And, folks, you're in for just that kind of closeness, if you plan to stay at most hotels on International Drive in Orlando. But don't fret my fellow claustrophobics, I've found a resort at the undeveloped end of I-Drive that feels like it's miles from the madness, yet is really just around the bend from all the action.
Just opened since February 1999, the Crowne Plaza Resort has a laid-back Key West feel with breezy palm trees, pastel buildings and more ceiling fans than you can shake a margarita at. And with only 140 rooms and suites, the resort won't overwhelm you. Maybe the best feature, however, is that for all this luxury and peace and quiet, you'll probably pay less than you will at those mega hotels up the road.
You can choose from either a Deluxe Guestroom or a Residential-style Suite. Or, if you're traveling with a large group, you can reserve both and connect them. Both types of accommodations have a modern, upscale Florida decor, featuring pastel colors and wood and wicker furniture. Each has a private balcony with chairs and a ceiling fan.
The Deluxe Guestrooms have two double beds and a nifty kitchenette with a small refrigerator, microwave, plates and coffeemaker. Bathrooms are spacious and have a hair dryer and standup shower - but no bathtub.
The suites come with a full-size kitchen, living area with a sleeper sofa, dining area and separate bedroom. The bedroom has a king-size bed and a television. The bathrooms in the suites, however, do have bathtub.
Swimming pool & recreation
To test the resort's relaxation quotient, I sat down at the pool and looked around. Good, no souvenir shops in site. I closed my eyes and listened ... just the sound of palm branches rustling in the wind (okay, okay, I did hear a few cars buzzing down the highway, but the palms were much louder). Here in the middle of the resort, surrounded by palms and tropical plants, is a large sundeck, two heated pools of moderate size, a whirlpool and a kiddie pool. A festive pool-side bar is decorated with mosaic tile and is open until midnight (weather permitting). Did somebody say margarita?
Oh, if you get tired of lounging at the pool, you can use the lighted tennis courts, exercise room, game room or head to the neighboring golf course.
Well, if all the staff members are as friendly as Dawn at the front desk, guests at the Crowne Plaza must be treated like VIPs. When I showed up in my old jeans (undercover work, you know) and asked to see a room, she cheerfully showed me all around the resort, answering all my questions like an expert. A nice change from the usual rush-rush treatment I receive at most hotels.
What to eat?
Room service is available until midnight, and the hotel's restaurant - The Pineapple Grill - is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since the Crowne Plaza is part of the Holiday Inn family of hotels, kids under age 12 eat free when accompanied by a paying adult. And if you travel just a few miles south on I-Drive, you find every thing from burgers to sushi.
SeaWorld is just 3 miles away.
The Disney World property is about 7 miles away, although it'll take you about 20 minutes to get to the theme parks.
The Crowne Plaza is a great tropical respite at the end of a long, loud boulevard. I would recommend it to families who want extra space and a kitchen to cook some meals. This is also a great "getaway" resort for those attending a convention at the nearby Orange County Convention Center.
- The Good: ample parking, no tacky souvenir shops, peace and quiet, upscale rooms, tropical pool deck, good value
- The Bad: Deluxe Guestrooms have only a shower and no bathtub. The area surrounding the parking lots could use more landscaping.
- The Ugly: If you don't have a car, the only thing within walking distance is a 7-11.