Gaylord Palms Resort - My Family Travels

It's a rare breed of hotel which lures travelers to its facilities rather than its locale. Families may expect to see so-called "destination resorts" in the Caribbean or Hawai'i, but only occasionally do we encounter one in an urban setting. That it should be off I-4 in Orlando, Florida, close to all the theme parks, makes perfect sense.

The Gaylord Company are the owners of the large Gaylord Opryland in Nashville and Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas; and the newest Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George County, Maryland outside DC.  The Gaylord Palms in Orlando is a 63-acre convention resort with 1,406 rooms around a 4.5-acre landscaped atrium, sheltered in a biosphere under a huge glass dome.  Hurricane-proofed with white steel girders are shelter ponds stocked with koi, a concrete replica of a Spanish colonial castillo, waterfalls, plazas with comfortable seating areas, live Royal and date palms, orchids, swamp ferns and tropical flowers.

Overlooking the fun are eight stories of guest rooms decorated with appropriate geographic motifs: wrought iron and mahogany in the St. Augustine wing, rattan and playful tropical colors at Key West, sawgrass accents and natural wood for the Everglades, and earth tones mixed with monkey-patterned fabrics to exemplify the subtle "Gulf Coast" look of the higher-end Emerald Bay wing. 

There are family pluses to a convention hotel.  Because the Gaylord Palms focuses on business people, you'll find both the adult and family pools (the latter with an octopus waterslide) less crowded during the day than at most Orlando hotels. The synthetic environment, perfect for entertaining conventioneers who are "stuck" indoors all day, will keep infants and toddlers in strollers mesmerized. Families with young children will particularly enjoy the Everglades wing, where balconies overlook a "swamp" with special effects fog and a large "alligator." This wing is above the terrific Relâche Spa (a welcome antidote to the faux environment) and close to the swimming pools, and steakhouse restaurant. Your teens may prefer the hipper Key West rooms, which overlook a boisterous bar with live music and a docked 60-foot sailboat.

All rooms have been given a luxe makeoever, with marble bathrooms and fine linens. Each is graciously stocked with two complimentary bottles of water in an otherwise empty minifridge, plus a coffemaker, ironing setup, two-line phones and complimentary broadband Internet access. Dozens of cool techo-features include vending machines which charge purchases to guest room keycards. The 106 suites are very spacious, deluxe and expensive; less costly are the smaller outward facing rooms, which overlook the "real world" so you can judge the weather (but you're also stuck with sealed windows.) Cribs and highchairs are easily available.

Among the six outlets, restaurants such as the foodie Old Hickory Steak House; Sunset Sam's Fish Camp with its tasty seafood menu, enormous and colorful fruity drinks, kids' menu and serendipitous mimes and jugglers; or the pseudo-al fresco cafe overlooking shops and the lively lobby add to the Floridian fun. The friendly staff provides good service, en masse.

Don't expect the intimacy of a smaller hotel where waiters may remember your kids' names and parents feel comfortable letting older children wander around alone. In fact, all Gaylord guests under 14 are expected to be supervised. Kids will certainly find plenty to do, with a variety of pools, water slides, and play areas. Clearwater Cove is a 120,000-gallon family pool with a waterfall and a reef, where you can romp with over-sized manta rays. Toddlers have their own play area, Kiddie Cay, with soft toys, a seashell slide and a misting starfish. When the kids want a break from the water,  The Dunes is a sandy play area that will keep them engaged.

When parents crave some adult-only time,  the well-respected Kids Nite Out will provide in-room child care. Staff members are certified and insured, and will provide an age-appropriate experience for your kids. The service can be booked thru the hotel's concierge, at least 24- hours in advance. The cost starts at $16 per hour for one child and increases for additional children,with a four-hour minimum.

Additionally, the Gaylord goes all out during the school holidays, with summer programming by the pool and a fun indoor ICE! spectacular in the atrium every winter. While conventioneers come year round, these seasonal activities generate lots of value family packages and the traffic of little feet.

Resort Report Card

Name: Gaylord Palms Resort
Address: 6000 W Osceola Parkway
Phone: 407/586-0000
Seasonal Rates: $ – $$$
Hotel Setting: B+
Hotel Staff: A
Choice of Activities: B
Quality of Amenities: A-
Bonus: Family-friendly pool is sure to keep kids entertained
Note: If size doesn't matter, you'll love the heated pools, jacuzzis, fitness room, shops and more.

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