“There’s nothing between here and the Magic Kingdom except saw palmettos and wild rabbits — and they’re definitely not the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ variety.”
I distinctly remember my dad telling us that as we passed through the gates to Walt Disney World many, many years ago. And he was right, it was pure Florida wilderness from that point until we got closer to the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. That’s all Disney World consisted of back in 1971.
Today, Disney World is a sprawling complex that encompasses multiple theme parks and waterparks, shopping and dining areas, recreational outposts and dozens of official resorts. But, there are also a handful of non-Disney hotels that live on this campus — some with special Disney perks and some without.
While the Swan and Dolphin, and the forthcoming luxury tower dubbed the Swan Reserve, may be the best-known among those properties (because you can use your Marriott Bonvoy points to book a room and get some swell Disney extras), there are other lodging options as well.
In addition to the hotels at Disney Springs, you’ll find the Four Seasons Resort Orlando, Waldorf Astoria Orlando, Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek and the new JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa.
This place has been on my wish list since it opened in July 2020 and my interest was only piqued further when my colleague Summer Hull visited in October and shared her list of five things to know about the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek.
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Once I got vaccinated against COVID-19, I knew the first reservation I’d make: a getaway to this resort. In fact, I booked my stay on the same day I got my first shot and picked a check-in date that was four weeks after my second shot.
Like so many other resorts, the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek has some hefty additional daily fees to contend with. You’ll pay a $35-per-day resort fee that includes:
- Shuttle service to the Disney parks (great if you plan to use the service, which has a reduced schedule right now due to COVID-19)
- Shuttle service to Disney Springs (dining and shopping area)
- Two welcome beverages (two glasses of Champagne)
- Daily wellness class
- In-room internet
- Internet in the lobby and meeting spaces
Self-parking is $29 per day in the 1,000-space parking garage, and valet parking is $37 per day. (Note that there is one electric car charging station and it’s free to use.)
The hotel is a Category 6 in the Marriott Bonvoy award chart. Off-peak nights will cost you 40,000 points, standard dates are 50,000 points and peak dates are 60,000 points.
You can use one of Marriott’s 50,000-point award night certificates for this property on off-peak or standard dates. You can earn one of these certificates each year on the anniversary of your Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. Apply for this card to earn a 75,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first six months of card membership.
I checked rates at Marriott’s website as well as via American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts website. Unfortunately, this hotel wasn’t an option but I could have selected the Four Seasons, The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, the Waldorf Astoria or Universal’s Loews Portofino Bay.
By booking directly with Marriott, I was able to score a package — Luxury Celebrations Suite Escape — that included valet parking, a $200 property credit, late checkout and a discounted suite (more on that later). The nightly room rate was $658.
This 16-story high-rise resort is in Orlando at 14900 Chelonia Parkway. It’s 25 minutes southwest of Orlando International Airport (MCO). It’s also very close to certain parts of the Walt Disney World complex, including the entertaining/dining zone called Disney Springs, Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. You can get to each of those destinations in less than 10 minutes by car. The drive to the Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom is just a few minutes longer.
From our suite’s balcony, we could see Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, Typhoon Lagoon, the Disney Skyliner gondola transportation system, much of Disney Springs and even the Contemporary Resort far in the distance. This would be the perfect spot to watch the fireworks when they return to the theme parks.
If headed beyond Disney, SeaWorld Orlando is about 15 minutes by car and Universal Studios Florida is a 30-minute drive.
The resort offers shuttle service to the Disney theme parks and Disney Springs as part of its resort fee but not to Universal or any of Orlando’s other themed attractions. At least, not while I was there.
I checked in via the Marriott Bonvoy app the day before arrival. I noted an arrival time between 12:30 and 1 p.m., even though the official check-in time wasn’t until 4 p.m. That’s also the intel I gave when responding to an email from the hotel a few days before.
On the drive to Orlando, I checked the app a few times and our room wasn’t yet ready so we stopped at La Femme du Fromage (3201 Corrine Drive) to pick up some gourmet cheese for snacking later. We arrived at the hotel around 1:30 p.m. The room still wasn’t ready so the bellman took our luggage to storage.
The front desk agent was friendly — despite being behind a plexiglass barrier. He told us someone would give us a call as soon as the room was ready.
From the moment I stepped into the lobby, I knew I’d appreciate the modern design of this hotel. With its soaring ceilings, marble finishings, eclectic furniture and artwork, there is a lot to take in as you arrive.
If you’re traveling with a group, you will adore this hotel that offers an incredible number of seating areas so you can stake out part of the lobby or a nook near the convention space.
This place is modern and sleek but incorporates earthy tones and finishings that warm it up. Expect plenty of wood, wicker, stone and reeds. (There’s an amazing “fringed” chair in the lobby that appears to be made with macrame rope.) I also loved the use of succulents as a decor element throughout the lobby and 50,000 square feet of convention space.
At 2:30 p.m., Reception called to alert us that our room was ready. We swung by the front desk to pick up our two tickets for a complimentary glass of Champagne (for some reason, they wouldn’t give them to us when we visited the desk earlier to check in).
With 516 rooms and suites, there is an abundance of room categories from which to choose.
For our trip, I booked the 1,317-square-foot “luxury” one-bedroom suite that includes a king bedroom, separate living area with sofa bed, 1 1/2 bathrooms and a huge balcony (something I highly value during any hotel stay in a warm destination).
We were assigned Suite 1250 and, honestly, I’d be more than happy to live in an apartment like this. Three sides of the suite have expansive floor-to-ceiling windows with incredible views of the Bonnet Creek area: Look in one direction and you see the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort and Waldorf Astoria. From the balcony, you can see Epcot and Disney Springs. From the bedroom, look down and you’ll see the hotel’s mini-golf course and rock climbing wall.
The sunset view from the balcony was absolutely stunning — it was pure magic watching that glowing orb illuminate the Dolphin’s pyramid before sinking behind the building.
The deep balcony that traversed the length of the suite was my favorite aspect of the suite. Just remember that we traveled in May when Orlando is still incredibly pleasant — we enjoyed days with no humidity or rain and the sun shining down felt good on our skin.
That’s not always the case when the sun’s rays, the heat and humidity can be downright oppressive. Keep that in mind when booking a suite simply for the balcony. Be realistic about how much you’ll use it during your trip. Hanging out on the balcony at the height of the day in July or August wouldn’t be quite so lovely.
Note that from our suite, the balcony looked directly down on the ninth-floor rooftop terrace, which is part of Illume, a Japanese restaurant that wasn’t yet open when we visited. While dining wasn’t an option at this venue, a private party enjoyed the terrace one evening. We liked hearing the music and chatter of the attendees but you might not want that if you are sensitive to noise or traveling with little ones that go to bed early.
We like having a true suite that separates the bedroom from the living area. It makes the visit feel more authentic … as if it’s more home than hotel. The luxury one-bedroom suite features a wide foyer that leads to the dining table and expansive living area.
We liked the L-shaped sofa, though it could have been more comfortable. However, the firmness is probably a byproduct of the fact that it can be converted to a sofa bed. The living room included a wide-screen TV and there was a second TV in the bedroom.
Since there are floor-to-ceiling windows on three walls of this suite, I was pleased that the window treatments included both sheers and blackout curtains.
The suite’s office — with sliding-glass privacy doors — was a huge perk as well. It had a wide desk with a rolling chair on both sides. If the office doors and the curtains in front of the door to the balcony across the hall are both open, you have gorgeous views while you work.
The only downside is that there is no air conditioner return in that room so it gets warm if you have the doors closed. But it’s a fantastic addition for anyone that either needs to work or attend a Zoom meeting.
Because we knew we planned to spend most of our time at the resort, a roomy suite was important to us. We also enjoyed having a kitchenette that featured a Bosch refrigerator and dishwasher.
However, we would have loved to have plates, glasses and silverware in the cupboards. (Those items have been removed as a precaution during the pandemic.)
There is a service door in the kitchenette that leads to the public hallway — presumably so that if you order catering from the hotel, they can access your suite without entering via the foyer.
From the living room, the middle hallway leads to the half-bath on the right and then the kitchenette straight ahead at the end of the hall.
We didn’t use the “Francis Francis” Illy coffee maker but it was outfitted with coffee pods and tea packets (Taylors English breakfast tea and organic chamomile).
As you walk from the living room down the hall past the private office, you head to the bedroom. There is a door you can close for privacy. The walk-in closet is to your right when you walk through that threshold with the king-size bed and two sitting chairs on the other side of a slat divider.
The suite had 1 1/2 baths. The master bath had a separate rain shower and bathtub.
The Toto toilet was behind a frosted glass door. Whenever you opened that door, the lid of the toilet automatically raised. It was a bit weird — as was the heated seat, which you could turn off or adjust via a keypad affixed to the wall — but I suppose some people like this sort of thing. I preferred to use the half-bath instead.
Toiletries were by Aromatherapy Associates and included bar soap, hand lotion, body wash, shampoo and conditioner. The shampoo and conditioner were a blend of rosemary and ylang ylang (a flower) and the body wash was lavender paired with ylang ylang.
There was also a bottle of “WhisperMint” mouthwash in each bathroom.
The walk-in closet had a safe (large enough for two laptops and other electronics), six deep drawers and shelves and plenty of space to hang clothes (though if you travel with a lot of clothes, you’ll likely need to use the Marriott Bonvoy app to request additional hangers). There was a hair dryer, iron and ironing board as well.
All the decorative pillows for the living room, bedroom and balcony had been removed and stored in the walk-in closet. We used a few of them on the balcony daybed when we were outside.
Other rooms and suites
Of course, not everyone wants or needs the space of a one-bedroom suite. Instead, you can book entry-level 378-square-foot guest rooms with either one king or two queen beds. You can then move up the ladder to the same type of room with different views. Pick from a view of Disney Springs, the pool or Disney fireworks.
Resort-view rooms, which are all corner executive king suites, are slightly larger at 412 square feet and have the addition of a sofa bed.
For singles or couples wanting more space, go for a 773-square-foot one-bedroom executive suite, which is outfitted with a king bed, a sofa bed and 1 1/2 bathrooms. These are available with different views, including of the nightly fireworks at Disney (note that the fireworks are currently paused). These suites do not have a balcony.
Families can book either a two-bedroom family suite (one king, one double bunk bed, a sofa bed and 2 1/2 baths) or a 1,167-square-foot two-bedroom suite (one king, two double beds, a sofa bed and 2 1/2 baths). Some two-bedroom suites are at the corner of the building and are slightly smaller at 1,141 square feet.
The presidential suite — with a king bedroom, separate living area and dining room (with a table accommodating eight) — is the pinnacle of accommodations at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek. At 2,125 square feet, it’s larger than many homes in America. It includes an extra-large balcony with comfortable furniture and the sweeping view includes Bonnet Creek and beyond. You can see Disney’s fireworks from there, too.
Food and beverage
There are several dining and lounge options at the hotel, though not everything was open on our visit.
Sear + Sea Lobby Bar
Since the mandatory resort fee includes two free welcome drinks, you’ll have occasion to visit Sear + Sea Lobby Bar, toward the back of the lobby and in front of Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill.
The bar is a work of art, with a nearly floor-to-ceiling display — that reminds me of an advent calendar — showcasing the various liquors on offer.
Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill
We dined out a lot while on this trip to Orlando and Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill, a steakhouse (on the lobby level), was our favorite.
We enjoyed an incredible dinner on the outdoor patio. The ambiance was perfect … eclectic furniture, a view of the woods and flowing sheer curtains that billowed throughout the evening in a relaxing way.
Unreserved Beer Garden
Upon check-in, our room wasn’t quite ready so we headed to the Unreserved Beer Garden by the family pool.
We enjoyed a lunch of fish and steak tacos, plus an inventive carrot hummus starter. (My husband tried to order the pastrami sandwich, but the chef was all out — this was a theme not just at the JW Marriott restaurants but everywhere we went in Orlando. If you have your heart set on a chef specialty somewhere, call ahead to make sure they have it in stock to avoid disappointment.)
Unreserved Food Bazaar
While the Unreserved Beer Garden is outdoor, its companion Unreserved Food Bazaar is an indoor dining room on the ground/pool level.
Not all dining venues were operating regularly
Even though the U.S. is doing well vaccinating people, the usual volume of travelers has not yet returned to Orlando. When we visited, the hotels we stayed at (the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek and The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes) were both at low occupancy. This meant that not all restaurants were open during our visit.
In particular, the rooftop Illume, a Japanese dining venue, has not yet opened but has a “spring 2021” date being touted. It was a shame this spot wasn’t open since it has a beautiful outdoor bar area on the rooftop deck — which was visible from our suite. A private group had a party there one evening and it looked like a comfortable place to spend a few hours.
Somewhat more disappointing was the fact that JW Market, the grab-and-go deli and designated spot to get coffee, was only open daily from 6 a.m. to noon.
Likewise, room service was only available on Saturdays and Sundays from 7-11 a.m. for breakfast and 6-10 p.m. for dinner. We stayed on a Monday and Tuesday so weren’t able to indulge. The breakfast and dinner menus were the same as what’s served at Unreserved Food Bazaar on the ground floor.
Finally, Palm Cove, the poolside restaurant, wasn’t open while we were there, though you could get a drink at the bar.
While there is no lazy river at this property — that distinction lies with the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes — there are two heated pools, a whirlpool, pool cabanas and an “Activity Garden” with all sorts of pastimes for kids and adults.
The Activity Garden is where you’ll find the indoor Kids Conservatory Lounge. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s where children and teens can go to play a game (we spied checkers and Monopoly), read a book or draw. (Kids under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.)
Right past the kids club is a door to the outdoor complex that offers nine holes of “Garden Golf.” This isn’t exactly mini-golf; it’s more challenging with berms that make it tougher to coax your golf ball where you want it to go.
There’s also Mount Chelonia Rock Wall. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but unlike the golf course and kids club, you pay $15 to play on the wall. There are lounge chairs on the lawn as well as other games like cornhole.
Wellness classes are held on the lawn here at 8 a.m.
You can reserve your spot for mini-golf, rock climbing and wellness classes from your phone. There is a QR code on a poster in front of the Activity Garden. Point your smartphone at the code and it will open the app where you need to make reservations — free or paid.
Pools and cabanas
There are two heated pools at the resort: One is family-friendly and the other is adults-only. In reality, the pools are back to back so even if you are longing for a kid-free experience, you’ll likely see some coming and going to your little patch of paradise.
You can rent a cabana, decked out in orange fabric, from within the app we mentioned above. These are located alongside the family pool, are outfitted with a ceiling fan and can accommodate up to four people. Prices start at $200 a day.
Closer to the adults-only pool are the daybeds, which accommodate three people. They are outfitted with flowing, sheer white curtains for a tiny bit of privacy. This is a less expensive option at $75 a day.
Both pools offer a chair lift for anyone that needs assistance entering the water.
Spa by JW
While I never saw the spa open while I was visiting the hotel, nor did I try to book a treatment, it looked lovely from the outside. According to the hotel, it’s open Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday/Month from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
You can review the spa’s offerings in the app or walk in to speak with a receptionist about the best options for you. All treatments revolve around four principles: calm, indulge, invigorate and renew.
Pick from an array of options like massages, body scrubs, facials, manicures, pedicures, scalp treatments, collagen treatments (eye, lip, face, neck), LED light therapy and more.
You can also buy a day pass for $40 that gives you access to the fitness center, steam room, sauna, “experience” showers and locker rooms.
If you’d like to use the gym, make an appointment for a time slot. The options are 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Only nine guests are allowed in the gym during any time slot. The fitness center is sanitized between each exercise session.
Once you have secured a time slot, visit the front desk to pick up a key to the facility.
Guests under 16 must be accompanied by an adult to use the fitness center.
In the age of COVID-19, discussing service at any resort can be a difficult proposition. Was service excellent? No, but I generally hold the bar pretty high for luxury properties.
The hotel was nearly empty throughout our stay. We had the lobby, Activity Garden, Unreserved Beer Garden and pool almost to ourselves whenever we were out and about. But, even with occupancy being so low, our suite still wasn’t ready for check-in when we arrived. I had alerted the hotel to our arrival time via email, per their request, and also reiterated that in the app upon check-in. It wasn’t a huge deal that the room wasn’t ready but I’m not sure why it wasn’t with so few people staying at the property during this time period.
Valet parking was included in our package and so we took advantage of it. When we arrived, there were several valets standing around and none of them seemed in a hurry to assist us. We ended up shutting off the car and getting our luggage from the trunk and then someone came over to assist.
When we did get the bellman’s attention, he was great. Since our room wasn’t ready, he took our things. I was hesitant since we’d stopped off at a cheese market and he offered to put that bag in a refrigerator for safekeeping. When our room was ready, he brought everything up.
Bartenders and waitstaff were busy but all were professional and friendly.
It was aggravating that the JW Market — the place we’d normally pick up Diet Cokes and coffees — was only open 6 a.m. to noon but the hours should expand as the hospitality sector starts to return to normal after the pandemic.
And I know plenty of measures are being taken for everyone’s safety but I’m not sure why things like wine glasses, plates and silverware were removed from the suite. People book accommodations to have a kitchenette and expect all the accouterments to be available. The fact that we had to hunt around for plates and silverware in the lobby was annoying.
But I do believe this will be a spectacular place to spend your Marriott points and certificates when life is “normal” again and all of its facilities are up and running.
I will return to the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek — especially when suite rates are reasonable. As a Floridian, I can visit Orlando by car and that means it’s easy to book last-minute trips and take advantage of special package deals or Florida resident discounts.
With so many inviting public spaces, this is an ideal place to meet up with friends or family. It’s sophisticated enough for luxury travelers but has enough kid-friendly amenities — and free shuttle service to the Disney parks — to keep families happy too.
Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill served up the best meal we had during the Orlando outing and while not everything was open at the resort due to the pandemic, service was warm — even if it lacked a bit of hustle.
Featured photo by Andrea Rotondo/The Points Guy.