Ritz-Carlton's Grande Lakes Orlando has it all: Soaring golf, soaring food and a soaring zip-line course
ORLANDO, Fla. -- This was a mistake.
Of all the extracurricular activities your correspondent could have chosen -- golf, fly fishing, an East Indian lime scalp and body massage -- the zip-line course at Grande Lakes Orlando seemed, at least at the time, to be the most compelling option.
That was before we scaled the three-story climbing wall and came face-to-face with the gravity of the situation, not to mention gravity.
"Stand up and clip onto the green line. Everything will be okay," the 20-something guide with the angelic face instructs.
"It's fine, stand up and clip onto the green line. Everything will be okay," she repeats, a little more sternly this time.
And so it went, for some 15 minutes before reason -- and not one but two safety harnesses -- beat back the flight instinct, and we cautiously navigated the rest of the course.
Next time, just go to the practice range and work on your wedge game.
Therein is the dichotomy of Grande Lakes -- a sprawling property less than 20 minutes from Orlando International Airport and three miles, as the duck flies, from Sea World.
Ritz-Carlton guests, at least as a general rule, are not adrenaline junkies, but between the zip lines and Greg Norman-designed golf course and eco-tours, the Grande Lakes property has created a reason to avoid the contrived magic of Disney and the sprawl of International Drive.
Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes
As a golf destination, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes has been -- at least until the recent PNC Father/Son Challenge exposed the manicured layout to a national television audience -- a hidden gem. Some would even say the course was a vastly underrated option in the congested Orlando golf scene.
No? Pop quiz: Name Orlando's best golf option for a quick, 24-hour drop in? Most would opt for Bay Hill, Disney or maybe ChampionsGate, a 36-hole complex that, until this year, had hosted the Father/Son. All are fine options, but an argument could be made that Grande Lakes should be in a category by itself.
Although Grande Lakes seems to have been adrift in central Florida's golf clutter, few, if any, area courses can beat the Ritz-Carlton's proximity to the theme parks and downtown or provide the level of service that guests enjoy.
Until recently, tee times at the Ritz-Carlton came with a "caddie concierge" (a looper by any other name). Although caddies have become optional (we highly recommend one, every round is better with a bag man), the experience remains second-to-none in the area, and the golf course is one of the most playable Norman layouts we've ever encountered, deftly weaving just enough risk-reward amid the confines of resort-comfort golf.
Grande Lakes also features the more family friendly J.W. Marriott, complete with a lazy river and one of central Florida's best eateries, Primo. Full disclosure, I am not a "foodie," but my better half certainly qualifies, and she was duly impressed with the breads, which are made daily on property, and the garden adjacent the J.W. Marriott that provides many of the vegetables and spices used in Primo's signature dishes.
And, of course, there are the Ritz-Carlton staples: miles of manicured gardens, impeccable customer service, an extensive spa and, for the more adventurous, the zip-line course.
Just remember, don't look down and always listen to the 20-something barking orders. Turns out everything will be okay.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Zip-line course photo courtesy of pulseofcentralflorida.com.
January 25, 2013