Planning a Florida vacation this year? You’re not alone!
According to a Visit Florida report, more than 127 million guests came to visit in 2018, and the number grows each year. That’s not a huge surprise. With 67,000 square miles of pristine beaches, farmland, islands, marshes, lakes, rivers and yes, the best theme parks in the world, Florida has a lot to offer visitors.
Chances are good if you travel at all, at some point, your journey will bring you here to the Sunshine State. And then you’ll be on the hunt for the best hotels in Florida!
Choosing The Best Hotels in Florida
Florida pretty much has it going on, so how do you even choose where to go or where to stay when planning a Florida vacation? Not a day goes by when I don’t get questions on Instagram and here on the blog about where to stay in Florida.
What most folks don’t understand before they come: FLORIDA IS HUGE! I’ve lived here on and off my whole life and still haven’t seen everything. My Florida bucket list is ever-growing! So the key to visiting Florida successfully is to take your time and come back again and again. To really do Disney, you need a week. To really do Universal, another week. The Keys? Another week. Miami? All the best beaches in Florida? You know where I’m going with this. You should just move here.
A day here and a day there is not enough to really experience the best of Florida.
To help you plan, I figured why not put my favorite hotels in Florida in one easy spot to share with all of you, because as of February 2019, we have 439,277 hotel and motel rooms and 4,583 properties. As you can imagine, not all are created equal and it’s not always easy to separate the amazing experiences from the average ones. If you’re going to come all this way, I want you to fall in love with your Florida accommodations – beachfront, lakefront or next to a Volcano – every bit as much as you love the beach, the fishing, the diving or the roller coasters.
Be advised: I’ve stayed at every single one of these Florida hotels at some point in my lifetime, some as part of editorial trips, some for marketing campaigns, some while working on PR projects and some on the rare vacation. These are my top pics from hundreds of nights in Florida hotels, chosen with care to help you plan!
Also note, I’ll be adding to this list as I encounter even more of Florida’s coolest hotels this year, so even if you’re not planning a Florida road trip right now, bookmark this article or Pin it for later!
PIN ME FOR LATER
NORTH FLORIDA HOTELS
Let’s start with my home turf! We don’t have nearly as many unique accommodations to choose from compared to say, Orlando or Miami, but we have some real gems on the First Coast.
Pro Tip: North Florida’s beaches are more rugged and rather less turquoise than some of our southern neighbors, however what they lack in water clarity they make up for in peace, quiet and significantly smaller crowds and traffic.
95 Cordova St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
Let’s start at the beginning – the oldest European settlement in North America, lovely St. Augustine. The Casa Monica is part of the Autograph Collection and definitely a jewel in the crown. Built in 1888, the hotel features Moorish Revival/Spanish Baroque-style architecture and design and has hosted dignitaries like the King and Queen of Spain and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. If you’re looking to live like royalty the Old City, the Casa Monica is the place to do it.
Check out my post on where to stay in St. Augustine for more options.
One Ocean Resort
1 Ocean Blvd, Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
One Ocean has a lot going for it – world class restaurant Azurea, soothing decor and Jacksonville’s only oceanfront spa. But what sets this hotel apart from all the rest is the unparalleled service, from the valet to your personal docent who looks after your every need. You don’t have to park your car and make your way to a check-in line for a credit card exchange and run-down of amenities either. At One Ocean, you roll up, your valet presents a room key and you’re done. Go straight to your cozy room overlooking the Atlantic.
You have the option to interact with a docent before you arrive, so you can have a customized minibar awaiting with snacks of your choice. It’s my favorite place in town for a luxurious staycation and one of the top spots I recommend to folks who come to visit.
691 First Street North, Jacksonville Beach
Did you know Jacksonville used to be Florida’s version of Hollywood? In the Golden Age, jazz was king and silent film studios attracted big names like Jean Harlow, Al Capone and John D. Rockefeller to our balmy beaches in the winter. Opened in 1925, Casa Marina was the grandest ticket in town, but now it’s the only remaining property from Jacksonville’s brief time as a celeb hotspot.
Today it’s a beachfront boutique with 23 bedrooms and parlor suites, renovated in Spanish-Mediterranean architecture and reopened in 1991.
Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
4750 Amelia Island Pkwy, Amelia Island, FL 32034
I cannot overstate how much I love this resort! It’s a luxurious but understated escape in the middle of windswept sand dunes and twisted coastal pines. It’s possible that Salt, the Ritz-Carlton’s onsite restaurant, is my favorite in all of North Florida. THE STEAK, you guys! I’m obsessed.
But there’s something I like even more than the steak… and you won’t be surprised to know it’s the spa. When you visit, definitely plan at least a full day to indulge in treatments and the private spa pool area.
HOTELS IN THE PANHANDLE
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
Looking for a gorgeous beachfront resort on the Gulf of Mexico? Rick and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a Florida road trip to the Hilton Sandestin and absolutely could not get over the Gulf Coast sunsets from our balcony. Between the fiery sunsets, the calm emerald water and pure white sand, we were in Floridian heaven. If you haven’t been to the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, my goodness – book a flight! They’re stunning any time of year, and perfect for sandcastle building, stand-up paddleboarding or just vegging with in a chair with a good book.
The Hilton Sandestin is a big favorite of families due to the cute, kid-sized bunk beds in the Deluxe Suites. With indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, the property is a safe bet even on the rare rainy day. For those traveling for romantic purposes like we were, a super relaxing couples Ocean Wave massage at Serenity by the Sea Spa was just the ticket. I personally loved the anti-gravity chairs in the back of the ladies lounge.
CENTRAL FLORIDA HOTELS
Cabana Bay Beach Resort
6550 Adventure Way, Orlando, FL 32819
A beach in Orlando? Yes, and it’s right next to an erupting volcano!
Cabana Bay has a fun, colorful 50s/60s retro theme and is right next door to Volcano Bay Water Theme Park. If your priority is waterpark-centric, it’s an ideal base. It’s one of the most affordable of Universal’s onsite properties, but it’s still super comfortable and convenient. For families, there are suites that sleep up to six in a room with a kitchenette and separate living room. For anyone traveling with 4+, Cabana Bay is a great choice!
As with all the Universal Orlando hotels, the property itself is a playground. You could stay at the hotel all day and have just as much fun as you would at the parks themselves — and you should absolutely factor that in! Enjoy the two pools, lazy river, waterslides, bowling alley and more. While there is no water taxi service at Cabana Bay, there are super easy and free buses or you can cross over to Sapphire Falls to pick up a water taxi there. Buses drop off at the main entrance to CityWalk, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. It’s all so easy. For info on ALL the hotels at Universal Orlando, check out my post: 7 Reasons to Stay at Universal’s Onsite Hotels.
7593 Gathering Dr, Kissimmee, FL 34747
Last year, we stayed at Reunion Resort just up the road from Disney. Depending on what kind of trip you’re on (big family fun, couples getaway, etc.), Reunion has an impressive selection of 1-13 bedroom homes in additional to a traditional hotel to suit every group.
Plus, even in a huge villa, you get all the fun of a fully equipped resort – playgrounds for the kids, a water park with grown-up swings at the tiki bar, a rooftop restaurant with views of the nightly Disney fireworks and a golf course. Read more about things to do in Kissimmee and our stay at Reunion.
JW Marriott Grand Lakes
4040 Central Florida Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32837
For as swanky and upscale as this property is, what with its luxurious spa and top notch restaurants, it also has a very unexpected outdoorsy side. We took a sunrise golf cart eco-tour of the property and found out that this area is actually the edge of the Florida Everglades. Wildlife abounds and shockingly, so do enormous bass in the lake. You can take fly fishing lessons with the best guide in central Florida, drink cocktails in the lazy river or try falconry school. (Perfect for little wizards excited about Hogwarts!)
There’s also a free shuttle to the theme parks, so you don’t have to worry about parking if Disney or Universal are in your plans.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
1600 Seven Seas Drive, Orlando, FL 32830
Did you know there are 25 themed hotels on Disney property with more than 30,000 rooms? That’s just an incredible number! I could write a book on Disney’s different resorts and it’s impossible to pick just one that’s the best, but I do have a solid favorite with a special place in my heart – Disney’s Polynesian Village. Partly because all things Hawaiian put an actual, literal grin on my face, and partly because we’ve been going to Ohana for years as a special family treat, the Polynesian is my go-to spot.
It’s one of the most convenient properties because it’s on the Monorail route, making super easy to get to Magic Kingdom and around the enormous resort. It’s one of the original resorts at Walt Disney World, and it really captures the feeling of being in the South Pacific… if Mickey Mouse lived there with all his friends.
And it’s the only hotel in Florida with overwater bungalows featuring full kitchens and private plunge pools. Full disclosure: they’re over the Seven Seas Lagoon and not the actual South Pacific, but they’re still quite nice.
8629 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819
Need a hotel near Universal? The Castle Hotel is a treasure hidden in plain sight! How I missed this lovely spot in my 10,000 visits to Orlando, I’ll never know. It’s right there on International Drive, a cute boutique between T-shirt shops and neon signs touting outlet malls.
If you’re going to be checking out multiple theme parks (vs. just doing Disney, Universal or SeaWorld, in which case staying on site is ideal), the Autograph Collection’s Castle Hotel could not be better situated. It’s walking distance to the ICON 360 complex and the Convention Center, and so close you could almost touch the new Universal Orlando complex. Read more about our tips on visiting Orlando.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
1114 Cayman Way, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
The quickest way to get on island time in Central Florida! Now, don’t get confused as many visitors do. Orlando is NOT on the water, living smack in the center of the state. But never fear – Disney has you covered with the closest thing to a beachfront property in Orlando.
The Caribbean Beach Resort is seemingly cut from paradise and dropped in the heart of Walt Disney World Resort, featuring pirate-themed rooms for the kids and colonial architecture spread out over six villages. There’s also an old Spanish-style citadel with slides and water cannons. A great spot to get a taste of the Caribbean and world-class attractions in one location.
SOUTH / SOUTHWEST FLORIDA HOTELS
When I tell folks I meet around the world that I’m from Florida, they automatically assume I mean Miami. Miami is so impossibly chic – the high rises, the art deco, the yachts, the turquoise water, the skin-tight outfits and never-ending parade of good-looking, very tan people. Anyone from the Sunshine State can tell you, North Florida and South Florida are only in the same category because that’s how the lines were drawn in 1845. I’m always flattered anytime someone thinks I could hack it in a place with so much fashion sense and sex appeal.
Note: Eventually I’ll break this section into two, but I have to visit more hotels first!
Fontainebleau Miami Beach
4441 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33140
Talk about luxury hotels in Florida! You wanna really do it up big in Miami? You have to stay at the historic Fontainebleau!
It’s a Miami icon, originally constructed by world famous architect Morris Lapidus in 1954. It’s been restored to its former glory complete with Ai Wei Wei chandeliers, bowtie tile floors and the most energetic pool parties you can imagine.
It is my personal dream to stay in the 5-bedroom Sorrento Penthouse one of these days. It’s got two floors, 10,000 square feet, private pool and hot tub and more amenities than all the other hotels on this list combined. Read more about our adventure at the Fontainebleau from a few years back.
The Gates Hotel South Beach
2360 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
We stayed here on the way back from our honeymoon in The Bahamas and loved it. Great location in the heart of South Beach – though not on the actual beach, if that’s important to you. It was within walking distance to everything we wanted to do and a pretty quick ride to the airport. Was a nice spot (and so much better than an airport hotel) for a layover night on the way to or from somewhere else.
South Seas Island Resort, Captiva Island
5400 Plantation Rd, Captiva, FL 33924
A sweet escape! The South Seas Island Resort spans two miles of shell-sprinkled beach on the Gulf of Mexico. At the north end of the resort you’ll find the party: two pools, a marina, tennis courts, restaurants and a poolside bar. On the opposite end, another pool, Starbucks, a restaurant and bike rentals. In between the two bookends is a windy road speckled with all manner of Floridian critters and long stretches of perfect beaches.
I love how rustic and relaxing South Seas is, but there’s plenty to do if you’re feeling froggy. Check out parasailing, beach yoga and sunset cruising to start. Read more about our last visit to Captiva Island here.
FLORIDA KEYS HOTELS
I say it often, but it bears repeating: we are so lucky as Floridians to have The Florida Keys just around the corner! They’re easy to get to while still feeling like a whole other country at times. Yes, it’s still the US, but it feels so different. The air is saltier, enormous iguanas lounge along the highway and there are marinas, key lime pie and Hemingway references everywhere you look.
Planning a visit to the Florida Keys? I’m so excited for you!
Hawks Cay Resort
61 Hawks Cay Blvd, Duck Key, FL 33050
The Florida Keys are just about the closest you can get to the Caribbean without a passport. Halfway down the island chain is Duck Cay, the laid-back home to sprawling Hawks Cay Resort, one of the absolute best spots to stay in the Keys.
After a recent $50 million renovation of the 60-acre property, the place is perfect for families of any size, with 250 multiple-bedroom villas and 177 regular guest rooms. Many villas have their own pools, and there’s a quiet adults-only pool, a kids club and a saltwater lagoon with free kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. You can book all your excursions, from sunset cruises to fishing charters, right onsite, so it’s basically a one-stop shop. Read all about our last family trip to the Florida Keys.
Cheeca Lodge & Spa
81801 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036
Cheeca Lodge is one of the most luxurious hotels in the Keys and certainly a top choice on Islamorada, where palm trees sway and the turquoise water is like nowhere else. Once the sun goes down, lights illuminate the water underneath the longest pier in the Keys and you can watch little fish frolic while heat lightning flashes on the horizon.
In the saltwater lagoon, bioluminescent creatures blink under the surface and the waves gently lap the shore. There are 214 rooms to choose from, with ocean, lagoon or golf course views, and many rooms have private hot tubs on the terrace. It’s an altogether perfectly relaxing place to spend a night… or a week.
Don’t miss the hot lava shell massage, one of my favorite massages I’ve ever had!
The Laureate Key West
3444 N Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, FL 33040
Tip: The Laureate is pet friendly, providing beds and water bowls for the four-legged family members.
The pool area was small but in a place like Key West, where you’re often out exploring and spending time on the water anyhow, it was perfect. And, there were tons of poolside amenities like games, towels and complimentary coconut water.
Parrot Key Hotel & Villas
2801 N Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, FL 33040
Stark white picket fences, bright blue Adirondack chairs and peaceful balconies come standard at Parrot Key. Surrounded by the turquoise sea, secluded swimming pools and art installations, two and three bedroom villas make this centrally located property an ideal spot for a family or group.
While there’s not really a beach, there’s plenty of sandy lounging real estate, four saltwater swimming pools and easy access to the rest of the island where you might find a place to dip in the ocean/gulf. Parrot Key Resort is only about a 10 minute drive all major attractions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of coolest, unique, epic, favorite hotels in Florida! Did your favorite make the list? If not, share below and I’ll check it out for a future update to this story!