cirque_consWhen most people think of Orlando, Florida, they think of Disney World.  But I just spent four days in Orlando – courtesy of the Orlando Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), and I never even laid eyes on Mickey Mouse. See, when I say Orlando, you say Disney.  But when you say Orlando, I say indoor sky-diving, high end cuisine, unique theatre, and a five star luxury resort.

I may have been in Orlando last week, but Toto, I don’t think we’re in Disney anymore!

Let’s start at the beginning.  The City of Orlando hosted a contest for a Girls Getaway Weekend with  author and TV personality Casey Wohl, aka The Getaway Girl. The woman who won got to invite three friends to spend a luxurious weekend in Orlando, Florida.  Me?  I was just invited along by the CVB to watch and learn.

Yes, being a TravelingMom has its benefits.

Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando – The first Waldorf Astoria since the original in NYC, the Waldorf, surrounded by Disney World, sits on 482 acres that Disney, inexplicably, doesn’t own.

With two beautiful pools , private poolside cabanas, a Rees-Jones-designed golf course and a beautiful spa (where I had a (complimentary) wonderful massage, The Waldorf Astoria Orlando would be a good choice for a vacation even it weren’t so close to Disney World I could see the Epcot sphere from my window.

But it is the proximity to Disney that gives this resort that little push towards making it a real destination:  stay here, and you can have access to…and escape from all that is Disney.

One caveat: Breakfast at Oscar’s, the in-hotel restaurant is a flat-fee buffet…with just about everything costing extra.  Just be aware that extras lurk everywhere in five-star territory.

Next highlight, La Luce restaurant:  Ok, I admit it.  I am a NY food snob.  Outside of the few exceptions that prove the rule, I’ve found that once you leave major world cities, you leave truly fine cuisine behind.  (Sedona, are you listening?)

La Luce proved me wrong. (or maybe right…could be, it’s the exception that proves the rule.) At La Luce, Chef Donna Scala from Napa Valley, brings the freshest, simplest ingredients to life in unfussy, perfectly sauced and seasoned dishes, served by a professional, knowledgeable waitstaff.

Our other meals in Orlando were…well, less than stellar. Chain restaurants and sub-par Italian served in an atmosphere that can only be described as Rubes do Roma, failed to impress.

What did impress was the next highlight: Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at the only theatre built specifically to house a Cirque du Soleilshow.  An amazing array of acrobats, modernist clowns, tumblers, tightrope walkers and more in the most beautiful costumes imaginable make this an unforgettable show.  And the fact that it’s in its own, dedicated theatre means that the lighting is perfect, the sets are enormous and impressive, and the cast is supremely comfortable in the space. Plus, it’s great for tweens and up  – a show you can all enjoy.

facebook_photo_9906855263_5784241Next highlight, IFly Orlando.  Basically, it’s indoor sky-diving. No parachute.  Sounds scary, but really, it’s just thrilling.

The CVB also seemed to think that a mall was the next highlight.  But they had the wrong crowd.  Sure, The Mall at Millenia is all glitz and glamour, and sure it has all the top high end stores—but it’s still a mall, and for me, mall and highlight just don’t go together. I think I got hives.

Nightlife in Orlando, however, was a highlight.  The Blue Martini had, quite possibly, the most integrated crowd of any club I’ve ever been in.  All ages, all races, all types: from bridal shower parties to couples, to friends from work types, to us – six women out on the town.  It was a great night, with great music, and, it so happened, for a great cause.  Proceeds from the night’s raffles when to benefit Breast Cancer research.

One of our contest winners even won the grand prize.

And if that isn’t a highlight I don’t know what is.

Full Disclosure: My entire trip – including airfare and hotel – was supplied by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau of Orlando, Florida.