Where to stay in Central Florida

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Theme park lovers flock to Central Florida. Here you find not only Disney World but also other top amusement parks such as Universal and Legoland. Add high-flying Cape Canaveral and stunning beaches, and your itinerary is loaded with something for everyone. But where to stay in Central Florida for the best experience?

Orlando is the best place to stay in Central Florida if you target Disney World or Universal. Other great options for where to stay when visiting Central Florida are Tampa Bay, Space Coast and Fun Coast.

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Orlando

Home to both Disney World and Universal, Orlando is an option for where to stay in Central Florida that really takes fun to the next level. Are you ready to step into a world where everything is possible?

Disney offers four theme parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollwood Studios. Universal is where Harry Potter parks his broom.

You can almost let the fun begin.

But where should you bed down? Brimming with appealing hotels, Orlando is a city with several different areas to consider.

Lake Buena Vista is Disney’s home ground. Pick a hotel or resort here if you want the best access to Disney’s magical attractions.

International Drive, or just I-Drive, is Orlando’s main entertainment strip. Sometimes described as Florida’s answer to the Las Vegas Strip, it’s a choice that gives you better access to the Universal parks.

Yet if you look for something off theme parks, the real winner might be Downtown Orlando. Although many don’t know about it, Orlando became a city already in 1885. That’s even before Walt Disney himself was born.

Pick Orlando for: Jaw-dropping parks.

Waving Pluto greets visitors at Disney World
Meet favorite characters at Disney World.

Best hotels in Orlando

Swan Reserve

For the best access to Disney World, don’t look past Swan Reserve. The carefully refined hotel offers walking distance to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. How sweet isn’t that?

Hilton near Universal

If you rather stay at a hotel near Universal action and International Drive activity, this comfy Hilton hotel is just what you look for. Located at the northern end of I-Drive, it’s just a few minutes by shuttle or car to the awe-inspiring Universal parks.

Legoland visitors: Often you hear people talking about Legoland in Orlando. However, take into consideration that it’s roughly an hour from Orlando to Legoland, which actually is located in Winter Haven. So if you want a hotel as close to Legoland as possible, secure a place to stay in Winter Haven, such as, for a truly memorable experience, the themed Legoland Florida Resort.

Tampa Bay

If you thought Central Florida is all about theme parks, think again. The Tampa Bay area, on the Mexican Gulf, invites you to a beachy Central Florida stay.

Clearwater Beach is defined by its wide white shoreline. Play in the soft sand, swim in the turquoise ocean or just enjoy that cozy Gulf of Mexico breeze, preferably with a cold one in your hand.

For liveliness and people watching, park your car at Pier 60. Extending out into the Mexican Gulf, Clearwater’s Pier 60 is a landmark and the beach community’s centre of attention.

Another remarkable spot for a beach getaway, 20 miles (32 km) south, is St. Pete Beach. Although the beach down here is narrower, St. Pete Beach has a longer and just as inviting shoreline.

It’s unlikely that you ever want to leave the beaches of Tampa Bay. But if you wish for a change of scenery, there’s more to see in Tampa.

Busch Gardens is a more off-the-beaten-track amusement park than Disney and Universal in Orlando. The theme park opportunities just never seem to run out in Central Florida.

To explore Florida’s Cuban heritage, enter Tampa’s historic Ybor City neighborhood. Tour the area’s colorful streets before you sit down for a bite or drink, possibly at the traditional Columbia Restaurant.

Pick Tampa for: The Gulf Coast.

Best hotels in the Tampa area

Sandpearl Resort

Located north of Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60, Sandpearl Resort is a dreamy beachfront hotel. Take a few steps towards the Mexican Gulf, and you have sugar-white sand under your feet. Or stroll in the other direction, and numerous restaurants, bars and shops lure you in.

St. Pete Beach Suites

Sheltered from noise, Pass-A-Grille is a unique neighborhood at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach. Welcome to St. Pete Beach Suites, a hotel brilliantly combining beachy and elegant. The beach across the street quickly captures your attention, but don’t miss the pleasant vibe in Pass-A-Grille Historic District, which you also reach by foot.

Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach shooting out into the Mexican Gulf under a cloudy sky
Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60.

Related: Read our full where to stay in Clearwater Beach and top things to do in Clearwater Beach guides.

Space Coast

It’s not just the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Home to Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center, the Space Coast on the Atlantic Ocean is the option for where to stay when visiting Central Florida that literally skyrockets.

How about a Central Florida vacation in space?

Featuring spacecraft, memorabilia and displays, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the ultimate experience about human space exploration. Often you can even chat with an astronaut, providing unique insights about space travel.

As it’s only an hour by car from Orlando to Cape Canaveral, many visitors choose to day trip from the theme park capital. However, the Space Coast’s beach towns make up beautiful options for where to stay in Central Florida.

Top Central Florida places to stay on the Space Coast include:

  • Cape Canaveral
  • Cocoa Beach
  • Melbourne Beach
  • Satellite Beach

These are all laid-back towns, offering a pleasant mix of easy access to space discoveries and gorgeous beach life. The Space Coast certainly is a coast like no other in the Sunshine State.

Pick Space Coast for: A unique space journey.

NASA sign at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Next stop: Space!

Fun Coast

North of the Space Coast, more options for where to stay in Central Florida line up. The Daytona Beach area, sometimes called the Fun Coast, offers both a stunning coastline and fast-paced attractions.

Top Central Florida places to stay on the Fun Coast include:

  • Daytona Beach
  • Ormond Beach
  • Flagler Beach
  • New Smyrna Beach

Truly a place for speed lovers, Daytona Beach is home to the annual Daytona 500 and many other events for motorsports enthusiasts. If this sounds like you, don’t miss touring the iconic Daytona International Speedway.

Branded as the “World’s Most Famous Beach”, Daytona Beach is also a destination for beach lovers. For maximum convenience, the Daytona Beach Boardwalk traces its grand sand beach, offering tasty restaurants, cooling bars and quirky shops.

The experience, and the ocean views, peaks at the Daytona Beach Pier. Where Main Street collides with the beach, this is a historic Daytona Beach marker that has created many Central Florida vacation memories.

Ormond Beach, Flagler Beach and New Smyrna Beach are less famous options for where to stay when visiting Central Florida. However, consider these if you prefer somewhat quieter beach getaways.

Pick Fun Coast for: Need for speed.

Tips for staying in Central Florida

A central Florida vacation is a great recipe for memorable moments. Still these tips can make your stay even more rewarding.

  • Allow time for parks – If you don’t have much theme park experience, it’s easy to underestimate the dimensions and offerings of Central Florida’s theme parks. Disney World alone, comprising four different theme parks, roughly equals to the size of two Manhattans. So make sure to allow at least one whole day for each park you want to visit.
  • Appreciate distances – Although Central Florida is just one of several regions in Florida, the distances are rather long. For example, to get from Orlando to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf coast is a two-hour drive. Then Cape Canaveral, an hour from Orlando, is a more feasible day trip to take.
  • Central Florida peaks – Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are holidays when both hotels and theme parks tend to sell out. However, Central Florida is one of those year-round destinations that always attract visitors. Therefore we strongly recommend that you finalize your travel arrangements as long in advance as you can, no matter when you visit.
  • Pack a jacket in winter – With a northern perspective, Central Florida never gets cold. Yet it’s wise to pack some warmer pieces of clothing if you plan a winter visit. The year’s coldest month, January, sees average highs in the comfy low 70s, while nightly lows often fall to the chillier 50s.

Final words about where to stay in Central Florida

A Central Florida experience often starts with the theme parks. Orlando is, of course, the location of both Disney World and Universal. For theme park lovers, it doesn’t get better than a Central Florida stay here.

But if you look for a beachy stay, have in mind that it’s a long day trip from Orlando to the beach. So if you want to feel the ocean breeze through your hair, consider a Central Florida location on one of the coasts too.

Where to stay in Central Florida FAQ

Where should I stay when visiting Central Florida?

Boasting thrilling theme parks and stunning beaches, the best place to stay in Central Florida depends on your interests. Orlando is home to Central Florida’s most famous theme parks, including Disney World and Universal. However, Tampa Bay, Space Coast and Fun Coast offer relaxing settings perfect for recharging your batteries. Because of the variation of experiences, the ultimate Central Florida visit captures both theme parks and that sought-after shoreline.

Where to stay in Central Florida for Disney?

Orlando is the best place to stay in Central Florida for Disney. To be more exact, Lake Buena Vista is the official address of Disney World. Although you find several great hotels here, the Swan Reserve is a top option just steps from Disney’s magical world.

Where to stay in Central Florida for Kennedy Space Center?

Taking you on an unforgettable space journey, Kennedy Space Center is a Central Florida highlight complementing the theme parks so well. From Cape Canaveral, it’s just 20 minutes to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Add a few minutes to that if you rather stay in Cocoa Beach.

Where to stay in Central Florida for beaches?

Central Florida’s beaches are some of the most beautiful in the United States. Tampa Bay offers stunning Gulf coast beaches, while the Space Coast and Fun Coast are on the Atlantic Ocean. As long as people have lived in Florida, the Gulf coast versus Atlantic coast discussion has existed; the very best location is up to each visitor to decide.

Which are the most unique places to stay in Central Florida?

A resort where Disney lovers come together, the themed Swan Reserve is one of the most unique places to stay in Central Florida. For a beach location, consider St. Pete Beach Suites in the sand-between-your-toes community Pass-A-Grille on the splashing Mexican Gulf.

Do you want more? Dive into our palm-dotted Florida guide.

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