Four Seasons Disney Hotel
Credit: David Alexander Arnold

There’s a secluded tower in Orlando where families can rest their heads, relax and enjoy the royal treatment. It’s not Cinderella Castle, but Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort is as close as it gets. Housed within Disney’s ultra-exclusive VIP community Golden Oak, the stunning hotel is a short distance from the Magic Kingdom, but still somehow serene. Here, the hallways are silent even when the rooms are nearly sold out—it's a true oasis in the midst of theme park madness.

It likely comes as no surprise that the airy balconies and marble-lined accommodations as well as the Everglades-inspired spa are top-notch. Four Seasons Resort Orlando is the only AAA Five Diamond Award property in the area, infusing an ease into the childhood rite of passage that is Disneying, melting an upscale glaze over every hectic portion of the animation-oriented vacation experience.

Even with its luxurious touches and lush gardening, the property alone isn’t why it’s worth separating one’s self from going all-in on character theming. It’s because there’s so much going on, it’s practically a theme park of its own. Though Orlando-bound vacations are often spent at attractions beyond guests’ rooms, Four Seasons Resort Orlando defies expectation, boasting the most impressive pools in the area. The tranquil adults-only option is lined by breezy cabanas while a family option provides tiered seating and beach entry, with both hosting underwater audio. Then there is Explorer Island, a full-fledged village of fun housing a lazy river that winds past an impressive waterfall, an expansive splash zone amidst building ruins and two twisty slides entirely separate of the main swimming areas.

Recreational sports from rock climbing and basketball to sand volleyball are readily available around the Island as well as in its Mansion, a center building housing a tween gaming den dubbed The Hideout as well as pool tables, bocce ball and table tennis. And, though Walt Disney World is possibly the last place that would require children’s activities, Four Seasons Orlando even offers Kids For All Seasons, a complimentary kid’s camp from 9am to 5pm daily. Operating out of an activity center with a volcano play area and adjoined playground in The Mansion, it’s the thing to keep parents sane when they ultimately need a break from all that pavement-pounding.

Their fitness offerings are essentially a contingency plan for eating too many Mickey Bars, with bookable tennis lessons on their three Har-Tru courts, a scenic Tranquilo Golf Club that doubles as an Audubon sanctuary, and complimentary fitness classes like yoga, boxing, and indoor cycling in their multi-faceted indoor and outdoor facilities. (You can even borrow fitness clothes and sneakers for free, so there are no excuses.)

Still, it can be a heartstring tug to decide against staying within the park’s realm. Walt Disney World itself boasts a massive collection of resorts, for which beyond the whimsical theming and beloved familiarity, the benefits are plenty: extra hours in the parks, free airport transportation, early Fastpass booking and complimentary MagicBand bracelets, which operate as a combined park admission ticket, room key, and charge card. For a Frozen-obsessed family who wants to be encapsulated in the magic with character-voiced wake-up calls and Mickey Mouse-shaped food, leaving the pixie-dust sprinkled bubble can feel unfathomable, but plenty perks are equatable. Thanks to their close relationship with Walt Disney World, the Four Seasons Orlando boasts the only lobby help desk staffed by Disney’s own “cast members” outside the parks’ own properties. In lieu of city transit buses arriving approximately every 20 minutes, coach buses shuttle guests to and from the parks at scheduled intervals throughout the day, and gift shop purchases can too be ferried from the parks back to the resort.

Though nothing is overtly Disney, the essence is still there, just done in a more subtle, refined way. Hotel shops sell unique Missoni-brand Minnie ears and upscale Disney duds in lieu of more pedestrian souvenirs, and the patio deck at Capa on the hotel’s 17th floor provides the only sky-high view of evening fireworks shows at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom in Orlando. For young ones, the salon provides “magical moments” in the style of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and Ravello has its own character breakfast buffet a few times each week, with complimentary photo downloads from Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie’s tableside meet-and-greets. No need to hold your vacation planning for those “free dining” promotions, either: children under the age of five eat complimentary at most meals, of which there will be many. Dining experiences span from tapas and signature gin & tonics at Spanish steakhouse Capa and Cuban-American post-golf dining at Plancha to waterfront lunches at PB&G and housemade gelato from Lickety Split.

Still, it’s not right for every Disney dweller. The Four Seasons Orlando’s closest competitor, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, offers more inherent charm and southern magic for its comparable price tag. Yet, its perks come from nostalgia on high, as the monorail whooshes past and windows peek out to the Magic Kingdom. If the sight of Cinderella Castle at night after a long slog through the parks is more enticing than a plush bed in a luxe room, then it’s perfection. But for the seasoned world traveler who values refined touches or the discerning parent who’s Disneying to the best of their ability, craving a sacrifice on transportative decor for modern styling and a breath of the outside world at the end of the night, there’s no need to look further than the Four Seasons Resort Orlando.