Welcome to this edition of Check-In Florida, our look at some of the best hotel and resorts around the Sunshine State. This month, we're heading to Orlando, and the beautiful Omni Resort at ChampionsGate.
For the overwhelming majority of visitors, the last exit for Disney on Interstate 4 is as far as their rental car will allow them to drive in Orlando. Any further, and the car will activate an auto-shutoff feature for their attempt to leave the Tourist Containment Zone. It's a shame really, because on the outskirts of the city's theme park wonderland lies the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. An oasis that's rarely discovered by the average tourist.
It took nearly eight years to discover ChampionsGate for myself; an eternity by normal standards. Before the Omni came to town, the area of the resort's development was a no-man's-land of orange groves and livestock. There were many - myself included - that scoffed at the idea of a giant 700+ room resort in the middle of nowhere. Of course, this middle of nowhere is still practically adjacent to Walt Disney World, but in a part of town somewhat detached from the rest of Orlando, which would have less than zero appeal to visitors. That was my expert opinion at the time, and it kept me away for nearly a decade. Soon after arriving at ChampionsGate, the rarest of phenomenons took place. I conceded that I may have been wrong.
|A little poolside action.|
If You Build It...They Will Come
As I pulled off I-4, the Omni loomed on the horizon, while hot air balloons floated by in the distance. A small community has built up around the resort, but the surprisingly uncongested roads were nothing like the mayhem that one would find just a few miles closer to town. If there were ever such a thing as seclusion in the city of Orlando, this most definitely had to be it.
|The pool aka waterpark.|
It was still early in the morning when I arrived, and the hotel was bursting with activity thanks to a large convention in the process of checking out. With nearly 80,000 square feet of meeting space - and an additional 45,000 on the way - the Omni Orlando is first and foremost a convention hotel. To give it that label, however, is a bit unfair, because unlike the soulless monstrosities that are usually dubbed "convention hotels," ChampionsGate is better described as a true resort destination.
I was greeted by a sea of marble in the lobby, which lead to floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pool and golf course. The lobby was enormous, but smaller seating areas throughout helped bring a more intimate feel to the setting. After a quick and efficient check-in, I headed upstairs excited for the weekend that lay ahead.
|Not a bad welcome...|
I'll admit to being a little concerned when I stepped off the elevator onto the worn floral print carpet. Perhaps I prefer my hotels a little too modern for my own good, but I tried not to read this as an indication of what was to come. I'm glad I didn't rush to judgement...
The room was bigger than I anticipated, defying the convention hotel norm of microscopic guestrooms, and had a far more updated appearance than the hallways. Although my favorite hotel amenity was missing - the white duvet - I was reminded of the insanely comfortable bed at the Omni in San Francisco and decided to take a dive.
|I'm becoming rather friendly with hotel desks...|
One benefit of hotels which cater to groups is their rooms are almost always designed with work in mind. At ChampionsGate, that translates to complimentary WiFi and the traditional hotel room workstation. Of course, I found the private balcony a more attractive place to work, although the view severely cut in to my productivity. So I decided it was time for a change of scenery and set off to explore.
|Yes...this will most certainly do.|
Naturally, by "explore" what I really meant was "I need to find an iced coffee." Thankfully just a short walk from the front desk was Morsels, the hotel's coffee and pastry shop. I picked up an iced coffee - plus maybe a cinnamon roll - and spent the next couple of hours sauntering around the resort.
|The spread at Morsels.|
I discovered there are no shortage of dining options at ChampionsGate, which makes sense given the resort's size. In addition to Morsels, the hotel also offers Broadway Deli for those looking to grab a bite on the go. I can attest that their Cuban Sandwich is worth every penny. Trevi's serves as the casual dining outlet for the resort, while Croc's is perfect for lunch and a frozen concoction by the pool.
|The sushi bar at Zen|
The Omni also features two unique settings for a more refined dining experience. Zen serves up Japanese cuisine, and features a beautiful sushi bar, while David's Club offers an upscale sportsbar atmosphere. It's not everyday that "upscale" and "sportsbar" collide in the same sentence, but at ChampionsGate they pair together nicely.
|David's...a pretty sweet place to hang out.|
Of course, no resort - especially in Orlando - would be worth its salt without an amazing pool. The Omni happens to have two. The first is almost a theme park by itself, complete with a waterfall tower, slide, and yes, a lazy river. If you're like me and tend to avoid water parks like the plague, then the Formal Pool is definitely the place for you. Take my advice... Ship the kids off to Camp Omni, rent a cabana for the day, and discover the meaning of Omnified. Yeah...it's a word.
|The Formal Pool and Cabanas.|
One of the most compelling reasons for my visit to ChampionsGate was, you guessed it, the golf. The resort features two Greg Norman designed courses, as well as the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. I spent much of the day with both, and will have more to report in an upcoming post, but for now let's just say they should be added to anyone's Orlando golf vacation list. Oh, and did I mention the lighted 9-hole pitch and putt?
|No shortage of great golf at ChampionsGate|
You know the old saying about assumptions? Well, it sort of applies here. I got it all wrong on the Omni because I assumed that for a resort to succeed in Orlando, it had to be in the middle of the action between Universal Studios and Disney. What I didn't count on was a resort that isn't merely a supplement to the rest of Orlando's attractions, but is the attraction in and of itself. The Omni is a self contained oasis, secluded from the rest of Orlando's madness, while offering everything that guests could need under one roof.
|Not a bad way to spend a day. Or a weekend...|
The other assumption I made about ChampionsGate was that since it was a larger convention style hotel, then it wouldn't be a good choice for one of our weekend getaways. Although the resort's target market is clearly convention business, the Omni has something for everyone, not just the name tag wearing bunch. The resort is a perfect choice for a short getaway, a guys golf outing, or a girls spa weekend, and can hold its own with any of the other fantastic properties in Orlando.
For the better part of a decade, I allowed these assumptions to keep me from discovering what turned out to be a great Florida resort. The Omni at ChampionsGate not only proved me wrong, but has done so while flying under the Orlando resort radar. I have a feeling, however, that the secret is getting out...
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to the Omni ChampionsGate for hosting this edition of Check-In Florida. All opinions, including that of water park pools, are my own.