My toes ached only slightly as my feet rested in a footbath infused with freshly picked mint and rosemary. The memory and lingering effects of two strollers belonging to families decked out in Disney gear running them over two days prior at Orlando International Airport faded as I sipped on herbal tea and basked in the sunshine on the intimate rooftop of The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.
I have to admit, I didn’t expect to find such a peaceful, relaxing environment at Grande Lakes Orlando, a resort in central Florida comprised of the 582-room Ritz-Carlton and the 1,000-room JW Marriott. The resort sits only a short distance from the whirlwind of theme park activity at Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios, but the 5-star property offers visitors an oasis of tranquility and luxury nestled on 500 acres of serene surroundings.
Taking advantage of its lush, natural environment, Grande Lakes Orlando features a number of eco-friendly activities, including guided tours on the northernmost headwaters of the Florida Everglades and a fly-fishing school. After enjoying a peaceful kayak journey and spotting alligators and pink osprey on Shingle Creek the day before, I continued my exploration of the resort’s eco-leisure theme with the Grande Eco Garden Hammock Experience on the rooftop of the 40,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Spa, situated between the two properties. The three-story, grand palazzo-style spa has 40 treatment rooms on the third floor.
Perched above the spa’s 4,000-square-foot heated outdoor lap pool, the outdoor rooftop area is a private sanctuary boasting vistas of the resort’s pristine grounds, the 18-hole Greg Norman Signature Golf Course, beautiful gardens and calm lake. The small rooftop space hosts a garden with a variety of herbs, several colorful plants and a hammock supported by a frame made of wood salvaged from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Following the soak and short foot massage, I stepped over to a hammock and lay in its thin mesh fabric, but not in the conventional lengthwise position. Instead, following the instructions of my professional and friendly therapist, Rick, I rested in the floating bed crosswise in a position that helps elongate the spine and give the body greater flexibility.
After helping me adjust and placing a mask over my eyes to block the bright sunlight, Rick began the 70-minute session, first situated standing over me before switching to a position under the hammock in order to massage and stretch every inch of my body. While lying on the ground, he delivered a blend of relaxing techniques and modalities including reflexology, cranio-sacral, shiatsu and Thai massage to my back, neck, head, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, calves, ankles and feet.
From the beginning to the end of the session, the hammock rocked slightly in a rhythmic tempo generated by the different massage movements. With the light breeze in the air, warm sunlight, soft music and peaceful sounds of the environment in the background, I felt weightless and quickly fell asleep. I woke only a few times while Rick focused on my pressure points to melt away lingering stress. When the mask was removed and I opened my eyes at the end of the treatment, I saw a beautiful bald eagle flying overhead, also enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze after two days of rain and humidity.
The Grande Eco Garden Hammock Experience is only one of several unique choices on the extensive menu. A variety of massage techniques and experiences reflect the Florida locale. Standouts include a manicure and pedicure using warm honey from the resort’s on-site apiaries and many citrus-infused treatments using orange exfoliants to buff and revitalize the skin.
Relaxed and rejuvenated, I lingered in the third floor’s co-ed lounge before floating down the property’s grand staircase, still feeling weightless. I popped into the spa’s beautiful gift shop on the ground floor and stopped at the Scrub Bar to create a personalized scrub with the help of the spa’s mixologist, who combined rosemary with a blend of essential oils and sea salt to create a polish that left my skin soft and glowing. Guests can choose from a variety of scents and take their concoctions (packaged in TSA-friendly containers) home to enjoy.
Following the Scrub Bar experience, I ventured into the spa’s 6,000-square-foot wellness and fitness center, filled with the latest cardio and strength training equipment and offering guests a number of classes from yoga to Pilates. After running a few miles on one of the health club’s several treadmills, I wandered upstairs to the women’s locker room on the second floor and utilized an available shower before spending time in the sauna, steam room and whirlpool.
I capped off my spa experience with a visit to the pool, reserved exclusively for spa guests, and a meal from Vitale Spa Café. I opted for lighter options, having indulged my first two nights in Orlando at the Chef ’s Table in the kitchen of The Ritz-Carlton and at the resort’s Harvest Celebration, a dinner celebrating the resort’s commitment to farm-to-fork dining and new on-site Whisper Creek Farm — a 7,000-square-foot fruit and vegetable garden with an adjoining 6,000-square-foot outdoor event space and indoor barn. I chose a green smoothie and delicious blue crab salad from Vitale’s healthy menu of dishes meant to revitalize the mind and body after a workout or spa treatment.
I enjoyed my meal and remaining time at Grande Lakes Orlando outside by the spa’s pool, soaking up the serenity and sunshine before traveling back to busy Orlando International Airport to dodge strollers again.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes
4012 Central Florida Parkway
Orlando, FL 32837
tel 407 206 2400
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