Resorts these days have kids clubs, trapeze, on-site water parks - but some places go one step further. Theme resorts immerse kids in a fun environment with special decor, themed suites, and possibly some favorite TV or movie characters on site.
It probably comes as no surprise that Orlando is "Theme Resort Central." Orlando's blockbuster theme parks have terrific resorts. Almost all are designed according to a theme, whether it's a fabled place or a fun topic (such as movies or music), or a TV or movie-based theme where kids can see favorite animated characters.
Disney World Resorts
All the Disney Resorts have a theme of some sort, whether it's a place, like Caribbean Beach Resort, or an era (Grand Floridian), or a topic, such as the All-Star Sports resort. A favorite is Animal Kingdom Lodge, with stunning African-themed architecture and on-site savannas where African animals can be seen from the balconies of many guestrooms.
And of course all Disney Resorts -- at Disney World and at the Disneylands around the globe -- are themed to Disney itself: you're sure to see to Mickey Mouse and other "founding" characters that go back to the original Disney cartoons; you'll also see others of a host of characters who live in the Disney universe, from Mary Poppins to Timon and Pumbaa.
Universal Orlando Resorts
Three excellent resorts are within walking distance of the two Universal Orlando theme parks. The Hard Rock Hotel has rock'n'roll memorabilia; the photogenic Portofino Bay Hotel is modeled on the real-life Portofino Bay in Italy and even has a harbor (where shuttle boats to the theme parks dock). The Royal Pacific Resort simply channels the South Pacific. These resorts have some special themed suites, too: Dr. Seuss Suites, for instance, at the Portofino Bay; Jurassic Park Suites at the Royal Pacific.
Orlando: Nickelodeon Family Suites
Nickelodeon Family Suites, aka Nick Hotel, features popular animated characters, thanks to its partnership with the Nickelodeon TV channel. Kids can have a character breakfast with Dora the Explorer, or a photo op with Spongebob Squarepants; pool games and nightly entertainment are based on Nick shows.
Orlando: Gaylord Palms
The signature feature of this giant resort is a 4.5-acre glass-covered atrium with three themed "Best of Florida LIVE!" sections on different aspects of Florida. The resort also goes all out with a winter "ICE!" theme: two million pounds of ice gets transformed into sculptures, ice slides, ice caves, and more.
Las Vegas Theme Resorts
Las Vegas is another place where themed resorts are prominent: Caesar's Palace, The Egyptian-themed Luxor, Italian-themed Bellagio, and The Venetian... Despite its adult orientation, people do visit Las Vegas with kids.
Water Park Resorts
One could argue that all waterpark resorts are theme resorts simply because they're about water-slides, lazy-rivers, and other waterworks; but many water parks also carry on an additional theme. The Kalahari indoor water park resorts, for instance (in Wisconsin Dells and Sandusky, Ohio), are Africa-themed; and the Great Wolf Lodge brand, which has built water park resorts in a dozen locations, carries out the Wolf theme from giant sculptures at the resort entrances, to the Cub Club craft center, to Wolf Den special suites.
One water park resort that's taken theming to a legendary extreme is The Atlantis, a giant resort in the Bahamas, themed to the Lost City of Atlantis. A stand-out example of on-property theming is The Dig, a maze of subterranean chambers with views into gigantic aquariums where underwater ruins evoke the drowned city of Atlantis. A new-in-2008 sister resort, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai, has a similar Lost Chambers maze.