I’m at the Gaylord Palms Resort for three nights for the International Spa Association (ISPA) Conference & Expo. This expansive Kissimmee resort is spread out over 63 acres and includes shopping, restaurants, the Relâche Spa & Salon, and the Cypress Springs Family Fun Waterpark. It’s location just a few miles from the Walt Disney World Resort makes it an ideal full-service property to visit if you want to be close to the Disney action but get away from it too.
The vibe: Few brands can cater to business travelers and their tagalong families – and please them all – like Gaylord Palms, now part of the Marriott family. Three Florida environments are recreated in the properties signature atriums showcasing the sights and sounds of the Florida, from the Everglades, to Key West and St. Augustine. The atmosphere is decidedly tropical, a little bit Mediterranean with Spanish influences and just a touch beachy.
The food: “Mom, you ate breakfast with who?” This is the phone conversation I had with my son who stayed behind with dad. Although I’m traveling without my family travel companions, I couldn’t resist being treated to Shrekfeast for breakfast. A kid friendly event held each weekend – complete with Shrek characters, a green chocolate fountain and swamp juice – I was able to sidestep the sideshow (mostly) and enjoy the hearty and varied breakfast buffet.
The room: I am staying in a 6th floor King Emerald Bay atrium view guestroom. (Pictured, top) My two balconies overlook the main atrium and the Key West area of the resort. The room is well-sized, modernly furnished and decorated in soothing earth tones with splashes of classic midnight blue.
The spa: Travel wreaks havoc on my skin (breakouts and oily skin galore!) so the timing of my facial at the newly renovated Relâche Spa & Salon is ideal. The retail and reception areas deliver a wow factor. The treatment – the deeply relaxing yet powerfully effective Relâche Radiance Facial ($185, 80 minutes) – was executed by the extremely gifted Lina, a veteran esthetician with 20 plus years of experience.
I steamed in the eucalyptus steam room, baked in the large redwood sauna and cooled back down again with chilled lavender infused towels.
The Everglades Stone Pedicure was a traditional pedicure followed by an extended foot and lower leg massage. Pure heaven in the comfiest pedicure chairs ever!
Don’t miss: The Kohler rainforest showers – a symphony of customized lighting, water temperature and showerhead preference.
Getting down to business: The conference center is conveniently located just steps away from Emerald Bay – a hotel within a hotel concept at Gaylord Palms. The conference facilities are spread out over 3 levels connected by a central escalator bank. Unlike other conference venues I’ve been to, there are windows overlooking the beautiful landscaping and the lower level opens up to outdoor spaces for casual meetings. My only complaint? It was darn cold in that conference center!
The conference meals and snacks were high quality, of excellent variety, plentiful and generally healthy. Conference attendees swarmed the fruit, yogurt and granola buffet served on Tuesday afternoon at the conference energy break. It was a real hit!
What your kids will love: Shrekfeast (see above), Cypress Springs Family Fun Waterpark, DreamWorks-themed events and characters, fish and wildlife exhibits and feedings, fun shops and themed restaurants.
In general: At first arrival I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the property. It didn’t help that it was dark when I arrive and the atrium areas of the hotel are lit to mimic nighttime outdoor lighting conditions. But I quickly got my bearings in the light of day and appreciated the beautiful setting.