Update: this resort now costs 40k IHG points per night, but I still consider it a great deal.
A few weeks ago, my family had a chance to spend four nights at Holiday Inn Club Vacations Orlando-Orange Lake Resort Short version of the review ahead: this is a great place for families with small children who want a break from Disney for a couple of days.
I think this particular resort just might be the best value redemption for families in all of Orlando area. But there are some caveats to be aware of, so hopefully, my review will present a balanced picture. Our stay was not sponsored in any way, so you know you can trust what you read 100%.
An overview of the resort
In a word: Huge! This resort is basically the size of the town we live in, possibly bigger. Here is the map to give you an idea:
The resort comprises of several villages, and each has its own set of buildings. Some units are located in a multi-story hotel-type development, but most are freestanding duplexes scattered around the area. There are pros and cons to each set-up. If you want to stay in River Island village (considered to be the most desirable location), you will be in a hotel building, which means you may have to deal with lots of noisy neighbors.
On the other hand, if you want to take advantage of lazy river, water slides and other amenities of River Island, you can simply walk to them from your unit. If you are staying close to resort’s entrance like we did, you will have to either drive to waterpark or take a free shuttle that goes every 10-15 minutes. With the latter, you will have to stop at each development along the way, but it takes about 15 minutes max, so it’s not too bad. Of course, if you have very little kids, it won’t be ideal.
There seemed to be plenty of parking spots near River Island waterpark, so you shouldn’t have major issues there. You don’t even need to change when you leave, since the ride to the unit is very short. Just line the car seats with towels or giant garbage bags. We had my husband drop us off in the morning and took the shuttle back to our village in the evening. All in all, it was easier than I thought it would be.
I actually wanted to pay extra to upgrade to River Island unit, but the place was sold out. When you use hotel points, you are basically at the mercy of the resort. They can put you anywhere they wish and in high season, you may end up on the farthest end like we did. But to be honest, it actually worked out for the best.
It was easier to leave the place when we needed to, and there was a very nice heated pool with a hot tub within short walking distance from our unit. It was much more peaceful than the waterpark, so I was actually happy that the upgrade fell through. So, if you are using IHG points, my biggest piece of advice is to ask for your unit to be located near a pool complex. There are several scattered throughout the property. The one in Southern Magnolia Court portion is a good one.
The resort has a lot to keep you entertained: golf, lake boats, evening activities and more. We only took advantage of the waterpark, which I will review later in the post.
One thing I didn’t like is the sheer inefficiency (by design) at check-in time. You first stand in line to get your unit assigned. Then you are sent to a separate department to get a parking pass. This is intentional because that’s when they try to arrange a timeshare tour. I will say that we were not pressured, so it was more of a nuisance factor plus a minor waste of time.
I also got a phone call the next day inviting us to a timeshare. They don’t actually use that term, but instead, say they want to give you a special gift and resort credit as a thank you for staying there. Right. I just told the lady my husband refuses to attend timeshare presentations (100% true) and they left us alone for the remainder of the stay.
If you don’t mind attending a timeshare presentation, you can collect some nice freebies, including resort credit. Also, as an IHG member, I get timeshare offers for this place on a regular basis, like this one:
The resort has a security gate and requires a unit key to enter. I actually think it’s a good thing because the place would get all kinds of uninvited visitors otherwise. That said, I don’t see how using an Uber or Lyft would be an option here, though there may be a workaround. I do think renting a car is probably the way to go.
Proximity to Disney parks: it’s a fairly easy 15-25 minute drive one-way, depending on which park you are visiting. The closest one is Animal Kingdom, the other ones are further away. Overall, I would say the location is fairly convenient when it comes to visiting Disney .
Review of our unit
As I’ve mentioned earlier, we were assigned a unit in a duplex at the far end of the resort. Initially, I was a bit disappointed. However, it was so easy to unload luggage and get in the car, I came to the conclusion that duplex is the way to go. In addition, the porch had a view of a lake, a nice treat.
The unit is well equipped and has everything you need for a family vacation. There is a kitchen, stocked with all major appliances (refrigerator, oven, microwave and a dishwasher):
Walmart and Publix are ten minutes away, so buying groceries shouldn’t be too difficult.
There is also a washer and a dryer, which are always nice when you travel with kids. Plus, you don’t have to bring as much junk with you. The unit is pretty large and there is a lot of room to spread out:
There are two bedrooms. One has a king bed and a private bathroom:
It looked like they recently replaced the carpet
One thing that warrants mention. In my confirmation it said that the master bedroom would have a spa tub. This wasn’t the case. I didn’t really think about it, to be honest, and it was literally the least of our concerns at the moment. But if it’s important to you, I recommend you ask about it at check-in.
The second bedroom had two queen beds and its own (fairly cramped) bathroom:
There is also a queen-size sofa bed, so 2-bedroom units can technically fit 8 people. Cleaning costs extra, so keep that in mind. Some basic supplies are included, and should last you a few days: dishwasher and laundry detergent, garbage bags, soap, plus few other things.
Since my parents flew all of the way from Europe, we gave them the master bedroom and used the second bedroom for us. That didn’t work out well. My kids fought like crazy when sharing the bed and we eventually moved our son to sleep with grandparents. Fortunately, I had a cot in the trunk of the van. We are getting to the point where kids need separate beds or nobody gets any rest.
All in all, I was very pleased with the unit. No, it wasn’t fancy, but it was very clean and well designed. You just can’t beat having this much space, kitchen and all the other conveniences. The fact that we could walk to a very nice pool and a hot tub was the icing on the cake. Thumbs up!
Review of the waterpark
This is the whole point of vacationing here, am I right? The waterpark is truly massive, the biggest one I’ve seen anywhere. That’s good and bad. There is a lot to keep kids entertained, but it takes a bit to walk from one end to the other. I recommend that you base yourself somewhere in the middle.
First, the bad news. In a ridiculous “money grab” fashion, the resort dares to charge $9 per day/per person to rent a lazy river tube. Oh, and you can’t bring your own. This is beyond ridiculous. Raise the rates, for goodness sake, but avoid this travesty. Every single place we’ve stayed at lets you use tubes for free. Many reviewers complain about it on TripAdvisor, so I think the management is being penny wise and pound foolish.
At first, my kids were begging me to get them tubes. So, I was planning to pay at the kiosk, but it required a long walk. So, I procrastinated and then my kids didn’t mention it again. So I didn’t really bother with it. Honestly, swimming or walking the lazy river is pleasant enough and provides exercise. Winning!
But once you’ve ventured into lazy river portion, it was more peaceful. The free slides were not that impressive, but will suffice if your kids are fairly young.
You can buy food at several dining kiosks located near the pools, and the prices aren’t too bad. A cuban sandwich was about $10, kids’ meals are around $6. You can buy alcoholic drinks at the bar near waterpark’s entrance, though prices are a bit high.
I believe you can bring your own food to the pool area, but I’m not 100% sure. Overall, the atmosphere is very laid back, and the staff members don’t seem to care about what the guests are doing. That can be good and bad.
There is an option to pay $3 per ride on a big fancy slide, so I decided to treat my son who was begging for it. He had a blast!
I didn’t mind paying extra for this slide, it’s the dumb lazy river tube surcharge that puzzles me to this day. There was a fun playground near the giant slide, and my kids enjoyed it as well. They also really liked the hammocks at the opposite end of the waterpark. If you have an infant, there is a zero entry pool, and I saw several babies giggling there like crazy.
Bottom line on the waterpark: despite the fact that it’s VERY busy during high season, it’s a lot of fun for families with young kids. I would never book this resort for a couple’s getaway, but it’s tough to argue with value for your money/points. Keep in mind this note on resort’s website: “From Jan. 2, 2019 – Feb. 26, 2019, River Island lazy river-style pool, hot tub and Leeward and Windward pool bars will be closed for renovations.”
Staying here on points
You can redeem 35,000 IHG points per night on a 2 bedroom/2 bath unit. It’s a very good deal during high season when rentals go for $250-$300 per night, and a decent value any time of the year. You can also use your renewal certificate from IHG credit card. You can’t control where the unit will be located, but you can try to arrange an upgrade at check-in. This resort is quite popular, and last-minute award availability can be tough to find.
If you happen to have Platinum status (comes complimentary with IHG credit card), you may get an upgrade for free. My in-laws took the kids here few years ago using points and ended up in River Island village. If you are traveling during low season, your chances of an upgrade will be much better, obviously.
Be aware, there is a resort fee of $8 per day/per unit. Parking is free, thank goodness. I hate resort fees with a passion, but this one isn’t too bad, so I don’t consider it a deal breaker. Orlando area is becoming more and more like Vegas, with resorts and even lowly motels trying to fleece travelers.
Last week I’ve mentioned that Chase will be issuing a new version of IHG credit card. I’ve said that I prefer the old version, but the new one may be better value for some. Let’s take this resort as an example. We’ve stayed here four nights using points, so if I had the new version of the card, the last night would be free.
So, the stay would require a total of 105,000 points. Now, let’s assume we bought the points during one of frequent IHG “50% off” sales. If I paid 0.57 cents per point and got a 20% discount, it would cost me 0.46 cents, or $483 total for four nights. That’s a price of $121 per night all-in (well, $130 with resort fee), a terrific deal. This is much better than getting a 10% rebate with the old version of the card. So once again, you can see how miles and points hobby is not “one size fits all.”
Even though I don’t think it’s the fanciest resort in Orlando, it provides solid value for families, especially when leveraging points. I don’t like the “nickel and dime” mentality, but you can’t have everything, I guess. Overall, this resort delivers where it matters. Big comfortable unit, close proximity to Disney, access to a huge waterpark and other various activities for 35,000 IHG points per night? Yes please.
My daughter actually asked me if this IHG resort costs way more than Hyatt Regency in Bonita Springs. I told her it costs way less. She was surprised and said that Holiday Inn is much better. There you have it. Family vacations are mostly about making the kids happy, aren’t they?
If you are looking for a simple hotel where you can sleep and shower, I recommend you check out my post Five super duper cheap points redemptions for your trip to Disney You may also want to read my post Affordable (and Fun) Disney-Area Resorts for a Large Family
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.