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There's Plenty to Enjoy at Orlando's New Hotels, the
Area Now Has about 115,000 Hotel Rooms

By Marjie Lambert, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 23, 2010 --The Orlando area has about 115,000 hotel rooms, with about 25 hotels and motels opening in the last year. The new establishments range from one of the oldest luxury brands in the United States to a motel with its own water park to the newest Disney resort.

< style="font-weight: bold;">WALDORF ASTORIA AND HILTON ORLANDO BONNET CREEK

These adjoining hotels, which opened in October, have to be considered as a package. Owned by Hilton, they are connected by a conference center, and guests at one hotel can use facilities at the other.

The complex is on 482 acres and, although it is next to Walt Disney World, it seems far removed from the noise and bustle. A private nature preserve, pools and a par-72 Rees Jones-designed golf course help create a buffer.

The Waldorf Astoria -- the only one outside New York -- is a modern, relaxed version of the original in Manhattan but is just as luxurious. Yes, it has the iconic clock tower in the lobby, but it's an updated version. There's a Bull & Bear Steakhouse, but it doesn't have the stock ticker or the bull-and-bear statue that distinguish the original. "We want people to relax," said Florencia Aimo, the hotel's marketing manager.

In addition to the Bull & Bear, which is open only for dinner, the hotel has Oscar's, a brasserie open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Aquamarine, which serves light meals poolside. The Waldorf also has two lounges from the New York hotel: Peacock Alley, off the lobby, and the gentleman's club-styled Sir Harry's Lounge.

The hotel has 498 rooms, including 171 suites. Guest rooms have plush beds with high thread-count linens, flat-screen TVs and marble bathrooms. All suites have balconies.

The Waldorf Astoria has a Guerlain spa with 21 treatment rooms, fitness center, pool with private cabanas, and a kids' center with Wii and video games, bean bag chairs, board games and crafts.

Unlike the adjoining Hilton, the Waldorf Astoria has a lot of art on the walls of public corridors. And in a hall off the lobby is an homage to the original Waldorf Astoria: the first in-room dining menu and a collection of photos from the early days of the New York hotel, including Grace Kelly, Winston Churchill and the hotel's grand opening in 1931, attended by men in top hats and women in furs.

While most guests at the Waldorf Astoria are there for leisure, the balance tips the other way at the Hilton, where about-two thirds of the guests are booked with groups, usually for business travel. But this is Orlando, and people on business trips often bring their families.

The 1,001 room Hilton has no spa or kids' club, but guests can use the ones at the Waldorf Astoria. It does have a fitness center, a zero-entry pool, water slide and a lazy river.

The dinner house is La Luce, with chef Donna Scala serving Italian dishes. The restaurant is decorated with big hanging blackboards on which local artists have chalked scenes with an Italian flavor.

Other restaurants and bars: Harvest Bistro, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Muse, open all day for coffee and grab-and-go food; Beech, a poolside eatery; Sena Bar + Lounge with a small plate menu; and Zeta cocktail lounge, a sophisticated jazz venue.

Rooms have one king or two queen beds with a mini-fridge, coffee maker and flat-screen TV. Views are of the Disney parks, the nature preserve or the golf course.

Waldorf Astoria, 14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, 407-597-5500; www.waldorfastoriaorlando.com . Rooms from $199.

Hilton Bonnet Creek, 14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, 407-597-3600; www.hiltonbonnetcreek.com . Rooms from $129.

<>COCO KEY WATER RESORT

In a town built on the concept of entertaining children, the CoCo Key Water Resort is looking to join the game. The hotel opened in April with a water park that, although smaller than the big ones run by the theme parks, still could claim a share of the youth market.

CoCo Key was the first hotel on what would become International Drive. It opened in 1971 as a Hilton, then was a Ramada and other incarnations before it fell into disuse. After a top-to-bottom renovation, it reopened as the 10th hotel/water park combination in the CoCo Key group.

Although the story line is that CoCo Key is a fictitious island in the Florida Keys, this is the first in Florida, said Frank Fry, general manager. All the rest are in the Northeast or Midwest and are indoors.

The 54,000-square foot park, part of which is under canopy, includes an interactive play island and a pool with water slides. The hotel has an arcade/ game room, tiki bar, a birthday-party room, and -- well removed from the water slides and sprinklers -- a pool for adults.

"This is more than just slides and pools," Fry said. "We will be like Club Med for kids. There will be activities all day long.

"We have no intention to compete against the Wet 'n Wilds and the Aquaticas. We're here for the 5-year-old who's too young to go to Wet 'n Wild, the 2- to 12-year-olds."

The 391 guest rooms are decorated in blue and shades of orange and rust. They are not luxury rooms, but creative decor -- light fixtures, colorful striped rug, art frames on mirrors and whimsical beach-ball cushions -- gives them a more sophisticated but child-friendly look. Fry said the motel's designers looked at what other motels offered and copied the best -- a showerhead from this chain, a bed from that one.

CoCo Key Water Resort, 7400 International Dr., 877-875-4681; www.cocokeywaterresort.com . A $79 introductory rate for Florida residents and active and retired miliary ($89 for others) is available for mid-week night, through June 15. Rooms thereafter will be $99-$149. Rates do not include taxes or the $19 per night resort fee. Day rates for the water park are also available.

BAY LAKE TOWER

Disney's newest hotel is Bay Lake Tower, which opened in August and is adjacent to the Contemporary Resort. Bay Lake is actually part of the Disney Vacation Club, essentially time share units, but a good number of units can be rented as hotel rooms.

The 15-story deluxe condo has 147 studios, 147 one-bedroom units, 122 two-bedroom units and 14 grand villas. Studios, with 359 square feet, have kitchenettes with microwave, toaster, half-size refrigerator and free access to laundry facilities. The other apartments range from 803 to 2,044 square feet and have full kitchens and washer/ dryers. Guests can pre-order groceries at the Contemporary.

Bay Lake has a pool with children's play area, water slide, room service by the pool, and a bar with burgers and chicken. Except for a lounge on the top floor that is only open to owners, Bay Lake has no restaurants or bars; guests can walk across a bridge to the Contemporary Resort's restaurants. They can also catch the monorail or a boat to the theme parks from the Contemporary.

Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort, 4600 North World Dr., 407-939-7429; http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/bay-lake-tower-at-contemporary/ . Rooms from $385.

<>HOLIDAY INN AT DOWNTOWN DISNEY

This Holiday Inn -- in the Walt Disney World Resort but not a Disney lodging -- is notable because it was the last of the area's hotels to reopen after being damaged by the hurricanes of 2004.

The hotel, on Hotel Plaza Boulevard a short walk from Downtown Disney, reopened in February after a $35 million renovation. In its 14 stories are 323 rooms, a large pool and pool deck, fitness center, an attractive bar and a restaurant, Palm Breezes, with a more creative menu than one might expect.

Although kids eat free here, the Holiday Inn feels more like a comfortable business hotel than a family hotel, especially the rooms, which don't have the closet or bathroom counter space for more than two.

Holiday Inn at Downtown Disney, 1805 Hotel Plaza Blvd., 407- 828-8888; www.holidayinn.com . Rooms from $89.

HILTON ORLANDO

With 1,400 guestrooms and 175,000 square feet of meeting space, the Hilton Orlando at the Convention Center became one of the city's largest when it opened in September.

The hotel has a full-service spa and salon with 15 treatment rooms, a fitness center overlooking the pool, and business center.

The pool area is huge, with a kid-friendly main pool (slides, lazy river, water cannons) and a "quiet" pool with a hot tub. Both pools have cabanas, and there are two fire pits. The hotel also has tennis, volleyball, basketball and bocce courts; a nine-hole putting green; jogging trail and organized activities for kids.

The featured restaurant is Spencer's for Steak & Chops, with a la carte entrees $26-$45. Others are the more casual David's Club, a dinner house that opens for lunch on weekends and has billiards tables and TVs; The Bistro, open for breakfast and lunch; a pool bar and grill; the Marketplace for grab-and-go; and a huge lobby lounge with a piano and a limited food menu.

A standard double queen room has a mini-fridge, laptop safe, nesting table under the desk, nine-foot ceilings, flat-screen TV, coffee maker, tub and shower.

Hilton Orlando, 6001 Destination Pkwy., 407- 313-4300; www.TheHiltonOrlando.com. Rooms from $259.

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Miami Herald

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