This resort is oversized to make the most of large-scale business events and family fun in the sun
WHERE IS IT? About 30 minutes from Orlando International Airport, this resort sprawls in a garden-like setting. It’s an easy drive to popular shops and restaurants, and those with a car can easily get to the many Disney and Universal parks in a jiffy. Shuttles also leave from the hotel to take guests to the parks.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? Gaylord, part of the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, is a small brand with massive hotels keen to target the meetings and conventions market. It does it well with plenty of restaurants, huge atriums with fountains and greenery, and year-round family programming. It’s the kind of place you want to bring your spouse and kids, even when traveling for work. Cleverly, the brand fills the gaps between large group events with holiday programming and resort-like amenities. Its water park, for example, is a huge draw.
Guests arrive at Gaylord Palms (which turns 20 this year), to find a spacious reception area, but are quickly drawn into the atrium where the sound of waterfalls, swaying palms and greenery, and the sun fill the space. The resort is divided into distinct areas, each named after a region of Florida, such as Key West or the Gulf Coast. The theme changes as you move through each space. St. Augustine, in particular, has an old-fashioned fort and historic feel. Everything is very well designed and helps customers to know more about the condition.
Animal encounters are notable throughout the atrium, including baby alligators, turtles, and even resident snakes that delight kids and adults alike.
The most recent expansion, the largest in its history, totaled $158 million and added 306 rooms and more event space, giving the property 500,000 square feet for meetings and conventions.
ROOM FACILITIES The more than 1,700 rooms and suites have a modern appeal, especially the newer rooms in the Gulf Coast Wing, popular with business travelers. Most have large desks with leather wheelchairs, armchairs with ottomans, plush beds with duvets, and cabinets with coffeemakers and fridges. The new Gulf Coast rooms are brighter with smaller desks. They replace the chest of drawers with a leather bench with under-seat storage, giving guests a more practical use of space. Attention to detail is top-notch, including full-length mirrors, and in Gulf Coast rooms, taller hanging racks to accommodate long dresses (common for the many gala events held here).
Bathroom vanities stock the hotel’s spa-brand toiletries, and glass shower stalls feature excellent pressure and eco-friendly pump-bottle toiletries.
Rooms facing the interior atrium are particularly popular and have furnished balconies, but many guests prefer rooms facing the water park for the most entertainment. Suites add living space, and some have dining or meeting tables.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS Gaylord properties have multiple dining and bar options, which is important for so many rooms. Each Gaylord has an Old Hickory Steakhouse, an upscale dinner-only restaurant serving fine cuts of meat and locally caught seafood. At Gaylord Palms, guests can enjoy a drink in the lobby bar or at Wreckers Sports Bar where casual fare is also offered while tuning in to huge screens showing the latest games and matches. Emerald Bay Marketplace offers all-day dining and snacks, while a coffee bar sells specialty beers, light snacks, and pastries. Moor is the regional restaurant located in an old sailboat suspended above an indoor pond filled with fish. The menu includes many local dishes thanks to the chef who has partnerships with local fishmongers and farmers to source fresh produce daily.
Socio is Cuba’s place serving craft cocktails and tapas-style snacks. You can also order delicious snacks and drinks by the many pools or choose from all kinds of freshly prepared dishes at Villa de Flora, the hotel’s buffet in the atrium. Cooked-to-order pasta and a carving station seal the deal for those who like variety. Families love stopping in to buy frozen yogurt from a separate store located in the atrium.
LEISURE FACILITIES This is where the resort really earns its acclaim with young travellers. Its Cypress Springs water park is one of the largest in the area and features slides (large and small), waterfalls, an action river that propels guests along a lazy river-style pool, a playground children’s playground, a family pool and a Flow Rider wave machine for anyone who wants to try surfing. There’s even an escape room experience if you want to test your problem-solving prowess.
A 24-hour fitness center has modern equipment, and the Relache Spa offers all kinds of treatments in the form of massages and beauty treatments. Family activities include scavenger hunts, crafts, fish and alligator meals, and seasonal activations for holidays like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. The atrium’s suspended light curtain offers entertaining themed light shows.
BUSINESS AND MEETING PREMISES The expansive convention center and meeting rooms attract large and small groups. Social functions like weddings love the resort because it caters to all ages, too, and the outdoor lawns are perfect for receptions (or yoga and meditation classes). Meeting venues vary in size, from huge ballrooms with all the high-tech bells and whistles to boardrooms and breakout rooms. Wireless internet works well everywhere, including by the pool and in the atrium.
VERDICT Gaylord Palms caters perfectly to the needs of group events, but it also doubles as a resort destination for couples and families looking for an enjoyable vacation.
PROPERTY HIGHLIGHTS Newly expanded convention halls, more rooms, and one of the area’s best water parks for families
HOW MANY ROOMS? More than 1,700 rooms and suites
CONTACT Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, 6000 West Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee, FL 34746, tel. 407-586-0000, marriott.com
Photo credit: Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center