Where to Spend The Big Bucks
Sometimes you just want to be treated like Cinderella and stay in a hotel where the rooms are opulent, the service is doting and the rates are, well, more than a pauper could pay. Here are some big splurges in Orlando (with prices listed for early December):
• Though all three Universal Orlando properties are part of the theme park and near the hopping CityWalk area, the similarities end there. Portofino has an Italian theme, with 750 rooms, three pools, eateries such as Bice and a full spa. At the 650-room Hard Rock Hotel, guests can be as spoiled as a rock star. There's a pool with a sandy beach and underwater stereo; themed cabanas like the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine"; and restaurants and lounges, including the memorabilia- splattered Kitchen, the Palm Restaurant for steak and lobster and the Velvet Bar. Apropos its theme, the Graceland Suite has a bed and bath big enough to fit the Fat Elvis. The 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort has an orchid garden, lagoon pool and Emeril cuisine with a South Pacific touch. Rooms have an exotic flair, including bamboo furnishings and tropical-flavored linens. Portofino is the priciest and Royal Pacific is the most economical. Prices for standard doubles and suites run $189 to $1,650 (Royal Pacific), $219 to $1,750 (Hard Rock) and $249 to $2,200 (Portofino). Info: 888-273-1311, www.universalorlando.com.
• Twice daily since 1986, a "Duck Master" has led five mallards through the Peabody to the tune of the "King Cotton March." Quirky traditions such as this join global cuisine (at Dux), 1950s nostalgia (B-Line Diner) and afternoon tea in the airy Atrium Lobby at this 891-room luxury hotel. The athletic club has a roof-top lap pool and several tennis courts. Standard doubles and suites are $250 to $775. Info: 9801 International Dr., 800- 732-2639, www.peabodyorlando.com.
• The Gaylord Palms (sister property of Nashville's Opryland) aims to re-create various aspects of the "Florida experience" with themed sections under its 4 1/2-acre dome. The resort has 1,406 rooms, gators, three restaurants and, opening later this month through Jan. 2, a winter wonderland made of 2 million pounds of ice. The property includes a Canyon Ranch spa and convention center, about five minutes from Disney. Standard doubles and suites are $186 to $450. Info: 6000 W. Osceola Pkwy, 407-586-2000, www.gaylordpalms.com.
• Opened last summer, the 584-room Ritz-Carlton mixes Italian design with Orlando staples. Guests pass through an imposing Mediterranean lobby with a fountain to reach the 18-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course. Or they can relax in their rooms with hand-painted Italian furniture and marble bathrooms. Dining choices include Norman's, which serves Latin American-Caribbean- European fare, and the wine-themed Vineyard Grill for steak and seafood. Those bored with the spa, pools, golf course and fitness center can take an evening horse-drawn carriage ride around Grande Lakes. Rates are $279 to $4,000. Info: 4012 Central Florida Pkwy., 407-206-2400, www.ritzcarlton.com.
• The Villas of Grand Cypress has an on-site Academy of Golf, Racquet Club, Equestrian Center and Lake Windsong, which offers sailing, fishing, kayaking, hydro-biking and beach volleyball. The hotel includes 146 guest rooms, ranging from the Club Suite Villa (akin to a junior suite) to a four-bedroom villa with a sunken Roman tub. (Its sister property is the nearby Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.) The seven restaurants include the fancy Black Swan, and there's in-room spa service. Rates are $300 to $1,560. Info: One N. Jacaranda, 877-330-7377, www.grandcypress.com.
• The new Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate is being touted as a premier golfing destination -- it has two Greg Norman courses and is headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. But the 730-room hotel also includes an 850-foot lazy river and water tower; health club and spa; and tennis and other sporty endeavors -- surrounded by green golf courses and wetlands. Dining spans the globe and budget: sushi, Mediterranean, casual grill, deli. Room choices range from doubles and king rooms with ottomans to suites. For uber-exercisers, the Get Fit rooms include a treadmill and healthy snacks. A special rate of $146 per night is good through Jan. 16, for a minimum of three nights; nightly rates start at $199 through mid-January. Info: 1500 Masters Blvd., 407-390-6664, www.omniorlandoresort.com.
-- Anne McDonough
and Andrea Sachs