Waldorf Astoria Orlando
A friend of mine has a joke that vacationing with one’s children should really be called a “trip.” I thought of this while pushing my three year-old son down the Lazy River pool in a tube while simultaneously sipping a mimosa at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. "Nope," I thought, gazing up at the palm trees and hot Florida sun: "This definitely is a vacation." This pleasant thought floated throughout my Friday to Sunday stay. We left half of our posh brood back home while just my son and I flew south like migrating birds. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Spring was taking its sweet-ass time arriving in the Northeast, and May is a great time to visit Orlando because the older kids are still in school. Thus, no lines at Disney!
Arriving at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando is a treat in and of itself, from the valet parking ($25 per day, with the option to self-park) to the decorated lobby. The valet option is worth the money, since three year-olds are not known for their patience walking to parking lots. The Waldorf and neighboring Hilton are sister hotels connected by a long hallway inside—perfect for running! You can also access both properties via a pretty path along the golf course. Another mode of transport is a free, four-person Surrey bike. My son loved riding in it, and I got a good upper thigh workout!
The lobby of the Waldorf is magical with twinkling lights strung from the ceiling and a huge clock tower in the center of the room with seating. Free champagne is passed around weekend afternoons on silver trays. Next to the front desk is a large “Tickets” sign for travelers looking to visit Disney which is located just minutes away from the property. The shuttle schedule is super-convenient: shuttle buses leave the hotel every half hour. If your kids enjoy the Mickey-adorned buses, the Orlando airport’s Disney Store sells mini, packaged versions.
Directly off the lobby is Peacock Alley, one of the property’s thirteen gastro options. The décor is so chic: a bright blue and green feather rug, plush couches and gold accents everywhere. Even lamp cords are hushed with silk overlay. It was late afternoon when we were there, and there was a healthy mix of golfers fresh off the course, women on retreats and families. I recommend trying their signature Peacock Egg cocktail that costs $20 and is made with a bright blue glowing egg paired with lavender tea, blue curaçao, fresh lemonade and Bombay Sapphire. It was delicious, and I still haven’t figured out what makes the egg glow so brightly! I could have spent all night eating and drinking there, but my pint-sized companion needed grub, so we walked through the lobby to the Hilton’s signature restaurant La Luce.
Luce proved the perfect mix of high-end décor paired with a killer view of the pool and waterslide, so while I perused the menu my son was glued to the window. The tables are covered in paper for crayon scribbling, and I was told by our waitress that the butterscotch pudding dessert has its own Facebook page. La Luce is run by famed Napa Valley chef and restaurateur Donna Scala. My son had a cheese pizza, and I ordered a slightly more adult dish of ricotta gnocchi that included wild mushrooms, artichokes, thyme and truffle pecorino. I am not ashamed to admit I licked the plate when no one was looking! Pasta dishes have a “pasta per bambini” portion, and the butterscotch pudding was indeed Facebook-worthy. I almost wished I could have taken it home on the airplane for my husband to try.
Now it was time to sleep. We got on the gold elevator to the top floor—number 15. My son was delighted by his Mickey Mouse doll upon entering our deluxe two queen bed-suite, and mama was delighted by the 448 square-feet of space, free wireless, high-definition 42-inch LCD TV, coffee maker, plush robe (with instructions on how to take one home), Italian marble bath with separate soaking tub and Ferragamo toiletries. Some of the rooms have balconies looking over the golf course that would be great fun for teenagers, but as the mom to an energetic pre-schooler I was thankful the hotel gave me a room without.
Saturday morning we ate breakfast at Oscar’s Brasserie which is free for children five and under and conveniently located on the same level as the outdoor pool. Many families were already in their bathing suits. We soon were happily stuffed from Oscar’s buffet that offers gluten-free pancake, muffin and cereal options. Oscar’s also makes its own granola paired with yogurt and honey served in cute little mason jars.
After breakfast, my friend Dana and her two children, ages three and six, met us at the pool. As a Waldorf guest, we were allowed to use the Hilton’s pool. This proved to be a real treat as they have a lazy river and waterslide! In need of a tube to float down the lazy river? A small pool-side store sells them starting at $6. The Waldorf’s recreation team offers daily poolside activities from 2-4:00pm that vary daily. There is a nominal fee of $5 for each activity. There is also a complimentary Scavenger Hunt for children of all ages at the pool Sunday through Thursdays at 3:00pm and Fridays and Saturdays at 6:00pm.
We reserved our own private cabana at the Waldorf, which was perfect at lunch time, as we ordered kid’s items including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese and chicken fingers right from our tent! Another option is Aquamarine, a poolside restaurant with a kid-friendly menu. There are activities stationed around the pool such as a giant chess board that kept the kids busy while the moms chatted and soaked up the sun.
Feel like spending the morning with your significant other sans-kids? The WA Kids Club offers several options. Day Escape is available daily from 10:30am–2:30pm for kids starting at age five. Program cost is $75 for one child and $25 per each additional child registered in the same or adjoining room. For pre-teens, there is Astoria After Dark part of the Waldorf Kids Club and offered Friday and Saturday evenings from 6-10:00pm. What to do while your little ones party in Kids Club? While there is always the pool, there is also an 18-hole Rees Jones-designed golf course. Private lessons are available from one of Golf Digest’s Top 50 Golf Instructors, Brian Mogg. If you’re in need of some relaxation, try the Waldorf Astoria Spa offering relaxing body treatments such as the Beauty Diamond Facial (100 Minutes, $350) or the Mommy-To-Be Bliss Package (3 hours, $393.) Overnight guests are welcome to use the spa’s tea lounge, even if they’re not receiving a treatment.
My weekend with my son at the Waldorf was a real “vacation,” definitely not just a trip. May and September are considered “deal season” in Florida. Rates at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando start at $239 for a deluxe double queen room. Check the website frequently for deals and specials!