Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Now that summer is in full swing, chances are you're under pressure to plan a fantastic getaway, and likely with your fresh-out-of-school kids in tow. While there is perhaps nothing more exciting for a child than the mere mention of a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, for parents, the idea of sweltering for days on end in the company of Mickey and Pluto isn't exactly cause for celebration. Thankfully, there is a hotel option that may sweeten the deal: the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (407-390-6664, omnihotels.com). Omni Situated only six miles from the Disney parks, the resort is kid-friendly and ... drumroll, please ... features 36 holes of Greg Norman-designed golf on-site. At the Omni, you can let the kids have their fun and get your golf in too. Cue the celebration! 
The National and International courses were built to give guests two options: a modern parkland or traditional links design style, respectively, but the International is the jewel of the resort. With fast-rolling fairways and abundant pot bunkers, the layout really is reminiscent of playing overseas (if you can manage to forget about the heat and humidity, of course). Unlike most links layouts, however, water comes into play on just about every hole, which makes this course an excellent exercise in hazard-avoidance.

The National, on the other hand, is a perfectly suitable resort course. What it lacks in drama, it makes up in playability. The entire course is surrounded by trees, differentiating it from the International and adding to the parkland feel. It's a typically flat Florida golf experience, with more bunkers to avoid than water, but it still provides a test. If you're a better player, though, and have only one day to play, the International is your best option.

The resort includes five on-site restaurant options, but the obvious standout is Zen - an intimate, quiet pan-Asian eatery that also serves delicious sushi. David's Club is billed as an upscale sports bar and grill, and while you can get a great steak here, it also features an extremely family-friendly atmosphere. During my visit, hordes of kids gleefully overwhelmed the "adults or accompanied by adults only" billiards, foosball and dartboard area and nobody batted an eye.

Of course, no kid-friendly Florida vacation is complete without some water fun, and the Omni Orlando certainly delivers. The pool complex is enormous and includes two separate pool areas, slides, and my personal favorite amenity, an 850-foot lazy river.

For a more adult vacation experience, there's no better destination than Florida's storied Biltmore Hotel, (800-727-1926, biltmorehotel.com). Located in Coral Gables, close to downtown Miami and the bustling South Beach, the Biltmore has been a magnet for the chattering classes for nearly 85 years, and there's a pretty good reason for golfers to show up too, thanks to a recent renovation of the Donald Ross golf course.

Since it opened in 1925, the Biltmore course has challenged everyone from Babe Ruth to Tiger Woods, but like most things in Florida, it had started to wither with age. Architect Brian Silva oversaw the redo, giving the old grand dame a welcome facelift and restoring many of the Ross features that had faded over the decades - most notably, the bunkers. At 6,800 yards, it won't kill better players off the tee, but the liberal smattering of water hazards create enough anxiety for all of us. It's a guest-friendly outing, just not too friendly. Biltmore The real fun begins in the hotel. It may be "Old World," but the amenities are very much modern-day plush. The Palme d'Or, the hotel's marquee restaurant, is one of the top-rated French eateries in South Florida, and it's possible that whatever you order will make your short list of the best meals you've ever had. A word of advice: take advantage of the sommelier's wine-pairing expertise. You won't regret it (although your wallet might!). 
Fontana is the hotel's more moderately priced Italian alternative. Sit outside in the lush, tropical ambience and make sure to leave room for the out-of-this-world tiramisu.

The Biltmore's pool also deserves a mention, since it's heralded as the largest hotel pool in the continental United States, and if you plan to spend the day there, private cabanas with butler service are also available. Finally, use at least one of your days to visit the spa. The Biltmore Players Massage is probably the only pleasant way your back will ever come into physical contact with a golf ball. 
Bottom line: while kids are obviously welcome at the Biltmore, the atmosphere of peace and serenity is palpable, making it a perfectly adult summer escape.(Photos: Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, above; Biltmore Hotel)

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