Have you heard of Orlando? Of course you have! Famed for its year-round sunshine and amusement parks, this spot has long been a must-have for families and those seeking thrills and adventure. But, while most people think that these famous theme parks are in Orlando, they are, in fact, in a lesser-known and more luxurious part of Florida; Kissimmee. I was lucky enough to visit Kissimmee outside of the usual peak season of Summer and, despite being sceptical, had one of the best trips of my life!
Where is Kissimmee?
Kissimmee is a city in central Florida’s Osceola County, just south of Orlando. It’s defined by its proximity to the region’s amusement parks, including the massive Walt Disney World Resort complex. It is also ‘The Vacation Home Capital of the World’ and with guests including Lady Gaga amongst other celebrities, it is the perfect place to explore this part of Florida whilst being more secluded.
We flew to Orlando with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow, a super easy direct route that is even more comfy if you fly Premium Economy; including more legroom, an elevated food service and your own cabin with dedicated toilets. Once at Orlando, it’s a short 30-minute transfer to Kissimmee and the lush palm trees and open expanses of this region.
Where to stay in Kissimmee
As I said before, Kissimmee is the ‘The Vacation Home Capital of the World’ so it was fitting that when I visited we stayed in a premium vacation house thanks to Jeeves Florida. More private, more luxurious and more intimate than a hotel, a vacation home can be the perfect solution for family or a group of friends. Our group felt like a Sorority House or Hen Do group, being all female, and I loved the inclusive nature of being in one house and creating memories together.
When we drove up to the front of our vacation home you could see it was plush and grand but wowzers, was the inside even better! We were staying in the 10-bedroom Treehouse Mansion at Reunion Resort & Spa, and as the name suggests the pièce de résistance of this residence was the huge treehouse that made up the children’s quarters. The ooh and aah’s that came from the group as we dashed about the house like children finding more and more secret rooms and features was deafening. “Oh my god it’s got a laser tag room”, “Come up here I have just found a games room and cinema”, “Did you see there are Margaritaville mixers on all the terraces?”, the list goes on . . .
After we had explored, we all chose our room, I went for a secluded room at the back, with its own en-suite bathroom, overlooking the pool and outdoor terrace. The dark blue wall and plush furnishings spoke to me, plus the private corridor off the main corridor making it tucked away from the other rooms, perfect for a light sleeper like myself. The room was huge, with a super king bed, a walk-in wardrobe in the bathroom and a separate bath and rain shower.
The massive plus of this house was the facilities, things you don’t typically find in a hotel room. To name but a few, washing and drying facilities, a fully fitted kitchen, several lounges and break-out spaces, a private cinema, a BBQ and firepit and multi-activity rooms including a games room, cinema and laser tag room. In essence, you could come to Kissimmee, stay at a vacation home like this, and never venture out!
We were treated on our first night to a private chef, who created a wonderful array of food from canapes to bowl food to a buffet of delicious curries, rice and vegetarian options. The same was true for breakfast each day with fruit, pastries and cooked food including one of my all-time favourites pão de queijo with butter, beyond moreish. In the evenings, when we got back after a full day schedule, it was also the perfect place to relax with a glass of wine or, like our last night, whip up a batch of Margs by the pool and have an impromptu house party! SMARGS FOREVER!
Overall, a vacation home, like those you can book through Jeeves Florida, is the perfect home away from home, literally, and great for larger groups or families. I have always been a hotel sort of girl (who doesn’t like cheeky room service), but this experience (and ridiculous level of luxury) has got me thinking that I could get used to the vacation home life!
What to do in Kissimmee
Where do I start? From your base, you can explore a multitude of parks, experiences, restaurants, shops and activities, but as we are focusing on luxury, here are my suggestions from what I experienced while in Kissimmee.
There are a few options in the area but the best two are Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets and The Mall at Millenia, both offering premium luxury options and brands.
We arrived first at Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, with 160 stores from the world’s finest luxury designers and name brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, lululemon athletica, Under Armour, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, MCM, Saks Fifth Ave and many more. I was trying to be good but at the incredible prices on offer, I couldn’t help myself and bought a Burberry clutch that was around 70% off retail price after savings and exchange rate! There are also food outlets here and coffee houses to take breaks between bargain hunting, in the heat of the Florida sun that cold brew from Starbucks was much appreciated.
Back on the luxury private bus, we headed next to The Mall at Millenia. The Mall at Millenia is Orlando’s premium luxury shopping destination, providing an unparalleled shopping experience with 150 stores, services, and eateries. This stunning centre features an array of luxury boutiques and in-demand brands, including Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Louis Vuitton Men’s, Gucci, Christian Louboutin and Rolex.
We stopped first for lunch at Brio Italian Grille at The Mall at Millenia, a Tuscan-inspired restaurant destination serving authentic, northern Italian cuisine, luxury wines and cocktails. Specialities include premium quality steaks, chops, seafood, made-to-order pasta and flatbreads prepared in an authentic Italian wood-burning oven. It would have been rude to not start with a Margarita cocktail and some sharing starters for the table, going on to a lovely grilled salmon and a glass of chilled Chardonnay, the perfect pre-shop lunch.
Next, we were treated to a personal shopping experience with a stylist, situation in a private salon space, we were greeted with bubbles and taken through a typical styling experience, which you can pre-book and select your reasons, style and sizing so that the items are waiting for you on arrival. A really fun thing to do with a group of girls as we cheered on our guinea pig as she unveiled look after look. Great also for those stuck in a style rut and need inspiration, we all learnt something about accessorising and colour matching so it was a great experience.
So if you’re going to do a theme park in Florida then you better do it properly, and I can say with confidence, and from experience that the VIP Tour of Universal Studios Resort Orlando is worth its weight in gold. I have never been a huge lover of theme parks, and many reasons are attributed to this; I am scared of heights, I hate crowds, I dislike fast food, the list goes on . . . BUT the VIP Tour eliminates all of this and then some. From the moment we arrived and booked in our VIP experience began, we were whisked away to a private breakfast to fill up ready for the 30k odd steps we would achieve that day. Our VIP guide Emmanuel asked us what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go and if there were any particular rides we wanted to visit so he could navigate the park making sure we got in as much ride time as possible.
We started small, ET, which you cannot go wrong with, nice and gentle and the perfect start to an adrenaline-fueled day. We stepped it up taking in the Simpsons (vomit-inducing), Transformers, The Mummy and Men in Black. Then on to my favourite, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ and Diagon Alley, which has a multitude of rides, shops, cafes and experiences. If you are a Potter fan then this is Mecca for you! After lunch on Universal City Walk, we stepped it up again and headed to Islands of Adventure, the large coaster side of Universal Studios Resort Orlando.
After the Spiderman ride, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Fall, and the classic Jurassic Park River Adventure I was forced, frog-marched, and bamboozled into riding the Jurassic World VelociCoaster. Now I love dinosaurs so any ride connected to them I’m in but this coaster is intense. This apex predator of coasters races through the park’s raptor paddock with two launches, four inversions, a 155-foot-tall top hat and a 360-degree barrel roll over the water.
Is it scarier than the Hulk ride, you bet yah! But thanks to the VIP experience I didn’t even have time to think about my options, we had queue jumped right to the front and I was strapped in before I could say no, and we were launched before I had time to regret this decision. Did I enjoy it? It was 50% thrill 50% sheer terror, but when I got off I was so proud of myself for doing it that it was worth the quease for the next 30 mins or so!
The VIP Tour of Universal Studios Resort Orlando is totally worth the splurge, the time saved not in queues means you actually get to enjoy the park and get to ride nearly every ride as well as avoid the crowds and eat better food than your average visitor. And when you are done it’s just a short ride back to the sanctuary of your holiday rental in Kissimmee, true luxury!
Taking in a Show
While in Kissimmee we visited Disney Springs and had the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil’s Drawn to Life, always a fan of Cirque du Soleil shows I was interested to see this show that is inspired by Disney characters. Cirque du Soleil’s Drawn to Life transports guests into the world of Disney animation in Cirque du Soleil’s signature style. This entirely new experience wows Walt Disney World guests and Cirque du Soleil fans alike while bringing timeless Disney stories to life in an unforgettable new way.
We took our seats and watched in awe as acrobats, dancers and contortionists weaved the story about a little girl on a journey to find her identity. With many gasps from the crowds, and in traditional Cirque du Soleil style, each act was magnificent. I thought the show might be a bit childish as it was based around Disney and the focus is children but I was wrong, perfect for all ages, the story is delightful and heartfelt and the acrobatics are extraordinary.
Outdoors & Wellness
Now you might not think Kissimmee is the ideal place for outdoor nature experiences or wellness but if you look hard enough you will find lots of opportunities. We experienced a lovely spa treatment at St. Somewhere Spa at Margaritaville, perfect post-Universal and all those steps and jolting! It’s a beachy vibe sort of spa with white wood and touches of light blue, very calming indeed, they also have a sauna and steam room and a salon in-house for guests. And after your treatment, you can chill by the pool and obviously drink Margaritas! It’s always 5’clock somewhere!
We also visited Celebration, but we took in this quite remarkable place via a bike tour. Exploring by bicycle allowed us to create a memorable experience as we pedalled down the quiet streets of the town of Celebration, famous for its nostalgic hometown flavour and elegance. With our guide, we discovered picturesque neighborhoods with world-class architecture and a vibrant downtown area. Local wildlife, including birds, gators and deer could be seen on the circuit as well as incredible homes in this Walt Disney vision of a town. I felt like I was in a movie cycling around this place, such Americana, with weatherboarded homes and little picket fences, it made for a lovely distraction from the other parts of Kissimmee with its slower pace.
Where to eat and drink in Kissimmee
The Hampton Social is a playful, modern, escape worth celebrating at a coastal-inspired restaurant hotspot. Inspired by the feeling of long summer days spent on the coast, The Hampton Social is the perfect place to imbibe and relax. We arrived late afternoon with the sun still shining and it was a toss-up whether to sit inside or out, inside won as the interior was very hip and cool, with high tables and stools and a very Instagrammable flower wall. The food was a mix of seafood, raw fish, and light bites with a Latin influence, I, of course, went for Ceviche. The portion was huge, I couldn’t finish it, but the chips were delicious and the Ceviche was super fresh, and I certainly didn’t need dessert! They specialise in Rose, whether it be wine or Froze (a Rose wine slush puppy) so it would have been rude not to try!
If you are hanging out at Universal Studios then there are loads of options on Universal City Walk, we ate at both The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen and Vivo Italian Kitchen. The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen is exactly as it sounds, chocolate-loaded, it comes on everything! The vibe is super interesting, a Steampunk-inspired factory is the setting, great for kids and adults alike, and don’t just think this is a family establishment, they did a mean Margarita and hard-loaded milkshakes. I went for the Gnocchi which I didn’t think would work with chocolate but the sauce was Latin inspired so spicy and chocolaty so it totally worked.
Vivo Italian Kitchen was our destination post Universal Studios and I have to say we were all so pooped we barely ate anything! But the setting is lovely, with lots of outdoor seating to people watch and many options from pizza to pasta and grilled meat. We shared a pizza, which was very tasty, and some Italian white wine, to ease those sore feet! It’s a great spot for a bite post pounding the streets of Universal, it’s also close to the gates to get out so a great last stop before home.
Clustered around dreamy blue-green springs and a shimmering lake, Disney Springs is a one-of-a-kind collection of shops, restaurants, and attractions that appeal to all ages. Here you will find celebrity chef restaurants and unique boutiques nestled between major retail brands and quick-service counters and kiosks. We visited Wine Bar George, which is led by Master Sommelier George Miliotes. Wine Bar George offers more than 140 wines by the glass, bottle and ounce. Here you can enjoy wines from acclaimed and well-known wineries as well as growing regions that are up-and-coming. We shared a mezze of meat, cheese and vegetables alongside some delightful wine, including some interesting home-grown varieties. Loved the vibe here, could have stayed all night making my way through the wine menu while watching the sunset over the lake, a great location for drinks with friends or a pre-dinner aperitif.
The new luxury boutique hotel ette opened in June 2022. Here Chef Akira Back brings his touch to “LIPA”, the rooftop lounge and the restaurant “Salt and the Cellar” on the ground floor. While the view from the rooftop was incredible, and the vibe and decor were akin to that of Ibiza or Dubai the drinks failed for me, only mocktails were available and all were very sweet, which meant they certainly did not match with the cleanness of the food offerings, including Sushi and Tabata Grill. Also, the service was lacking, very slow and not particularly attentive, but maybe they are still finding their feet. The restaurant downstairs was very hip as well, our table was a huge plate of glass with 70’s inspired wood seats. The food here was a mix of meat and vegetarian, with the aubergine dish being a total standout for me. Again no booze is served on the menu, which if that’s your concept fine, but literally every table had bought their own so that somewhat defeats the point.
My absolute favourite restaurant we visited was Columbia Restaurant in Celebration, however, they have other locations including the original and flagship in Tampa. Family-owned and operated for more than 115 years, Columbia has earned acclaim for its old-world charm and award-winning Spanish/Cuban cuisine. You can eat an array of food from their century-old family recipes like Paella “a la Valenciana,” “Roast Pork “A la Cubana,” the Original Cuban Sandwich and fresh seafood specialities. I loved the vibe of this place, it reminded me of restaurants in Mexico City, Havana and Madrid all rolled into one, dark wood, tiles and eclectic art everywhere. The food also was delicious, authentic and obviously cooked with love, my Mahi Mhai was tender and the perfect balance of spice, and we got to try the famous Cuban Sandwich as well which was very delectable indeed, all washed down with, you’ve guessed it, Margaritas!
So with all that in mind, from theme parks to spa, out-of-this-world shows to luxury shopping, and so many food and drink options you’ll be spoilt for choice, is Kissimmee where it is at? 100%! I am a convert following this incredible experience, usually one to shy away from Florida thinking it has nothing to offer someone like me I will freely admit I was wrong. Kissimmee is that perfect balance between luxury seclusion with incredible amenities but close enough to the action of Orlando and beyond that it’s a great holiday option for friends, family, couples and everything in between who are looking for sunshine but without compromising on luxury.
For further information on Kissimmee, visit www.experiencekissimmee.com
The 10-bedroom Treehouse Mansion at Reunion Resort & Spa costs from £1086 per night. The property sleeps 36. To book, visit www.jeevesfloridarentals.com and search for property code W338J. View the property here.
Virgin Atlantic flies direct between London Heathrow and Orlando with return fares from £450 per person, including complimentary food, drink, inflight entertainment and taxes. For further information visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 8747 747. This fare is available for departure on selected dates throughout 2023.