Led by Dart Interests, a development firm known for large-scale hospitality projects, the new resort, known as Evermore, will eventually have 10,000 rooms, replacing the 146 that the Villas currently have. With the first phase of the project slated to open in 2023, the project’s timing is noteworthy.
“Our willingness to go forward with Evermore in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic is testimony to the resilience of the Orlando market, its talented workforce and our unique Disney-adjacent location,” says David Pace, president of Dart Interests Florida. “Our owners have been invested in this project long before COVID-19 and we’re embracing new group travel trends through a lens of innovation. Our commitment to Orange County and a strong belief in the power of tourism give us renewed energy to build a resort that will elevate the current hospitality landscape and position Evermore to become one of Orlando’s most desired vacation destinations.”
Dart Interests is billing the project as the “first-ever wholly owned, large-scale community of purpose-built vacation rental homes,” a move that, according to them, helps ensure quality standards across all of the resort’s offerings.
Phase One is to include 69 vacation homes, some of which will feature up to eleven bedrooms, 76 four-bedroom flats, 41 villas, and a 433-room Conrad hotel, the first in the region. Typically vacation homes are individually owned — the move by Dart to own all on-site lodging will allow it to navigate county approvals and project financing more easily.
The introduction of the Conrad hotel continues the trend of adding higher-end hotels to the area directly around Walt Disney World. Disney and the region’s convention industry have tried to push Central Florida away from the budget-friendly branding that once fueled the tourism building boom in nearby Kissimmee.
In the wake of the last major recession, the region’s push into luxury tourism really took off in October 2009, when the Waldorf Astoria Orlando opened its doors. Before that, Orlando had seen some interest in high-end lodging; Grande Lakes, home to Orlando’s first JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, opened in 2003. But that resort complex, like similar ones by Rosen and Hilton, was located near the convention center and did not go after the theme-park crowds in the same way this post-Great Recession wave of hotels have.
One of the few exceptions to this earlier wave of high-end hotels is the Gaylord Palms, which opened in 2002 and is located directly across I-4 from Walt Disney World. But that project was pushed forward by Osceola County officials looking to cash in on the convention trend that was taking place in nearby Orange County. The same is true of Osceola County’s other higher-end resort complex in Champion’s Gate.
The Waldorf Astoria, and its sister Hilton hotel, are in Bonnet Creek, a development only accessible via Walt Disney World property. In 2014, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando opened in the Golden Oak development, another project accessible only from Walt Disney World. The new Evermore, a mile away from the Four Seasons and just three and a half miles away from Bonnet Creek, isn’t as hemmed in by Disney World’s site but does sit directly across the street from it.
Just like the Four Seasons and Bonnet Creek hotels, which now also include the region’s second JW Marriott, Evermore will have some convention space, but the 150,000 square feet of meeting space (40,000 square feet of which will be in the Conrad hotel) is almost an afterthought in the marketing material for the resort. It’s noteworthy that in prepared statements announcing the new Conrad, neither of the Hilton officials quoted mentioned convention crowds or meeting spaces.
One exception is the two-story boathouse that will overlook Evermore Bay, the resort’s 8-acre Crystal Lagoon. The bottom floor will hold an intimate 400-square-foot glass-enclosed space with direct views of the slip where Evermore’s custom Chris-Craft boat will be moored. On their website, Evermore notes, “[t]his truly unique amenity will be an opportunity for a memorable VIP arrival or an Instagrammable end-of-evening water sendoff. This space also connects to an expansive private garden lawn, ideal for outdoor wedding ceremonies and events wishing to spread out.”
Diners at the Conrad will be able to choose from multiple offerings, including a vibrant food hall and a rooftop experience. Concept art seems to show the glass-wrapped rooftop dining venue is on the eighth floor, making it slightly lower than similar offerings in nearby hotels, but still high enough to easily see the firework spectaculars that take regularly take place at Disney World.
The Grand Cypress’ 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed New Course will remain open until the resort’s first phase opens in 2023, at which time it will be replaced by a new Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
Reservations for Evermore Orlando Resort are to open in 2022, with the resort welcoming guests beginning in 2023.