The Best Hotels in Orlando
Theme parks like the Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios are still the main draw in Orlando, but the ultimate family vacation destination is growing a reputation for upscale hotels and resorts with luxe spas, lush golf courses, and fine dining. Here is a range of stellar properties from International Drive to the Walt Disney World grounds.
8629 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
Bavaria meets Florida at this Marriott Autograph Collection property, midway between downtown Orlando and the theme parks, and close to the Orange County Convention Center. The hotel’s unique decor pairs antlers and fake fur with pastels and palm trees, and adds elaborate chandeliers and original artwork throughout. Accommodations have fairy tale–inspired carved headboards and marble bathrooms; book a corner room for a separate seating area—in a turret overlooking the lush grounds. The Poseidon spa pampers you like royalty with body, skin, and beauty treatments that employ ocean-derived ingredients, and massages can be arranged in room or in the garden. Breakfast and lunch are served at the bright and airy Garden Bistro, with dinner and drinks available in the Antlers Lounge, but you can walk to restaurants and attractions along International Drive, including the Orlando Eye Ferris wheel. Just be back before dark: From the Sky Terraces, guests have views of nightly fireworks and may spot another nearby castle—Hogwarts at Universal Studios.
2901 Osceola Parkway
A Disney-fied take on an African safari experience, the Animal Kingdom Lodge feels like a trip around the world. The thatched-roof main building follows the theme in the grand lobby, where a mud fireplace meets soaring wood columns. Guest rooms are outfitted with carved-wood furniture and private balconies; some have bunk beds perfect for families, but the savannah-view rooms are worth the splurge for the chance to see zebras and giraffes up close as you sip your morning coffee. You have your choice of watering holes: the 10,000-square-foot Uzima pool has a waterslide, wading area, and two hot tubs, while the Samawati Springs pool, though half the size, has an even bigger waterslide and adjoining playground. Dining options are appropriately over-the-top. At Boma, the market-style buffet features carving stations and flavors from 50 African nations; Jiko pairs a Mediterranean-inspired menu and sub-Saharan flavors with South African wines. Cultural representatives from countries including Botswana, Namibia, and Kenya lead free tours of the resort, pointing out details of the continent’s art, cuisine, and natural history in its design. But nothing is as far-flung as it seems—the Lodge and villas are connected to the rest of Walt Disney World and the Orlando Airport by complimentary bus transportation.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
901 Timberline Drive
An amalgamation of the classic “parkitecture” that defines the lodges of America’s national parks, Wilderness Lodge remains true to its roots while displaying the full pixie-dust treatment. Inspired by Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn, the soaring lobby includes a massive 82-foot-high fireplace, 55-foot totem poles carved by master craftsmen, and a hot spring that continues flowing outside and through pine-covered grounds that feature erupting geysers and a waterfall. Fittingly, accommodations feel cabin-like, with western decor and lodge pine furnishings. Guests can rent boats to fish or float on Bay Lake, as well as explore the woodland grounds on jogging trails or rental bike; kids beeline to the pool area with its 67-foot high waterslide built into the rocks, hot and cold whirlpools, and children’s splash zone. A ferry is on hand to take you across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom, while other parks can be reached via shuttle bus. Circle the wagons for family-style cowboy cuisine at the Old West–themed Whispering Canyons Cafe, or leave the frontier behind for the elegant Pacific Northwest menu at Artist Point, overlooking the resort’s forest. The Wilderness Lodge is a favorite during the winter holiday season, as that tall lobby allows for an awe-inspiring Christmas tree.
10100 Dream Tree Boulevard
More than four decades after Walt Disney World welcomed its first guests, the Four Seasons opened on 26 acres a few miles south of the Magic Kingdom, finally giving parents a true luxury resort option within the park. Well-sized and well-appointed rooms are typical of the brand’s understated elegance, but expect to pay a premium for a room with a balcony overlooking Disney’s nightly fireworks (or just reserve a table at the top-floor Capa steakhouse). Kids get the luxury treatment, too. The resort makes it easy for guests to organize park visits right on site: The Disney Planning Center helps with tickets, handles extended Magic Hours and Fast Pass requests, and books restaurant reservations and transportation to the monorail station and the rest of Disney World. Serious fans can also have a photo op with Goofy and friends at the resort’s character breakfast. A giant pool with a lazy river and two waterslides beckon on days when you’d rather not brave the park crowds, and children get dedicated welcome amenities, toys, and costumes during their stay. The extensive menu of spa services even includes a princess-themed mommy-and-me makeover treatment, including a tiara and wand.
300 East New England Avenue
Just 10 minutes from downtown Orlando, in village-like Winter Park, the Alfond Inn has a unique legacy: The boutique lodging was created to provide income for scholarship funds at neighboring Rollins College, one of Florida’s oldest liberal arts schools. If helping students isn’t reason enough to book a stay, the hotel offers lots more incentive. A skylit domed atrium in the Spanish colonial–inspired main building draws your eye to a rotating collection of artwork curated by Cornell Fine Arts Museum, and pet-friendly guest rooms are simple and cheerful. While the hotel is not a full-fledged resort, it offers guests plenty of opportunities to linger. Fire pits and rocking chairs are dotted around the property, and shaded areas for loungers enhance the rooftop pool’s already undeniable appeal. Hamilton’s Kitchen restaurant serves modern Southern cuisine paired with wines selected by an award-winning sommelier. And shops, wine bars, and independent boutiques like Rifle Paper Co. line the town’s Park Avenue, a few blocks away. You can also take a pontoon boat tour for views of many of the Mediterranean-style mansions along the waterfront. Perhaps best of all, Disney and Universal theme parks are only a half-hour drive away.
4012 Central Florida Parkway
Part of the Grande Lakes resort complex, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando has enough amenities to keep a family happily occupied without ever having to leave the property. Accommodations feature private balconies with garden or lake views and separate tubs and showers, while club-level suites offer snacks and refreshments throughout the day and exclusive activities such as photography lessons with the hotel’s photo concierge, but the rooms aren’t why you came. Cool off at the clover-shaped pool—the lazy river next-door at the JW Marriott is also available—or with a zero-gravity massage, performed while you sway in a hammock in the spa’s rooftop garden. The Greg Norman–designed golf course has a caddie concierge program; kids play free with an adult. Between the two large hotels on the Grande Lakes property, there are a dozen dining options—try Highball & Harvest, where the farm-to-table cuisine is made with local ingredients and served alongside beer from its own nano-brewery. The $35 daily resort fee covers theme-park shuttles, kids’ club activities, daily bike rentals, driving range privileges, and WiFi and phone calls.