Where to stay in Orlando
Making a decision as to where to stay in Orlando, is a bit of a minefield! Will it be onsite at a Disney or Universal Studios hotel? Is international drive viable? What about hiring a villa? How about a multicentre approach? Well, we’ve done it all ways… and in truth, there are, as always, advantages and disadvantages of the options and before I set those out, ask yourself these questions.
Questions to get you started
- How long is your vacation?
- How many people are in your party?
- What’s your budget?
- How much time (if at all) do you want to spend at Disney Parks (4 plus 1 water park)
- How much time (if at all) do you want to spend at Universal Studios Resort (2 parks plus 1 water park)
- Do you want to visit Sea World, Aquatica, Bush Gardens and other none Disney/Universal attractions?
- Is shopping a priority?
- Is someone in your party prepared to drive?
- Do you want to prepare your own food?
- Is this your first time in Orlando
Right – so bearing your answers in mind and providing you haven’t been put off by the whole idea of Orlando, as a result of having considered the questions, let’s take a look at the options when it comes to where to stay in Orlando.
Where to stay in Orlando – International Drive
International Drive is an extremely long road, lined with attractions, hotels, and places to eat. Universal Studios lies off one end of it, Sea World is midway and various shopping outlets are the other end. It’s a really busy road, served well by public transport taking the form of the I trolly (a sort of tram) and regular buses.
*Many hotels are inexpensive, good parking facilities
*Numerous eatery options, including budget
*Easy to get to Universal Studios, a 25-minute walk from the nearest “end” or most of the hotels offer a complimentary shuttle bus. Sea World/Aquatica is also easy to get to
*Lots of small attractions
*International Drive is extremely busy, drivers might be frustrated by the incessant level of traffic
*None of the Disney Parks are “close” (by British standards…) Once at a park you can then take advantage of Disney’s transport system to reach other parks. Taking public transport can be a pain depending on where you are located, although it is a much cheaper option if you are prepared to invest the time. Once in a Disney park, you can then use their transportation to park hop.
*Although hotels offer free shuttle buses to Universal Studios, you may have to book a seat and will obviously have to fit in with the scheduled times.
The first time we visited Orlando, we stayed on International Drive. We spent 2 weeks, over the Christmas Period. Our priority was to spend as much time as possible in the parks. We had 2-week tickets for both Disney & Universal Studios and at that time Bush Gardens/Sea World too was factored in.
We had an amazing time…loved all the parks, the rides and just everything about the whole experience. Cirque Du Soleil was a highlight and we were sooooo lucky because it was almost $2 to the £1 (unfortunately this was a once in a lifetime occurrence in 2007…)
We haven’t stayed on International Drive since, for one main reason really – without a car, it took way too much time to get to Disney…
So if you’re not planning on visiting Disney, a hotel on International Drive may suit you, especially if you are on a tight budget.
Where to stay in Orlando – A villa
The second time we visited Orlando (2 weeks Christmas vacation) we decided to hire a villa. There are lots of options around Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee and can be particularly cost-effective if you have a large party. We, in our little party of 2, had a huge place! Really lovely, spotless and so well equipped. We decided after the previous year’s debacle over the public transport performance (I now ask myself why we didn’t just get a taxi…) A villa and a car would fix it. So did it? Mmmmmm
*Lovely, spacious accommodation with full cooking/laundry facilities
*Great place to relax, after full days in the parks we enjoyed a bit of downtime
*Large parties can maximise time spent together
*Good if you want to cook and take your own food into Disney Parks
*Cooking in the villa will save money on eating out
*A car is essential
*Less competent drivers may feel stressed at tackling 5 lane highways to get to Universal Studios
*Some members of your party may be relied upon to shop, cook, prepare food etc. Will that feel like a vacation? Do you want to navigate Walmart whilst on holiday?
*Villas without pools may not have outdoor relaxing spaces
We really enjoyed our Villa stay and having a car counteracted our previous issues around transport. But… Kerry likes a drink and I’m not a very confident driver. We felt as though we should be utilising the facilities in our villa, but actually didn’t want to shop and cook particularly… Often, it was quite a long drive home, which was a bit of a pain after a full day out. Also, we both enjoy eating out at Disney Springs & City Walks but didn’t go much on account of the driving.
Where to stay in Orlando – Multi-Park Location
On our 3rd trip to Orlando (yep…another Christmas), we decided to split our time between a Disney/Universal Studios Hotel. This would enable us to take advantage of Disney’s Transport System and would not require us to hire a car. Kerry could enjoy the holiday without the driving issue and I wouldn’t feel compelled to visit Walmart to take advantage of cheap snacks… We were also able to utilise “express passes” at Universal Studios to avoid queues.
*For Disney, great transportation systems around all the parks, at all times. Although in peak season you may have to queue.
*Disney offers a range of hotels, budget – high-end
*Whilst staying at a Disney hotel, you can take advantage of “magic hours” giving you extra hours in the parks (particularly useful at Christmas!)
*Parking at Disney Parks is free for Disney Resort Guests
*At selected Universal Studios Hotels an “express unlimited ride access pass” is provided, to avoid having to queue. (You still have to buy an entrance ticket)
*All Universal guest are entitled to early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay and complimentary transport to the Parks.
*Without a car, you are restricted to “Disney” or “Universal Studios” so unless you are prepared to pay for taxis, it’s difficult to get to Sea World and other attractions
*You are at the mercy of the mouse… not a particularly budget-friendly option. (Although dining plans are available)
*Orlando (apparently) has more to offer than theme parks… if you are looking to explore the wider area, without a car, it may be difficult.
We’ve gone with the multi-centre option twice and it worked well for us. Although, when the British Pound plummeted we felt “trapped” and it proved to be an expensive trip. During a short week trip, one October, we stayed on site in Disney and took a taxi to Universal Studios Resort. This also worked well.
All in all, deciding where to stay in Orlando is very much dependent on how you plan to spend your time. We don’t go shopping and love the theme parks. For us, utilising our time to best experience the parks is our priority. So the multi-centre approach works, when the GBP is strong…
I hope you have found this guide to where to stay in Orlando useful. I would recommend taking the time to consider the questions I posed at the beginning of the post.
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