Lodging in a Nutshell
|by G.K. Sharman, Contributing Writer
With an estimated 40 million visitors a year, Orlando is one of the world's top vacation spots, if not the most visited place on the planet.
Most of those people come here with one goal in mind: to see Mickey Mouse. They're less unanimous about their lodging preferences. Still, some generalities hold true.
Typical visitors tend to like chain hotels/motels because they know what they're getting. The Orlando area has lots of these, both domestic and foreign-owned. They dominate the landscape, especially in the main tourist centers, and often offer transportation to one or more theme parks.
There are a few B&Bs, mostly downtown or in nearby municipalities (Mount Dora, mainly, but also in Sanford), and a scattering of smaller, locally or regionally owned lodgings.
The area has a few campgrounds, but not many visitors come all this way to rough it. Most prefer room service, or at least cable and in-room coffee makers.
More than 3.5 million of the area's tourists are from overseas, proving, perhaps, that it really is a small world after all. The majority hails from the U.K., but we also get visitors from other European countries, Latin America, the Mideast and Asia.
Because of this influx in international visitors, hotels (even small ones) frequently boast bilingual or multi-lingual staff. Many also offer currency exchange. Some cater to specific segments of the market. Several Kissimmee motels, including the Unicorn Inn, are proudly British owned. At the Quality Inn on I-Drive, more than half the guests are Brits on package tours.
Typical vacationers generally stay in one of two main tourist areas: near the theme parks or on International Drive, a.k.a. I-Drive. (These are, technically, mostly outside the city, but the Orlando "umbrella" pretty much covers everything.)
"Near the theme parks" is self-explanatory. I-Drive, on the other hand, is several miles of curving roadway tightly lined on both sides with every imaginable (G-rated) tourist desire: fancy hotels, plain hotels, t-shirt shops, ice cream stands, shopping complexes, Starbucks, pizza joints, souvenir shops, convenience stores. Plus, there's more dining and entertainment than you can shake a platinum card at. Anchoring one end is the Orange County Convention Center; Sea World is nearby. At the other is a popular water park, a mega-outlet mall and, a short drive away, the entrance to Universal Studios Escape.
Orlando also is a major convention destination. Most take place at the Convention Center, which is booked years in advance. Attendees usually stay nearby, whether at the fancy Peabody across the street from the facility or in more modest lodgings, such as a Quality Inn or AmeriSuites.
One last word: Expect crowds year round. The lines at theme parks are longer on holidays, of course, and in summer when Mickey's biggest fans are out of school.