Taking the family to Orlando? As fun as things are inside the theme parks, you can't sleep on the Dumbo Ride at Disney's new and improved Fantasyland, and you'll probably get kicked out by security if you attempt to camp out on the streets of Hogsmeade at Universal Studios. Whether your kids like it or not, plenty of your Orlando vacation will be spent at your hotel; the more entertaining the address, the better. Happily, Orlando throws parents a bone or three, with scores of places to stay that are geared nearly entirely around the younger set. Here, some top picks for the best kid-friendly Orlando hotels and resorts.
#1 Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort Walk to the Magic Kingdom? From this modern, more-Miami-than-Orlando condo tower at one of the Mouse's most iconic resorts, you bet. More than any resort on Disney World property, this one feels like home, offering oversized units for the kids to rattle around in and a modest but handsome lake-adjacent pool with a 148-foot water slide.
#2 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge You can wake up to a giraffe peering at you from outside. (Well, sort of.) What more could a kid (or kid at heart) ask for? A grand, beautifully-themed hotel (no, you just think you're on the set of The Lion King) centered on 43-acre preserve that's home to scads of exotic wildlife, the experience of staying here is more than a little transporting. But wait, there's more: Most notably, the 11,000 square-foot Uzima Pool, featuring a beach entry, water slide and other fun bells and whistles.
#2 Nickelodeon Suites Resort It's just a couple of miles from Downtown Disney and EPCOT, but if your kids have any say in the matter, you might never see either one, or much else in Orlando for that matter. Which would be entirely understandable. From breakfast with Dora and Spongebob to the on-site water park (with regularly scheduled slimings, naturally), a giant arcade and food court in a teen-friendly "mall" type setting - this one's a real crowd-pleaser. Best of all, it does it at very decent prices.
#3 Grande Lakes It's really about how much you feel like spending, but either hotel you book -- the JW Marriott or the Ritz-Carlton -- at this grown-up resort property just down the road from Sea World provides its own twist on a very similar experience. Adults will love the upscale environment, with fine dining, luxury spa and on-site golf options, while kids will dig the colorful and fun pool areas at both properties.
#4 Disney's Wilderness Lodge With some of the most terrific theming this side of the Animal Kingdom Lodge - this time, though, you're in the forests of the Pacific Northwest -- this one wins purely on visuals alone, with dramatic design elements and solid construction that calls to mind the old national park hotels. (The hotel even has its own geyser, a la Yellowstone, jetting 120 feet into the air at regular intervals.) A white-sand beach, a family-style BBQ joint and sing-alongs by the campfire complete the picture. Those who know Disney can attest that true luxury in these parts means not having to drive everywhere, or stand around like a heel waiting for a bus: Guests at the Wilderness Lodge can avail themselves of free ferry service to the Magic Kingdom, offered all day long.
#5 Disney's Beach Club Resort Located on Stormalong Bay, a 3-acre water park and pool area that includes a fun lazy river, water slides and an underwater shipwreck your little explorers can dive into, this EPCOT-adjacent gem is kid heaven. Logistically, it's a winner too, with all the food options at the World Showcase just a short stroll east of the hotel. No hurry, though -- a sandy beach on the shores of the 25-acre lake out your front window invite sitting around and working on your tan while the kids run wild. Don't let them see the waterside, vintage-themed ice cream parlor, though -- you'll be in trouble. Banana splits, anyone?