Orlando's 12 Best Resorts for Families

Posted Where to Stay by Trevor Cohen on June 24, 2014

I’m such a sucker. Why you ask? Because all that themed stuff really just gets me every time. Now, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert or connoisseur, like the real Disney savants out there. Don’t expect me to have a favorite princess or know all the best places to eat for under $10 at EPCOT. I’m just one big sucker for the whole experience.

So as your noble dupe, who's been to Orlando one too many times, I bequeath my advice on some of the best resorts. Some I’ve stayed in myself, others I’ve looked for the best advice and reviews.

Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

I traversed the Rocky Mountains to arrive at a comfortable lodge nestled in the forest. A massage was waiting, and the smell of wood-smoked barbecue was hanging in the air.

Sometimes I feel like a day at Disney is a lot like a hike in the wilderness. Not sure if this was what they were thinking with the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, but it’s definitely nice to come home to a cozy mountain lodge after a long day. They have pools that look like hot springs, and I feel they did a decent job with the Native American motif. Old faithful geyser is also a huge hit with the kids!

My favorite part is the food, which uses the ingredients of the Pacific Northwest. I’d recommend Artist Point, Territory Lounge, and the Whispering Canyon Café. Another must is a massage or dry sauna at the Resort’s Sturdy Branches Health Club.

Marriott's Harbour Lake

Sometimes you just have to let the kids go crazy. They’ve got so much energy, and it’s gotta go somewhere. That’s why Marriott’s Harbour Lake lets them be a pirate for a day, or two. They have a giant pool with a pirate ship and the resort staff hosts a ‘mock’ pirate invasion. Best of all, you can lounge at a safe distance and make sure things don’t get too out of hand. But if that’s still not enough excitement, there’s also mini golf, basketball, and a video game arcade.

Marriott's Lakeshore Reserve

If you’re looking for luxury and don’t want to pay Ritz Carlton prices, Marriott’s Lake Shore Reserve is worth considering. With elegant white stucco and Spanish tiles, Lakeshore Reserve resembles an Italian villa along the shores of Lake Como.

It’s part of Orlando’s Grande Lakes area, 500 acres of tropical gardens, home to the Ritz Carlton Orlando and JW Marriott. That means you get to use the Ritz’s 18-hole, par-72 Greg Norman Signature Golf Course, as well as its spa. If you’re looking to splurge one night on a great meal, check out exotic dishes at Norman’s (Ritz) or Italian at Primo (JW Marriott).

Disney's BoardWalk Villas

Ever wanted that old fashioned beach experience you’ve seen in movies from the 1930s and 40s? I mean, yeah, I definitely do! And that’s more or less what Disney’s BoardWalk Villas does. You know, with the pin striped umbrellas, white columns, and crimson façade. What I really like about the resort though is it’s part of Disney’s BoardWalk area, which means you can take a ferry to the parks. When my kids were younger they loved the 200-foot waterslide, and the nightly movies on the beach and in the “quiet” pool. The BoardWalk complex also has a lot for kids to do.

Disney's Beach Club Villas

The yin to the BoardWalk Villas yang, Disney’s Beach Club Villas is decorated in soft baby blue paneling, in the same Atlantic seaboard style. But I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it as genteel, for its calming exterior hides something awesome. The resort is home to Stormalong Bay, a private water park with three acres of water slides and sand-bottomed pools, only accessible to resort guests. You also have the old-fashioned Beaches & Cream Soda Shop, known for the best ice cream at Disney World. Another restaurant, Cape May Café hosts a daily character breakfast, and at night serves delicious crab legs.

Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas

Maybe you just want a nice place to relax, away from the crowds. Sheraton Vistana (Resort Website) happens to be located in a 95-acre gated community outside the action. It has a quarter-acre swimming pool with a waterfall and an interactive fountain, tennis and basketball courts, and a kid’s playground and game room. To really unwind though, you should try a massage or a steam in the sauna. Twice a week, the resort also organizes a golf outing.

Hilton Grand Vacations at SeaWorld

I haven’t spent much time at SeaWorld, but I did seem to have fun there ten years ago. Although I do remember being very wet, and wishing I’d bought extra shorts. If you are a big SeaWorld fan, this is definitely your place. It’s walking distance to SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, and you get discount tickets. If you want to go someplace else, the resort even has free shuttle service to Disney World and Universal.

Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort

A friend of mine once dared me to ride the Lazy River at Wyndham Bonnet Creek for five hours. That’s a story for another day, suffice it to say that there are actually two lazy rivers. This giant resort has a total of five pools and lots of family-friendly games, contests, and craft events. You can create your own sundae, and the kids (or you) can get their faces painted. You are also less than a mile away from six unique golf courses. Since Disney is so close (you’re actually inside the park), you can see nightly fireworks from rooms above the 5th floor.

Marriott's Grande Vista

I must admit that I’m not the biggest golfer. Every time I do it, I love it, I just don’t have that much game. I’m the guy who puts those nice divots in the fairway. However, Marriott’s Grande Vista would be my perfect golf resort because of their Faldo Golf Institute. They offer instruction across all skill levels and two courses to practice on. The 9-hole Faldo course is perfect for beginners, i.e. me. Next door is the 18-hole Grande Pines Golf Club designed by Steve Smyers, for something a little more serious.

Hilton Grand Vacations Club on International Drive

Some people need to get their outlet shopping fix. My wife is one of those people. If we could go to Orlando again and she knew about Vineland, she might lobby that we stay at HGVC on International Drive. It’s literally right next door to Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Ave, which has some of the best outlet shopping in country.

The resort is also a 12 minute drive from Disney and 14 minutes from the airport. When not at the parks or shopping, this lakefront resort is a nice place to relax with a walk along the water. For an easy meal, the resort’s Barra Toscana Bar & Grill serves Italian-American classics.

Orange Lake Resort

Orange Lake Resort is an icon of the Orlando vacation. Since the 1970s, what began as a small family owned resort grew into a 1,450-acre city unto itself, with four distinct villages, seven pools, nine restaurants, and two golf courses. Condo towers and smaller townhomes wrap around golf greens and various lakes. You can fish, boat, or sail along the huge 80-acre Orange Lake. It would take many days to see it all, and that’s when you’re not off at the parks. Since most of the resort’s attractions do cost money, I’d recommended getting an affordable day pass for access to everything.

Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club

I’m no southern gentleman, but I could be at Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club. With 80-foot elevation changes, live oaks, rolling sand dunes, and a pristine wetland, the Mystic Dunes championship golf course evokes a relaxing day in the Southern countryside. But, you’ll most likely find me at the mini golf range getting walloped by my ten-year-old daughter. Luckily, I’m pretty good at lounging by the pool and eating at the Clubhouse Bar & Grille. Still got my pride, and hey, Disney World is only 10 minutes away.