advertisement

There seemed to be no end to Orlando's hotel boom just a few years back. Almost 4,000 new rooms were added every year through the year 2000 -- but the economic upheaval in the years that followed took its toll, and construction began to slow dramatically. It wasn't until 2007, when tourism once again began to thrive, that the city's vast and varied inventory of accommodations experienced an increase not seen in nearly a decade, with roughly 5,000 rooms added in 2008 alone. The year 2009 brought with it an additional 2,558 rooms; however, just over 1,000 rooms were added in 2010, new construction all but coming to a halt -- a reflection of the most recent economic downturn. In 2011, not a single room was added, though extensive renovations, refits, and refurbishments continued to ensure that visitors could lay their head in comfortable and constantly updated surroundings. The area's budget hotels, theme-park resorts, and high-end luxury resorts all kicked it up a notch or two in an effort to vie for business (trendy decor, high-tech gadgets, soothing spas, and extensive pool and play areas were among the most common additions). New construction once again picked up in 2012 -- an additional 2,884 rooms are projected to open by the end of the year (some with pirate, princess, character, or even lifestyle themes). All in all, Orlando will boast roughly 119,000 rooms varying in both size and style, and ranging from basic lodging (including only the essentials) to luxurious accommodations (bursting with lavish amenities and over-the-top extravagances), including scores of places located in or near the major-league tourist draws: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and the rest of International Drive. Disney alone claims 36 resorts (including the resort scheduled to open later this year), timeshares, and "official" hotels.

Homes Away from Home

Some travelers -- especially those who like all the comforts of home, prefer quiet privacy, or are traveling in groups of five or more -- bypass motels in favor of rental condos or homes. Rates vary widely depending on quality and location; some may require at least a 2- or 3-night minimum. Many of these properties are 3 to 15 miles from the theme parks and offer no transportation, so a car is a necessity.

On the plus side, most have two to six bedrooms and a convertible couch, two or more bathrooms, a full kitchen, multiple TVs and phones, and irons. Some have washers and dryers. Homes often have their own private screen-enclosed pool, while condos generally have a common pool and a clubhouse.

On the minus side, they can be lacking in services. Most don't have daily maid service, and restaurants can be as far away as the parks. (That's another reason you'll need a car.) And unless a condo or home is in a gated community, don't expect on-site security. Some properties offer dinnerware, utensils, and salt-and-pepper shakers; others are fully stocked with pots, pans, and every gadget imaginable -- check when you book, as amenities vary widely.

Rates range from about $129 to $979 per night ($903-$6,853 per week).

All Star Vacation Homes (tel. 800/592-5568 or 407/997-0733; www.allstarvacationhomes.com) is the cream of the city's home and condo rental crop, with a wide variety of properties to choose from -- all of them within a 4-mile radius of Disney. Many of the homes feature such amenities as pool tables, personal home theaters, and Jacuzzi tubs along with private pools. Do check out the website -- you will be able to see the exact home you are renting, as opposed to a "typical" room -- but be sure to call if you have special requirements, want a specific theme (there's a Disney-themed home if you don't want to give up Mickey while sleeping), or need help selecting the home that meets your needs. The staff is exceptionally cordial and well informed; and when you are on-site, there's always someone on-call should you encounter any issues or need assistance.

Other popular players include VillaDirect (tel. 877/259-9908 or 407/397-9818; www.villadirect.com), Holiday Villas (tel. 800/344-3959; www.holidayvillas.com), Global Resort Homes (tel. 866/921-1167 or 407/387-3030; www.globalresorthomes.com), and Elite Vacation Homes (tel. 888/510-6679; www.elitevacationhomes.com), among others.

Yours, Mine & Ours . . . -- With an ever-increasing number of condo-hotels springing up around the Orlando area, they're becoming more and more difficult to overlook. These properties rent rooms and suites to the general public as if the property were a mainstream hotel, but in this case the unit is either fully or partially owned by someone other than the hotelier. In the past, timeshares were notorious for their pushy sales tactics, luring mainstream guests to buy into their resorts by offering gimmicks and discounted attraction tickets. Nowadays, timeshares (or fractional ownerships, as they're usually called) are in the minority (and far less pushy) as wholly owned condos become more popular -- in many cases, vacationers never even realize that the property is ownership based (especially as most condo-style resorts are completely sold out prior to completion -- or at least prior to opening).

Among the newest (and nicest) to pop up in recent years are the Westin Imagine (tel. 888/822-3532; www.westin.com), a modern high-rise-style resort with standard rooms as well as one- and two-bedroom suites ($99-$309); and Floridays Resort Orlando (tel. 866/797-0022; www.floridaysresortorlando.com), a Mediterranean-inspired resort with two- and three-bedroom suites (around $150 to upwards of $450), plus extensive pool and play areas all in a villagelike setting. Each offers spacious and well-appointed accommodations, upscale amenities, inviting grounds, and locations close to the shops and restaurants that line I-Drive.

Several ownership-based properties cater to visitors planning an extended stay, offering extensive on-site amenities, spacious suite-style accommodations with full-fledged kitchens, and all the comforts of home (often at a more affordable rate -- though in some cases in a location that's slightly more remote). Lighthouse Key Resort & Spa (tel. 877/463-4914; www.lighthousekeyresortorlando.com), an upscale Mediterranean-inspired resort, and Runaway Beach Resort (tel. 866/289-0238 or 407/997-1900; www.runawaybeachhotel.com), a Key West-inspired resort -- both Mike Ditka resorts (www.mikeditkaresorts.com) -- rent one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences (Lighthouse Key also has four-bedroom residences) with landscaped grounds, extensive recreational facilities, upscale amenities, grocery service, gated security, free shuttle service to Disney parks, and plenty more, all for a price that's hard to beat (approximately $129-$299). The Cypress Pointe Resort & Grand Villas (tel. 800/438-2929 or 407/238-2300; www.diamondresorts.com/cypress-pointe-grand-villas) can claim the most central location -- close to Downtown Disney, the Crossroads Shopping Center, and a plethora of restaurants that line Apopka-Vineland Road ($159-$259).

The Sheraton Vistana Resort (tel. 407/239-3100; www.starwoodvacationownership.com/sheraton_vistana_resort), in Lake Buena Vista, boasts a family-casual atmosphere with extensive recreational facilities ($139-$319), while the Sheraton Vistana Villages (tel. 407/238-5000; www.starwoodvacationownership.com/sheraton_vistana_villages) has a more upscale ambience (the stainless gas grills scattered about the meticulous grounds give you an idea of the added perks here) and a location on the southernmost end of I-Drive ($139-$379). Both feature extensive on-site amenities, spacious well-appointed accommodations, and locations near area theme parks, restaurants, and shops.

The World Quest Resort (tel. 407/387-3800; www.worldquestorlando.com) and the Regal Palms Resort (tel. 877/477-2567; www.regalpalmsorlando.com) both feature a mix of townhomes, villas, and private homes set amid a sprawling gated vacation community with landscaped grounds, extensive recreational facilities, and homey accommodations.

Other options include the Liki Tiki Village (tel. 407/239-5000; www.likitiki.com), Bahama Bay Resort & Spa (tel. 863/547-1200; www.bahamabay.com), Caribe Cove Resort Orlando (tel. 877/291-4991; www.caribecove.com), Summer Bay Resort (tel. 888/742-1100; www.summerbayresort.com), and the newest Vacation Club property by Holiday Inn (one of only four in the country) -- the Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Orange Lake Resort (tel. 877/863-4780 or 407/239-0000; www.holidayinn.com).

For reviews of the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, Palisades Resort, and Grande Palisades, see the individual property listings.

Smaller Homes Away from Home -- Several area timeshare resorts rent rooms or apartments to tourists when the owners aren't using them. The Disney Vacation Club (tel. 407/939-7775; www.dvcresorts.com) offers studios and one- to three-bedroom villas at its timeshare resorts. Some have small fridges and microwaves; others have full kitchens. Rates start at about $275 per night and can run up to $2,260 per night.

Outside Disney World, rates begin at around $189 per night for one- and two-bedroom apartments with kitchens. As with hotel rooms, you can get major discounts off the rack rates (as low as $79 a night) if you do your homework. An especially nice choice is Sheraton's Vistana Resort (tel. 407/239-3100; www.sheraton.com/vistanaresort) and Vistana Villas (tel. 407/238-5000; www.sheraton.com/vistanavillages). Other good places to look include the Marriott Vacation Club (tel. 800/845-5279; www.marriottvacationclub.com) and the Hilton Grand Vacations Club (tel. 800/448-2736 or 407/239-0100 for the SeaWorld location, 407/465-2600 for the International Drive location, or 407/465-4000 for the Lake Buena Vista location; www.hiltongrandvacations.com).

One minor caveat: Because each room and apartment that's rented is individually owned, quality can vary, so be sure to specify your exact requirements when booking.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.