I’ve lived in Orlando for seven years and I’ve driven past the Nick Hotel surely dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. But I’ve never gone inside. I tried to once, early on, but was rebuffed at the gate. There is no “looking around” at this hotel. If you’re not a pre-registered guest, you don’t get in. I chalked that up to the internal (and presumably small) water park they had there – you see that in advertisements – and moved on. But there’s more here than that, as I recently found out. As a media guest, I was granted a complimentary room and got see first hand what’s here, especially during the winter holiday season. (Note: Only the room and one meal was comped; the rest I paid for.)
I felt oddly triumphant to have my name validated by the guard’s computer at the first gate—I was in! They direct you to the lobby first (temp parking) and at check in, you receive some handouts that explain the bewildering array of activities available here. They also hand you wristbands that you are supposed to wear 24 hours a day during your vacation, even while at the parks. They take security seriously here! There’s also a one-car per room parking policy; a second car runs $15/night.
Check in at the gate first.
Let’s start with layout. There are two basic courtyards, with hotel buildings surrounding each.
The inward-facing rooms are the desirable ones, for a change.
One courtyard is home to the Lagoon, a large shallow zero-entry swimming pool and a quite large water playground (the sort of structure that spews water everywhere and dumps giant buckets on kids every few minutes).
The Lagoon is only quiet in the early morning. A lot of folks use it even in the summer-summer seasons!
Tucked into the corners you have whirlpools (13 and older only), basketball hoops, an outdoor billiards table, and a mini golf course.
The mini golf is not extravagant, but it’s completely free.
The other courtyard is surround by still more hotel buildings, and is home to the Oasis. At the Oasis is another lap-style pool with another tower with slides.
Oasis, with some Christmas decorations.
The two zones are connected in the middle by the Mall, which can be thought of as mostly a collection of buffet restaurants, fast food (Uno pizza, Subway, Starbucks), shops and sundries, arcades in the ticket-dispensing Chuck E. Cheese style (most games cost 75 to 90 cents per play), and a clutch of computer banks permanently displaying games on Nick’s website.
The Mall is home to the Nick Studios, where they do shows like Family Improv or the signature Slime Time Live, a competition between day guests sure to end messy! Across the way is the 4D theater, where seven different films, each 10-15 minutes, show in a theater enhanced with in-theater effects like water, bubbles, and slime. Slime is a real draw at Nick; certainly the kids love it. It gives the hotel its green (and orange) color scheme, the combination of which manages to create an atmosphere of kid-friendliness that is non-Disney in tone. (This is unusual. Most attempts to be non-Disney result in adultishness, like at Universal). The movies in the theater cost $6.50 each, or $13 for a length-of-stay wristband to let you visit as much as you want.
Speaking of “as much as you want,” that same concept permeates the morning breakfast buffet ($12 adults) and the evening dinner buffet ($25 on the day of our visit). Our evening meal was seafood-themed, with seafood linguini, crab legs, fried shrimp, blackened tilapia, ahi tuna, seafood gumbo, and prime rib as the main dishes. You can also order from the regular dinner menu, where most entrees were $11-$16.
We wanted to see if we could spend a “Nick day” filling up the hours at the hotel rather than venturing out to a theme park. Would you get bored? The answer is: so long as the weather supports their main draw, the pools and waterpark, then it would be easy to fill the time. If it’s too cold, the answer is more of a “maybe.” They do heat the water and stay open as long as it’s 50 degrees or warmer outside, but the wintertime cold air might encourage some kids to stop playing in the water after only an hour or two, and then the hotel might seem to not have enough to do.
Not just 3-D, it's in 4-D!
The 4D movies would help. There are seven of them, with a new one running about every half hour. If you get a wristband, even seeing each of them just once would take you three hours, not to mention any extra time needed for repeats. Then there are the shows in the indoor theater. Two that are usually there (Slime Time Live and Family Improv) are decent kid fare—expect a lot of audience interaction and trying to get you yelling and cheering. At the moment is also a Christmas themed show because Nick Hotel has a winter overlay called “Let it Snow.”
The majority of the overlay is visible on the Oasis side, where they’ve strung lights all over to give a blue-white feeling to the place; it’s pretty festive. Booths off to the side sell snacks and refreshments, and they have upcharge events like “color a Spongebob T-shirt”, but we didn’t see anyone taking advantage of that.
Instead, everyone made a beeline for the iceslide. This is a tall (20 foot?) ski-jump style ramp built on a freestanding tower. You lug up your own inner tube and the attendants push you off the ledge… backwards. Then you race at terrifyingly but giddy speeds through the whole sixty feet of track (there’s a lot of flat time at the bottom after the ramp), ending with a slight ramp up and a rubber mat to slow you down. It’s extremely hard to exit without flashing a toothy, kid-like grin. The whole thing is free! They pipe in holiday music and, true to the event’s name, let it snow courtesy of those famous soap bubbles. They even arrange to have some of the area Christmas lights on palm trees dance, though not nearly as elaborately as Disney’s Osborne display.
Not that Disney is highly visible on the surface at this hotel. The property is located just across the freeway from Epcot—the time from my hotel room to the parking spot at Epcot, using my own car, was about six minutes, and I’m not even joking. But despite the closeness, or perhaps because of it, they focus at this hotel on the competition. When you visit Guest Services to make reservations (something you must do for all indoor shows and character breakfast), they display park maps right on the counter for SeaWorld, Universal, and Legoland. But not Disney. They show you the schedule for park shuttles on the handout, and only reluctantly point out that the backside contains the schedule for Disney parks. One might almost think they have a complex.
The shuttle busses have Nick theming on them.
But they have lots to be proud of at the Nick Hotel. In the summer months, your kids will want to spend 3-4 hours in the water playgrounds and pools. You could almost say that the Nick Hotel has as much to do for a six-year-old as Aquatica, and much of it is included with the price of the room.
There’s theming on the elevator doors and inside the rooms themselves.
The Kidsuite we stayed in sleeps six (queen bed in one room, two twins in the ‘kid’ room, and a foldout double in the front room) and costs $180 if you pay rack rate. If you buy it early enough for the Advanced price, it’s only $116. And if you get the last-minute rate, it’s only $71. That boggles the mind. Motel Six in Kissimmee would cost $50 and have none of these amenities. Even paying rack rate, you could conceivably plan for a hotel day and save on the cost of admission to Aquatica for four people—a real bargain. The Disney hotels do far less to keep you at the site, perhaps assuming that the parks are the real draw. For the Nick hotel, the line is a lot more blurred.
Now is the time to order any of the three books I have for sale this holiday season. The first, announced previously, is Jason’s Disneyland Almanac (coauthored with Jason Schultz), and it’s nothing short of a daily history of Disneyland Resort. Park hours, daily weather, and any significant event (VIP visitor, ride opening, ride closing, change of name, the debut or ending of entertainment, the opening or closing of shops and restaurants, etc) is listed here, and summaries of each year provide perspective. The book is in 8x10 format, has 334 pages, and the list price is $24.95. It’s available at CreateSpace (where we get the maximum royalty) and at Amazon.com.
The second is a Christmas in Walt Disney World book, where I’m the third author. It’s largely a photo book, with over 300 full-color pictures crammed onto 96 pages. It has a dual focus, looking both at the present (we even fit in the holiday version of Magic, the Memories, and You! castle projections) and the past. For the present, the book tours the parks and resorts – you’ll perhaps be surprised by how much is at the resorts – and shows what’s there. For the past, the book provides images of things you just can’t see any more, like the Christmas tree outside the Great Movie Ride (and its train set at the base), bygone Christmas parades at the Magic Kingdom, and the much-loved and much-missed Lights of Winter at Epcot. The retail price is $22.95 (sometimes they put it on sale online). This book is available at CreateSpace (where the authors get maximal royalty) and Amazon.
The third is the 2011 Walt Disney World Earbook. This one chronicles all the additions, removals, and changes to the parks and hotels in the past twelve months. It’s 164 pages of full-color photos, with most items receiving an entire page full of pictures (some much more). A timeline adds info about specifics, and an index makes finding information easy. $24.99 from Amazon.