There's just one teeny, tiny catch.
Picture it—a sunny day in December, you've just escaped from the frozen north, highs are supposed to climb into the 80's, and all around, there's water, waiting for you to jump in. A beach entry pool with underwater audio is surrounded by lush, tropical landscaping; nearby, interactive fountains blast water into the sky, curtains of water cascade down, and fog blasts at you from a set of rather convincing Roman ruins, the centerpiece of one of the most sophisticated splash play zones you've ever seen.
But all that's essentially kids play, we're just warming up—next you discover the 11,000 square-foot lazy river, curving around a club house that's filled with games and other diversions; on your way down the winding river, you'll go over rapids, you'll head past a pounding, 9-foot waterfall. Need something even more thrilling? Two waterslides, both nearly 250-feet long, plunge down from the tower of the club house, designed to look like a historic mansion; one is enclosed, with a big, surprise whoosh at the end of your journey, the other clear, so you can enjoy the scenery as you go.
It's not the largest water park around, but it's a really good one, and it's right on Walt Disney World property. So why are there no long lines?
That's easy—the park, known as Explorer Island, is only accessible to the guests of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando. Minutes from the Magic Kingdom, right next door to Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground (and a world away, truly), the Four Seasons, which sits on nearly 30 acres deep inside Disney World's much-talked-about new gated residential community, Golden Oak, is where you come when you're looking to upgrade (and we mean seriously upgrade) your Walt Disney World vacation.
With a stunning, modern, Spanish-inflected steakhouse (Capa) high up on the roof, offering sweeping views of the Disney World fireworks celebrations, a sleek Italian restaurant (Ravello) down at ground level, and one of the best character-to-kid ratio character breakfasts at Disney World, the Four Seasons has become a destination for its dining (all venues are open to the public).
But Explorer Island? Strictly off-limits to outsiders. Better still, considering the resort's location and the reason most people stay here, there are plenty of times during plenty of days when the vast majority of the hotel's guests will be off in the parks with their children, leaving you with the run of the place, or at least something very close to it. When things do get busy, when the decibel level gets to be too much, relaxation-seeking adults can repair to their own, expansive pool, a civilized destination in a prime location, overlooking the hotel-adjacent lake.
Should weather require you to seek temporary shelter, as can happen in Orlando, PB&G, the casual pool bar and café that sits over the lake, Old Florida-style, does buckets of craft beer, good burgers, salads and fish tacos—it's a swell place to wait out those Florida afternoon downpours.
Speaking of refreshments, this being the Four Seasons, the snacks tend to be far from ordinary—the hotel is well-known for its own gelato (any hotel with an executive chef from Italy ought to be, really), offered up in a wide variety of fun, ever-changing flavors. You'll always find it a moment's walk from the slides and pools inside the hotel café, Lickety Split, where they also do cold brew coffees (Caffe Umbria from Seattle is served across the whole resort, so you're never far from a great shot of espresso, either). On the warmest days, however, the café will push their nifty gelato bike down to the pool, and serve up scoops poolside. (It's a vintage bike, with a cooler strapped on to the back.) On cooler days, when all that water play leaves you in need of a warm-up, head over to PB&G, where you can make your own S'mores. Wait, who are we kidding—anytime's a good time for S'mores.
Learn more about the amenities at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort at Walt Disney World here.