
drizzle, and coconut-lemongrass sauce, and finish with a slice of Banana Cream Pie
topped with caramel sauce and chocolate shavings.
Wolfgang Puck’s Upstairs Dining Room for dishes like Szechuan marinated "Chinois"
lamb rack served with a spicy cilantro-mint sauce or the restaurant's exceptionally
Best Epcot Illuminations
Rose and Crown in World Showcase’s United Kingdom. Set your priority seating
for about one hour prior to show time and pray for a table with a good view.
Beaches and Cream at Disney's Beach Club Resort serves oh-so-delicious thick
shakes and malts in a frosty fountain glass with the extras on the side in the stainless
You can't beat the pizzas at Downtown Disney's Wolfgang Puck Cafe (choose the
BLTA with applewood-smoked bacon, mozzarella, roma and sun-dried tomatoes, avocado,
and chopped romaine), Downtown Disney's Portobello Yacht Club (thin-crusted and
smokey flavored), or Mama Melrose’s at Disney-MGM Studios (don't miss the grilled
chicken pizza with sun-dried tomato pesto, pancetta, and asiago cheese).
Spoodles at Disney's Boardwalk. I love the Egg Rotollo, scrambled eggs with
chorizo, onions, peppers, and cheddar cheese rolled in Lavosh (flatbread) and served
with breakfast potatoes and marinated tomatoes.
I could go on
and on but I’ll restrain myself and stop here. There’s a world of resorts and restaurants
just waiting to be explored. And you’ll never even have to leave Orlando to find
Cara Goldsbury is the author of The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World: How to
Get the Most Out of the Best Disney Has to Offer available at 800-247-6553, www.luxurydisneyguide.com,
Amazon.com, or your local bookstore. Visit her at