Jun262015

Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes for locally sourced experiences

There was a luxury hotel press tour I was able to squeeze into in Orlando at the US Travel Association IPW convention last month. There were nine of us working in media taken on site visits to Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, Waldorf-Astoria Orlando and Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. The experience at Ritz-Carlton Orlando included a complimentary custom drink and tasting table in the Highball & Harvest Kitchen & Bar for our group.

The Ritz-Carlton hotel is on a property with JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes Resort and the Ritz-Carlton Spa between the two hotels. Guests may share facilities of both hotels.

In the handful of luxury hotel media trips I have experienced, champagne is the typical meet and greet beverage. Being greeted with a craft beer at the front door upon arrival at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando is certainly not what I expected. This luxury tour started off to my liking with a little bit of homebrew. They call their small production line a nano-brewery due to only producing about 28 gallons of beer per week.

Ritz craft beer

Greetings with Ritz-Carlton Orlando’s own Honey Citrus Pale Ale craft brew beer.

The hotel dining experience is centered around farm-to-table locally sourced products. Farm-to-table is definitely a big trend in dining that I see advertised all over in 2015. The value of farm-to-table is support of the local food producer economy and a reduction in global warming factors with a reduction in transportation costs for products used by hotels and restaurants.

The craft beer is brewed locally using ingredients from the hotel’s own 7,000 square feet garden on-site at Whisper Creek Farm.

The Club Lounge

First stop on the tour was a visit to the Club Lounge. A feature of Ritz-Carlton hotels is the option to buy up in room rate for Club Lounge access. July 16-18 has low rates starting at $195 per night, including a $25 hotel credit. The low room rate is $253.12 after nightly $30 resort fee and tax.

The Standard Club Level Room for the same dates runs $529 per night or $628.88 after tax and fees. Club lounge privileges are usually $200 to $350 per night above the standard room rate.

Ritz Carlton Orlando Club Lounge food

Mid-day food in The Club Lounge Ritz-Carlton Orlando

Ritz Club Lounge wines     Ritz Club Lounge

The view from the balcony of the 14th floor Club Lounge is an example of the great views from the lake side high floor rooms in the center of the hotel building. The top 15th floor of the hotel holds the Presidential Suites.

Ritz Carlton view

Walt Disney World straight ahead past golf course and Shingle Creek Regional Park.

There are still large tracts of woods around the Disney Resorts and the hotel offers eco-tour excursions into the protected Shingle Creek watershed, the headwaters for the Florida Everglades. There are also bird watching tours and activities.

Club Lounge caters to children too

Orlando is a family oriented destination. This was the first Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge I have been inside, so I do not know if it is typical to have a children’s section. There is a children’s activity area at Ritz-Carlton Orlando.

Ritz Kids Corner

Kids Corner in Ritz-Carlton Orlando Club Lounge

That Ritz-Carlton $30 resort fee comes with a high value benefit. You can book two hours per day drop-off service for free child care while you dine or whatever. There are daytime activities for children at a fee, where you can keep the children engaged for longer periods.

One of the more popular room packages, we were told, is the in room suite camping experience. Ritz-Carlton will convert a one-bedroom suite into a ‘glamping’ experience for children with a tent set-up in your hotel suite.

Highball & Harvest Kitchen & Bar

Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes focused our experience on Highball & harvest Kitchen & Bar, their new restaurant opened in September 2014. The theme is agricultural and railroad inspired as a tribute to the early history of Orlando’s development, prior to Walt Disney World making Orlando a worldwide tourist destination in the 1970s.

Blake Herndon was our private table bartender for the media group. This is a service that can be purchased for small groups desiring a special event with specialty drinks and food pairings.

Ritz H-H bartender

Blake of Ritz-Carlton Orlando Highball & Harvest is a lead bartender with deep knowledge of alcohols and drink preparation. He is holding a Japanese ice cutting blade in the photo above, which he demonstrated for making ice cubes for our drinks.

Ritz Ice

Most of us might assume ice is just ice. Apparently, there is far more to ice when you are creating the perfect cocktail. The hotel has a 300 lb. block of ice delivered each week. The large block is cut into 50 lb. blocks and these smaller blocks of ice are carved with the Japanese ice saw for drinks prepared at the cocktail table. The bar program offers classic cocktails with a unique twist of additional locally sourced southern natural flavors.

We were served a Doc Holliday with Tito’s vodka, blueberry cordial, grapefruit juice and house-made ginger beer. That was flavorful with a desirable fruity smell. Food included pimento mac-n-cheese, shrimp & grits and watermelon salad in a Jar Flight.

Ritz jar flight

Highball & Harvest makes spherical ice daily with embedded orange or cinnamon sticks. The ice cube made for a cute drink, but no bourbon for me. I generally limit my tastings to beer and wine. The first drink served at the cocktail table was fruit-flavored and a tasty start. The first beer upon arrival at Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes was my last luxury tour beer. Wine & champagne followed at the two other hotels.

Ritz spherical ice

Bourbon is the bar’s specialty with over 40 types available. All draft beers are Florida beers with other bottled beers from southeast states. Draft wine is featured at Highball and Harvest with 8 reds and 8 whites on tap. The use of casks for wine distribution saves on the cost of shipping and storage. Wine by the glass is the standard pour. There are bottles of wine available too.

Ritz wine cannisters

Cooler with canister draft wine, local beers and fresh herbs. The cooler is visible from parts of the restaurant through windows.

Ritz H-H bar

Highball and Harvest Bar is downstairs from the lobby. The main restaurant is in the room behind the bar.

Ritz H-H lounge area

Ritz-Carlton Hotels can sometimes seem to ritzy for me to relax. Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes seemed to have a lighter air and a more laid back style than typical for this luxury brand.

Ritz H-H t-shirt

H&H t-shirt “Grab a Pair of Highballs today”.

Ritz-Carlton Orlando entrance

Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes offers guests the kind of eco-tourism activities I enjoy and a hotel location that felt far from the hustle and bustle of International Drive and hotels near the Convention Center and that retail/dining/entertainment area servicing the theme parks resort area.

Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes is Tier 2 at 40,000 points per reward night, with 5th night free benefit.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »