Tuesday, October 07, 2014

What Disney Benefits Do and Don't Convey at Four Seasons Orlando?

Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World
Although Four Seasons Orlando is technically within Walt Disney World, the benefits of staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel don't 100% convey. Understanding which benefits do and don't convey is important when deciding whether to stay at a Disney Resort or another property. The answer depends on what's important to you.

See also: Full Review of Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World

Here's a list of benefits of staying at a Disney Resort. I thought it would be useful to discuss each of these in a little more detail.

See also: Going All-in on Walt Disney World - On site Trip Report

Disney Benefit: Complimentary Airport Service (doesn't convey)

Disney provides ground transportation in the form of Disney's Magical Express which is a motor coach that goes from the Orlando airport to Disney World hotels. An additional benefit of this service is that they can collect your bags for you and deliver them to your hotel room. This can be nice if you come dressed for your day and you can head straight to the parks while you wait for your room to be available.

Personally I find this approach to be a potential point of anxiety. Leaving the airport without your luggage and hoping it's collected and delivered your hotel is a bit disconcerting. And checking bags in the first place is increasingly a source of additional cost. I prefer to pack light, carry all of our bags on the plane, and take matters into our own hands.

Pro Tip: Get there using points & miles earned with flexible rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred

To get to Four Seasons Orlando from MCO you can pay for a bus, rent a car, take a taxi, or arrange for a town car. We went with a town car in part due to the unavoidable valet-only daily parking fee (I think it was $24). I emailed the resort and they made the arrangements. We met our driver at baggage claim (he had an iPad with our name on it) and he took us and our bags directly to the hotel. Our flight got in at noon, and we were at the pool by 1:00 pm thanks to an early check-in. Total cost: $155 plus gratuity.

We requested and received an early check-in at the Four Seasons thanks in part to booking our reservation through a Four Seasons Preferred Partner travel agency.

Both forms of transportation (the Disney Magical Express and the towncar we went with) are operated by Mears. On one hand you get right into the Disney experience with the Magical Express. On the other you get a more efficient, private experience with the town car.

Advantage Disney, but I really prefer the town car approach.

Disney Benefit: Complimentary Resort Transportation & Parking (doesn't convey, but Four Seasons has their own motor coaches)

One of 2 Four Seasons motor coaches. Always right on time. Never crowded.
To get between their parks and hotels, Disney offers a combination of busses, boats, and monorails. No single resort is near all of the parks though, so it's key to select a resort based on location, you'll likely find yourself using a variety of Disney resort transportation options.

Even if you're not staying at a Disney Resort Hotel you can still take advantage of the Disney transportation options. For example to get between Magic Kingdom and EPCOT you can take a monorail. Or to get between any two theme parks you can take a bus. They key difference in transportation options between various hotels is getting to and from your first/last park of the day.
October 2014 Four Seasons Orlando bus schedule.
Pro tip: Snap a picture of it with your smartphone upon arrival.
Here's another bus schedule, from August 2015:
Four Seasons offers their own private motor coaches that travel on two circuits. One goes between the Four Seasons, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, then back to the Four Seasons. The other goes between the Four Seasons, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. I appreciated that the Four Seasons bus runs on a schedule (whereas it's not always clear when the next Disney bus comes in my experience). So although the Four Seasons bus not come as frequently as the Disney busses, if you plan ahead a bit you can catch it without much standing around.

Advantage Disney (depending on which hotel you stay at) but the Four Seasons motor coach is uncrowded and runs on a reliable schedule.

Disney Benefit: Extended Theme Park Hours (doesn't convey)

Each day one of the Disney parks opens early or stays late for Disney Resort guests. This benefit is not available to Four Seasons Hotel guests. It's a bit surprising actually since this benefit does convey to Dolphin/Swan guests (a Starwood property also within Disney World) and even to the Hilton Orlando by Downtown Disney.

For park warrior types that hit each park early to avoid long lines at marquee attractions this may be a deal breaker. But for those visiting just a few parks during a visit, or if you're not into hitting parks right when they open this may not be that big a deal.

Keep in mind that on days when the Magic Kingdom opens early, the entire park doesn't open early. For example last year when we had Extra Magic Hours (since we stayed at the Swan) we wanted to hit Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain yet Adventureland and Frontierland didn't open until the regular park opening time. And on nights when EPCOT stays open late you can easily stay late even if you're not staying at a Disney Resort hotel - you just can't go on any rides. Since you'll probably be there to eat and watch fireworks this may not be a problem.

Still, it's nice to get in early to parks with long lines at rides you want to go on. So...

Advantage Disney.

Disney Benefit: MagicBands (doesn't convey, but...)

MagicBands are a newish invention whereby rather than having a plastic card with a magnetic strip and RF ID that stores your park tickets and FastPass+ reservations you wear the equivalent on your wrist.

I don't mind using my card. Draw.

Disney Benefit: FastPass+ (conveys, but only 30 days out)

FastPass is a handy invention whereby you can make a "reservation" to go on a popular ride within a 1 hour time slot. It used to be that you had to visit the attraction and get a paper ticket to come back later. With FastPass+ you can make reservations without going to the attraction using your smartphone. Or you can even book FastPass+ reservations before you arrive at the park. Months in advance in fact.

Disney Hotel guests can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days out, Four Seasons guests can book them 30 days out.

I was bummed when I discovered this but quickly realized I wasn't enjoying planning our trips so much so far in advance. Dining reservations are one thing but deciding which days to visit which parks ahead of time (what if it rains? what if we're tired?) let alone which time to go on which rides was too much for me.

Advantage Disney for planners. Otherwise no big deal.

Disney Benefit: Disney Dining Plans (doesn't convey)

I'm not a fan of Disney's dining plans. I prefer to just pay for what we eat. We don't always spend the entire day at the parks, and sometimes we get by with just snacking (for example at the Magic Kingdom where compelling food options are scarce).

That said I know some people who get a lot of value out of the Disney Dining Plans so if they work well for you and it's part of an enjoyable vacation experience where you pay for your meals and snacks up front it's definitely something to be aware of because the ability to purchase a Disney Dining Plan is contingent on staying at a Disney Resort Hotel.

Our stay at the Four Seasons included room service breakfast each day for two adults. A bountiful, beautifully presented affair delivered to our room each morning right on time. Our kids would typically order pancakes or waffles for $6 plus tax and delivery charge which we'd supplement with bits of our feasts. Worked out great. Nice way to start the day.
In-room dining at Four Seasons Orlando
I know I wouldn't typically spend $100 a day on breakfast but this does help soften the blow of the Four Seasons room rate. We also received a $100 food & beverage credit to be used throughout our stay thanks to the Preferred Partner booking.

Disney Benefit: Resort Hotel Entertainment (doesn't convey, but Four Seasons is better)

Depending on the Disney Resort Hotel you're staying at, they may offer outdoor movies, pools with slides and such. They might also consider character breakfasts a piece of resort entertainment.

Character breakfasts are available at a number of Disney resorts and even within the parks. They're not typically exclusive to guests of that hotel nor to Disney Resort Hotel guests at all. We visited the one at the Grand Floridian a few years back while staying off-property. It was okay. A bit hectic as you'd imagine with a heavy carb/calorie laden buffet.

Four Seasons offers a character breakfast at their Ravello restaurant with Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie. The food selections are terrific with fresh berries, local fruits, cheeses, and honey. Eggs/omelettes made to order and charcuterie. It's terrific.

But really when it comes to resort entertainment I've never seen anything like Four Seasons Orlando. A lazy river, splash pad, a teen hangout, rock climbing wall, waterslides, you name it. What was so impressive about it was that there's something for every age group. And it never feels crowded.

Advantage Four Seasons.

Disney Benefit: Legendary Disney Service (Four Seasons service is better)

The service at Disney Hotels varies, but the service at the Four Seasons is unparalleled. They're never stuffy or pretentious. They just intuitively know how to give each guest what they're looking for.

Just a couple examples of what I'm talking about...

Say you want to visit the pool. At some resorts you need to present your room key to get a towel or two. And if  you're lucky they'll bring you reliable food & beverage service after that. At the Four Seasons as soon as a guest enters the pool area you're greeted by an attendant that sets you and your family up with towels over your chaise lounge or cabana, extra towels for drying off, ice water, and a menu. Then they come back and check on you in a non-annoying way at regular intervals.

Another example: On the morning we were checking out of the Four Seasons there were 3 other people checking out at the same time. And a couple of spouses standing behind them. I was behind the spouses for about 15 seconds and yet another desk clerk appears out of nowhere and apologizes for the long wait. Contrast this with queues to check-in at some Disney properties. Have you ever seen the lobby at the Grand Californian? It's a beautiful craftsman inspired lodge where people practice the art of waiting in line.

In my experience Disney does a great job running theme parks. Outside of that I have some concerns...

Advantage Four Seasons.

Disney Benefit: Childcare (not really an explicit Disney benefit, but Four Seasons is better)

This isn't necessarily a Disney Resort Hotel benefit so to speak but some Disney Hotels do offer kids clubs and it is a big differentiator if you have young kids.

All hotels say they can arrange for private babysitting. But I don't know anyone who has actually taken advantage of that. However, I know a lot of people who enjoy a kids club if it's presented in a way that's easy to take advantage of. Some Disney hotels have kids clubs. And Camp Dolphin (at the Starwood Swan & Dolphin) offers 2 hours free if you dine at one of their hotel restaurants. That's a decent option and you don't even have to be staying at the hotel.
Amazing counselor to child ratio at Kids for All Seasons
Counselors even know which team Messi plays for!
But the Kids for All Seasons program takes it to another level. Open from 9-5 each day you can drop your kids ages 4-12 off for complimentary supervised play. With the lazy river, waterslides, and pools it took our guys a couple days to be interested in KFAS but when the saw they had all the latest gaming systems there it provided a nice afternoon relief to the blazing hot sun. And an opportunity for us to visit the adults-only pool area.

Advantage Four Seasons.

Conclusion & Recommendations

The Four Seasons Orlando isn't for everyone. But if you're planning a trip to Disney World and you're considering some of the pricier Disney Resorts I'd highly recommend checking whether the Four Seasons might be a better option for you.

In conjunction with no-expiration park tickets and every other day park visits we returned from our Disney World vacation more rejuvenated than prior Disney Parks visits. It felt, finally, like a vacation.

For more information and to check rates visit: http://fourseasons.com/orlando

I'd love it if you subscribed for future updates.
Drop me an email or ping me on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) with questions or comments.

Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Review

Our guys enjoying the Splash Zone
In the past couple years we've taken family trips I've felt that, if combined, would produce the perfect vacation. We stayed at the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara (review) north of San Diego, visited Disneyland and (separately) Walt Disney World. One thing Disney does really well is theme parks. What Four Seasons does really well is hotels. With the arrival of Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World the perfect combination was realized: Four Seasons lodging with Disney Parks.

See also: Going all-in on Walt Disney World - On site Trip Report


Four Seasons likes to operate at the top of the pricing range in any market which they operate. Disney sets the mark high with their Deluxe resorts. When I checked rates, Four Seasons Orlando was around the same price as Disney's BoardWalk Inn. Here's a useful rate comparison of Four Seasons Orlando to other Four Seasons and Disney Deluxe Resorts from Touring Plans.

You see, for as much as I like Disney Parks I've got my concerns with them as a hotelier. Four Seasons on the other hand has blown me away with their style of service each time we've visited one of their properties.

See: These Disney Cruises Infuriate Me - Why do I keep booking them? 

For the the dates we visited in early October Four Seasons Orlando was $545 per night. But they were offering a third night free promotion which would bring the price down to $363 a night if booked in 3 night increments. A four night stay works out $408 a night. Since the BoardWalk was booking for around $500 a night before discounts this was a rate I could justify in my mind.

One thing people might not realize when booking high end hotels like Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, etc is that although discounts on these properties are hard to come by you can often stack the best available offer with additional promotions offered as benefits through certain credit cards and/or travel agents.

For example the American Express Platinum Card offers a Fine Hotel & Resorts program where you can get benefits like free breakfast, early check-in/check-out, a $100 food & beverage credit and more on top of the best package a hotel might be offering.

See also: Mandarin Oriental Boston Review

If you don't have an AmEx Platinum consider establishing a relationship with a Four Seasons Preferred Partner travel agent. It should cost you nothing additional to book your stay through them and some great benefits like complimentary daily breakfast and an additional food & beverage credit will convey on top of the best available rates. I booked through Brownell Travel. Drop me an email if you'd like a referral.

See also: Four Seasons Chicago with Kids


One thing I love about the Four Seasons is how easy they make it to communicate with them. They never make you feel like you've contacted the wrong department. They just take care of your request no matter how you've routed it.

For example I considered booking ground transportation from MCO to the resort through a discount offered on MouseSavers. But the deals were on the order of $10 so I just contacted the Four Seasons via email in their response to inquiry to see if they could do anything to make our stay more comfortable. They arranged a towncar for $155 round-trip which is on par with what it should cost. Without any additional intervention on my part and just a moment to compose an email ground transport was taken care of.

Similarly I secured a reservation for a character breakfast at the resort. A quick email in response to their outreach is all it took and the reservation was secured.

How many times have you talked to a business and they told you that you needed to route your request to a different department? That never happens at the Four Seasons. They just take care of it.

With 443 rooms the Orlando property is the largest Four Seasons Hotel


In my experience, nobody orchestrates an arrival better.

As an aside I will say that hiring a town car or taxi gets you on property faster than renting a car or taking Disney's Magical Express. Our flight got in at noon and we were at the hotel by 1 pm. And down at the pool moments later.

Upon arrival we were greeted with the customary "Welcome to the Four Seasons" and the bellmen took our bags. We were escorted to the front desk to check in. While I was taking care of the details my wife and kids checked out the Disney planning desk and Disney World touch screen flat panel they have set up nearby. The desk agent escorted us to the elevators and we were headed up to the 10th floor.

We reserved a standard room and received a modest upgrade to a Golden Oak View room.


Golden Oak View Room with King Bed and Pull-out Sofa
Although our room was technically "just" a regular hotel room with a combined sleeping area and adjacent bathroom, it was quite large (500sf) and extremely well appointed. Although the exterior of the hotel is set in a Spanish revival/Tuscan motif to match the Golden Oak residential community it is situated within, the interior is trendier and more contemporary. The appointments felt comfortable yet rich and sophisticated to me.
Bathroom with double sinks, soaking tub, shower, and WC
The bathroom had double sinks, separate tub and shower and water closet. An in-mirror TV ensured our kids could watch cartoons while showing/taking a tub after a day in the pools. And I could watch SportsCenter while shaving.
Well good afternoon to you in-mirror TV!
The bed is insanely comfortable and the overall in-room experience is carefully designed to provide the best night of sleep of your life. After days visiting the parks or relaxing by the pools I slept the sleep of angels and wondered what we could do to make our bed at home more like the one there (we've already got the pillows).

Rounding things out were toiletries from C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries, a Bose Soundlink bluetooth speaker (that you could use to stream high quality music from your smartphone), and robes for every member of the family - even little ones for the kids.

Just when we got done gawking at the room our luggage arrived. They've got the timing down perfectly. We debated heading over to the parks for the afternoon but we were drawn to the pools to check out what the resort had to offer.


Family-friendly Explorers Pool
The pool area includes a tranquil adults only pool, a kid-friendly family pool, an impressive splash pad for younger kids, an incredibly fun lazy river, and dueling 242-foot waterslides.
Cabana use was complimentary during our stay but will go for $200/day
What pleased me most about the expansive pool are was how there was something for everyone. If you wanted to set yourself up in a shady secluded area near the lazy river you could. If you wanted a sunny spot near the pool area that was available too.
Lazy river featured a great mix of slow and fast portions
What I was thinking as we were enjoying ourselves was how I could see every member of every family I know finding something fun to do somewhere at the resort.
Dueling 242-foot water slides are perfect for racing. Again and again and again.
During our stay we experienced pouring rain, blazing heat, and surprisingly chilly morning temperatures. We enjoyed the pools under almost all of these conditions but I think its value would be at its peak during the warmest months when the parks are unbearably hot.


The biggest area where Four Seasons differentiates itself is how it offers personalized intuitive service that anticipates guest needs effortlessly. It's really quite amazing.

For example, in the pool area when a guest enters the area they are consistently greeted by an attendant and "set up" with towels over chaise lounges and additional towels for drying off. Fresh ice water is provided and a food & drink menu is provided. No pressure, but they check in every 15 minutes or so to see if there's anything they can offer. Contrast this with other resorts where you're lucky to get a couple towels and occasion drink service. The difference is amazing.

Nobody "sets you up" better than Four Seasons
Probably the most striking difference between the Four Seasons and Disney properties is the utter lack of crowds. The hotel wasn't at capacity when we visited (all of the rooms aren't even built out yet) but I get the sense that even if it were at 100% capacity it still wouldn't feel crowded. There were so many chairs in the pool area. And not just rows and rows of chairs - all kinds of little pockets where you could set up depending on your mood and interest in getting sun, shade or a nap.

Another example of the Four Seasons service standard: When we were checking out there were a few other couples also talking with desk clerks. After 15 seconds or so yet another desk clerk appeared an apologized for keeping me waiting. For 15 seconds? No worries. But if you compare this to some high end Disney resorts where long waits aren't unusual - the Four Seasons difference is striking.

The resort offers their Kids for All Seasons program on a drop-in basis from 9-5 each day. The counselor to child ratio is incredible. If there are just a few kids there they tailor the activities to the kids liking. When there are more kids they operate on schedule with group activities like water balloons, swimming, and outdoor activities.
Kids club features a volcano and an amazingly high counselor to child ratio
What I liked best about the Kids for All Seasons program is the amazingly easy drop-in nature of it. Our first day there the kids were checking out the property and didn't have time to think about checking in.
Outdoor games included foosball, billiards and table tennis
The second day there we spent the whole day by the pool. By around 2 pm it was very hot out and we were all ready for a break. We dropped them at the kids club and headed over to the adults only pool. The chaise lounges were even more comfortable there and I felt asleep poolside for, I think, the first time ever. It was truly paradise.
Tranquil adults only pool features cabanas with double chaise lounges
Every single person we interacted with at the resort was amazingly kind and friendly in a non-stuffy kind of way. More notably than anything the Four Seasons Orlando, within the Golden Oak community within Walt Disney World, is an enclave within an enclave that provides peaceful retreat after a hectic day at the parks.


Our room rate included daily breakfast for two adults. We chose to take this as room service and added reasonable $6 choices for the kids which resulted in a very nice start to the day. Passing around the in-room iPad mini to make selections the night before was fun and each morning breakfast was deliver precisely at the requested time.
Room service breakfast
The poolside dining options were served up by their "PB+G" restaurant (pool bar & grill). During our stay I tried the fish tacos, the burger, and an off the menu pulled pork sandwich. For me, the burger was best. At $20 it was pricey as you might expect but very much worth it.
Outstanding $20 burger with a nice assortment of beers available
Twice a week they offer a Disney character breakfast featuring Mickey & Pals. We did a character breakfast at the Grand Floridian a few years back and it was a hectic gut-busting affair. In contrast the character breakfast at the Four Seasons featured fresh berries, local cheeses, honey, and fruits. Appealing charcuterie and eggs/omelettes made to order made it one of the more enjoyable meals we experienced.

The buffet was beautifully laid out. They even had a section set up for kids at their height so they could see and select items for themselves. Brilliant!
Kid-friendly section of the Ravello buffet - presented at kids' height
Highly recommended, but I think I made a tactical mistake with the character breakfast given the package we booked. That morning we didn't take advantage of our daily breakfast and although the resort made it clear the character breakfast wasn't included in the free breakfast offer I thought they might knock $32 off our bill (or some accommodation for the complimentary breakfast we didn't enjoy in-room that morning). When I asked about this at check-out I was told that the character breakfast was excluded from the free breakfast offer so I let it go. This was my only minor point of disappointment in our stay.
Character breakfast with Goofy & Pals was a hit!
The resort is incredibly family-friendly. When we checked in they gave the kids "passports" that they needed to get stamped at each area of the resort. Once they filled their books up they could redeem them for tokens for free gelato at Lickety-Split.
Kids earn a free gelato for getting their FS Orlando "passports" stamped
While relaxing by the pool I asked to see a wine list for the main resort restaurants that hadn't opened yet. (In case you didn't know I've written a wine blog since 2008). Our attendant tracked one down and I had a look just for fun. I was pleased to my wine of the year a few years back - Cigliuti Serraboella Barbaresco. And as any good list should - Juan Gil was available. Whew - I don't know how I'd survive otherwise. ;)
Nice list, especially for Italian and Spanish reds
A Cuban restaurant (at the adjacent Tranquilo golf course) and a Brazilian Steakhouse are coming soon. We'll have to go back to check them out!

Conclusion & Recommendations

At a cost that's in line with Disney Deluxe Resorts and accommodations, and amenties and service that are far beyond, I consider Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World to be a value. All things considered it is a nearly perfect family-friendly luxury resort.

But I was thinking what could possibly make it better? A private beach on the ocean I guess. You look at some of the best beachfront resorts in the world and that obviously isn't possible in Orlando. And while Orlando is great it doesn't have the exotic feel of say Hawaii or the Maldives. And it doesn't have the residential feel some rental options offer.

But for what it is I think it's nearly perfect.

My Rating:
98/100 points
5 out of 5 stars

I'll hope to go deeper into comparisons between this resort and other splurge-worthy options and discuss which Disney Resort benefits do and don't convey when staying at the Four Seasons in future blog posts.

I'd love it if you subscribed for updates.

Drop me an email or ping me on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) with questions or comments.
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