“Is this the Empire State Building?”
My son rolled his eyes at the kid’s question, but honestly I couldn’t fault the disorientation. I did my own double take in the valet circle and again in the lobby. Where in the world were we?
“Let’s take the elevator to the top,” I suggested. My son was up for it the first time. A little less so the third. But that view definitely packs a wow factor.
“Hey, isn’t that our house?”
“No,” my son said. “We’re a thousand miles from home, Dad.”
Every big city in America seems to have that one building. (Think: Space Needle, Reunion Tower, Willis Tower, Fake Eiffel Tower). This has to be Orlando’s. In truth, it looks nothing like the Empire State Building. It’s huge, though, impressive, expansive and seemingly all glass. And that’s just the outside. The inside is equally massive, gallant, chic, and (again) seemingly all glass. This Marriott — the largest Marriott in the world — would stand out in Las Vegas. In fact, if this were only a hotel, it would still be exceptional. But it’s not. And business, family and golf travelers benefit greatly from everything else the property provides.
Okay, so it’s no secret that Marriott and golf go together like “ramma lamma lamma — whatever the rest of that old Grease lyric is.” It’s been proven on the biggest stage in Alabama (Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail) and on the grandest stage in Ponte Vedra Beach (TPC Sawgrass). The “1-2-punch factor” is no different here.
The Orlando World Center Marriott has a “friends with benefits” relationship with Hawk’s Landing Golf Club. No doubt they each could stand alone as singles, but coupled together they make some serious sparks fly. A Bob Cupp redesign of a wild Joe Lee layout, Hawk’s Landing is tight and tenacious with water in play on 15 holes. It has so much water on the back nine that I can’t be the only one who’s considered saving my good balls, using floaters instead, and just playing reverse golf — treating the fairways as hazards. Okay, maybe I am. But the course does bring to mind that old joke: If you want to hit a 7-iron as far as Tiger, just try to lay up short of a water hazard. Actually, that’s no joke. It’s fact. At least for me.
The 6,600-yard tips aren’t going to scare anyone away, and the 80 bunkers actually keep you out of water, so the course is manageable with a little conventional wisdom (proper club selection). No matter the end results, the onsite Bill Madonna Golf Academy can rebuild your confidence or solidify your swagger post-round. And the best part of it all … you don’t need to climb into your car or take a shuttle to get there. Walk out the door of the hotel and into the clubhouse. Game on!
Orlando World Center Marriott features another dynamic outdoor amenity in their Falls Pool Oasis — four indoor and outdoor pools, whirlpools, waterfalls, a variety of water slides and a zero-entry splash zone for the little ones.
There are water parks galore in Florida, so this one won’t astonish you, but it is sprawling and diverse in features, there are high-quality food options nearby (scattered throughout the property) and access is free to resort guests, so you could save a lot of money one day by just keeping the family here. Better yet, if Sleepy and Grumpy followed you home from the theme parks, their beds are mere footsteps from your pool. Win-win.
There appear to be five fantastic dining choices inside the palatial glass hotel walls and clubhouse confines. I can attest to three of them, but the kids’ demand for Pei Wei cost me a good parking spot and a shot at Siro Urban’s Italian Kitchen. Sigh. As a breakfast/brunch lover, Solaris was impressive. A little pricey for a family of six (or two for that matter) but the options were abundant and fresh. High quality. The Hawk’s Landing Steakhouse & Grille nailed the ribeye, asparagus and lobster mac & cheese, and my son’s affinity for wings was easily satisfied in the wildly entertaining sports bar, High Velocity.
Bottom line: You can stay, play, dine and unwind as formally or casually as you’d like.
After dinner I asked my son if we could ride the elevator to the top again. He said “no.”
“Please,” I asked. He shook his head. “You’re acting like a child, Dad.”
He was right. But Orlando seems to have that effect on many adults.
* * *
Where It’s At: 8701 World Center Drive in Orlando, Florida. Dangerously close to all the theme parks, just two miles to Walt Disney World (sort of).
Ideal Stay & Play: 3-5 nights. 18 holes of golf at Hawk’s Landing. 3-4 days exploring Universal, Disney and SeaWorld.
What It’s About: It’s a business retreat, huge but classy. As hotels go, it has to be in Marriott’s Top 5 Worldwide. It’s certainly their biggest.
Family Focus: The Water Park and non-stop food service are huge bonuses for kids and their shifting appetites.
Local Food & Drinks: (High End) Chef’s Table at the Edgewater; (Social) 4Rivers Smokehouse; (Casual) Yellow Dog Eats; and (Hot Spot) Graeme McDowell’s Nona Blue
Day GolfGetaway: Pretty much the only place I haven’t covered in Orlando that I love is Shingle Creek —nine miles northeast of the resort. It’s not really a getaway, but it’s a great place to spend the day away from the resort and the theme parks.
Eric N. Hart is the Family Travel Editor for Golf News Net and contributing golf journalist for several regional and national publications — experiencing the diverse amenities of the world, often with his wife and four children in tow. He has stayed at 120-plus resorts and played more than 400 courses while exploring 48 states and 35 countries worldwide. This story is part of his ongoing “Family Fun — Florida Golf Resorts” series. Follow Eric @MobileGolfer on Instagram and @TheMobileGolfer on Twitter. And check out his podcast episodes of “Talking Golf Getaways with Mitch Laurance & Darin Bunch” for more great family golf-travel destinations and vacation ideas.