By Roger Cox, Editor
Star Island burst onto the tennis scene in 1997 when the tennis complex opened as a Vic Braden Tennis College complete with six ball-machine-fed hitting lanes and nine hard courts, one of them an exhibition court. A few years later it began to host an ATP Futures event called the "Star Island Tennis Classic." But after Braden sold the college and the futures events moved elsewhere, the hitting lanes came out and the resort lost its once prominent place in the tennis landscape.
Enter Kevin Brandt. He took over and tennis director in 2012 determined to change that, seeing in this low-key, family-friendly resort the makings of a lively tennis destination. As a first step, he set out to raise its tennis profile, in part by staging more than 30 adult, junior, and wheelchair tournaments each year as well as hosting part of Spring Break Tennis, a collegiate team competition.
Meanwhile, for resort guests he put together a roster of weekly activities, including a free clinic on Mondays and Cardio tennis and intermediate adult clinics later in the week. He weaves video analysis into those adult clinics, using the ball machine to feed so that he can show each player the video and analyze what he sees. He does so for private lessons as well, and then follows up by emailing a copy to the customer. And finally, he runs after-school programs for local kids and any guest's children who want to join in.
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The context for all of this is low-key timeshare/resort-rental hybrid. Ranging in size from one-to-three bedrooms, the accommodations occupy 3-story Mediterranean-style buildings that surround a central swimming pool, playground, the tennis courts, and a small lake. Amenities include a fitness center, spa, golf driving range (over a lake) and 9-hole course, a room filled with arcade games, a lakeside BBQ and picnic area, sand volleyball court, and Parcours trail. There's a bar poolside and a cocktail lounge on the second floor but no actual restaurant. Instead, there is a mini-mart/deli for basic provisions as well as sandwiches, salads, burgers, and the like. And all of this is within a 15-to-30-minute drive from Walt Disney World, EPCOT Center, Sea World, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios.
Pro Shop: 407-459-6188
Tennis director Kevin Brandt is originally from Minnesota but played most of his teenage tennis in Arizona. He later returned to Minnesota, to teaching and coaching positions, before settling in Florida in 2006 to manage Orlando's Lake Cane Tennis Center. Along the way he earned PTR certifications in Adult, 10&Under, 11-17, High Performance, and Wheelchair tennis. He also developed expertise in equipment, garnering him work as an equipment tester for Tennis magazine. That has made him big on matching equipment to the skills and physique of the guests who take lessons.
"One of the most common things I address in lessons with resort guests is having a racquet and strings that will compliment their game," he told me. "It's amazing the number of players that spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on lessons each year while using equipment that makes it exceptionally difficult to make the improvements to their game that they're looking for." He has a staff of two other full-time pros, with others who can be called in as needed.
Courts & Fees. There are nine hard courts, one of them an exhibition court with terraces on both sides. There is no pro shop, Brandt does have balls and grips available and arrange for overnight restringing and free demo racquets from a shop a few miles away. Any guest looking for a match can sign up on the Star Island Tennis website. Court fees: No charge for guests.
Spa & Fitness
Spa & Fitness Center. The Spa at Star Island offers massages, facials, and body treatments and has a hair and nail salon. There is also a well-equipped fitness center just off the lobby with windows on two sides.
And ... In addition to the central swimming pool, the resort has a golf driving range and a location on the lake, which affords opportunities to fish and engage in other watersports, like waterskiing.
Options range from a 600-square-foot one-bedroom suite with a mini kitchen to 1,450-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bath villas with full kitchens.
There is no restaurant as such, though there is a mini-market with some prepared food (sandwiches, salads, burgers) and occasionally the bar brings in food for local restaurants for a Mexican night or something similar.
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Travel Instructions. The hotel is 20 miles from Orlando International Airport (MCO).
General Tourist Information. For general information about travel in this part of Florida, visit the Experience Kissimmee website or phone 407-569-4800 toll-free.