Adventures with Uncle Deej at the Grande Lakes Resort

One year and one week after my nephew changed my life forever simply by being born, the event I’ve looked forward to most since that moment finally came - our first trip together. A few weeks ago, my immediate family revived an old tradition, by gathering for an end of summer weekend getaway, this time with Old Sport in tow. The site of his first adventure with Uncle Deej: The Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando. 

JW Marriott Grande Lakes

The sprawling Grande Lakes resort is found on the eastern edge of Orlando's theme park universe, and is comprised of a JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotel. Although it is just a mile or two away from all of the action, Grande Lakes would appear to be in something of a no man's land - detached from the hustle and bustle of the I-4 corridor. Not that it mattered much on this trip; literally the only thing on our collective itineraries was plenty of time by the pool and spoiling this kid that has all of us right under his tiny thumb. 

Grande Lakes Resort
The Ritz Carlton Golf Club

We booked our rooms on the JW Marriott side, which with 1000 rooms is nearly twice the size of the adjacent Ritz Carlton. Since both properties share all of the amenities of the Grande Lakes resort, I was more than happy to capture the roughly $75 savings per night that the JW offered over the Ritz. Plus, while scrolling the hotel's amenities I passed over the words "lazy river" which pretty much sealed the deal right there. 

JW Marriott Orlando Pool
Great part of the weekend: A rubber ducky race in the lazy river to
raise money for Children's Miracle Network.

The first impressions of the JW Marriott were sort of a mixed bag. As MJ and I approached the entrance with our luggage, roughly a half dozen of the valet - all of which were standing around shooting the breeze - just watched us roll right on by, never once offering any assistance or bothering to open the door as we struggled through. Ironically, a painting of JW himself is found just inside the entrance, and from the corner of my eye I could have sworn I saw him shake his head in disgust.

JW Marriott Orlando
Random fountain picture.

Once inside, after a quick and efficient check-in, I was soon hit with the unmistakable feeling of deja vu. As I surveyed the lobby's enormous stone columns, alternating marble tile floors, and recessed sculptures in the walls, I just knew that I had been here before - only I hadn't. It wasn't until I spotted the name of the hotel's ballroom that it hit me: it was as if I had walked straight into the Venetian and Palazzo hotels in Las Vegas, minus the faux canals and frescoes on the ceiling. 

JW Marriott Orlando
The Lobby

I was still fired up over having to open my own door - now I was muttering on to myself about a "lack of imagination" and "blatant design rip-offs," which probably brought a few odd gazes from fellow guests. Of course, the odd gaze which I'm accustomed to came from MJ, who pointed out that I sounded ridiculous and that we were late to dinner. Well, she had a point. We had 5 minutes to get over to the Ritz Carlton next door... 

JW Marriott Orlando
Pretty staircase.

While Mom and Dad played babysitter, we visited the Ritz Carlton with my brother and sister-in-law for dinner at Vineyard Grill. Among the few DNA traits that my brother and I have in common is a love for cheese displays, and when he spotted one on Vineyard Grill's menu months before our trip, it was put on the itinerary using magic marker and highlighter. 

JW Marriott Orlando
Mmmmm...Humbolt Fog (Bottom)

The restaurant is the more casual of the dining options at the Ritz Carlton, although you wouldn't know it based on atmosphere or the menu - read: prices. The guys opted for a tapas style approach to the meal centering around our cornucopia of cheese, while the ladies were hypnotized by the words "lobster," "scallops," and "pasta" found in the evening's special. I'm not going to lie...I suffered from a serious case of entree envy. 

JW Marriott Orlando
Yep...that's what I should have ordered.

Back over at the JW Marriott, I resisted the temptation of an evening iced coffee from the full fledged Starbucks in the lobby - which, oddly enough, is located right next door to another coffee shop. I was certain this was the nexus of the universe, and it seemed like a really odd place for it. Still, if there's one thing I won't complain about at a luxury hotel it's multiple options for iced coffee, even if they are only separated by six inches of wall. 

JW Marriott Orlando
Uncle Deej...What's Pumpkin Spice?

Upstairs, our accommodations looked pretty much exactly like most other luxury hotel rooms these days. Except for the bathroom, that is, which was exceptional for a standard room category. That may sound like a knock on the JW Marriott, but in actuality it's a testament to the value we received for the rate we paid. At $159 (with AAA discount) per night, the room was on par with many hotels I've visited over the years that boast rates twice as high. 

JW Marriott Orlando
The Room

A word on that perceived value...shall we? Clearly, the conventioneer is the target demographic at the Grande Lakes resort. Translation: unless you have an expense account or your last name is actually Marriott, your bill is going to get painful fast. Sure, there were pockets of relative savings, however those were usually offset - and then some - in other areas. For example, the great rate for our room was met with $18 self-parking. There was no cursed resort fee, but in-room internet was $10. Starbucks made for a cheap breakfast, but lunch poolside (two fish sandwiches and one frozen beverage) and two beers and a basket of chips and salsa at night were $55 and $40 respectively. Did I feel ripped off? No. But the run of the mill resort gouging gets a little old after a while.

And yet, in the end it was all worth every penny. Because of this...

JW Marriott Orlando
Hanging with Old Sport

It's true what they say: kids change everything, and travel is no exception. I had no idea the production that is traveling with kids, however I'd like to think that I adjusted quite well. Those hours by the pool were a far cry from the usual peace and serenity MJ and I are used to, but to say this was better would definitely be an understatement. This was just the first of many adventures with Uncle Deej for Old Sport, and while he won't remember this weekend years from now, there's no way I could ever forget it. 

And because of that, I'll never look at the Grande Lakes Resort the same. 

Enjoy Your Stay