ORLANDO, Fla. - The 16th-floor balcony of the $15,000-a-night suite at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando gives guests a bird's-eye view of the features that help make the hotel a destination for the super-rich and powerful.
Guests can see the clubhouse of the resort's 18-hole Tranquilo Golf Course, which will host an LPGA Tour event this month. They can watch the winding path of the lazy river, where they can lounge and relax while sipping margaritas.
Or, off in the distance, basketball courts for those staying at the 443-room resort who want to be more active at the complex just southeast of the Magic Kingdom of Disney World.
In short, the amenities abound at the Four Seasons, Orlando's only AAA Five Diamond-rated hotel, a prestigious and rare rating that the resort won when it opened in 2014 and still holds.
"This is the highest volume market, in regard to rentable rooms, in the U.S.," said GM and Regional Vice President Thomas Steinhauer, referring to the Orlando market, home to more than 500 hotels and 125,000 rooms. "If you open a brand-new property within it, you're very easily trapped into this, 'We are just another hotel' stigma. It was important when we walked into a market like this that we delivered on the promise we make across the whole brand."
The travel club AAA sends thousands of inspectors - which include former hotel managers and food and beverage professionals, among others - to the 27,000 hotels rated by the agency each year.
Of those properties, 121, or about 0.5%, were awarded the top rating after the unannounced visits last year. AAA, which has rated hotels and restaurants since 1937, plans to release this year's rankings early next month.
"For some hotels, it's all they want," said tourism professor Deborah Breiter of University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management. "It's the cache. It costs a lot of money to be a Five Diamond property because you're talking about things like 24-hour room service, certain specific amenities."
Although hotels often inform AAA that they'd like to be inspected for the designation, there is no fee for receiving it, AAA Mark Jenkins spokesman said.
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To achieve the high ranking, a hotel must provide an added level of service to a guest's stay, doing things such as having a well-known chef or providing spa and massage services.
Last year in Central Florida, Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach, Copper Creek Villas and Cabins in Lake Buena Vista and Walt Disney World Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista received AAA's Four Diamond Award for the first time.
But the Four Seasons remains the only Five Diamond hotel, with the 3,300-square-foot Royal Suite and 2,750-square-foot Presidential Suite topping the luxury resort.
The Royal Suite, which costs $15,000 a night and includes a master bedroom, media room, private office and a kitchen, set with granite and limestone floors and crystal lighting, can expand to become a nine-bedroom residence.
The $14,000-a-night Presidential Suite's American walnut flooring runs throughout the suite, which can become a four-bedroom residence.
For those who can't afford that, the least expensive rooms at Four Seasons could be rented for $995 per night over the weekend, nearly eight times the average hotel room in Orlando last year, according to industry tracker STR.
Keeping standards high requires an education program that all employees must take part in, Steinhauer said.
"It's a challenge when you're a larger resort," Steinhauer said. "But employees need to know what they are doing, so we have technical training. We teach how to deal with different mentalities or different cultures. You have to know how to defuse a situation."
Four Seasons draws a clientele that expects the best: celebrities. Steinhauer would not specify who had stayed at the hotel for privacy reasons but said it wouldn't be difficult to connect the dots.
"If you think about the amount of celebrities - whether it's sports or entertainment - that you have heard about them visiting Orlando, quite a big number of them stayed here," he said. "Pricing may be a bit higher here, but it's all-inclusive, and we don't nickel and dime people. That has made us successful."
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