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By Eileen Ogintz
Orla Duffy brought her three daughters to Orlando for a "girls' weekend" but they weren't planning to ride a single roller coaster, or even set foot in a theme park.
"We're here to shop," the Jacksonville, Fla., mom declared. A little pampering was on the agenda, too. After mom and daughters, who range in age from seven to 14, finished their complimentary hot chocolate and cookies at the Ritz Carlton's Club Level lounge, they headed to the resort's luxurious spa for mother-daughter mani-pedis. (Kids as young as two can get a Princess Fizzing Manicure.) The lounge with its complementary eats and media room, complete with popcorn machine, is such a hit with families that club level rooms sell out first, even though they are the priciest.
"This hotel has a really good atmosphere," says 14-year-old Rachel Duffy. "And everyone is really nice," adds her 13-year-old sister, Sarah, who wasn't sorry to be skipping Orlando's theme parks -- not when there are 12 shopping malls and outlet centers big enough to fill 900 football fields (www.visitorlando.com).
As Orlando gears up for the much-anticipated opening in June of Universal's "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" -- 20 acres within Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventures (http://www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/) -- keep in mind there are plenty of options to stay -- some 115,000 hotel rooms, including more than two-dozen new hotels, including the brand-new
Even families who hit the parks can easily escape in the evening to upscale digs that welcome kids and won't bust the budget. "I can only take six hours of
On a recent rainy morning, she and the girls were playing in the Waldorf's kids club, which I found very oddly placed inside the hotel's fitness center, though Lammersen didn't seem to mind. "I'd stay here again," she said. An Atlanta mom, Tan Marks, emailed me that her 6-year-old has been angling for a return visit since they stayed late last year. Another plus: The Waldorf, which has a spa and golf course is connected to the new Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek (http://www.hiltonbonnetcreek.com) with its lazy river pool that's guaranteed to be a hit with young hotel guests. (A tip: rooms at the adjacent Hilton are $75 to $100 a night less.)
Come summer, rates at even the most deluxe hotels outside the parks drop so that your family can put on the Ritz -- literally -- at a price you can afford. (Summer packages at the Ritz and the adjacent JW Marriott, http://www.grandelakes.com/, offer rooms for under $200 a night.) If your kids love SeaWorld, there's the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld (www.renaissanceseaworldorlando.com) complete with wizard hats for the kids, spa discounts for the parents and free food all day for the kids -- all this for just $149 a night.
The tony Waldorf Astoria Orlando is touting a "Spring into Summer" deal starting at $199, including a free night, as well as a Wandering Wizard deal also available at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet (www.hilton.com) next door, which includes breakfast and a magic wand and starts at just $134 a night at the Hilton. (A Tip: Become fans of these resorts on Twitter and
Avoid the lines at the Wizarding World and opt for one of Universal Orlando's three four-star
Let's not forget new choices from The Mouse.
Some of these units sleep nine comfortably and have three bathrooms, and, while not cheap, they are certainly a better deal than two or three hotel rooms, especially when you figure in the meals you won't have to eat out -- always a trial anyway with young, tired kids.
But then there's the Grand, as they call
Alice in Wonderland skips through the lobby while kids perch on pint-sized chairs to watch cartoons.
If you prefer not to run into Alice, the Ritz Carlton -- connected to the JW Marriott with its gigantic lazy river pool (www.grandlakesorlando.com) -- has got it all for luxury-minded families, from the golf course (kids play free) to the 40,000-square-foot spa. (Ready for an Eco-Roof Hammock experience or an Ashiatsu massage where therapists use their feet?) If that's not your thing, you can take the kids and kayak or canoe through the headwaters of the Everglades (at Shingle Creek), try your hand at a ropes course (there is a junior course, too) or grab some adult time while the kids are happily entertained at the huge
Even locals love to check-in. "The employees make it feel like a second home for me and my children," said single dad Ernest Provetti, who just visited for Easter with his three kids.
And in the end, that's what matters most. Next trip, look for me on the eco-roof.
© Eileen Ogintz
Travel | Taking the Kids Putting on the Ritz in Orlando