Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

This is one of the smartest convention hotels we’ve come across in a while. The new 1,001-room Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek sits on 482 acres of mature woodlands near Walt Disney World, about 20 minutes from Orlando International. Next door, the opulent 498-room Waldorf Astoria Orlando provides full sharing privileges at some of the city’s best restaurants and spa facilities. And separating the two hotels, the 122,000-sf conference center with 51 breakouts is one of the largest facilities of its kind in Florida.

Here’s the best part. You can walk from the lobby of the Hilton through the entire prefunction space of the conference center to the lobby of the Waldorf, and the entire time you’re bathed in natural light streaming through the towering windows. The view throughout looks out over water and lush greenery, including two landscaped hotel pools and a huge lagoon rimming the 18-hole Rees Jones golf course.

So all of that light and outdoorsy-ness brings in a ton of vibrant energy to the public spaces, which after three days of meetings makes a significant impact. It almost feels like Hilton Hotels looked at every large group property they operate and brought all of their best practices to Bonnet Creek. Upstairs, the equally well-lit rooms start at an impressive 414 sf, with nicely subdued natural color tones, large flatscreens, integrated desks, Herman Miller-style chairs, Crabtree & Evelyn amenities, wood rattan headboards and noticeably extra heavy doors to keep out noise. “They’re contemporary but cozy at the same time,” says Keith Salwoski, my PR liaison during this stay. “You can relax but you can also get a lot of work accomplished.”

That about sums up the entire hotel.

Another place where Bonnet Creek shines beyond the overall layout is the fun lineup of F&B options. Keith and I had dinner at La Luce, designed like a modern Italian country kitchen serving flatbreads and home cookin’ from the old country, such as a yummy porcini mushroom pappardelle con bolognese. Chef Donna Scala stopped by and explained she likes to combine “Italian tradition and California innovation”—meaning tasty and robust without being too belt busting—matched with a wine list favoring Napa and Tuscany. Chef Scala even produces her own olive oil, and almost all of her ingredients are sourced from local farms and the hotel’s private gardens.

The other five restaurants are casual to mid-market, and you can really appreciate the farm-to-fork mission at the Harvest Bistro, especially with the organic hamburgers and steaks.

For upscale dining, there’s the 159-seat Bull & Bear Steakhouse and Oscar’s brasserie over at the Waldorf, and Sir Harry’s Lounge is fun for post-dinner chit chat and cocktails.

Here again, someone was thinking, whoever put this place together. Because let’s say you have a group of 500 attendees, consisting of C-level execs, younger single attendees and married couples perhaps with their kids in tow. First of all, the 2-hotel concept offers a wide variety of price points. Secondly, everyone has somewhere comfortable to match their lifestyle.

The VIPs can talk scotch over at Harry’s. The late night types gravitate to the sports screens in Hilton’s lobby bar, Sena, or make their way through the martini list at the stylish Zeta Bar. And mom and dad can chill out by the zero-entry pool while their kids play in the waterpark. For the rest of us, Waldorf’s chi-chi little pool cabanas are just around the corner.