Away from the theme parks, Orlando is a popular tourist destination with a number of buzzed-about boutique hotels. Here’s our pick of the best, whether you’re after downtown luxury or a lakeside urban spa, Arnold Palmer-level golf or a Disney theme.
A luxury landmark of downtown Orlando, the Grand Bohemian Hotel is the last word in opulence in the city. Its 247 guest rooms are lavish, with lush velvet drapes, oversized bathtubs and wood furnishings. Awarded the prestigious AAA four-diamond rating, it has a host of amenities including the Grand Bohemian Gallery, in-room spa treatments and massages. Plus the red-and-black Bösendorfer Lounge has its own grand piano.
The architecturally significant Park Plaza Hotel, which evokes Parisian charm, is a perfect facsimile of the 1922 original. It’s in the Winter Park district, renowned for having the largest collection of Tiffany works in North America, all contained within the town’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. After dinner, you can stroll in nearby Central Park.
Lake Eola is one of Orlando’s premier beauty spots and as such, the Eo Inn enjoys an esteemed local reputation on account of its proximity to the lake. Each of the hotel’s 17 rooms represents a miniature oasis for escapists, offering a private bath and a balcony with panoramic views of downtown Orlando and the Lake Eola Park area. Additionally, the hotel’s close proximity to the fine dining and shopping district of Thornton Park and the downtown club scene cement the Eo Inn and Urban Spa’s status as Orlando’s foremost boutique hotel.
For beach bums who can’t manage a day out of the water, the Inn at Cocoa Beach, 18mi (29km) from Orlando’s central business district, is located right on the water’s edge. A stay in this surfing mecca means you can lose yourself out on the waves – after a trip down the road to the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop – or if you prefer, in the comfort of your local craft-designed room.
Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer’s resort caters to the active and the relaxed traveler. For the five-iron folk, Bay Hill is one of the Professional Golfers’ Association’s most beautiful and challenging golf courses that incorporates 27 holes along the Butler Chain of Lakes. Meanwhile, for those who might prefer to stay in the clubhouse while family members play the green, Bay Hill offers the signature version of Palmer’s eponymous cocktail.
Just minutes away from the Orlando Magic’s home court in the Amway Center is the Courtyard at Lake Lucerne. In an intimate garden setting, this bed and breakfast offers 30 rooms spread out over four homes, each themed around a different historical era, such as the Norment Parry Inn, which is centered around a Victorian-style parlor and fireplace, complete with the collected works of Charles Dickens. Enjoy a complimentary carafe of wine on the front porch of the Dr Phillips House. After dark, there’s a complimentary cocktail hour, and if you’re on a romantic getaway, check into a suite that includes a double whirlpool hot tub.
Lakeside Inn is a cool spot to get out of the Florida sun. Pull up a wicker chair on the verandah and watch the sun setting over Mount Dora village and the lake. For a change of pace, the inn hosts the annual Mount Dora Blues and Wine Festival in May, where the emphasis is squarely on the best local musicians around.
A relic of the Orlando hotel circuit, the Edgewater Hotel opened in 1927 as one of the most technologically advanced hotels of the day, and the current owners have strived to retain that ambience. There are antique touches, such as the original washbasins, and the 1920s Otis elevator. For the urban explorer, the Edgewater lies on the doorstep of the 22mi (35km) Winter Garden’s West Orange Trail, and the Chef’s Table restaurant is a great spot to dine in the evening.
If the town of Celebration, Florida seems eerily quaint, homely and littered with hallmarks of Americana, don’t worry – it was designed that way. Celebration was built by Disney as the ideal suburb, a kind of orchestrated tribute to the United States and the culture of work and leisure. If that sounds too sinister and Stepford Wives-esque (2004), the people, businesses and hotels in Celebration do a great deal to charm and disarm tourists, making Celebration the perfect Disney World vacation spot without visiting a Disney theme park. The Meliá’s rooms are all suites with full amenities and service, providing a high-end vacation resort package at a wallet-friendly cost. Soak up the Celebration atmosphere by watching Independence Day fireworks from Meliá’s oasis pool.
The Castle Hotel, a Marriott-operated boutique hotel on International Drive – and within touching distance of the main theme parks – showcases local design skills that you can see in the rooms. Enjoy a relaxing stay with elegant marble bathrooms and pillow-top mattresses, plus there’s the Poseidon Spa and the Antler’s Lounge, a social hub for mingling and cocktails.