Staycation at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

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Every Floridian knows that lunch tastes better when you’re wearing a bathing suit.

Resort fees include two vouchers for a Florida Citrus Whiskey Punch; we couldn’t resist adding a Dill or No Dill to our order.

Recent weeks of working from home have also confirmed that breakfast is best eaten while wearing jammies, even—especially—if it’s a weekday. Now that The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes has reopened, you can do both, safely and in style.

When the hotel invited me as their guest for a one-night stay in a 960-square-foot luxury suite, I jumped at the chance for a staycation with my husband and teenaged daughter (pictured). After a contactless check-in it was tempting to check out the in-room dining menu and enjoy dinner on one of the two balconies and take in views of the lake and golf course. But the pool beckoned my teenaged daughter and the vouchers for two free welcome drinks—a smooth-sipping citrus and whiskey punch—beckoned the adults. Comfy at our table just outside Highball & Harvest, we also treated ourselves to a refreshing Dill or No Dill cocktail, a gin-based delight. (Try it at home using the recipe here.)

Still the best: H&H Pimento Cheese Burger

While not all of the eateries at Grande Lakes Orlando are keeping regular hours, there are always multiple options to select from. Highball & Harvest was open for dinner during our stay. The current menu features plenty of favorites including Nashville hot or white BBQ wings, cheese and charcuterie boards and a lardon-loaded kale salad that the kitchen happily halved for us. The shrimp and grits are as creamy and soulful as ever, and the pimento cheese burger—two short-rib patties, pimento, bacon, mustard and sweet-and-spicy pickles—is still worthy of its spot on our list of Orlando’s Best Burgers.

The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast in our room just twenty minutes after calling in-room dining. The friendly staffer who took my call let me know in advance that gratuity is included in the service charge, helpful info for someone like me who seldom indulges in room service. The prompt service helped us to relax yet stay on schedule for our big outing of the day: a morning paddle on Shingle Creek.

A savory (and speedy!) breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, roasted potatoes and plenty of caffeine to power our paddle.

After seeing our daughter off to the lazy river—being able to access the facilities at both The Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott is a major perk of a stay at Grande Lakes—my husband and I headed to Grande Lakes Sports, just a few steps away from The Ritz-Carlton pool. Captain Mark was waiting for us with a cooler full of bottled waters and a smile behind his mask. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to explore much of the grounds at Grande Lakes Orlando, from events at beautiful Whisper Creek Farm to meandering walks along Grande Lake. But whizzing around the 500-acre property on a golf cart to get to a secluded spot on Shingle Creek with canoes ready to go? That was a first.

Shingle Creek is the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades, and is managed and protected by the South Florida Water Management District. Part of protecting this vital ecosystem includes limiting traffic on the water, and the area we paddled is only accessible via Grande Lakes Sports. On our paddle upstream, Captain Mark shared the history of the waterway, which is named for the cypress trees that 19th-century settlers used to make shingles for their homes. We spotted several wild birds including ibis, anhinga, limpkins and even a young turkey. We also learned that the blobs of what looked like pink bubble gum all along the trees just above the waterline are actually the eggs of an invasive species of apple snail. Who knew?

The peaceful and glassy waters of Shingle Creek are a balm for the soul.

It was all downstream from there, and in the best possible way. We drifted easily back to where we put in, zipped back to reality on the golf cart and then changed into our swimsuits for one last swim and a poolside lunch at Bleu before heading back home about 1,000% more relaxed than the day before.

Turkey-chili nachos and shrimp tacos for the win.

What to Expect: Staffers are happy to be back to work, and it shows even through the masks that each and every one of them wears at all times. Guests are also expected to wear masks while in lobbies, elevators and hallways, and while walking to their table at restaurants. Masks are not required for children under age 2, or while dining, exercising or sitting by the pool.

The resort facilitates social distancing by creating one-way paths at restaurants, by spacing indoor and outdoor seating and via clear signage throughout the property. All guests that we saw during our stay adhered to guidelines for both masks and social distancing.

Not all dining options are open every day, and those that are available may offer limited menus or substitutions for some items such as local seafood due to disruption in supply chains. Be sure to ask for hours and availability upon arrival.

How to Reserve: Visit the website for available dates and options, including the Florida Resident Grande Escape package, which includes a 15% discount of nightly room rate, complimentary valet parking, and a $25 resort credit when using the promo code D3Q. For guests making new reservations for arrival dates through September 30, reservation changes or cancellations are available at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival date.

For more details about The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes and additional staycation inspiration, check out our Florida Travel Guide in the digital edition of our current issue.

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