The Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate delivers great fun for all

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate is one of those rare resorts with a split personality. And that's meant in a good way.

Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate - pool
The Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate features 15 acres of pools, including hot tubs and an 850-foot lazy river.
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate - poolOmni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate - lobbyInternational Course at ChampionsGate Golf Club  - alligator

The 16-story, high-rise hotel has the look and feel of a corporate retreat, a vibe that pleases adult vacationers and business travelers. But step outside and the resort transforms itself into a playground for the young and old, good enough to rival any family-oriented resort. The endless supply of golf options and pools never gets old.

It's that ability to cater to so many whims -- not to mention the location just minutes from Orlando International Airport, Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld and steps from the 36-hole ChampionsGate Golf Club -- that makes the Omni one of the top resorts in central Florida.

The Omni, a four-diamond property with 720 rooms as well as two- and three-bedroom villas, has never caught a break when it comes to timing. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks delayed the original opening of the hotel, even though the two Greg Norman-designed golf courses were already completed. Workers eventually broke ground in 2002. The resort held its grand opening on Oct. 11, 2004, even though three hurricanes pummeled central Florida that fall. The flagship resort for Omni Hotels is known as the first major hotel project nationwide financed and completed after 9/11.

Guests at the Omni enjoy an earlier check-in time (3 p.m.) and later checkout time (noon) than most area hotels, complimentary beverages delivered to the room in the morning and free shuttles for all four Disney theme parks. The Mediterranean-themed hotel is a beautiful structure with a European-style spa and 28 meeting rooms adding up to 70,000 square feet of space. Guests looking to stay fit will find jogging and hiking paths throughout the resort's 1,200 acres. The full-service health club is open 24 hours.

The 15-acre outdoor recreational complex is the resort's best gathering place. There's a separate formal pool with quiet, private cabanas. The zero-entry family pool features a 125-foot corkscrew waterslide and a separate tower raining down a mountain of water. The 850-foot lazy river's shooting water cannons, arched waterspouts and waterfall provide endless obstacles to catch a child's imagination.

When children tire of the pool, send them to the lighted basketball court, sand volleyball court or two lighted tennis courts. The family-oriented Champions Nine, a nine-hole par 3, is the only golf course in the area lighted for night play. The children's greens fee includes the use of three Callaway clubs. Children ages 4-12 can also enjoy the Camp Omni Kids Escape, which offers kid-friendly dinners, movies, video games, board games and other entertaining activities every evening.

With the children in capable hands, parents can enjoy the resort's top restaurants, Zen or Trevi's. Zen serves pan-Asian dishes and sake and has an innovative sushi bar. Trevi's, open for breakfast buffet and lunch, cooks up Italian favorites from its brick oven. Food is also served poolside at Croc's and in the sports bar, David's Club, home to darts, a pool table and foosball.

The ChampionsGate Clubhouse Grille serves up good lunch fare and salads. It is best experienced at sunset, when the haunting refrain of the bagpipes salutes another day.

The 7,128-yard National Course at ChampionsGate Golf Club is the resort-friendly layout. It delivers a more traditional Florida test cut through former orange groves and forest. Its more foreboding sister layout, the International Course at ChampionsGate Golf Club, measures a lengthy 7,363 yards from the tips, boasting one of the highest course ratings (76.8) in Florida with an equally hefty slope of 143.

From 2003-08, the International hosted the Office Depot Father-Son Challenge, an event that pitted major champions and their sons in a two-man, team-scramble format. Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Vijay Singh, Bernard Langer and Larry Nelson all made appearances. Snowbirds would be wise to tackle the National first before trying their hand at the pot bunkers and sculpted dunes of the linksy International course.

"We always get positive feedback about the International. It is a very challenging golf course," ChampionsGate General Manager Alan Findlay said. "Players' scores tend to be five to 10 shots more than their home course."

Players needing a tune-up can enroll at the worldwide home of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, which boasts a double-ended grass driving range, large and fully-equipped indoor teaching rooms and state-of-the-art computer technology. Leadbetter doesn't visit as often as he used to -- he's busy running more than 25 international schools -- but his teachers are certainly well trained and capable.

The academy is just another amenity in a resort loaded with them.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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