Orlando’s Wild Side
When you think Orlando, you probably picture its iconic theme parks, but there’s more to the area than Disney. We packed our days with outdoor adventures, relaxing excursions and exquisite meals.
Set on 500 acres of natural beauty, the Ritz Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes offers kayaking and customizable eco-tours of Shingle Creek, the Headwaters and the Florida Everglades. We enjoyed a kayaking trip with an impressive guide through miles of canals that feed into the Everglades. We were also impressed with the resort’s extensive children’s program. It offers a wide variety of chaperoned activities and babysitting services that allow parents time to unwind—alone.
Not to be missed is the restaurant Highball and Harvest. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that one of our favorite chefs, Nathan Hardin, was the mastermind behind the spectacular Southern-inspired cuisine. He was previously the executive sous chef at Yardbird Southern Table and Bar in Miami, and we’re ardent admirers of his work. After an evening filled with delicious comfort foods and dazzling cocktails, we left looking forward to our next visit.
Our last few days were booked solid with adventurous excursions. First we parasailed at Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre, which proved a surprisingly peaceful experience, once you got over the initial adrenaline rush. We glided over the pristine lake and took in the amazing views of Orlando, feeling serene as well as invigorated.
We took a relaxing boat tour before arriving at Discover Cove, where we enjoyed a VIP bottlenose dolphin experience. We were quickly escorted to a private cabana, equipped with welcome bags, robes, towels, even a mini bar—everything you need for a successful dolphin encounter. We suited up, jumped in and got up close and personal with the adorable creatures. It was both exhilarating and calming to touch their soft, rubbery skin. After they warmed up to our presence, we were able to snap some remarkable photos and even steal a few kisses. Our faces actually hurt from smiling. We left the water delighted and inspired. We were also impressed with how well cared-for and genuinely happy the animals were.
We had some free time after the dolphin swim, so some of us took to the Cove’s Grand Reef, a large, open space where you can snorkel with fish, stingrays, seahorses and coral. Others opted to relax on the lazy river, which winds its way under an impressive waterfall before opening into a lovely aviary where you can swim or lie out in the sun while you take in the colorful birds.
After all of this activity you might want to, as we did, enjoy a trigger point therapy massage at the resort before dining at Capa, a Spanish-influenced steakhouse.
Just in case we hadn’t had enough excitement, we squeezed in a hot air balloon ride before our flights home. We arrived at the field early enough to see the sunrise and excitedly boarded one of North America’s largest hot air balloon. Much like parasailing, the experience is quieter and more serene than you might expect. We soared for 45 minutes, enjoying the one-of-a-kind views. When we landed, we shared a quick champagne toast and reflected on how Orlando had truly surpassed our expectations.
Whether you’re traveling alone, with friends, your partner or your family, the city offers a unique and customizable travel experience that can be geared towards refined relaxation, outdoor adventure or just plain fun.
Looking to plan an unforgettable travel experience? Contact The Accomplished Traveler today at 212.586.2020.
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