Overview: A luxurious Disney-adjacent property that delivers a proper Four Seasons experience
Strengths: Service, outdoor water activities, kids’ program, rooms
Drawbacks: Location and resulting transit burden, not considered “on property” at Disney, no rollaway beds, fairly low cap on FSPP/Virtuoso upgrade categories
I was more than a bit apprehensive of how our stay would pan out. Offering the Four Seasons experience on a 400+ key basis – with a heavy load of children and the “special” demands that family travelers bring – definitely seemed like it would be tough. In addition, this is Disney, where essentially all the hotels are weak. Thankfully, without reservation, I can say that this property delivers a proper Four Seasons experience.
While I don’t expect we will return to Disney any time soon (ever?), if I were to return, I would definitely seek this property as my residence. That said, there are a number of important things regarding a stay that I would do differently next time; they are enumerated below. It is my hope that the information proves valuable to you as you consider a stay.
We booked transportation from the airport through the hotel’s concierge. Though our flight was delayed, our driver was waiting with a sign at baggage claim. He assisted with the bags and escorted us to his SUV, which was a sub-5 minute walk from the terminal.
Upon arrival at the hotel, we were greeted curb-side by name by someone from guest services. He paid special attention to our children, greeting them both by their first names. This provided a warm welcome. Our guest services rep escorted us to the front desk (where someone else checked us in) and then ultimately on to our suite. In hindsight, why we even needed to stop at the desk wasn’t entirely clear and it would seem the guest services rep could have looked after in-suite check-in for us very easily. Our bags were handled by the bellmen and arrived in our room a few minutes after we did.
We stayed in a Park View Suite. The suite itself was well appointed and, with 825 square feet, included two full baths. Our room included a pull-out sofa bed and with one notable exception, it was clear the hotel was well designed for family stays. The mini-bar was emptied before our arrival (even though we didn’t ask) and the lamps and fixtures were clearly designed to be able to survive the risks inherent with having many, many young guests.
The two full baths were well appointed.
The one exception towards being family-ready was that the hotel does not offer rollaway beds. In candor, I did not attempt to confirm availability until several days prior to arrival, but I cannot recall a Four Seasons anywhere that had a property-wide prohibition on rollaway beds. When I was told that the property did not offer rollaways, they were kind enough to offer for me to rent a second room. That was a bit of a cheeky response on the hotel’s part, in my view. I had already committed a sizable sum for the suite and wasn’t looking to increase the bill by another 25% for an additional room.
Our children are both “active” sleepers and there was no way it was going to work with both in the same bed. Instead, we ordered an extra duvet and pillow and ended up making a make-shift bed on the floor. This worked fine for our children – in fact there was competition to see who got the special floor bed – but might not for yours.
With the number of family parties visiting the hotel, I can see how the rollaway demand could be significant and almost unmanageable for the hotel. If availability was limited to suites, that would strike me as a reasonable solution.
The lobby and public areas of the hotel were well appointed. There were two retail stores on the main level, along with interesting works of art.
The hotel offers an excellent array of outdoor and kids’ activities. With one caveat (see item #4 below), the offerings were excellent. There were both a Kids For All Seasons room and a Teen Club room. Beyond the main family pool (which had a small water slide), there was a separate large (enclosed tube) water slide and a large, separate splash-pool complex. There was a very well designed lazy river and Teen Club area also had its own small pool. The teen club also had an outdoor basketball court and other outdoor activity areas.
Separate from all of this was a quiet, adults-only pool area.
The hotel offers a number of dining options, each of which we were generally pleased with.
Ravello: This is the casual dining option at the hotel and is open for all three meals, though closed between meal times. It is located one level down from reception on the rear-side ground floor. The service was remarkably good here and the food was acceptable to good.
We tried a variety of dishes from traditional main courses to pizzas and pastas and were reasonably pleased. Nothing was over the top, but nothing we tried was bad. The food on the breakfast buffets was generally not as warm as we’d like. At first I chalked that up to being child-friendly, but then I noticed that there was a separate lower hot buffet for children. So, perhaps one thing the restaurant could do would be to turn up the heating in the adult section of the breakfast buffet.
The children’s lunch/dinner menu offered six or seven choices as well. The wait staff worked with children very well and accommodated their requests. (Being able to work in a family dining setting is an absolute requisite to work here.)
The principal drawback to the restaurant was the noise level. The restaurant has no soft surfaces and the noise level when full (pretty much every meal) was pretty high; even my children mentioned the noise a few times! With pretty much every table having children, it was a bit chaotic at times.
The wine list was extensive and not exorbitantly priced.
There were some issues with seating at breakfast, described more fully below, but otherwise we found ourselves pleased with Ravello.
Capa: This is a roof-top steakhouse. We were very pleased with our one meal here. The menu was an unusual combination of tapas and steaks, but everything we tried was very good. We enjoyed a “Luger-style” porterhouse for two which was prepared exactly to order. Our meal was certainly priced at New York levels at $450 (two adults and two kids, including a $100 bottle of wine and round of cocktails), but in addition to the price, we found the food and presentation to be of the quality we’d find at home in New York. If I were in Orlando and not staying at this property, I’d probably still seek to return here for a meal.
Capa also had a bar and lounge area and a large outdoor balcony. Beware, however, even the lounge had plenty of strollers in it.
PB&G: This was an open-air, covered dining option near the pools. The restaurant is detached from the main hotel building. We found the food to be far better than typical pool-side fare. They are only open through about 6pm, so dinner wasn’t an option. We talked about returning but were only at the property for lunch on the day of arrival.
Lickety Split: The hotel also had a coffee shop and ice cream shop, just off the side of the lobby. This was a very nice idea and got a lot of use. The coffee was very good and their gelatos were both tasty for the kids yet sophisticated enough to intrigue adult palates.
Oddly, however, Lickety Split closed at 5pm each day. Every single day, I saw guests walking up to the door between 5pm and 7pm, only to leave disappointed upon finding the venue closed. To make matters worse, in many cases these groups included kids, clearly who were promised ice cream by mom and dad. While I’m sure many of those promises were subsequently fulfilled by room service, I can’t see why in the world this venue is not open until 7pm or later. If I were the food and beverage manager, I’d keep this venue open till 11pm for a while and then shorten the hours once you see what time demand actually drops off.
Plancha: At the golf club house guests could find a restaurant with a Cuban menu. Unfortunately, it too was a lunch-only venue. Despite our love of Cuban food, we did not make it to this venue.
There were several fairly meaningful things I wish I knew before booking at this property:
- Don’t waste money on a “Park View” room/suite. The only incremental thing you can see is the Disney firework display, and then only at 10pm. Further, the fireworks are several miles away, so while your view is not obstructed, you won’t actually be close to the fireworks. I regret selecting a Park View Suite.A better plan would have been to book a lower suite category (still same size) and then book a table at Capa (steak house on the top floor) for a little bit late and watch the fireworks with a nightcap on their large, roof-top balcony one night. Considering the incremental cost for a park view suite, you could be drinking D’Yquem while you watch at Capa, and still have money left over!Unless you’re interested in a Presidential Suite, the Golden Oak View Suite appears to be the optimal suite category. The upcharge to a Park View Suite versus a Golden Oak View Suite (same exact square footage) was $400 per night; unless you are an absolute firework nut, in hindsight, the upcharge was simply not worth it for a distant view of fireworks. There is an intermediate category of suite – a Lake View Deluxe Suite – which is slightly larger than the two aforementioned suite categories. The Lake View Deluxe suite includes a dining table, which the other rooms do not, though the cost is $300 per night higher than the Golden Oak View Suite. That is also a pretty steep daily difference simply to have a small dining table.
- Don’t plan to rely on the shuttle. The shuttle is nicely appointed, but runs infrequently and takes a long time to get to several of the parks due to the order of and number of stops. We took the shuttle some mornings, but in general, ended up using taxis or pre-arranged chauffeured hotel cars to come back each afternoon and even used them in lieu of the shuttle some mornings. While no one likes to waste money, if you can cut your travel time down by 20+ minutes each way for $15 to $20 each way (same price for taxi or chauffeured car), considering you are spending thousands on your visit, it is worth it.The shuttle service consisted of two full size coaches that ran various loops every 30 minutes (each loop took just less than an hour). Even during President’s week, the shuttles we rode were never more than 25% full. Guests would be better served if four smaller shuttles were run with frequencies every 15 minutes.The shuttle bus, the chauffeured hotel cars and essentially all on-property taxis were from Mears Transportation. They have a phone app that you can download which I understand can be used to summon transportation. Though I didn’t use the app, if I were to visit again, I would download it before I even arrived.The wait on your return if you were a few minutes late due to some other Disney transportation snafu was really defeating, particularly after a long day at the parks. While my kids handled the waits well (we eventually phased them out as we shifted to taxis), nothing about waiting 25 minutes in a large parking lot for a bus says “Four Seasons experience.”
- You need to make reservations for breakfast. It appears that several days a week they host character breakfasts in the main dining room (Ravello). While a lovely idea, the result is that the restaurant is fully committed and if you don’t have a booking, you get turned away, even as a house guest. When we were told about all of our FSPP benefits (free breakfast in the dining room), we were not told that bookings would be essential. We were never verbally told about the character breakfasts and the associated need to make bookings for breakfast and the need wasn’t mentioned on the FSPP overview sheet. As we were checking out, I noticed a suggestion to make breakfast reservations was included in the fine print (along with other advisories) on one of the several small cards in our key envelope. This is important and should be highlighted verbally to guests at check-in. It was frustrating to be turned away at breakfast, and their overflow solution was weak at best.To deal with the guests that were turned away, a make-shift overflow breakfast area was set up in the Ravello Lounge (upstairs from the main restaurant, on the lobby level). There was a very modest buffet offering a small subset of the main dining options and the staff members were clearly fumbling things. (This was the only meaningful service let down during our stay.) First they turn guests away and then relegate you to the one spot where service suffers?On two occasions during our one breakfast at the Ravello Lounge, we witnessed staff members openly bickering with each other on the floor of the lounge during breakfast. This was not acceptable. (In the evening, the lounge staff was very nice. It was a different crew than breakfast.) (Note that as of February 2015, the Ravello Lounge is referred to as the Lobby Bar on the hotel’s website.)
- Beware of the “Shiver River.” The hotel has a very nicely designed “lazy river.” The water runs at a good pace and there were plenty of twists and turns. Unlike the pool which was heated to a reasonable temperature (low-80s?), the river was much colder. I’d estimate the temperature in the mid-60s, and it was far colder than Long Island Sound that we swim in each summer. I mentioned the temperature to one of the pool staff members. The individual told me they all call it the “shiver river,” and while it is purportedly heated, it never gets that warm. While our kids did a few loops in the river, even they came out and said it was too cold, returning to the regular pool.Presumably in the summer the water would be warmer, and one’s willingness to suffer cold temperatures would be greater. Guests should consider the lazy river as not available in the winter months, though the main pool should be workable nearly year round.
- Disney Support. Though the property is not considered “on property” for many Disney-related matters, there is a full Disney ticket desk in the lobby of the property. They were able to issue our will-call tickets and provide some additional information for us regarding our activities at the parks. Since I understand the property to be sanctioned by Disney, it would be nice if the hotel was considered “on property” by Disney.
- Limited FSPP Upgrade Categories. This property had a fairly low limit on how far they would upgrade FSPP guests. I usually don’t play upgrade lottery and nearly always just book the room category that I want to be in. I do welcome, however, the potential for a further upgrade.Our Park View Suite was the fifth-from-top room category out of a total of eleven categories, so roughly in the middle. I looked online on the flight down and saw availability in each of the next two categories up. Alas, the property advised at check-in that they don’t even offer upgrades to my level, let alone up from it. While they’re free to set policies where they’d like, and I completely understand not upgrading to Presidential Suites, moving from a Park View Suite to a Park View Deluxe Suite (with still three more categories above it) doesn’t seem like a crazy proposition.I find these upgrade category limits have become more restrictive over the past two years and it lowers my view of the FSPP program.
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With the exception of being turned away at breakfast and the service at the Ravello Lounge for the overflow breakfast, we found each service interaction with the hotel to be of the highest standard. Each housekeeping request was executed on time and without need for follow up. The pool staff and restaurant waiters were all very friendly and attentive. If anything, they may be a little over-staffed, but that is far better than the alternative.
There was one engineering issue in our room. The wand/shower diverter in the second full bath did not move – and was stuck in the “wand” position. A call to engineering before we headed to dinner our first night had the problem resolved before we returned that evening.
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Overall, we were very pleased with our stay. This property definitely delivers on the Four Seasons experience that you want. When you stay at this property, you accept a moderate inconvenience actually getting to and from the parks, but for $40 or less a day, you can nearly solve that problem with private transportation. I would much rather stay at a true luxury property (such as this) and have to take a chauffeured car or taxi for a quick ride versus staying at an overpriced on-property hotel with very weak service and food – and then still have to deal with some degree of transportation.
Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World
Telephone: (407) 313-7777