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One of the most important parts of any vacation is choosing where to stay. There are so many options – hotels, vacation home, and Airbnb’s – that can make it hard to pick. However, when considering where to stay in Orlando, we’ve got you covered!
Depending on the areas you want to visit in and around Orlando, there are quite a few options., To narrow it down, you want to decide what kind of activities or excursions you want to enjoy on your vacation.
We’ll help you break down the area, narrow down your choices, and even give you a few suggestions. Don’t worry, you’ll be ready for your Orlando vacation in no time!
Table of Contents:
- Overview of the Orlando Area
- Best Places to Stay in Orlando
- Conclusion – Top Seven “Bests”
Overview – Narrowing Down Where to Stay in Orlando
There’s a common misconception about what Orlando really means. Many say “oh, I’m going to Orlando” when they really mean one of the surrounding areas. Disney World, for instance, is not in the Orlando city limits – it is technically in Lake Buena Vista. With that in mind, when deciding where to stay in Orlando, you’re going to want to consider the different regions we’re talking about.
Orlando Snapshot – About the Area
When you think about Orlando, you might immediately think of the tourist attractions. However, Orlando was a thriving city long before the holiday-seekers showed up. It has its own rich history and culture, which you might wish to explore during your trip. If that’s the case, checking out the regions and knowing what you want to do can be extremely important when choosing where to stay in the Orlando area.
Going to Walt Disney World? You’ll want to stay more in the Lake Buena Vista, Kissimmee, and Celebration areas. Headed to Universal Studios? Doctor Phillips and downtown Orlando are your best bet. Want to see more of the local scene? Winter Park and Thornton Park fit the bill. Meanwhile, International Drive stretches through several of these regions, coming all the way from the Universal area down to Disney World.
Essentially, you want to decide what is most important to you in terms of your stay, and then go from there!
Orlando is located in Central Florida, named for its midway location within the state. Most of what we consider to be Orlando is between two counties – Orange County and Osceola County.
Best Places to Stay in Orlando
Now that you’ve considered the different regions, it’s time to start narrowing down the options of where to stay in Orlando. For each area, there’s a combination of incredible hotels, vacation homes, and Airbnbs available. While each has their own benefits, you need to consider which one is best for you and your family.
Staying in each place has both its benefits and its downsides, and it is important to consider both when deciding where to stay in Orlando. With this in mind, we’ve found some of the best hotels, vacation homes, and Airbnbs for each region…with a couple bonus stays thrown in! With all these choices, you’ll find where to stay in Orlando in no time.
North of Orlando proper is the city of Winter Park, the historical playground of the original snowbirds. Charted in 1887, Winter Park lived up to its name by serving as a winter resort for wealthy Northerners searching for a haven to avoid the cold winters. Over time, Winter Park developed an art culture that continues to modern day. One of the highlights of a visit to Winter Park includes visits to their museums, galleries, theaters, and festivals.
In addition to these displays of art, the city itself is a masterpiece. The gorgeous historical architecture blends with modern buildings, making Winter Park one of the most beautiful places to visit. Several lakes and canals wind through Winter Park, ideal for outdoor adventures and excursions.
Winter Park is a bit far away from the theme parks, particularly Disney World. However, if that isn’t your priority, Winter Park offers plenty of water-based activities that are great for couples and families. Many of the hotels and resorts in the area allow dogs, making Winter Park a great place for full-family vacations. Rollins College, a local liberal arts college, is located in Winter Park, so you might want to be aware of certain busy times of year. However, this has its upsides too, as the college helps to provide much of the art and entertainment in the area.
Where to Stay in Winter Park:
- Best Hotels in Winter Park: The Alfond Inn, Park Plaza Hotel Orlando (particularly great for honeymooners!), Hilton Garden Inn at Winter Park
- Best Vacation Homes in Winter Park: Winter Park Charm (highly rated by couples) & Golf Themed Getaway
- Best Winter Park Airbnbs: Retro Beach–Style Boudoir, Mid-Century Modern Luxury, Chic Lake & Poolside Retreat
Downtown City of Orlando
The actual city of Orlando stretches in a strange shape, starting right past the Winter Park area and curving down around the town of Edgewood and ending in the Kissimmee/Lake Buena Vista areas. Within the city limits, you’ll find Thornton Park, the Universal Orlando Resort, and the Orlando International Airport areas. Around the Universal Resort area is the beginning of International Drive, which stretches the East side of the city. Of course, Orlando also has its own awesome downtown scene!
Orlando is a bustling metropolis and tourist destination, mixing native-Floridian flair which major attractions. There’s plenty to do, see, experience, and eat. You might be surprised by that last one, but the Orlando food scene is no joke. Rock the tourist destinations during the day, and check out the local life in the evening. When you’re right in the heart of the city, you’ll get the best of what Orlando has to offer!
Obviously, the downside to staying in the downtown area is the potential for traffic, crowds, and noise. However, if you pick the right places, you’ll eliminate those factors and get to the best of the city. Staying in the city also puts you right near some top tourist destinations, like the Universal Orlando Resort. If you’re trying to balance your vacation between city fun and tourist attractions, downtown is an ideal location.
Where to Stay in Downtown Orlando:
- Best Hotels in Downtown Orlando: The Delany Hotel, Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Aloft Orlando.
- Best Vacation Homes in Downtown Orlando: High Rise Luxury Condo, Downtown Resort Condo, Lakefront Vacation Home
- Best Orlando Airbnbs: Luxurious Downtown Apartment, Midcentury House, Downtown Studio Apartment
- BONUS Stay: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (at the Universal Studios Orlando Resort)
Considered to be one of Orlando’s Main Street Districts, the Thornton Park neighborhood is one of the hottest indie scenes in the city.
Incredible restaurants, varying in price and atmosphere, add to the popularity of this area. Throw on top the regular community events, like the Art & Wine Walk, and you’ll wonder why you never stopped in here to visit before. If you want to be downtown but avoid the typical tourist locations, Thornton Park is where you want to be.
While Thornton Park is technically park of the downtown Orlando area, if you want to stay more in this location, there are plenty of great options.
- Best Hotels in Thornton Park: Embassy Suites Orlando Downtown & Courtyard by Marriott Downtown
- Best Vacations Homes & Airbnbs in Thornton Park: Downtown Loft, Treehouse Inn, Thornton Park Historic Guesthouse
Named for the man who used to own the space, Doctor Phillips is an unincorporated area of Orange County, Florida. When Dr. Philip Phillips owned the area, it was comprised mainly of orange groves and processing spaces. He is actually the man credited with popularizing orange juice, and linking it with Florida!
Now, this area name for an incredible man is a thriving affluent community. Sprouting up within this region are several amazing restaurants; in fact, they are so popular that Doctor Phillips is nicknamed Restaurant Row. A combination of bars, eateries, speakeasies, all with their own unique flavors, it’s definitely a foodie-haven you have to see to believe.
When it comes to visiting Doctor Phillips, there aren’t many (if any) options right within the community limits. What this means is your best bet would be staying in an Airbnb close to Doctor Phillips, giving you easy access to Restaurant Row as well as the other attractions in the area. After all, Doctor Phillips is close to Universal, ICON Park, and not that far from Disney!
Where to Stay Near Doctor Phillips:
- Best Airbnbs in Doctor Phillips: Vista Cay Penthouse & Sophisticated Condo
Stretching all the way from the Universal Orlando Resort down to the gates of Disney property, International Drive is known for its hotels and attractions. Also situated on this highway is the International Drive Resort Area, which includes attractions like ICON Park, Universal Parks, NASCAR I-Drive Indoor Go-karting, and much more.
Commonly known as I-Drive, this resort area includes 21 square miles of fun! The Chamber of Commerce for I-Drive has striven since the 1980s to make this tourist area as enjoyable as possible, while still providing for the needs of local Floridians. Yes, this is a tourist area, but those in charge of the I-Drive resort area don’t want to overtake the people of Florida. Instead, they want to work with the city of Orlando and surrounding counties to make a place that locals and out-of-towners can love.
Staying along International Drive means basically one thing – you’re there for the tourist attractions. Whether you’re planning to go to the big name theme parks (Universal, Disney, SeaWorld) or stick to the ICON Park fun (The Wheel, Madame Tussauds, WonderWorks, etc.) vacation favorites are still the first priority. If that’s not you, this may not be where to stay in Orlando. However, I personally love the locations along I-Drive, and have stayed in my fair share growing up!
Where to Stay on International Drive:
- Best Hotels on International Drive: Hyatt Regency Orlando, Avanti International Resort (a Universal Partner Resort), Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld
- Best Vacation Homes on International Drive: Universal Orlando Condo, ICON Park Condo, Tideview Resort
- Best Airbnbs on International Drive: Calena Romantic and Contemporary Studio, Orlando Vacay Condo, Sand Lake Homes Condo
- BONUS Stay: Universal’s Endless Summer Resort
Lake Buena Vista
After the success of Disneyland, Walt Disney wanted to open another park, but this time on a bigger scale. Disney hated the limitations of being in a city like Anaheim, and wanted the ability to have complete autonomy over his space. In the 1960s, Disney found the home of his new park – Central Florida. Called Project X, this secret buying of land, bit by bit, formed the region of Lake Buena Vista and the home of the Walt Disney World Resort.
While Disney World’s technical address is Orlando, the area falls within the Lake Buena Vista region. All of Disney property is essentially its own town, complete with its own infrastructure. If you’re planning to stay in Lake Buena Vista, you’re planning to stay on Disney property. That does not, however, mean you have to stay at a Disney resort.
There are plenty of hotels in the Lake Buena Vista area, given permission to build there by Disney. Some of which are Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels, hotels with exclusive approval status by Disney and make it easier for their guests to enjoy the Disney magic. What is nice about staying right in Lake Buena Vista, or just South of the area, is the access to the parks and to Disney Springs. Staying in the Northern most part of Lake Buena Vista puts you a little closer to Orlando proper, which is nice if you’re trying to do a mix of activities during your vacation.
Where to Stay in Lake Buena Vista:
- Best Hotels in Lake Buena Vista: Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Walt Disney World Dolphin (technically not a WDW resort!)
- Best Vacation Homes in Lake Buena Vista: Enchantment at Blue Heron & Carey Palms Townhouse
- Best Airbnbs in Lake Buena Vista: Wyndham Bonnet Creek Suite, Apartment – ResortShare, Guest Suite – ResortShare
- Enhancing your Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge experience? Try these fun Star Wars-themed Airbnbs!
- BONUS Stay: Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa
Just South of Lake Buena Vista is Celebration, a community built by the Walt Disney Company in the 1990s. The land was originally purchased to prevent other companies from doing so, as they had in Anaheim, thus preventing the crowded that Disneyland experienced. Walt Disney had always imagined a real, working community as park of Walt Disney World. Even though the original plan had been for Epcot, Celebration was a close second to that plan. The first family moved in June 1996.
Sold to private investors in 2004, Celebration still has the reputation for being “Disney’s town.” A safe, beautiful area, Celebration is almost an extension of the Disney dream in a more concrete way. It isn’t uncommon to see Disney Cast Members sporting Celebration as their home city on their nametags!
Staying in or near Celebration is great way to get the Disney experience without being on Disney property. If you’re driving your own car, that can be a plus as well, with the addition of a Disney resort parking fee in the last few years. Celebration is quiet and beautiful in its own right. Even though it’s away from much of the “action” in the Orlando area, you might appreciate that if this is a family trip. There is still plenty to do in the area other than visit Disney World, although that is the “big ticket” item.
Where to Stay in Celebration:
- Best Hotels in Celebration: Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, Meliá Orlando Celebration (a Disney Good Neighbor!), Margaritaville Resort Orlando
- Best Vacation Homes in Celebration: Encore Resort, Summerville Vacation Homes, My Mickey Homes (great for families!)
- Best Airbnbs in Celebration: Resort Apartment, Westgate Vacation Villas, Apartment – Extra Value Stays
Found in 1883, Kissimmee was the end of the railroad line and a key point of the cattle industry during the height of the cowboy era. As the area grew, citrus crops and the cattle industry remained the predominant source of income for Kissimmee. That all changed in the 1970s, with the opening of Walt Disney World, causing the population to double. The population doubled again in the 1980s, and by then Kissimmee had established itself as a primary tourist city on Central Florida.
Besides the theme parks and water parks, there is plenty of family fun in Kissimmee. Aquariums and zoos show off both local and exotic wildlife, great options for a day away from the parks. Dinner theaters and drive-in movies are a fun way to spend the evening, also a good time for family bonding. Not to mention the food in this area, including incredible local seafood and craft beers. Kissimmee gives you the best of the tourist world and local Florida, all rolled into one city!
Sometimes, Kissimmee can feel a bit off the beaten path – after all, you might have to deal with some nasty traffic to get to the theme parks. However, depending on where you stay in Kissimmee, you can have access to all the parks and all the local fun.
Where to Stay in Kissimmee:
- Best Hotels in Kissimmee: Palazzo Lakeside Hotel (ideal for young families!), Embassy Suites by Hilton, Polynesian Isles Resort
- Best Vacation Homes in Kissimmee: Hapimag Orlando at Lake Berkley, Eight-Bedroom Vacation Home (family reunion, anyone?), Mickey’s Backyard Neighbor!
- Best Airbnbs in Kissimmee: Paradise Found Villa, Fantasy World Resort, Kissimmee Cozy Cottage
Conclusion – The Best of Orlando
Even with some of the legwork done for you, I know it can be hard to choose exactly where to stay in Orlando.
With that in mind, I’ve included some top picks that will help you decide what’s the best for you, your party, and your vacation style.
Best for Universal Studios – ICON Park Condo & Orlando Vacay Condo
Both are right near the parks and easily accommodate families. Additionally, you have access to the other attractions in the area, as well as great pools and other amenities.
Best for Walt Disney World – Walt Disney World Dolphin & Wyndham Bonnet Creek Suite
As the Walt Disney World Dolphin is right on Disney property, you can’t beat that option. Disney transportation even travels there, which is a huge bonus. At the same time, being a Starwood hotel, you get regular hotel benefits. Meanwhile, the Wyndham is right by Disney Springs, and has plenty of its own fabulous food and entertainment options right on site.
Best for Families – Magic Moment Resort and Kids Club
Though not on our previous list, this resort is made specifically for families with kids, particularly younger ones. Playhouses, kids’ clubs, and daily family fun make up this resort…and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a ten-minute drive from Disney!
Best for Couples – Winter Park Charm
Enjoy a quiet getaway with cozy furnishings, like a bedroom fireplace and shaded terrace, which will wonder why you didn’t get away sooner!
Best for Honeymoons – Park Plaza Hotel Orlando & Calena Romantic and Contemporary Studio
Both offer secluded and romantic comforts ideal for your honeymoon! The honeymoon suite at Park Plaza is adorable, with historic furnishings and vintage touches. Calena, on the other hand, is a chic Airbnb apartment right near the Doctor Phillips and I-Drive resort areas.
Best “Fun for the Whole Family!” Options – Margaritaville Cottages, Private Townhouse Airbnb, & Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs
Looking to fit the whole extended family into (generally) one place? These will be your best bet. All are close to Disney World (one more than the others!) with plenty of space and privacy for everyone. Not to mention, you’ll have the ability to make your own food, which is a massive money saver (since you’re paying for such a big place).
Best for Budget Travel – Stylish Beach House Airbnb
At $80 a night, it doesn’t get much better than this in Orlando! The house also has a private pool and is still close to everything.
Grace Hoyos, Staff Writer
Grace loves to travel, particularly to Florida or anywhere with a beach. Her ideal vacation is a mix of theme parks, historical sights, and local cuisine. That and a Caribbean cruise.