If you thought hotels were just for sleeping, think again—especially if you are going to Orlando.
Sure there are plenty of new attractions—and that includes at hotels. You’ve got more than 450 hotels (and 118,000 rooms) to choose from.
Do you want to float in a lazy river or spy real giraffes and zebras outside your door? Do you want a golf course or gargantuan spa? There’s everything from budget digs to the most luxurious, intimate boutique options and sprawling themed resorts at the theme parks.
And if you can manage a trip in May, you’ll not only save some bucks before the summer rush, but avoid the crowds too.
Here are the best Orlando hotels for whatever your needs.
For the spa lover:
The Ritz -Carlton has the largest spa in Orlando at 40,000 square feet and also offers treatments for the young spa lovers in your family. Have you ever had a massage in a hammock? A therapist will perform a blend of different techniques while the hammock rocks.
The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress has just opened a Marilyn Monroe Spa that has been designed as if you were walking into Marilyn’s California home back in the day. Have your makeup done at a Marilyn-inspired makeup bar.
For the luxury seeker:
Every member of your family will be pampered at the new Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort. Play golf at the Tom Fazio-designed course; splash with the kids in the pools and lazy river; eat dinner at the rooftop restaurant while watching the fireworks. Of course, there's a huge spa—inspired by the Everglades--and fitness center, plus complimentary activities for the kiddos
The Grande Lakes Orlando, home to the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton now has the Whisper Creek Farm on site that supplies food to the new Highball-plus Harvest and Kitchen. The bees on the farm provide honey for special cocktails.
You also might want to opt for the boutique Alfond Inn in Winter Park, which is winning accolades for its restaurants and is about as far away as you can get from the theme park scene.
Orlando is home to more than 170 golf courses -- including three at Disney World -- and more than 20 golf academies. The Waldorf Astoria Orlando, the first Waldorf built outside of New York City, is home to one. Also consider Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s club and lodge which showcases the famous golfer. Or try Rosen Shingle Creek, where you play along historic Shingle Creek with its interconnected waterways and stellar views. The Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort has 45 holes and the Grand Cypress Academy of Golf.
For the big family group:
There are more than 20,000 vacation home rentals for rent from companies like HomeAway. You’ll also find condo-type lodgings within Walt Disney World -- including the new two-bedroom, two bath over the water bungalow’s at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the newest at Universal Orlando Resort, not only has a fun retro vibe but offers 900 affordable family suites with kitchenettes and sleeping six. Did I mention the bowling alley? Many families swear by the Nick Hotel with its Nickolodean-themed multi bedroom suites, kid’s spa, water play area, the chance to meet Sponge Bob, among other favorite characters, and of course, the chance to get slimed.
For the most unique experience:
You certainly have your pick here as many hotels are elaborately themed—music lovers can’t do better than the Hard Rock Hotel with all of the memorabilia and complete with guitar-shaped pool. Or try the new over-the-water bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
But my vote goes to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge with 200 hoofed animals and birds living right outside and one of the largest collections of African art in the country. Forget the fireworks. Look out the window at the giraffes.
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.