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Dazzling Fun In Orlando

05 September 2014 Written by  Tricia Piquero

I was invited to go on a media tour in July for three nights and four days at the Orlando World Center Marriott, which is the largest hotel in the Marriott chain.

I looked forward to the prospect of returning to Orlando because I visited the area previously on a family vacation to Disney World and realized then that Orlando’s 110 square miles incorporated more theme parks, tourist attractions, and fun-packed destinations than I could imagine. I never thought, however, that my subsequent return to the area would be a solo excursion; the media tour was limited to a single person. I hated to leave my husband and our 11-year-old son, but felt that it was my duty to take advantage of the opportunity of four days of deluxe accommodations, eating delicious food, and participating in amazing excursions. I was willing to make the sacrifice and submitted myself to the fun-filled four-days-three-nights of non-stop frolicking that the tour required.

A Dazzling Vacation Land
One of the reasons for the media tour was that Marriott had recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation of all their suites as well as extensive enhancements to the North Tower guest rooms and meeting space, Hall of Cities meeting rooms, 110 guest rooms, an on-site Starbucks, as well as the expanded pool deck and lawn area. My suite had a bedroom with a king-size bed, plus a furnished kitchen and a separate living area with a comfortable couch and chairs in front of a large flat-screen TV. The paramount feature of the suite, perhaps, is that it had two separate balconies, both of them with panoramic and truly breathtaking views of the various pools, parks, and play areas. Another magnificent amenity, as far as I was concerned, was a spacious bathroom equipped with an electronic shower featuring multiple showerheads that were aimed at me from three directions.

The Orlando World Center Marriott was built in 1986. The resort especially features a ginormous aptly named Iconic Falls Pools Oasis that includes large waterfalls, a kids’ fun Splash Zone area, and three water slides. One of the water slides provides a 200-foot curving swooping-and-soaring experience while another is a 90 foot “speed slide” that subjected me to a few moments of truly heart-stopping free-fall. The only way I dared do it the first time was by not looking down. It was of course not so scary after the first time. I loved it!

The Orlando World Center Marriott is family friendly with many ongoing fun kid’s activities including things such as a Tinker Bellies Dance Class and jump rope and Hula-Hoop contests. I was sorry that my family wasn’t able to accompany me and especially regretted that my son, Jordan, wasn’t able to take advantage of an enormous arcade called The G.R.I.D., which is equipped with big screens connected to X-boxes, Play Stations, Wiis, and iPads. There are also traditional sports including basketball, sand volleyball, and tennis. Every Saturday they bring in an animal show that includes tarantulas, snakes, and alligators. When you’re from California such as myself, you just can’t dream of leaving Florida without laying your eyes on an alligator. The show is educational and I learned such practical facts as to never feed alligators. Let’s just say not so good things happen if you do!

The Need for Speed at NASCAR and LPGA Level Golfing
Orlando World Center Marriott took the adult activities theme to an uber-level with one of the most memorable experiences of my life at The Richard Petty Extreme Driving Experience. I have a life-long fascination with “need for speed”-type go-real-fast automobiles. For only 99 dollars you can ride shotgun in a NASCAR-type racecar doing three “qualifying laps” around a track. It was the real thing! I had to wear a fire-repellent jumpsuit and helmet. The doors are welded shut on those things so I had to climb through the passenger-side window and be strapped in with restraints on all parts of my body, including my helmet which was bolted to the back of the seat. When everything was finished, they lowered a grid over my window to protect me against flying objects (such as run-away wheels). The sound of our engine was loud to the point that I could feel it on my skin. My driver’s name was Josh and he had the difficult job of driving the crap out of the car and, I guess, scaring the crap out of me, if possible.

That ride turned into one of the high points of my life. We were driving around a two-mile irregular oval and hitting speeds of up to 140 miles per hour. It was exhilarating! I was laughing and screaming the whole time. I sometimes used to daydream about what it would be like to drive one of those competition racecars, but realized that Josh was doing things to keep that car on the track at those speeds that I wasn’t even able to imagine. I developed a whole new appreciation for the sport and instantly became a fan.

My other life-changing immersive experience was on Orlando World Center Marriott’s extraordinary Robert E. Cupp III designed 18-hole golf course. I used to play golf, but softball was my real game and I became frustrated by how much more control I had over distance and direction with a baseball bat than I ever could manage with a golf club. However, an extraordinary golf instructor, named Bill Madonna, showed me that I simply lacked the instruction and training necessary to play golf at an adequate or perhaps even superior level, which he was able to provide. Bill is one of the great golf instructors in the country and one to whom other instructors come for lessons.

A dozen of us signed up for Bill’s pro golf instruction program, and I don’t think any of us were really prepared for what the event turned out to be. Bill made learning about golf fun; we all laughed a lot. He obviously felt passionate about the game himself and took real pleasure from passing on his knowledge to us. We were fascinated

by the incredibly entertaining, knowledgeable, and effective manner in which he was able to instill in us techniques and behaviors that greatly improved our game. Bill accomplished that with such simple principles as, “All great shots begin behind the ball.” In less than two hours I was hitting the ball solidly and with more control than I had imagined possible. From time-to-time Bill would choose one of us to demonstrate a particular point he was making. I was such an enthusiastic learner that he did choose me, and I, of course, was nervous and fumbled, but by the end of the lesson I had become the teacher’s pet. The other members of the group seemed impressed with the obvious improvements in my swing and the new consistency that I had developed. Bill made me excited about the game of golf.

Five Star Dining Four Days Straight
Fine dining is an essential part of any resort experience, of course, and during the four days I didn’t have a bite of anything that wasn’t tasty. Fine dining seemed available from every point with a style and cuisine to suit every taste. Each of the restaurants included melt-in-my mouth desserts. I can’t pick out a favorite; each of the dining areas seemed five-star. However, I was thrilled to see that the Orlando World Center Marriott also offered quick bites too. When you’re on the go with your family you don’t always have time to sit and enjoy. When I first noticed Starbucks in the Lobby area I think I did an “oh yeah” to myself. In addition there is also a Mangrove Emporium Food Court that offers a casual affordable dining option.

I was thrilled to be able to enjoy the Mikado Japanese Steakhouse my first night, which offered authentic Teppanyaki style dishes. This is my family’s favorite dining style, and we always order the fried rice! The Siro Urban Italian Kitchen provided innovative versions of the classic Italian dishes first-class served in a contemporary and casual setting. It is a relatively new restaurant, offering farm-tofork dining. Everything was fresh and simple, but innovative. The décor was cheerful and offbeat. My favorite item wasthe Squash Blossom Pizza with house-cured pancetta and goat cheese.

Solaris was my favorite breakfast option, and a great way to start my day. Solaris offered an enormous buffet offering more than 80 items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chefs are on hand to provide custom omelets, waffles, pancakes, and special order items. High Velocity was an upscale sports bar/restaurant where fans gathered to watch “the big game” on flat-screen HDTVs while enjoying premium beers and bar fare.

Hawk’s Landing Steakhouse & Grille provided steaks, wines, and views of the golf course that were all premium quality. The taste and presentation were truly extraordinary. I could see why they were recent winners of the Wine Spectator Award. It was gratifying to note that they served Harris Ranch Prime Aged Beef. However, I selected Sea Bass with Cauliflower purée, citrus drizzle, and garnish. I must say it was cooked to perfection! A professional Mixologist, named Mark Peters, prepared my cocktail. I have high standards because of my association with Manny Hinojosa, but Mark created incredible drinks that were intricate and complex using a lot of fresh ingredients. Try the Blueberry Lemonade, fantastic!

At one point we witnessed a demonstration of the chocolatiers’ art as they created a beautiful display of their various desserts including the most intricate, delicious, and decadent treats I have ever eaten. Besides the ubiquitous chocolate, the various treats and tarts included such flavors as Crème Brulée, caramel, lemon, and bananas. There were editable flowers. I felt like Charlie in Willy Wonka; I was amazed at the beauty and variety. Not only did I sample most of them, I even took a box with me to eat in my room later. I intentionally did not tell my husband this part of my trip, he is a self diagnosed choc-o-holic, so shhhhh.

My Saturday night ended in a grand finale moment. I thought I would be able to catch some of the evening fireworks display at the nearby Disney World Theme  Park. However, after sunset, I was sitting with some others in the Lobby Bar & Veranda area and was pleasantly surprised when Orlando World Center Marriott provided a spectacular fireworks display that took place right in front of us on the property. They pulled out all the stops with a pyrotechnic show that seemed to go on-and-on. I of course had to take a selfie with the fireworks behind me! My last and final night ended in a party up in the international suite on the 28th floor. This is

an expansive place with spectacular views which make it the perfect party atmosphere. Our group all felt like rock

stars and did not want the evening or the trip to end. We of course took lots of group photos to post on social media for all to admire and envy! Sadly we finally said our goodbyes.

The Orlando World Center Marriott is a shining part of the amazing Orlando Playground. I want to go back and stay longer, bring my family, and visit places like Discovery Cove, Cirque du Soleil, Epcot Center, SeaWorld, Gatorland, the Lego Imagination Center, the Universal CityWalk, and Disney World. I am ready to go back right now; I can’t wait!

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