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Orlando is known as the land of theme parks, with famous attractions like Disney, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld all intimately tied to the city's appeal. And while these major drawcards — and others, such as Medieval Times, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and Gatorland — all receive thousands of visitors annually, Orlando has far more to offer than just a theme park experience. The city itself has many fine historic and art museums and several excellent botanical gardens. Cafes, restaurants, shopping malls, and bars are all to be found in plentiful supply. Further afield, there are countless golf courses scattered around the outskirts of the city, and several lakes in the region provide excellent opportunities for fishing and water sports.
With such a wide variety of attractions, Orlando receives over 50 million visitors per year, and accommodations from boutique hotels to large mega-resorts have emerged to service these domestic and international travelers. Here is a selection of the best hotels for visitors making their way to Orlando.
Best Overall: The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes
With tall arched windows in the two hotel towers and an ornate fountain set within the impeccably maintained grounds, at first glance, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando resembles an elegant Tuscan country estate. However, the sheer size and grandeur of the building soon dispel that impression, with twelve stories soaring skywards and a sumptuous lobby lined with smooth marble. Guest rooms are furnished in a modern style with wooden chairs and tables adding a softer element to the décor. Plush down beds and pillows and opulent bathrooms with separate shower and baths, marble facings, and a double vanity all add to the appeal.
Guests can play on the 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman or partake in spa treatments using honey and citrus produced on the estate. The spa also offers hammock-based ‘zero-gravity’ massages. Guests are able to get access to facilities at the neighboring JW Marriott resort as well. The Highball and Harvest restaurant specializes in farm-to-table fare, while Norman’s fuses European dishes with styles and flavors from Asian, Latin, and Caribbean influences.
Best Budget: Disney's Pop Century Resort
One of the least expensive hotels to be found within the Disney World complex, Disney's Pop Century Resort takes guests on a nostalgic journey through time with a pop culture tour from the '50s through to the '90s. Massive, brightly colored art installations are scattered throughout the property, with giant flowers spouting water in the '60s-themed pool and a giant Micky Mouse phone and enormous Mr. Potato Head appealing to young children and young-at-heart adults alike.
Rooms here are basic but serviceable, with comfy beds, wooden furnishings, private bathrooms, and colorful Disney-themed artworks on the wall. Pasta, pizza, and other snacks can be purchased at the seven Everything POP’s scattered within the resort, and pizza can also be delivered to guests’ rooms. The Petals Pool bar dispenses both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. There is a large video arcade to keep the kids amused, and regular Disney outdoor movie screenings are held near the main pool.
Best Boutique: Arnold Palmers Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Situated within the Bay Hill course and owned by the great former golfer himself, the Arnold Palmers Bay Hill Club & Lodge is a golf lover’s dream. The 18 holes of the Champion/Challenger PGA course and the 9-hole Charger course are available only to Club members and registered hotel guests, which makes for a relaxed and exclusive experience. The hotel also offers a superb tennis experience, with six courts having Har-Tru and Deco-Turf surfaces and professional instruction available individually or as part of a group.
Guest rooms contain classic hotel décor, with old-fashioned wooden furniture, lampshades, and a muted yellow and brown color scheme. Services at the spa include hot stone and deep tissue massages, body scrubs, and salon services such as haircuts, manicures, and body waxes. Three restaurants provide different dining experiences, with the Bay Window offering views over the putting greens while serving appetizers, salads, and pizzas. The Terrace Café is a casual alfresco dining space, and the Grill & Classic offers breakfast and lunch. The Members Lounge is a relaxed and sophisticated spot to savor post-dinner libations next to a roaring fireplace.
Best for Families: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Built in the fashion of a traditional African village and surrounded by savannah plains home to over 30 African animal species including zebras, giraffes, and antelope, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is no ordinary hotel. The spectacular main lobby is a celebration of African style and culture, with a soaring vaulted ceiling filled with hand-carved pillars and ornately painted lampshades.
The African theme continues in the guest rooms, with traditional decor and warm ochre colors. The on-site Uzima Pool features a zero-entry design and a fun waterslide, while the Samawati Springs at Kidani Village offers more slides, two whirlpool spas and a water playground with water cannons and rope swings. There is also a kids’ club, an arcade room, and an outdoor playground complex. Several restaurants provide a selection of exotic and authentic African flavors while also offering Western fare for those looking for more familiar and easily recognizable dishes. Helpful staff are on hand to educate kids about the animals within the grounds and can organize wildlife-viewing safaris.
Best for Romance: Four Seasons Resort Orlando
With a blend of sophisticated style and subtle nods to its Disney World setting, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando stands out from its competitors by providing an upscale yet unpretentious environment. The graceful hotel building, based on the Spanish Revival style with terracotta roofs and arched colonnades, is set in beautifully landscaped grounds with lakes, forests, and fields in abundance. The adults-only infinity pool overlooks a peaceful lakeside setting and has a nearby hot tub, cushioned sun lounges, and private cabanas for lazing away the day. More active couples can have a tennis lesson with the resident pro player Alain Labrecque or play a round of golf on the links of the Tranquilo Golf Club.
Large guest rooms come with full marble bathrooms, private balconies, and comfortable modern furnishings, and include amenities such as Nespresso coffeemakers, LED TVs, and Bose speakers. In the evenings, guests can dine in intimate private rooms or munch on hearty Italian fare on the alfresco terrace of Ravello. For a special, romantic dinner, the soft candlelight illuminating the rooftop Capa restaurant while the Disney World fireworks display peppers the night sky with color makes for an unforgettable evening.
Best for Luxury: Waldorf Astoria Orlando
Set in the heart of the massive Disney World complex, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando provides one of the few truly luxurious hotel experiences to be found in the park. Richly appointed rooms provide soft Egyptian cotton sheets and feather pillows, plush comfortable couches and bathrooms with double marble vanities, glass-enclosed showers and deep soaking tubs.
The Rees Jones-designed 18-hole championship golf course places golfers on rolling greens that wind between tranquil lakes and stands of pine and cypress. The luxurious full-service spa offers therapies using local, natural ingredients in indulgent golden mineral facials, Himalayan salt stone massages, and honey pedicures. Sun lounges and private cabanas surround the two hotel pools and separate hot tub with attentive staff providing poolside food and drinks service. The award-winning Bull & Bear restaurant has the elegant air of an exclusive club, with beveled windows and chandeliers, leather upholstery, and thick red carpets. Classic dishes are reinvented with exciting contemporary twists, giving birth to flaming lobster on the spit and 32-day dry-aged tomahawk ribeye. Down in the lobby, the Peacock Alley bar serves signature cocktails and premium spirits in a relaxed and elegant atmosphere.
Best for Singles: Hard Rock Hotel at Universal
Located in the beating heart of Orlando, the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal takes full advantage of its premium location with a regular series of excursions to nearby nightclubs and rock music venues. But there is no need for guests to leave the hotel to find a good time, with pool parties, acoustic shows, and other events entertaining guests on a consistent basis. The huge pool is the main focal point of social activity in the hotel, with a large artificial sand beach, volleyball courts, two hot tubs, and a long twisty tube slide all adding to the fun. Enthusiastic staff keep the energy levels maximized with an endless schedule of games and challenges, while live DJ sets pump beats across crowds of happy revelers. There is even an underwater sound system to ensure that guests don’t miss a single beat.
Guest rooms feature stylish rock and roll flair and glamour, with a sophisticated grey color scheme accented by bright splashes of color from the furnishings and rock memorabilia. Some rooms feature a full set of modern amenities such as Keurig coffeemakers, HDTVs, and MP3 docking stations.
Best for Business: Orlando World Center Marriott
Easily accessible from major highways and the Orlando International Airport, the Orlando World Center Marriott is one of the premier business hotels in Florida. The hotel boasts an incredible 74 event rooms, with a total area of over 450,000 square foot of meeting space and the largest room capable of hosting events of up to 10,000 guests. Expert event planners are on hand to assist with planning and managing events of any size. Experienced technicians are available to install and operate AV equipment, projectors, microphones, and other visual and audio aids. The business center has facilities and services to manage printing, postage, and messenger requirements.
Guest rooms come with business necessities such as work tables with plentiful electrical outlets, a safe, alarm clock, ironing boards, and coffee and tea service. Guests can unwind by playing the 18-hole green fairway of the on-site Hawk’s Landing Golf Club and or indulge in a steam room session or massage at the full-service spa. A modern and well-equipped fitness center, tennis courts, and an adult-only pool provide opportunities to keep active and alert while on the road. American, Italian, and Japanese cuisine are available at the hotel restaurants, and a sports bar and alfresco grill provide light bites and refreshing beverages to round off a productive day.
Best Disney: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Gracefully perched on the banks of a millpond-smooth lake, the turrets and gables of Disney's Grand Floridian form a breathtaking silhouette of Victorian grandeur. This historic impression is enhanced upon entering the grand lobby, where stunningly detailed carpets, grand pianos, and a birdcage elevator catch the eye and lead it up to the magnificent chandeliers adorning the lofty ceiling. Just one monorail stop from the gates of the Magic Kingdom, this property has long been the crowning jewel of Disney.
The large guest rooms are simply but richly decorated with antique-style lamps and furnishings, and French doors lead out onto a furnished balcony with views over the gardens, lake, or nearby theme park. The Beach Pool has splashing water features running over imitation boulders, a zero-entry layout, and an enormous waterslide. The nearby splash zone channels the spirit of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The Courtyard Pool offers a quieter environment, with shaded cabanas, a nearby kids’ pool, and a whirlpool spa. A huge range of restaurants offer dining scenes from international-themed buffets hosted by Disney characters to gourmet haute cuisine served with silver cutlery and fine China dishes. Every evening, a parade of colorful light sculptures floats by on the lake to create a mesmerizing end to the day.