Some places get the name just right. Reunion Resort. I can’t imagine this resort by any other name. Everything about it is tailor-made for get-togethers of every variety: golf groups, business trips, weddings, athletic team hosting and, yes, academic and family REUNIONs.
Reunion Resort turns 13 in February 2018, and their first decade-plus of excellence has dramatically altered the landscape of Orlando hospitality. They compete at every level with every local competitor in golf, lodging, service, food and amenities. I’ve already stated my belief that Salamander and Omni are the gold standard of family resort management in Florida… so I won’t repeat that here. But, with kids along, I would stay at Reunion Resort on every Orlando visit ever—for the water park, pools, lodging and food—even if they didn’t have golf. Oh, but they DO have golf.
Let me rattle off some names for you: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Kevin Baker. Heard of any of them? Oh, you have? Great! Well three of those legends designed courses here, and the other runs a state-of-the-art golf academy—formerly The Annika Academy. Your interest in a Reunion visit just quadrupled didn’t it? Good. It should have. But I’m not done.
Reunion Resort has 2,300 acres of amenities and accommodations only six miles from Walt Disney World. You can’t miss it coming in from the southwest. The 11-story Reunion Grande tower is a signature Orlando landmark, with a rooftop pool, lounge and one of my favorite Orlando restaurants—Eleven. Until the Four Seasons opened their own rooftop lounge, this was where I told everyone to go to watch the Disney fireworks. It’s more of a coin toss now, but in either case second place is still first class.
Of course… you can get closer, but this perch is traffic free and you can jump in the pool between oohs and aahs. In 2015 Orlando Magazine voted Eleven the city’s “#1 Best Kept Secret.” Jinx. And “Top 3 Best Views in the City.” Jinx again. The classy rooftop restaurant and citywide panoramic views are unmatched by all but the elegant suites in this palace. Well… and maybe the morning breakfasts in the first-floor Clubhouse Grille. Cornflake French Toast, please.
My family has also spread out in Reunion’s fabulous villas (two styles) with space enough for 12—though we filled it up just fine with six. We pack to the very definition of “overkill.” These villas are loaded with comfortable furniture and beds, powerful showers and fantastic golf course views. When you experience all of this before ever setting foot on a tee box you’re almost expecting the golf to be a disappointment, just to compensate for the everything-else-awesomeness.
Not at all the case. Neutrality can be a perk as a parent—particularly when it comes to claims of favoritism. Fortunately for me each of my kids thinks they’re my favorite. I’m not nearly as neutral with golf. Jack Nicklaus is the best golfer of all time. (Though I still think Rory will challenge that legacy.) Arnold Palmer is my favorite golfer of all time. (Rory is a close second.) Annika is my favorite female golfer of all time. (Lexi Thompson is second.) You can see why I love Reunion Resort, can’t you? So, with neutrality out the window, let me put to rest the question of “best course” at Reunion: The Palmer. It’s not even close in my book, and the other two courses are really quite good. In fact, two other highly respected publications pick the other two. I’m right, but they’re not wrong.
I expected greatness at TPC Sawgrass (Stadium) and Streamsong and of course they delivered, but frequently our best golf experiences are the shockers and “pleasant surprises.” My Florida golf experience was chock-full of pleasant surprises, but to me none were more impactful than: 1. Hammock Beach Conservatory, 2. Reunion Palmer, and 3. TPC Sawgrass Dye Valley.
The Nicklaus Course at Reunion Resort, no surprise, is just plain tough. The Watson course is wild, and has a spectacular stretch of holes mid-round, but if you scored every hole on each course on a scale of 1-10, I trust you’d find that the Palmer is the most loaded with 9s and 10s—with fun, strategic, playable holes. Some people get too caught up in who designed what course. Don’t do that here. Whichever course you pick as your favorite is no slight to the other two. You’re just as likely to find you love them all about the same, even if it’s for completely different reasons.
And that, in my opinion, is what makes for a great golf resort—so much high quality design diversity. Throw in excellence in service, exceptional practice and instructional facilities, great food and the location, location, location in Orlando, and you’ve got a marquee vacation destination at Reunion Resort.
My 5-year old is too young to vote on this matter—though Reunion’s water park did have her favorite Orlando pool—but when I put the question of best (non-Disney) Orlando resort to the four other family members Bay Hill got one vote and Reunion got the other three.
If Orlando were a giant piñata and resort selection was the stick, you could always hack at it blindfolded. Maybe you’ll get lucky. Or you could take luck out of the equation and trust my advice on Reunion—essentially, swinging with the blindfold off.
Reunion Resort is a direct hit.
Where It’s At: 7593 Gathering Drive / Kissimmee. Southwestern edge of Orlando.
Ideal Stay & Play: 3-5 nights. 54 holes of golf. Play them all.
What It’s About: The family, group, and team hosting capital of Orlando in my opinion. Their combination of golf, amenities, food and lodging options is unrivaled in the area.
Family Focus: Water parks, pools, lodging amenities, laundry, fantastic breakfast. Golfers and non-golfers have everything they need here.
Local Food & Drinks: (High End) Savions Place (Social) Tambu Lounge at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (Casual) Buchito (Hot Spot) Chef John’s Place by Lake Tohopekaliga
Day GolfGetaway: Only a golf writer should be forced to seek golf elsewhere. Play these three, pick your favorite, and play that one again. As absurd a notion as I feel this is, if you do feel the need to seek out more golf, Streamsong is only 65 miles south of you with almost no traffic ever. Time for 18 – Play the Red. But you’re better off spending a couple nights down there and playing all three.