For anyone going to Orlando for the first time, choosing the place to stay can be a little daunting. International Drive, Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista are all great places to stay, but how do to know which one is right for you? I teamed up with American Sky, the Florida holiday specialists, to get their view on where to stay in Orlando.
Walt Disney World covers 47 square miles on its own and there are over 20 different theme parks and attractions in Orlando – that just gives you an idea of how vast Orlando is. The good news is that despite receiving 50 million tourists a year, it is quite easy to get around Orlando.
It is actually the busiest car rental market in the world, so roads and infrastructure need to be good – and they are. So when choosing your base in Orlando, the first thing you should ask yourself is: do I want to hire a car? If the answer is no and you want to visit a lot of different theme parks, then the answer is simple – stay on International Drive.
International Drive or ‘I-Drive’ as the locals call it, is best described as Orlando’s ‘Vegas Strip’. There are hundreds of hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions lined up beside each other for eleven miles. Top theme parks like Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Aquatica are here, as well numerous attractions including The Orlando Eye.
The ‘I-Ride’ bus service is excellent and runs from 8am to 10.30pm so there is no need for a car. Many hotels that are located here also offer free shuttle services to the main theme parks.
If you do decide to take a taxi to Walt Disney World, what you pay in cab fare you save in parking, so despite many people saying you have to have a car in Orlando, I think if you stay on International Drive, you can easily do without one.
There are many accommodation choices to choose from on International Drive. It is important to remember that when holidaying in Orlando, most of the time you are not in the hotel – you are out visiting theme parks or attractions instead. This makes International Drive an ideal location if you are looking for a reasonably priced hotel. I have chosen two hotels that are excellent value, receive great reviews and are centrally located.
$ The Rosen Inn at Pointe: 7 nights from €549pp including flights.
This is an excellent budget hotel on International Drive. Formerly the Quality Inn Plaza, this now offers three swimming pools, free WiFi and a free shuttle service to Universal Studios, Aquatica, and SeaWorld.
There are three restaurants on site and children (9 and under) eat free when dining with an adult, (one child per adult). Situated across the road from the Pointe shopping centre and cinema, this hotel receives great reviews on tripadvisor.
$ The Avanti Resort: 7 nights from €509pp including flights.
A firm favourite with Irish holidaymakers, the recently renovated Avanti resort is located in a prime position on International Drive. There is a large swimming pool, bar and restaurant on site and there are free shuttle buses available to Disney, Universal, Wet ‘n Wild, SeaWorld and Aquatica.
They also offer interconnecting rooms which are ideal for large families. Highly rated on tripadvisor and awarded a certificate of excellence, this is the perfect choice for anyone looking to stay in the heart of International Drive, without breaking the bank.
If you plan on spending a lot of time in Universal Studios’ three theme parks, it might be a good idea to stay in one of the Universal hotels. Not only are they exceptionally good, but you will also have access to the parks earlier than the general public. This is particularly beneficial if you are a Harry Potter fan, as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter can be extremely busy in peak season.
There are eight hotels to choose from, including the famous Hard Rock Hotel and the popular Cabana Bay Resort, which have large family suites. If you stay in one of their five star resorts, the Hard Rock, Lowes Royal Pacific or Lowes Portofino, you will also receive complimentary express passes which will save you valuable queueing time!
$$$ Loews Portofino Bay Hotel: 7 nights from €799pp including flights and Universal express passes
I was fortunate to be able to stay in this hotel and it was fantastic. Designed by Steven Spielberg to replicate Portofino in Italy, this hotel has outdoor bars and cafes that are identical to the Italian resort.
They even have tenors singing at various times during the day. Situated on a lake, there are times when you forget where you are. The interior is luxurious too and it also offers a unique way to get to Universal Studios – a free water taxi service!
Lake Buena Vista
Lake Buena Vista is the ideal place to stay if you are planning on spending most of your time at Walt Disney World. Remember there are five different Disney Parks so if you are travelling with young children, you may spend a lot of time here.
Lake Buena Vista is also good for golf and outlet shopping. Choose to stay in one the Disney hotels or one of the many hotels, homes or villas in the area.
There are 25 different Disney hotels to choose from which come in four categories, value, moderate, deluxe and deluxe villa resorts. By staying in any of the Disney hotels you can avail of extended theme park hours, free transportation to all the parks and the airport, as well as free parking and free WiFi. For a limited time only you can also receive FREE dining on selected 2020 holidays – ts & cs apply.
$$ Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: 7 nights from €729pp including flights
This hotel is in the moderate class and is perfect for families looking for the ultimate Disney experience, without the expensive price tag. Designed to replicate a Caribbean resort, there are seven pools, including one with water slides, as well as Caribbean style beaches. Kids will love the pirate adventure cruise and there are also pirate themed rooms available at a supplement.
$ Solterra Resort Homes: 7 nights from €629pp including flights
The Solterra Resort Homes offer the best of both worlds, luxury homes with a resort feel. Situated only nine miles from Walt Disney World Resort and minutes drive from shops and restaurants, the location is superb.
They offer five, six and seven bedroom homes, all with private pools and either a games room or spa. The facilities on site include a communal pool with a water slide, and a club house with a fitness centre and tennis courts.
$$ Sheraton Vistana Resort: 7 nights from €679pp including flights
The luxury Sheraton Vistana Resort comprises of one and two bedroom villas in 135 acres of land. There are numerous facilities on site including seven swimming pools, a fitness centre, mini-golf, tennis courts and free WiFi. Let the kids enjoy the kids club or Wii tournaments, while you have a massage on your poolside cabana.
There is a wide selection of restaurants and bars within the grounds, so there is no need to venture out at night time. Highly rated on tripadvisor and awarded a certificate of excellence, this is a great choice for a family holiday. The Sheraton Vistana is ideally located, only 10 minutes from Sea World, 15 minutes from Universal and only 5 minutes from Walt Disney World.
If you fancy something away from the hustle and bustle of the parks, Kissimmee is a good choice. Although only a fifteen minute drive to International Drive and even less to Disney, there are many homes and villas with private pools here, creating a country feel, which is ideal for large or extended families.
If you want to visit other parts of Florida and don’t plan on spending your entire time visiting theme parks – chose Kissimmee. A trip to the Kennedy Space Centre or Busch Gardens, both less than 90 minutes drive, are perfect day trip options.
There are many different neighbourhoods within the Kissimmee area and each have a good selection of shops, bars and restaurants. Here are my top three places to stay in Kissimmee
$ The Highland Reserve Executive homes: 7 nights from €629pp including flights
These homes are exceptional value. and are only a fifteen minute drive to Walt Disney World. There are four, five and six bedroom homes available. Choose the simply furnished executive homes or upgrade to the executive plus, which offers a modern décor, more living space, free WiFi and a games room or spa.
The development overlooks the nearby golf course and there is a communal pool, tennis courts and play area on site.
$ The Calabay Parc homes: 7 nights from €599pp including flights
Complete with their own private pool and outdoor loungers, these homes are perfect for lazy days in the Florida sunshine. Located in the pretty countryside of Kissimmee they are approximately 30 minutes from Walt Disney World Resort and 40 minutes from International Drive.
They offer a choice of four, five and six bedroom villas. Choose to upgrade to the executive plus homes which offer modern décor, more living space, free WiFi and a games room or spa.
$$ Windsor Hills: 7 nights from €679pp including flights
These executive five and six bedroom homes are ideally located only five minutes drive from Walt Disney World and fifteen minutes from International Drive. The have excellent facilities on site include a large swimming pool, whirlpool, fitness centre and multi sports.
Children will love the games room, pool slide, the 58-seat cinema and free WiFi! The Windsor Hills homes are also next door to the Mystic Dunes golf course. They also offer executive plus homes which have modern décor, more living space, free WiFi and a games room or spa.
$$ Magic Village Yards Trademark Collection by Wyndham: 7 nights from €689pp including flights
If you want to stay beside Walt Disney World but still want the comforts of you own home, then look no further than the Magic Village Yards. These luxury three and four bedroom villas are right in the heart of Disney. The Club house offers activities for children, an outdoor heated pool, a play room and free WiFi.
There is also a restaurant on site where you can dine or order food to your villa. If you don’t want to drive to the Disney Parks, take the free shuttle bus available and save on the parking!
Top Tips when visiting Orlando:
- Remember to get your ESTA application before you fly. An ESTA is mandatory for non-US citizens when travelling to the USA. You can apply for an ESTA online.
- Travel off peak if you can, prices will be lower and temperatures will cooler. If you have to travel during school holidays Easter can be a better option to summer, as American schools only have one week off at that time. Check the Spring Break dates here.
- Book your theme park tickets in advance. Not only will this save you money, but also valuable queueing time. You will also find that you can purchase combo tickets to visit multiple parks at a lower rate, than purchasing them when you arrive.
- Choose a hotel with a free shuttle bus to the parks, or one that is close to the iRide – International Drive’s affordable public transport option. You may or may not rent a car in Orlando, but even if you are driving, the cost of parking at theme parks is quite high. If there is a free shuttle bus or iRide available, use it. Read my top tips and tricks for visiting theme parks.
- Allow down time. Queueing in hot temperatures, as well as the increased adrenaline can leave children exhausted. Try to plan some quiet days to laze by the pool between visits to the park.
This post, where to stay in Orlando, was sponsored by American Sky but all views, as always, are my own.Sarah
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