With its world-renowned theme parks, few places in America have a more extensive and impressive selection of accommodations to choose from than Orlando. With a tremendous gay following, especially during early June's Orlando Gay Days at Walt Disney World, the city and nearby Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee communities (home to the major theme parks, and about 20 to 30 minutes' drive south of downtown Orlando) are consistently LGBT-welcoming when it comes to hotels. A bit surprisingly, the area doesn't have abound with gay resorts or B&Bs in the way that Fort Lauderdale and Key West do. There is the infamous gay party-plex, Parliament House (see below), but otherwise, your options in this part of the world tend to be major mainstream brands, with just about every big hotelier represented in the region - there's even a posh Four Seasons Resort.
Staying in Orlando vs. Near Disney World
As noted above, it's about a half-hour drive between the theme parks (Walt Disney... World, Epcot, Aquatica, SeaWorld, Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios) and downtown Orlando, which actually has plenty of charms, from world-class art museums to historic and gay-friendly districts (like Thornton Park and the small, upscale community of Winter Park) to some of the liveliest gay clubbing in Florida (check out the Orlando Gay Bars Guide for more on the nightlife and gay-popular dining scene). It may seem obvious, but if you're visiting the area primarily to partake of the theme parks, you should probably stay at a property near them - if you're not leaving the Disney/Universal Studios area, you really don't even need a rental car, as it's possible to rely on shuttles and taxis to get anywhere not within walking distance. If you're not here for the parks (or only visiting them once or twice) and you are keen on hitting a bunch of gay bars or are in downtown Orlando for business or to check out the arts scene, you should probably stay in this area - you may find it a lot easier on your budget, too, although you will likely want a rental car if staying in Orlando proper, as distances among attractions, neighborhoods, restaurants, and bars are considerable.
Here's an alphabetical list of gay and gay-friendly resorts and hotels in the Orlando area, including properties near Walt Disney World and theme parks.
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Among properties in downtown Orlando, the swish Grand Bohemian Hotel (325 S. Orange Ave., 407-313-9000) is one of the most stylish and inviting - it's part of the very gay-friendly Kessler Collection (with distinguished properties in Beaver Creek, CO; Savannah, GA; Asheville, NC) as well as the Marriott-affiliated collection of distinctive independent hotels, the Autograph Collection. Filled with a fabulous, one-of-a-kind art collection (including a gallery with about 150 pieces), this eco-conscious 247-room mid-rise is steps from Church Street Station and downtown Orlando's growing number of fine restaurants and cafes, and it's also just a 20-minute walk along the shore of rippling Lake Eola to reach the historic and charming Thornton Park neighborhood, another great dining hub. Rooms have elegant, custom-designed leather headboards, velvet drapes, and sleek work desks, plus lots of cushy perks like marble-accented baths, Bose CD radios, fluffy robes, and - in select... suites - Jacuzzis. The hotel's Boheme Restaurant is renowned for its Sunday jazz brunch and is an exceptional spot for dinner, serving first-rate contemporary American fare. The Bösendorfer Lounge is an inviting, elegant venue for sipping cocktails and listening to live piano cabaret - it's quite popular with the local LGBT community. Other notable amenities include the full-service Poseidon Spa, a heated pool with grand views of the city skyline, and a 24-hour fitness center.
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For proximity to the attractions at Universal Orlando and nearby theme parks, the pet-friendly Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort (5800 Universal Blvd., 407-503-2000) is an excellent options, especially for adults, as this member of the edgy, music-themed and nightlife-minded hotel brand has a decidedly grown-up vibe compared with other accommodations in the vicinity. It's a sprawling 650-room resort with benefits that include early access to Islands of Adventure and express ride privileges at Universal, and from the hotel you can easily get around the resort by bus or - far more fun - water taxi (it's just a quick walk to either park, too). Rooms are done in striking cocoa, charcoal, and tan color schemes and have iHome clock radios, big flat-screen TVs, and impressive entertainment centers - they're spacious, too. There's a full slate of scene-y bars and restaurants, from the ubiquitous and touristy Hard Rock Cafe to a branch of the posh Palm Restaurant steak... house, plus venues with live music and dancing. A sandy beach fringes the giant 12,000-square-foot lagoon-inspired pool, and guests can access the Mandara Spa - next door at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel - which offers facials, and massages. And if you are traveling with a family, note that the Hard Rock has Camp Lil' Rock, offering a range of supervised activities geared to the young ones.
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There are two main reasons, which tend to overlap for most guests, to stay at Parliament House (410 N. Orange Blossom Tr., 407-425-7571), the iconic gay entertainment complex that's been a fixture in Orlando since it opened back in the mid-'70s: you're a huge fan of nightlife and/or you're on a tight budget. This 112-room motel is bare-bones and the rooms pretty dreary, but the rates are fairly low, the staff are consistently sweet and friendly, and it is attached to a huge gay nightclub and cabaret. It's also a pretty optimum venue if you're in town hoping to get laid: there's a very cruise-y pool area, and rooms have exterior entrances, and guys on the make do sometimes leave their shades drawn and doors ajar, encouraging occasional visitors. It's a legit motel, though, not a bathhouse - you can easily meet gay guys here, but plenty of guests stay here simply because the rates are low (starting at just under $70/nightly), and rooms are literally steps... from bar-hopping (and a similarly affordable restaurant serving standard American fare). This two-level motel also surrounds a large clothing-optional pool (guests can also sunbathe nude at a private beach on adjacent Rock Lake), and rooms include standards, efficiencies, and suites (the latter two have microwaves and fridges). Rooms have free HBO and safes (rooms are assessed an extra $2 nightly for these, whether or not you use them), but Wi-Fi costs extra (except in the small business center, where it's gratis). Room decor is, well, perhaps what you'd expect at these rates - dated, and rough around the edges. It would be great to see management give this place a thorough makeover and update, but if it's a clean and modern economical hotel you're after, you should stick with one of the reputable local chains - the Best Western Orlando West is just a five-minute drive away, and the excellent (though pricier) Courtyard Orlando Downtown is less than a 10-minute drive away and is also quite close to downtown. Interestingly, the owners of Parliament House have also built an adjacent time-share, also geared to the GLBT community, called The Gardens Orlando, consisting of 162 upscale 1- and 2-bedroom condos - it's an impressive place, worth taking a look at if you're interested in spending time regularly in the Orlando area.