The Grand Experience

By: Terry Ward

Orlando's Grand Bohemian Hotel is a benchmark of Orlando's ever-evolving urban luxury.

Descend on any flight into Orlando, and chances are you’ll overhear more than one parent helping an excited child scan the cityscape for Cinderella Castle. To be sure, the theme parks will always hold sway over Central Florida. But visitors who venture beyond the gates of Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort to the environs of downtown Orlando quickly learn that this is a sophisticated city brimming with worldly, grown-up attractions all its own.

And the benchmark of Orlando’s ever-evolving urban luxury? That would be the Grand Bohemian Hotel – a castle of a very contemporary and timelessly elegant variety.

Arriving at the Grand Bohemian one recent evening – the hotel hinges the southern end of downtown’s main business thoroughfare, Orange Avenue – felt to me, well, like a real arrival. And for someone who has called Orlando home for more than a decade, that’s saying a lot.

The Grand Experience

The Grand Bohemian, which opened in 2001, dubs itself “an experience in art and music,” a mantra that’s repeated at every angle – from the web site to the voice that answers when I call reception.

And taking in the veritable presentation of walk-through art that is the hotel lobby – the barrel-vaulted ceiling is inlaid with handmade Italian tile in shades of red that seem to cocoon the reception area in a warm glow, and a gracefully spiraling sculpture called Infinitude by Larry Young conjures eternity – I quickly realize that this is a hotel with a creative soul.

Indeed, I’m far from the first to be impressed with the Grand Bohemian. Travel + Leisure magazine has ranked the hotel among the finest 500 properties in the world, and its AAA Four Diamond rating makes it the only true luxury property in downtown Orlando.

Perks like custom-designed beds in the guest rooms (my companions and I greeted each other every morning during our stay with a well-rested “I’m buying that bed!”), jewel-toned velvet and dark wood décor, and the hotel’s stylish rooftop pool that looks like a backdrop for a fashion shoot certainly play into the luxury appeal here. But the Grand Bohemian ups the ante by taking requisite physical pampering and extending it to the soul-soothing level. 

Art and Music

The hotel’s developer, Richard C. Kessler, is an avid art collector and worldly enthusiast. And it is Kessler’s passion for beauty combined with his entrepreneurial bravado (the hotelier made the decision to end the Grand Bohemian’s association with the Westin chain several years ago to incorporate the hotel into his private Kessler Collection) that keeps this place so out of the box.

Among the more than 200 pieces of rare artwork on display are grand-scale oil paintings and sculptures in wood, glass and bronze that are found throughout the hotel – from the guest rooms and elevator alcoves to the bathrooms. I can’t resist browsing the Grand Bohemian Gallery off the lobby and admiring the unique jewelry collection and contemporary and fine art for sale before strolling to the Klimt Rotunda, where sketches by renowned Danish artist Gustav Klimt stand sentinel over a rare Bösendorfer Imperial Grand piano (one of only two in the world). The piano, wrought from a single tree and inlaid with gold leaf, was designed by a renowned Viennese architect and is valued at more than $250,000. These are a sampling of the sights to greet guests’ eyes at the Grand Bohemian, where a peek around every corner seems to inspire awe and admiration.


And cuisine doesn’t fall by the wayside, either. The Boheme, a restaurant serving American regional cuisine with Pacific Rim flair, is considered among the finest in Orlando. I lament the fact that I’ve arrived midweek and missed the Grand Bohemian’s renowned Sunday jazz brunch. Loved by Orlando locals and visitors alike, the brunch is an inimitable spread that, happily, I’ve had the experience of appreciating before – a feast of seafood, a raw bar, Belgian waffles, gourmet omelets and poultry, beef and game selections set to the backdrop of live jazz music.

It would be easy to spend all day and night basking in the Grand Bohemian’s special brand of bliss (rooftop hot tub session, anyone?). But I’m pleased to find the hotel so centrally located for taking in downtown Orlando’s offerings by foot. So I pop into the Bösendorfer Lounge, where dark leather, black marble and fabulous art set a romantic scene for a pre-dinner cocktail, before stepping out on the town to sample more of the city. 

For an adult-minded luxury escape in downtown Orlando, take my advice. Base yourself at the Grand Bohemian and add these fabulously stylish nearby restaurants to your foodie itinerary:

Ceviche - Stroll less than five minutes out the Grand Bohemian’s grand lobby to Church Street, where this architecturally impressive Spanish restaurant serves fabulous tapas in décor dominated by intricately carved wood and mosaic-style tiled tables and walls. Ceviche is located at 125 W. Church St., Orlando. Call 321-281-8140 or visit for more information.

Kres Chophouse - Hobnob with the local power set at this stylish, dimly lit steakhouse on Church Street. The high-backed booths are particularly romantic for an intimate meal of chateaubriand for two. Kres Chophouse is located at 17 W. Church St., Orlando. Call 407-447-7950 or visit for more information.

To book your own luxury getaway to the Grand Bohemian, visit

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