View of Downtown with its city lights before night time

Where To Stay in Orlando, By an Area Local [2021]

Many people head to Orlando and bee-line straight for Disney or Universal. But since the city is over 100 square miles, plus many surrounding neighborhoods and small towns, Orlando actually offers much more than just theme parks. 

I’m an Orlando local and I’m here to help you navigate exactly where to stay in Orlando, for every type of trip and for every budget. 

Generally speaking, the best places to stay in Orlando are located between the Walt Disney World Resort and Downtown Orlando. But it is important to choose where to stay based on what you plan to do while you’re visiting. 

For a hardcore Hufflepuff planning to spend all your time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, then staying at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel will get you transportation to the theme parks and early entry into the magical land. If you want to explore all that Orlando has to offer, International Drive gives you the most central location. 

You get my drift – a lot depends on the activities you plan to do in Orlando! So let’s dive in and figure out the best area for you

Best Places to Stay in Orlando

View of the luxurious Bohemian Hotel outside
(VIAVAL / Depositphotos)

Just looking for a quick answer on the best places to stay in Orlando? Here are my top picks: 

Ok, let’s do a deep dive into the best areas and neighborhoods in Orlando: 

5 Best Neighborhoods and Areas to Stay in Orlando

The Greater Orlando area is mostly suburban community with pockets of accommodations and entertainment around the main attractions. Since the best destinations are spread out around town, you should consider your favorite attractions and locations when deciding where to stay in Orlando. 

Lake Buena Vista/Walt Disney World 

View of flower fields with Disney character figures
Aerial view of Epcot theme park from the monorail 

👉 Best Area For Families Visiting Disney | ✨ Best Lake Buena Vista Hotels: Hilton Orlando Buena Vista PalaceWyndham Bonnet Creek ResortHyatt Regency Grand Cypress

Walt Disney World is actually located in two towns – Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista. While there are many Disney resorts to stay at, most lodgings in the surrounding area offer more affordable rates and similar benefits (like proximity to the theme parks and free transportation to and from the parks). 

Since families tend to stay in the area around Disney, most resorts offer children’s activities and entertainment offerings for the younger guests, like a kids’ water park near the swimming pool or an activity area with crafts and games. 

Pros of Staying in Lake Buena Vista

  • Closest neighborhood to Walt Disney World
  • Most resorts have shuttle service to the theme parks

Cons of Staying in Lake Buena Vista

  • Traffic is bad at almost any time
  • Many resorts charge a resort fee and self-parking 

📚 Lake Buena Vista Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Families
Google Map

International Drive

Panoramic view of Hyatt Regency Orlando and Rosen Centre Hotel
Hyatt Regency Orlando and Rosen Centre Hotel (VIAVAL / Depositphotos)

👉 Best Area For Business Travelers | ✨ Best International Drive Hotels: Castle Hotel  • Hyatt Regency OrlandoRosen Centre Hotel 

International Drive is only a 20-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport and it is the home of the Orange County Convention Center, making it a favorite location for business travelers. However, I-Drive is also home to several of my personal favorite things to do in Orlando, like The Wheel at ICON Park and WonderWorks. 

International Drive is also centrally located with quick access to I-4, the major highway through Orlando. By hopping on I-4, you have just a short drive to reach Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, or downtown Orlando.

Pros of Staying in International Drive

  • Central location to major attractions
  • Quick commute to Orange County Convention Center
  • Lots of hotel and restaurant options

Cons of Staying in International Drive

  • Traffic can be very slow during rush hour and on weekends
  • Locals frequent the restaurants and bars, which can make wait times longer
  • Smaller outdoor space and pools at the resorts 

📚 International Drive Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Business Travellers
Google Map

  • ✨ Best HotelsCastle Hotel Hyatt Regency OrlandoRosen Centre Hotel 
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – Cafe Tu Tu Tango ($$), The Oceanaire Seafood Room ($$$), Mango’s Tropical Cafe ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Yard House, ICEBAR, Howl at the Moon
  • 🎟️ Top Attraction – ICON Park, Topgolf, WonderWorks

Downtown Orlando

View of a brick street in the Downtown Orlando neighborhood
Entrance to Wall Street Plaza (appalachianview / Depositphotos)

👉 Best Area For Nightlife | ✨ Best Downtown Orlando Hotels: Grand Bohemian HotelThe Delaney HotelAloft Orlando Downtown 

Compared to the downtown areas of other major cities, like Miami and Atlanta, Orlando might seem a little underwhelming. But it’s the small town meets the big city feel that gives Downtown Orlando its charm. The heart of the area is Lake Eola, which is home to swans and swan boats alike. 

To the east of Lake Eola, you will find Thornton Park, a small artistic community that boasts historic homes and local eateries. The west side of downtown is home to the Amway Center and Exploria Stadium, the venues for Orlando’s NBA and MLS teams. 

The biggest benefit to staying in downtown Orlando on your vacation is the nightlife. A fun place to start is Wall Street Plaza, a strip of bars in the middle of the entertainment district. Some of my other favorite bars are around the corner from the plaza – The Lodge and Latitudes Rooftop Tiki Bar. 

Pros of Staying in Downtown Orlando

  • Lake Eola, craft coffee shops, and nightlife within walking distance
  • Close to Amway Center and Exploria Stadium for sporting events

Cons of Staying in Downtown Orlando

  • Farther away from the major theme parks 
  • Not as many family-friendly attractions 

📚 Downtown Orlando Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Nightlife
Google Map

  • ✨ Best HotelsGrand Bohemian HotelThe Delaney HotelAloft Orlando Downtown 
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – The Stubborn Mule ($$), Gringos Locos ($), Neon Beach ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Eola Wine Company, Wall St. Plaza, Latitudes Rooftop Tiki Bar
  • 🎟️ Top Attraction – Amway Center, Lake Eola Park, Orlando Science Center 

Universal Studios Area

View of the Universal world sphere  in CityWalk
Iconic Universal globe at CityWalk (VIAVAL / Depositphotos)

👉 Best Area For Overall Location | ✨ Best Universal Studios Area Hotels: Loews Sapphire Falls ResortHard Rock HotelHyatt House 

Whether you plan to visit the Universal Orlando Resort or not, I think the Universal Studios area is the best overall place to set up a home base for your vacation. This area provides a reasonable drive to Seaworld Orlando, Walt Disney World, and Downtown Orlando. 

The accommodations at the Universal Studios Resort are suited for everyone, from families with young children to couples on a romantic getaway. In addition to the theme parks, CityWalk offers on-site entertainment and dining options, like mini-golf and outdoor bars. 

Pros of Staying near Universal

  • Central location to most Orlando attractions
  • Awesome restaurants and nightlife options at CityWalk

Cons of Staying near Universal 

  • The area around the resort is residential, feeling less like a vacation destination

📚 Universal Area Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Overall Location
Google Map

  • ✨ Best HotelsLoews Sapphire Falls ResortHard Rock HotelHyatt House  
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar ($$), Tabla Indian Restaurant ($$), Voodoo Doughnut ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Pat O’Brien’s, CityWalk’s Rising Star, Vault 5421
  • 🎟️ Top Attraction – Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay 

Kissimmee/Celebration

View of the luxurious Bohemian Hotel outside
Bohemian Hotel in the quaint, small town of Celebration (VIAVAL / Depositphotos)

👉 Best Area For Budget-Friendly Accommodations | ✨ Best Kissimmee/Celebration Hotels: Bohemian Hotel CelebrationMargaritaville ResortGaylord Palms

For most locals, Kissimmee probably wouldn’t be their first recommendation for where to stay in Orlando. However, this is the best area for budget-friendly rental homes and hotel accommodations. Being removed from the busier part of Orlando also means there are sprawling golf resorts with luxurious spas and large pools. 

The Walt Disney World Resort is directly north of Kissimmee/Celebration, so you can quickly access your favorite attractions. Along US-192 (the major roadway in Kissimmee), you will also find a Funspot America location and Old Town. 

If you are staying in this area, downtown Celebration is a can’t-miss spot! The neighborhood and town of Celebration were originally designed by Disney, so the area is as beautiful as Main Street USA. The Bohemian Hotel, a boutique hotel filled with custom artwork, is one of my favorite staycation destinations in Orlando. 

Pros of Staying in Kissimmee/Celebration

  • Plenty of budget-friendly home rentals and resorts
  • Easy transportation to Disney parks 

Cons of Staying in Kissimmee/Celebration

  • Farthest location south of many attractions 
  • Parts of Kissimmee are run-down and less attractive 

📚 Kissimmee/Celebration Mini Guide 📚
Best Area to Stay for Budget-Friendly Accommodations
Google Map

  • ✨ Best HotelsBohemian Hotel CelebrationMargaritaville ResortGaylord Palms
  • 🍽️ Where to Eat – Thai Thani ($$), Columbia Restaurant ($$), The Wharf at Sunset Walk ($$)
  • 🍸 Where to Drink – Rock & Brews, Celebration Town Tavern, Mulligan’s Pub
  • 🎟️ Top Attraction – Old Town, Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures, Fun Spot

Tips for Staying in Orlando

Choose the Best Location for Your Stay

You can find an awesome room at one of the many resorts, so I recommend choosing where to stay in Orlando based on what you plan to do during your stay. If you do not plan to rent a car, it is also good to consider Uber costs or free transportation options. 

A rental car is great, though, because it lets you get out for a day and explore my favorite excursions around the greater Orlando area.

🚗 Need a Rental Car? Travel Lemming recommends searching with the excellent Discover Cars search engine. It lets you easily compare prices and ratings for many different agencies.

Take Advantage of Amenities

When choosing where to stay in Orlando, keep in mind that almost every hotel near the attractions will offer free shuttle service to and from the major theme parks (you just might need to schedule it ahead of time with the concierge). Also look for other amenities, like a resort credit, free breakfast, free wifi, or airport transfers. 

Skip the Chain Restaurants 

Orlando is home to almost too many delicious restaurants; it can be hard to choose where to eat! I recommend trying one of the local Latin food restaurants. They are authentic and worth every penny. 

Enjoy a Pool Day 

In Florida, it can feel like summer almost year-round, so take advantage of that heat. Most accommodations will have an outdoor pool on-site (and some are heated for the few cold days we get). If swimming isn’t your thing, look for a resort with a golf course or tennis courts to enjoy the warm weather. 

Travel During the Off-Season

The parks have done their best to boost tourism during the off-seasons (early spring and early fall) by hosting festivals or special events. Even so, there are usually better hotel prices and fewer visitors when you avoid summer vacation and the winter holidays. Magic Kingdom is more fun when you aren’t sweating profusely anyways, trust me! 

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Orlando

Which hotel has the best pool in Orlando? 

My pick for the best pool in Orlando is the pool at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. The swimming pool is so large that it never feels crowded and there are shaded grottos for when you have had enough sun. Depending on who you ask, you could get 100 different answers since there are so many great resort pools in Orlando. 

What is the best beach near Orlando?

Clearwater Beach is regularly voted one of the best beaches in the country and is my pick for the best beach near Orlando. It offers sparkling white sand beaches. If you don’t want to drive the 1.5 hours to the coast, consider reserving this shuttle, which will allow you to sit back and relax on your way to the beach. 

When is hurricane season in Orlando?

The Atlantic Hurricane season potentially impacts Orlando from approximately June 1 to November 30. If you are concerned about traveling to Florida during hurricane season, check with your airline, hotel, and entertainment reservations to see what their inclement weather policies are. 

Do I need a rental car in Orlando?

A rental car is highly recommended in Orlando for most visitors. Ride-sharing apps can be expensive if you are looking to go to destinations all around Orlando. Most locations do not offer free parking, which should be factored into your budget. You can skip the rental car if you are staying at a hotel with theme park transportation (and you don’t plan on exploring outside of the resorts). 

Is it safe to visit Orlando?

Orlando is generally a very safe place to visit. Like most cities, there are areas of Orlando where crime is more prevalent. However, the tourism destinations and resort areas are considered safe. 

Is it going to rain in Orlando? 

It is difficult to predict when it is going to rain in Orlando on any given day. Floridians will tell you rain can come at any time, especially during the summer. Luckily, our afternoon summer showers usually last less than an hour before the sun is back out shining. 

***

Hopefully, this article has pointed you in the right direction of where to stay in Orlando when you visit. If you liked it, be sure to check out my guide to what to do in Orlando.

Scroll down and let me know in the comments where you are planning to stay or your visit to Orlando!

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