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The Best Orlando Has to Offer

By Cara Goldsbury

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 best offerings:

Best Deluxe Resort

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 resort.

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 Cinderella’s Castle
  • 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
  • The JW Marriott’s Lazy River, 24,000 square feet of winding delight
  • Best Home-Away-From-Home Property

    The 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. But look for the new Animal Kingdom Villas, now under construction, to boot both of these off the list.

    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 Italian village.

    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 Nature-Lovers

    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 Lake.

    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. NOTE: If you’re only coming for drinks it can be difficult to get a seat around fireworks time. You’ll need to check in first at the second-floor podium.
    • 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.
    • Normans Salon. This sophisticated cocktail lounge is nested within Normans restaurant at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton.
    • Territory Lounge, a rustic retreat in Disney's Wilderness Lodge.
    • Bluezoo’s 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.

    Best Italian

    Il Mulino at the Walt Disney World Swan, with amazing tuna carpaccio and perfect gnocchi bolognese, or Bice at Portofino Bay Hotel for rich braised veal shank accompanied by creamy saffron risotto.

    Best Seafood

    Flying Fish at Disney’s Boardwalk for sautéed grouper sitting atop a fricasseee of white beans, chorizo, arugula, confit piquillo pepper, and sauce beurre blanc, or 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.

    Best Steaks

    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.

    Best Restaurant For Romance

    Victoria and Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian, where you’ll savor a sumptuous six-course meal served on elegant fine china to the accompaniment of enchanting harp music. Or Normans at the Ritz-Carlton for fine dining in plush surroundings all enveloped in the grandeur of an amazing resort.

    Best Restaurant For Kids

    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.

    Best Character Meal

    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 beauty.

    Best Disney View

    California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, with its picture-perfect views of the Magic Kingdom, the Seven Seas Lagoon, and the Wishes fireworks presentation.

    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).

    Best Universal Resort Restaurant

    Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort for wonderful Asian and Polynesian-influenced cuisine in a stunning setting, or Bice at Portofino Bay Hotel, where superb Northern Italian food is served in a sophisticated dining room.

    Best Downtown Disney Restaurant

    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 great Wienerschnitzel.

    Best Epcot Illuminations View

    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.

    Best Milkshake

    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 steel shaker.

    Best Pizza

    You can’t beat the pizzas at Downtown Disney’s Wolfgang Puck Café (choose the house-made fennel sausage pizza), the Pizza Bianca at Tony’s Town Square at the Magic Kingdom, or Mama Melrose’s at Disney-MGM Studios (don’t miss the grilled chicken pizza with sun-dried tomato pesto, pancetta, and Asiago cheese).

    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

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