10 Orlando hotels that are just as much fun as Disney or Universal

Forget the theme parks. Your kids might never want to leave these 10 family-friendly Orlando hotels.
Kids playing in the water at Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center (Photo: Gaylord Resorts)
Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center (Photo: Gaylord Resorts)

Orlando may be best known for its incredible theme parks, but it’s increasingly a city where the hotels and resorts are becoming attractions in and of themselves. I’m not saying you shouldn’t explore Walt Disney World or Universal Studios, but when you stay at one of these over-the-top Orlando resorts, you might find it harder than you’d expect to get your kids to leave for the theme parks.

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1. J.W. Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes

J.W. Marriott Orlando, Grand Lakes, is a 500-acre luxury resort with wall-to-wall activities for families (Photo: Marriott)

Located at the headwaters of the Everglades, J.W. Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes is a 500-acre luxury resort with wall-to-wall family activities. Along with fireworks displays and a giant pool, this hotel has a fun water park with three waterslides, an enormous lazy river, and poolside movies. It’s always hosting special events, one of the best being a falconry experience where kids can help train the majestic birds—with plenty of photo ops, naturally.

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Through the on-site Grande Lakes Sports, you can try your hand at active pursuits like biking, fishing, kayaking, eco-tours, sunrise safaris, and archery. The hotel also embraces each season on its very own farm. A fall festival with pumpkins turns into a sparkling winter wonderland. Hotel guests can use the kids club at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. The kids club is a great place for little ones to hang out when parents want to visit the spa or have a date night sans children. 

2. Orlando World Center Marriott 

Orlando World Center Marriott (Photo: Marriott)
Orlando World Center Marriott (Photo: Marriott)

The largest Marriott property in the world is bound to have something for everyone. You might find it hard to pull your kids away from the Orlando World Center’s River Falls Water Park, which has thrilling inner tube water slides and a lazy river spanning more than 500 feet. The on-site Falls Pool Oasis has a lagoon-style pool with waterfalls, winding waterslides, and a kid’s splash zone.

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Aspiring Mermaids can take a Mermaid lesson or join in a Mermaid glow party. The Orlando World Center also has nightly laser shows, an arcade, and a dedicated recreation team that makes sure kids stay busy every moment of their stay. Plus, you can get a great view of Disney’s fireworks right from the hotel.

3. Gaylord Palms Resort

Cypress Springs Water Park at Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando (Photo: Gaylord Resorts)
Cypress Springs Water Park at Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando (Photo: Gaylord Resorts)

Family-friendly Gaylord Palms Resort is renowned for its breathtaking atriums, intricately themed environments, and built-in activities. At the heart of the resort is a vibrant water park area featuring a zero-entry pool. Families in search of more adventure can zoom down thrilling water slides, splash in the Tree House Water Playground, or kick back on the resort’s lazy river.

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Beyond the water, you can try your hand at an Escape Room, check out the arcade, or go on a scavenger hunt throughout the property. There are seasonal events all year long, from Halloween-themed painting lessons to the resort’s annual ICE! exhibit, featuring larger-than-life ice sculptures. 

4. J.W. Marriott Bonnet Creek

JW Marriott Bonnet Creek is the perfect Disney alternative (Photo: Marriott)
JW Marriott Bonnet Creek is the perfect Disney alternative (Photo: Marriott)

This luxurious hotel hasn’t forgotten how to have fun. The J.W. Marriott Bonnet Creek counts a “hidden” kids club behind a secret door as one of its many amenities. The kids club features a rooftop climbing wall, mini golf, and art projects. Little guests may also participate in special events, including reptile meet-and-greets where they can hold an alligator (if they dare).

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The hotel also has an enormous family-friendly pool. At night, guests are treated to a fantastic view of the nightly fireworks at Disney World, which is a great way to experience the magic without the madness. 

5. Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek

Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek may be nestled on a peaceful 482-acre nature preserve, but the resort is anything but boring. Families can spend the afternoon at the hotel’s lagoon-style pool and a three-acre lazy river. Kids can join in the report’s Mermaid Academy or enroll in SCUBA Academy, where they will use kid-friendly regulators to help them breathe even with their faces submerged in the water.

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If you prefer to stay dry, you can take advantage of the special events throughout the property. These may include pizza-making classes and seasonal events like Easter egg hunts. Once night falls, head to Dive-In Movies at the hotel’s large pool. Or, drop your kids off at the kids club so you can go out and have some fun of your own.

6. Conrad Orlando

Artist's rendering of Conrad Orlando's lagoon (Credit: Conrad Orlando)
Artist’s rendering of Conrad Orlando’s lagoon (Credit: Conrad Orlando)

Situated within the 1,100-acre Evermore Orlando Resort, the Conrad Orlando gives guests access to a private 20-acre tropical beach, a tranquil crystalline lagoon, and a huge pool. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and an enormous family waterslide are available on-site, along with plenty of other aquatic activities. Cliff jumps of varying heights and rope swings over a deep blue swimming hole are a highlight of a stay for many kids.

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Other activities include beach bashes, campfire singalongs, and sandcastle-building tournaments. The hotel has a great kids club that is more than just a place to park the kids for a few hours. The club’s rich programming focuses on Florida’s diverse landscapes, history, and wildlife. Kids might learn about pirates one day and wetlands and alligators the next.

7. Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress 

The pools at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando (Photo: Hyatt)
The pools at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando (Photo: Hyatt)

If your kids are dreaming of days in the pool, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress can’t be beat. The resort boasts a half-acre pool featuring a swim-through rock grotto, waterfalls, a waterslide tower, and a suspension bridge. The pool alone can keep families busy all day, but the property also has plenty more to offer including a lakeside white sand beach and bike rentals.

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Water sports, including canoes, sailboats, paddleboats, hydrobikes, and kayaks, are available on-site. Families who want to stay on land can explore the resort’s other activities, such as cornhole, slime making, and fish feeding. 

8. Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin

Disney's Swan Resort (Photo: Disney Swan and Dolphin)
Disney’s Swan Resort (Photo: Disney Swan and Dolphin)

Though Disney’s Swan Resort and Dolphin Resort are in the heart of Walt Disney World, you may still have a hard time dragging your kids away from the resort for a day in the parks. At the Swan and Dolphin, families can enjoy six pools. The crowning jewel is the Grotto pool, featuring a waterslide, sprawling rock features, a waterfall with a hidden lounge area, and poolside games all day long.

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When it’s time to exit the pool, you can build sandcastles on the resort’s sprawling white sand beach, head to the playground, play a round of mini-golf, or take a paddleboat ride around Crescent Lake. When parents need to take a break from all this fun, kids can head to the Camp Dolphin Kids Club where they can make arts-and-crafts, play video games, have a meal, and participate in age-appropriate activities.

9. The Grove Resort and Water Park Orlando

The Grove Resort and Water Park Orlando
The Grove Resort and Water Park Orlando (Photo: The Grove Resort and Water Park Orlando)

Guests at The Grove Resort & Water Park Orlando can spend their days at the resort’s heated Surfari Water Park, which features a lazy river, thrilling water slides, a splash park, and a FlowRider Double surf simulator. Families who like water sports can head to the on-site Lake Austin for kayaks, paddle boats, fishing, and pontoon tours.

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Lake Austin is also a great place for nature lovers to explore Central Florida’s diverse landscape. The Grove Resort hosts events all day long, including scavenger hunts, karaoke contests, fishing tournaments, and arts and crafts.

10. Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek

At the Mediterranean-style Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek, kids never need to get out of the water. The resort features five outdoor swimming pools, water slides, splash zones, and two long lazy rivers. That’s probably enough for most families, but the hotel has plenty of other family fun, too, including a playground, game room, pool tables, and miniature golf. Club Wyndham Bonnet Creek also hosts organized activities all day long, including karaoke, face painting, and bingo.

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Jamie Davis Smith
Jamie is a mother of four and a freelance writer. She lives in Washington, DC, but can more often be found wandering with her family and writing about their adventures near and far. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Fodors' Travel, FamilyVacationist, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Yahoo, and many others. She is a USA Today "Top 10" travel expert.