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Grand designs; Orlando is famed for theme parks but the hotels are where adult escapism is found.

Byline: By Christian Sylt

AN enormous wroughtiron chandelier hangs from a stained-glass dome a full five stories above me.

It illuminates an atrium adorned with potted palms, white wicker bird cages, Chippendale furniture and a brass band playing from a balcony. A caged elevator rises from the paisley-patterned carpet.

No, I'm not on the set of a period drama but I sure feel like it.

This is the lobby of Orlando's Grand Floridian resort and it's definitely not for anyone who stays in hotels simply to have a roof over their head.

The Grand Floridian is slap bang in the centre of Walt Disney World's colossal complex of four amusement parks and two water parks but there's not a cartoon character in sight.

Porters stroll by wearing white waistcoats and straw boater hats and, if it wasn't for the Hawaiian short-wearing holidaymakers, you'd feel out of place wearing anything less than a linen suit and panama.

Based on grand seaside resorts of the Victorian era, the Grand Floridian is a sprawling structure of white clapboard and red shingle roofs dotted with dormer windows. It's all squeaky clean but wonderfully convincing.

Ragtime music plays from hidden speakers along the paths through the immaculate gardens which lead to lodges housing the guest-rooms. And these would make the Great Gatsby feel right at home.

The attention to detail is infectious and you find yourself reaching to tap antiques to check if they are genuine.

Disney pulls this off at 22 Orlando hotels, ranging from the Floridian to a giant hunting lodge and the Yacht Club, an 1800s New England seaside mansion.

With so much to keep your eyes occupied, it can soon tire you out and this is before you get to the theme parks.

But hot-footing around the parks is easiest when based at a Disney hotel because they offer more than just a themed location.

Guests get perks such as extra hours in the parks after closing and a room key which doubles as a payment card to charge anything in the resort to your room and have it delivered there.

There's also a complimentary coach to take guests on the 30-minute journey to and from the airport. Those flying with Virgin can even check in at a dedicated site at the Downtown Disney area.

Free access to resort-wide transport, including boats and monorails, puts all parks at most around 15 minutes away from each hotel.

TheMagic Kingdom park is home to Mickey Mouse and full of kiddie coasters but for more intelligent thrills, head to Epcot. This science-based park has rollercoasters themed to car test tracks and a glider simulator with seats swaying over a huge screen as scents are pumped in to match the film.

With more than 30 malls, Orlando is the ideal place to take advantage of the great exchange rate.

After days spent in Orlando's humid 30-degree heat, it's fortunately easy to relax in the evenings.

The nightly Cirque du Soleil circus performance in Downtown Disney is a must-see. The surreal show combines breathtaking acrobatics and rock music to replace animal acts.

Equally spectacular are Disney's pyrotechnic displays. Its Magic Kingdom show features themed fireworks erupting into shapes of stars, hearts and even smiley faces.

For the most relaxing way to watch the fireworks, the music is piped to speakers around the Grand Floridian's pools - open 24-hours.

So you can sit in the outdoor hot tub and watch the display in the distance while listening to the choreographed music.

Although it may seem somewhat extravagant, in Orlando this is the norm.

ORLANDO FACTBOX

For accommodation prices at the Grand Floridian and the Yacht Club, call Disney on 0870 242 4900, or logon to www.disneyworld.co.uk

Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick to Orlando are available from Airmiles starting from pounds 502 per person.(Call 0870 557 7777, www.airmiles.co.uk).

BMI flights from Edinburgh to Gatwick return cost pounds 19 from Airmiles.

Since Virgin's Orlando service departs at 11.15am, you may prefer to stay overnight at Gatwick's Sofitel, which offers a Park and Fly room rate for a weekend stay booked 21 days in advance, starting at pounds 135 and including eight days' parking. Call 0870 609 0961 or logon to www.sofitel.com

'Sit in the hot tub and watch the fireworks'

CAPTION(S):

OLD STYLE: The Grand Floridian in Orlando is in the middle of Disney World' STARS: Mickey and Minnie
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 11, 2006
Words:740
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