This is Where You Want to Stay on a Walt Disney World Vacation

I love Walt Disney World as much as the next person, but dare I say, I need a break every so often from characters, parades, and all things *magical* (I know you know what I mean). At the end of a fun-filled day at the parks, I want to unwind and relax, like in a hammock under a palm tree, where all I can hear are palm fronds swaying in the breeze. Ah, heaven.

I’ve taken my kids to Orlando several times to visit the Disney parks and we’ve tried out various accommodation options. We stayed on-property twice, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and BoardWalk Inn. We also stayed off-property twice, in vacation rentals in nearby Kissimmee.

Going Rogue (Er, Off-Property)

This past weekend, my 9 y.o. son, Paul, and I spent a long weekend off-property at The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando. This was the first time I traveled to Orlando to explore the Disney parks, but stayed off-property in a hotel not affiliated with Walt Disney World.

There were no character breakfasts, no cast members, and no Hidden Mickeys at this hotel. However, there were Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles on the kids’ breakfast menu. That was probably the closest we got to a Disney presence at the hotel, and that was just fine with me. It is Orlando, you know.

The New Surfari Water Park

Earlier this year, The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando unveiled a brand-new on-site water park called Surfari Water Park. It’s easy to spend an entire day there (and we did) when you want to take a break from theme parks. We actually spent our first full day in Orlando at the water park. It was a great way to ease into our vacation.

Surfari Water Park has a lot to offer hotel guests, including a lazy river, two water slides, a kids’ water play area, and a heated zero-entry pool. The swimming pool is huge too, so you won’t find yourself constantly bumping into other families. For an extra fee, there’s a wave simulator ride.

All day long, we moved between the different splashy areas, making time to stop to eat and chill in our private cabana, which had a flat screen TV, plenty of towels, and a sitting area (and an outlet to charge up my iPhone!). Speaking of cabanas, it was a serious delight to have a server come by our cabana every so often to ask if we wanted to place an order or needed a drink.

Adjacent to our cabana was Longboard Bar & Grill, an open-air restaurant at the water park serving up starters, salads, and sandwiches, even desserts for both lunch and dinner. I ordered the Smoked Brisket Sliders and it was delicious. There’s also an outdoor milkshake bar. At $10 a pop, the milkshakes are pricey, but can you put a price on a KitKat-infused milkshake? Yum.

Beyond water slides and brisket sliders, look for poolside activities in the afternoon at the water park. While we were there, there was a hula hoop contest on the deck and we tried our luck with several rounds of Bingo, though sadly neither of our cards were winners. Boo.

Beyond the Water Park 

While the Surfari Water Park was loads of fun, there’s more to do on-property, like The Springs Pools for those who can’t get enough water fun. The three-full size pools, including one that has several water play features, open at 8 am. Since the water park doesn’t open until 10 am, the Springs Pools are a great place to start your day of water fun.

When you want to spend some time out of the sun or you are looking for an after-dinner activity, head to Flip Flop’s Family Fun Center. There you’ll find games like skee-ball, down the clown, and a psychic chicken game in which golden eggs are laid with fortunes and prizes. In the coming months, look for an expansion that includes an indoor mini golf course.

Just beyond the three pools is Lake Austin, a serene lake where you can check out swan boats (pedal boats) and kayaks for an extra fee. You can also rent fishing poles or sign up for a guided tour across the lake in a pontoon boat.

For arts and crafts lovers, there is an activity center where kids can paint a ceramic bank or make slime, among other activities. What’s great too is that activities are not limited to the weekends like they are at some resorts. Every day, there are at least five different activities to keep kids both busy and entertained (none of which involve tablets or screens).

Disney Bound 

When you’re ready to hit the Disney parks, there’ s a free shuttle service that will take you to and from the Walt Disney World Ticket & Transportation Center. From there, it’s a quick ferry, monorail or bus ride to your favorite park. You can also purchase park tickets at the concierge desk inside the hotel.

The shuttle ride is about 20 minutes and is super convenient. It’s also easy to catch an Uber from the hotel and the ride-share waiting location is adjacent to the shuttle buses at the park. My son and I actually missed the shuttle coming home from Magic Kingdom in the evening, and it was super easy to Uber back to the hotel.

The Actual Property 

Something to love very much about The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando is that there are only one, two, and three bedroom suites. Each has a washer, dryer, and full kitchen, making them so perfect for families.

My son and I stayed in a three bedroom suite, which was a lot of space for just the two of us. However, it was nice to see that all three bedrooms had their own bathroom and flat screen television, making it easy to relax on your own at the end of the day. I also liked that all the balconies were screened in to keep curious little ones safe.

With a full kitchen, it’s nice to be able to cook, but there are also three restaurants on-site, including Valencia, The Springs Bar & Grill, and Longboard Bar & Grill. The latter two are only open for lunch and dinner. There’s also Alfresco Market, which is open all day. Here you’ll find grab-and-go options, like coffee and sandwiches, as well as medications and sunscreen.

We ate breakfast every day at Valencia, and also ate there for dinner on two evenings. The food was delicious, but it also came of out the kitchen quickly, which is so important when you have kids. Your parade can totally get rained on when hungry kids start to get cranky and irritable.

Beyond the rooms and restaurants, you’ll find a full-service spa and a fitness center on-property, but what I loved most at this resort was the Hammock Cove. It was so relaxing to get five to seven minutes on a hammock to just stare up at the palm trees. Of course, then my son started asking when we were going back to the water park (like multiple times). Oh well. Until next time.

Disclaimer: My son and I were hosted by The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando. However, I was not compensated for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.