By Kevin Mims

People often tell me that I have the best job in the world writing about outdoor adventures and destinations in Florida. I tell them about the long hours spent trying to put together stories and fiddling with equipment at a trailhead somewhere, desperately searching for a cellular signal. I’ve slept in my Honda Element for more nights than I can remember at rest stops and Walmart parking lots. Living the dream, I say. Living the dream.

And in the next moment, I’m standing in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando, marveling at the swankiness of it all. Well, that and hoping I don’t smell like a campfire or have tracked in a bunch of mud from the nearby Shingle Creek Regional Park.

In my room, there are images of Bok Tower Gardens and the Florida Everglades. I love the combination and the idea of paying homage to the natural side of the state. Yep, the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes gets major points from me for those kinds of touches.

Nature just isn’t on the walls here, either. On the property, there’s Whisper Creek Farm, a 7,000-square-foot garden, complete with a chicken coop and about 20 happy hens. The eggs are used daily in the menus at both the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott. In this spot, it’s more than just farm-to-table vegetables and fresh eggs – up high in the trees, I’ve spotted woodpeckers, hawks and plenty of small songbirds. One day, I hope the good folks at the Ritz-Carlton hire me on to be the resident farmhand and country storyteller. I’d do a great job.

The Grande Lakes property sits on 500 acres bordering Shingle Creek, the historic headwaters of the Florida Everglades. For an adventure, guests can set out on a Shingle Creek kayaking trip and see a section of this important waterway firsthand. Staff guides here are extra friendly and knowledgeable, and provide an excellent introduction into Florida’s wild side.

On the trip, otters dart in and out of lily pads. A tunnel of ancient Bald cypresses and fern-lined banks create a feeling that this is any place other than urban Orlando. I’ve been here before, but am always in awe of the beauty and health of Shingle Creek, despite the close proximity to so much development. I want to go further, all the way to Lake Toho, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and finally reach the Florida Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico. I think I’ll come back and do just that – but for now, it’s time to turn back and head upstream.

All told, the trip took about an hour and a half. In that time, I’ve experienced a side of a luxury resort that is pretty uncommon. While there are plenty of other recreational opportunities here, lots of guests are spending time on Shingle Creek and falling in love with a side of Florida that they might not have seen if they stayed elsewhere. The Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes property gets it right.

The staff guides can accommodate trips of all sizes, from individual excursions to family outings. For more information, visit