Lucky Day

The opening date of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando may seem less than ideal, but October 1 has a good track record.


Waldorf Astoria
A suite in the Waldorf Astoria Orlando 

You might think this is a bad time to be opening a luxury resort in Orlando—or anywhere, for that matter. But Tom Parke feels that timing will be on his side when the project he’s been overseeing for two years makes its debut October 1. That’s the opening date of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando-Hilton Bonnet Creek, and Parke, the resort’s marketing director, says it’s a lucky day, to be sure. The New York Waldorf Astoria opened on that day in 1931 (amid the Great Depression), as did Walt Disney World in 1971 and, 12 years later, the Disney Hilton. October 1 is a good omen, he believes, so spare him the negativity.

“We’ve been making reservations for this property for 10 months,” Parke says of the resort, near Downtown Disney. “It’s unlike anything we could have scripted to date. You read it in the paper and say it’s not going to work, but the customer says differently.”

The Waldorf name alone assures the new hotel instant recognition in an area with fewer than a dozen competitors in the luxury golf-and-spa resort market. The Orlando Waldorf also carries a distinguishing characteristic: It is only the second newly built Waldorf Astoria.

In size and scope of luxuries, the Waldorf-Hilton partnership is similar to The Ritz-Carlton-JW Marriott Grande Lakes, Orlando, concept of providing unique experiences at each site but with the same high level of service. The 497-room Waldorf Astoria and the 1,000-room Hilton, situated on 482 acres of green space, woods and water, are connected by a spacious corridor of ballrooms and meeting space.

Both hotels offer a range of amenities: cabanas at one of the Waldorf pools, celebrity chef Donna Scala’s super-cool La Luce Italian restaurant in the Hilton, the Waldorf’s dark-wood Bull and Bear Steakhouse (an institution at the New York Waldorf Astoria and named for Wall Street trading lingo), the Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain, and a 7,025-yard golf course designed by Rees Jones.

And while the two hotels are similar in their rectangular exteriors, inside they are a contrast in styles. Like its upper-crust sister up north, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando exudes old money and social privilege, with its conservatively appointed décor and afternoon teas.  The Hilton, however, has a casual feel, with modern lighting fixtures, inlaid tile as accents in walls, and airy spaces with tile floors.

The press release on the Waldorf listed peak season rates starting at $539 per night, but Eva Cooper, director of leisure sales for the resort, says prices were cut to reflect market conditions. “I’m sending deals to everyone,” she says, adding that starting rates at the Waldorf Astoria and the Hilton are $229 and $179 per night, respectively, during an introductory period.

Travel industry guru Peter Yesawich, CEO and chairman of Ypartnership in Orlando, calls the Waldorf a “home run” over the long haul. “It also will be a magnet for high-end corporate needs” once travel business rebounds—in 2011, by his forecast—and luxury resorts aren’t considered no-go zones anymore.

The Waldorf Astoria “is probably one of the most well-recognized luxury brands,” Yesawich says. And “that will add some additional panache to Orlando.”