AOL PICK from our Editors
With 115,000 hotel rooms and 24,000 timeshare units, Orlando is second only to Las Vegas in accommodations. That means a lot of choices, and they can be confusing. The word “luxury” is overused in travel guides and especially marketing literature. There are a few true luxury properties in Orlando—the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes, Waldorf Astoria, Grand Bohemian, Portofino Bay—with some of the best Orlando hotels that are beautiful and offer great value and amenities just a step below the plateau of a true luxury resort. From there, the selection cascades all the way down to budget digs that provide a nice, clean room for a low rate. You’ll pay more for a comparable room inside of Walt Disney World so weigh the rate difference against the convenience of not having to schlep kids, backpacks and strollers from an off-property hotel to the parks each day. Disney packages accommodations with dining plans and park tickets, and these can save real money. If the quality of the hotel experience is important or you’ll be spending significant time outside of Walt Disney World
, look at the other options. Below we have listed some of the best Orlando hotels. Additionally, Universal Orlando Resort and Sea World both offer package rates that combine park tickets with accommodations, and these can be good values. If you’re attending a convention, the most convenient options will be along International Drive, allowing you to ride the trolley to and from the Convention Center and giving access to a wide range of restaurants.
Disney Grand Floridian Resort
Neighborhood: Lake Buena Vista Price Range: Expensive
The Grand Floridian was built to resemble a turn-of-the-century seaside resort, complete with turreted towers, gingerbread trim, “birdcage” elevators and stained glass domes over the five-story lobby. This is one of the best places to stay in Orlando if you're looking to get inside Walt Disney World. It’s not unusual to see celebrities here: John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston have been frequent visitors (they own a home nearby). Some rooms aren’t as large as those at newer luxury digs but the grounds are immaculate and if you’re doing Disney World with younger children, it’s a convenient upscale option. Room rates range up to almost $2,000 daily for premiere suites, and they get them. There’s a zero-entry pool beachside plus a kiddie pool and a white sand beach fronting the Seven Seas Lagoon. You can rent pontoon boats, jet boats or even a 48-foot Sea Ray yacht to cruise past the Magic Kingdom and other theme areas. This is also the home of Victoria & Albert’s (see Restaurant Guide), so the food options are excellent.
Neighborhood: International Drive Price Range: Expensive
Located at Universal Orlando, Portofino Bay Hotel is themed around a lakeside cobblestone courtyard decorated with Italian Renaissance-style urns, light fixtures and buildings and makes our list as one of the top Orlando hotels. There are even brightly painted boats in the lagoon between the hotel wings. Shops, restaurants and bars line the courtyard, much as they would in a real town, and the effect is actually pretty charming. Once the sun gets behind the buildings, it’s nice relaxing at one of the outdoor tables, sipping Chianti and chatting with the other guests. Inside, the hotel more than lives up to its luxury billing, with spacious rooms, including one- and two-bedroom suites that are bigger than many New York City apartments. Rich, carved wood furnishings and heavy brocaded fabrics in Tuscan colors add to the illusion. There are three themed pool areas, a full-service Mandara spa and a (real) boat that comes into the lagoon to shuttle guests over to Universal. Mama Della’s Ristorante and Bice are the high-end offerings, and their food is excellent. There’s also the more casual Trattoria del Porto plus Bar American off the lobby and The Thirsty Fish on the courtyard.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Expensive
Owned by boutique operator Kessler Hotels, this is primarily a business hotel located downtown across from City Hall. Unless you’re planning on spending most of your time at the attractions, though, it’s well worth a look. The company’s namesake, Richard Kessler, recently retired but his presence still looms large. Kessler is a discerning art collector and the pieces in the Grand Bohemian are big, impressive and challenging contemporary works that you will never see in a corporate-flagged hotel. The service is on the same level: Impeccable. The rooms are stylish—yellow walls, purple curtains, red couches—roomy and luxurious. Downstairs you’ll find a superb restaurant, The Boheme, and the Bosendorfer Lounge which hosts live music most nights. There’s an art gallery featuring work by some of the artists in Kessler’s— collection, a heated roof-top pool with views over the city and in-room massage service.
Neighborhood: Lake Buena Vista Price Range: Expensive
The first hotel outside of New York City to be called the Waldorf Astoria had to be special, and it is. The location alone is remarkable. The new Waldorf, one of the best Orlando hotels, and its sister hotel, the Hilton Bonnet Creek, sit on 482 acres bordered on three sides by Disney World—guests can see the nightly fireworks at Disney from their room balconies and there’s a free shuttle to and from the parks. Most of the acreage is devoted to an excellent Rees Jones-designed golf course. The Hilton and Waldorf are connected by a large convention center and while the Hilton has a family-oriented lazy river style pool, the Waldorf’s pool is starkly simple and surrounded by cabanas that promise shade and privacy for adults. Guests at either hotel can use the facilities at both. Much of the bottom floor of the hotel is taken up by a 20,000-square-foot spa managed by the European operator Guerlain, just as in New York. The guest rooms are spacious: the popular Waldorf Suite model contains a sitting room, a dining room and wet bar with a table for four, and a comfortable bedroom. The bath is equipped with a separate shower and Jacuzzi tub. Even the standard rooms, at 445 square feet, are larger than entry-level suites at many hotels. Dining options include names familiar from the Manhattan original: Bull and Bear, Trader Vic’s and Peacock Alley, along with an excellent Cal-Med eatery, La Luce at the Hilton, by celeb chef Donna Scalla.
Bohemian Hotel Celebration
Neighborhood: Celebration Price Range: Moderate
There are many moderately priced hotels on Disney property but few have the charm of the Celebration Hotel. Located in the town of Celebration on the south side of Walt Disney World, the charming 115-room hotel is now operated by the Kessler Collection (see Grand Bohemian) under the name Bohemian Hotel Celebration. Inside, there’s a lot of Old Florida memorabilia from photographs and arrowheads to the de rigeur stuffed alligator. There’s plenty of dark wood and rattan furnishings and most rooms overlook the small lake that serves as the focal point for the town making this one of the best places to stay in Orlando. The Bohemian Bar and Grill, ably captained by Chef Zach Martin (formerly of Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s in New Orleans) offers robust steakhouse fare. A small pool and deck overlook the lake, and just outside the door are the shops and restaurants of downtown Celebration (see Neighborhood guide).
Neighborhood: Kissimmee Price Range: Moderate
The centerpiece of the Gaylor Palms resort is a 4.5-acre glass-topped central atrium filled with plants, flowing water and staging themed to famous Florida locations. This is more than a couple of chairs and a fiberglass light pole, though. The Key West area has a schooner floating at a dock, while the Everglades features a boardwalk that winds through tropical foliage to the excellent Old Hickory Steakhouse. There’s a South Beach Pool complete with Miami Deco building facades along with the family oriented Clearwater Cove with multiple play areas for kids. The rooms are themed also, many with balconies overlooking the covered, air-conditioned atrium. There’s an upscale option, too, with nine large Presidential suites with enough room for a separate dining area and baby grand piano. One of the best Orlando hotels, the Gaylord Palms has accommodations for you, whether you prefer laid-back and casual or something a bit more extravagant.
Neighborhood: International Drive Price Range: Moderate
Located at Universal Orlando adjacent to the Portofino Bay, the Hard Rock Hotel takes its cues from rock ’n’ roll culture just like the Hard Rock Cafes. There’s more than $1 million worth of memorabilia on display throughout the property. Outside there’s an enormous pool with a sand beach, 260-foot water slide and underwater sound system. Alongside the faux beach are the hotel’s “rock ’n’ roll cabanas” themed to aquatic songs like Yellow Submarine and Musiquarium. Inside, the Velvet Bar hosts “Velvet Sessions” on the last Thursday of each month with notable acts that have included Eddie Money, The Fixx, Foreigner and Joan Jett. There’s a Palm Steakhouse on premises, plus all of the restaurants of Universal City Walk (see Nightlife) are a short ride away by shuttle boat. One of top Orlando hotels, the rooms at the Hard Rock are moderately spacious and decked out with contemporary furnishings and rock ’n’ roll art.
Neighborhood: Dr. Phillips Price Range: Moderate
This is a classic Orlando-style everything-under-one-roof resort. The centerpiece of the 750-room property is a pool that flows through faux cliffs and caves and is crossed by a rope suspension bridge. There’s even a pool bar tucked into one of the main cave areas—a nice place to hang out and beat the midday summer heat. There are 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf on the property, sailing from the sandy lakefront beach and a full service spa. The resort’s dining is under the direction of noted Chef Ken Juran and his chef’s table experience at the signature La Coquina restaurant is a standout, as is La Coquina’s wildly popular Sunday brunch.
Hilton Grand Vacations Company
Neighborhood: International Drive Price Range: Budget
A family oriented resort-style hotel, the Hilton Grand Vacation Suites sits on 33 nicely landscaped acres and is one of the best Orlando hotels. In addition to a full-service restaurant, the property also has a pool, tennis court, fitness room, coin operated laundry and playground. As the name suggests, it’s a stone’s throw from Sea World which means it’s also near the shops and restaurants of International Drive and two blocks from Interstate 4, giving access to all of the area attractions. The rooms include some suites with microwave and mini-refrigerator and have screened balconies.
Neighborhood: Dr. Phillips Price Range: Budget
Located about 10 miles from Walt Disney World and less than 5 miles from Sea World and International Drive, this affordable option is an all-suite hotel. The rooms include a fully equipped kitchen with refrigerator, microwave and stovetop allowing you to make a few meals in. Even if you don’t cook dinner, just being able to make a hearty breakfast before hitting the parks is a big plus. The Florida Mall is just down the road and Orlando’s “Restaurant Row” along Sand Lake Road to the west is very close, too. There’s a heated pool and Wi-Fi access is available for a one-time charge of $5. The Homestead also accepts pets if you can’t leave Fluffy at home.
Neighborhood: International Drive Price Range: Budget
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This is a very large resort located right in the heart of International Drive and just off of Interstate 4. The big attraction here is the location: There are dozens of restaurants, shops and attractions within a few blocks and, while not swank, it does offer nice rooms and a raft of amenities including three large pools and a playground. It’s on the I-Ride trolley route and there are shuttles to Walt Disney World, which is about 15 miles away. If location is an important factor for you when choosing a hotel, consider the Wyndham, which is also considered one of the best places to stay in Orlando.